Monday Movies: The Summit review and movie listings

Documentary balances the horror and attraction of climbing the world's most treacherous peak

Savage mountain

While there’s no denying that Mount Everest has an unbreakable hold on the public’s imagination, it’s the world’s second-tallest peak, K2, that most inspires and intimidates serious climbers. It is known as Savage Mountain, and one-quarter of the mountaineers who strive for the summit perish in the attempt. “If you make one wrong step, you’re history,” says one climber – a survivor of the worst day in K2’s murderous history, when 25 climbers set out for the summit and 11 of them died.

The weather was perfect that day in August of 2008, and it is still not exactly clear what the series of miscalculations, mistakes, and bad luck was that led to such a disastrous outcome. That sequence of events is explored in grimly fascinating detail in The Summit, a documentary that mixes actual footage shot during the expedition with recreations of key moments, extensive interviews, and a history of the first team to climb K2, in 1954. Early on you meet the widow and the brother of Ger McDonnell, an ebullient Irishman who was on a team of Dutch climbers, and it is their quest to understand how he died that drives much of the documentary. The narrative bounces around in time, but it isn’t long before you realize who are the survivors and who the victims-to-be as you watch footage of the climbers shot during the preparatory weeks as they and their Sherpas inch up the mountain, establishing a series of camps along the way.

There is a relatively brief window of opportunity in the summer when weather permits an attempt at the summit, and that year the final camp was filled with teams from several countries including America, Norway, Serbia, and South Korea. In order to maximize efficiency during the final push past a dangerous bottleneck underneath a massive overhang of ice known as a sarac – where deadly chunks could be shed without warning – the teams pooled their resources and divvied up responsibilities, including sending up advance climbers to secure ropes along the planned route.

A death happens early on, but the climbing continues. And as a long line of climbers moves, too slowly, towards the summit, only one mountaineer has the wisdom to retreat, heartbreakingly close to the top, because he realizes evening will soon be closing in. During the next few hours, various incidents occur – most notably, a chunk of ice breaks free of the sarac and tears away the rope meant to guide the climbers, who by now are descending with only headlamps for illumination. Accidents happen, several of the mountaineers stay overnight in the high-altitude “death zone” where lack of oxygen can rob even the strongest climbers of strength and mental sharpness, and the tragedy continues to play out during the next day as exhausted climbers both near the peak and back at “camp four” weigh the odds of mounting a rescue at incredible risk to themselves.

Summit pulls viewers remorselessly through this terrifying series of events, while at the same time making clear the incredible attraction of mountaineering. The sheer physical magnificence of the Nepalese mountain range is intoxicating, while the bravery and camaraderie of the climbers is also attractive. As the narrative unfolds, it is a Sherpa named Pemba Gyalje who emerges as the wisest man on the mountain that day and the event’s only true hero. Fascinating as a study in the subjectivity of truth, this documentary will bring a chilling, you-are-there realism to viewers who will likely face nothing more daunting than an alpine hike up Forbidden Plateau.

Rating: ★★★

(The Summit runs Thurs.-Sat., Jan. 16-18, at UVic’s Cinecenta)

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Movie Listings

Film OPENING

HER -(Odeon/Landmark Uni 4) Critics have been rhapsodizing about the latest from the incomparably weird Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely writer who develops an intensely intimate relationship with his computer’s Siri-like operating system (voiced with beguiling sexiness by Scarlett Johansson).

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY -(Odeon/Landmark Uni 4) A wildly dysfunctional family has a raucous and acrimonious reunion when their matriarch (Meryl Streep) is diagnosed with a terminal disease. The great cast includes Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, and Dermot Mulroney.

LONE SURVIVOR -(SilverCity/Westshore) The title is a bit of a spoiler, but this true-life account of four SEALs dropped into Taliban territory in Afghanistan on a very dangerous mission has been getting strong word of mouth. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster.

CONTINUING

★★★½ AMERICAN HUSTLE -(Odeon/SilverCity) David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) delivers a screwball crime dramedy, loosely based on the 1970s Abscam scandal, when an FBI sting ensnared a bunch of congressman on corruption charges. This devil’s brew of messy emotions and sneaky double-crosses features a great cast that includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence.

★ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES -(SilverCity/Westshore) The comedic adventures of delusional, sexist, and highly self-regarding newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) move from 1970s San Diego to the advent of cable news in 1980s New York. The cast includes Harrison Ford, Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kristen Wiig, and Christina Applegate. As I staggered out of this gratingly unfunny bomb I was reassured to hear someone in front of me declare, “That was the stupidest, piece-of-s%@t movie I’ve ever seen.” Amen.

★½ 47 RONIN -(Westshore) Keanu Reeves sleepwalks his way through a pseudo-epic martial arts extravaganza as 47 samurai fight supernatural forces and political corruption to regain their lost honour.

FROZEN -(SilverCity/Westshore) As a prelude to winter comes this appealing Disney animated tale about a brave woman who sets out to rescue a kingdom trapped in eternal winter. Some of the other characters include a goofy snowman and his reindeer buddy. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.

★½ GRUDGE MATCH -(SilverCity) The once-great Robert De Niro goes toe-to-toe with Sylvester Stallone in a soggy, slow-paced comedy about a pair of over-the-hill boxing rivals who get coaxed out or retirement to fight a final bout – 30 years after their last match.

★★★THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) Peter Jackson delivers three hours of fast-paced entertainment in this exciting, combat-filled and often funny account of Bilbo, Gandalf, and a bevy of bearded dwarves as they confront that terrifying, gold-hoarding dragon named Smaug (voiced by the suddenly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch).

★★½ THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -(SilverCity) In the middle movie of this dystopic future-world trilogy for teens, the oddly-named Katniss Everdeen (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) gets caught up in some deadly schemings after a rebellion outrages Panem’s despotic ruler (Donald Sutherland). This is predictable stuff, but boy is it popular!

★★★★ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS -(Odeon) The Coen Brothers give a deliciously bleak present to cinema fans with this tale of an embittered folksinger struggling to carve out a career in 1961 Greenwich Village. Starring Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES -(SilverCity/Westshore) If the trailer is anything to go by, the latest edition of this increasingly dull-witted horror series doesn’t have a lot to offer fright fans.

★★★½ PHILOMENA -(Landmark Cinema 4) Oscar-nomination speculation is already swirling around Judi Dench for her performance as a woman who was forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child 50 years ago and is now determined to track him down. This surprisingly funny dramedy co-stars Steve Coogan and is directed by the great Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen).

★★★ SAVING MR. BANKS -(Odeon/Westshore/Landmark Uni 4) Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are both delightful in this entertaining, true-life tale of the struggle Walt Disney had to convince the uptight English author of Mary Poppins to allow him to make her beloved children’s book into a movie.

★★ THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY -(SilverCity) Ben Stiller directs himself in this elaborate adaptation of the famed short story by James Thurber. While the original features an ineffectual man who retreats into daydreams in order to feel heroic, in this version Walter eventually becomes bold and brave in the real world. Despite exotic locales and a few clever touches the film itself is Mitty-esque: bland and unfocused. It’s little more than a sermon about “being all you can be.” With Sean Penn, Kristen Wiig, and Shirley MacLaine.

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS -(SilverCity/Westshore) Visit the Earth of 70 million years ago for this tale of an underdog dinosaur who somehow manages to become the hero that saves the day.

★★★½ THE WOLF OF WALL STREET -(Odeon/SilverCity) Revered director Martin Scorsese reunites with Leonardo DiCaprio for this electrifyingly debauched, true-life tale of Jordan Belfort, a sleazy Wall Street stockbroker at the centre of a massive financial scandal in the 1990s. With Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and Jon Favreau.

IMAX

FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES -(10 am, Fri.-Thurs.)

★★★ HIDDEN UNIVERSE -(noon, 3 pm, 5 pm: Fri.-Thurs.) Travel to the farthest reaches of the visible universe courtesy of the world’s most amazing telescopes.

KENYA: ANIMAL KINGDOM -(4 pm: Fri.-Thurs.)

★★★★ ROLLING STONES: AT THE MAX -(Fri.-Sat.: 8 pm) The bad boys of rock, literally much larger than life (and only semi-old!).

★★★ SPACE JUNK -(1 pm, 6 pm: Fri.-Thurs.) Hundreds of tons of junk are orbiting above the planet, and this fascinating doc tells you why you need to know about it.

TITANS OF THE ICE AGE -(11 am, 2 pm, 7 pm: Fri.-Thurs.)

SCREENINGS

MOVIE MONDAY- screens Love Is All You Need. The latest from celebrated Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers) is a wry romantic comedy very much aimed at adults. With Pierce Brosnan. 6:30 pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.

CINECENTA

Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.

THE ARMSTRONG LIE -(Fri.-Sat., Jan. 10-11: 7:00, 9:20) Disgraced super-rider Lance Armstrong is the subject of a penetrating documentary that is mostly focused on the last four years of Armstrong’s life when his decades of lying and coverup were finally exposed.

★★ PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS -(Sat.-Sun., Jan. 11-12: 1:00 matinee) In this newest addition to the blandly derivative fantasy series that riffs on Greek mythology, the half-human son of Poseidon and his buddies embark on a magical quest to find the Golden Fleece in order to stop an ancient evil from destroying the world.

★★★★ WATERMARK -(Sun., Jan. 12: 3:00, 7:10, 9:00) The current collaboration between documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky (Manufactured Landscapes) is a profound and engaging meditation on our complex relationship with water – and especially how our use of technology is negatively affecting the world’s water supplies.

MY FATHER AND THE MAN IN BLACK -(Mon., Jan. 13: 7:00) This unique documentary, which focuses on the manager of country music legend Johnny Cash, is directed by the manager’s estranged son, Jonathan Holiff, who undertook this project after finding a trove of memorabilia in his dad’s storage locker after he committed suicide. The director will be in attendance for a Q&A after the show.

★★½ ROMEO & JULIET -(Tues.-Wed., Jan. 14-15) Shakespeare’s immortal romantic tragedy returns to the silver screen in lush period detail, this time in an adaptation by novelist Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey). Despite its authentic setting, this is a mostly dull affair, marred especially by the lack of romantic chemistry between the two leads.

★★★ THE SUMMIT -(Thurs., Jan. 16: 7:00, 9:00 & Fri.-Sat., Jan. 17-18: 3:00, 7:00, 9:00) K2, second in height only to Mount Everest, is the world’s deadliest peak. It’s worst-ever mountaineering disaster, which cost 11 lives in one 24-hour period in 2008, is explored in a fascinating documentary that is chilling in more ways than one. See review.

THE VIC THEATRE

The Vic Theatre is located at 808 Douglas Street. Info: thevic.ca

★★★★ BLUE JASMINE -(Fri.-Thurs., Jan. 10-16: 7:00) Cate Blanchett is headed for an Oscar nomination for her role as an emotionally fragile woman struggling to recover after her life as a glamorous socialite gets turned upside down. Complete with a great cast, this is one of Woody Allen’s best films. Ever.

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