The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Free Solo

Free Solo exists because its subject didn't die during the production. And even though you know in advance that he didn't die, you spend the entire time worrying that he will anyway. The documentary follows Alex Honnold, a man who climbed Yosemite National Park's El Capitan -- a 3,000-foot rock formation -- without any ropes. We see how he trains and practices for the potentially perilous event, which astonishingly took him less than four hours to accomplish, and witness the evolution of his relationship with girlfriend Sanni McCandless, who seems to accept that she will always be the #2 thing in his life, behind climbing. Some of the most striking moments find co-director Jimmy Chin and his camera crew fretting that their equipment may distract Honnold, thereby contributing to his death.

Thankfully, that didn't happen. They did, however, get some breathtaking images of Honnold scaling the formation, often gripping the tips of his fingers to a tiny little ledge, or bracing his foot against a barely-perceptible dent in the side of a rock. Free Solo makes you feel as though you're right there with him. Most harrowingly, you realize that there's nowhere for Honnold to rest if he gets tired or if something goes wrong. There's also no way for him to turn around once he begins his ascent. By focusing on his personality and his challenge in equal measure, Free Solo manages to be both a heart-stopping adventure and a riveting psychological portrait of a man driven to push himself to the edge. See it on the biggest screen possible.

( out of four)

The Predator

If there's a great Predator movie to be made, it's already been done. The 1987 original with Arnold Schwarzenegger was very exciting for its time. Subsequent efforts have run the gamut from mindless fun (Robert Rodriguez's Predators) to mediocre (Predator 2) to downright awful (those two Alien vs. Predator flicks). There doesn't seem to be anywhere new to go with the character. Shane Black's The Predator falls into the "mindless fun" category. It's entertaining, but nothing particularly special.

Another Predator has come to Earth for unknown reasons. An evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn) and a former Army Ranger (Boyd Holbrook) lead an effort to figure out what it wants. Story really isn't the movie's first concern. Black is far more interested in staging over-the-top action sequences, which are admittedly effective. People die in amazing ways at the Predator's hands. The film also contains a lot of humor, because Black (The Nice Guys, Iron Man 3) can't resist turning all the characters into sarcastic smart-asses. Anyone looking for a "serious" movie featuring this creature will be disappointed. Approach The Predator for what it is -- a self-aware riff on classic B-movies -- and it's a reasonably enjoyable way to kill two hours.

( out of four)

Free Solo is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The Predator is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and crude sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

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