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.

Jack Ryan, Generic Spy

I got my FREE ticket for this from Best Buy. Using it put me over the top for a FREE soda at Carolina Cinemas so I had a really nice afternoon.

Jack Ryan

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) – Rated PG-13

Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.”

I loved many of Tom Clancy’s novels. I also mourned him before his passing as he had been letting other hacks write his novels for over a decade. While I did not always agree with his assessment of politics, he always had good reason for going in the direction he did. While Jack Ryan was his main protagonist, many many other characters served heroic roles in his novels, including reader favorites like John Clark and Ding Chavez down to individual secret service personnel.

Three of his best novels had already been adapted to the screen (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger) with varying degrees of success as well as one of his lesser efforts (The Sum of All Fears). Jack Ryan was played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and, now, Chris Pine.

Jack Ryan had plenty of warning bells. It is always a terrible sign to be bumped from a Christmas release to the celluloid graveyard of January. The title, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, smacks of franchise planning. The title is also horrifically generic. Chris Pine makes a great William Shatner but can he act? I enjoyed Carriers but it didn’t really require heavy lifting from Pine.

The movie begins with a couple scenes showcasing Ryan’s character and backstory – I was almost startled that it wasn’t a montage. A lot of what occurs seems intent on setting Ryan up for future sequels.

The first two-thirds of the movie run smoothly. The action is pretty and well-handled but evokes a serious deja vu. If you are going to make an expensive spy movie, then bring something new to the table like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol did (a sandstorm chase, a climb outside the Burj Khalifa, a fight in an automated car park).

Chris Pine is a rather generic hero, in spite of the pedigree they establish for him. Kenneth Branagh makes for a good villain. Keira Knightley is nice too but contrast this with her stunning performance in Anna Karenina.

Extremely minor spoilers (the plot gives this away):

The last act of the film though is ridiculous in the extreme. I won’t post spoilers but knowing that an attack on the U.S. is imminent, some people have to fly from Moscow to the U.S. and apparently, there are no other people in the agency (or any other agency) who can handle this situation.

Jack Ryan is so smart that all answers have to come from him, in spite of the fact that he is a minor analyst/agent in the C.I.A. There is a nice montage as they figure things out but Clancy’s strength was that all efforts, good and evil, require an ensemble of characters. Apparently in the cinema world, a wrench (Jack Ryan) is the answer to all problems, mental or physical.

That’s not to say that Jack Ryan isn’t enjoyable. It just isn’t memorable so go, enjoy, and forget.

 

 

Michael Fassbender & A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method (2011) – Rated R for sexual content and brief language. Strangely even though Keira Kightley is nude in it, nudity isn’t part of the rating.

In this David Cronenberg-helmed biopic, Viggo Mortensen stars as Sigmund Freud, whose relationship with fellow psychology luminary Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is tested when Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), one of the first female psychoanalysts, enters their lives. This World War I-set drama also stars Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, a disciple of Freud, and Sarah Gadon, who plays Jung’s psychoanalyst wife.

David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors. I loved his visceral horror movies, often focused on issues of body modification and identity. They were always intelligent and original. Even his remake of The Fly was original and reinvented the story in much the same way John Carpenter did with The Thing. Unfortunately for me, he is now an important director so horror has gone by the wayside.

Michael Fassbender is the star of A Dangerous Method and he does quite well as Carl Jung. He is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors. He had wonderful supporting roles in Inglourious Basterds, 300 and Band of Brothers. He followed this up with proof that he can carry a movie in Centurion and was, forgive me, simply magnetic in X-Men First Class. Next up for Fassbender is the Ridley Scott science fiction opus Prometheus.

Cronenberg’s go-to actor appears to be Viggo Mortensen. Viggo was fantastic in Cronenberg’s last two films – A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. He is quite good in A Dangerous Method as Sigmund Freud but not quite as good as the two previous films. Still he instills a fair amount of gravitas as a father figure.

Keira Knightley is actually the astonishing one. Her portrayal of Sabina Spielrein requires a great deal of range and Keira gives quite freely of herself in this role. Vincent Cassel has a delightful time chewing up the scenery as the aptly named Dr. Gross. Sarah Gadon is just fine as Jung’s long-suffering wife but does not have as much to do as you might think.

The movie is a filmed version of a play and, in spite of the gorgeous locations used, seems like one. In spite of the cast listing there are really only five roles in the movie. The biggest flaw of the movie seems to be that of its subject matter. The movie comes across as very analytical and is of course combined with brief overviews of the works of Freud and Jung (although many of the latter’s more out there philosophies are only approached tangentially).

A Dangerous Method has very little action in it and is quite talky, albeit intelligently so. The parts of the film showing the disintegration of a professional relationship are riveting because Cronenberg and the actors make them so nuanced.

WARNING: A Dangerous Method is a very good film but it is not always an entertaining one. The first half in particular delves into a number of issues of sexual abuse/dysfunction and can be a little difficult to watch. It is not what I would call a “date film”.