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Movie review: ‘Free Solo’ Spider-Man

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    Alex Honnold, climbing El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, in “Free Solo.”

Published March 20. 2019 12:36PM

“Free Solo” is the most astounding film of 2018.

If you haven’t seen “Free Solo,” which received an Oscar for documentary feature at the 2019 Academy Awards, the film is worth seeing in a movie theater on as large a screen as possible.

The film’s production companies include National Geographic Documentary Films. The film was shown on TV’s National Geographic Channel.

The documentary details Alex Honnold’s successful 2017 attempt to be the first person to free-solo climb (without ropes, harnesses, climbing tackle and posts and safety gear) the 3,200-foot-high El Capitan rock-wall outcropping in Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California.

“Free Solo” is about much more that the act of climbing a formerly insurmountable sheer mountain wall.

It’s about Honnold’s personality, his apparent aloofness and lack of empathy, possibly because he may be a person with Asperger’s syndrome on the autism spectrum. It’s also about his determination, total dedication and commitment to his lifetime goal, for which he practiced and trained for some eight years.

Honnold’s regimen, training and drive seem supernatural. The footage of him accomplishing his feat only makes it seem more so. He’s a real-life Spider-Man.

Admittedly, his long arms, legs, fingers and toes provide Honnold, 33, with a physique advantageous to his goal. He climbed El Cap (as it’s dubbed) with his bare hands, using what appears to be talc powder from a sack on his back, and with soft climbing shoes on his feet.

As a viewer, you cannot believe what Honnold accomplished is even possible. As one of the cameramen in the film looks away, you, too, may not be able to watch the screen.

Honnold sacrificed everything to accomplish his goal. He lived in a van, cooking his own food. His no-holds-barred philosophy goes something like “Anyone can be happy and cozy. Nothing good happens in the world by being happy and cozy.”

The documentary delves into Honnold’s relationship with his parents. His father, who is deceased, was seemingly distant from his son. His mother, Dierdre Wolownick, who is interviewed, is seemingly close and supportive of her son’s rock-climbing.

Honnold’s relationship with his girlfriend, Cassandra “Sanni” McCandless, is another aspect of the film that’s immensely fascinating. This is a very real portrayal of two young people, so unlike the bogosity of so-called reality TV bachelor and bachelorette dating shows. The camera gets up close and really personal, almost in between Honnold and McCandless, who is interviewed. She’s a real sweetheart, one of a kind, simply for sticking around.

The film also depicts the friendship Honnold has with his rock-climbing mentor, Tommy Caldwell, who is interviewed. These scenes give amazing insight into the dangers of rock-climbing (climbers who have died are discussed), the physical practice before the climb and the mental toughness necessary for a successful climb (Honnold is shown taking copious notes and reciting his handholds, and leg and foot moves and body maneuvers. His path to the top of El Cap was apparently memorized.). Honnold’s “performance” on the rock wall’s sheer face had to be perfection, or death.

Perhaps most dynamic of all is Honnold’s rapport with the filmmaker fellow rappelers, who, while suspended from safety harnesses, had to film the climber without interfering in his concentration and climb. Talk about being a fly on the wall. The amazing camerawork (apparently augmented with footage from drones and helicopters) is the stuff of legendary filmmaking.

Credit co-directors Jimmy Chin, a world-renowned photographer and mountaineer, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi for making this extraordinary film, one that is and will be remembered as a landmark in cinema. “Free Solo” was a climb not only for Honnold, but for the directors and their film crew, for their extraordinary planning, skill and perseverance.

The film’s score by Marco Beltrami adds to the thrills and sweaty-palms tension of the film’s visuals.

This is no CGI superhero film. This is a film about a real, true-to-life superhero. Don’t miss it.

“Free Solo,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for brief strong language; Genre: Documentary, Sport; Run time: 1 hr., 40 mins. Distributed by National Geographic Documentary Films.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Tim McGraw sings “Gravity” during “Free Solo” end credits.

Box Office, March 15-17: “Captain Marvel” had the luck of the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, continuing at No. 1 two weeks in a row, with $69.3 million, $266.2 million, two weeks, keeping “Wonder Park” opening at No. 2, with $16 million, one week, and “Five Feet Apart,” opening at No. 3, with $13.1 million.

4. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” dropped two places, with $9.3 million, $135.6 million, four weeks. 5. “A Madea Family Funeral” dropped two places, $8.8 million, $59 million, three weeks. 6. “No Manches Frida 2,” $3.8 million, opening. 7. “Captive State,” $3.1 million, opening. 7. “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” dropped four places, $2.1 million, $101.3 million, six weeks. 9. “Alta: Battle Angel” dropped four places, $1.9 million, $81.8 million, five weeks. 10. “Green Book” dropped four places (Oscars: best picture; best original screenplay, supporting actor, Mahershala Ali), $1.2 million, $82.6 million. 18 weeks.

Unreel, March 22:

“Us,” R: Jordan Peele directs Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss, Anna Diop and Winston Duke in the horror film. A family’s life turns to chaos when terrorized by unknown people.

“Hotel Mumbai,” R: Anthony Maras directs Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi and Anupam Kher in the historical drama. The terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, is recounted.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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