Thursday, January 21, 2016


With temps dropping down in the Midwest here lately it would seem the best possible movie to watch would not be one that takes place in one of the coldest locations that man chooses to visit. Then again maybe it adds to the viewing experience.

EVEREST tells the tragic story of the 1996 Everest disaster that took place on Mount Everest. The snow covered mountain has been the focus of explorers and mountain climbers for centuries. That only 240 out of thousands that have climbed this mountain have died over the years is amazing. Why anyone would choose to do so is something that still mystifies me.

The movie itself focuses on one group’s trip to that elusive peak, the top of Mount Everest. Led by experienced climber Rob Hall (Jason Clark) whose tour company takes on climbers at $65,000 each. The reality of what it is to climb Everest is not left to doubt for any and all who choose to go. Hall not only spells out for each and every member the dangers they are to face, he takes as many safety precautions as possible for those going on the trip.

The first of these is to bond the group together, to form a team and to get them ready physically for the trip. He does this in a subtle manner by having them climb to the base camp together. This not only has them join one another for the trip but helps to develop them physically as well as adjust them to the limited oxygen at the high altitudes.

Within the group going up are two members the film tends to focus on. One is a pathologist from Texas named Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and the other is Doug Hensen, one of the few men who isn’t independently wealthy. Beck is making this his last climb, facing the ire of his wife at home who has told him if he goes she might not be there when he returns. Doug, a postal worker, has a special goal in mind. Students at an elementary school sold T-shirts to help him raise the funds to go and have given him a school flag to plant at the peak.

The group reaches base camp and prepares to climb. But things have changed in the last few years. With each successful climb, more and more climbers are making the attempt. At the same time there is an increase in businesses like that owned by Hall willing to take them up. Not all are as cautious as Hall’s but all see easy money in handling those with the cash to go.

As preparations are made Hall has an uneasy feeling about this trip. Too many variables make it seem like the timing and conditions are off. He approaches fellow climber and entrepreneur Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) to join forces on this expedition, to watch out for one another. They agree and are soon on their way.

But as this is a movie based on history we are already aware of what will happen. Tragedy will follow. If you aren’t aware of just what happens it will be a surprise. But the feeling of something going wrong is there from the start. Just what happens and to who makes for a movie that offers some suspense and plenty of concern.

That being said for me the movie offers a number of technically well-made moments but didn’t build up the comradery between the members of the team as deeply as I would have liked. Yes it’s there, the caring of one person for another, but not to the extent that I would have liked in a movie of this nature. For me the emotions between all members as opposed to just a few was as cold as the landscape the movie takes place in.

There isn’t a bad performance to be found here. Clark especially takes hold of the central character and makes him one you can root for. The photography not only makes the location breathtaking in relation to what we are looking at but captures the depth of coldness in the land as well. It seeps through every scenes and every pore of the viewer while watching.

The movie is definitely worth watching at least once. It’s difficult to say it’s entertaining considering what happened on that day. It will hold your interest. As for repeat viewings I’m not sure if most will want to do so. But tragedies often has that effect when movies are made about them.
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I grew up as a child hiding behind the couch whenever Lon Chaney Jr. began to change into the wolf man. I don’t know why but for me that was a terrifying image as a child. As I grew older the werewolf movie became one of my favorites in the horror genre. While others loved AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON I was singing the praises of THE HOWLING. Many hated THE WOLFMAN with Benicio Del Toro I thought it was a nice homage to all the films that came before it. I’m a huge fan of DOG SOLDIERS. So when I heard there was a new werewolf movie being released I was ready, willing and able. It’s nice to know I wasn’t disappointed.

The story revolves around a passenger train in England that is making a night trek to various stops in the countryside. The conductor on this passage is Joe, a young man with little to look forward to and performing his duties with little enthusiasm. Belittled by his boss he does what is required and little more. He does have an eye for another employee on the train, Ellen, but even that doesn’t appear to have any hope of turning into anything. Once he takes tickets, Joe sets down for a short nap but that is interrupted when the train comes to a screeching halt. It appears something has happened to stop the train and the driver is going to check and see what was on the tracks.

Within moments the driver is attacked and killed by something and the train passengers are left to complain and become agitated because they want nothing more than to get home. When Joe and Ellen can’t give them the answers they want or tell them where the driver is they begin to make decisions on their own. Led by a blustery businessman they force Joe to open the door and then head down the tracks to the nearest town 2 miles away. As they make their trek Joe and Ellen come upon the disemboweled body of the driver and tell the passengers to head back to the train immediately. They do so to the howls of a nearby wolf and almost all make it in with the exception of an older woman whose leg is caught in the door. That turns into a battle for her body as she is lifted up and down from something outside until they finally get her in, her leg a mangled mess.

Still having no idea what they are up against the passengers begin to turn on one another first and then on Joe and Ellen. With the train disabled they have nowhere to go and rather than sit helpless their focus becomes on of nothing but their complaints until the husband of the elderly woman tells them to shut up. Rather than argue with one another they begin to try and figure out just what to do. When a cell phone begins ringing, the only phone to get reception, rather than be calm they all rush the young girl with the phone who is then pulled from the train as the first seen werewolf breaks through a window to take her.

Now knowing what they face, or denying it depending on the person, they just work together to survive. As the film progresses we get to know each of them as a person rather than a mob. We get glimpses into who can be trusted and who might be questionable. And before the night is through we finally get to see the werewolves in all their beastly glory walking along the train or trying to get to the passengers. It gives the term “meals on wheels” a whole new meaning.

The movie works on so many levels. The interaction between the members of the train is first and foremost as various passengers and employees try to vie for control of the group. The claustrophobia of the compartmentalized train that holds little safety and offers the sense of their surrounding squeezing in around them takes on a personality of its own. And the sheer horror of a stranded group trying to survive the night while under attack from a much stronger assailant makes for a terrifying concept.

It all comes together quite nicely in this film that I have little doubt played in few theaters which is a shame. Having seen some of the horror films that have actually made it to theaters I can tell you that this one is much better than a number of those. It was one of those movies where while the remote was nearby I never once found myself wanting to fast forward at any time while the movie played. With many unknown horror films that’s something rare these days. This film didn’t feel like there was filler. It felt like each component was there for a reason and they all worked.

The performances were well done by all. There are some characters you feel for and others you wish would get killed first instead of later. None can be singled out as best. What can be said is that Sean Pertwee as the driver felt wasted here. I’m a fan of Pertwee (who was in the fantastic werewolf film DOG SOLDIERS) and wished we would have had more of him here.

One of the telling factors in any werewolf movie though is the werewolf itself. In this case they’ve done a great job with what I would have to assume was a small budget. Not only were the sequences with the actor in make-up done well the later scenes of the werewolves outside of the train using CGI to give them the wolf haunches was done excellently as well.

I’ve seen some reviews of this that weren’t too favorable and I’m left wondering why. While it might not be the greatest movie ever made or even compare to DOG SOLDIERS or THE HOWLING, it is well made, interesting and a nice addition to the genre. I think this is one that I can watch again and for me that raises it above many highly praised horror films. This one was a treat.

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A few years ago I wrote about an amazing documentary called MAN ON WIRE. It was the story of Philippe Petit, a tightrope walker from France who planned a top secret and illegal event by stringing a wire from one of the twin towers to the other and walking across. The movie was fascinating to watch but as with most documentaries, though well received, not a huge box office success. Apparently director Robert Zemekis felt that it was a great story as well, enough so that he has turned it into a box office smash theatrical film, THE WALK.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe, a man with a dream. As narrator of the film from start to finish, he tells the tale of his fascination with high wire walkers from childhood on. He watches their every move and attempts to teach himself as much as possible. Only able to go so far, he sneaks into a circus tent to try out their wire and is caught by the owner, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley). While he is stopped for the day, he works his way into Papa’s good graces and begins to learn the real art of walking the wire.

To earn a living Philippe works as a street entertainer, stringing up his rope from one item to another so he can walk across, juggle and entertain any gathering crowd he could summon up with his antics. Not only did it provide him with a means to live it also introduced him to someone special, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). His performance steals away the crowd she had built as a street singer. The two become involved and Philippe shares with Annie the dream he discovered earlier.

While working the street he injured one of his teeth and had to go to a dentist. While sitting in a chair in the waiting room to be seen he looks at a magazine and discovers a new structure being erected in New York City. It is the Twin Towers, the world’s largest skyscrapers at the time they will be opened. He tears the page of the towers from the magazine and his dream of walking from one to the other begins.

There are numerous problems that must be surmounted before Philippe can make his dream come true, the first being that doing so is illegal and he could end up in jail. There is the construction of the wire to be used, the exact building of which can and will determine if he lives or dies while walking. There are extra people to involve to help him transport equipment, set it up and to film the event. He does indeed set up his team and with passports in hand they head for America. This is the second trip for Philippe as he scoped out the sight previously. Now is the moment of truth.

While much of the movie is the build up to this event it is lighthearted in many moments as we get there. But once the event itself begins, from the moment they begin to sneak their equipment into the building to the final walk he takes, it becomes a mind blowing spectacle to behold and not one for the faint of heart nor those with acrophobia. Any and all will be amazed to witness the sheer brilliance of director Zemekis’ use of special effects to make it seem as real as possible. Even knowing in the back of your mind that this had to have been done using CGI (computer generated images) since the towers no longer exist you still believe what you are seeing. It has been done that good.

There is no spoiler that can be made with this movie. Since it is based on an actual event you know the outcome already. And yet while watching you still have a sense of unease that permeates every pore of your body. If you’re someone whose palms sweat during tense moments in movie be prepared. This one will have not just your palms but your feet and forehead dripping with moisture as well.

Gordon-Levitt has had an interesting career. Some will remember him as the teen yet oldest member of a crew of aliens on the TV series THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN. Others will know him from his more recent work like BRICK, INCEPTION and LOOPER. One thing is certain, he has grown up to be a more accomplished actor than many child actors have in the past. With each movie he seems to get better and better and that shows here. For myself I would think an Oscar nomination would be in order but chances are more wordy roles will find themselves there. The supporting cast does an equally fantastic job but it is Levitt who stands out.

Special kudos are in store for the directors of cinematography Dariusz Wolski who previously took us on pirate adventures in the Caribbean (all three films) as well as the special effects teams that made this film a reality. I’ve heard that in 3-D the film was something to behold but I can assure you that in regularformat it will still have you clinging to the arms of your chair as you walk out with Philippe on that wire. While explosions and spaceships may get the attention the effects used here for me outshine them all.

One thing of note with this film. For myself, when Philippe gets his first glimpse of the Twin Towers I felt a lump in my throat. The fall of both towers still feels like a fresh scab that gets pulled whenever I see footage of them, real or otherwise. I can only imagine the feeling the real Philippe Petit gets when he sees where they once stood. It gets easier as the film progresses but remains sore at least for me. Still, this movie is one that everyone should make a point of seeing. The movie leaves you with a sense of wonder and joy. It is one of my favorite films to be released last year and one I know I will visit again. My guess is you will as well.
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