On day three of the festival, I had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable discussion with Davis Guggenheim, John Legend, Geoffrey Canada, and about 5 other journalists. (For a mini-review of their film Waiting for Superman, click here). I probably won’t have time to type up the full transcript until the festival is over, but until then, here’s the most interesting exchange:
Other Journalist: Well, let me ask you, you know Glenn Beck? John Legend: Yeah, I’m familiar with him. Other Journalist: Are you a fan of his? John Legend: No. Other Journalist: Everything in the movie, I heard on the Glenn Beck show. Everything about the Rubber Rooms, everything- John Legend: One of the interesting things- Robert Murdoch, the boss over there, this is the one thing we agree on. On most aspects of the conversation on education, liberals and conservatives agree. Other Journalist: Then again you have Obama, who is for the unions. John Legend: No, no, no. If Glenn Beck told you that, he lied to you. Other Journalist: 90% of money from unions- John Legend: It’s not true. Union donations do go to Democrats primarily, but Obama has stood out among Democrats, because more than any other president in the history of the United States, he has done something to buck the unions. Race to the Top and a bunch of other reforms that are going on right now in America are things that the unions are fighting tooth and nail. And they all come from Obama and Arni Duncun. Other Journalist: Okay, but my point was simply- I’m conservative, and the movie, made by Davis Guggenheim, who made An Inconvenient Truth, which is very left-leaning- I went in, and I was kind of surprised, because it was pretty much down the middle. John Legend: Well, that’s the thing about this issue, it’s not a conservative or liberal issue. It’s about what’s working for our kids and what’s the best thing to do. And there are some conservative principles in this debate, one of them being the capitalistic approach to innovation. Because our schools have been doing so badly for so long, we had to let private organizations -- with public money, but private organizations -- we had to let them innovate. And that’s what charter schools are all about.
Going into the session, I kind of wondered how an interview with John Legend was going to fill up 15 minutes. (He wrote the song that plays during the end credits, but that’s about the extent of his involvement). Luckily, he turned out to be uncommonly articulate and engaging and demonstrated a refreshing disregard for self-promotion; he only talked about his song for about 45 seconds (and only when prompted) and spent the remaining 14 minutes 15 seconds focusing on the issues brought up in the film.
After that, it was off to 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s hotly anticipated follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire. It was scheduled to start 10 minutes after the roundtable discussion had ended, and making it from the Park Hyatt Hotel to the Scotiabank theatre in that time seemed vaguely within the realm of possibility. I arrived about 15 minutes later (along with most of the other journalists from the roundtable) only to discover that the screening had been delayed. The delay turned out to be an hour, thus prompting many jokes in the line-up about the movie’s title and plot. (“Maybe a piece of equipment fell over on the projectionist and he had to amputate his own arm.”)
Perhaps sensing that the next day’s reviews would be much harsher than they ordinarily would have been, Danny Boyle showed up in person, explained the cause of the delay, and ended by saying, “I’m looking forward to all your 127 hour jokes, which I know you’ve been fine-tuning.”
127 Hours starts out brilliantly, ends brilliantly, and has a few brilliant moments scattered in between. In the opening sequence, Aron Ralston (James Franco) befriends two women on a remote trail in the Utah wilderness and takes them to a secret crevasse that leads to an underground lagoon. They take turns diving in, which looks like a lot of fun, but apparently it’s not fun enough for Ralston, who then runs off to explore another crevasse on his own. He emerges five days later severely dehydrated and missing a forearm.
Being trapped by a rock for five days is obviously a crazy predicament, but it’s a difficult thing to dramatize over the course of a feature length film. Danny Boyle seems to realize this, and so he throws in every visual trick he can think of to keep things interesting (including a shot from inside Rolston’s arm during amputation attempt). Most of these tricks are highly effective, but not quite effective enough to make you forget that you’re watching a guy stare at a rock for 70 minutes. Things pick up at the end when Ralston finally works up the courage to break the bones in his forearm and cut through the skin, muscle, and tendons with a dull blade. It’s a visceral scene, and it’s nearly impossible scene to watch without covering your eyes, but you’ll feel like you just drank 10 Red Bulls afterward.
James Franco is more than capable of carrying the movie on his own and is probably an early contender for the best actor Oscar. So good is his performance here that he could probably give up his job as a soap opera star on General Hospital and make it as an A-list movie actor.
I’d hoped to start the next day with Casino Jack (starring Kevin Spacey as Jack Abramoff), but arrived late and ended up seeing Last Night instead. The early reviews for Casino Jack have been pretty bad, but it’s difficult to imagine that it could be any worse than Last Night, a monotonous, dramatically inert slog about the harsh reality of marital infidelity among upper-class New York City elites.
In the opening sequence, a married couple (Keira Knightley and, in a rare 2D appearance, Sam Worthington) go to a party and reenact the opening sequence of Eyes Wide Shut. She suspects him of having an affair with an attractive co-worker (Eva Mendes), he denies it, they argue, then try to brush the argument aside. The next day he goes off on a business trip with his attractive co-corker while she hangs out with an old flame (Guillaume Canet) who she just happened to bump into at the local coffee shop. Who will commit adultery first? More importantly, who cares?
Knightly and Worthington are convincing as a couple and they do a good job in the opening scenes of creating the impression that the movie will have some sort of purpose. But as soon as they are separated, the movie just cuts back and forth between their quasi-adulterous overtures (which are basically just two endlessly drawn out conversations that go nowhere), and not even Eva Mendes in her underwear can rescue it from the bowels of tedium.
If Oscar voters aren’t already sick to death of giving awards to Hilary Swank, she could very well end up winning a third trophy for her work in Conviction. She’s basically reprising her role from Million Dollar Baby (only this time she’s a lawyer instead of a boxer), but she plays it beautifully. As good as Swank is, she’s outdone by Sam Rockwell, who plays her wrongfully-convicted-but-not-particularly-likable brother and effortlessly steals every scene he’s in. Unless Christoph Waltz has an upcoming movie in which he plays a charismatic Nazi, Rockwell should be a lock on the best supporting actor trophy.
The rest of the movie is a different matter. The screenwriter (Pamela Gray) also seems to have her sights set on winning an Oscar, and while she's clearly studied the screenplays for Erin Brockovich, A Civil Action, Seabiscuit, her script seems more like a post-modern pastiche of the "inspirational true story" genre than a worthy successor to the aforementioned films. Still, there's a fairly decent police procedural buried somewhere in the movie's second half, it's just difficult to find amid all the melodrama and .
After that, I went to the red carpet of Hereafter to try my luck as a paparazzi. That probably warrants a post of its own, but until then, here’s a pretty good photo I took of Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon.
Coming soon: Black Swan, The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives.