Movie version of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster.
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers to ever scale the summit of Mt. Everest. Since then, other experienced climbers have attempted this feat, some made it, some did not. But over the years, taking climbers up Mt. Everest has become a business and Everest has become a mountain version of a traffic jam despite the huge (upwards of $65,000) price tag clients must pay to go up to the top.
Rob Hall, an experienced New Zealander climber who had scaled Mt. Everest four times (this expedition would be his 5th), was one of the first and most successful to start one of these guided climbs businesses. He and his partner, Gary Ball had completed The Seven Summits which meant they had climbed the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Summiting all of them is regarded as THE mountaineering challenge and they had done all seven in seven months. Hall and Ball started Adventure Consultants in 1991 and had mounted many successful climbs and by 1996 Rob Hall had led 39 clients to the top of Mount Everest.
In 1996, Hall and two other guides took eight clients up the mountain. Among those in the party was author Jon Krakauer, who at that time was working for "Outside Magazine," and was going to do a piece about the growing interest in commercial expeditions to Everest, and in turn, "Outside Magazine" would publicize Hall's business. Little did Krakauer know that he would be a key player in one of the greatest mountain climbing tragedies up until that time.
Though Hall had guided several successful treks up the mountain, this particular attempt encountered many delays, especially due to some 33 other climbers all wanting to summit at the same time and on the same day - by 2pm on May 10. A literal traffic jam occurred at the Hillary Step, thus causing more dangerous delays which would keep climbers from going back down by 2pm, the last safe time to summit that would still allow them all to get back to camp by nightfall. Then they were hit with a monster storm and some of them would not come down the mountain alive...or ever.
Jon Krakauer brilliantly wrote about what happened in his book "Into Thin Air." However, the film is not based on his book and Krakauer has distanced himself from the film, saying how he was depicted was fictional. Most probably because in the film there is a scene when some of their party are stranded on the mountain and he and some others have made it back to camp. When Boukreev asks them to go back with him to try to save the others, Krakauer is depicted as saying that he can't go back to help the other climbers because he has snow blindness. That was not particularly flattering considering some of those climbers died.
However, Krakauer's own version of events came under attack by Anatoli Boukreev (played by Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in the film), who was also there, and who gave his version in his book "The Climb." The filmmakers state that the screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, was an original one based on original research and not Krakauer's book.
It doesn't really matter which version you believe or which facts are true. What happened, happened and, this film stands on its own as a mesmerizing, heartbreaking experience.
Director Baltasar Kormakur oversaw gorgeous cinematography (Salvatore Totino), crisp editing by Mick Audsley, actual Everest locations and the wonderful acting, which all worked together to provide a brilliant film that makes you feel you are right there with the climbers. This film will stay with you for a long time.
Jason Clarke, who until now was probably best known for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" was a revelation here as Hall. His performance should be rewarded with an Oscar nod. He portrayed Hall as tender and loving to his wife, strong, caring and rational with his clients and tough and brave to the end. But Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers, a doctor from Texas; Jake Gyllenhaall, the Seattle-based tour guide, Scott Fischer, from rival tour company Mountain Madness; Emily Watson as Adventure Consultants' base camp manager; Sam Worthington as Rob's colleague Guy Cotter; Michael Kelly as Krakauer; John Hawkes as Doug Hansen, whose attempt last year was aborted and who desperately wanted to summit this time; Keira Knightly as Rob's wife, Jan; an almost unrecognizable Robin Wright as Beck's wife, Peach; and the other actors, all played a role in making this a moving, realistic experience.
In his book, Krakauer talks about the idea that it's not just getting up the mountain that is so hard. It's getting up the mountain and then getting back down again. Hall says something similar, feeling very responsible for getting everyone back down safely, which is why it was so important that they keep to their time table and head back down by 2pm. In the film, there is one dramatic moment of sentimental and bad judgment that would prove fateful.
Why anyone would want to do something like this, climb the tallest mountain, is beyond me. When they say in the film that they will be climbing heights that 747's fly at, I shuddered. When asked that "why question," renowned mountaineer George Mallory uttered the famous words, "Because it's there." Unfortunately, Mallory's quest to scale Mt. Everest ended with his death there. In the film, Krakauer asks the climbers that same question - Why? - and they humorously echo Mallory's words, but then go on to give some insights into why people would attempt such a dangerous and, as they admit, painful excursion. Some had very personal reasons. Weathers did it to alleviate his depression; Hanson as a role model for some school children. But for many it just boiled down to bragging rights...to be one of the few to do something few have done. I still shake my head at the dangerous things people do willingly, no matter what the reason.
You can't help but get from this film the inherent dangers associated with the commercialization of climbing Mount Everest, which has led to people attempting the climb who probably shouldn't be up there and experienced tour guides making fatal decisions to make their paying customers happy. But that still doesn't detract from how heartbreaking this film is.
When you compare this film to "The Martian," which I reviewed last week, we have another film about trying to overcome nature in an unforgiving landscape, in that case Mars. But when comparing these two films, one can't help but think that mountain climbing seems more scary, dramatic and exciting then space exploration. Where "The Martian" lacked drama, this film was exciting from the first frame to the end credits. And the homage at the end of the film paid to the real life people who perished on the mountain was particularly poignant. I cried.
Though not a requisite for enjoying the film, see it in 3-D if you can. It just adds to the awesome cinematography.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Ring, ring. It's the Academy calling. Oscar wants you to know you have been nominated for Best Picture and Jason, you too.
I'll See You In My Dreams (2015)
Salt of the Earth (1954)
The workers at the San Marcos mine in Zinctown, New Mexico are sick of the discrimination they are experiencing so they call a general strike. The men want better wages but the women want sanitation. The women are told, "You're a woman, you don't know what it's like up there."
The Mexican workers want equality but their wives want decent living conditions. The men are chauvinists but eventually they figure out that they need to organize the women too. When the company takes out an injunction against the men forbidding them to picket, the women take their places on the picket line and when the scabs come in, the women fight them off but are arrested. When the women are locked up, the men find out what it's like to try to run a household without sanitation and the women are not about to go back home and be subservient to the men. You go, ladies!
There is solidarity for the men and the women.
Directed by Herbert J. Biberman (one of The Hollywood Ten) and with a script based on a true event, this film was banned for over a decade, probably because it questioned racial and gender equality, but in 1992 the film was selected for inclusion in The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The rudimentary acting (some of the cast were not actors) and spare production values makes this feel more like an industrial film, except this is pro-union, pro-feminist and shows the anti-Mexican sentiment at work during that time.
"This rarely screened classic is the only major American independent feature made by communists...[The film] was informed by feminist attitudes that are quite uncharacteristic of the period [and] was inspired by the blacklisting of director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson, producer and former screenwriter Paul Jarrico, and composer Sol Kaplan...because they'd been drummed out of Hollywood for being subversives, they'd commit a 'crime to fit the punishment' by making a subversive film. The resuls are leftist propaganda of a high order, powerful and intelligent..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Rosy the Reviewer says...not an especially easy filmic experience, but an important piece of film history nevertheless.
***Book of the Week***
Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me by Stevie Phillips (2015)
The Judy in the title is Judy Garland and Liza is Liza Minnelli. The others are Robert Redford, Freddie Fields, David Begelman and Sue Mengers. Fields and Begelman were the founders of CMA (Creative Management Associates now ICM), at one time, one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood. Sue Mengers was a powerful agent and one of Phillips' colleagues and closest friends.
When Phillips was in her twenties and just starting out working at CMA, she was called upon to be Garland's "minder" of sorts, so she saw first hand Garland's self-destruction. Likewise, later in life, when she represented Liza Minnelli, Garland's daughter, she watched her unravel as well. At the end of the book, Phillips credits her time with Judy and later Liza as an awakening of sorts, to drug addiction and her own co-dependency.
People drawn to this book are no doubt interested in dish about Garland and that's mostly what we have here. There is not much about Redford or even her friend, Sue Mengers. As for Garland, I have a bit of a problem with books that are all about the declining years of an icon. And Garland's declining years were not pretty, but they have already been well-documented. I say let her rest in peace and let us remember her as she was in her movies.
But this is also Phillips' story. Phillips was making her way as a talent agent back when women were more likely to be taking shorthand and getting coffee. So she had to have been one smart and tough cookie to make it big in that industry. But it took its toll. Now 78, and with three failed marriages, Phillips, despite being a feminist, doesn't believe women can have it all or do it all. In addition to her time with Garland, Phillips was Liza Minnelli's first agent and helped her get her start, and was rewarded by Liza's betrayal, which it took Phillips almost ten years to get over. She points out that loyalty in Hollywood is not in great supply.
She eventually reinvented herself as a Broadway producer, finding great success with the stage version of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." She disavows the movie version, which I am glad to hear because it was the only movie I have ever walked out of half-way through. Her insights on what it takes to produce a Broadway show would be of interest to theatre folks.
Rosy the Reviewer says...If you like insider Hollywood anecdotes or are interested in what it took to be a woman talent agent in Hollywood in the 60's, you might enjoy this book, but Garland fans might not want to know all of these gory details about her.
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