Archive for September, 2015

Everest

Everest is a mountain with two peaks, one of which is the highest point on Earth. Similarly, Baltasar Kormákur’s dramatization of a famous 1996 Everest expedition is a film of two halves, one of which is a gripping, moving and occasionally visceral experience, but the other is meandering and unfocused. The latter is the first half, in which the film becomes burdened with too many characters and fails to explore the motivations of those who risk life and limb to scale the mountain. The engaging half of the film is that concerned with the actual climb, as a motley crew of climbers, led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) experience extraordinary cold, sparse oxygen and treacherous ice and rock faces. There are vertiginous moments where the viewer gets a sense of the sheer drop below, as well as the scale of the mountain and the immense storms that assail them. But there are just as many moments where the film cuts between its range of rather bland characters, never spending enough time to really understand them or communicate their situation. This lack of focus or depth is most apparent in the first half of the film, as the climbing team assemble and acclimatise to the mountainous conditions. There is amiable bickering and brief discussions of overcrowding, but the paradox of overcrowding in one of the world’s most inhospitable places is not explored. At its best moments, Everest shows agony and anguish in equal measure, especially when Rob, now in dire straights, talks on the radio to his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley). This moment wrung tears from me, but overall I found the film lacking in emotional engagement. One might see the film because it’s there, but you may come down wondering if that’s reason enough.

Irrational Man

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Films that deal with philosophy do so in several ways. They may obliquely explore philosophy through their narratives, as is the case with much of Christopher Nolan‘s oeuvre. They may use cinematic devices such as editing and cinematography to work through philosophical concepts, such as Last Year at Marienbad and The Thin Red Line. Or they may explicitly state that they are being philosophical through dialogue and voiceover. Such is the case with Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, which not only has its characters discuss morality, and how to find/create meaning amidst the meaningless of existence, but features a university professor as its protagonist who embodies the philosophical issues that he ponders upon. This has the unfortunate effect of making the film obvious and ham-fisted, which is disappointing from Allen who explored similar concepts far more interestingly in Match Point. Carl Sprague and Jennifer Engel’s production design is engaging and Darius Khondji’s cinematography gives both human and non-human surfaces a gorgeous hue, while Joaquin Phoenix’s is perfectly fine as the angst-ridden professor to Emma Stone’s engagingly starstruck student (see if you can guess where that goes). Allen’s direction is assured and efficient, but his script is clunky and over-determined to the point of being obvious. Perhaps ironically, Irrational Man is too rational for its own good, explaining too much rather than performing the true practice of philosophy, that of questioning.

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Trainwreck

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The romantic comedy is a much maligned genre, continually treated with disdain and a lack of respect, given the derogatory term “chick flick,” as if films “for women” are somehow other and lesser than “regular people” (i.e. men). This is often unwarranted, as the rom-com provides great opportunities for comedic scenarios and engaging characters. Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow and written by star Amy Schumer, demonstrates this potential, as Schumer and co-star Bill Hader are very funny as well as being a convincingly adorable couple whose path does not run smooth. Furthermore, while the film follows a conventional plot of troubled romance, it does so with verve and brio, delivering comedic and heartfelt moments in equal measure. Much of Trainwreck’s success comes from presenting the gross-out humour that Apatow excels at from a woman’s perspective. Much like Bridesmaids, Trainwreck is not afraid of bodily function gags that are as nauseating as they are hilarious, nor does it shy away from sex jokes. Again like Bridesmaids (but unlike many other sex comedies), these jokes are from a woman’s perspective, Schumer’s script explicitly exploring the humour of sexuality from a point of view seen all too rarely in mainstream cinema. In so doing, it is reminiscent of another recent comedy, Spy, as Trainwreck demonstrates what really shouldn’t be unusual or striking – films focused on women are not just for women, they are about people and all people can enjoy them.