Monday, September 28, 2009

The Horror of The Cove

The Cove is probably the most horrific film I've ever seen in my life and it is all real. Documenting the systematic slaughter and subsequent cover up of dolphin killing in a small village in Japan, The Cove tells the story of a determined group of men and women who plan to expose the killings to the world in order to stop them.

The titular cove.

A talented screenwriter would be hard pressed to come up with a better story that that of Ric O'Barry. Ric began as a dolphin trainer, working on the television show Flipper, but later became an activist against the captivity industry. The story of why he chose to leave that profitable, glamourous life behind is heart breaking and cannot be done just by me here. But by helping to create the demand for captured dolphins, he has dedicated his life to freeing as many as possible and the film begins with him in the small town of Taiji, in the Wakayama prefecture of Japan. He has found a secret cove where dolphins are driven en masse for capture and slaughter and he needs help to save them. But, as the filmmakers try to present all sides of the story, they find deeper levels of collusion between the Japanese government and the fishing industry, corruption of the International Whaling Commission, troubling environmental concerns, extreme health hazards to the Japanese citizens and the infinite possibilities of what dolphins might be able to teach to us.

I sat in the theatre, watching anxiously as the team infiltrated the cove and began to place recording devices in order to capture what they called 'the full orchestra.' And I nervously awaited their success because I questioned whether they would should the terrible, bloody images they had captured. But, I realized quickly that they would because of course, that was their purpose in making the movie. The sequence of the slaughter is one of the most saddening and infuriating pieces of film I've ever seen. The waters fill with a red hue that would rival anything in an Oliver Stone movie and the shrieks of the dolphins as they flail about helplessly in their death throes combine to leave you with thoughts that will stay in your mind long after you leave the theatre. For being a documentary, the film begins like any other, but quickly shifts to a spy thriller before becoming a horror flick.

Make no mistake either, the film is very well made. Combining archival footage with night and thermal vision cameras, an excellent score and very clever editing, the movie uses its medium to drive home the carnage on display. You will begin to question, as I did, your karaoke/sushi nights if for no other reason than your own health. The film is not without its detractors who would have you believe any number of things from the biased editing, inflated numbers of dolphin deaths or the fact that none of these events ever occurred until the Western filmmakers arrived in Taiji. But, I urge you to see the film for yourself and come to your own conclusions. It might motivate you to do some more research for yourself, as I did, which lead me to Ric's website. Read more to find out what has happened in Taiji after the movie's release.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Missed The Bus for District 9

I was a few weeks behind everyone else in seeing
District 9. Normally, when a friend of mine expresses a desire to see a movie, I am more than happy to oblige and accompany them to the theatre. However, when that arrangement gets delayed more than once, I usually give them a two week moratorium before I go see the movie anyway. The film was worth the wait as District 9 is easily one of the best films of the year.

District 9 lived up to the hype and completely blew me away. The documentary fashion immediately drew me into the story and I sat in rapt attention to the story of peaceful aliens who arrive on Earth, then are forced into detention centers while the governments of the world putter about and are unable to effectively deal with the problems posed by the influx of an alien population. I was horrified as the MNU agents laughed at killing the alien eggs while making abortion jokes and threatened the aliens with physical separation of their families. For all the obvious references to South Africa and apartheid, I could not but help to think of Germany and Kristallnacht. For here were living, breathing beings who are forced from their homes and killed if they resist, all because they are different from us. That's how terrific the storytelling was, it made me think of one of the darkest periods in our world history.

I had hoped for more of a determined resolve from the main character Wikus to stop the cycle of hate and ignorance in his metamorphosis into one of the creatures. While he does cut short his escape to defend them and help them get back to their ship, his own motives are purely selfish and even near the very end, he seems to act out of desperation and helplessness rather than a genuine empathy with the aliens. I think that was really the message of the film and I like that they didn't hammer it home, leaving the audience to root for Wikus and hoping he would help Christopher and his son get home.

Or at least return for the sequel.

The movie's narrative structure strongly reminded me of Jaws, insomuch as the story seems so grounded in reality that by time shit gets really crazy at the end, you don't even question, you just go along for the ride. Great, great movie.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Extract is 100% Pure Comedy

Extract is Mike's Judge's third film after Idiocracy and Office Space. Following in the vein of Office Space, it is the natural progression of his work as a filmmaker and as someone who identified so strongly with Office Space as a teenager, Judge was able to tap into that same sense of humor and frustration as he did ten years ago and make a movie that I related to just as well now, working in a management position. While he was fighting the establishment and rallying for the freedom of the working man before, here he gives us a likable man who has worked hard for everything he has, only to see his world unraveled by bickering, lazy employees and a bored wife.

Jason Bateman, as extract creator Joel Reynolds, finds that everything he values is about to be lost to him, until he decides to get off his ass and do something about it. Bateman's dry, straight man delivery, perfected in Arrested Development, is on display as he carries this movie almost single handedly. Not to take away from the rest of the cast as everyone is excellent, but aside from Bateman, everyone else seems like they are barely in the movie. Even the gorgeous and comedically talented Mila Kunis is wonderful, but she has only a handful of scenes. Which, I believe, makes Bateman's performance that much more remarkable seeing as how he gives everyone in the cast so much of himself to work with. From Kristen Wiig as his distant, adulterous wife, J.K. Simmons as his number two man at work and David Koechner as his far too familiar obnoxious neighbor, everyone plays what would normally be very one note roles, very different and they do it all around Bateman. The dude should've popped way before this, AGAIN, but it will probably take audiences awhile to catch up.

Ben Affleck is hilarious as his pusher friend Dean. The Fleck hasn't had this great a supporting role since Boiler Room.

In the same way that you have to had worked in an office to appreciate Office Space, so too do you have to had been in charge of increasingly insipid subordinates, been in a dull, listless relationship with someone you truly care for and made some bad decisions under the influence to understand Extract. Judge's humor comes not from over the top set pieces or irrelevant, gross out gags, but from common situations that occur far to often to not take notice of. The jokes don't come rapidly, but are measured and methodical in delivery. For someone looking for another Apatow/Kev Smith type film, you're likely to be mildly unimpressed. But for fans of Arrested and terrific actors and dialogue, Extract is your best bet for weeks to come. Mike Judge has grown up to find that working for the man is just as maddening as being the man, but just as funny as well.