Everest – Disaster or High Peak?

Last week I was lucky enough to get to see Everest in the theater.

Everest

On the morning of May 10, 1996, climbers (Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin) from two expeditions start their final ascent toward the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. With little warning, a violent storm strikes the mountain, engulfing the adventurers in one of the fiercest blizzards ever encountered by man. Challenged by the harshest conditions imaginable, the teams must endure blistering winds and freezing temperatures in an epic battle to survive against nearly impossible odds.”

Everest should have been a fairly simple movie to write. There are numerous accounts of the incident in print, including several first person books from survivors. Not only do you have an easy to follow timeline but all the necessary details and a lot of sample dialogue. They hired two of the best Hollywood scriptwriters, Simon Beaufoy (Oscars for 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire as well as a nomination for The Full Monty) and William Nicholson (Oscar nominations for Gladiator and Shadowlands).

In spite of this, I did not find the script to be written particularly well. While it is an actual event, too much of the writing smacks of 70s disaster movies. Characters are somewhat stock and we don’t particularly care about them until disaster strikes. I mention this because the shallowness of the characters is pretty much my only complaint against the film.

Visually, Everest is an absolute marvel. I had seen the original IMAX movie taken at that time, watched interviews with a particular survivor (not spoiling it for those who somehow missed news coverage when it happened), and read Into Thin Air (the best of the books on this topic) yet it wasn’t until I saw this film in RPX that I had a real, visceral understanding of what it means to climb Everest.

Everest is directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Previously I have seen his 2 Guns and Contraband. They were okay but not impressive. Everest is absolutely riveting. The film is nicely paced and very informative without being pedantic. It was filmed in part on Everest at base camp as well as in the Italian Alps.

Yes, we are introduced to a variety of caricatures, I mean characters in the early stages. We have earnest team leader, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and laid back team leader, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Our hopeful climbers include Texan alpha male Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), nice guy mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), and veteran female climber Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori). The native Sherpa guides are often ignored in Everest stories but at least two are here as minor characters, Ang Dorjee (Ang Phula Sherpa) and Lopsang (Pemba Sherpa).

Performances are just fine across the board. Josh Brolin does not have to stretch to play Beck Weathers – the role seems written with the actor in mind. Jason Clarke is fabulous as Rob Hall. His performances really vary with him usually being in the background of a film and underplaying his role. While this didn’t work well with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, here he steals the show (if steal is an accurate term for an ensemble piece).

Even though I knew the complete story, including the fates of those involved, I found the RPX presentation harrowing. Everest is definitely not a movie to see on television or even a small theater screen. Go see this on the biggest screen you can. Now.

Terminator Genisys Terminated!

Along with umm very few people, I got to see Terminator Genisys last week.

Terminator Genisys

 

Terminator Genisys (2015) РRated PG-13

John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.”

Terminator Genisys is such a missed opportunity. Overall this film is a dud, which is not terribly unexpected.

Parts of Terminator Genisys are simply brilliant. The movie replays two key scenes from the first movie and they are remade in exacting detail with completely different outcomes. Heck, the punk played by Bill Paxton briefly in the 1984 original, here even looks like him in 2015. That is of course quite strange as Emilia Clarke looks nothing like Linda Hamilton and Jai Courtney looks nothing like Michael Biehn. The ideas behind and the orchestration of these two scenes are wonderful.

The central plot twist is also quite intelligent. Hilariously, the trailer gives it away completely, an unintentional revisiting of the Terminator 2 fiasco.

So what is wrong with Genisys? Pretty much everything else.

First, it suffers from Buffy syndrome. Every season the UBG (ultimate bad guy) had to be bigger and badder until, in season five, Buffy had to fight an actual deity. In The Terminator, Sarah Connor had to run from an unstoppable killing machine that could imitate anyone’s voice. In Terminator 2, Sarah and John Connor had to face a newer model of unstoppable killing machine that could perfectly imitate anyone it touched and was made of liquid metal while trying to stop judgement day aka the apocalypse.

The lackluster Terminator 3 had John Connor trying to stop judgement day again, this time facing off against a Terminator that could do all of the things the one in 2 could PLUS control machines. The utterly humorless and Arnold-less Terminator Salvation abandoned the formula to tell a story of post-apocalyptic John Connor. Terminator Genisys tries to up the UBG but how do you top T3’s Terminatrix? The short answer is that they don’t.

The main acting is rather unconvincing. Emilia, who is fantastic, both tough and vulnerable, as Daenerys in Game of Thrones cannot seem to manage either here, in spite of being directed by Alan Taylor in half a dozen GoT episodes. Jai Courtney, the poor man’s Bruce Willis, is a pretty boy with very little screen presence. Jason Clarke is a decent actor but also lacks presence. J.K. Simmons is quite good in his limited role. Matt Smith is fine in what amounts to a glorified cameo.

Arnold, central to all the Terminator movies except Salvation, is just fine here even though he has aged considerably since the 1984 original. They did a good job of crafting the screenplay around his aging. When the original Arnold Terminator is shown, they did some wonderful mapping on an excellent body double. Arnold gets the three biggest laughs of the film – all based around his inability to smile. Sadly, those are pretty much the only laughs.

The action sequences are appropriately noisy but honestly James Cameron, who directed the first two films, was a master of action cinema. Alan Taylor is no James Cameron. As he did in Thor: Dark World, it always feels as if Taylor is sucking the life out of a franchise. The action scenes remind me of Transformers, where you can see that a lot of money and effort went into them but they aren’t actually exciting. I’d posit that I have reached CGI overload but the scenes in Jurassic World are quite suspenseful.

Terminator Genisys also spends way too much time reinventing the wheel and too much effort in setting up the sequel. There is one brief post-credits scene. Thankfully they put it just after credits start so you don’t need to sit through all of them.

Terminator Genisys will only appeal to hardcore fans of the franchise and even then they will likely be disappointed. I know I was.