“Everest” is a visually breathtaking film about the insanity of the human desire to conquer.

Famous mountaineer, Gregory Mallory, wrote of Mount Everest, “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy… That is what life means and what life is for.” Mallory died in 1924 on his third attempt to be the first to summit the world’s highest mountain.

There are many reasons why the professional and amateur climbers in the film, Everest, give for risking their lives to spend a few seconds at the top of the world. “Because it’s there,” says one. “I have kids. If they see that a regular guy can follow impossible dreams, maybe they’ll do the same”, explains another. It’s the pinnacle of humankind’s insatiable desire to conquer nature, to bend her to our will. But, this beast can only be conquered if she lets you.

In this feature film Icelandic director, Baltasar Kormákur, tells the fateful true story of two expeditions, led by rival professional moutaineers, who attempt to summit on the 10th of May 1996. On the one side is the impulsive, hotshot, original hipster American, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), and on the other is the humble, dedicated New Zealander, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who leaves behind a pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), to make dreams come true. Rob’s team includes the cocky, Texan doctor, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), journalist John Krakauer (Michael Kelly), and Japanese climber Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has conquered six of the world’s seven biggest peaks, and now wants to complete the tally.

It’s an exercise in insanity. As Rob tells his team: “You, my friends, are following in the very footsteps of history; something beyond the power of words to describe. Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747.Our bodies will be literally dying. Everest is another beast altogether.”

The climb starts well, but the day before the final ascent a freak storm hits. At first it appears like the team won’t be able to summit. When the weather clears the next day, Rob leads the team up. Some fall ill, some make it to the top. Flags are planted. Tears are shed. The zenith, the ultimate in human achievement completed. But, another super blizzard is on the way. The climbers try to hurry down, and an epic battle for survival ensues, a painful fight not everyone can win.

Everest is described as an action adventure-thriller, but is also about exploring the pure madness (yet inspiring) aspect of human nature that drives a person to strive for the impossible. The star of this show is the mountain herself. Much of the movie was filmed at Everest’s base camp, while of course CGI is used to help create the breathtaking shots of never-ending crevasses, hellish peaks, and sheer drops. It is well worth watching the film in IMAX 3D, which made my head spin with vertigo. This ice desert shown on a larger-than-life screen overwhelms, and I could almost see my breath fogging up in front of me. This is the closest most of us will come to the menacing colossus of Everest, and the film is a surreal and visceral experience.

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson

Rating: 4 out of 5

South African release date: 18 September 2015.

“Southpaw” is no knockout but Jake Gyllenhaal packs a punch. 

He wraps his hands in white gauze over the ink that snakes up his arms. His knuckles are carefully padded, gently, gingerly, while the music in his headphones blocks out the noise, the roar of thousands who are either chanting his name or baying for his blood. Lights flash in his eyes as he walks to the ring, ready.

That’s the opening scene of sports drama, Southpaw, in which Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a boxing legend and world champion, Billy Hope – a man who’s managed to attain the American Dream. He and his beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), both came through the “system” (of foster care), growing up in New York’s notorious Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Now, he has it all: fame, fortune, family.

But when tragedy strikes, it all turns to shit. After Billy headbutts a referee his fighting licence is suspended, and his daughter is taken away. There’s nothing left. Rock bottom is a dark place. “I’m a fucking mess”, he admits. And when you’re down and out, friends are few.

Desperate to salvage something, anything, and fix his relationship with daughter, Billy gets a job as a cleaner at the gym of a cynical, seasoned trainer and former boxing great, Titus “The Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker). Billy convinces Titus to train him, for one more fight against his nemesis. He develops a better defence strategy, and the southpaw boxing move – a stance where the boxer has his right hand and right foot forward, leading with right jabs, and following with a left cross-right hook (yeah I had to look it up).

Southpaw follows the thematic formula of this kind of sports film: loss, despair, revenge, overcoming the odds, redemption. And herein lies the film’s greatest flaw: the plot. It relies on a storyline filled with  clichés that’s been told numerous times. The audience knows the outcome.

What saves Southpaw from being a failure is the calibre of the actors. Gyllenhaal employed method acting for the role, saying he trained and boxed until he puked. No stunt double was used. Gyllenhaal absorbed every punch, emphasising the intensely visceral nature of the film. At the same time he captures the fury and emotional torture of someone who’s been knocked down by life. The inimitable Whitaker is impeccable as Billy’s disenchanted, good-hearted trainer. And rapper 50 Cent is rather amusing as Billy’s underhanded manager, who jumps ship the moment his client is no longer a moneymaker. It’s this – the performances by the actors – that gives some audience satisfaction, provided you can look past the prosaic plot.

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent

Rating: 3 out of 5

Southpaw opens in South African cinemas on 4 September 2015.

“Accidental Love” – probably the worst movie of the year.

What were you thinking Jake Gyllenhaal? Just on the back of his role in the widely-acclaimed Nightcrawler, this talented actor appears in what can only be described as bumbling, bewildering drivel. In fact, the film Accidental Love, features a host of supremely talented actors (Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener and award-winning comedian Tracy Morgan also star), who are surely cringing with embarrassment and crawling into corners rocking themselves, making puppy-noises.

Why a film that made $4 500 in its limited US release in 2011 is being released in South Africa in 2015 is beyond comprehension. Director David O’Russell (considered a damn fine filmmaker having made movies like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) quit the project in 2010 after it was halted four times due to financial problems. His name was taken off the credits and the film was hammered together.

Accidental Love is an awful, failed parody in which waitress Alice Eckle (Jessica Biel), heads to congress after a hospital refuses to remove a nail that accidentally got stuck in her head, because she lacks health insurance (clearly dating this film pre-Obamacare).

The nail causes Alice to start acting a bit cuckoo. She randomly speaks Portuguese, falls into inexplicable rages and becomes a sex maniac. She decides to seek help in Washington DC after seeing a freshman politician, Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal), makes a televised promise to help all people. When Alice turns up in his office to campaign for healthcare for those with weird injuries, Howard explains that in American politics, “socialist healthcare” is not a priority. Despite this Howard decides to help Alice and her two other bizarrely-injured companions: a priest with a permanent erection and a friend whose weight-lifting regimen has led to a collapsed anus (I’m not making this up, I swear).

Catherine Keener is a farce as the house whip who tries to convince Congress to build a military base on the moon, rather than spend money on healthcare.

This is all accompanied by a cheesy instrumental soundtrack, the purpose of which is unclear.

Watch at your own peril.

Director: the pseudonymous Stephen Green

Cast: Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, Tracy Morgan

Rating: 0 (that is zero, zilch, nothing) out of 5