‘Everest’ Movie Review 0 128

everest-movie-review

Ever thought about taking on the epic task of climbing a mountain? Well Everest may very well put an end to that. It tells the harrowing true story of the infamous Everest mountain climbing expedition that took place in May 1996 when an eclectic group of climbers and adventurers (played here by the likes of Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal) embarked on a dangerous mission to the highest point on Earth. But an unexpectedly violent storm causes things to go very wrong, challenging the climbers to endure blistering winds and freezing temperatures to survive.

If you’re going into Everest expecting an all-out action movie then you’re going to be very disappointed indeed. What’s most surprising about it is just how little it resembles that sort of movie. Apart from one scene fairly early on in which Brolin’s spirited climber Beck Weathers tries to cross between two ice ridges on a shaky ladder, it’s more about the personal moments of human emotion and the determination to succeed and survive than it is about elaborate set-pieces.

This is both a help and a hindrance. On the one hand it gives us a much more intimate experience, something a little bit different to what we’re used to with this type of thing. On the other hand it can be kind of frustrating when the script doesn’t go into enough depth about these people and what makes them motivated to embark on such an arduous, almost impossible task that few humans will ever experience. Although the backstories of the key characters are lifted straight from the real life event – pregnant wives back home, being motivated to inspire school kids etc. – its content to rest on the surface and curiously unwilling to plunge its hands into the depths of the snow, so to speak, muster up real truth.

This issue is somewhat papered over by the fact that it has one hell of a cast to elevate the shortcomings in the script. Though people like Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright are underserved by limited roles that feel squashed under the weight of the sheer amount of other characters, the likes of Clarke, Brolin and particularly the always excellent John Hawkes bring their A-game and make us feel for them in spite of the lacking characterization. Others like Keira Knightley (as Clarke’s very worried and very pregnant wife back home), Sam Worthington, Emily Watson and Michael Kelly are all effective in their key supporting roles, even if the film feels somewhat like a distracting pick ‘n’ mix of Hollywood character actors.

Although action is not exactly at the top of its list of priorities, the concept of spectacle most definitely is. Director Baltasar Kormákur (of such eclectic fare as 101 Reykjavik, 2 Guns and Contraband) revels in the chance to show of the behemoth setting of the title, swirling and diving around it with aerial shots that should give anyone with even a touch of vertigo the heebie-jeebies. He also does a very good job of getting across the harsh conditions the climbers have to endure, whether it’s the freezing temperatures promising almost certain frostbite or the inescapable winds threatening to literally push them over the edge. If nothing else the film is a giant, three-dimensional warning that climbing Everest is not to be taken lightly.

Despite it never truly getting under the skin of its multitude of characters and ultimately falling short of the dizzying heights that it was aiming for, there’s something undeniably compelling about Everest. It builds its tension in a stagey way that makes sense for the story – the climbers literally tackling their mission in carefully calculated checkpoints – and you do really get the best sense possible of what it’s like to be on that mountain and facing such insurmountable odds.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 530

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 556

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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