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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Mountain Between Us

“Flatliners” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

“The Mountain Between Us” has finally cemented a notion I’ve pondered: Would it be better to be stranded on a deserted island or on the top of a snowy mountain? Neither one is a picnic, but I think that the island, assuming it is tropical, offers the best chance for survival. At the very least, there are trees to build shelter, wild plants to eat (as long as you pick the right ones), wild fish and game    (if you can catch it), and a reasonably hospitable climate. There are downsides, such as insects, a potential lack of clean fresh water, and the resulting much higher risk of disease, but I’ll take the odds of survival in that environment over that of a barren, snow covered mountain. Up there is nothing.

This is a fact that Ben (Idris Elba) and Alex (Kate Winslet) find out very soon. They meet at an airport in Idaho, and each one needs desperately to get back east. He is a neurosurgeon who is operating on a ten-year-old patient the next day, and tomorrow is her wedding day. Commercial flights are all grounded due to a storm, so the two pool their resources to charter a small two engine plane to fly them from Idaho to Denver, home of the world’s creepiest airport (really--google “blucifer” and take it from there), so they can then book flights back east.

 



All goes well until a) they wind up heading toward a huge storm and b) their pilot, Walter (Beau Bridges), has a stroke and loses control of the plane. Luckily, the plane soft lands as it crashes. Ben and Walter’s dog skate by relatively unscathed, but Alex breaks a leg. Good thing he’s a doctor and can set the bone. If you think that Ben’s doctor skills don’t come into play numerous times throughout “The Mountain Between Us,” my guess is that you’re either under twelve or have never seen a movie before.

The journey of Ben and Alex is one of survival against the elements. It is a perilous one to be sure. Director Hany Abu-Assad and cinematographer Mandy Walker do a great job at giving us beautiful, long shots of the pristine snowy mountain ranges and forests that make up the wilderness. These shots are quickly and almost invariably followed by the comparatively minute details of the struggles of the two characters to stay alive. It’s as if the beauty of the landscape masks a sinister, cruel underbelly that is anything but beautiful. As a matter of fact, it’s downright deadly.


Given that “The Mountain Between Us” is about two people, a dog, and a lot of snow, the plot does feel a bit stretched at times. The movie goes for the more subtle nuance of exploring the characters and their interactions, rather than any big events, like cave-ins, avalanches, or something of that nature. There are harrowing, suspenseful events that occur, but the movie doesn’t hang its hat on them. It’s more interested in exploring the personality dynamic between Ben, who is very intellectual and more about the head, and Alex, who is more intuitive and more about the heart. In many ways they complement each other very nicely, but the expected arguments do occur based on their differences.

If “The Mountain Between Us” has one flaw, it is that it should have wrapped up more quickly. The story is them and their struggles on the mountain. Once that is done, it is time for an epilogue and then the end. Since this movie is more character-focused, I get why the decision was made to extend the epilogue. It’s not wrong to use the epilogue to wrap up the character dynamic that the movie spent so much time exploring. I’m just saying that twenty minutes is a long time to keep a story going once the main plot is done, and the movie would have been better served to get to its finale in about half the time, that’s all. Rent it.

Also New This Week

Flatliners

“Oh boy!! They remade ‘Flatliners.’ This was totally necessary and I can’t wait to see it!”
--Literally No One. Ever.

The original “Flatliners” came out in 1990. I rented it on video cassette shortly after it came out at the rental stores. I remember the general premise, the fact that it starred Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts, and was directed by Joel Schumacher--along with some bits and pieces here and there, like the phrase that became their motto: “It’s a good day to die.” I thought the movie was good, but not special enough to ever watch again—even in preparation to see this 2017 remake—and was actually surprised that it was remade at all.

Like the 1990 version, the 2017 “Flatliners” is about a group of medical students who purposely stop their hearts for a few minutes so that they can experience the afterlife. They rely on their fellow med students to bring them back from death. These students quickly discover—the hard way--that something comes back with them during their revival.

The first half of the movie is at least somewhat interesting. Young doctor to be Courtney (Ellen Page), haunted by memories of her sister’s death in an accident that is her fault, is obsessed with the idea of the afterlife. After getting a stern and straightforward lecture from their instructor (Kiefer Sutherland), she’s inspired to “push the needle” on medical science. Her way of doing that is by recruiting fellow students Ray (Diego Luna), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Jamie (James Norton), and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) to help with her experiment.

Before you get too excited—no, Kiefer Sutherland does not play an older version of his character from the first movie. It’s cool that he has a cameo role in this movie, but the connection ends there. His Dr. Barry Wolfson is more akin to Hugh Laurie on TV’s “House” (Wolfson even walks with a cane and gets real surly real fast) than he is to anyone else. Also, once the experimenting is done and the horrific hallucinations begin, Kiefer disappears.

Good for him. I wish I could have disappeared from watching the second half of this movie, because that’s when it gets very garbage-y very fast. The plot turns schlocky and cheap, and to call the scares in this movie medium grade is generous. The ones that are there are low grade, and even then they’re few and far between. I sometimes wonder if ghosts in real life (for lack of better phrasing) would behave the way screenwriters have them behave. That is, they seem to mess with people and only reveal themselves quickly, behind a person. Then when the person turns around, the ghost is gone. Would actual ghosts follow this cliché and toy with the living in this manner? Or would they just get on with the haunting already?

“Flatliners” also has a major issue in that it makes the mistake of not establishing the rules for its horror. What is it that they bring back with them? We’re never told, and that’s fine, but there needs to be some consistency. Are the hallucinations just that—hallucinations—or are real life physical things happening to these characters by an outside force? If physical things are happening, are they in actuality self-inflicted, or is the entity (or whatever) they brought back interacting with them in a physical way? It’s important to eventually get an answer to questions such as these for some kind of satisfactory resolution, especially when events like Jamie getting a knife through his hand occur. Did he do that to himself while hallucinating, or did the whatever it is do it? That scene is cut very abruptly—to the point of being jarring—and we never really find out.

This is the point where I, as the movie reviewer, realize that I asked more questions and took a more careful consideration of this movie’s plot than anyone involved in the production of the actual movie cared to do. That should tell you all you need to know about 2017’s “Flatliners.” Skip it.

Killing Gunther

Fair warning to anyone who sees “Killing Gunther” because Arnold Schwarzenegger is front and center on the cover: He’s only in the last twenty minutes of this 87-minute movie. Schwarzenegger is the titular character Gunther, the world’s greatest assassin. Tired of being second best, a group of assassins, led by professional hit man Blake (Taran Killam, who also wrote and directed), team up to take Gunther out.

The movie is done in the faux-documentary style that I personally enjoy. Having characters be interviewed is a fun way to delve into their psyches, and there is a certain thrill in the out of focus, handheld camera work that makes it seem like the movie makers are chasing the story.

But the point of such a style is to be more than mere spectacle. It should be employed to peel back the layers of the usual genre movie and reveal something deeper—to bare the truth in a funny way. This was successfully done with horror movies with 2006’s “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon,” where we get a sneak peek at what goes on behind the scenes of a masked maniac’s life. I was expecting the same type of irreverent dissection of the action genre with “Killing Gunther.” The movie is irreverent all right, just not in the way I hoped. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Jeepers Creepers 3,” the return of one of the scariest creeps in Hollywood, writer-director and convicted pedophile Victor Salva—The Creeper is mildly scary at best; “Brawl in Cell Block 99, “ about a  former boxer-turned-drug runner who lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly, starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson; and “Mayhem,” about a virus that spreads through an office complex causing white collar workers to act out their worst impulses, starring former “The Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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