Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#DoubleFeature - Buried/127 Hours

Imagine being trapped in a tiny enclosed space with no means to get yourself free.... Sounds fun?

Apparently some producers thought it was good enough for a movie experience!

More Survival Films reviewed by yours truly!

Here's another DoubleFeature!

For this occasion let's check out a couple of recent "survival films". 

"Survival films" are what I like to call these sort of intense thrillers following the survival of a limited cast of characters during the course of a story.

Usually one single protagonist, unnamed, trapped for the course of the entire movie in a single setting. In these sort of films the tale is often told in "real time".

These movies tend to be pretty intense thematically rather than heavy in dialogues. 

When it all comes down to it, it's generally the tale of a (wo)man being striped from all of our technology, versus the raw intensity of nature. Think Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away, one of the better examples of the genre, the big budget blockbuster that brought this genre to the front scene (not the first one though). It all comes down to the original survivalist tale of Robinson Crusoe.

 This is as far as possible from all these big Hollywood disaster films (aka "disaster porn"), which despite actually touching some similar themes such as coming down to our mortality face to nature, those always go way overboard, all over the place, with way too many action sequences taking over any real connection to the main character(s), huge ensemble casts, etc. (I'm not saying one is better than the other, just saying how different from each other those two genres are)

A survival movie is usually much more grounded in reality and therefore as realistic as possible. Characters will suffer through damage (both physically and emotionally through the film). The backstory or any sort of explanation is really secondary, with our protagonist stripped to its more basic characterization. 

Trying to simply defy nature and survive nature...

These were two fantastically well-received productions from 2010.

Both released in September 2010. One in the more indie alternative market, receiving several nominations including awards at the Sundance Festival. The other a much bigger production, a long awaited retelling of a real life event, getting its own fair share of prizes such as a couple of Academy Awards.

Let's start with the first one...

Movie: Buried  
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
Release date 2010
Genre Thriller/Survival/indie film
Country Spain/USA

Directed by Red Lights Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés and starring Ryan Reynolds, Buried is a thriller/survival indie film that was filmed in mere 17 days..

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. 

In a way, it's a pretty basic simple film.

It follows a man waking up in a coffin, buried alive in Iraq somewhere. With only way to get any help or outside contact with a cellphone low on battery.

In that retrospective, it's very Hitchcock-ian at its core, you can say. It was inspired by actual hostage situations during the mid-2000s, without being bound by any real life scenario (our protagonist isn't based on any particular individual, per say).

The "story" follows this American civilian truck driver named Paul Conroy. It takes place on October 23, 2006.

Paul wakes up buried alive in a wooden coffin with only a lighter, a flask of alcohol, a flashlight, a pen, a pair of glowsticks and some cellphone left by the people who abducted him.

And yes, we do get to have that particular sort of "point & click" adventure game-ysh sequence as our main protagonist looks through his inventory-scene.

Paul finds himself trapped in a very small claustrophobic world. The screen goes to black several times as he blacks out. It's poorly lit. And yet... you really get to see "his situation", live through his frustration and stress.

Director Rodrigo Cortes does a great job at capturing our character's troubles. Going through a lot of frustration and anger. Paul makes a lot of poor decisions. He cries and insults any people who might have helped him on the phone.. You got to blame this on his panic...

But this coffin might become his tomb if he can't stay calm (like other protagonists in similar films like this). He wastes a lot of his cell phone battery and his lighter... Yes, it's a stupid character making a lot of poor decisions.

Buried is at its best wen it focuses on the simpler tasks at hand. There's a lot of human drama and tension.

Despite being shot in a casket with little to almost no source of light, the film manages to looks really nice, there's always something interesting in the visuals and the film really has a unique tone.

Rodrigo Cortes did a great photography job on Buried, using different source of lights, switching from one form of light to another (and kind of stupidly, both at the time whenever Paul wants to waste some of his lighter...). 

Despite the contained situation, it manages to work really well on screen. Buried is a stunning little indie film looking way better than expected. Making use of the low source of light for some really interesting shots, nice contrasts in the depths of the darkness on screen.

Story-wise, the hostage takers here even get a bit more depth than being presented as simply the "bad guys". It makes you question things. Nationality and religion aside, it was a very human answer (but dark road, granted), in difficult time of needs, even good people might be forced in situations like this and resort to any possible solution to make money in these times of war. They do what they can for their own...

Now, the film is not without some problems of its own, of course. A snake sneaks up at the mid-point, breaking the tension of the film for a very questionable strange "action scene". IT kind of breaks the current tension for no reason, the snake crawling all over his leg for no reason. Where did it come from? It was really unexpected... and unnecessary. 

The whole phone, flask and flashlight might seem strange in this hostage situation, but that was based on some actual details concerning these sort of abductions. And it works in the story, if anything.

Our protagonist Paul was ambushed abruptly while delivering some supplies.. He wakes up in this wooden coffin, but doesn't remember how got there in the first place. Paul starts remembering details regarding his abduction. The government doesn't want to negotiate with terrorists (of course), so instead they try locating him, when the services aren't bouncing back and forth his call... The would be-terrorists aren't of any help, interested in the money but not the life of their hostage. Paul tries calling some friends and family in the States... He starts suffocating when the  war breaks out above ground... He keeps several notes around him, such as the name of a certain Mark White the soldiers on the phone apparently saved... But in the end, they were in a completely different location, turns out there was another hostage situation they were dealing with around the same time...

The ending is particularly dark, and throws everything out for a bad "surprise" ending. I like the idea of bad endings in film, but here it kind of felt unnecessary as well. If anything, it should have gone a better way. While some survival films tend to offer abrupt endings left to the imagination of the audience, Buried simply opted for a clear-cut bad ending which might be to everyone's taste. I really think with the on-going themes in Buried, we could have actually gotten a final segment. If Paul couldn't count on the American government, what with trying to deal with politics and all that, Paul wasting his lighter and phone battery during the entire course of the film, we could have gotten an additional final scene where left in the dark, no more room for movement and air, Paul could have been saved by a local middle class person (a farmer? the same kids he mentioned in the beginning?). Oh, well...

The film also features a great simple cryptic score composed by Víctor Reyes. Really fitting the tense pressure of the situation.

Buried is a great dark, tense, almost-frustrating thriller.

Captivating from beginning to start.

In my eyes, this is easily one of the best performance from Ryan Reynolds to this day.

The film was release to some great first impressions and reviews at the time. Nominated to several awards in the independent scene and even won several for editing amongst those. 

It has a great claustrophobic atmosphere. It's a really dark sort of-thriller with a very interesting visual. Some very narrow angles do a lot to the tension.

Despite (or thanks to?) the ending, worth a look for fans of the genre.

I give it:
2 / 3 Films!

Movie: 127 Hours
Directed by Danny Boyle
Release date 2010
Genre Biographical/Drama/Survival film
Country UK/USA

Based on the real life events that happened to the mountaineer/adventurer/outdoorsman/motivational speaker Aron Ralston, 127 Hours is biographical/survival film directed by renowned author and 28 Days Later film director Danny Boyle.

The film opened in most places in September 2010, but was only released in the US on November of that same year.

127 Hours was directed, co-written and produced by Danny Boyle and stars James Franco as the real life canyoneer Aron Ralston.

It was actually adapted from Ralston's own memoir "Between a Rock and a Hard Place". Boyle had been wanting to adapt it since he read the book, finding this real life occurrence much more fascinating and movie-worth than whatever Hollywood produces these days.

Our "story" takes place Friday, 25 April 2003.

Aron Ralston was going in one of his extended weekend-walkabout around the Canyonlands of the National Park, Utah

He quickly took of in the morning, forgetting some items that might have been essential, had he know what would happen later that day. Leaving his bike behind, Aron went running around the canyons. he met some mountain hikers and invited them along to explore some of his favorite special spots, such as an underground natural pool.

Aron kept filming his weekend. 

Until... the accident. 

Aron suddenly found himself trapped as he fell near a wall. The rock formation left loose, and a rock boulder crushed down his hand...

The rest of the film turns into this very intense film. This is no explosion-filled blockbuster film! For a mature audience I would say. In fact, several people have actually fainted in several screenings.

Our protagonist then spends the entire film trapped in a single location. The minutes pass. They turn into hours. The days go on...

Aron relieves some of his memories, thinking this might be it, as his food and water supplies diminish. Thinking back about his family, the two hikers he met earlier before accident, his ex-girlfriend...

This might be it. Cut off from any possible help.

It's a tale of a man facing his own mortality and trying to live through, in the hopes some help might find him. But thing is, nobody knows where he was, where he went...

127 Hours pass... Nobody's coming for Aron. His tourniquet is finally tight enough and ready. Aron must must free himself before starving to death.Aron has to amputate his own arm!

This is a much more shocking, thought-provoking and powerful film than any horror film I've ever been.

We spend the entire film with one protagonist. The audience feels for this character, we are trapped along Aron in the same situation.

127 Hours is a very emotional intense drama. The arm-cutting scene alone is very painful to bear, slow and seemingly taking forever (but edited much shorter than how it really took place).

How can the tale of a man with his arm stuck under a rock in the middle of nowhere be so captivating? So intense?

The film owes a lot to Danny Boyle's fantastic direction. We get to be really close to our protagonist Aron Ralston (played by a fantastic James Franco here), if anything Aron really blames himself for all of this (kind of the opposite of the above Buried, really). 

Having to deal with his own mortality and no means to escape. Aron starts having regrets. He never answered to his mother on the phone, not telling his friends and co-workers where he usually went, breaking up with girlfriend recently over nothing...

The film has a really energetic direction, with mixed footage sources, flashbacks and memories and what have you, visions, quick cuts, dynamic compositions.

It's a stunning experience through and through, with beautiful visuals. Really, Boyle at his best.

Keeping things moving and interesting. With a very unique tone. Getting us, the audience, in Aron's point of view. Aron spends all of his little to no water supply, has the usual "survival film hallucinations". Finally, the moment to make a run for it comes and Aron has to escape... one way or another. And there's only one way to go, having to use the only small working knife left, like the real life Aron, Aron!Franco has to cut off his own arm.

In what was probably the most brutal depiction of pain I've ever seen, gory and hurtful. Our character in agony, slicing his nerves...

By the way, the real Aron Ralston is still alive. Of course you know how the film will end. Aron continues to this day going out on adventures. He survived this experience. He also participated in Boyle's film as advisor and has a little cameo near the end.

The film uses a range of mixed music tracks for the soundtrack, working along a very intense musical score composed by A. R. Rahman, Boyle's usual accomplice on past films. A great score and overall soundtrack.

Overall: 127 Hours has a very powerful and authentic feel. 

It's one of Danny Boyle best film to date, I'm sure. James Franco gave us an amazing performance that really carries the entire film, with barley any dialogue.

It's a very powerful experience.

With a simple enough "plot" based on a true story, Aron trapped in Blue John Canyon, in Utah, back in April 2003. A really captivating real life story.

127 Hours opened to huge critical acclaim and praise, it was nominated to 3 Golden Gloves and 6 Academy Awards. Specially praising the stunning editing, direction and the score.

A single location-based drama, very effective. An highly recommended very unique self-contained experience. Most horror films only wish they could be as intense, instead of recycling the same stories over and over, with incessant sequels...

I give it:
3 / 3 Films!

And that is it for this DoubleFeature!

These two American/European co-productions do cover some similar grounds, but they're pretty different in their execution. Both centered around a main protagonist's isolation, with no way out and limited contact with the "outside world".

While one being centered around real life incidents goes for a more tense claustrophobic approach,

the other is based around a real person and an accident that happened to him, and instead opts for a more intense personal journey.

At the end of day, 127 Hours was easily the better film. Really dense, a psychological drama done right. While Buried has personal as it was, kinda lose its pace and wind a couple of times for a broader louder ending that I find was not entirely necessary. Buried was an actual indie film, but was the one going for the louder experience for some reason..

You can even say one is a tale of optimism (127 Hours) of never giving up and there's always a way out, yet the other is more of a pessimist tale (Buried) where they can only always get worse.

Two very interesting almost complementary films. Perfect for a DoubleFeature!

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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