127 Hours was the movie Danny Boyle made after his surprise success with Slumdog Millionaire meant that he had the freedom to do as he pleased. An unusual choice perhaps, Boyle didn't take the studio's dollar and make the overblown epic of his dreams (it's hard to truly believe Boyle has such dreams), instead he decided to film the unfilmable true-story of Aron Ralston, a rather arrogant and unlikeable rock climber, forced to reassess his whole attitude to life when a climbing accident leaves him pinned under a boulder for the titular 127 hours.
127 Hours is an uncomfortable watch, it is meant to be. The crucial scene, which most will probably know of, but which I won't give away for those who don't, is near-unbearable, and will have even hardened horror fans squirming in their seats. But helmed by a filmmaker at the top at the very top of his game, and featuring a tour-de-force performance from James Franco as Ralston, this the film is far more than a single gruesome set piece, addressing themes of hubris, hope and redemption.
Gnomeo & Juliet on the other hand is little more than the sum of its parts. The greatest love story ever told, re-told by garden gnomes, with the help of some old Elton John tunes. At least as absurd as it sounds, Gnomeo & Juliet was surely dreamt up just based on the strength of the pun-tastic title, and might have made an amusing short-film, but at this length it seems to be spread awfully thin. Of course, it's one for the kids (hence the re-imagined, death-free ending), and probably has enough to keep them entertained for it's duration.
Notable mentions go to new Blu-ray issues for Taxi Driver, worth the price for De Niro's unforgettable performance alone, and also to the kitsch/cult classic The Fifth Element.
True Grit sees the Coen Brothers stick to the serious trope for a second film in a row, perhaps for the first time in their career. It was a move which appeared to have paid dividends when the film garnered them a career high 10 Academy Award nominations in January, but remarkably that honour turned sour when they were overlooked for all ten. But on a night when Tim Burton's disappointing Alice In Wonderland landed two gongs, maybe that isn't a reflection on True Grit's quality.
In fact the Coens' (not a) remake of the classic John Wayne western has been one of the cinematic highlights of 2011. Jeff Bridges is characteristically brilliant as the gruff and grumpy US Marshall who gets the job done, Matt Damon continues to impress in his latest role as the preening Texas Ranger Laboeuf, while newcomer Hailee Steinfield is a mesmerising screen presence as the 14 year old farm-girl Mattie Ross, who enlists the help of both to bring her father's killer to justice. If you missed this one in the cinemas check it out now.
Meanwhile Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's Paul is one that I did (voluntarily) miss at the cinemas. A more mainstream effort from the duo, whose output already seemed to be delivering diminishing returns after the excellent Shaun Of The Dead, and the less excellent Hot Fuzz. The critics seemed to concur that Paul is a weaker effort than its predecessors, but not without laughs. Whatever the truth, it's surely worth a punt now on a cheap DVD purchase.
More classics being made available on Blu-ray too, including Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now in a 3 disc Special Edition containing the theatrical cut, the redux and the extraordinary documentary Hearts of Darkness, and an interesting Superman Anthology box set including the first four movies in high-definition for the first time, plus the 2006 Brandon Routh Return.
Director David O. Russsell's The Fighter charts the early boxing career of "Irish" Micky Ward, and the relationship between him and his troubled, drug-addicted brother and trainer, Dicky. Mark Wahlberg (a regular Russell collaborator from I Heart Huckerbees and Three Kings) impresses as Micky, our working class hero, who starts the movie as a struggling and reluctant amateur fighter, being used by Dicky (Christian Bale) and the rest of the family for the purse money he can bring in.
Of course the underdog works his way through the ranks and turns professional, scoring unlikely victories along the way and eventually a world title shot, but not before he jettisons the family hangers-on and wins the girl. But you can hardly knock The Fighter for being clichéd, for one thing it is an awful lot more than Rocky-lite, and after all it is a true story.
Updated to the 60s mods and rockers era, this new adaptation of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock received mixed reviews on release. To be fair, between the much loved novel, the highly regarded Richard Attenborough film, it had a great deal to live up to. The change of setting works well enough though, the story of teenage gangster Pinkie who sees his life spiralling out of control after murdering a rival works well against this tumultuous background.
Also released this week, Anthony Hopkins is back in fright mode for supernatural thriller The Rite, while Brit Alex Pettyfer is the hunk with superhuman powers in I Am Number Four, a sci-fi/teen romance which owes debts to the Twilight movies, and Hayden Christensen flick Jumper.
The Adjustment Bureau is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who has provided great source material for cinema in the past, spawning Total Recall, Minority Report and most notably perhaps Blade Runner. Like all of those films The Adjustment Bureau is concerned with themes of identity, destiny, and mysterious forces operating behind the scenes. Matt Damon plays David Norris a US politician who rejects the future that the powers have planned for him, to pursue the woman of his dreams, only to find himself up against the agents of the eponymous Adjustment Bureau.
Most of the final third of the film seems to consist of various scenes of David chasing after his woman Elise, or being chased by the omnipotent Adjustment agents, but can he outrun the fate that the Bureau have decided for him? Well, it's Hollywood, so you probably know the answer.
Elsewhere Rango offers up the story of a pet chameleon who gets separated from his owners in the Mojave desert and winds up in a wild west frontier town called Dirt, where he quickly blusters his way into the Sheriff's job. Suddenly out of his depth, Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp), has to save the town from a posse of robber-moles and a scheming Mayor. Some pretty stunning computer-animated visuals and an impressive voice cast make this a superior, and highly enjoyable family film.
And finally this week, one of cinema's biggest franchises gets the big Blu-ray box set treatment, get your grubby mits on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy the extended editions for the first time on Blu-ray.