Everest

Everest is big. Appropriately so. It’s a big story with a big cast of characters and, of course, a big mountain. The biggest mountain, actually. The film is best viewed on a big screen.

In 1996, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) led expeditions to Mount Everest. Other groups were also at base camp, all set to make a final ascent on May 10. Everest shows Hall to be a conscientious, detail-oriented leader, a “hand holder” as Fischer calls him. Fischer is a more casual leader with his climbers.

Among those in Hall’s group are Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a big, boisterous Texan; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman of more modest means than most climbers; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a quiet Japanese woman; and Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist who plans to do a cover story on the trek for Outside magazine.

Emily Watson and Elizabeth Debicki are Hall’s base camp support team. Hall’s pregnant wife Jan (Kiera Knightley), who had climbed Everest with him in ‘93, is at home in New Zealand where she communicates with him by phone. Robin Wright plays Weathers’ wife, back home in Texas.

If you are unfamiliar with the story you may want to avoid plot synopses and remain unaware of the challenges the climbers encountered on May 10, 1996.

Though the story of the May 1996 expedition to Everest has been told before, most notably in Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air, this new movie provides thrilling visuals and recreates the real-life peril of an Everest climb. Director Baltasar Kormakur brings the tale to life with realistic location shots in hazardous weather conditions. The cast and crew are to be congratulated for what one would presume to have been a tough shoot.

For those who have read Krakauer’s book (which I, incidentally, consider to be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read), there are slight differences in the story told in the film. Most significantly, the logjam that occurs at the Hillary Step just below the summit plays a bigger role in the book than in the movie.

Last year’s Wild has led to more traffic on the Pacific Crest Trail this year and the recent A Walk In The Woods is expected to send more hikers to the Appalachian Trail in 2016. Will Everest result in even more climbers attempting to ascend to the top of the world? Probably, even though the danger of an Everest climb far outweighs than that of a trail hike. The difficulties chronicled in Everest will, for many, likely be outweighed by the lust for adventure and the glory of reaching the summit.

If you prefer to experience an Everest climb vicariously (as do I) and enjoy a good story about people who climb, the best way is to see Everest. And remember, this is one to see on a big movie screen.

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The Sessions

Is it okay to laugh at a handicapped guy?  In this case, yes. Mark O’Brien has a wicked sense of humor. He would appreciate your laughter.

John Hawkes is emerging as a brilliant actor, although most folks don’t know him. He received an Oscar nomination in 2010 for his work in “Winter’s Bone” and will likely get another for his portrayal of real life character Mark O’Brien in “The Sessions.”

O’Brien was stricken by polio as a child. As an adult, he is in an iron lung for several hours each day. He hires caregivers who help him participate in life. He attends the University of California in Berkley. He is a virgin.

O’Brien hires a sexual surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, to introduce him to the ways of sex. Their sessions, which contain graphic nudity, are often funny and sometimes touching (pun intended). Despite the nature of these scenes, they are neither shocking nor erotic.

Between their therapy sessions, O’Brien seeks counsel from his priest, played by William H. Macy. The priest sanctions the liaisons and listens as O’Brien relates his experiences.

As the story continues, O’Brien develops affection for Hunt’s character. She, however, is married and keeps things professional. Mostly.

Because O’Brien is an intelligent man with that sharp sense of humor, we don’t feel as sad for him as we might for others with a similar handicap. He is one of the most interesting real life characters depicted onscreen in some time. Hawkes brings him to life beautifully.

“The Sessions” will not be a big box office hit and may not be shown beyond the artsier movie houses. But, for grownups, this movie delivers the sensitive telling of a sweet story and strong performances from the trio of lead actors.