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The Climb (1986)
Some good drama--but disappointing as a dramatic climbing movie
21 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have just seen this movie lately, thinking I had seen the total climbing movie catalog, but I was admittedly ignorant of this one's existence. The story line has already been summarized twice (to date the only other reviews) so--unlike the sometimes inordinate pages of 'reviewers' finding the need to repeat what was summarized by the first few reviews of a movie (a waste of memory if there ever was)--my comments deal with the re-creation of the climbing sequences of the first ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953. I will repeat that the acting is very competent and Bruce Greenwood (lately seen in a fine job for Disney's Eight Below) does a credible job of portraying the loner-but magnificent climber Hermann Buhl. My review is not meant to be a know-it-all technical, nit picking criticism, but as a climber it is always more satisfying to see the technical aspects of climbing shown due justice. It might very well be that the budget could not stand a too ambitious depiction of the climbing--but then again shots were filmed in far off Pakistan as well as the Canadian Rockies with some actual climbers. Nanga Parbat was originally thought to be a relatively easy Himalyan peak--deceptively so--over and above its 25,000+ feet and the usual altitude dangers of climbing--the avalanche and storm dangers tragically plagued the German expeditions of the 1930s. Weather was not a problem in 1953, but the dangers of the mountain were there, as always. The easier slope climbing was depicted good enough in the movie, but it grows a bit incredible to see the same 'easy day for a lady' marching in the upper reaches of the climb. One would not be climbing with such essentials as ice axe slung over your back--along with crampons (the spikes that are strapped to climbing boots). Greenwood is shown doing just that and using something as unstable as ski poles for snow and ice--it would be foolhardy to say the least--to arrest a slip or fall one needs an ice axe. Hard snow and especially ice require crampons--Greenwood's remain dangling--he never uses them!-- from his chest after leaving his pack for the summit bid. The camera continues to show snow slope when it should be showing the rock pitches that were the hardest climbing for the last 1,000 feet or so. Because although Greenwood conveys something of the extreme difficulties of climbing at such high elevation without oxygen--a great feat in itself by Buhl--showing the climbing difficulty and sheer strength to accomplish it would have conveyed Buhl's amazing climb to the summit with a much more deserved dramatic intensity. If Eastwood can look pretty good climbing the Eiger (Eiger Sanction, 1975), surely Greenwood should have looked better re-creating the greatest lone climbing feat of perhaps the greatest technical mountain climber of the mid 20th century.
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A St. Francis story with historical proportion worth seeing
18 May 2006
Contrary to scant reviews of this movie as rather mediocre, several interesting aspects make it worth a viewing. Perhaps aside, there is the amazing parallel of movie-to-reality of lovely Dolores Hart, who plays the noble woman Clare. Clare forsook marriage to an earnest noble (Stuart Whitman) and followed Francis (Bradford Dillman), founding the Poor Clares order of nuns. Hart was on the verge of marriage in 1963, when she decided to become a nun. The acting is good enough to keep one interested. And seeing some of the last appearances of old guard like Finlay Currie, Cecil Kellaway, and irascible director Michael Curtiz (who directed many of Errol Flynn's swashbuckler movies and other Warner Bros. fare in Hollywood hey days) sufficiently tempts the serious movie buff. The movie itself has the look—lots of color but also the lingering epic Hollywood scale--of historical yarns of the late 40s on through the 50s. Like the better efforts of this genre, the life of Francis progresses with a competent script—particularly in Francis's struggles against the establishment church. Thus it is historically preferable to Zeffirelli's minimalist Brother Sun, Sister Moon which frames Francis and Clare as more akin to 60s hippies than inhabitants of the 13th century—with a plot that meanders like a music video—and Donovan's music to prove it (Zeffirelli also wanted the Beatles to appear in the movie!). This reviewer is perhaps tainted with some nostalgic bias, since as a small boy I saw the Southern California premiere of Francis of Assisi (in Downey—southeast LA county suburb--of all places!) that included a live appearance and short commentary on stage by Stuart Whitman, who in his rough out style played Francis's friend-turned-antagonist (having been jilted by Clare) Count Paolo of Vandria. Years later at Universal I worked with Whitman, who, crusty as ever, recalled memories of the movie shoot as a tolerably pleasant experience.
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The New World (2005)
A Small Voice for Historical Context
28 December 2005
Any film is ultimately laced with the subjective desires of the director. And there has already been several reviews of The New World as a triumph of Malick's view of primitive America--and that the viewer should simply accept it as that. Being a big fan of Malick's Days of Heaven as one of the really great visual movies, I for one revel when somebody dips into history as movie subject matter and gives it the visual treatment it deserves to pull the viewer into the story. There is great visual worth to NW. But I also want to see the context upheld. If Malick was true to his subjectivity, he should have had enough objectivity to do the film either with veiled fictitious names--a typical Hollywood technique--or been more honest with the historical characters to protect the innocent--in this case both Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.

He is wrong-headed about Smith--and it is probably to fit the scripted character to bad boy Colin Farrell that he commits this mortal sin of historical context! Smith was a seasoned military man--that little-boy-lost look of Farrell's doesn't make it! Smith had sustained many a close call, including ship wreck and many battles; he was severely wounded and subsequently sold into slavery; he beat to death his brutal Turkish owner and escaped far northeastern Turkey to return to Europe. He was contracted as a responsible military leader of the Jamestown colony, and he was extremely single-minded in this--though saddled with a wimpy, selfish colonial leadership that caused him to go over the line when called for. Smith was much more black and white than the colorful rebel Malick wishes to paint him as with Farrell as his brush. It is the old Hollywood story of infusing modern character to historical figures, and it will continue to be that way to sell tickets. But climbing inside a 16th-17th century mind reveals people often very alien to modern living--and that is a story too. Smith was unusual even for his time. His drive in life was adventure and quick action and the advancement he could collect. In and out of close calls so often, he probably had no time for sex!--indeed he seems to have been rather indifferent--a monk of war--rather asexual even----he never even married--and that is strange indeed for those times.

On the other hand, there is Pocahontas--one of the truly unique people of American history--not only thoroughly engrossed with the invading European culture but with an adult's pathos to aid the inept Jamestown colonists. It should be made very plain that she was only ten years old at the time she met Smith in 1607--he was and always was known to her and in her own words as "Father". And as a little girl of incredible ability she had much more to do in trying to help and warn Jamestown than as she is depicted--a fifteen year old high school girl in primeval languor succumbing to hot and heavy Colin Farrell. If that isn't a slice of today's internet and e-mail soft porn pandering to the fantasies of middle-aged men (but, of course, back in the old days girls were married off as per-teens--so its alright?)! Hollywood has always beaten history into its own image with the one dictum always ever most--fill the seats--sex, violence, controversy drive the movie industry--the audience isn't interested in accuracy. Very true--but another epic love story of lust that was not?--come on!--how about a true story of unselfish love--too bad the idea that history can be more than fiction isn't tried more often!
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