Girlhood (2014) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4): A girl’s life in Banlieue

girlhood01  French word ‘Banlieue’ originally meant a middle-class suburban area in the vicinity of big cities like Paris, but its meaning was modified around the 1970s along with the increased influx of foreign immigrants in France. These immigrants, most of whom were from Arab and African regions, and their next generations born in France have mostly been stuck in poor suburban areas of low-income housing projects, and their grim, vicious cycle of poverty trap in banlieues has been remained as the main cause of numerous social problems including high unemployment and crime rates.

Céline Sciamma’s “Girlhood”, which is intended as the third film of her trilogy after “Water Lilies” (2007) and “Tomboy” (2011), observes the life of an adolescent girl who has been coping with such a poor environment like that. During the striking opening scene which shows an American football match being held on a local sports ground during one evening, Marieme (Karidja Touré) enjoys its every dynamic minute along with her schoolmates, but then we notice how their joy and excitement are gradually dissipated as they return to their glum housing project neighborhood. They are quietly scattered one by one, and we soon see Marieme walking to her home alone at the end of this scene.

Watching her at home with her family, we get to know a bit about them. Their main income comes from her mother, and she is usually absent while working as a cleaning lady at some hotel. Marieme’s older brother is the de facto patriarch of the family even though he does not seem to have a real job, and this abusive guy is not very nice to his sister. In case of Marieme’s two younger sisters, they are on good terms with their older sister, and they always provide a little precious comfort in her unhappy life.


Marieme wants to go to high school rather than vocation school, but her school counselor reminds her that it is already too late for her to get any possible chance for that. As frustrated about this, she happens to encounter a gang of girls outside her school. They are Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), and Fily (Marietou Toure), and they are willing to accept Marieme as their new member. Marieme is reluctant about this offer at first, but she eventually joins them when she sees that this can be a better opportunity for approaching closer to Ismaël (Idrissa Diabaté), a nice boy who has been acquainted with her through her brother.

As hanging more around her new friends, Marieme gradually learns how to be more aggressive and intimidating as a gang member. She adapts herself to their hair style and attire, and we see her clumsily but successfully extorting pocket money from a female student. She and her gangs sometimes spend their own private time in a nice hotel room, and there is a wonderful moment when they lively dance together along with Rihanna’s “Diamonds” (Although there was a concern about the copyright issue during the production, Rihanna generously allowed her song to be used at a relatively cheap fee after Sciamma showed this scene to her).

girlhood06It goes without saying that her new friends are not a very good influence for her in objective view, but we also notice how Marieme becomes more confident and less shy about herself than before. When Lady goes through humiliation after being defeated by some other tough girl in their neighborhood, Marieme goes for a payback time although, as Lady points out to her in the aftermath, it is more for herself than her friend. She also approaches to Ismaël more actively; when she visits his home in the middle of one night, she surely knows where she is going, and she does not hesitate at all to take the control of what is going to happen between them.

While it is darker and grittier compared to the relaxed summer mood of “Tomboy”, “Girlhood” maintains a calm, objective attitude in its close, intimate observation of its young heroine’s emotional journey. It is curious about how she is shaped by her environment, and it empathizes with how she comes to make choices which will affect her life in one way or another. We sense her excitement and aspiration as she goes through her changes, and then we feel her desperation and frustration as she faces her harsh reality again and again. Later in the story, she decides to work for some shady guy just for getting out of her suffocating neighborhood, but then she finds herself being against the wall again as a woman with poor background and no good job opportunity.

girlhood05As the movie encloses itself in her rough world which is vividly presented with the authentic sense of place and people, Marieme comes to us as a smart independent girl grasping for a clearer idea of herself, and Karidja Touré, who had no previous acting experience before like many of the cast members in the film, gives an electrifying debut performance full of details to convey the small and big changes inside her character. When Marieme coldly threatens a minor character at one point, we are shocked but not very surprised by this sudden behavior of hers, for we have already sensed the change from Touré’s unadorned acting exuded from her open, expressive face.

As the other tough girls in the film, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, and Marietou Toure also deserve to be mentioned for their good supporting performances, and they and Touré are impeccably spontaneous in their interactions on the screen. Look at a certain conversation scene where they effortlessly shift from one mood to another mood with no misstep, and you will see why girls are usually better than boys in case of handling their friendship matters.

When I watched “Tomboy” in early 2012, I was impressed by its sensitive and thoughtful direction, and Céline Sciamma did it again here in her another interesting coming-of-age drama to watch. Although nothing is certain for Marieme even in the end, there is a tiny glimpse of hope shown at the very end of the film, and her face right before the end credits is all the movie needs for making a brief but powerful ending to linger on us. I guess there will be more difficulties on her way, but this girl will survive – with her spirit as spry as before.

Karidja Touré in Girlhood

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Cop Car (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4) : They stole a wrong one…


“Cop Car” is about two kids who get more than they wish for after they come across a vehicle they should not have messed with. While there are a number of uneasy scenes of these naughty kids being put into possible dangers, the movie handles them with enough tension to engage and grip us while showing considerable tactfulness behind the screen, and that is one of several reasons why it works on both levels of narrative and technique.

Its premise is quite simple. The opening scene shows a quiet rural area somewhere around the southwestern region of US, and we meet two plain young kids walking across a wide field as they are blurting out profanities to each other just for passing their time. Although the movie is not very specific about their current situation, it is implied that they ran out of their homes for some reasons, and we later get a few little details about their background from their conversations. While Harrison (Hays Wellford) has lived with his grandmother, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) has lived with his mother and her new husband, and it looks like they were not particularly happy at their respective homes.

When they happen to spot a police patrol car, they are immediately alarmed by it, but they soon become playful once they realize that there is no one around them and the vehicle. They throw a stone at the car. They sneak toward the car as if it were a scary dog lying in sleep. They walk around the car as looking for any fun they might have with it. When they find that the car is somehow left unlocked, they gladly go inside it for more fun they can have – and they cannot possibly be more excited when they discover the car key.

We soon see how they have a big joyous fun in several ways not so recommendable to any children around their age. Although they do not know enough about driving, they certainly know how to grab the steering wheel and push pedals besides igniting the car engine, and they freely drive their stolen vehicle across the wide field where there is virtually no one except cows peacefully grazing or moving on the field.

copcar02Of course, there is a man looking for that car. The flashback scene following right after the boys’ theft introduces Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), a corrupt local policeman who was in the middle of his annoying business of burying two bodies when the boys stole his car. When he comes back from the burying spot, he is naturally befuddled by its unexpected disappearance, and then he becomes panic because that can lead to the full exposure of his latest crime for a good reason.

While our little boys continue to have more fun with his car, the movie also focuses on how Kretzer tries to take care of his urgent problem before it is too late. Although he cannot certainly report the theft, he can pull some strings to hide it for a while from the folks at his police station, and we get several suspenseful scenes as Kretzer manages to skirt around the constant danger of being noticed by others.

Around the end of its second act, it becomes pretty clear to us that the story is heading to a certain inevitable point, but the movie keeps building tension steadily under the confident direction by the director Jon Watts, who wrote the screenplay with Christopher D. Ford. The movie is morbidly humorous at times as shown from a darkly amusing moment when Travis and Harrison recklessly drive the car along the road at high speed, and some of you will probably be disturbed by one particular scene where they play with a rifle and a bulletproof vest while apparently having no idea on what kind of danger they are playing with.

copcar01It surely helps that its two young lead actors Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson give natural performances to hold our interest, and it is often compelling to watch the dynamics of the relationship between their problematic characters. As Harrison and Travis push or pull each other in their interactions which are not entirely innocuous, we come to sense the poor environment which has shaped them respectively, and how they come to tumble toward a big trouble waiting for them is believable in its every step. They think they can have any fun without no one to stop them, but then they get themselves stuck in a situation far worse than they have ever imagined – and they may not have much chance to survive the day if they are not lucky.

On the opposite, Kevin Bacon, who also participated in the production of the film as one of its executive producers, provides a solid performance as the boys’ dangerous opponent. Rather than resorting to overacting, Bacon wisely stays on slow-burn mode while his character tries his best to have the situation under his control, and he is especially good when his character is slowly being cracked behind his cool façade. As two substantial supporting characters in the film, Camryn Manheim and Shea Whigham do their respective jobs as demanded, and Bacon’s wife Kyra Sedgwick provides a brief voice performance as the police station dispatcher.

During its relatively short running time (88 minutes), “Cop Car” is lean and efficient in its impressive handling of mood and story. The cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd and Larkin Seiple is commendable for how it effectively establishes the static but uneasy atmosphere through its occasional shots of remote landscapes, and I was involved in the story thanks to good performances even when I observed the characters from the distance. After all, the boys had it coming from the start, didn’t they?


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Turbo Kid (2015) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : Not for your kids, certainly

turbokid01“Turbo Kid” is a junk food packed with cheesy and hammy elements while cheerfully drenched in a nasty hot sauce of violence. It is goofy and amusing at times, but the movie eventually feels more like an expired one-note joke as spinning its wheels with more cheesiness and goriness to throw at us. You may appreciate the filmmaker’s enthusiasm behind the screen, but, unless you have some soft spots for those cheap SF adventure action flicks made during the 1980-90s or have some tolerance for various bloody ways of body mutilation, you will more likely cringe at it rather than laughing about it.

Right from its beginning, the movie feels authentically tacky with its notable old-fashioned details. Among so many logos of production companies shown before its first scene (please don’t ask me which one is real or not), there is the one clearly resembling that familiar logo of the Cannon Group, and we also get a typical prologue narration which briefly explains its post-apocalyptic background under a very, very serious tone just like those lesser imitators coming after the success of “Mad Max” (1979) and “The Terminator” (1984).

It is 1997 (no kidding), and the human civilization was collapsed by a nuclear war several years ago in this gray ‘futuristic’ dystopian world which actually looks like remote locations somewhere in Canada. The life is harsh and difficult for everyone in this world as they rummage for any useful or valuable scraps in their wasteland area, and clean water has been the most valuable commodity in their world.

As a cheesy synthesizer-dominated song which will definitely take you to the 1980s is loudly played over the main title scene, we meet our young hero who is simply named “The Kid” (Munro Chambers). While living alone in his private underground bunker where he has collected various remnants of human civilization like Wall-E, he goes around the surrounding area using his BMX bicycle, and he is ready to find anything valuable to be exchanged with a bottle of clean water or an old copy of his favorite comic book series “Turbo Rider”.

turbokid04His main dealer is Babu (Romano Orzari), and a shabby abandoned factory where Babu is doing his usual business are full of extras who mostly looks like costume party attendees despite their seemingly ragged and rusty attires. Among them is a tough cowboy guy named Frederick (Aaron Jeffery), and we see him doing his latest arm wrestling match with some other guy, which is accompanied with a considerable risk for each own right hand on the table.

Frederick has a brother who is also one of the members of his group, and that brother is killed by the brutal henchmen of Zeus (Michael Ironside), a sadistic gang leader who has dominated over the area and its people as firmly holding his source of clean water. One of his henchmen particularly stands out with his menacing mask and rather awkward body movement, and I must warn you in advance that this mute guy has a very unpleasant of killing people using a lethal weapon attached to his left arm.

Meanwhile, our young hero come across two things to change his life forever. One is an odd girl named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), and her loony perkiness certainly unnerves the Kid during their bizarre Meet Cute scene at an abandoned playground. She simply follows after him just because she wants to be at his service as his companion, and you will probably not be surprised when the Kidd comes to know a lot more about her later in the story.

The other one is a special power suit the Kid happens to discover within a mysterious aircraft which has been hidden under the ground for many years since its crash. Thanks to his favourite comic book series, the Kid instantly recognizes what it is. The left glove of the suit is attached with something you have probably seen from many old SF movies, and the Kid soon beholds what he can do with it during his first trial, though it frequently needs to be recharged.

turbokid02It will not be a spoiler to tell you that the Kid, Apple, and Frederic eventually stick together to fight against Zeus and his gangs, and the co-directors/co-writers François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who developed their debut feature film from their 2011 short film “T Is for Turbo” (they also appeared as minor supporting characters in the film, by the way), wildly wield the absurd moments of action and violence as maintaining the deliberately cheesy mood in their film. I was especially tickled by its goofy touch involved with BMX bicycles which happen to be the most common vehicles for both good and bad guys in the film, and how the movie uses them for action scenes is its another funny aspect to notice. The actors keep their performances straight to the materials they are supposed to deal with, and I liked the intentionally campy villain performance by Michael Ironside, a Canadian veteran actor who once played a vicious villain to be remembered for one hell of memorable exit in “Total Recall” (1990).

However, I got tired then as the movie kept going back and forth between its only two modes: very cheesy and very violent. You may go along well with those cheesy moments, but then there come lots of bloody moments where many characters including the Kid’s currently diseased parents are sliced or impaled or blasted or disemboweled in many imaginable ways to be admired by splatter horror fans. At one point, some unfortunate supporting character captured by Zeus is put under a gruesome situation in which his intestine is tightly connected to the rear wheel of a bicycle ready to be pedaled under Zeus’ order. During what is supposed to be a big climactic showdown, many guys are exploded like blood balloons, and we also get a man staggering with a number of sliced torsos stacked on him like a totem pole. In the other words, this movie is not for your kids, certainly.

“Turbo Kid” won the Audience Award in the midnight section at the SXSW film festival early in this year, and it also won the Best Director Award when it was shown at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea during this summer. I could see how it appeals to some audiences as a cult favorite, but, seriously, it could have had more than those bloody guts for transcending its genre trappings.


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Danny Collins (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): A turning point belatedly coming to him

dannycollins02“Danny Collins” is the third Al Pacino movie I watched in this year, and it is easily the best of the bunch. While other two films “The Humbling” (2014) and “Manglehorn” (2014) were disappointing misfires despite his efforts, Pacino gives one of his better performances here in “Danny Collins”, a formulaic but ultimately sweet comedy drama about an aging musician at a belated turning point.

When he began his music career during the 1970s, Danny Collins, played by Eric Schneider during the opening scene and then Pacino after that, was a rising new talent to notice, and he soon attained more fame and success as everyone predicted at that time. 40 years have passed since that, but he is still popular enough to be recognized by others, and he has been comfortably coasting along on his fame and success. With the assistance of his manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer), he dutifully goes through his routine concert tours, and all he has to do is performing his old popular songs as wanted by his many fans, most of whom are as old as he is now.

However, like many other old guys who become more aware of long years behind them, he begins to feel unsatisfied with his luxurious (and hedonistic) lifestyle he has been leading for many years – especially when he comes to learn on his birthday that John Lennon sent a personal letter to him after reading an interview article on Collins. Reading the letter belatedly delivered to him, Collins begins to wonder about how things could have turned out to be different if he had received that encouraging letter at that time, and, yes, that iconic song by Lennon is played over the scene as Collins pensively looks around his big residence in the aftermath of his wild birthday party (As jockingly recognized at the beginning of the film and then shown further during its end credits, this premise is partially inspired by a real-life incident; Lennon wrote a letter of support and encouragement to young British musician Steve Tilston in 1971, but Tilston himself learned about the letter only after being approached by a collector in 2005).

dannycollins04Eventually, Collins decides to pull up himself for a change. He temporarily stops doing concert tours to Frank’s dismay, he walks out of his big mansion where he has lived with his young new wife (she is No.4, by the way), and he travels to New Jersey for concentrating on resuming his songwriting while visiting his son he has not met for years. Tom (Bobby Cannavale), who has led an ordinary family life with his pregnant wife and their hyperactive daughter, understandably does not welcome his prodigal father at all, but he cannot stop him from approaching to his family. After all, how can he refuse an offer which will surely benefit his precious daughter?

Meanwhile, there comes the possibility of new romance to Collins. During his stay at a nearby Hilton hotel, he comes across Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening), the no-nonsense hotel manager who is not as thrilled to meet Collins as others in the hotel. Something clicks between them as they spend more time with each other, and it looks like she can be the one with whom he begins the new chapter of his life – if he is really committed to his initial decision.

Although the story takes a couple of conventional plot turns during the second half of the film, the first-time director Dan Fogelman, who previously wrote the screenplays for “Tangled” (2010) and “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011), pays attention to small, intimate moments between his well-defined characters, and his screenplay balances itself well between humor and drama even when the characters’ situation becomes more serious after a certain plot point. While Lennon’s songs are prominently played on the soundtrack, “Hey Baby Doll” and “Don’t Look Down”, which were specially written for the film as Collins’s two different songs, are effective used in the film with their contrasting impressions.

dannycollins03As far as I remember, this is the first time we see Pacino playing a singer on the screen. While he does not sing as much as you might expect, I can tell you that he looks as good as his character is supposed to be on the stage. He is perfectly cast as a vain but vulnerable man who wants to regain what he lost years ago, and his likable performance engages us as equally revealing Collins’s better and worse sides. Collins is indeed sincere in his quest for restart and redemption, but he is still a selfish star driven by his ego and insecurity, and that is why we are not so surprised by his sudden change of mind right before one crucial moment which may determine the rest of his career.

Pacino is surrounded by good supporting actors who bring considerable humor and warmth to their respective characters we come to care about as much as Collins. As the potential love interest in the film, Annette Bening has a nice understated chemistry with Pacino during their scenes, and Jennifer Garner gives a warm, gentle performance as Tom’s pregnant wife. Christopher Plummer, a great actor as legendary as Pacino, effortlessly steals the show as Collins’s loyal manager, and Bobby Cannavale has a very poignant moment when his character has to hide something from his loving family he deeply cares about. Young actress Giselle Eisenberg also holds her own small place well among her adult co-starts, and she looks natural even when her character is in her usual hyperactive mode which would overwhelm any good parents.

“Danny Collins” is an entertaining movie both funny and touching, and I enjoyed watching Pacino trying something different with gusto. Like Robert De Niro, he made several regrettable career choices during recent years (remember “Gigli” (2003) and “Jack and Jill” (2011)?) but he has kept working like a trouper, and there were indeed notable career highlights such as the Emmy-winning performances in “Angels in America” (2003) and “You Don’t Know Jack” (2010). “Danny Collins” may be a lightweight stuff compared to them, but Pacino is a lot of fun while bringing a touch of class to the film, and that is more than enough for us.


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Manglehorn (2014) ☆☆(2/4) : Pacino stuck in an uneventful dud

manglehorn01“Manglehorn” is an uneventful dud which is all the more disappointing when you consider the talents behind it. The movie is intended as a low-key character drama driven by small moments, but it is hopelessly uneven and tedious in its aimless narrative, and its good actors mostly struggle hard to make their cardboard characters look believable on the screen. While it has a few good scenes to notice, they only remind us of how it could been better with more flesh and blood to give any recognizable sense of life to its story and characters.

Al Pacino, who looks as shaggy and tired as he did in “The Humbling” (2014), plays A.J. Manglehorn, an old locksmith who lives alone with his precious cat in some small town of Texas. He was once married, but we do not learn much about his married life or his wife who is no longer with him, and he has been estranged from his son Jacob (Chris Messina) for years, though he is on good terms with Jacob’s young daughter Kylie (Skylar Gasper).

Manglehorn frequently writes letters to a woman who was probably the only true love of his life, but he always finds his letters sent back to his home. This looks sad at first as his letters being read by Pacino on the soundtrack, but the movie does not tell us anything about who she was or how their relationship was in the past, except that he is still yearning for any reply from her even after many years. As we see more of him checking his mailbox, his stubborn act of writing letters looks more like something as abstract and symbolic as waiting for Godot, rather than a recognizable human behavior we can identify with.

manglehorn02When he is not at his home, Manglehorn usually goes through his mundane work routine, and he does not have many people around him besides his son and granddaughter. Gary (Harmony Korine), who was a schoolmate of his son, looks like a sort of friend to him, and he gladly takes Manglehorn to a local nightclub for some fun, but this self-absorbed doofus is more occupied with his seedy tanning/massage business. Manglehorn’s face is brightened up a bit more than usual whenever he goes to a local bank and talks with one of the employees, but he and Dawn (Holly Hunter) have been so far no more than good friends although she is very willing to come closer to him if he wants.

While Manglehorn hesitates about what may lead to his first serious relationship after so many lonely years of anger and depression, the movie often sways with a handful of offbeat touches including a growing bee hive below Manglehorn’s mailbox or a surreal scene involved with multiple vehicle crashes on the road. There is also a brief unexpected moment of romance in the middle of one scene at the bank, and we cannot help but be curious about two minor characters who openly confirm their genuine affection to each other in front of others.

Unfortunately, Paul Logan’s screenplay is too clumsy and lackadaisical to provide any solid emotional center to support these episodic moments and many others including a rather pointless sequence involved with the illness of Manglehorn’s cat. While he is not a particularly interesting person to watch as he usually looks glum and passive, we only come to get the sketchy depiction of what kind of a person Manglehorn is, and we do not get much understanding on what others see from him, either. There are a couple of scenes where other characters talk about his past, but they do not work at all because 1) we can clearly see that the movie is directly talking down to us through them and 2) these scenes do not add up much to the barebone characterization of its hero.


In case of Al Pacino, he shows us how much he can be restrained in contrast to his operatic performances in “Scarface” (1983) and “Heat” (1995), but his efforts here in this film are not served well by its lifeless screenplay. Although I did not like “The Humbling” a lot, I could see that Pacino was having a little fun with his performance in that flawed film, and that was why the movie was mildly amusing to watch, if not good enough for recommendation. In case of “Manglehorn”, he merely plods along with its dull story while occasionally flexing his acting muscle whenever it is demanded, and that is not an interesting thing to watch at all.

Like Pacino, the other actors in the film are wasted in most cases. While Harmony Korine’s distracting performance may make some of you forgive Quentin Tarantino’s bumpy acting attempts, Chris Messina is stuck with bad dialogues in his scenes with Pacino, and it is really a shame to see Holly Hunter not utilized well in the film. During one scene in which her character realizes how much Manglehorn has been held by his memories of past, Hunter conveys well her character’s pain inadvertently caused by his bumbling insensitivity, and that moment is a good example of what talented actors can do even if they are trapped inside bad films.

The movie is directed by David Gordon Green, whose previous film “Joe” (2013) was one of the best films I saw in last year. After his impressive debut with “George Washington” (2000), Green quickly rose as one of the leading American independent filmmakers, but then he baffled us with disposable films like “The Sitter” (2011) and “Your Highness” (2011), which is still one of the most awful comedy films I have ever watched during recent years. I was certainly glad to see him back in his element with “Joe” and “Prince Avalanche” (2013), and that is why I felt quite depressed by his big failure in “Manglehorn”. I hope he will soon get back on the track as he did before.


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Everest (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4) : Into Thin Air

everest01Based on an infamous real-life disaster which happened on Mount Everest in May 1996, “Everest” attempts to tell a chilling story about how everything went horribly wrong during that grim, horrifying moment of fear and chaos. Yes, they did know the risk of going into thin air from the very beginning, but then everyone became helpless and desperate as overwhelmed by the most unforgiving side of the mountain, regardless of how much they were prepared or experienced.

Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully climbed up to its summit during their historical expedition in 1953, Mount Everest has constantly drawn many other mountaineers as the highest mountain on the Earth, and, as told at the beginning of the film, commercial expeditions began around the early 1990s. After New Zealand mountaineer Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) took the first step into this new business area with his company Adventure Consultants, other mountaineering experts including Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) soon followed after him, and the base camp of Mount Everest became crowded like a tourist spot despite hefty expedition fee.

At first, it just looks like another expedition to manage for Hall and his colleagues. While famous journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) joins this expedition for his assignment from Outside Magazine, we also meet the other notable members of Hall’s group including Buck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), and we get to learn a bit about each own personal reason for this expedition during their journey to Everest Base Camp, which is located at the altitude of 5,364 meters (17,598 ft).

everest02As Hall’s group and other groups go through the preparation process, we see how demanding the climbing will be for most of them. While you can adapt your body condition to the low oxygen level in the air within several days, you will definitely need an oxygen tank once you climb above 6,000 meters (19,685 ft). Under this harsh condition coupled with a very high risk of hypothermia and hypoxia, even merely walking along the ridge requires a lot of will and strength from you, and you may become too dizzy and exhausted to go further even if you can see the summit not so far from you.

The situation turns out to be not very ideal for Hall’s group as well as other groups. Besides their considerably crowded base camp, there is also the unpredictable weather on Mount Everest, and it means there may not be enough chance for everyone at the base camp. When the weather finally becomes fine on May 10th, things look promising as Hall and his clients ready themselves for their big day, but then there come several complications including the unexpected long delay in the middle of their climbing. When Hall manages to take some of his clients to the summit and then finally begins his descent, he is already two hours behind the schedule.

Hall thinks he can handle this schedule problem as a well-experienced expert, but then the situation becomes quite worse as the base camp manager Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) has worried. The blizzard suddenly begins during the late afternoon, and all icy hell breaks loose upon everyone around the summit as a result. The weather becomes less hostile on the next day, but it is pretty clear to Wilton and others at the base camp that not all of their colleagues and clients will return.

Compared to the 1997 TV movie “Into Thin Air: Death on Everest”, which was based on the nonfiction novel of the same name written by Krakauer, “Everest” is surely superior on the technical levels as a major commercial film. While it certainly depends on CGI as much as location shooting, the director Baltasar Kormákur did a smooth job of mixing special effects and real landscapes on the screen, and the movie has some good tense moments which evoke my personal aversion to high places.

everest04However, the film feels thin in case of story and characterization like many other disaster movies. The screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy often loses its focus as going around various characters, and it is also not easy to distinguish one character from another especially during the climax part. Covered with snow and frostbite, most of the expedition members all look uniformly terrible and exhausted without much distinction, and we can only appreciate the efforts the actors and the crew members of the movie put into their difficult scenes.

Some of the cast members are more recognizable to us, but they are limited by the weak story as much as the other actors in the film. Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, and Jake Gyllenhaal do whatever they can do with their colorless roles, and Robin Wright and Keira Knightley are unfortunately stuck with a quintessential case of thankless acting job we have seen many times before. As anxious wife characters, they usually hold their phones while fearing for the worst, and that is all they are required to do.

I recommend “Everest” mainly because I enjoyed its technical aspects, but I must also point out that it is not as good as that terrific book written by Krakauer or Kevin MacDonald’s great documentary “Touching the Void” (2003), which is about one legendary expedition on Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. That documentary terrified me a lot as the most vivid and harrowing mountaineering film I have ever seen. In case of “Everest”, it simply entertained me, and that was all.

Sidenote: I saw the film in 2D. As far as I could see, there was no need to watch it in 3D or IMAX.

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The Intern (2015) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : An old intern and his young boss


“The Intern” is often warm and humorous, but I was constantly moving my judgement back and forth during my viewing. It goes without saying that its two talented lead performers are too good for the film, but I kept noticing how engaging they are as the human characters who deserve a better story with more edges and wits. The movie is not that good, but you may nearly forgive its flaws just because of how its lead performers diligently support it with each own star presence.

The movie begins with one of its two lead characters talking about his life during recent years. Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro) is a retired phone book company executive entering the 70s, and we hear about how he has been spending his affluent retirement life which may make you wonder how much he actually earned during his work years. While his son happily settles in Seattle with his own family, Ben has lived alone in his posh upper middle-class house since his wife’s death, so he has tried several new things to enliven his rather uneventful daily life, but he still does not feel satisfied enough while looking for something more challenging to stimulate him.

On one day, Ben comes across the notice on the senior internship program of a rising e-commerce fashion company named About the Fit. While he has to learn several more things about the digital age he is not wholly familiar with, he soon makes a nice digital video file for his application, and he does not have much problem as going through a couple of interviews. He eventually begins to work at the company, and he is assigned to Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the young founder/CEO of the company who is not that interested in her company’s special internship program intended as a community outreach for its Brooklyn neighbourhood.

theintern03Still amazed by how the Brooklyn neighbourhood he knew for many years has been rapidly gentrified, Ben gradually adapts himself to his new work environment. He may be an old-fashioned guy who still wears a tidy business suit at his work and also has to learn lots of things for working at an e-commerce company, but he knows a lot about how to handle small and big matters in the company as a resourceful man with experiences. Not so surprisingly, he quickly becomes everyone’s favorite employee in the company.

In case of Jules, it takes some time for her to see her new intern’s value because, well, she is constantly busy with her demanding business while facing a difficult moment of choice. Her investors recently suggest that she should bring in a more experienced CEO for the future of her expanding company, but she does not like the idea of someone else taking over the control of the company she is very proud of. She wants to keep running it as before, but she also knows well how frequently she has been absent to her young daughter Paige (Jojo Kushner), who has been taken care of by her generous husband Matt (Anders Holm) since he gave up his own career for his wife’s.

As Ben assists Jules in indirect or direct ways, he naturally becomes a valuable friend and adviser for her, and there is a nice moment when they happen to work alone in the office during one evening. As they have a private conversation accompanied with pizza, Jules comes to respect Ben more than before for his life experiences, and Ben equally admires Jules for how much she has accomplished even though she has just entered her 30s.

And it certainly helps that they are played by two very watchable actors. Although he is already past his prime period when he used to astound us with his great performances, Robert De Niro still can hold our attention as one of the best actors from his generation, and he wisely dials down his usual intensity for the role which could have gone to Dustin Hoffman. I think Hoffman could have been more effortless because he can play an ordinary guy more believably than De Niro, but De Niro is not bad in his dependable performance, and he has a number of good moments when his character subtly handles others around him while maintaining his humble position as usual.

theintern02In the opposite, Anne Hathaway gives a sunny, charming performance to balance De Niro’s low-key acting, though her character is ridden with those usual clichés we can expect from a working mother conflicted between work and family. While Jules’s strained relationship with her husband is the least convincing thing in the film, the movie curiously stays away from Jules’s meetings with possible CEO candidates, and how it eventually resolves these problems of hers in the end is too easy and safe to say the least.

The supporting performers surrounding De Niro and Hathaway do not have many things to do except providing occasional laughs from time to time. While Andrew Rannells is Jules’ sassy right-hand guy, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, and Jason Orley are a trio of goofy office workers who come to assist Ben during one silly sequence involved with their attempt to break into a certain suburban house, and Rene Russo, who was excellent in her supporting turn in “Nightcrawler” (2014), is under-utilized as an office masseuse who gives Ben something he will not easily forget.

Since her Best Screenplay Oscar nomination for “Private Benjamin” (1980), the director/writer Nancy Myers has steadily written or directed notable lightweight comedy films for many years. I enjoyed those hilarious moments of “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003), but I was merely amused at times by “It’s Complicated” (2009), and “The Intern” is somewhere between them. It is not entirely bad thanks to De Niro and Hathaway, but, overall, this is a mild comedy film without much impression left behind it.


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