Tag Archives: Jason Clarke

‘Everest’: Lost in a Blizzard of Unanswered Questions

Everest
Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense peril, disturbing images)
121 minutes

Why are some humans born with a suicidal impulse to defy the limitations of what is naturally possible? To traverse strange oceans in search of new continents? To rocket into outer space? To push a body to the brink of death on the summit of the world’s highest mountain?

You won’t find more than pat answers to this question in “Everest,” a reenactment of the ill-fated 1996 expedition that became the subject of John Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air.” (The film moved into wide release Friday after a limited debut in IMAX theaters.)

“Everest” isn’t based on Krakauer’s best-selling account — the author recently slammed the movie as “total bull” — although he is depicted as a character in the film, played by Michael Kelly of “House of Cards.”

Writers William Nicholson (“Unbroken”) and Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) based their script on various sources, conducting their own research into one of the deadliest incidents in Everest’s history. The film is well acted and technically impressive — especially in soaring, rumbling IMAX — but lacks a definitive point of view, perhaps in an attempt not to point fingers or take sides,

The absence of a singular perspective results in a frustratingly vague cinematic experience. The confusion is compounded by the fact that the actors portraying the film’s ensemble of unlucky climbers are often obscured by oxygen masks, goggles and hoods, making it difficult to distinguish between them in many scenes.

Keira Knightley, as the pregnant and anxious wife of one of the doomed mountaineers, and Emily Watson, as a motherly base camp manager, remain goggle-less, not to mention snug and dry in cozy sweaters, as they lend emotional support in a handful of teary-eyed scenes.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur has recruited an excellent cast to piece together the puzzle of went what so dreadfully wrong during that infamous two-day period in May ’96.

After a pair of lackluster performances in the equally lackluster “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Terminator Genisys,” I had all but given up on Jason Clarke, who stars here as Rob Hall, an expert mountaineer from New Zealand whose company, Adventure Consultants, ferries even the unlikeliest of amateur climbers safely to and from Everest’s summit.

Hall is as close as the film gets to a main character and Clarke portrays him as an all-around decent guy, an interpretation that could have been unbearably cheesy in the hands of a lesser actor. Instead, we just really like this guy.

The guide is preparing to shepherd a group of amateurs of varying experience levels who have paid him $65,000 a piece to turn their dreams of reaching the summit into reality. Kormakur takes his time introducing the members of this ragtag group as they hobnob at base camp.

Among them are Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a seasoned adventurer looking to notch her seventh major summit; Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a doctor from Texas who has the jitters but later reveals himself to be one of the toughest s.o.b.s alive; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman desperate to complete his second attempt at the summit; and Krakauer, a journalist whose coveted media presence produces some performance anxiety in Hall and his crew.

According to the film, Hall’s success inspired dozens of imitators, leading to a commercial boom on Everest in the late ’90s. With hundreds of climbers jockeying for position as they vie to reach the summit during rare windows of good weather, a spirit of reckless competition prevails.

In the movie, this potentially dangerous development is embodied by a friendly rivalry between Hall and competitor Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), a laid-back American who sports a carefree man bun, sunbathes half naked at base camp, and warms up at night by guzzling hard liquor straight from the bottle.

Gyllenhaal’s fictionalized take on Fischer is one of the film’s more colorful elements, but due to clumsy editing and/or a lack of time, the fate of the party-hearty American remains frustratingly obscure. This is clearly a man who knew what he was doing, so some of his more questionable decisions don’t add up.

There are many other things the audience is left to guess at as the film methodically runs through the events leading up to the disaster, sparked by a bemusing mixture of human error (overcrowding, half-empty oxygen bottles, missed turn-around times), natural forces (an unexpected and devastating storm), and cruel coincidence, whereby experienced mountaineers perished helplessly while less experienced ones suddenly revived.

There’s no shortage of human drama as a husband and wife share their last conversation via radio and climbers admit they’re unwilling to forfeit their lives on the off chance they might save another. But so many questions are left unanswered, it leaves one longing for a straightforward documentary. Just the facts, please.

Filmed in the Italian Alps and on location in Nepal with a hefty budget of $65 million, “Everest” is by far the biggest project tackled by Kormakur (“2 Guns”). On a technical level, it’s a formidable achievement. The film’s depiction of life at base camp and beyond and of the harrowing challenges encountered by those brave, or foolhardy enough, to attempt the summit feels authentic, while vertigo-inducing shots of rickety ladders traversing gaping crevasses put the audience smack in the middle of Everest’s ruthless, bitterly cold environment.

The large-screen format ensures moviegoers experience everything, from the thunderous vibration of of an avalanche to the violent frenzy of a snowstorm, deep in their bones.

Kormakur vividly illustrates the excruciating physical hardships suffered by climbers — frostbite, altitude sickness, snow blindness, cerebral edema — even on the simpler expeditions designed to acclimatize their bodies to thin air and frigid temperatures.

It takes almost until the movie’s third act for the really gripping suspense to kick in, but it finally does and with gusto. A tenuous helicopter rescue is a particularly white-knuckle moment.

What “Everest” is missing, though, is the bravura precision of someone like Paul Greengrass, director of “Captain Phillips,” “United 93,” and “Bloody Sunday.”

In re-creating some of the great tragedies and near-tragedies that haunt us, Greengrass employs documentarian accuracy and bold narrative license to weave the impossible illusion that we have the whole picture.

Watching “Everest,” on the other hand, is like stumbling through a blizzard of bewilderment.

In An Alternate Reality, ‘Terminator Genisys’ Would Be Fun

Terminator Genisys
One and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity, brief strong language)
126 minutes
You’re probably wondering why “Genisys” is spelled like the name of some boy band. It makes a little more sense after you’ve seen the movie, but it’s still kind of dumb.

“I’m old, not obsolete.”

That’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new catchphrase in “Terminator Genisys.”

The same cannot be said of the film, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that considering many of you didn’t bother to see it. This resulted in the worst box office debut for the franchise in 30 years.

“Terminator Genisys” is the sixth installment of the now classic sci-fi property introduced by James Cameron in 1984, if you count “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV series.

By my count, the franchise has been rebooted twice before. In 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” Nick Stahl replaced Edward Furlong as John Connor, alongside Claire Danes as Connor’s future wife. In 2009, “Terminator Salvation” — directed by McG of all people — starred Christian Bale as Connor and Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese.

Neither of these films were outright flops, but they weren’t exactly celebrated either. We’ve been told the same story over and over again: evil cyber villain Skynet becomes self aware and wipes out most of the Earth’s population, only to be beaten at its own game by a scrappy human resistance group. Hooray!

It was amazing the first couple of times, you know, back when Linda Hamilton was still around, but really … does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore?

Not that “Terminator Genisys” works very hard to make us care.

Writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier basically take familiar elements and iconic characters from past episodes in the franchise, chop them up and put them in a blender. It’s a similar approach to this summer’s earlier reboot, “Jurassic World,” but at least that Tyrannosaurus-sized hit was fun.

“Genisys” was directed by Alan Taylor, who also somehow managed to turn Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” into a murky, monotonous slog. What he fails to deliver now is even one new thing, one original, inventive element to renew our excitement in the universe of the Terminator.

In a franchise built on time travel paradoxes and alternate realities, “Terminator Genisys” concocts yet another confusing ripple/loophole to expound upon sci-fi’s most epic one-night stand: the romance between Sarah Connor, mother of future resistance hero John, and the time traveling Kyle Reese, who also happens to be future John’s dad.

“Genisys” presents us with a seasoned, battle-scarred John Connor (Jason Clarke) on the verge of reversing the cataclysmic event known as Judgement Day and restoring Earth to the few remaining survivors of Skynet’s human holocaust.

Connor’s first concern, though, is to stop Skynet from sending Schwarzenegger’s Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), thus nipping the human resistance in the bud.

Unfortunately, John and his soldiers break through Skynet’s security just moments too late, so John’s BFF and righthand man, Kyle (Jai Courtney), volunteers to hijack Skynet’s time travel device and follow the Terminator back to 1984 to stop the machine from offing Sarah.

The reason Kyle’s so keen to perform this mission? He’s got a little crush on John’s mom, even though he’s only ever seen one photograph of her.

Is your brain hurting? I know mine is.

Here’s the bad news: That’s only the first couple scenes of this ridiculously convoluted plot.

Upon arriving in 1984 Los Angeles — where Kalogridis and Lussier throw in some amusing homages to Cameron’s “Terminator” — Reese discovers Sarah isn’t the terrified, uninitiated damsel in distress he’s come to save. In fact, she’s been prepping for his arrival for more than a decade with the help of a very unlikely and formidable ally.

While the meeting of two of sci-fi’s most famous star-crossed lovers should crackle with sexy urgency, there isn’t a spark to be found between Emilia Clarke and Courtney. This isn’t the fault of the actors. With a script that favors pages of dull, unnecessarily complicated exposition over the building of three-dimensional relationships, they’re given little to work with.

Instead of introducing us to a victorious John Connor and vividly illustrating his skills and strategy on the battlefield, “Genisys” is content to assign Jason Clarke several long, tedious speeches. Instead of seeing the band-of-brothers bond between John and Kyle, we get to listen to Clarke and Courtney yammer on about how great their friendship is.

Emilia Clarke is marvelous on “Game of Thrones” as imperious yet lovable “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys, but she struggles to tap into Hamilton’s awesome brand of slightly crazed ruggedness and resiliency. Even lugging around huge automatic weapons, she’s mostly just cute.

While we’re all pretty sick of Schwarzenegger’s cinematic attempts to prove he’s not an action has-been, it is surprisingly the former governor of California who injects some life into the movie with his deadpan line delivery in a variety of computer-generated incarnations.

The special effects in “Genisys” are top-notch. The requisite spectacular set pieces unfold, including one in which a bus goes flying, end over end, on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

There are many different types of Terminators featured, from the metallic, beady-eyed T-600s, to the deceptively humanoid T-1000s, to a new human-machine crossbreed that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Thing is, these dudes were genuinely terrifying in 1991, but in a world where cellphones can be worn on the wrist and an Internet search engine knows every detail of a person’s existence, we’re in need of new monsters to embody our technological anxieties.

You won’t find those monsters here.

 

Apes With Machine Guns? Yes, Please

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, brief strong language)
130 minutes

Those damn, dirty apes are back and as sympathetic as ever, thanks to the wizardry of motion capture technology and another dazzling performance by Hollywood’s motion capture go-to guy, Andy Serkis.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (there’s no shame in it if you mix up the titles), a reboot of the cheesy but beloved 1968 classic starring Charlton Heston. I don’t think anyone expected much out of “Rise” — visions of corny rubber ape masks were still dancing in moviegoers’ heads — yet the film proved to be a surprisingly compelling drama, hinging on the tragic but satisfying character arc of the noble simian known as Caesar.

Serkis, famous for his portrayal of Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies, delivered a remarkable, emotional performance as the ape whose metamorphosis from cute baby chimp to savior of his species provides the foundation for “Dawn.”

On the surface, “Rise” was a cautionary tale of reckless genetic research and animal cruelty, but at its heart it was an exploration of the volatile bond between fathers and sons. Aside from its impressive visual effects and a finale in which dozens of angry apes swarmed the Golden Gate Bridge, it wasn’t much of an action movie. “Dawn” is just the opposite, a bang-em-up summer blockbuster that offers geek-pleasing images of monkeys on horseback, their hairy fists brandishing machine guns.

“Dawn” continues the father-son theme with a story built around two pairs of dads and their offspring. There’s the genetically-enhanced Caesar, who left behind adoptive papa James Franco at the end of “Rise,” and now has two sons of his own, including a rebellious teenager who’s constantly questioning his authority.

The setting is post-apocalyptic San Francisco and Caesar is patriarch of a flourishing ape society in the Muir Woods. This treetop civilization may resemble the Ewok village but it’s surprisingly advanced. Its hairy residents have discovered the secrets of fire and developed the ability to read, write and speak.

If the idea of talking monkeys is just too much for you, have no fear. Director Matt Reeves wisely downplays this potentially outrageous element with ape talk that is an easy-to-swallow mixture of sign language and guttural speech.

Caesar’s story parallels that of Malcolm (Jason Clarke), one of the few human survivors of the “simian flu,” the lethal virus unleashed by the very experimentation that triggered Caesar’s evolution. Malcolm has his own teenage boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to look after and is co-founder of a makeshift civilization in what remains of downtown San Francisco.

To thrive, the fledgling outpost needs power, a requirement that sends Malcolm and a small band of humans on a dangerous errand, crossing into ape territory, where they are met with distrust by Caesar’s band. The tentative reunion of man and monkey results in several tense stand-offs, including a clever scene in which a crafty ape uses the stereotypes of his species to quite literally disarm a couple of redneck gun nuts. There’s also a lovable moment involving Smit-McPhee, an orangutan and the graphic novel “Black Hole.”

Caesar and Malcolm may be in favor of diplomacy but the situation escalates thanks to the meddling of their most trusted advisers — the scarred, embittered ape Koba (played by versatile Brit Toby Kebbell) and paranoid military chief Dreyfus (an over-the-top Gary Oldman) — who see violence as the only way forward.

Reeves demonstrated his affinity for idiosyncratic sci-fi with giant monster movie “Cloverfield” and creepy vampire thriller “Let Me In.” He quickly establishes a tone of hushed unease, contrasting striking images of verdant forest and a shattered San Francisco. The director proves up to the considerable visual effects demands of “Dawn,” especially the battle-heavy third act that boasts those soon to be famous shots of apes who are packing.

Inserting hyper-intelligent, talking animals into relatively realistic war scenarios is likely to result in a mixed bag of reactions. It’s a strange sight, which some will find thrilling and others deeply disturbing or at the very least unsettling. For me, the final act of “Dawn” simply drags on far too long as it abandons humanity for apes-gone-bananas action.

Returning screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and co-scribe Mark Bomback (“The Wolverine,” “Total Recall”) are too enamored with their ape creations to get a good handle on their human characters, so even actors as fine as Clarke and Oldman come up blank.

That’s not at all the case for the film’s computer-generated simian stars. Serkis’ Caesar is still an astonishingly lifelike and — dare we say? — intensely human creation. If anyone deserves to rule the planet based on personality alone, it’s the apes.