Friday, November 5, 2010

START PRYING OFF MY FINGERNAILS. THAT'S FINE: Suggest a form of physical suffering you'd rather endure this weekend than spending $10+ to watch James Franco reenact what hiker Aron Ralston did.

(Related: is it a spoiler to say what it is?)

added:  I feel like we've had a bunch of films like this lately -- United 93, A Mighty Heart (the Daniel Pearl story), World Trade Center and others I'm sure you can name -- dramatic films based on real-life events where I can understand why filmmakers believed this was a story worth telling, but where the story itself is not one I have any interest in spending my entertainment dollars/time to see.  And yet we (pretty much) all saw Schindler's List, which somehow became a cultural obligation in a way that none of the others -- not even the remarkable story of United 93 -- did.   So: who is the audience for 127 Hours, and why do these films keep getting made?


  1. Meghan8:45 AM

    I'd rather cut off my own arm.  Oh, wait.

  2. lisased9:20 AM

    Given my goal to see everything* that's nominated for an Oscar every year, this is one of those movies I am going to have to see, even though I'm not really looking forward to it. Hopefully it'll be a disturbing but pleasant surprise (like "Letters from Iwo Jima") and not two hours of torture ("The White Ribbon").

    *Best foreign film, documentary, and short categories are not included in my quest. I can't rely on them being released in a timely manner, even in DC.

  3. The target audience here:

    1.  Franco fans.
    2.  Danny Boyle fans (particularly fans of Slumdog and Trainspotting).
    3.  Outdoors enthusiasts.
    4.  Folks who love critical darlings.

    Of course, it's crazy to backlog all of this--there have been moviegoers (myself included) who've been hungry for something quality and interesting for the past few weeks, which have been so utterly dominated by Jackass 3-D, Paranormal Activity 2, and Saw: The Final Chapter that other studios seem afraid to put out something more substantial.

  4. Meghan9:30 AM

    I'm going with modernity as the primary factor.  We all had 24-hour news channels for the Daniel Pearl and Aron Ralston stories.  Obviously, we all lived 9/11.  But most of us weren't alive for Oskar Schindler and so there was a reason to tell the story in its entirety.  I'm sure the movies of the more recent events were well done and so on, but I was there when it happened in the first place.  Not so much with Schindler's List.  Or the Titanic.  Or the Civil War (I stand by my GWTW love).

  5. lisased9:39 AM

    There's a disadvantage to modernity, though. With events like the Daniel Pearl murder, Aron Ralston's (and Chris McCandless') hiking trips, and even some events associated with 9/11, we barely have time to hear about them and think about what happened before we move on to the next news story. I feel like some of these movies are made because enough time has passed to be able to more carefully consider what happened and how decisions were made, and give the audience an opportunity to  think about what they would do in those situations.

  6. The Pathetic Earthling9:40 AM

    Aron Raston's story seems better suited for the sort of semi-dramatized documentary that you see on National Geographic channel all the time.  I don't need to drop $10 for this because I don't think I've missed any essential part of the story by not seeing it fully dramatized.  

    Speaking of, Mrs Earthling and I caught a few episodes of "First Ascent" -- a collection of 30 min documentaries about various climbing feats: a fellow that free solos (i.e., no ropes, nothing but chalk) big walls, a fellow who free solos with only a parachute for safety equipment ("free-basing"), and an expedition to Mt. Edgar in southern China by three fellows from Boulder that ends less than well (it's mostly done with found footage).  Good, stomach churning stuff.

  7. girard319:41 AM

    I feel the same way about this movie that I did "Into The Wild", idiotic behavior should not be glamorized without a disclaimer. Yes, Ralston was a "free spirit", but going solo free climbing in canyons without a partner, or letting people know where you are is not "free", it's just ignorant and dangerous. There should be a list of the people who have died doing the same thing at the end of the movie to reiterate how lucky he was.

  8. Watts9:49 AM

    It's also the lull before Oscar release season.  Which is why I hate Oscar release season.

  9. Heather K9:55 AM

    I think we cannot underestimate the weight of good storytelling/filmaking here.  A coworker and I were just speaking of Schindler's List recently and about how it does hold up as a good movie and it holds up on repeated viewings (although we posited that somewhere around 7 times is a life quota and you just can't go back again).

    I watched Schindler's List about those 7 times in the first 5 or 6 years after it had been made.  I haven't watched it in years, but I am curious to go back to it now a decade after my last viewing.

    A Might Heart and World Trade Center I watched, but I will never watch again.  A Mighty Heart just wasn't told very well, and certainly not in a way that would get me to ever watch it again.  World Trade Center was better but not so much better to want me to relive that event that I have my own memories of.

    United 93 I would watch again.  I don't think I would ever watch it like I would Schindler's List, and I am not sure why.  Characters to connect with maybe, contemporaneousness of my experience with United 93 and not with WWII?  Length?  Schindler's List gave you a long time to connect with its people and United 93 was much more efficient in the time it gave you to meet its characters?  Is it because United 93 isn't Greengrass masterpiece (I would posit Bloody Sunday) and Schindler's List-arguably-is Spielberg's?

  10. Joseph J. Finn10:07 AM

    "<span>I think we cannot underestimate the weight of good storytelling/filmaking here"</span>

    Bingo, which is why United 93 worked and World Trade Center didn't. (Oliver Stone's a decent directer, but I think Paul Greengrass is simply better; Stone could never have made Bloody Sunday).

  11. I think it has something to do with scale.  Schindler's List is telling you part of an awful story, part you might know nothing about (I know I didn't, but I was also very young when I saw that movie.)  This isn't so much the case for United 93, and isn't at all the case for 127 Hours.  If you saw the news, you know the story, and seeing it dramatized isn't going to allow its awfulness to resonate in a new and valuable way. 

  12. Joseph J. Finn10:08 AM

    I don't think Into The Wild glamorizes the kid; just shows that he was willfully foolish with his choices.  There's an awful air of inevitability to it, even when he's in the safe environments like with Hal Halbrook, where you know this is the kind of person who's going to put himself in harms way without any real plan.  (The disclaimer, in this case, would be his death, I suppose.)

  13. Marsha10:27 AM

    Precisely - there are still many unknown and untold stories from various wars, and stories like Schindler's deserve to have light thrown on them. Was there anything new or unknown in the 9/11 movies? Was there an aspect of that story that hadn't yet been told that was presented on screen?

    That said, the reviews for 127 Hours have been excellent, and, much like Cast Away, there's a lot to be said for seeing if a filmmaker can keep you riveted by (a) a story you know, and know the ending of and (b) a story that mostly keeps its protagonist alone and trapped in one place. The combination of (a) and (b) increases the level of difficulty above the sum of its parts because you know he lives to tell the tale. So if a movie like that can get good reviews, I have to believe it's worth seeing.

    However, probably worth seeing only once. I've still seen Schindler's List only once, and I'm guessing I won't see it again until it's time to show it to my kids. Once was enough.

  14. This is why I refuse to see Misery.

  15. FWIW, this very issue is Issue 1 on this week's Pop Culture Happy Hour over at NPR.

  16. No desire to see it, but I did enjoy the joint interview with Ralston and James Franco in last week's EW, where Ralston mentioned that he had been approached by the producers of the Saw movies when his story first became public.

  17. Heather K10:49 AM

    I would argue that United 93's inside the air tower's portion of the story was, at least to me, something I knew or understood very little of.  And in that film, Greengrass populated it with actual air traffic controllers and not actors.

  18. If I see anything this weekend, it will probably be Fair Game.  I'm faintly intrigued by 127 Hours, but not enough to sit through it, all the while knowing that I'm going to have to watch the inevitable amputation scene.

    I agree that Schindler's List was more appealing because a) it was further back in history, so for most of us, it was before our lifetimes, and b) it took a Large Important World Event and told one small, interesting story about it.  I saw United 93, and it was excellent, but I knew that story pretty well by then.  And seeing the movie almost felt like an obligation. 

  19. Two cents from someone who has seen the film (my job got me into an advance screening a few weeks ago) & we screened the film with a q & a with Franco and screenwriter Beaufoy last night:

    First, it's an excellent, gorgeously shot, tremendously acted film. I completely understand all the hesitation about seeing it, but I honestly recommend you do.

    Second, I wanted to see the movie even before I knew I was going to get to see it early, for two reasons: I love Danny Boyle's films, and I find Ralston's story completely fascinating.

    Third I totally agree with those here that talked about Schindler's List being a historical film and not something most if us lived through as a reason why many more people saw that than will see this or saw United 93. If a great director 50-60 years from now makes a 9/11 epic, the box office will soar.

    Also, re: Ralston's stupidity in hiking alone, etc. that's a part if the story told here. He isn't portrayed as a great guy. He comes across as kind of a douche, who is self-absorbed, etc. and part if the story is about his own journey, while trapped, and the realizations that come to whim about who he's been and how he wishes he hadn't always been that guy.

    A few other tidbits related to conversation points people brought up here: apparently Boyle had to convince Ralston to let them do this film...Ralston wanted his story to be told as a documentary a la Touching the Void, if it were to be a film. But he wasn't getting anywhere with filmmakers he thought would be able to make the documentary well and then Boyle told him how he wanted the film to be made abd a deal was struck.

    Also, Franco & Beaufoy talked a lot last night about how there was a concious point to make the movie almost entirely set trapped with Ralston, and without scenes from the outside of the search & rescue teams, etc. They said those would make it an entirely different no longer feels real when you see an actor on screen saying, "Lets go find our guy!" There were a lot of different ways this story could be told and the way Boyle & team made 127 Hours was very specifically planned and thought out.

    Anyhow, just thought I'd chime in. Again, for me, this was on my kist to see a while back, abd I completely understand why people might not want to. But if the reviews of the film, the discussion here, or anything else have you mildly tempted, I can't say enough good things about the movie. It's really amazing, and I hope some of you go and end up glad you took the chance.

  20. Joseph J. Finn11:08 AM

    I was planning on seeing it eventually, but you've just bumped my interest a lot higher.  Thank you, Maret, for the thoughts.

  21. I have a bit of interest in the movie because I read the book and came away dissatisfied. My goal in reading the book was to understand how he (mentally) did what he had to do. What it was like (mentally) to do it. The story of the soccer players in the Andes and stories of people lost at sea have done an excellent job helping you "be there" and understand to some degree what the person went through emotionally. Ralston's book, while perfectly entertaining, was a let-down because it was all this build up and "then I cut off my arm" and then he moved on. He explained HOW he cut off his arm but I never gained an understanding of his experience beyond the facts of what happened which I already learned from the news stories. 

  22. The Pathetic Earthling11:33 AM

    Don't forget Ralston's appearance in a beer commercial.

  23. MidwestAndrew12:23 PM

    That's an interesting comparison, Ralston to Saw. I have no desire to see either movie, for the same reasons. Both seem fully like things I don't want to see, let alone pay to see.

  24. Dan Suitor12:58 PM

    I don't know if you've read Krakauer's book, Finn, but I walked away from the book the same way Girard did from the movie: infuriated. Krakauer deified the guy as some sort of modern martyr, dying to show how we should all live. He was a brainless dolt who walked into the Alaskan wilderness without the proper knowledge or equipment, but the book makes him out to be some brave hero for doing so.

    That said, I'm the guy who once got a 96 on an essay test in high school for writing how Jon Krakauer used "Into Thin Air" to absolve himself from his role in all those people dying.

  25. Dan Suitor1:07 PM

    I haven't seen 127 Hours, and doubt I will unless a free screening comes to town during awards season. I like Boyle and Franco, and I'm as big a fan of indie/lesser mainstream movies as there is, but I don't want to watch a visceral recreation of the reason this movie got made.

    That said, if you're into man vs. nature/wilderness adventure movies, check out North Face. It's up on Netflix for rental or streaming, and it's a fictionalized version of the 1936 attempt to climb the northern face of Eiger, a notoriously dangerous mountain in the Alps. It starts off pretty fun, but partway through it takes a turn for the brutal. Very powerful.

  26. Maret1:23 PM

    Sorry also for the typos -- I did that on my phone. :)  I'll post a link here to some video from our Q & A when we get it back for those interested.

  27. Stacie from St. Louis2:52 PM

    That made me laugh out loud, Meghan!

  28. Paul Tabachneck4:30 PM

    I think what's being overlooked here is the convenience factor of this movie.  You get to expereience 127 hours in the space of what... two?  That is some time-saving stuff right there!

  29. Goghaway4:35 PM

    I was in the weird position of liking the film better than the book. Not exactly for the reasons Dan laid out, but close. It's been a long time, I remembered thinking that the book seemed to start out with a good question, "Why did someone so smart and resourceful, someone who was deeply loved walk into this?" and then turned it into a lovefest for guy who knew a lot of Jack London, but who was pretty reckless with his life, and inconsiderate of the people who loved him. And while I get that the guy wasn't suicidal- which was what I think Krakauer was trying to prove- it didn't do a great job of showing how "empowering" his life choices were to me either. Whereas, while the movie wasn't necessarily immune from hero-worshipping the guy, it seemed to be asking a better cental question: "What must it be like to love or care for someone like this?" Emile Hirsch did a really great job, especially in his scenes with Holbrook, Catherine Keener, and even Vince Vaughn. You get the sense that they all care about this kid, and are uneasily aware of what he's heading towards.

  30. Jennifer4:41 PM

    Frankly, I knew Schindler's List had kind of/mostly a happy ending, and I didn't direcly live through that time period either. That's why I'd watch that movie (well, had to for school, anyway, I didn't get a choice in the matter originally) voluntarily, but none of the new stuff.

  31. Good point, Jennifer.  Going into it, we knew United 93 and A Mighty Heart had an awful ending, and the ending of World Trade Center is bittersweet.  But Schindler's List managed to take a story within a larger tragedy and still give it some hope and inspiration at the end.

  32. spacewoman7:47 PM


    We're going to see The Social Network this weekend, because we're on top of what's hot like that.  We'll let you know how it is.

  33. Eric J.7:49 PM

    Watch it at the right time tomorrow night, and you get to save an extra hour!

  34. The Pathetic Earthling10:31 AM

    North Face was terrific.

  35. Bobsyeruncle12:39 AM

    There's a real difference between INTO THE WILD and 127 HOURS on that score.  I'd argue that the former does seek to mythologize its subject, whereas much of 127 is about Ralston realizing the folly in his desire to run away from civilization.  It doesn't glamorize his behaviour - rather it directly address its stupidity, and in the end, is about people...people who need people.... 

  36. Bobsyeruncle12:40 AM

    WTC is just dragged down by treacle.  93, by dint of being so resolutely unsentimental, is infinitely more emotional and effective.