MOVIE REVIEW: Movies to Make Your Christmas Bright!



December 31, 2015

Christmas Day. Winter Break. After all the office parties, the opening of presents and enduring relatives, the holidays scream for one thing - movies! And this holiday week has no shortage of some amazing movies that celebrate cinema, the art of moviemaking, never before seen stunts, practical sets as opposed to CGI and a return to film in the grandest of fashion. Obviously, for those who still haven’t experienced “the Force” of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, that should be at the top of your moviegoing list this week. (Here’s a tip: See it in IMAX 3D for the best possible viewing experience.) And I can’t recommend highly enough, ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP. Alvin and I came into this world at almost the same time and he, Simon and Theodore have been a lifelong source of entertainment for me, and their fourth big screen adventure is no exception. Grounded by a strong “dad-chipmunk” relationship, this is truly a fun-filled film for the whole family and guaranteed to garner more than a few laughs from the little ones with requisite kid level burp and fart jokes. Going from the silly to the dramatically satisfying is CONCUSSION. Based on the true story of the pioneering work of Dr. Bennet Omalu into the cause and effect dynamic between brain injury and repeated concussions suffered by football players (young and old alike), Will Smith turns in a bravura performance as does David Morse, who could garner a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for his role. The one shortcoming with CONCUSSION? Doesn’t dig deep enough into the culpability of the NFL. And then we have two films that are head and shoulders above the crowd - POINT BREAK and THE HATEFUL EIGHT.


With an intensity so great so as to feel your own blood start coursing through your veins with frenzied exhilaration, POINT BREAK is the biggest heart-pounding, heart-stopping, adrenaline rush of the year! Doing double duty as director and cinematographer, Ericson Core, together with Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, four second unit “stunt” directors and a cinematic showcasing of the best in the world of extreme sports, the result is visually dynamic and will have you breathless at every turn

Much kerfuffle has been made since it was announced that the beloved 1991 Kathryn Bigelow directed, Patrick Swayze-Keanu Reeves starring vehicle would be remade. Trust me. I was more than doubtful. But the result is not so much a “remake” as a 21st century reinvention that celebrates and incorporates the advancements of technology and the birth of extreme sports, all which find a perfect marriage here with Edgar Ramirez and Luke Bracey assuming the lead roles of Bohdi and Utah.

Replacing the California surfing culture with that of 21st century eco-activists, screenwriter Kurt Wimmer initially introduces us to extreme motocross athlete Utah and the Zen philosopher Bohdi. Following the death of his best friend in an extreme sport stunt gone bad, Utah has since joined the FBI and becomes key to the investigation of a series of global burglaries and attacks which he believes are being performed by a group of individuals who are trying to master the Ozaki Eight, a series of eight ordeals honoring the forces of nature founded by Ozaki Ono, now dead as a result of his own failure to achieve “nirvana” on the third ordeal. Believing themselves to be eco-minded and selfless, Bohdi and his crew are committing crimes against corporations who have assaulted Mother Earth; be it from blowing up mines which have stripped nature bare to showering money on impoverished residents of the rainforest. And lucky for us, to complete the Ozaki Eight, Bohdi and company are taking us on a global adventure with Utah in tow thanks to his own skills and infiltration into the group.

From snowboarding from the very the top of Mont Blanc in Switzerland to death-defying base jumping with wing-suit flights through caverns and crevices to a bare-knuckle assent (executed by the #1 professional free climber in the world, Chris Sharma) to the top of Angel Falls in Venezuela to a once-in-a-lifetime wave off the coast of Biarritz in southwestern France, everything is pushed to the extreme and perfectly executed and lensed.

While there are nods to the original 1991 film, the extreme sports and all that comes with the chase for the Ozaki Eight fill the bulk of the film until the final third of the final act which then picks up the plot of the original. Nods of a romantic interest for Bohdi and/or Utah comes in the form of an under used and underwhelming Teresa Palmer as Samsara. But Palmer adequately fills the purpose of the role by providing a backstory and link to Ozaki and Bohdi; not to mention serving as a balance to the testosterone fueled action and sex appeal of Ramirez and Bracey. Story on the whole is weaker than the other elements of the film as it is clear the focus is on the action, the sport

As for Ramirez and Bracey, there is only one word for each their performances. WOW! Not “just pretty faces”, the two pushed their own physical limits with training and stunt participation including climbing and hiking with the stuntmen and athletes, surfing many of the water scenes, snowboarding and yes, even being harnessed in at the top of Angel Falls for one of the most dramatic scenes of the film. The two were only pulled from the camera at the last possible moment. In conversation with Ramirez, he admitted to trying to be on hand for second unit and first unit work so as to fully embrace the emotion, exhilaration and danger of the moment. It worked. We feel their adrenaline and we see and feel the authenticity of the action thanks to their work and thanks to a production twist by Ericson Core.

“I did something very unique on this film that isn’t typically done. . . We shot all of the second unit work prior to first unit work. That was incredibly important to me because I know the difference. If you do a standard feature film, you go up and set up a scene, you decide to shoot it and you put your guys in position - your actors - and they say, ‘Okay. Great. Cut.’ and the stunt guys take over. And they go, ‘Well, they weren’t really standing in the right place. They weren’t doing it properly for the sport; it doesn’t really make sense, but the check clears and we’re gonna deal with it.’ And that’s typically the way it’s done. In this case, based on the weather environments and the conditions, it was extremely important to be authentic. That was why Chris [Sharma], Jeb [Corliss], Xavier [Delerue] and so many of the others, Laird Hamilton - got involved with us because my promise was to do it authentically and for real. So as a result, it was very important to do the action unit first to understand what the conditions were, what mother nature was giving us and what was possible and push the limits to the extreme. Then through that we integrated very carefully with our athletes and our second unit teams in order to get Luke, Edgar and the other actors to do exactly what was necessary to be accurate. We wanted to have no BS in the film. We wanted to make sure that no one from any extreme sport, be it surfing, snowboarding, climbing, base jumping, wingsuiting, looked at it and said, ‘That’s wrong. What you guys did was completely wrong. It was a Hollywood version of our stuff.’ We were doing it more to document it and have it in reality. So that was incredibly important.”

Solid supporting turns come from Delroy Lindo as FBI Instructor Hall and Ray Winstone, who is particularly engaging and provides a few lighter moments as the FBI’s French connection, Pappas. Not to be overlooked is Max Thieriot who sets the stage for Bracey’s Utah as his once BFF, Jeff.

Thanks to the blend of extreme athletes and stuntmen with the work of Ramirez and Bracey, the level of danger is beyond palpable and performances intense. Compounding that is the exemplary camera work as it produces a perfect integration of jaw-dropping extreme sport into a mainstream story with tacit poetic beauty. Unparalleled excellence. And it’s this excellence, fueled by these breathtaking natural wonders around the globe (France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Venezuela, Canada and the United States), that provides the tension felt on screen and by the audience. Complimenting Core’s lensing and the work of his team is the outstanding VFX of John Nelson and his team.

Interesting is that while many may believe POINT BREAK was shot using Go-Pros, such is not the case. According to Core, “We didn’t use Go-Pros at all in this film because the quality of them was not good enough for the big screen that we wanted to do. . .When I was researching, much of this, looking at the Go-Pro footage. . . you know that it’s real. And there is an intensity to that. So the authenticity of what the Go-Pro has brought out there and while the athletes bring the most extraordinary things to bear, that was very important to us. So we had that mentality of going light and small . . .But instead of our cameras being tiny, the lightest we had was 15 lbs to get a proper motion picture camera with the Red camera, with proper lens, that was filming at 140 mph in a nylon suit through a crack in Switzerland. We used our version of it. The mentality [of Go-Pro] was important as far as the authenticity of it, but we took it to a larger cinematic level.”

Set to screen in both 2D and 3D, I heartily recommend the 3D version with this caveat: If you suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights, stick with 2D. The authenticity and intensity of the experience is one you will never forget.


Eight must be our lucky number this week. First, the Ozaki Eight and now, THE HATEFUL EIGHT. But let me tell you, there is nothing hateful about this latest outing from Quentin Tarantino. THIS is how you make a movie. Cinema befitting legends like DeMille, Hawks, Ford and others who came before, Quentin Tarantino goes above and beyond with a 70mm viewing experience by shooting with Ultra Panavision lenses, the very same lenses used to shoot Charlton Heston in the chariot scene of “Ben-Hur”. The result is nothing short of glorious! Complete with Overture and Intermezzo, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a viewing experience bar none in its roadshow version opening Christmas Day. (Don’t worry, there is also a multiplex version that will be opening across the country.)

Calling on many of his usual suspects for casting - Walter Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Samuel L. Jackson among them, we are set in post-Civil War Wyoming and for various reasons, everyone is heading to the town of Red Rock in the middle of a blizzard. Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth is on his way to turn over fugitive outlaw Daisy Domergue. Major Marquis Warren, in resplendent uniform, is another bounty hunter,“just heading that way.” Due to the severity of the storm bearing down on them, against Ruth’s better judgment, they pick up a straggler who claims to be Sheriff Chris Mannix, on his way to be sworn in as the new sheriff of Red Rock. Forced to stop until the storm passes, the stagecoach they are sharing stops at the fine establishment known as Minnie’s Haberdashery. Seems Warren and Minnie are old friends. But on arriving, Minnie is nowhere to be found. A Mexican named Bob claims to be looking over the place for her. Already warming by the fire is a group of strangers who also claim to be seeking refuge at Minnie’s, among them, the foppish Oswaldo Mobray, quiet rancher Joe Gage and Confederate General Sanford Smithers.

And so, a woman, a Black Man, a Confederate General, a Mexican, a Brit and a few others walk into a haberdashery. . .in a Quentin Tarantino western.

Ultra-violent and period perfect ultra-vulgar, it is an embarrassment of riches into which to sink ones cinematically hungry senses. From a story that is lush (and filled with red herrings) to well crafted characters to the richness and beauty of lensing in Ultra Panavision, this is the best of the best in Tarantino’s arsenal. I love the story in and if itself but then add the complexity and ambiguity of the characters and the film soars as a western murder mystery. Story structure with doing a backstep and flashback via “Daisy's Secret” well into the third act of the film is outstanding and unexpected, keeping the audience on its toes and mentally engaged.

Performances are rock solid, with Walton Goggins electrifying! His take on Mannix is one of the best of his career. As John Ruth and Major Warren, Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively, slip into their personas like well worn shoes...or bloodstained chairs. Key to their performances in particular, are longer takes and monologues that are dynamic and riveting; especially with Jackson. Disappointing however is Tim Roth. While his performance as Oswaldo is fine, the look of the character, the cadence, pacing and storyline feels duplicate or imitative of Christophe Waltz in “Django Unchained.”

Visuals are spectacular. Quentin and cinematographer Robert Richards dazzle with the ultra-panavision, using it to its best advantage. Vistas stun while the detail afforded inside Minnie's is meticulous. The blizzard scenes could be Christmas cards with the textured white on white and simple black and grey contrast. The stage travelling through the White Birch trees is breathtaking. The B&W metaphor goes far on fueling the story for as we soon see once inside Minnie's with color, fire, layers upon layers, nothing is black and white in this tale.

Kudos to former Culver City resident, of costumer Courtney Hoffman, who has created a palette of fabrications and furs that tell their own stories, not to mention that waist coat and tight - yet period perfect - pants on Channing Tatum (Thank you, Courtney!), complimented by some nice lens work by Tarantino. Enchanting is Demian Bichir's piano playing "Silent Night" performance (he learned how to play and does so in the film) which goes hand in hand as a plot point and is skillfully edited by Fred Raskin with the collateral ensuing action.

The bloodshed is simply to die for deliciousness with each kill more entertaining than the last.

Ennio Morricone’s score is nothing short of incredible. Given Tarantino’s chapter format of storytelling, standout are to chapter scores that harken to Hitchockian "Psycho". Sweeping. Epic. As if Morricone’s body of work isn’t impressive enough, this one score is worthy of being ranked with the classics from the like Steiner and Hermann.

There's nothing hateful about THE HATEFUL EIGHT!


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