Three movie reviews to get spring started

MOUNTAIN

Directed by Jennifer Peedom

I enormously enjoyed the film, and I come to it having climbed Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro.  I climbed to the staging level of Everest, too, but went no farther owing to clothing restrictions and fear of the cold.  And probably no sherpa to guide.

In any case, who wrote the magnificent poetic narration?  Dafoe spoke wonderfully, engaging the imagination on many levels along with the exalted visuals and the blisteringly terrifying close-ups of feats of derring-do and bravado that have a lot to do with one of the striking lines Dafoe voiced:

When you see some of these acts, you are forced to think that the people doing it are half in love with themselves...and half in love with oblivion.

Exactly.

The extreme biking on "paths" the width of my no. 2 pencil, wind soaring, cliff-leaping with tiny delayed 'chute opening to soften inevitable piercing death, 'chopper drop-skiing and the purgatorial seething and heaving of lava as it courses down in scalding rivulets and unstoppable rivers of cauldron-red – all these were captivating and searing.  I recalled my wind-surfing over Balinesian islands, and biking in absurdly rocky, unmanageable tracks in wild Chinese scrabble, and my heart was clamped.  The feats caught here are almost science fiction, they are so unlikely, so superhuman.

The music was a decided character in the proceedings, along with the sonorities of Dafoe's measured words.  It somewhat tamped down the concomitant of climbs of this type: the sometimes agonizing pain that attends putting one foot above the other, the slowness of ascent, short of oxygen, operationally exposed to the travails and possible blackouts of hypoxia.

I left the screening in vertigo for the entire time it took me to cycle back to my home.  It took me all that time to catch my breath.

The capture of trees and earth movements over seasons and climes was mesmerizing, taken with a wide lens to show the bigness of these Pilates moves of nature we are too small to notice from season to season or geography to geography.

The director did such a magnificent job that he must have shot reels and reels to extract all this Brobdingnagian majesty, like a bug on a window, scaling the sheer faces of well nigh impregnable glaciers and Himalayan peaks.

There are no artificial special effects here.  Every scene is special, but real effects.

Anywhere you stand, the view from Mountain is whip-sharp breathtaking.

TULLY

Directed by Jason Reitman

We're all acquainted with a pack of medical acronyms: COPD, R.A., PTSD, PMS, even E.D.  Much less familiar, even similarly not that much discussed (because it is a problem suffered uniquely by women, perhaps).

The protagonist of Tully, played sensitively by Charlize Theron, as Marlo, was created by (female!) writer Diablo Cody, who has collaborated with Reitman on several projects.  Reitman, clever son of the great Canadian director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters and more), is the capable, dependable helmer of such standouts as Up in the Air (2009).  He delivers a solid piece of entertainment that offers some sly surprises, especially some details that won't emerge unless you see the film a second time.

The excellent Theron, by the way, gained 50 pounds for the role, as a woman who is pregnant and gives birth is all the more remarkable for the actor having been in her best physical shape just before the movie shot.  Theron was Atomic Blonde, a sizzling assassin in stilettos, spy regalia, and shades, who made fast work of her targets via kick, gun, or any nearby handy implement.

In Tully, the homebody mom is already mother to two children.  Her husband, Drew, played by a likable and largely remote Ron Livingston, comes home from his tech job, eats, and takes to comatose zombie video games.  The film is seen only from Theron's POV.

You see Marlo coping with lassitude, trying to get more than a few hours of sleep between feedings, giving up on making real meals or keeping the house in any sort of order.  No makeup.  No housework.  Sweats every day.  No sex.  Hardly the energy for a smile.

Noticing her exhaustion, her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) suggests a night nanny, Mackenzie Davis, someone to take care of baby's needs nightly, to give the new mother a few hours of rest.  The woman comes, and she is amazingly intuitive, smart, almost surprisingly talented.  A miracle of house care.  Marlo's life is in turnaround.

Spoiler alert, sort of: This is something to see twice, as things are not exactly as they seem.

FIRST REFORMED

Directed by Paul Schrader

Buffs will recall that Schrader wrote the searing, Martin Scorsese-directed Taxi Driver (1970), the intense iconic N.Y. pocket cameo that kick-started Robert De Niro's legend (obnoxious as he has now become).  Not a few viewers at the screening compared the pastor, played by a grizzled Ethan Hawke, to a more controlled, moderated Travis Bickel.

They may have a point.  The film stars Amanda Seyfried as Mary, a parishioner struggling in a troubled marriage.  Reformed is nominally in color but seems like a black and white Hitchcock output.  It is bleached into the rigors of the pastor's self-mortifying life, emerging into color only intermittently, and apparently only to show blood.

The one-time military chaplain is still wracked by grief over the loss of his young son and the absence of his ex-wife.  Mary, a member of his church, with a husband in a radical environmentalist mindset, commits suicide, setting in motion the stringent epistle to self-blame.

Having lived something of the life described by the film, we can say it resonates, and it stays with the viewer for quite some time after the conclusion.