“Maximize your wins, minimize your losses… and stay in the game as long as you can.”
Russell Crowe may have been considering his own mortality as he wrote and directed this pondorously morose thriller, but that does not justify wasting an hour and a half of my life with his insipid pseudo-intellectual blathering. The premise of a tech billionaire gathering together his childhood friends for a game whilst harbouring some ulterior motive bears such a striking resemblance to Glass Onion that it serves to demonstrate just how entertaining the concept was in Rian Johnson’s hands and how flaccid the entire affair feels here. Poker Face has a pretentious film student’s air of shallow artistry, indulging in basic techniques like cutting conspicuously from a man’s death to a folding hand of cards. Aaron McLisky’s cinematography occasionally adds a little character, which is more than can be said for the cast — it is impossible to see why any of these “friends” care about each other at all. Mortality can be a fascinating subject when addressed well, but Poker Face left me reaching straight for the flush.
“We Nepali won’t trouble you like this again. We hope the foreigners will listen to us this time, and mourn 2014 as a black year.”
Palden Namgyal Sherpa
Jennifer Peedom’s absorbing documentary puts the Sherpa front and centre, not just as mountaineers but as a people. She notes that the Western impression of Sherpas is almost entirely fuelled by the image of the cheerfully smiling and seemingly subservient Tenzing Norgay, which no longer fits the more educated youths now working on Everest. Peedom’s original intention was to film the 2014 climbing season following the violent confrontation between Sherpas and European climbers that had occurred the year before. There is a stark contrast between the Western concept of conquering a mountain and the Sherpas’ reverence of the peak, which they know as Chomolungma. Much of the early footage features grandly sweeping shots of snow-capped peaks and the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, whilst showing a glimpse of the huge undertaking to prepare the camps up the mountainside in advance of climbing tourists. Foreigners attempting the climb might cross the icefall twice, but the Sherpas have to cross it twenty or thirty times, carrying heavy equipment. This disproportionate allocation of risk in order to make Westerners’ climb more comfortable is troubling. When a deadly ice avalanche killed sixteen, Sherpa‘s focus shifts to follow the human and political fallout as the Sherpas refuse to climb, seeking better protections and remuneration. There is a challenge for the filmmakers in that culturally the Sherpas appear reserved rather than prone to public displays of strong emotion. Instead, Peedom enables the viewer to feel the Sherpas’ frustration by juxtaposing what they say against the galling Western selfishness on display. One operator describes the Sherpa response as “totally irrational” whilst acknowledging in the same breath that they fear for their lives. An American climber exposes his reprehensibly colonial mindset when referring to the dissenting Sherpas’ employers as their “owners”; because he had paid money — of which the Sherpas would see virtually none — he felt entitled to the servitude of the locals. These attitudes, if nothing else, cannot survive viewing this documentary.
Low-budget cerebral science fiction is a fertile breeding ground for new directors and Grant Sputore demonstrates deft control and a strong (if derivative) vision in this tale of a young woman raised by an Artificial Intelligence within a closed facility designed to survive an extinction-level event. Mother’s design is much like a humanoid version of Portal‘s GLaDOS, and the use of a prosthetic suit rather than CGI gives her a weightier presence, particularly imposing in the scenes of her sprinting at full speed. It also aids the strangely disquieting imagery of familial intimacy between flesh and metal. There are strong tonal similarities with Moon, from the claustrophobic emptiness of an AI-controlled facility to Daughter’s increasing mistrust of Mother’s intentions and what she is being told about the outside world. The script isn’t quite as sharp and the package isn’t quite so sparingly formed, but it will be interesting to see whether Sputore can successfully navigate in the footsteps of Duncan Jones, Garreth Edwards and their ilk.