James Franco

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Movie studios typically release their biggest films during the summer, which leaves April out in the cold. A look outside the major studios, however, reveals several promising films set to release during the under-appreciated spring month. James Franco dons an orange jumpsuit in his role as a sociopathic convicted murderer in his upcoming film “True Story,” Blake Lively reminds us of her eternal beauty in a drama about a woman who can’t age past 29 years old in “Age of Adaline,” and 7-year-old Jakob Salvati realizes his magical abilities in a father and son World War II drama.

True Story

Jonah Hill and James Franco switch gears from the ridiculous humor of their last collaborative effort “This Is The End” to a dark psychological thriller entitled “True Story.” Based on actual events of the early 2000s, “True Story” follows an ex-New York Times journalist (Hill) who finds himself involved with a convicted murderer (Franco) who has mysteriously assumed his identity. Ironically, the New York Times said in a 2013 article that the film's portrayal of events is not wholly true, but rather relies on the dramatics of Hollywood.

National Release Date: April 17

Where: Violet Crown

Little Boy

This movie is the definition of heartwarming. In “Little Boy,” a young boy realizes his literal ability to move mountains in an attempt to bring his father home alive from World War II. Painfully cute 7-year-old Jakob Salvati stars as the little boy, carrying most of the film with his blue eyes, charisma and charm. The film has the magical quality and attention-to-detail of a Disney classic, but it comes from Mexican filmmaker and UT radio-television-film alumnus Alejandro Monteverde.  

National Release Date: April 24

Where: Regal Westgate


Drafthouse Films is re-releasing this hidden gem from 1981 for one week in Austin. “Roar,” the self-proclaimed “most dangerous film ever made,” follows a wildlife preservationist who lives among a pack of untamed animals including lions, tigers, cheetahs and elephants. Animal trainers warned husband and wife producing duo Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall that the film was a suicide mission, but the duo continued with production in hopes that the film would raise awareness about overhunting. “Roar” is a must-see simply for its novelty. The footage is all real, evidenced by the trailer’s claim that the cast and crew endured at least 70 documented attacks from the animals on set — none of which were fatal.

National Release Date: April 17 - 23

Where: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar

The Age of Adaline

Another twist on the fountain-of-youth plot, “Age of Adaline” showcases Blake Lively as a woman eternally stuck as a 29-year-old struggling to find her place in an ever-changing world. The epic romantic drama will be rife with melodramatic dialogue and “deep” realizations about the meaning of life, but the movie is sure to be of higher quality than the Nicholas Sparks alternative, “The Longest Ride,” which is also showing this month. Given the choice between the two, go with "Adaline." 

National Release Date: April 24

Where: TBD

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

If you can make it through the entirety of this trailer, I commend you. Paul Blart is back for a sequel that is strikingly similar to the original, a 90-minute “comedy” about the antics of a run-of-the-mill mall cop. In the sequel, Paul Blart, played by Kevin James, finds himself involved in a Las Vegas heist while attending a Security Guard Expo. “Mall Cop 2” promises the return of the segway and the wornout run-into-glass-door slapstick stunts.

National Release Date: April 17

Where: AMC Barton Creek Square 14

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Patriot Films | Daily Texan Staff

“Wild Horses,” the latest offering from director and actor Robert Duvall, attempts to capture the essence of the Texas spirit while juggling a dark crime-drama at the same time. The result is a messy blend of two narratives that separately have potential, but together make for an unengaging film. Most of the actors manage decent performances, but an unfocused story weighed down by unnecessary subplots ultimately results in an unenjoyable, disjointed film.

Duvall plays Scott Briggs, an aging ranch-owner who decides the time is ripe to discuss his will with his family. His distant, gay son (James Franco) returns to the ranch, prompting re-examination of some of the family's dark memories. Years prior, Scott caught his son with a ranch hand and drove them away at gunpoint. The same night, the ranch hand disappeared. Now, a female Texas Ranger (Luciana Duvall) reopens the disappearance case and begins to investigate Scott and the family.

The film’s narrative is basically split into two separate stories, each of them basically representing two different genres. At times, the film is a family drama about reconciliation and acceptance. Simultaneously, it is a murder-mystery filled with gunfights and drug dealing. The two storylines fail to mesh together at all, and the ties connecting them are thin. Duvall seems to have been in love with both ideas. Though he clearly tried his best to incorporate both, he ultimately created a mediocre compromise with two plots constantly fighting for the audience’s attention.

One positive aspect of the film is Duvall’s performance. His take on a conflicted, conservative rancher is stunning. He shows an accurate portrayal of a father trying to understand and bond with his family. Franco is decent as his son, and his struggle to reconcile with his father feels real. If the movie focused entirely on their relationship, it would have had the opportunity to really go in-depth on this interesting connection between father and son. Luciana Duvall, who is Duvall’s real-life spouse, is lackluster as a tough-as-nails ranger. She speaks with a confusing accent that seem half-Texan and half-European, and ultimately doesn’t add anything to the story. She just meanders about and doesn’t have much pull in moving the plot forward.

The Texas of the film, a place where everyone owns a farm and wears a cowboy hat twenty-four hours a day, comes off as a weird, fantasy land. In a scene toward the beginning, Scott hosts a family barbeque that transcends into a list of stereotypes associated with living the quaint "Texas" lifestyle. All the kids are learning how to make a lasso, while all the adults are decked out in plaid and denim. This isn’t a realistic take on Texas, and doesn't feel like a place where a murder mystery is supposed to be unfolding. This is the Texas of Budweiser commercials, and it’s jarring that a dark story is thrust in the middle of it.

“Wild Horses” wants to be a brooding, crime drama set in a bright, happy countryside in Texas, but the contrast never transcends "clunky." Duvall gets greedy and packs everything he can into the film, and the audience is worse off for it. The shifting storylines steal focus from his and Franco’s good performances. If "Wild Horses" didn’t spend so much time on convoluted subplots, and instead explored the relationship between Duvall and Franco in greater depth, “Wild Horses” might've been an intriguing story about the struggles of a family stuck in its ways, trying to move forward. 

  • Director: Robert Duvall
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: 102 minutes
  • Rating: 4/10 Cowboy Hats

This film image released by A24 Films shows, from left, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens in a scene from “Spring Breakers.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” doesn’t seem to have much on its mind as the credits unfurl over a barrage of beer bongs, bare breasts and bad behavior, and on the surface, “Spring Breakers” is nothing more than an excuse to get some of the most popular Nickelodeon and Disney stars into very compromising situations on camera. However, once you start to peel back the layers of the film’s neon-drenched aesthetic, “Spring Breakers” becomes a coyly disguised film about, among other things, responsibility, living a rewarding life and the corruptive power of Britney Spears.

Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine star as a quartet of underfunded college students who, desperate for an escape to the beach, rob a restaurant to bankroll their dream spring break. A few keg stands later, they end up in handcuffs, and their unlikely savior is drug dealer/rapper/self-described gangster Alien (James Franco).

Anyone in search of a meaningful narrative arc will be disappointed by “Spring Breakers,” and the film isn’t exactly interested in telling a story. It’s a film about a lifestyle, not characters, and almost every moment in the film is dedicated to exposing the dark underbelly of the YOLO philosophy. Even as the film’s neon aesthetic and dupstep-driven momentum seem to revel in the beachside debauchery, it’s clear that Harmony Korine is interested in exploring the mind-set of the modern American youth, holding a mirror up to our ugliest behavior accusingly.

All of that sounds a bit like a 40-year-old director telling a bunch of bikini-clad teens to get off his lawn, but there’s no denying that “Spring Breakers” is an absolute blast to watch. There’s not a wasted moment in the film, and the woozy spring break plays like a half-formed memory at times, with a disorienting, arresting lilt to the rhythms of its dialogue, driven by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex’s seductive score. Korine stages several bravura sequences, especially the creatively filmed and thematically loaded robbery that kicks off the film, a bizarre montage set to a crooning Britney Spears song, and an unusually constructed but satisfyingly climactic shootout.

“Spring Breakers” is building a good bit of its appeal around its youthful cast, but Korine didn’t cast his titular characters because they were willing to tarnish their (mostly) squeaky-clean images. Selena Gomez is surprisingly effectively as Faith, the “good girl,” and Gomez’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed innocence strikes an essential contrast to the rest of the cast. Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine are both solid in their roles, but Vanessa Hudgens tears into her character with surprising fierceness, determined not to cast off her image but to shatter it into a million pieces. 

Hudgens’ performance kicks into high gear once James Franco’s character enters the picture, and his totally gonzo performance fits Korine’s style perfectly. Alien is a character who solves his problems by throwing bills at them, and Franco's essentially playing Korine’s thesis statement, a life lived with no responsibilities taken to its most natural extreme.

For a film with so much potential for inciting moral outrage, “Spring Breakers” is actually a fascinatingly purposeful film from Harmony Korine. The film is a thoroughly modern bait-and-switch, blinding the audience with a barrage of colors and bass drops, leading them to believe that the film is a gleeful celebration when it’s actually a damning condemnation.

This film image released by Disney Enterprises shows James Franco and Michelle Williams in a scene from “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Disney’s motivation to return to the world of “Oz” for another film was likely driven not by any creative urge, but by the boatloads of money that Tim Burton’s reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland” hauled in. Thankfully, director Sam Raimi has an innate ability to create an engaging fantastical world and retain his directorial voice without descending into self-parody, something that made Burton’s take on “Wonderland” nearly unwatchable. Raimi’s distinct directorial stamp works wonders for “Oz the Great and Powerful,” an effortlessly entertaining and endlessly imaginative film.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a prequel to the classic 1939 film, focusing on Oz (James Franco), a schlocky, selfish magician who lacks the resolve to settle down with dream girl Annie (Michelle Williams), preferring to follow his aspirations of unquestionable greatness. Whisked away from Kansas by a tornado, Oz finds himself in the magical land that shares his name.

Ever since his disastrous stint as Oscar host, James Franco has brought a holier-than-thou attitude to his performances in blockbuster films, but he’s refreshingly subdued in “Oz.” Franco’s slow transition from small-time magician to leader of men (and munchkins) is played with amusing reluctance and heartfelt sincerity, but he’s less effective when embodying Oz’s inner showman, alternating between infectious confidence and unimpressive cheesiness with frustrating consistency.

The trio of witches that drive the conflict in “Oz” are realized by an impressive female ensemble. Michelle Williams is pure grace and wispy dialogue as Glinda the Good, but she’s just as effective and tender as Annie, Oz’s real-world love interest. Rachel Weisz plays Evanora with coiled frustration, barely able to hold back her contempt for Oz. Mila Kunis has the most challenging role of the three as Theodora, the young witch who discovers Oz upon his arrival. Kunis brings an innocence to the role that is slowly shattered as she becomes increasingly infatuated with the womanizing Oz, and her arc is where the film’s story becomes increasingly problematic.

As anyone familiar with the “Oz” mythology is aware, Kunis’ Theodora eventually transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West. Although she has the spunk necessary to embody the role, Kunis struggles to register behind thick coats of unconvincing makeup, something that only serves to underline the shortcomings of the film’s story. While the awakening of Oz’s inner hero is more inspired than your standard origin story, the dynamics required to get Theodora seeing green are strained manipulations of character logic.

Throughout the film, even when the story teeters on the edge of nonsense, Raimi never fails to inject his own personal touch into the proceedings. Raimi’s Oz is flooded with creativity, and the film overflows with imaginative designs and characters. One of the allies that Franco’s Oz picks up during the film is a small girl made of china, and Raimi pulls the impressive feat of making a delicate CGI character the film’s emotional core. “Oz” is most fun in the brief moments when Raimi lets some of the tricks he came up with on the “Evil Dead” trilogy loose, staging genuinely harrowing beats in the midst of an immersive fantasy world full of beautiful colors and gorgeously scoped images.

While Disney was clearly inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” Raimi draws from a very different source: his 1992 horror-comedy “Army of Darkness.” The films share many common elements, from structure to how conflicts are resolved to character beats, and it’s a joy to see Raimi working to bring freshness to such familiar territory. While “Oz the Great and Powerful” struggles to make sense at times, it’s a pleasure to watch thanks to an interesting cast, a stunningly realized setting and the simple joy of having Sam Raimi behind the camera.

Published on March 8, 2013 as "'Oz' misses 'Great and Powerful,' but achieves 'good'". 

Bill Murray in a scene from “Hyde Park on Hudson.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Of all the major film festivals that occur in Austin every year, the 19th Austin Film Festival & Conference is the most distinctly Texan. From its sponsors (including the delectable Salt Lick BBQ) to its films (several from UT alumnus are playing this year), Austin Film Festival is all about Texan pride and showcasing some of the Oscar season’s biggest films.

The festival kicked off last night with “Not Fade Away,”  David Chase’s first production since “The Sopranos” ended five years ago. Drawn from Chase’s youth, the film chronicles a Jersey youth (John Magero) growing up in the ‘60s and trying to make it in the music business. The film shows that Chase hasn’t lost the ability to craft strong characters and that he’s even become more stylistically bold, something that avid “Sopranos” watchers might think impossible. James Gandolfini, playing Magero’s father, gives a tender, wistful performance, and he may be the best thing about “Not Fade Away.”

Other hot tickets at this year’s festival include “Francophrenia,” the next step in James Franco’s subtle, extended satire on the nature of celebrity. A documentary filmed during Franco’s time with “General Hospital,” the film promises to be a bizarre look at the dynamics of a soap opera set. Franco will be in attendance for Friday’s screening at the Paramount, so make sure to get
there early.

The idea of Bill Murray playing Franklin D. Roosevelt is too good to pass up, and lackluster early reviews won’t dissuade me from checking out “Hyde Park on Hudson” Saturday afternoon. Later that evening, the audience will be treated to David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” an exploration of mental illness starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Both have received huge accolades for their performances, and Russell has made a habit of churning out entertaining crowd-pleasers with real substance to them.

Another major player at the festival is Denzel Washington’s latest Oscar hopeful, Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight.” A reportedly complex portrayal of addiction, “Flight” received rave reviews from the New York Film Festival. Anyone with an aversion to intense plane crash scenes should probably stay far away.

Austin Film Festival offers more than just screenings. It also offers numerous panels delving into all aspects of the business as well as Q-and-A sessions with the festival’s major award recipients. Yesterday early-bird attendees were lucky enough to sit in on a conversation with David Chase. Upcoming events include chats with James Franco, “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter, “Prometheus” screenwriter Damon Lindelof and “Freaks and Geeks” creator Paul Feig. Oh, and just a little someone named Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Walking Dead”).

Screenwriters will find endless panels awaiting them, from “Layered Storytelling” to “Writing for Video Games” to topics as specific as “The First Ten Pages.” There are also case studies of individual films, such as Max Landis’ presentation of his original screenplay for this year’s “Chronicle,” and a discussion of what had to be changed or beefed up before the film hit the big screen.

Fans of HBO’s late horse-racing drama “Luck” will find plenty to like in this year’s festival, including a staged reading of the unproduced first episode of the drama’s canned second season.

Screenwriter Eric Roth will be on hand and will host several other panels throughout the festival. Dustin Hoffman won’t be present at the festival, but his directorial debut, “Quartet,” will screen Tuesday evening. The film focuses on a retirement home for opera singers and the events that follow when an ex-lover-turned-enemy arrives on the eve of their biggest concert.

An event like the Austin Film Festival wouldn’t be complete without some Texan independent cinema, and films like “The Girl,” which stars Abbie Cornish as a woman forced to shuttle illegal immigrants across the border, promise to be uniquely Texan and quite compelling. UT alumnus Todd Berger will lead a panel showing how his film, “It’s a Disaster,” made it to the big screen.

A comedy about the end of the world, “It’s a Disaster” locks four couples in a house as the apocalypse rages outside. Predictably, some dormant issues arise. Finally, “Congratulations,” the story of a man whose marriage proposal was shot down upon arriving at his engagement party, boasts a creative concept and lots of room for comedy.

This year’s Austin Film Festival boasts a slate full of big films worth getting excited for, small films that promise to reward the time invested in them and panels that could make a huge difference in creative output. Any Austin film fan should make sure to attend for an experience equally entertaining, illuminating and just plain Texan.

Printed on Friday, October 19, 2012 as: Film festival screens latest works features interviews with creators

(Left to right) David Bukstein, Bao Truong, Morgan Young and Ali Haji are the stars of the web series “Undergr

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Late October of last year, four radio-television-film students, David Bukstein and Ali Haji, Morgan Young and Bao Troung, had set out on their respective projects: whether it was a documentary on their family or a choir group or the human rights campaign. Their pre-production set into motion, their lens focused on their subjects, their editing formed a story. It was something they were relatively used to — except that there was another camera on them. As they were working on filming, a production company was doing the same as a part of “Undergrads: South,” a docu-web series premiering today on JamesFrancoTV.com.

Actor James Franco’s production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions (founded in 2003), is producing the series, the third in the Undergrad series. With producing partner Vince Jolivette, the series depicts the lives of undegraduate, up-and-coming filmmakers. After a North and West series, they initially set their sights on Dallas before coming to the Austin Film Festival and becoming acquainted with UT alumna and director Joy Gohring and deciding instead to focus on vibrant Austin film scene.

“I really wanted to them to focus on Austin because I know of the amazing talent that is here and the diversity,” Gohring said.

With a location and a production company in tow, what was left were the subjects. With hundreds of film students on the University’s campus alone, it was big pool to whittle down, but through word of mouth and an interview process, they found their cast in Bukstein, Haji, Young and Truong.

Though they all may be filmmakers in some capacity, they all offer a different perspective, coming from different races, genders, sexual orientation and experience and aesthetic.

“Instead of just getting people that were going to be interesting, they got people who were extremely driven and who weren’t willing to accept what [the producers] were initially setting out for,” Bukstein said. “They got four very unique, ambitious people.”

The series follows Haji as he documents the choir group he is a part of, The Ransom Notes, as they compete; Troung as he completes a documentary on local band “Little Lo” and on his family; Young chronicles the Brady Campaign, which deals with gun rights; and Bukstein as he films a music video for Mother Falcon, along with a personal film of his family.

When it came to the actual shooting itself in late October, and which continues today, they too had their own perspectives. Some were an open book, like Bukstein, who depicted the coming out of his father as a cross dresser while others kept more boundaries.

“Because the Brady Campaign is very sensitive, I was conscious of that,” Young said. “These victims are of violent crimes and I had to ask them to step outside at times. Ali and I were very aware of what was being filmed and all that came along with that.”

Being filmed provided a different perspective for the students, no longer being able to hide behind their lens. But not only that, they had a hands-on role in creation of the docu-web series itself with Gohring. They or even their friends handled the filming or the cinematography. Bukstein became so involved with the production that he received a co-associate producer credit. But a place where they all provided input one way or another was the editing room, a place for them to see the culled hours upon hours of footage shot of them, unrefined in any way.

“It made us really critical on us and self-reflective,” Truong said. “It was us trying to be in front of the camera. At times, you forget about the camera, but when the camera’s on, you know there’s going to be tens of thousands of footage on you, knowing James Franco’s reach with this.”

Some of those hours were edited down to the short, less than 10 minute pilot that premiered at this year’s South By Southwest Film Conference. For all four of them, it was their first experience with the festival. They spoke at a panel but even more nerve-rackingly, had to sit and watch themselves along with an audience.

“Sitting on a panel made it all very real,” Haji said. “Having something that goes onto SXSW that gets exposed on such a big level was great. It was weird to see yourself on your screen. You’re your harshest critic, but people reacted very well to, which was comforting. You always wonder how people will react to you.”

With editing still going on and at least six more episodes to go, the experience for Gohring and all four of the “characters,” a word Bukstein used to describe the four of them, was rewarding, shedding light on their career paths, their relationships with friends and family and of course, on the spotlight that is on themselves. For them, it became more than simply another cliche-ridden story of college trials and tribulations, but a true reflection of the lives of budding filmmakers about to head off to another real world.

“This is not ‘reality,’” Bukstein said. “This is real life, the kind of real life that could not replicated in reality television because everything that is happening is real, not changed by a director and authentic. When you watch us, you won’t see us binge-drinking or trying to get laid. You will see us diligently pursuing our careers, which many students are but are never portrayed because there isn’t an avenue for that. This show is Austin embodied in four film students.”

David Gordon Green’s recent reinvention of his career has been nothing short of fascinating to watch. After creating a name for himself making glacially paced, poetically written indies such as “Snow Angels” and “All the Real Girls,” Green did a complete 180 and began making uproarious stoner comedies such as 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and now the absolutely ridiculous and hysterical “Your Highness.”

Things start off with Thadeous (Danny McBride) about to be executed by a kingdom of midgets and the film only gets sillier from there when he is forced to accompany his brother Fabious (James Franco) on a quest to save Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), Fabious’ fiancee who has been captured by the nefarious Leezar (Justin Theroux). Unbeknownst to the brothers, Leezar plans to use Belladonna to fulfill an especially invasive prophecy. As they quest to rescue her, they encounter a perverted wizard, a randy Minotaur and the deadly Isabel (Natalie Portman).

Obviously, a film like this lives and dies on the quality of its jokes. On this front, “Your Highness” has more hits than misses, continuing the “Pineapple Express” method of blending stoner humor, creative cursing and over-the-top violence for laughs. This is a film that may sound like it was written by a 13-year-old, but in the best way possible. It’s raunchy, unapologetic and seems endlessly entertained with itself. Even when the occasional joke flops, there are several far funnier quips quickly following it.

Most of this is thanks to the comedic persona of McBride. After making his film debut in Green’s “All the Real Girls,” McBride has been slowly honing the character he’s best known for: the cocky failure whose ego is matched only by his blissful lack of self-awareness. Coming off of another hilarious season of “Eastbound & Down,” McBride slaps on a preposterous British accent and lends every scene his trademark comedic stylings. If audiences have grown tired of McBride’s schtick, “Your Highness” may be a bit of a chore, but fans will find plenty to laugh at here.

The rest of the cast refuses to let McBride dominate the spotlight, however. Franco’s Fabious is energetic and naive, employing Franco’s goofy smile and natural comedic timing to great effect. Theroux’s detestable wizard almost steals the show, but is segregated from the rest of the cast for most of the film, asked instead to play off of Deschanel’s straight man. When Deschanel is asked to interact with the rest of the cast, she displays an uncharacteristic comedic flair, but mostly flounders in the film’s later scenes, where she’s only asked to look scared and make out with Franco. Portman, on the other hand, is great, taking the filthy, playful persona she brought to “No Strings Attached,” cranking it up, and running with the film’s often ridiculous material. It helps that Portman is given a few action scenes where she proves to be surprisingly badass.

As for director Green, he adapts well to the medieval genre — miles away from the Midwestern, poetic locations where he began making films. Green also displays an adept eye for action sequences, and manages to compose several of the epic landscape shots that defined films such as “Lord of the Rings.”

“Your Highness” is a film that almost defies the rules of logic. A big-budget stoner comedy starring a recent Oscar winner and another nominee that manages to make McBride something of an action hero. By all laws of common sense, this shouldn’t exist. And yet, here it is, in all its shamelessly dirty, hilarious glory, and this weekend, moviegoers will be all the better for it.


Movie review - 127 Hours

Every few years, there’s a sudden glut of films in a very specific genre. Twelve years ago, it was the asteroid flick, with “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” and this summer had a rush of men-on-a-mission films with “The Losers,” “The A-Team,” and “The Expendables.” However, if 2010 has one defining trend, it’s unquestionably the claustrophobic film, which feature a handful of characters trapped in a confined space. Earlier this year, “Frozen” and “Devil” started the pattern with a chair lift and an elevator, respectively. “Buried,” set entirely in a coffin, released last month to little fanfare. However, the best of these films, and one of the best of the year, is easily “127 Hours.”

Based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco), “127 Hours” is a film that almost defies classification into any given genre. It’s moving enough to be a drama, it’s brutal enough to be a horror flick and funny enough (mostly thanks to star James Franco’s dynamite performance) to be a comedy.

Fortunately, director Danny Boyle handles the shifts in tone effortlessly. Continuing to reinvent himself with every film he makes, Boyle brings his trademark kinetic energy to every shot of the film, which is remarkable considering the majority of it takes place in the cramped space where Aron’s arm is trapped under a rock.

James Franco is the only person on screen for much of the film, and he gives the best performance of his career, likable and riveting. Franco convinces the audience to not only care about him, but invest in him, and it makes Aron’s eventual triumph all the more moving. While a few moments are ill-conceived, Franco’s infectious sense of humor and determination keep things moving along quickly.

(After this point, I’ll be discussing the ending of the film, which is common knowledge: Spoiler-phobes who don’t know the story are warned).

Boyle’s buildup to Aron’s escape is methodical, impeccably building hopelessness in the character and viewer until it’s clear that amputating the trapped arm is the only option for escape. The climactic scene, which reportedly caused fainting at the film’s world premiere in Telluride, isn’t quite restrained. Boyle revels in making the audience squirm with a few key shots but is by no means over-the-top, respectful of Aron’s plight but not above forcing the audience to feel his pain.

However, where the film hits its highest point is after Aron’s escape, as he staggers his way to rescue. These are the film’s best scenes, a moving and triumphant catharsis that is inspiring in all the right ways without being the slightest bit cheesy or overwrought. Boyle has always struggled with third acts (especially in 2007’s “Sunshine,” an otherwise perfect film), but the final moments of “127 Hours” are some of the finest you’ll see in a movie theater this year.

“127 Hours” is unquestionably a tour de force. It’s Danny Boyle’s best film yet and deserving of every award it will hopefully get at the end of this year. It’s exhilarating; a transformation of the worst five days of a man’s life into a story of rebirth and redemption.

Grade: A