Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Into Thin Air

Director: Balastar Kormakur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington
Released: September 18, 2015
Viewed in theaters: September 18, 2015

If you have read Jon Krakauer's book, "Into Thin Air", then you are familiar with the story of an expedition to the top of Mount Everest in which bad weather and faulty planning killed 8 climbers in May 1996, many of them quite experienced among them. (Although, if you are not familiar, be aware of the spoilers!)  This movie is based on Krakuer's book as well as other books that were written by the survivors of this tragedy, but being as he is a writer, Krakauer's is probably the most well-known. I'm a little surprised it took so long to make a movie about this event (almost 20 years!), although there was a made for TV movie about it that was aired in 1997 (probably a little too soon!)

I had read Krakauer's book five years ago so I didn't remember exactly who died and who survived that fateful day, but if I had read the dedication page, it would have refreshed my memory as he dedicated the book to those who perished. Although while watching the movie, I began to remember certain people and what had happened to them. Oh yeah, that poor Japanese woman freezes to death or I remember that Texan man wrote a book about this so he survives. And Rob Hall and Doug Hansen are the guide and client, respectively, who made it to the top way too late and didn't get down in time. All of which I had read five years ago just came back to me in a flood of memories.

Rob Hall (portrayed by Jason Clarke) was a 35 year old New Zealander who was the leader and head guide of Adventure Consultants which took clients up to the summit of Everest. His was probably the most known because he had many successful expeditions. His was almost the most expensive because it cost $65,000 to be part of his group (and that doesn't always guarantee reaching the top!) That was definitely something I remembered from the book and was waiting for it to be brought up in the movie and sure enough it was. It boggles my mind that anyone would pay that much money to go through hell!  The question is brought up by Krakauer the journalist (portrayed by Michael Kelly who plays Doug Stamper on House of Cards). Not so much the question, "Why would you pay all this money to do this?" but rather "Why are you climbing this mountain?" Doug Hansen (portrayed by John Hawkes) says he wants to let his children see that if an ordinary man like him can achieve an impossible dream, then they can do the same. While most of Hall's clients were fairly wealthy (you kind of have to be!), Doug was a mailman and had paid for the trip by working extra overnight shifts at the post office. He had gone to Everest with Hall the previous year but hadn't reached the top and this time he was determined. Yasuko Namba (portrayed by Naoko Mori) says she has been to six of the seven highest summits and Everest was the last one. She became the oldest woman to summit Everest (although she never made it down alive), but her record was surpassed in 2001.

With conditions of 100 degrees below zero and very thin air that causes extreme altitude sickness, that would be enough to give anyone second thoughts about climbing Everest. It would certainly give me second thoughts. I've had altitude sickness and it makes you feel weak and miserable. But Everest isn't just a mountain that you climb up. There are crevices you have to cross with ladders; there are steep ledges you have to walk along; there are places you have to climb with ropes. It's a very extraneous, very exhausting feat. I told my mom that I would be out as soon as I saw the long rope bridges they have to cross over a huge gap in the earth even before they begin climbing! I'd be like, "No thanks, rather not fall to my death if those ropes break!"

The movie begins at the airport in New Zealand where Rob Hall is with his base camp manager, Helen (portrayed by Emily Watson) and they're getting ready to leave for Nepal. Hall is saying goodbye to his wife, Jan (portrayed by Keira Knightley) who is also a climber (they summited Everest together in 1993), but can't go with him this time because she is seven months pregnant. I knew for sure he wasn't coming back when she is giving him a tearful goodbye.

There were a lot of people climbing Everest during the same time and it got to be a bit of an issue. Rob decides to team up with another guide, Scott Fisher (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his clients. They started on March 30 and didn't reach the top until May 10. Something I learned when I read Krakauer's book is that you start at base camp, then go to the camp one, then go to base camp again and repeat this a few times. It's so you acclimatize. It has to be so frustrating to be at camp one, then have to go to base camp and start the climb over again. The (very long) day they reach the top, they start just after midnight with a goal to reach the summit by 2 pm. Anything after that starts to become too dangerous because you have to remember reaching the top is only the halfway mark, you still have to turn around and head back.

Sadly, things do not go as planned. Things are slowed down because there were suppose to be ropes already ready at one point but they are not, so they have to do them themselves and that takes time. Several people are getting sick and weak. But they do reach the top and there is celebration. One of the people who is not there when they reach the top is Doug Hansen and Rob finds him on his way back still trudging up. He tells Doug they need to turn back, but Doug is determined to make it. From where they are, it looks like they are not even a mile from the top, but you know it's going to take a couple hours to reach it. Doug pleads for him to take him to the top and Rob agrees. When they do reach it, Doug is exhausted and Rob is doing everything he can to pull him down the mountain, but Doug won't budge. There is an ominous storm approaching. Rob radios base camp to tell them they need help and where they are. Helen mistakenly thinks he said "the bottom of South Summit" and when he corrects her and tells her they're at the top of the South Summit, you can see her face fall and become extremely concerned at that moment. At that point, Rob is still okay and they urge him to come down and they will send someone back up for Doug, but he refuses to leave Doug. As his guide, he felt extremely responsible for Doug and I'm sure he knew he should have refused to let Doug to the top seeing as his condition was very weak. Rob tells Doug to stay where he is and that he's going to go for help. At this point, Doug has become very disoriented. I don't know if he didn't hear Rob or just panicked, but he starts to follow Rob and ends up falling off the mountain. I don't know if this is how he really died because Wikipedia lists his death as being from exposure (same as Rob's), but the only other person up there with him was Hall who also died. When asked about Doug from Base Camp, he replies with, "Doug's gone" which is what was spoken in real life by Hall.

Rob is getting weaker and his oxygen tanks have frozen over. He's not really in a position to slide down because it looks like you need a rope to get down. They tell him a team will climb up the next morning to help him, but they have to abort the mission due to another bad storm. They patch him through to his wife in New Zealand and by this time his voice has started to become slurred. This is the part where I start to lose it and cry. The last words Rob says to his wife are, "I love you. Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don't worry too much." And that is taken from real life, nobody wrote that in the script.

Meanwhile, in other depressing news, Scott Fischer, who has been having some trouble, but passing it off like he is fine, ends up dying from hypoxia. He basically sits down and never gets up again. Then, closer to the camp, but not quite there, a group of climbers have to leave the Japanese woman, Namba and the Texan, Beck Weathers (portrayed by Josh Brolin) behind because they are both too weak to move and the others don't have the means to carry them back. They show them contacting the families and you see Beck's wife, Peach (portrayed by Robin Wright...who I did not recognize at all!) back in Dallas looking devastated and having to tell her kids. I was so confused by this scene because I was sure I remembered Beck surviving this! But then in a later scene, we see Beck with a bloodied face and hands wake up and start to get up and walk back to camp. He is frostbitten beyond belief and Peach organizes a rescue by helicopter which has never been done because it is way to dangerous, but they manage to get him and take him down. I believe they said he lost his hands and nose due to frostbite.

At the end, they have a little tribute to those who died showing photos of the actual people. I was surprised when I read that Rob Hall's body was still on the mountain. I suppose it's in a place that's not easy to get to. But I guess that's not unusual when people die on Everest. Throughout the movie, Rob and Jan had been debating about what they should name their daughter. Rob wanted Sarah, but Jan wasn't keen on the name, but while talking to him on the mountain, promises him she'll call her Sarah and we see a photo of Sarah Arnold-Hall who was 18 when this movie was filmed. She was born two months after her father died.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Nights at the Museums

Night at the Museum
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Carla Gugino, Ricky Gervais, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Kim Raver, Paul Rudd
Released: December 22, 2006
Viewed in theaters: December 23, 2006

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Bill Hader
Released: May 22, 2009
Viewed in theaters: June 1, 2009

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ben Kingsley,  Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson
Released: December 19, 2014

Two years before the first movie being released, I had been to New York City with my mom where we had visited the Museum of Natural History which had quickly shot to #1 as my favorite museum of all time ever. (What was #1 prior to that? To be honest, I had never given it any thought). So when I heard about this movie where all the exhibits come to life at night, I thought it sounded like a cool concept and was curious to see it. While I enjoyed it, I was a bit nit-picky. Obviously, if you have been to the Natural History museum, then you know it was not filmed there! (Which I get). But they could at least tried to make it as similar to the real one! True, it's been awhile since I've been there, but I do remember that the dinosaur on display in the main lobby was not a T-rex like it was in the movie, but in fact two dinosaurs: a mother barosaurus and her baby. I suppose a T-rex is more frightening and exciting for a movie audience, but there were more dinosaur bones upstairs that they never had come to life! Although I don't think the Natural Museum has a T-rex because if they did, it probably would be featured in the lobby as the first thing you see! I kept waiting for the movie to show this HUGE grizzly bear that I remember seeing in the North America section (you know, the same section where you would find Lewis and Clark with Sacagawea!) I would be way more scared of that than the three lions that are in the movie....but there was no bears, grizzly or otherwise. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), a divorced father of a son gets a job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History when times are rough for him and he just needs anything that will give him a paycheck. He replaces three nigh guards who are retiring (played by Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs, and Mickey Rooney - who does not play an Asian man as we all remember how totally not racist that was in Breakfast in Tiffany's!) They give Larry a list of instructions which he will soon find out will come in handy. Even though this movie is called NIGHT at the Museum, there are actually three nights that are shown. The other two movies only have one night.

The first night, naturally, is the introduction of the characters who come to life. A bored Larry ends up falling asleep at the front desk (sidenote: how come they only have one night guard now when they used to have three? Maybe they are trying to cut costs?) and when he wakes up he is baffled to see that the bones of the T-rex are gone and thinks Cecil (Dick Van Dyke) and the others have played a trick on him and that they have made the dinosaur bones vanish in a David Copperfield type illusion. But no, the skeletal dinosaur has come to life and starts chasing Larry who hides under his desk and grabs the instruction and reads them for the first time. The first one given tells him to "throw the bone", which he does and the T-rex hurries after it like a dog, wagging its bony tail. While I definitely would be freaked out if dinosaur fossils came to life, I really wouldn't be worried about the dinosaur eating me as there is no digestive tract!

Larry soon realizes that everything in the museum has come to life. There's Attila the Hun; the aforementioned Sacagawea; cavemen; an Easter Island Moai; a large menagerie which probably the most iconic character, Dexter the capuchin monkey, is part of. Dexter torments Larry by stealing his keys, peeing on him, biting his nose, slapping him, and he will continue to be a pain in Larry's ass for the next two movies. Teddy Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams) acts as Larry's guide and offers to help him the first night. He is a wax statue on a horse in the lobby. He brings up something later in the movie that I had been wondering: these are not the actual people that are being shown at the museum. As Teddy tells Larry, he is not the real Roosevelt, but a wax figure made in a factory somewhere. However, he acts like a leader and emulates many of the traits the real Roosevelt had as so many of the other figures with their real life counterparts. (That would be a little creepy if the museum had the corpse of Teddy Roosevelt on display!)

Two other characters who will prominently be featured in the next two movies are a miniature version of a cowboy named Jedediah (played by Owen Wilson) from and his rival in the display next to him, a Roman general named Octavius (played by Steve Coogan. In all three movies there will be a running
gag where the two of them will be in some sort of dire situation and the camera will pull back to show a very calm scene. It's funny at first, but the camera pans back too many time that it stops being funny. In the first movie, they are getting blasted by air from a tire, but when the camera pulls pack we just see a car sitting there.

After the first night, Larry wants to quit and tells the curator (played by Ricky Gervais) he won't be coming back. But after seeing how proud his son is of him, he decides to stick with it. This time he goes in more prepared, or thinks he is anyway. He has read some history books so he knows a few things that might help him with dealing with the live exhibits. He has secured his keys to his belt and fakes Dexter our with a pair of plastic keys. He gives a lighter to the cavemen so they will stop bugging him and they are amazed by how easy it is to start a fire. However, one of them gets out of the building to start a fire in the trash and ends up turning to dust when the sun comes up. Is the caveman also a vampire? No, that is what happens to the exhibits if they are not in the building back in their poses when the sun comes up.

The third (and most adventurous night as he will soon find out), Larry brings Nicky so he can see the displays come to life. Nothing happens and I thought that they were purposely not coming to life because they only let the night guards see them, but it is soon discovered they are not able to come to life because Cecil has the tablet. Oh, I forgot to mention the reason why everything in the museum comes to life: so there's this Ancient Egyptian tablet and it brings everything to life. Yeah. I don't get it either. That's got to be worth a lot of money! I had totally forgotten this storyline where Cecil and the other two guards were the bad guys and wanted the tablet because apparently besides giving life to wax figures, it helps old men have more energy (there's a really bad joke I could insert here, but I won't go there) and they want it so they can stay healthy and spry. At one point Cecil does a backflip It's just totally random and out of left field. Everything comes to life when Larry gets the tablet back and the exhibits help Larry and Nicky stop the three old men. It gets quite ridiculous because at one point Nicky is riding the T-rex through Central Park.

The only way to stop them is to awake the mummy (I think he was a real mummy and not a prop one because in the third movie we will find out he is an actual person who was awaken from the dead? I think?) It's an amusing scene because Larry and his son are really scared and when he unwraps the bandages you think it's going to be some dis-formed  corpse, but it turns out to be a good-looking young guy, an Egyptian prince named Akhmenrah.

I thought there was going to be a romantic sub-plot between Larry and Rebecca (Carla Gugino) who works at the museum and is writing a dissertation on Sacagawea, but they just have one "coffee date" when she offers to tell him some information on the Native American when he asks her. There is a romance between Teddy and Sacagawea, but it mostly consists of gazing into eyes and hand holding. Rounding out the cast is Paul Rudd who plays Larry's ex-wife's new smarmy boyfriend.

Larry has an idea for bringing the museum to "life" at night (which everyone thinks are either actors portraying the notable figures or, in the case of the animals and dinosaur, animatronics) because in a weird plot point, the museum had been having low attendance which made me LOL because please....I really doubt the freaking best museum in the world ever has that problem! When I was there, you had to wait in a long line to pay for your ticket (totally worth it, though). Wait...this might have been in the second movie where this happens....shoot, I don't remember!

Before leaving this movie and the Natural History Museum (because even though there are thousand of exhibits you could base on several movies, the other two movies take place at different museums), I had to share a cute story from when I visited that museum. While my mom was waiting in line, buying the tickets, I was sitting on this circular bench and there were people all around me (I'm telling you: there is no problem with low attendance!) and I overhear a conversation between a mother and her son, probably no older than six. She tells him he has the choice of either visiting the new frog exhibit or going to Central Park. The kid was quiet for awhile, pondering this decision and finally declared he wanted to see the frogs. I silently praised his choice. After all, the frogs were only temporary.

Battle of the Smithsonian is my favorite in the trilogy and that is mostly thanks to Amy Adams who is the MVP of these movies (even though she is only in the second movie). As you can tell from its title, it takes place at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., another museum to which I have been. This time, Larry has only been working at the museum part-time because he has another job selling something he invented...I can't even remember what it was. He was an inventor in the first movie too and had invented the Snapper where you snap to turn off lights, but since the Clapper was already a thing (and way easier to clap than snap!), the Snapper did not sell. His new invention is a big hit and he has become successful.  He finds out the museum is being renovated and they are shipping several of the artifacts to the Smithsonian. This pretty much includes every character from the first movie except for Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams is only in the beginning and end and has a small scene in the middle),  the T-rex bones, all the lions save for Dexter, and the Egyptian prince who comes with the tablet, except that Dexter has stolen the tablet to bring it with them. So you guessed it....everything at the Smithsonian will be coming to life!

Because there are so many new characters, a lot of the exhibits from the first movie take a back seat. The only ones who have a pivotal role are Jedediah and Octavius, our mini friends. We have the antagonist, a corrupted pharaoh named Kahmunrah played by Hank Azaria (also the older brother of Akhmenrah who he is obviously jealous of). He wants the tablet because it will open a portal that will help him take over the world. Or something like that. He enlists the help of three bad guys from history: Ivan the Terrible (played by Christopher Guest) who insisted his real name is Ivan the Awesome; Napoleon Bonaparte (played by Alain Chabat) who is very sensitive and snippy whenever someone mentions his height; and Al Capone (played by Jon Bernthal) who is only shown in black and white which I thought was a cool touch. In a funny scene where he's trying to recruit even more famous baddies, we see him talking to characters off screen saying how much an honor it is to meet them and the camera pans to reveal Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch.  Kahmunrah has kidnapped Jededian and put him in a sand timer and tells Larry if he doesn't deliver him the code to open the portal in that alloted time, then his "little friend will die."

Helping Larry along the way is Amelia Earhart. (Not the real Amelia, of course, but a wax figure). This is where Amy Adams comes in and she is so delightful in this. She has a very 1940s, rat-a-tat-tat way of speaking and does it very effortlessly and I know that cannot be easy! She rattles out such lines as "You haven't been able to take your cheaters off my chassies since we met!" and "I think we've been jimmy-jacked!"

Instead of just famous figures made of wax and animals coming to life, this movie takes a new twist on things. Paintings come to life, sculptures come to life, the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial comes to life, the bobble-headed Albert Einstein toys come to life. (I feel like there are no rules to this magical tablet...pretty much any inanimate object can come to life!) Since there are so many new characters to meet, it's no wonder many of the ones from the first movie are all but cameos. There is a bust of Teddy Roosevelt that Larry and Amelia get advice from. He is, of course, voiced by Robin Williams and when he learns that there is a full-bodied Teddy Roosevelt at the Natural History Museum he gets very jealous.

My favorite scene is when they go the the Air and Space Museum and Amelia is just enthralled. We did see Larry walking through here before the sun set and they didn't do the best job of setting this scene up. While we see all the historic aircrafts, we didn't see any of the famous aviators that are now being shown. Unless they were like Amelia and woke up in the storage basement and then came to the Air and Space Museum? But don't you have to be a certain distance from the tablet to do that? See, these rules of the tablet are so sketchy. I guess it really doesn't matter. They're about to do a launch and Larry has to abort all of them. Yeah....that would be bad news!

In the end he and his friends defeat the evil pharaoh and he brings everyone back to New York with the help of Amelia and her small plane (which managed to fit everyone in there...it reminded me of a clown call when all they all just come tumbling out one after the other). She flies back to Smithsonian...hopefully she made it back before she turned to wax so she wouldn't crash the plane!

Okay, remember how I couldn't remember Larry having the idea to bring the museum to life after hours happened in the first or second movie? It was this one. I remember now because he notices a woman there who looks like Amelia Earhart (played by Amy Adams without wearing the wig or aviation outfit) and he asks her if she's related to her. For a second I thought it was Amelia Earhart and she had disguised herself but that was so far-fetched...even for this movie!

The third movie takes place at the British Museum in London. Larry has to travel there with Akhmenrah (the Egyptian prince if you recall) and his tablet because something is happening to the tablet where it is starting not to work anymore so Larry has to go see Akhmenrah's parents (the father is played by Ben Kinglsey) who are exhibits at the British Museum. It's kind of sad that Akhmenrah was separated from his parents. So the only actual "real" people in this movie, in terms of exhibits, are the mummies. Everyone else is just made of wax. There's a whole back story at the beginning of the movie that explains the tablet and how it was found when a very young Cecil (you remember him...he was played by Dick Van Dyke from the first movie) was in Egypt with his archeologist father and they unearthed a tomb that held the tablet.

This movie does not really bring anything new in terms of things we hadn't seen from the first two movies. Obviously, since it is set in an entirely different museum we do see new characters and exhibits come to life, most notable Sir Lancelot who is trying to find Guinevere. There is a silly scene where he runs up on stage in the middle of a stage production of "Camelot" and pulls his sword on Hugh Jackman. Um....okay, if that happened in real life, security would be on that guy's ass in five seconds. But he and Jackman just start arguing over who Lancelot is.

Ben Stiller also plays a caveman whose main goal is to annoy Larry. He was created for the museum in honor of Larry and his features were used so the caveman looks exactly like him and so he thinks Larry is his dad and follows him around all the time.

There's a scene where Larry is having a heart-to-heart with Dexter (the capuchin monkey) after Dexter almost died when it looked like the tablet was doomed, but Larry managed to fix it in the nick of time. I thought Dexter was going to slap Larry or bite him on the nose, but he kisses him on the lips which was really cute.

Anyway, I enjoyed these movies. They're just mindless fun. I kind of get a Jumanji vibe from them.