Kevin Harrison and Kemp Curley's "First Descent" takes its title from a snowboarder's initial trip down a pristine mountain peak. In this instance it is Mountain 7601, a craggy, awesomely steep peak in a spectacular, snow-covered mountain range near Valdez, Alaska, where five of the world's top snowboarders have come to spend two weeks expanding and testing their skills.
Norway's triple world champion, Terje Haakonsen, alone who turns out to be fully up to tackling the nearly vertical, crevasse-ridden 7601, which will put to the utmost test his skill at outrunning avalanches in breathtaking fashion. The other four are scarcely slouches. Two 18-year-olds, Shaun White of Carlsbad and Hannah Teter of Belmont, Vt., have never tackled Alaska's vast mountains, but Teter's confidence, rock-solid even when she admits to fear, and White's amazing jumping skills see them through. They are joined by Alaskan vets Shawn Farmer and Nick Perata. Despite an initial "reality check" fall that leaves him injured, the hearty, bearded 40-year-old Farmer ends with a dazzling display of snowboarding down jagged crevasses instead of snowy slopes.
Harrison and Curley, however, seem needlessly driven to hard-sell snowboarding, which the film surveys from its roots in skateboarding to its emergence as an Olympic sport, as if their jaw-dropping footage and the very likable and engaging snowboarders weren't more than enticing. As a result, what should have been a thrilling 90-minute sport adventure runs on for 20 more repetitive minutes. "First Descent" is exciting, but less would surely have been more.
"First Descent," rated PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. In general release.
Spontaneity in '39 Pounds': Take 2
Dani Menkin's documentary "39 Pounds of Love" is a heart-tugger that, although highly inspirational, has a strongly orchestrated quality. The film's title refers to the weight of 34-year-old Israeli 3-D animator Ami Ankilewitz, afflicted with spinal muscular atrophy that has reduced his mobility to a single finger on his left hand. Despite the prognosis of a doctor in Laredo, Texas, where Ankilewitz was born to a Mexican mother and an Israeli businessman, that he would not live beyond the age of 6, he has survived and even flourished. He is sustained by a loving family, which eventually settled in Tel Aviv, and friends, plus his own will and creativity. And "39 Pounds" benefits from Ankilewitz's animated sequences, in which he whimsically expresses his longings and dreams.
When Ankilewitz realizes that he has fallen in love with Christina, his pretty, vivacious caretaker, and that she can reciprocate only as a friend, he sends her away and decides to pursue his dream of returning to America, not merely to discover the country but to confront the doctor who told his mother he would not live beyond 6. Ankilewitz's journey to Laredo begins in Los Angeles with a specially equipped trailer, accompanied by his best friend and former caretaker, Asaf, plus the film's seven-man crew. Considering Ankilewitz's fragility — the high altitude at the Grand Canyon causes him to lose consciousness — it's hard to understand why the doctor, who could quite possibly no longer be alive, was not located in advance, perhaps because Ankilewitz and the filmmakers wanted to go to Texas anyway, for a reunion with Ankilewitz's long-estranged brother Oscar in Dallas.
In any event, the film's "spontaneity" has the feel of considerable planning, which lends its stellar moments an overly rehearsed quality. Even so, there's a heroic defiance to Ankilewitz — and those who enable him to live as fulfilling a life as he does are heroes themselves.
"39 Pounds of Love," Unrated. Family fare suitable for older children. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes. Exclusively at the Landmark Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angles, (310) 281-8223.Clock's ticking on that first kiss
"Little Manhattan" is a handsome charmer about the avalanche of first love, as experienced by Gabe (Josh Hutcherson), a smart 11-year-old living in Manhattan's Upper West Side. At just the time his parents (Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon) explain to him that they are splitting up, Gabe is thunderstruck to discover he's attracted to Rosemary (Charlie Ray), whom he has known since kindergarten but never really noticed before. All of a sudden Gabe finds himself moving her up from third prettiest girl in the class to first place and then becoming her sparring partner in karate class, where to his dismay he finds he's no match for her.
Rosemary is nonetheless drawn to Gabe, and they begin spending time together, especially as summer vacation begins. Gabe was never happier, but when Rosemary tells him that in another week her parents (John Dossett, Talia Balsam), successful soap opera stars, are sending her off to six weeks of summer camp, he realizes he has but a very short time in which to work up his nerve to kiss her.
As directed by Mark Levin, "Little Manhattan" is an endearing, affectionately humorous and even lyrical depiction of the dawning of adolescence amid the privileged, yet Jennifer Flackett's script, for all its sheen, is problematic. In conversation Gabe speaks like the normal bright kid he is, yet his speech as soundtrack narrator of his own story is precociously improbable ("like two ships passing on Sheep's Meadow"). "Little Manhattan" would have been more persuasive had the narrator's voice been that of the now adult Gabe, looking back on his memory of first love.
"Little Manhattan," PG for mild thematic elements, language and brief action. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times