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5 Films That Should Not Have Worked, But Did!


What do you mean the plot's about a man in a box?...

5 films that should not have worked, but did!

With the recent Man On A Ledge receiving a rather lukewarm critical welcome, we ask whether a nothing film can ever work? What is a nothing film? It is that movie whose title often says it all; that movie, like Man On A Ledge, that seems to have such a bare premise, such a lack of anything remotely interesting or exciting going on that we have to assume it will be awful. Man On A Ledge has proved it to be true, hasn’t it? Well no!  In fact, here we take a quick look at just five films that by rights really should not have worked, but unlike the aforementioned cinema release, they did!

5. 127 Hours

127 Hours, staring James Franco

What Happens?

A man gets his arm stuck under a boulder for 127 hours.  He gets free.

Why Should You Watch It?

127 Hours is the story of Adam Ralston (played by James Franco), a mountain climber who found himself stuck with his arm under a huge rock for...well the title is a giveaway. Danny Boyle succeeds, by using all manner of techniques and his imagination, to not only keep the story holding and exciting, but to intensify every moment of emotion in the film.  Perhaps there is something to be said for the natural allure of somebody in a situation we would not want to find ourselves in.

If wanting the experience of living through such an awful situation vicariously is what you are after, then Boyle seems, at times, to want to punish you for it, for live through it you do. The gradual dawning in Adam’s mind of how bad the situation is fast becoming is realistically played, and as Adam becomes more desperate we see his life flashing before his eyes and his contemplation that death is not far away. Boyle takes you out of the cavern, and the camera flies high into the air, taking you away from it all. But it only serves as a way of illustrating just how alone he is, and then we are pulled back down; just you and him.

The growing anticipation of what Adam must do to survive, the inevitability of it, becomes unbearable, and when he finally does it, the sequence grates and grinds at your nerves, throwing into sharp relief just how likely you would have been to die in the same situation, since you could never do what this man did. Ultimately a film that allows you to appreciate all the simple things you have that you take for granted, but not before putting you through a bit of hell first.

4. Frozen

Frozen, starring Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell and Kevin Zegers

What Happens?

Three skiers get stuck on a mountain chairlift. The staff head home; the skiers have to survive.

Why Should You Watch It?

There is a possibility you will never feel colder than when watching this film. Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but exaggeration for the point of emphasis, people!   How exciting can 90 minutes spent with three slightly obnoxious American kids on a ski-lift be? When those kids are stuck there for the week, freezing slowly to death, being hunted by the local wildlife, and done this well, it is very exciting!

A surprising film, Frozen is a low-budget film from a relatively unknown Adam Green and does not star any A-lister. Yet it is thoughtful, gripping, with terrific performances from all three players, most notably from Emma Bell.  The shocking, nasty moments are genuinely unbearable, the fear tangible, and at the same time the film is at its most interesting when it turns inward, the characters recalling stories, memories and fears.  Shocking and emotional, you may never go ski-ing again....ever!

3. The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon

What Happens?

In a German town on the eve of World War I, some inexplicable incidents occur.  No one ever finds out why.

Why Should You Watch It?

Certain movies have a poetry about them that is simply unique. They do not tell a straightforward story; they do not have a clear plot to speak of; and do not really go anywhere, and yet, somehow, we cannot remove ourselves from our seat. The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke may be one of the best examples of such a film, and since he may also be the master of the cinema of unease, it really is not a comfortable watch.

Set on the eve of World War I, there are some strange, fatal incidents occurring and, for no actual reason beyond the town’s own social design, the children appear to be the culprits. Rarely can one watch a film that does not answer any questions, a film which travels from Point A to Point A, and yet remain captivating.  Haneke has an ability to draw out tension through an entire film, without it ever breaking, or stopping; he simply makes you more and more uneasy, and the magic part is you cannot fathom what it is you are tense just know you are. You do not know what the bad thing about to happen is, you just know it is.

A movie with a lot of subtext (more of that than actual text, in fact), and a lot to say about the pre-cursor to the Nazi regime, this is a gem you must see!

2. Buried

A shot of Ryan Reynolds in Buried...

What Happens?

A man is buried in a box. The man has to get out.  You watch.

Why Should You Watch It?

For some the fact it was Ryan Reynolds in a box was more than enough, but the truth of the matter is that he gives an astonishing performance as a lorry driver who is kidnapped and held hostage in a box under the ground. Unlike 127 Hours, this movie refuses to let you see anything the man in the box cannot see; at no point, ever, are you allowed outside the box. The greatest expense appears to be the building of the box itself!

In theory, this is a film that should have run out of steam fast, and yet it comes with a guarantee you will only use half your seat. The camera shoots from every corner of that box, catches every beat of rising tension, and boy does it rise!

If you think there is little realistic development that can occur in the confine of a dark, man-size coffin, this film is a hell of an education.  Realistically played and ultimately with more of a political point to make than you expect, Buried makes a whole lot of something from nothing.

1. Rope

Rope, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger

What Happens?

Two guys kill somebody and then have a party.

Why Should You Watch It?

The simple answer is that it is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s and nobody can ever have enough education from the Master of Suspense. Furthermore, many have argued that Rope is in fact one of Hitchcock's most underrated movies; and that it stars one of the greatest screen actors of his generation, Mr James Stewart? If you’re still not keen, perhaps it is time to point out that this is the one film on the list that takes the idea of having one setting for an entire story, and then ups the ante by keeping it as one setup. Sure, it’s typical of good old Hitch to want to push something, but let’s also bear in mind that in his prime, this technique was simply not a consideration. Cinema had evolved, and quickly left behind was the notion of a simple short with one setup and one camera, so why would anybody want to hark back to such a thing?

The answer is that Hitchcock knew exactly how to make it exciting again. Faith in the written material, a scary ability to draw the highest tension from something as dull as the sight of a rope in a hand, and a knack for turning a comical conversation about the philosopher Frederick Nietzche into a truly unsettling experience meant Rope was never going to fail.

Gripping from start to finish, with camerawork among some of his most inventive and an ever-changing backdrop that undoubtedly pushed other filmmakers to up their ante, this is a truly great nothing film.

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