FILM OF THE WEEK
It is tricky to make a film when your potential audience knows the plot. It is even harder when the plot involves one man, stuck in one place, for five days. It doesn’t help if you are British, trying to conjure up a physical and cultural landscape far removed from our own.
None of this deterred Danny Boyle from making 127 Hours, the true story of Aron Ralston, a man who came a spectacular cropper during that most American of activities, pursuing happiness by venturing alone into the unforgiving canyons of Utah, accompanied only by hubris. Everyone in 2010 knew what happened next. The all-terrain vehicle in which he was travelling – his own body – let him down. His right arm got stuck under a boulder, so he freed himself by hacking it off just above the wrist, using a penknife.
Rather than seeking to broaden the story, Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy (who won an Oscar for the pair’s previous film, Slumdog Millionaire) intensified the focus on the singular individual at its heart. During the 127 hours he spent alone, between hasty departure and accidental rescue, Ralston (winningly played by James Franco) had a lot of time to reflect on his life and relationships. Boyle used flashbacks, but shot them from Ralston’s point of view. When you see Ralston he is generally alone, and for most of the running time he is trapped in his rocky horror.
To head off monotony, Boyle digs deep into his bag of technical tricks, employing split screens, attention-seeking cinematography, dynamic editing and a soundtrack combining pop hits and a score by A.R. Rahman, sometimes called The Mozart of Madras. Rahman even wrote a song with and for Dido (the drippy singer, not the Track and Trace panjandrum). Although the film is necessarily about stasis, it has tremendous momentum. The scenes of self-mutilation are a triumph of special effects. Some viewers fainted, especially in America. Most of us entered the theatre thinking “I could never have done that, even to survive”. Danny Boyle’s triumph was to make us think that possibly, just possibly, we might have. 127 Hours is on Film4 on Friday (30/4) at 01:30.
On Saturday (24/4) at 01:35, Channel 4 has Ema (2019). In Valparaiso, Chile, a choreographer and his dancer ex-wife torture themselves about the child they adopted and then sent back. Mariana di Girolamo is fearless as the title character, who is joylessly promiscuous, self-centred and an occasional pyromaniac. Astonishing colours, pounding “reggaeton” music and a great deal of heartache. An intriguing departure for Pablo Larrain, who gave us No, The Club and Jackie, the Mrs Kennedy biopic.
On Tuesday (27/4) at 01:30, Film4 has Scribe (2017), a French conspiracy thriller with François Cluzet as a man hired to transcribe tapped phone calls, using a typewriter because his mysterious employer doesn’t trust modern technology. He soon finds himself in deep trouble, and not because he forgot to change the ribbon.
On Thursday (29/4) at 01:25, Film4 has Gemma Bovery (2014), a sparky comedy-drama starring pert Gemma Arterton in the title role as an adulterous English wife in Normandy. Adapted from Posy Simmonds’s Guardian comic strip, which was a riff on Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary. With French legend Fabrice Luchini as a literature-loving baker who becomes obsessed with how much Gemma resembles Emma. At 23:15, Film4 has Savage (2018), a Chinese thriller with a cop on the trail of bullion thieves, heading across the snowy mountains close to the North Korean border.
On Friday (30/4) at 07:45, Sony Action has Amigo, Stay Away (1972), a comic spaghetti Western about a pair of conmen who reunite after one of them is released from jail. One of them, Giuliano Gemma, had apparently been a trapeze artist before turning to acting, which livened up the fight scenes.
On Saturday (24/4) at 22:00, 5 Star has Good Will Hunting (1997) (also on Thursday 00:00). We’ve all seen this stirring evocation of youthful genius, but it is always worth watching again. As remarkable as the film, which includes one of Robin Williams’s better performances, is the story of how it came about. Matt Damon was at Harvard when he started writing it, bringing in his friend Ben Affleck. Three years of script doctoring and negotiations almost came to nothing until Harvey Weinstein (It’s That Man Again) read the script, paid up in full, let Damon and Affleck star, and hired their chosen director, the excellent Gus van Sant. Good work all round.
On Sunday (25/4) at 15:30, Talking Pictures has The Girl Can’t Help It (1956). Written as vehicle for misunderstood siren Jayne Mansfield, then being groomed as a replacement for the unreliable Miss Monroe, this rock’n’roll musical had huge influence. Teenage strummers John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw it in the summer of 1957 and were galvanised by the cameo appearances of Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.
On Wednesday (28/4) at 21:00, ITV4 has The Fugitive (1993), with Harrison Ford as a doctor wrongly accused of murdering his wife, running from lawman Tommy Lee Jones while pursuing the one-armed enigma who actually did the foul deed. An action-packed and stylish response to the cult 1960s television series. At 23:10, Film4 has The Crying Game (1992). Irish genius Neil Jordan’s key state-of-Britain film, an IRA thriller on the outside, a meditation on race and non-standard sexuality in the middle. His screenplay won the Oscar.
Other modern films of interest
On Monday (23/4) at 23:20, Film4 has Ray & Liz (2018). Photographer Richard Billingham’s clear-eyed memoir of his gruesome parents, Ray & Liz, and his squalid upbringing in a Thatcher-era hi-rise. Nostalgie de la boue, as the French call it.
On Wednesday (28/4) at 01:15, Film4 has Benjamin (2018). Popular stand-up comedian Simon Amstell’s second feature, about a repressed and neurotic young film-maker (Colin Morgan) and his struggles to complete his movie and find love. Funny, but somewhat up itself. At 21:00, Film4 has The Drop (2014). Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (in his last film before his shocking early death) in a downbeat and realistic saga of low-level Brooklyn gangsters. From the pen of Dennis “Shutter Island” Lehane.
On Thursday (28/4) at 00:55, Channel 4 has Enough Said (2013). Wonderful James Gandolfini again, this time in an unexpectedly tender role as the older, lumpier lover of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a divorced mother and massage therapist. Written and directed by indie favourite Nicole Holofcener, whose stepfather was Woody Allen’s producer. Nicole’s birth father, Laurence Holofcener, was one of the leading lights in the Isle of Wight Independence Party. True. At 09:10, Sony Action has United (2011). Decent BBC film about Manchester United’s famous “Busby Babes”, especially Bobby Charlton, and the 1958 plane crash that killed eight of them on the way home from a European Cup match in Belgrade. A touching glimpse of the English game when it was played for, and by, working-class people. At 22:00, BBC4 has Being AP (2015). A tear-jerking documentary about the legendary jump jockey A.P. McCoy in his final season, including outings at Aintree and Prestbury Park.
On Friday (29/4) at 22:00, BBC4 has another biographical piece: Ronnie’s: Ronnie Scott and His World-Famous Jazz Club (2020). Unmissable for jazz-fiends, with clips of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, notable for playing two saxophones at once. True.
On Saturday (24/4) at 18:40, Paramount has Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970). Interesting Western, set in France’s little-known Mexican Adventure of 1861-7, and directed by Don Siegel. Shirley MacLaine plays an unlikely nun who has to be rescued from cowboy rapists by Clint Eastwood. One of very few occasions when he played opposite an A-list female star, and the last occasion he took second billing to a woman until The Bridges of Madison County in 1995. MacLaine recalled in 2015 that Eastwood had subdued an uppity horse by punching it. At 18:50, Talking Pictures has Julia (1977). Controversy surrounded this slick holocaust epic, which dramatises a chapter of memoir in which writer Lillian Hellman (Vanessa Redgrave) said she smuggled money into Nazi Germany to help her childhood friend Julia (Jane Fonda) save Jews and opponents of the regime. Rival Mary McCarthy said of Hellman “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.” That led them both to the libel courts and convulsed literary New York. Meanwhile, Jewish groups picketed the Oscar ceremony at which Redgrave won best supporting actress, because of her support for the Palestinians.
On Thursday (28/4) at 13:15, Film4 has The Blue Dahlia (1946). Classic noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, based on the only original screenplay Raymond Chandler ever wrote. The alcoholic genius sold the story before he’d finished it, then couldn’t come up with an ending the studio liked. In the end, he broke his writers’ block by retiring to his house for an eight-day bender, subsisting on glucose injections instead of solid food. He hated the finished film, referring to the female lead as Moronica, but was nominated for an Oscar.
We’re looking for a new logo for CFS. If any members or friends out there would like to have a go, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a sentimental attachment to the director’s chair, but we’re not entirely wedded to it. It could certainly do with a spring clean.
Also, don’t forget it’s The Oscars on Sunday. (1:00 UK time.) If you want to watch the ceremony live you will need Sky Cinema, but you can apparently sign up with NOW TV for a free seven-day trial. Just don’t forget to cancel it.