As the hour hand falls back this weekend, another hand gets lopped off altogether: 127 Hours, in which James Franco plays a stuck-under-a-boulder outdoorsman who must saw off his own arm in order to survive, opens in limited release today. The film marks British director Danny Boyle's follow-up to the vibrant (perhaps too vibrant) hard-knocks fairy tale Slumdog Millionaire. That film walked home with the 2008 best-picture prize, and Oscar buzz has also been building steadily for the Franco endurance test.
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Before he became an awards-season mainstay, Boyle was probably best known as the gutter visionary behind Trainspotting (1996), which dived into the toilet with a merry band of Edinburgh smack addicts. Boyle also revived the zombie genre with 28 Days Later, an uncharacteristically gritty apocalyptic road movie that found critical and box office success in the dead of summer 2002. Though all of his films have an extreme-sports travelogue quality, forcibly transporting the viewer to an unfamiliar world within the world, Boyle is essentially an eclecticist in the vein of Steven Soderbergh. Both bring a formidable technical expertise to bear on a variety of genre remixings. Despite his reputation as a globe-trotting raconteur, Boyle's wild stylistic flourishes don't always serve his straightforward narratives (the hyperactive children's film Millions serves as a feature-length demonstration of this). But his movies are at least reliably interesting, as evidenced by a couple of his lesser-remembered works.
My personal-favorite Boyle film is 2007's Sunshine. The space-mission saga, which crescendos to an almost abstract head-trip conclusion, has more in common with the genre's touchstones (2001, Solaris) than more contemporaneous hackwork like Event Horizon and Sphere, to which Sunshine bears superficial stranded-on-dusty-abandoned-spaceships similarities. The mission at Sunshine's core concerns nothing less than reigniting the dying sun, a task requiring Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy) and his colleagues to trail behind them a payload of all the earth's fissile material.