Saturday, February 26, 2011

Week of February 25 to March 3 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
Until this week, the Tropic had managed to show all ten of this year’s Best Picture nominees, except one. That omission is now corrected.

The last film is 127 HOURS, the harrowing true story of Aron Ralston, who was trapped in a crevice with his arm wedged under a rock and lived to tell the tale. You know the outlines of the story -- man cuts off arm to save life -- which certainly isn’t the best marketing tag line ever devised. But if you allow yourself to be put off by this gristly aspect, you’ll be doing yourself, and Aron Ralston, a great injustice.

In a world of whiners and downers, it’s a hurricane of fresh air to meet a man who is upbeat in the worst of circumstances. And who is self-reliant enough to figure his way out of it. He got himself into the problem, by going off into the remote Utah wilderness without telling anyone where or when he's heading, so there’s no hope of rescue. On top of that, he rushed off so fast he forgot to bring his best multi-tool, instead having only a crappy giveaway knockoff with a dull cutting edge.

From these basic elements, director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), with his writing partner Simon Beaufoy (Best Adapted Screenplay nomination) and actor James Franco (Best Actor nominee), have crafted a compelling and uplifting dramatic story. There’s no getting around the fact that most of the screen time is just two characters, Ralston and the boulder (which morphs from 800 lbs. to a ton, depending on the story you read). But there’s an opening sequence of him with a couple of attractive female hikers that’s just plain fun, and there are enough flashbacks, visions and external events such as a flash thunderstorm, to keep the story moving. 

When the moment of truth comes, the filmmakers don’t flinch but they don’t overwhelm us with it.
127 Hours is “entertaining” and “compulsively watchable” (Roger Ebert). “It pins you down, shakes you up and leaves you glad to be alive.” (New York Times).

An ancient Greek named Hegesistratus cut off part of his foot to escape when he was shackled by the Spartans, but he knew he was going to be tortured anyhow so his act spared him even more pain. Yet Herodotus calls it “the most courageous deed upon record.” Ralston did even more, just to avoid going quietly into the night. If you like movies that make you think and inspire you, here’s one not to be missed.

BIUTIFUL (Best Foreign Language Film nominee) is also a story of a man faced with death, and how he deals with it. In all other respects, the situation is completely different from 127 Hours. Uxbal (Javier Bardem, Best Actor Nominee) has a terminal illness; he’s a lowlife criminal using illegal immigrant workers in the slums of Barcelona to make knockoff Gucci bags and pirate DVDs. But he wants to do right by his two children, who are in his care; by his estranged, mentally-ill, drug-addicted wife; and even by his exploited workers. The director here is Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) who knows how to take us to the seamy side of life, and does so again with this “gorgeous, melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt.” (Hollywood Reporter)

On Sunday night all this nominee talk comes to an end with the Academy Award ceremonies. It’ll all be on the big screen at the Tropic, accompanied by a pick-the-winners contest that can get you the prize of a full year of free movies. Get your ballots in advance at the Box Office.

And on Wednesday there’ll be the Florida Premiere of MY NEW LIFE introduced by writer-director Kevin Rhoades, son of our esteemed local film critic Sherril. Check out for more information.

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