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Archive for November, 2010

Stop killing the dolphins/stop documentary propaganda: The Cove

November 30, 2010 1 comment

Who doesn’t love dolphins?  And who doesn’t love spy thrillers?  Well, documentary “The Cove” combines both in a bloody, moving piece about annual dolphin hunting in Taiji; what could be wrong with that?

I have become more and more disgusted with documentaries lately.  Similar to “Waiting for Superman”,  “The Cove” presents its case through heart-wrenching footage of dolphin slaughter, juxtaposed with cute shots from TV-show “Flipper!” – it is a masterful work of propaganda, and it is so one-sided that I am hesitant to trust any of it.

Ric O’Barry was the man who captured and trained the dolphins who starred in “Flipper” – he blames himself for starting the dolphin-fad that has since resulted in the capture and killing of thousands of dolphins.  He has been arrested countless times, banned from conferences, and is now a full-time activist against dolphin-captivity.  He is eccentric, driving around Japan fully masked so as not to attract attention of authorities, who all know who he is and what trouble he brings.

O’Barry, along with director Louie Psihoyos, gather what they call an “Ocean’s Eleven Team” of volunteers, including champion free-diver Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, kids from “Surfers for Cetaceans” (includes Hayden Panettiere who cries when they get arrested), and professional camouflage artists to hide high definition cameras in rocks, to get hidden footage.  Using heat-sensitive cameras, and going to the cove in the dead of the night black ops style, the documentary momentarily transforms into a Mission Impossible styled film, with the divers running for their lives when fishermen show up with flashlights.

The film portrays locals quite negatively – there is one specific man referred to only as Private Space because “those are the only words he knows in English”; fishermen are shown harassing the cameramen and blocking filming with signs, hats, and their bodies.  The film makers are smart enough to cast blame onto the government however, casting these fishermen as “misinformed” and “lied to” – they instead focus on politicians at International Whaling Commission meetings.  The director is intelligent; he knows that an audience is hesitant to blame regular people, and so even goes so far as to interview people on the streets of Tokyo, who claim to know nothing about the dolphin catching activities at Taiji, nothing about the toxic mercury levels in dolphin meat, which are going into schoolchildren’s’ lunches.  The film portrays the activities as a conspiracy, with a complex cover-up.

I’m not saying we should kill dolphins; everyone loves dolphins – they are intelligent, interactive, and cute!  To be fair, there was a great deal of unexpected and applaudable cooperation in this movie – people were brought together, united by a common cause.  At one point, one member of the team set up some DNA analysis equipment in a hotel room; pretty snazzy.  But everything was over-exaggerated, there was so much hand-holding, as if the audience couldn’t make their own decisions and opinions.  When a Japanese magazine and news show accused crewmembers of antagonizing locals in order to get good, angry shots, Psihoyos immediately claimed these were due to fear of profit compromise.  Since acquiring the footage, O’Barry has walked around with a TV taped to his chest on several occasions – he even entered a conference on the whaling industry and was immediately escorted out by security; at the Academy Awards, he even had a banner that said “Text DOLPHIN to 44144”.  (What is it with texting as the new thing?)

Despite controversy surrounding the portrayal of Japanese officials, “The Cove” did screen in Japan.  And of course, it screened to great success in the US, snagging the Sundance Audience Award, as well as the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

You can watch it on Netflix or read the script here (http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/c/the-cove-script-transcript-documentary.html) and decide for yourself.

Apple

Ponyo on the Cliff!

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

In classic Miyazaki fashion, “Ponyo” is a story about children.  Specifically, a young boy named Sosuke finds a fish-girl and names her Ponyo.  The film is magical and wondrous; echoes from “The Little Mermaid” are passed through a Miyazaki filter and loaded with his visual visions.  As always, the film is visually striking – Ponyo’s father has an underwater castle with rainbow colored magic; Sosuke’s mother drives through a storm where waves are literally reaching towering heights.  I imagine the movie through the eyes of a child – no one knows really how they must view the story.  As a kid, I thought how silly adults were and promised myself that when I grew up, I would certainly set things straight.  Alas, I have forgotten all details, remembering only the desire to change, and none of the changes themselves.

I don’t know what understanding or explanations a child would have for some of the questions I had about the movie (next time, I must try to find someone young to watch it with, so I can interview him or her afterwards).  I ended up accepting things in the movie as they were, letting go of hesitations and uncertainties.  Again, I loved how accepting and trusting the adults in Miyazaki’s films are: Sosuke’s mother believes all the magic that happens to Sosuke from the beginning, stopping her car immediately when Sosuke sees a little girl running on top of the ocean waves.

Drawing from a star studded voice cast, the film’s English version was not bad.  Tina Fey voices the mother, and Matt Damon the father; we have little siblings Noah Cyrus and a Jonas brother as the children.  Cate Blanchett and Liam Neeson are Ponyo’s ocean dwelling parents.  It seems like everyone has a soft spot for Miyazaki films; either that or Disney’s getting bigger budgets for their voice actors.

There’s not much to say other than I have always loved the textures of the ocean: “Finding Nemo” did an especially good job handling the depictions of liquid substances.  This movie was closer to the lovely childishness of “My Neighbor Totoro”, rather than the “Mononoke”-esqye complexities I prefer.

Overall, 4/5 – “Ponyo” is adorable and sweet.  See it under a childish state of mind!

<3 Apple

Juno – Orion’s Take

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

A sweet treat that manages to avoid being saccharine with a deft sense of humor and just plain weirdness, this is one film that kept me captured all the way through.  Those that know me know that when I get emotionally involved in a movie I will often stop and pause the movie because I’m concerned about the wellbeing of the characters involved and sometimes I’ll even yell at the screen.

Such was the case in this well-spun story about a 16-year-old girl’s struggle to understand herself in the midst of an unwanted and unexpected pregnancy.  Juno (Ellen Page), who is named after the Roman queen of the gods, decides on finding an adoptive home for her child and spins through the world with an attitude that is hard to describe.  A mixture of wide-eyed astonishment, cynicism and hope, she is a bundle of contradictions that somehow presents a likeable character: though Juno is rude and sometimes foolish, she can get away with it.  In one scene Juno remarks, rather callously, to a woman who cannot get pregnant, that she would never want what is happening to her.  We, as viewers, can see the pain flash across the face of Vanessa (played masterfully by Jennifer Garner), but can forgive and even love Juno.

The interaction between a woman who longs to be a mother and an expecting mother who has no idea what she wants is engaging.  Jennifer Garner manages to capture the desperation and joy that her character feels throughout the film with elegance, never overdoing it, just putting her heart and soul into showing this flawed but loving woman for who she is.  And it works.  Her character is one of the best in a film filled with many great characters.

Each character is portrayed with a special eye for their quirks, which makes them all the more human.  Juno’s father works with heaters and air conditioners, her stepmom is obsessed with dogs and works at a nail salon, her best friend has a “thing” for older, bearded teachers, and her not-really-boyfriend-or-lover runs track and rubs deodorant on his thighs.  The support of her friends and family through the film changes Juno in inexplicable ways, and is very sweet.  I especially liked the father, who, while living through a father’s worst nightmare, never raises his voice at his daughter (which is not to say that he never gets angry)  and keeps his good humor and down-to-earth nature all the way through.

This is a movie that is so filled with awkwardness that I felt right at home.  The movie, in the words of my partner Apple, is “super cute.”  I have to agree.  Whether it was the sight of Juno’s cheeseburger phone, or the way her stepmother stands up for her, something got to me when I watched this film.

5/5 Waffles

With love,

-Orion

The trailer we saw at “Deathly Hallows”…

November 28, 2010 2 comments

Daniel Craig + Harrison Ford; at first this seems to be something quite different from what it ends up being…

When we saw the title, everyone in the theatre was all like WTH?

Categories: Previews

Why are there so many movies coming out in December?

November 27, 2010 1 comment

Check it out: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/movie/upcoming.php?view=1

There are so many of these movies that I want to see:

BLACK SWAN

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Fighter (CBale + MWahl)

The Tourist (JDepp + AJolie)

Tron!

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, ’nuff said)

Which ones do you want to see?  Vote on the poll!

Categories: Polls

The Illusion of Prestige

November 27, 2010 1 comment

I remember two very similar movies coming out around the same time a while back, in 2006, both about magicians in the 19th century.  I watched “The Illusionist” (which featured a surprisingly well-cast Jessica Biel) relatively soon, but didn’t get a chance to see “The Prestige” until last week.  I think I’m starting to develop a dislike for Christopher Nolan.

“The Prestige” is a movie about two rival magicians, once friends, who will do anything to outdo the other.  Their lives are dedicated to magic, to the extent that as the audience, we are continually asking, “is it worth it?”  To Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), the answer is undoubtedly “Yes”.  There are countless parallels in this film – both men dress up and sabotage the other’s show, both men lose someone priceless to magic, both men have unexpected explanations for their tricks.

Both actors did a great job, as did supporting cast Michael Caine (Alfred!), Rebecca Hall (from “The Town”), and Scarlett Johansson (in a “Girl with a Pearl Earring” type act).  The story is also a great one, with good magic – Orion especially appreciated this, having always loved magic tricks, and doing a few sleight of hand ones quite well.

There is a twist at the end of the movie, and I think it is this that both delights and bothers me the most.  The twist puts small oddities in place, as a good twist should (see “The Sixth Sense), but at the same time, seems so out of place that it could never have been guessed (see “Evelyn Salt”, “Book of Eli”).  A true master could put something in front of viewers, with everything being just one step away from the audience’s grasp, and then reveal it at the end.  That is true prestige.  To play a trick the audience has no chance of solving is just unfair, in my opinion – it’s no trick at all, just showing off.

Apple

 

Categories: Movie Reviews

Yet another Batman arc: Under the Red Hood

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve always loved “Batman”.  I remember Saturday morning cartoons in my childhood, waking up extra early for ‘older’ cartoons – mainly, “Sailor Moon”, “Batman”, and “Superman”.  Also, “Batman Beyond”.  That was good stuff.

The only thing I don’t like about the Batman franchise is just how massive it is.  I read the wikipedia pages for everyone’s favorite dark knight for a whole afternoon, and still wasn’t done with all the different story arcs by all the different authors and artists.  Characters die, are revived, die again, are revived again – it gets tiring after a while.

But back to Batman!  He is my favorite superhero!  “Under the Red Hood” was a look into his relationship with the second Robin, how he took his death, how he dealt with it.  The Joker was again a main villain, and I never seem to get bored of how he is everything we don’t expect.  I think I’ve discussed this with several people – the Joker represents the ultimate villain.  He is dangerous, incredibly so; his madness knows no bounds.  How is the villain in “Dark Knight Rises” going to stand a chance following Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker??

Overall, the movie wasn’t bad, although Orion protested nonstop through our viewing that “everything was different in the comic”.  It at least provided a short, pleasant respite from the other heavy dramas I’ve been perusing.

It’s available on Netflix, so all you netflixers out there can check it out!

3/5 - Apple

Categories: Movie Reviews

Daniel Radcliffe (Almost) Nude

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

As I watched Daniel Radcliffe strip for the eighth time, I couldn’t help but wonder if his performance of Equus had made him too comfortable with his own body.

Wait, what?  We are talking about Harry Potter here, right?

The first part of the close to the epic series is going to rake in tons of money, despite (or because of) the incessant almost-nudity of its protagonist.  But that’s not why I had such high expectations for this movie.  I can’t help but wax nostalgic for a series that has consumed 11 years of my rather short life.  Very few other stories hold such hold over my heart.

To say that this movie was magnificent and banal in equal parts would seem to be something of a contradiction.  To be perfectly honest, some of the half-hearted attempts to incorporate story lines discarded in the other movies irritated me.  Why bother trying to appease purists that won’t be satisfied anyway?  But when I think about the problems with this movie one thing becomes quite clear: the original casting was prophetic.  When watching this movie, you never get irritated at Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson or Rupert Grint.  You might get irritated at Harry, Hermione and Ron, you might even groan in exasperation at the way their actions differ from the books.  But they are the closest you will ever get to seeing Harry, Hermione and Ron in the flesh.  They no longer have to act: you can see them slipping into character as easily as fish breathe in water.

The poignant parts of this film come from these excellent characterizations.  In one scene (everyone in the audience laughed) Harry sees Hermione sitting alone listening to a love song on the radio and on an impulse picks her up and starts dancing.  Ridiculous as that might seem in description, it is touching and eerily accurate.  We know these characters, and I daresay we love them.  Which comes to my next point.

Because this story is such a part of my identity, I can attach myself to the characters that I know from frequent exposure.  But what am I supposed to do with a CGI character that appeared extremely scarcely in the movie series?  Though the director takes pains to give that particular character more screen time, the tragic scene at the end is scarcely intelligible, at least emotionally speaking.  As ***** (I’ve removed the name for spoiler reasons) lies dying in the arms of Harry, I was torn between sorrow and disgust.  “Hurry up and die,” I kept thinking, as ***** whispers sweet nothings to his “friend” Harry who never came and visited.  I was particularly insulted because this is one scene that made me weep in the book.

But I suspect that this movie is fundamentally whole: the pieces, though rough, cannot help but fit together.  And the glue holding it fast are the three main characters we’ve seen grow over the span of nine years.  Welcome to the end, Harry Potter.

4/5 Waffles

- Orion

Categories: Movie Reviews

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – Apple – 5/5

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Orion and I didn’t quite get to the midnight premiere, but we did get free HP7 cups from the Great Room.  Tickets provided by Seabury, we went to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” as a group on Saturday night, and although we arrived an hour before the movie started, the line to get good seats already wound around two corners of the theatre hallway.  Did I mention I love watching movies with packed theatres?  There were at least three kids fully decked out in wizard gear – wands, robes, you name it.

The movie is as you would expect – grand, magnificent, and filled with great performances by our three favorite adolescent actors.  Emma Watson has especially evolved to become quite a polished young actress, and though I can’t say I like her new haircut, I have to say she’s probably the best force among the three.  Orion claims the movie was at the same time ‘rushed’ and ‘missing too many parts’, but I would disagree.  I thought the entire movie was a thrilling journey, an experience that completely threw me into J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

My friend Josh, one of the few people I know who stopped reading the Harry Potter books, described his experience coming into the theatre without any expectations or self-imagined preconceptions.  He said that seeing the movie after reading the book made the movie seem bad, but watching the movie without having read the book beforehand made the movie seem amazing!

Perhaps it’s because I read the whole book the night it came out – waiting until midnight to get it, reading straight to the end until 5 AM – and only read it that once, I forgot a lot of the details.  And thus, I felt unprepared for the twists and turns that came up – although I knew Nagini (I have a huge fear of snakes) popped up somewhere, that our heroes would be kidnapped, that there would be lots of infighting while camping – I wasn’t expecting them; I didn’t spend the movie mentally and scrupulously ticking off events matching the book’s timeline in my head.

I really had a great time at HP7.  We are, after all, the Harry Potter generation – the first books came out when I was around 10, exactly the same age as the characters.  We’ve followed these characters through growth, watched them go through the same things we went through, and we’ve developed quite the bond.  The movie was described as all setup, as “just when things were getting good, the movie cut out”.  This may be true, but I applaud the movie team for their handling of the material.  Harry Potter is such a gigantic franchise that it would be easy to disappoint – I’m sure some people are still disappointed – but given what source they have, what limitations they must circumvent, the movie team has done a great job.  I look forward to “HP7 Part 2” with great expectations and great enthusiasm.

5/5 – Apple

Categories: Movie Reviews

Fair Game—Orion’s Take

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

A movie as unrelentingly tense on the screen as Fair Game is hard to find.  Each scene demands attention, whether it is set in Iraq or in the Plame-Wilson household.  Each twitch in Naomi Watts’ expression reveals a new set of problems, a new enemy to overcome.

The story is simply gripping.  Sean Penn and Naomi Watts do not so much play their characters as embody them: imperfect humans struggling to stay afloat in a bad situation.  Told simply yet with great depth, the story of Valerie Plame cannot help but catch our attention.  Despite being interesting all the way throughout, however, the film sometimes has problems integrating the several story lines that run throughout.  This makes it more believable, in any case, as in real life loose ends are not always tied up.

In the context of today’s (arguably) calmer political world, the vitriol spewed at the Plame-Wilson family seems unbelievably vicious, yet with further analysis I realized how accurately the film conveyed the political tensions of the time.  At one point guests at a party start to argue about the Iraqi war.  The argument so resembled an argument that I had as a 10-year-old in social studies that I was ashamed, ashamed that these adults were making the same arguments as a 10-year-old had, and ashamed that I had made such inane arguments as a 10-year-old.

Yet this history lesson reintroduces ideas that could serve us well now.  The lessons about the danger of executive power and (more importantly) excessive partisanship and warmongering are still relevant, which makes the film all the more potent.

4.5/5 Waffles

 

Categories: Movie Reviews
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