Facing Mortality on the Face of Everest (IMAX 3D)

Everest movie poster

Everest is like Black Mass: there is an extraordinary true story in there somewhere, but it’s not always so easy to tell.  Now I am being a little unfair: for the most part, Everest does a very good job telling its story, providing both good character colorizations and an explanation of the numerous reasons why it is so tough to climb the world’s tallest mountain.

But narrative problems hinder it from being a truly great film.  As great as Everest is at depicting activities involved in preparing for a summit push, once that push begins things go amiss.  A seemingly small problem early on in the summit attempt: skipping altogether the act of evening rest and overnight sleep in Camps 1, 2, 3 and 4.  It may sound a small and perhaps irrelevant omission — I take it the filmmakers felt that way — but besides missing out on a key experience of climbing nature’s biggest beast, it left the effect that the entire mountain was perhaps being climbed in one day.  This confusion as to the chronology of events is accentuated by the fact that throughout the film — where chronology is less critical — the times and locations are well-captioned.

The chronology issue represents a major botch on the part of the filmmakers.  Confusing the matter even more is talk at Base Camp of a “May 10” summit push — but it’s unclear if that means they are on their way from Base Everest - text blockCamp on May 10, or if that refers only to the final day of the climb.  Since we never see them sleeping on the mountain on the way up, and since captions go missing during this period, a lot of confusion is unnecessarily dealt to audience members.

* * *

So the narration as regards chronology is not such a small problem.  But what’s worse is that when things start going south, the narrative again crumbles.  It’s very difficult to tell the location, condition and circumstances of the various characters at the most critical time.  Iced-over bearded faces and little vocalization sometimes make it difficult even to recognize certain characters at certain times.  During the time of greatest panic, one certainly understands that lives are in peril, but not clearly how so.  And that is the biggest failure of Everest.  I shouldn’t have to go back later and read about the events on Wikipedia to get a clear understanding of what happened, but that’s what I did.

And that’s a shame, because there’s a lot of good in this movie.  Besides the positives I previously mentioned, Everest features perhaps the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen — even better than Gravity.  So even with its problems, I give Everest (in 3D) a solid recommendation.  7/10

Holding a Black Mass for Itself

Compared to the enthralling true-life organized crime story it tells, Black Mass is a letdown.  That true crime story is muddled down by filmmakers who are in over their head.  Instead of a magnificent arc, we are given incongruous snapshots.  The performances are good, but that’s a given.  We may think of a mass being held for the vastly under-realized potential.

Black Mass - text blockSo no, Black Mass will not supplant Goodfellas, The Departed, or Mystic River, or even a small and much more powerful violent crime film like The Drop.  Johnny Depp does a good job here, but for an infinitely better Depp mob movie, check out Donnie Brasco.

Despite its deep shortcomings, those snapshots work well enough to let some of this poignant tale through, so a mild thumbs-up.  6/10

VOD Log: While We’re Young

While We're Young - posterThe first half of While We’re Young plays like a cross between The Overnight, but without the compelling engagement, and a broken wannabe Woody Allen picture.  Indeed, it made me reflect on the comparative jubilation wrought by Irrational Man.  A juvenile gross-out vomiting sequence spotlights the weakness of the film.

Then a plot emerges with surprising substance, rendered by some decent performances.  But it’s too late.  That vomit is not so easily mopped up.

A24 films have been so good that when the preview flashed the studio’s logo, that sold it for me.  So much for A24 standing as an unquestionable badge of quality.  5/10

While We're Young - text block

Meru: Climbing the BIG Rock

Meru - poster

Mountain climbing is something that fascinates me; this year two movies serve to satisfy that curiosity: Everest, a dramatic presentation of true events, and the documentary Meru.  There’s a lot to like here, and for anyone taken by nature’s majesty — and wrath — I offer a solid recommendation.  But documentaries need to work on a dramatic arc just like non-documentaries, including a strong final stretch which Meru lacks.  Plus, I’m not sure the long shots at night were real.  7/10

A Visit Worth Making

The Visit - poster

The Visit is shot with the played-out found footage / first-person camera technique.  So at first, I was thinking can we JUST show the movie?  Unless something new is brought to bear, what’s the point?  But it worked well here, with just enough of a slight original spin on the method to add some value.

Until, that is, the inevitable point in all these found footage films where the characters find themselves in frenetic life-or-death situations, but somehow manage to always keep filming.  Now I’ve seen actual found footage — it usually makes a number of appearances on every local newscast — and the moment of impact is almost always lost.  And lost by people who aren’t even in danger.  So I can’t buy that a young teenage girl who has death grasping at her feet will always manage to perfectly shoot the scene.  Naturally, the heavier and bulkier the camera the better.

So no, I’m not a big fan of found footage.  It worked with The Blair Witch Project, the originator of the technique.  And it worked fairly well with Paranormal Activity — the original one, anyway.  And here or there it’s effective.  But my god, give it a rest.  If they resisted the temptation in Saw, they can resist it in The Visit.

* * *

The Visit - text blockAside from the found footage approach, The Visit was very mixed, but ultimately fun, scary, a little campy, and more than a little creepy.  The deep darkies may just get ‘ya.  6/10

A Shot-Blast Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton - poster

The first part of Straight Outta Compton is pretty terrific, but the movie evolves into something I’ve seen too often: the filmmakers running down a checklist.  ‘OK, now we’re talking about censorship, we’ve done that, now let’s talk about the band members getting their due, OK, done, now let’s get all serious when one of the band members starts having health issues.  Etc.’  I’ve seen this before too many times, and it’s hardly optimal.  Jersey Boys, and to a lesser degree Love & Mercy were afflicted by the same problem.

Optimally, the story would continue the arc it sets out on, and not diverge among the various strands of storyline.  That is, it would follow a path through The Doors.  Nonetheless, the stories are compelling, and Straight Outta Compton is punchy enough to recommend.  On the low end of 7/10

Film Brief: Paper Towns

Sixteen Candles, Valley Girl, Lucas, Real Genius, The Sure Thing, Heathers, Napoleon DynamiteTwin Peaks, Rivers Edge: joy, passion, revelation, wonder and excitement.  I weep for the teens of today if the best Hollywood can muster for them is flat as paper, or Paper Towns as the case may be.  It’s joyless, but does sprinkle in a handful of Paper Towns - text blockpleasantries, a moment or two of near-loveliness, a conclusion that wasn’t terrible, and generally a mild rise above complete insipidness.  Still though, pretty insipid and a solid thumbs-down.  4/10