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The Intern • The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials • Everest

September 24, 2015

The Intern (***) PG-13

It sure is nice to see Robert DeNiro eschewing paycheck cashing mode and actually working for his pay in the new film, The Intern. It’s a nice and refreshing change of pace after a string of forgettable films such as Grudge Match, Little Fockers, The Big Wedding, The Family, Killing Season and Last Vegas that have littered the actor’s resume in the last several years. DeNiro used to be considered a serious contender in the acting category but lately had mostly become a punch line to a sad and tiresome joke. The surprise is that he’s really good as Ben Whittaker, the lead character in director Nancy Myers’ new film, her first since the 2009 film It’s Complicated. In fact, The Intern is also the best thing that Myers has done in quite awhile, although she’s certainly no slouch as a filmmaker.

The main thing that The Intern has going for it is the fact that it pays attention to the plight of senior citizens trying to lead meaningful existences in the final act of their lives. Ben Whittaker, the character at the center of the film is just such a person.

DeNiro & Hathaway in The Intern

He’s seventy years old, recently widowed and retired and trying to figure out what his next act is going to be. He simply doesn’t know what to with himself but finds his answer when he responds to an ad asking for senior citizens to consider an internship with an upstart company fronted by the career driven Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).

Jules is overworked and her home life is suffering as evidenced by her strained marriage and lack of time to devote to her daughter. Ben finds himself accidentally being recruited to serve as Jules’ driver which Jules is none too fond of at first. Eventually Jules opens up and forms a professional and personal bond with Ben as the widower finds a renewed purpose in his life and, in turn, helps Jules when her life takes a sudden series of left turns. 

It’s worth mentioning that Rene Russo, still stunning at 61, shows up as Ben’s love interest in the film, which serves as a springboard to some of the film’s weaker elements, namely the kind of humor involving manhood and such which feels out of synch with the rest of the film.

There are some third act left turns in the film which will come as surprise to those who haven’t been inundated with trailers from the film and there are some really genuine moments of warmth that put the film a step above most pics of this genre that we’re used to seeing. The Intern may stumble from time to time but overall it’s a pleasing enough experience.

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (**) PG-13 

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the second film adaptation of The Maze Runner series of novels, a series which has proven to be a runaway success amongst the teen crowd weaned on The Hunger Games books and film adaptations. We all know that Hollywood always takes the easy way out and usually opts for the path most traveled by ticket buyers so the influx of seemingly never ending film adaptations of novels with a dystopian bend should come as no surprise. In addition to the Maze Runner and Hunger Games films, there have also been two Divergent films (with two more to come) and an adaptation of the similarly themed and long gestating pet project of actor Jeff Bridges, The Giver, in the past year. The trouble with these films is that not many of them seem to be distinguishable from each other and I’m beginning to wonder if audiences are soon going to tire of this genre. If one had to pin their hopes on the latest Maze Runner film to rescue this type of film, in terms of quality, they’ll have to look elsewhere I’m afraid. The Scorch Trials is competently made, with great special effects, but just lacking any sense of great storytelling or sense of urgency that these films definitely need.

I will readily admit that I didn’t see the first Maze Runner film but I had no problem catching up, thanks to my fourteen-year old son, who, by the way, is certainly the intended audience for this sort of film. It took approximately two minutes for him to bring me up to speed and I only mention this in case there are any of you reading who might be tempted to opt out of the film due to not having seen the first installment.

Apparently in the particular future of The Maze Runner mankind has been wiped out by some kind of disease yet again. The difference is that children are being used by an organization called WCKD as guinea pigs in order to find a cure for mankind. The group of survivors from the first film are whisked away at the film’s beginning to a ‘safe location’ and then told to be patient because the ‘promised land’ awaits but suspicions arise until plot complications are revealed. This leads to a protracted chase through the desert which is the where the film derives its title. As is typical of this kind of film, the story arc builds to an abrupt ending and cliffhanger that will certainly require those who’ve invested their time to return when the next installment arrives.

The biggest surprise about the film is how derivative it really is, cribbing elements from such diverse cinematic sources as Deliverance, I Am Legend/The Omega Man, Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Coma, to name a few. Younger audiences probably won’t have an issue with this but for those of us who are old enough to know better, well that’s another story.

Everest (***) PG-13

The question I kept hearing repeatedly after the screening of the disaster drama Everest had transpired was a resounding why. Why would 19 reasonably intelligent humans aspire to scale the heights of Everest in the first place? What would drive these people choose to do something where rewards are sketchy at best and risks are maximized every step of the way? I’m not sure I can answer that question satisfactorily. Curiously, when the characters themselves are asked that question at around the midway point of the film they don’t appear to be able to articulate it either. Perhaps it’s just something that can’t be explained, a hole of some sort down deep inside the psyche that needs to be filled. Many of us have those longings that need to be filled but the difference is that these climbers were intent on fulfilling it, come hell or high water.

Everest is directed by Baltasar Kormakur. He’s a filmmaker whose work (2 Guns, Contraband) has mostly left me with feelings of indifference in the past.

Jason Clarke in Everest

The good news is that he has finally crafted a film that earns my seal of approval. Everest allows Kormakur to work with a script that he had no hand in writing and, considering his previous track record, it looks as if this might not be a bad idea. Perhaps that’s why the technical details are so good in the film since Kormakur was obviously able to devote most of his creative energies crafting what is certainly a visceral thrill ride that won’t be forgotten. The sound design works in tandem with the 3-D and IMAX photography to thrill the audience and to work its magic. On that level, it never fails.

The film tells the story of the fateful expedition to the top of Everest in May 1996 which resulted in eight deaths. The first hour sets up the disaster and the final hour pays it off, in spectacular fashion. The pivotal roles in the film are ably filled by an excellent cast of actors including John Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin and Robin Wright, to name a few. They are all careful not to stand on each other’s toes, from an acting standpoint, and it works to the film’s benefit. Everyone brings conviction and believability to their respective parts and it greatly contributes to the film’s overall benefit, helping the audience to forgive some of the scripts’ more clichéd aspects.

As I said, this is a visually stunning film that demands to be seen on an IMAX screen and in 3-D. The stunning technical detail inherent in the film’s production goes a long way in reeling you into its world. Everest, much like Avatar and Gravity, is a big screen experience if there ever was one and, as such, demands that it be experienced this way. Trust me, it’s worth it.

All three films are playing in and around Hickory.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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