Movie Review: “Everest”

Starring
Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly
Director
Baltasar Kormákur

It’s really not surprising that “Everest” is from the director of “2 Guns” and “Contraband.” A true-life story about survival may seem outside of Baltasar Kormákur’s wheelhouse, but that’s not the case. “Everest” is just as competently made as the director’s two action thrillers, and yet strangely, it’s also as emotionally distant and perfunctory.

“Everest” should be a harrowing story about survival, ambition and the human spirit, but it’s really none of those things, only ever scratching the surface of the story. The film follows a group of climbers as they set out to reach the top of Mount Everest. The team consists mostly of strangers, including the leaders of the expedition, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), as well as Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Doug Hanson (John Hawkes) and more. As Hall points out, humans aren’t built to survive the conditions of Mount Everest, especially once Death Valley is reached, so it’s a dangerous decision in the first place – one made only more dangerous when a brutal and violent storm hits as the team ascends the mountain.

That’s all there is to “Everest”: they go up the mountain, something awful happens, and that’s it. That’s as far as Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson’s script goes. What’s funny is that they’ve both written survivalist stories before: Beaufoy penned “127 Hours,” while Nicholson wrote last year’s “Unbroken.” “Everest,” unfortunately, is more like Angelina Jolie’s film, showing us a series of events without much meaning. There are a handful of emotional moments, but unlike “127 Hours,” there’s very little exploration. In one scene, the members of the group are asked why they’re climbing Mount Everest, and we’re given fairly basic explanations for such a complex and dangerous desire. We rarely see these motivations unfold or depicted on the mountain.

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Movie Review: “The Imitation Game”

Starring
Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong, Charles Dance
Director
Morten Tyldum

There are at least two stories within “The Imitation Game” that, by themselves, would make for gripping films. There is Alan Turing the maths genius (the English add an ‘s’ to math, for some reason), and there is Alan Turing the closeted homosexual, in a country where being gay is illegal. Since it is difficult to secure funding for any movie, the obvious choice, of course, is to combine these two massive plots to make one hell of a film. There are times when the two stories get in the way of one another, but thanks to a cracking script and superb performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game” gives “A Beautiful Mind” a run for its money in the “damaged genius period piece” genre, assuming there is such a thing.

World War II is in full swing, and Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), a Cambridge maths professor, applies for a job with the British military because they need code breakers, and Turing is convinced that he is the brightest mind they will ever find. Despite bombing the interview in spectacular fashion, Turing is recruited to join a team of math geniuses. Their task: break the Enigma code, the German encryption tool that is sent out on open airwaves but is so complex that no one has been able to solve it. (Turing’s team even has an Enigma machine, but the code is so dense that it is of no use.) Turing pulls some unpopular moves to put himself in charge of the group, but eventually earns the group’s respect. His commanding officer (Charles Dance), however, needs results, and because of the aforementioned bad interview, he’s looking for a reason to shut Turing’s program down. In comes plucky Joan Clarke (Knightley), who has the misfortune of being a female good at maths. Turing, naturally, bonds with her instantly, since they are both outcasts. Turing and Clarke do amazing things together, and just when they think it’s time to celebrate, that is when they realize that they have a whole new set of decisions to make, and they are far more difficult than the previous set of problems that faced them.

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Movie Review: “Begin Again”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden
Director
John Carney

It’s incredible what can be achieved when you combine music with film, and John Carney exploited that perfect pairing with his musical drama “Once.” It’s been eight years since the small indie walked away with an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in that time, the Irish-born writer/director made a couple films in his native country that flew so far under the radar that they never saw release here. So while it may seem a tad desperate of Carney to mark his Hollywood debut with another music-driven relationship drama, he’s simply playing to his strengths. “Begin Again” doesn’t quite have the same magic of “Once,” but it’s a sweet and cuddly crowd-pleaser highlighted by a pair of great performances and some catchy tunes.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan Mulligan, a self-described “selfish, depressed prick” who’s just been fired from the very record label he helped found. While on a bender later that night, he stumbles into a bar hosting an open mic event and is immediately moved by an original song performed by Greta (Keira Knightley), a British singer-songwriter who’s just had an equally bad day after being dumped by her rock star boyfriend (Adam Levine) following his first taste of success. Determined to share Greta’s indisputable talent with the rest of the world, Dan convinces her to record an album with a live band in different locations across New York City in the hope that he can convince his former business partner (Mos Def) to sign Greta to their label and rescue his job.

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Movie Review: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Starring
Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner
Director
Kenneth Branagh

Chris Pine is both James T. Kirk and Jack Ryan. Has anyone ever anchored two franchises that big at the same time? That’s like being both James Bond and Luke Skywalker, and is it wrong to suspect that Paramount, which owns both the “Star Trek” and Jack Ryan franchises, might make him the next Indiana Jones? They have to know that Indy heir apparent Shia LaBeouf is box office poison at the moment, not to mention “retired.” We’d speculate about Pine becoming the new Ethan Hunt, but Tom Cruise would have him killed well before that ever happened.

All kidding aside, Pine is a good choice for Ryan. He’s handsome but not too handsome – which is helpful when you’re CIA and need to blend in – and he is believable as an action hero, an element which is ramped up considerably in the reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” This is without question the most action-packed Jack Ryan movie to date. It’s a bit formulaic, but that seems acceptable if it means that the end result is less dull than “Patriot Games.” From this vantage point, that’s a win.

Inspired by the terrorist attack on 9/11, a young John Ryan (Pine) enlists in the Marines to serve his country. Two years later, on an assignment in Afghanistan, Jack’s helicopter is attacked, and during his lengthy recovery, he attracts the attention of Navy Commander William Harper (Kevin Costner), also a CIA operative. Jack is brought in to the group as an analyst, putting his skills to work on Wall Street. Fast forward 10 years, where Jack works for a large firm and discovers that his employer has lost access to billions of dollars in accounts that are owned by a large Russian client. Jack gets approval to travel to Moscow and audit the now-missing accounts. Jack suspects something isn’t right, and his suspicion is confirmed from the moment he arrives, and an attempt is made on his life. Run, Marine, run!

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