Everest

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Only the most minimal amount of acting is required to sustain this latest encounter with Everest. Though purportedly centred on the epic human endeavour of conquering the world’s most fearsome icy mountain peak, this is a film that’s almost entirely about the spectacle, the awe-inspiring scenic vistas and, most significant of all, the series of disaster scenarios that hope to create tension and drama. Recounting the trek of a group of tourists being led up the mountain in 1996 by trailblazing New Zealand businessman Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), Everest (2015) offers scant character sketches by way of introduction to the men who’ll partake in this adventure of a lifetime.

Other than Hall, these include Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texan – damned if that isn’t the only fact I can immediately recall about him; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), whose health is an issue and who will clearly be pushing himself to the limit one last time, God help him, for Everest glory. Sam Worthington and Martin Henderson appear and disappear like ghosts, while Jake Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer is a young upstart, the laid-back leader of another tourist venture who Hall would like to join forces with.

Then there are the haplessly marginalised female characters, the tortured wives doomed to suffering ‘back home’ and given the skimpiest of material to work with. Keira Knightley, dodgy New Zealand accent and all, is Hall’s pregnant partner, whilst Robin Wright is handed the equally onerous task of breathing life into a faded sketch as Beck’s wife Peach back in the States. Closer to the action, at base camp, is Emily Watson’s hen mother Helen Wilton, providing the line of communication between the front line and the anxiously awaiting womenfolk.

Other shortcomings in William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy’s painfully hollow screenplay draw attention to their virtual non-presence. Even more skimpily depicted than the females are the all-important Sherpas whose back-breaking, integral participation is reduced to a couple of perfunctory scenes, references and mediocre jokes to show that they’re nothing if not a slap-happy bunch whose amiability seemingly negates any tiresome need to reveal any human depths they might possess. Soon to be seen on our cinema screens is Jennifer Peedom’s glorious Sherpa (2015), a film that, beyond its visual grandeur, dignifies and illuminates the extraordinary breadth of the Sherpas grit and courage in the face of elemental forces and economic calamity.

Baltasar Kormakur’s film is a far less interesting cinematic proposition; in fact it’s possibly the most deadly dull ‘epic adventure’ in recent studio history. With its wind-strewn, comprehension-disabled dialogue, stumbling men rendered anonymous under layers of face-contorting clothing, cringeworthy collection of fake Kiwi accents, and depressingly perfunctory dialogue, Everest stumbles into each murky crevice of cliché armed with well credentialed actors who surely signed on the dotted line for the promise of a getaway and a well paid fitness regime. Tension and drama are absent from every threat posed by the falling, collapsing, clamouring icy chunks and boulders. Even worse, a woeful sense of familiarity has its own sweet way with the entire production, making the ascent to and descent down Everest’s peak as torturous for the audience as it is for the players.

Is there anything more depressing than seeing genuinely fine actors, best known for a series of genuinely interesting creative choices partaking of something so awful, so blatantly commercial and allowing themselves to be made into a cardboard cut-out of a human being, an imposter whose part is either marginal at best or whittled away to noting in the editing room? Is this really the same John Hawkes who has forged and truly earned his reputation as one of American independent cinemas finest actors in recent times thanks to his unforgettable roles in Winter’s Bone (2010), Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) and The Sessions (2012)? Fair to say Everest won’t be a film he’ll use to highlight his talents to his succeeding generations or even prospective employers from this day onwards.

Terminator Genisys

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Alan Taylor’s reboot of the Terminator franchise at least proves entertaining on a base level, even if its reverential humour – with inevitable shots at the effects of aging – is as endearingly clunky as some of the overheated action scenes. These regular bursts are spread over various time zones as the characters race to find a solution to Skynet’s hunger for world domination. The film begins in the distant future with John Connor (Jason Clarke), the war hero leading his men, including right hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), to victory over the machines and seemingly Skynet. However, just as Reese is being blasted back to 1984 to oversee the protection of Connor’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke), a residual, more organic incarnation of Skynet claims Connor, leaving his fate up in the air.

Circumstances have changed back in 1984 too, with Sarah no longer blissfully going about her life as a waitress in her days before a Terminator arrives to execute her. Instead Reese finds himself becoming the rescued. Sarah, it seems, has been raised by the cyborg she’s named Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) since the age of 9 and in the interim has been waiting for Reese’s arrival. This sleek deviation from the scene of James Cameron’s original classic in 1984 kick-starts the plot as the trio fends off the inevitable shape-shifting, liquefying Terminator (Byung-hun Lee) and head to 2017 to prevent the original start date of Skynet’s global infection via a new computer operating system that links all humanity to its technological doom.

Naturally, Terminator: Genisys (2015), plays heavily on the franchise’s earlier instalments, with Schwarzenegger’s participation a large part of the deal. He turns back the clock in a sense, though the nostalgic glow he casts over the production via his wry one-liners and indestructible presence is certainly tainted by a certain predictability, and a screenplay – by Patrick Lussier and Laeta Kalogridis – that struggles to keep up, logically, with its own obtuse back and forwards jack-knifing through time. Taylor’s direction is rudimentary in every way whilst the clucky special effects, especially in some of the earlier set-pieces, seem ‘off’. There often feels like a less than smooth transition between the CGI and the actors’ reactions to them.

Courtney and Emilia Clarke – making an inexorable transition from epic-scaled small screen drama – are solid contributors in a film that only meekly pays lip service to creating fresher angles on these long-established characterisations. And neither comes close to capturing the raw intensity of the originals, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. The most impressive cast member is easily Courtney’s fellow Australian Jason Clarke who builds upon the momentum from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012) which a performance that shows off his genuine presence. Special mention as well must go to the brilliant J.K. Simmons for his tragically minor role as a beleaguered but clued-in cop who can’t get anyone to take him seriously.

This fifth chapter outweighs the Arnie-less fourth, which wouldn’t have been much of a stretch. There’s a not invaluable lesson about the harmful long-term effects of humanity’s ultimate reliance upon and meek subservience to the rapidly expanding technologies at our disposal, and in providing heightened, increasingly ludicrous action sequences it at least fits the bill for lightweight entertainment. The Hans Zimmer influence, as ever, is obvious in composer Lorne Balfe’s writing, though it does pound along with a suitably syncopated relentlessness and offers plenty of nods to original composer Brad Fiedel’s throbbing electronic motif. The work provided by the previous two musical contributors to the franchise, Marco Beltrami and, more recently, Danny Elfman, were far more varied and substantial. Overall, a pleasingly over-the-top return to comfortingly familiar waters that’s as disposable as it is enjoyable.