Free Solo


Why ask why?

(2018) Documentary (National Geographic) Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin, Sanni McCandless, Peter Croft, Deidre Wolownick. Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

 

It is in man’s nature to push the boundaries; if there’s a goal to be achieved, it is human nature to want to top it. This goes through all endeavors of life – physical, artistic and financial. Being the best at something gives us a sort of patina of immortality. Still, there are some goals so dangerous, so daunting that there can be no topping it. In fact, there are goals that some would call insane.

Alex Honnold has one of those and it involves Yosemite’s infamous El Capitan. El Cap, as climbers call it, is the Mecca of rock climbing. 3,000 feet of nearly sheer granite, it is one of the most difficult climbs in the world. Rock climbers from all over creation flock to Yosemite Valley to try their hand at it and a good many do succeed. However, all of those who have done so have used ropes and safety equipment to make their way up the rock. Honnold wants to be the first to free solo El Cap – that is, climb without any safety equipment or ropes altogether, relying only on his body and a bag of chalk dust to keep his grip from getting slippery.

Climbing El Capitan in the best of circumstances requires rigid focus; one mistake can result in a fall. Even with safety equipment, people die climbing El Capitan. It is seriously no laughing matter and to do so without harnesses and pitons and ropes makes most sensible climbers’ blood run cold. Hell, I know nothing about rock climbing and the thought of it makes my genitalia shrivel. One mistake for a free soloist on El Capitan and the unfortunate will end up a puddle of gore on the valley floor. Pro climber Tommy Caldwell, who made his own history in conquering the previously thought unclimbable Dawn Wall, recalls that most of the people he knew who made Free Soloing an essential part of their lives are dead.

The film mainly focuses on the preparation for the historic climb. The husband and wife directing team of Chin (a climber in his own right and a friend of Honnold) and documentary filmmaker Vasarhelyi painstakingly set up their camera positions, wanting to keep close enough to get great shots of Alex but also far enough away so that their presence doesn’t interfere with the climb. Chin muses at one point about how ethical his participation is, when at any moment he could see his friend plummeting through the frame to his death.

The question is why do it and that’s never really satisfactorily answered. Honnold has a girlfriend (McCandless) who is steadfast and ends up moving in with him; previous to that Honnold was living out of his van. Not because he didn’t have money – his books and sponsorship deals have been lucrative – but because he preferred not to have any commitments. McCandless is well aware that when it comes to scaling mountains, she will finish second every single time. When it’s time for Honnold to make his ascent, she is sent away and the worry is absolutely heartbreaking.

There is an extreme amount of selfishness that has to do with any sort of obsession and we see it here. The worry of those who love him may register somewhat with Honnold but at the end of the day their excruciating emotional turmoil doesn’t matter enough for him to call off his climb. To be fair this tends to be the truth for those who achieve things that are extraordinarily difficult – I’m sure Neil Armstrong’s wife wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of his going to the moon – but we are left to look at Honnold and other achievers of that nature to be, well, jerks. Honnold seems nice enough and he’s certainly charismatic but the filmmakers are only looking at one aspect of him because that’s what the movie is all about. Consequently he comes off seeming pretty one-dimensional.

It also must be said that the 20 minute sequence of Alex’s historic climb are some of the most tense and nerve-wracking moments in any movie this year. The climb, which lasted just under four hours, is captured with vertigo-inducing shots of the drop below Honnold’s feet and set to the sound of his breathing. It is inspiring in some ways, but also terrifying.

This is a powerful chronicle of the power of achievement and the obsession that fuels it. My issue is that some kid somewhere is likely to be inspired to follow Honnold into free soloing and end up dying because of it. For that reason, I really hesitate giving this the kind of acclaim the film probably deserves.

REASONS TO GO: The final climbing sequence is edge-of-the-seat kind of stuff and is the best sequence in the movie.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmakers really focus in on Alex’s obsession to the exclusion of everything else pretty much, making him a very limited personality.
FAMILY VALUES: There is much peril and some profanity here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Honnold and Caldwell recently became the first climbers to scale the Nose on El Capitan in under two hours.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Dawn Wall
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Randy’s Canvas

New Releases for the Week of October 12, 2018


FIRST MAN

(Universal) Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ethan Embry, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll. Directed by Damien Chazelle

Neil Armstrong remains an iconic name when it comes to human achievement. This is his story in the days leading up to one small step for a man – one giant leap for mankind.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX, Dolby, IMAX, XD, RPX
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language)

Bad Times at the El Royale

(20th Century Fox) Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth. One dark night a group of seven strangers with checkered pasts intersect at the rundown El Royale Hotel on the state line in Lake Tahoe. What they don’t know is that this might be their last chance at redemption before everything goes to hell.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity)

Collette

(Bleecker Street) Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw, Dominic West. Born in rural France, Collette marries a charming literary impresario 14 years her senior who urges her to write. He ends up taking credit for her work, sparking the fiery author to take control of her life and her works. She would become an inspiration to writers, feminists and France in her own right.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cobb Daytona Luxury, Old Mill Playhouse

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity)

Free Solo

(National Geographic) Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell, Sanni McCandless. Alex Honnold became the first man to scale Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes or safety equipment. This documentary shows you what a big deal that really is.

See the trailer and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween

(Columbia) Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ken Jeong, Jack Black, Madison Iseman. Two young boys enter a deserted house where they find a hidden book that brings the monsters of R.L. Stine to life. Does this at all sound familiar?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX
Genre: Family Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language)

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer

(GVN) Dean Cain, Sarah Jane Morris, Nick Searcy, Earl Billings. The conservative viewpoiint on the actions of a Philadelphia abortion physician.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content including disturbing images and descriptions)

The Hate U Give

(20th Century Fox) Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie. An African-American girl with her feet in two worlds witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend by a white police officer. Pressured on all sides, she must find her own voice and stand up for what is right.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language)

Kinky

(Patriot) Vivica A. Fox, Robert Ri’chard, Obba Babatundé, Jazsmin Lewis. A shy Atlanta surgeon gets set up for a date with a billionaire who urges her to explore her sexuality. Soon she finds herself trying to balance work, faith, desire and submission.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Erotic Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Springs, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Regal Oviedo Mall

Rating: R (for strong sexual content and some language)

Summer ‘03

(Blue Fox) Joey King, Andrea Savage, June Squibb, Paul Scheer. The world of a 16-year-old girl and her extended family is turned topsy turvy when her grandmother on her deathbed reveals some long hidden secrets about the family.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

22 Chaser
Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava
Black 47
Helicopter Eela
The Samuel Project

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

22 July
All About Nina
Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava
Bigger
Helicopter Eela
Look Away
Lost, Found
The Old Man and the Gun
The Samuel Project
School of Life
Theevandi
Trouble
Veera Raghava

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

All About Nina
All Square
Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava
Better Start Running
Bigger
Black 47
Laws of the Universe, Vol. 1
Look Away

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

All About Nina
Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava
Lamboo Rastoo
The Samuel Project

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

22 July
All About Nina
Bad Times at the El Royale
Collette
First Man
Free Solo
The Hate U Give
The Samuel Project

The Dawn Wall


You can’t beat the view at dawn on the Dawn Wall.

(2017) Documentary (Red Bull/The Orchard) Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson, John Long, Mike Caldwell, Beth Rodden, Kelly Cordes, Terry Caldwell, John Dickey, Jason Smith, Matt Jones, Gail Jorgeson, John Branch, Matt Jones, Tom Evans, Becca Pietsch. Directed by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer

 

There is a fine line between endeavor and obsession. Sometimes a concept can completely take over our lives to the point of souring relationships, alienating family and forcing us to forsake all other things in service to that one thing, that accomplishment that would make our lives complete. It is hard for outsiders to understand.

Tommy Caldwell is one of the world’s most accomplished free climbers – climbers who eschew devices for anything other than safety reasons. Ascent is accomplished only by using limbs; fingers, toes, heels and sometimes other body parts. It requires insane athleticism, even more insane pain tolerance and the kind of focus that requires rigid discipline and unrivaled preparedness.

For rock climbers like Caldwell, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is Mecca. The granite monolith towers 3,000 feet above the valley floor. The back of El Cap, as climbers affectionately call it, has trails that lead to the top for those who are less Type A. Most reputable climbers have done several different ascents of the mountain which are some of the most challenging on earth. Of particular note is the Dawn Wall, so called because when dawn breaks in Yosemite the Dawn Wall is the first surface to be lit by the rays of the sun. Nearly completely smooth, there are few places for hands to grip, for feet to gain purchase. Even the most legendary climbers, like John Long (who provides much of the technical commentary here) were certain that the Dawn Wall couldn’t be climbed.

Caldwell is the type of man who if you tell him he can’t do something, he goes right out and does it anyway but this was different and it wasn’t like he hadn’t had his share of challenges. While on a climbing expedition in Kyrgyzstan, he and then-girlfriend Beth Rodden as well as two other climbers were captured by rebel terrorists. After a remarkable escape, they all returned home safely although Tommy was seriously affected by the incident. Shortly after marrying Rodden, he accidentally sliced off half of his left index finger. Any climber will tell you that free climbers rely heavily on the index fingers. For most free climbers that would be a career killer.

However Tommy Caldwell is not most free climbers. He trained his other fingers to pick up the slack and also to utilize  the remainder of that index finger and emerged a better climber. By this time the idea of climbing the Dawn Wall – which no human had ever accomplished – had taken hold. He spent more and more time researching routes of the wall, climbing parts of it, looking for  route that gave him a chance to accomplish the impossible. His obsession and depression proved to be too much for his marriage. Tommy needed a climbing partner to help him ascend the Dawn Wall; he found one in Kevin Jorgeson, a cheerful California boy who was looking for a new challenge after he had become one of the top boulder climbers in the world. Tommy convinced him to dive right into the deep end – the most challenging free climb on Earth. Together, the two men planned and researched and argued and trained until at last they were ready to make history.

The expedition made headlines all over the world when it happened although to be honest I don’t remember much about it. We see network coverage of the time however, reporters calling on Tommy’s cell phone which apparently got service while hanging on the side of a rock. Documenting the attempt were an army of cameramen and riggers, some hanging from the top of El Cap and giving viewers a unique you-are-there experience. We see the bloody hands of the climbers after a day of hanging by their fingers on razor-sharp cracks in the rock.

The views are breathtaking and Caldwell’s story is amazing. Jorgeson gets less coverage by the team but his moment is in facing the most difficult section of the climb – Pitch 15 (the climb was divided into 32 different sections, called pitches) – which Tommy conquered early on but Kevin made attempt after attempt, always losing his grip and falling (safety lines are worn to prevent them from falling to their deaths). As both men grow more frustrated, Tommy decides to continue on further with Kevin acting as support. Kevin is disappointed but when Tommy conquers the last difficult pitch and stands atop Wino Tower, he knows he doesn’t want to hit the summit alone. He makes an extraordinary decision that puzzles veteran climbers but not those who know him best.

As a character study, we get to know bits and pieces of Tommy Caldwell but he is a fairly shy individual so some things are difficult for him to articulate. That’s okay though: this isn’t really about the story of Tommy Caldwell precisely but at the end of the day it’s about the resilience of the human spirit, the need to conquer the unconquerable, to expand our horizons and to make the impossible possible. In this divisive age where the American spirit seems stunted by political tribalism, self-absorption and malaise, we need men like Tommy Caldwell more than ever. The triumph of mountains conquered – whatever shape those mountains take – is within the grasp of all of us who are willing to make the sacrifice to achieve.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography is absolutely mind-blowing, particularly the footage on the wall. Caldwell’s story is the kind that is too bizarre to be anything but real.
REASONS TO STAY: Caldwell’s obsessive behavior might be too much for some viewers to understand.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, some disturbing images and dialogue.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Dawn Wall originally made its American premiere at Sundance this year and has also been shown in selected theaters as part of Fathom Events special programming.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/23/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Meru
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Love, Gilda