If anything indicates that Hollywood is running out of ideas, if it ever had any to begin with, then it’s the fact that so many films these days are based on or inspired by “real events” or “true stories”.
Maybe it’s easier to sell such an idea to a potential investor than it is to convince him or her about your creative genius. And, even though I’d like one such story to win the Oscar for best film, director, supporting actor and actress, namely The Fighter, most of them are instantly forgettable.
Our theme this week is survival and, like revenge, it is something we can all relate to on a very basic level. Both our films this week are set in the great outdoors.
Sanctum, whose only claim to fame is that it was executive produced by James “I Am the King of the World” Cameron, involves a bunch of cavers who want to find a route to the sea via a veritable underground labyrinth in Papua New Guinea (shot on Australia’s Gold Coast).
When a cyclone threatens their expedition it’s time to get out but, lo, a rock shuts off their escape route. Now they have to find a way to the sea – or die.
Richard Roxburgh plays tough-as-nails chief caver Frank McGuire well, but then all he has to do is reduce everything to its basic Darwinian components, like drown a fellow caver who is injured beyond repair, which is what his character loves.
That is what his financier alleges anyway, a suit played by Ioan Gruffud who typically wants all the fame if the expedition succeeds. He constantly breathes down Frank’s neck, like an insecure executive producer.
Frank’s son is played by Rhys Wakefield, a wuss who will predictably start off by hating his Kubla Khan-quoting father and eventually take over his mantel and become a “man”.
Unfortunately, Wakefield is better at playing tearful than manly, his impressive muscles notwithstanding; and the only reason why Coleridge’s opium-inspired poem is being used is because Frank’s wife used to quote it.
If this is the last link between the two of them, then the only link between the poem and the film is that the latter is swimming in its own “sunless sea” as opposed to towards the real, sun-shiny one.
I’m sure the visuals in 3-D were most impressive.
A rock is the culprit in the Oscar-nominated 127 Hours too, but this time it lands on an idiot who goes canyoning on his own. He slips and the rock pins his arm under it. Big oops. The first rule is: never dive, cave or climb alone.
We all know the story of Aaron Ralston who had to choose between dying or cutting off his one arm. There was no choice. We all know what he did. So why make a movie about it?
Well, it’s an interesting point, because we all know what happened to the two English climbers in Touching the Void, yet that documentary, with its dramatic reconstructions - which often don’t work - had me sitting all over my seat, laughing, crying, even though I knew the outcome.
But, apart from survivalist impulses, the latter touches on ethical issues – do you cut your friend and climbing partner to fall to his probable death or do you both possibly go down? – and maybe that’s the difference.
Maybe it’s also because there’s a tension between the reconstructed and the reflective: the two (real) climbers talking straight to the camera after the event. Maybe it’s even about the triumph of professionalism, let alone friendship.
But 127 Hours doesn’t have any conflict in it; it’s just James Franco stuck beneath a rock and talking to his video camera, flashing back to what a jerk he was and (on that note) trying to masturbate to footage he took of two fellow hikers earlier.
That doesn’t work, nor – for all the hype - does this beautifully shot movie.
And nooooooow, for the Oscars
Here’s my wishlist, for what it’s worth.
Best Film – The Fighter.
Best Actor – Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, among others).
Best Actress – Natalie Portman (Black Swan).
Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale (The Fighter).
Best Supporting Actress – Melissa Leo and Amy Adams (The Fighter).
Best Director – David O Russell (The Fighter).
Best Cinematography – Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech).
Best Adapted Script – Aaron Sorkin, for excellent dialogue in The Social Network but not for being really economical with the truth.
Best Original Script – Mike Leigh, for Another Year, which I haven’t seen, but he deserves to win it just because he’s so anti-Hollywood; that ought to show him.
Best Soundtrack – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for great funk in The Social Network.
Best Art Direction – Robert Stromberg for the rather sombre Alice in Wonderland.
Best Costume – Colleen Atwood for Alice in Wonderland.
Best Special Effects – Various for Inception.
Best Foreign Film – Don’t know, haven’t seen any of them yet.
Best Documentary – * Exit Through the Gift Shop (by Banksy)
*I saw this for pleasure because my son’s into graffiti and so didn't review it, but it turned out to be as delightfully subversive as the artist, and as elusive. It’s a great con.
But then I haven’t seen all the doccos, like Gasland, or even all the features, like Blue Valentine.
If anyone was hard done by it is Julianne Moore. She should at least have got a nomination for best supporting actress, playing against type in The Kids Are All Right as well as A Single Man.
The Australian film Animal Kingdom showed at the New Zealand International Film Festival last year and was quite a hit. Running a gang of thugs in faded golf shirts was Jacki Weaver, playing a kind of black widow mom. This is very good news for her, film Down Under as well as debut director David Michôd.
Animal Kingdom was, of course, reviewed on your favourite blog.
If any film should get a special mention or prize or something then it’s Winter’ Bone, for excellent scripting and directing by Debra Granik, acting by Jennifer Lawrence and support from John Hawkes. But this is Hollywood’s way, perhaps, of saying we’ve got our eyes on you.
The big loser should (but will not necessarily) be True Grit. But then it might also be a red earring, as a French producer once sent to me, meaning, of course, red herring.
* Next week, an all-Kiwi affair, including Love Birds with Rhys Darby.