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Knight at the Movies: 127 Hours; Room in Rome
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2010-11-10

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That bizarre macho disease—the inability of guys ( straight and gay, if anecdotal evidence serves ) to ask for directions, take advice, listen to common wisdom and, worse, learn to ask for help—finds its zenith in director Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, the stunning true story of Aron Ralston.

In 2003, Ralston set out on his own, trekking over rough terrain and through canyons in Utah and found himself stuck—literally—between a rock and a hard place for the aforesaid, jaw-dropping amount of time. ( That's well over five days. )

Before Aron ( who is played by James Franco ) falls into the deep crevice and the boulder traps his right arm, director Boyle, following up on his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, gives us a good sense of Aron's irresistibility, his upstanding character and his independence, which, unfortunately, is mixed with a healthy dose of pride. Setting out for the weekend, Aron doesn't tell anyone where he's going or bother to take along a cell phone ( though he's well stocked in about every other area ) . During the weekend Aron meets up with two smitten female hikers and he and the ladies go for a swim ( a fun, diverting montage ) . When the trio goes their separate ways he agrees to show up at a party the ladies are throwing later that weekend but soon after, Aron's accident occurs.

At first, the audience takes stock of Aron's situation along with him. He looks over his provisions, calculates how much food and water he's got, etc.—and though his arm has been crushed, he doesn't panic. Small triumphs—the retrieval of a pocket knife dropped just out of reach, for example—become palpable. But slowly, his strength ebbing, the gravity of Aron's situation, which has been terrifyingly clear to us, finally seems to dawn on him.

At this point Boyle's creative sensibilities—aided by the road map provided by Ralston's page turner of a memoir, adapted by Boyle and his co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy—come into play. Aron's memories and fantasies ( playful and draconian ) trigger a whole panorama of Aron's emotions as he looks back on his life are ingeniously enacted by Boyle. Ironically, as the trapped, stationary Aron's situation becomes increasingly desperate, the more fanciful and filled with movement Boyle's camera becomes. Despite Aron's life-threatening circumstances, there's a lightness and buoyancy here that lifts it far beyond the usual "man vs. the elements" movie. ( Sunlight also plays a big part in elevating the mood of the movie. )

But without a compelling screen presence—an obvious necessity for such a story—Boyle's creative solutions would be for naught and with Franco, who continues the creative winning streak he began this year in the artsy Howl, he's got just the right combination of actor and personality for the tricky role—a "regular guy" who must somehow mesmerize an audience while pinned to a rock. James "I'm not gay/I just like playing gay characters" Franco—with his high wattage, confident smile, smoky eyes, take-charge attitude and irresistible vulnerability when he realizes his foolishness—makes Aron ( who is straight ) , most importantly, someone whose fate becomes a matter of concern to the viewer.

That's the small but very real triumph of 127 Hours. We know the beginning and the end of the story going in ( and, yes, be prepared for some gore when Aron makes his Big Decision ) but working in tandem, a wonderfully inventive writer-director and his star have interested us in what happened in between.

"Would you like to see me naked?" the gorgeous blonde Natasha asks the dark-haired Alba with a teasing smile. "I would love to!" comes the horny reply. Less than 10 minutes in and the sexy stuff is on in Room In Rome, writer-director Julio Medem's artistic homage to the one-night stand, lesbian style, which is playing an exclusive engagement ( in its Chicago premiere ) at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State.

On their last night in Rome, strangers Alba ( Elena Anaya ) and Natasha ( Natasha Yarovenko ) meet in a lesbian bar and the temptress Alba brings Natasha back to her room. Learning that Natasha hasn't been with a woman before doesn't deter Alba and, soon, the two are locked in a passionate embrace. Between bouts of lovemaking ( and there are copious amounts of it throughout the movie—in the double bed of Alba's hotel room, in the tub, against the wall, etc. ) , Alba and Natasha, after baring it all ( both Anaya and Yarovenko are naked throughout pretty much the entire film ) go through their personal histories, exposing their vulnerabilities, becoming more intensely emotional as the night progresses. As dawn and check-out time approaches, the question is not whether these two beauties are simply infatuated or have fallen in love, but whether they will dare to risk continuing what they've shared together in the Real World once the one night stand is over.

Moody cinematography; the gorgeous hotel room with its attendant accoutrements; offbeat, original songs by Jocelyn Pook that act as a musical Greek chorus; and, of course, nicely shaded performances from Anaya and Yarovenko add up to an intensely erotic cinema experience. All of which makes Room In Rome nothing less than a seductive tour-de-force. See www.siskelfilmcenter.org .

Of related interest: One of the year's most delightful, moving films, The Kids Are All Right, from out director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko, has just been released on DVD. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple who suddenly find themselves in the midst of a relationship crisis when their two teenage children decide that they want to meet their biological father—the sperm donor who inadvertently creates tremendous havoc when he enters their lives. A sharp, insightful script, tremendous performances and Cholodenko's assured direction will see this on many of the year's top 10 lists ( mine included ) . The DVD includes a batch of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a director's commentary.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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