Himalayan Ice


Hanging in there.

(2019) Documentary (1091) Karn Kowshik, Prena Dangi, Bharat Bhushan, Ari Novak, Karsten Delap, Ishani Sawant, Anne Matthias. Directed by Ari Novak and Austin Schmitz

 

Ice climbing differs from mountain climbing in that rather than climbing up rocks in spring, summer and fall weather, you are climbing up sheets of ice generally in harsh winter conditions. The skill sets are similar, but the tools are different and ice climbing requires more brute force than mountain climbing. Also, because of the nature of water and ice you can come back to the same mountain the next year and find a completely different type of ice there.

When ice climber Karsten Delap met Karn Kowshik in a bar it was brothers at first sight. They immediately realized that there was much common ground between them and Karn invited Karsten to do some ice climbing in Karn’s native India. Karn had in mind the Spiti Valley one of the most remote places on Earth. The Himalayan village of Kaza is so ridiculously hard to get to it requires a 65-hour drive through terrifying mountain roads just to reach the town.

But Karsten was about more than just a visit. He wanted to set up an Ice Festival, a convocation of ice climbers worldwide to come and visit. He was hoping that once word got out about the ice conditions in the valley, climbers would flock there from around the world and help the local economy.

There is a cultural difference between Indian climbers and American climbers. Whereas Americans tend to look at ice climbing as a personal challenge, Indian climbers tend to view it instead as a spiritual quest to get closer to the Hindu and Buddhist gods who live in the mountains. Success or failure is less important to them; the act of climbing the ice is what’s important.

With climber/filmmaker Ari Novak in tow, the two American climbers link with Indian climbers to create an incredible experience. Receiving both Buddhist and Hindu blessings before the actual climbing begins, trails are made safer by the organizers who get rid of debris that could possibly fall and hurt or even kill someone; holes in bridges are repaired and handrails also repaired. The sport is dangerous enough as it is, so safety is a major priority here.

I gotta say this though; these guys are dudes. They may be the bro-est bros to ever bro out together. Everything isn’t cool, it’s really cool. Yeah, I admit that the way these guys talk is irritating if you’ve grown to a certain place in your life, or if you’re not part of the fraternity, but all in all that’s not something to get totally bummed about. It’s really irritating, though.

The cinematography is world-class here. Yes, the mountains are mostly barren of even snow with shimmering crystalline ice flows standing out on brown rocky terrain, but there is still a sense of majesty of being in one of the world’s most sacred places. At 47 minutes long the film barely qualifies as a feature presentation, but the short investment of time is well worth the outlay.

REASONS TO SEE: Excellent cinematography as we’ve come to expect from these kinds of films.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little too much dude-ness.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  On the way home from the Ice Festival, Karsten Delop ate some chicken at a roadside stand and had to be rushed to the hospital where he spent three days in the Intensive Care Unit. He did, however, make a full recovery.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Free Solo
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10 dude!
NEXT: Mary Poppins Returns

Kung Fu Panda


Kung Fu Panda

Sometimes we all need a little kick in the behind.

(2008) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Michael Clarke Duncan, Dan Fogler. Directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne

 

Dreams are generally not handed to you. In order to achieve them, hard work and sacrifice is almost always required. The question becomes how much are you willing to give in order to make your dream come true – and is it worth it.

Po (Black) is a big, goofy panda who lives in the Valley of Peace. The animals there live in peace and harmony, overseen by the benevolent temple on the highest peak guarding the town from those who would cause harm. Therein dwell the Furious Five, a group of five kung fu warriors of world renown. Po worships them and dreams of being one of them. However, he is the son of Ping (Hong) a humble noodle shop owner whose secret ingredient makes his noodles better than anyone else and Ping knows that Po’s dream is foolishness itself.

Within the temple is the Dragon Scroll, a parchment which explains how to become the Dragon Warrior, the ultimate kung fu practitioner. Snow leopard Tai Lung (McShane) wants this scroll not to become the valley’s ultimate protector but to dominate and become a cruel tyrant, wreaking revenge on the master who spurned his dreams.

Tai Lung has escaped from his prison and means to take what would not be given to him. The temple announces that their venerated abbot Oogway (Kim) is going to select the Dragon Warrior who will be given the scroll and the power to protect the Valley. The entire village ascends the mountain to see who will be accorded this great honor. Po is sent by his father to go sell noodles at the temple.

Everyone assumes that one of the members of the Furious Five will be chosen – Tigress (Jolie), Mantis (Rogen), Monkey (Chan), Viper (Liu) or Crane (Cross). Maybe it will be their venerated master, Shifu (Hoffman). However when Oogway chooses Po, the entire village goes into shock. Surely there must be a mistake.

Po has no training and it appears, no aptitude for Kung Fu. What he seems to be best at is eating, and he does that pretty much non-stop. Shifu figures that he can discourage the young panda out of becoming the Dragon Warrior and thus allow one of his more deserving students to achieve that honor. However, Tai Lung is approaching and time is running short. Will Po stay and find his inner hero? Or will he leave and watch from the sidelines as one or all of the Furious Five save the day?

Of all the  CGI animated features I’ve seen this is my favorite that doesn’t begin with the Pixar logo. Yes, I understand its faults and shortcomings but for whatever reason I connect with it. Maybe because I’m quite Po-like – I love to eat, I dream about being a superhero and I have a pretty laid-back nature most of the time (that sound you just heard was Da Queen snorting). The animation is also pretty impressive, from the faux Chinese landscapes to the rippling fur on Shifu, Tigress and Tai Lung.

The story is a bit rote and predictable and certainly is aimed at the Nickelodeon set. There is a good deal of physical humor, much of it revolving around Po’s weight and clumsiness (which some might argue reinforces stereotypes about overweight people, not necessarily a message we want to send to kids). Also, there is almost zero character development for everyone other than Po, Sifu and Tigress. Even Tai Lung really is given a kind of cursory character background as to why he is a villain. Most of the non-feline Furious Five all kind of blend together. Makes me wonder if they could have done a Terrific Trio instead.

There are some moments of real beauty – one involving Oogway and peach blossoms – as well as some imaginative fight scenes (especially the one between Po and Shifu involving a dumpling and chopsticks). This is a pleasing film aesthetically, enough so that parents won’t get bored when watching it for the umpteenth time with their kids.

In fact, the movie is much like it’s protagonist – kind of dumb, kind of lovable and ultimately it just steals your heart. Even if you aren’t into the old chop sockey movies that are clearly the touchstone behind the genesis of Kung Fu Panda you’ll still get a kick out of this animated classic.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous animation. Nice work by Black, Hoffman and McShane.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Predictable story aimed squarely at less discerning audiences.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some action sequences which might overwhelm the littlest tykes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Hong, who voiced noodle shop owner Mr. Ping, is the son of an actual noodle shop owner.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most hit kid films, there are plenty. The DVD came as a stand-alone or in a two-pack with the short animated feature Secrets of the Furious Five. The original DVD included featurettes on how to make noodles like Mr. Ping and a kid-centric instruction manual on how to use chopsticks. There’s also a Dragon Warrior Training Academy interactive game, a music video of the theme song, an animation video jukebox featuring songs from each of DreamWorks’ Animation Studio’s movies to that time, and a nice PSA  on saving wild pandas.  The two-pack also includes an instructional video on how to draw the characters from Kung Fu Panda, an interactive Dumpling Shuffle game, and fun featurettes on how to determine which Kung Fu fighting style is your own and how to figure out which sign of the Chinese zodiac you fall under. The Blu-Ray has all of these in addition to BD-Live downloadable content which includes a Day in the Life of an actual Shaolin monk and the opportunity to hear Po from various other language soundtracks. “Squidoosh” just sounds a whole lot of different in Swedish my friends.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $631.7M on a $130M production budget; the movie was a huge hit.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Tales From Earthsea