Part four of a six part examination of various recent documentaries, which I expect to finish by the end of the month.
by Ken B.
♫They call him Flipper! Flipper!
Faster than lightning!
No one, you see, is smarter than he…♫
There’s a lot of truth to the last lyric. Dolphins are absurdly intelligent mammals. They know fear, they use tools, they communicate with each other. Ric O’Barry knows this. He was one of the trainers for the TV show Flipper in the 1960s. During that time, he saw the conditions and results of keeping dolphins in captivity, often in terrible conditions. He contends that they become increasingly aware and depressed, and that he’s seen one of them commit suicide. Over the years, he became a guerilla activist, freeing dolphins from egregious scenarios through some sometimes illegal methods. He’s been banned from the International Whaling Committee (IWC), but his actions have spoken loudly, and brought attention to the dangers of captivity.
O’Barry’s probably one of the worst enemies of the fishermen in the town of Taiji, Japan. Every September, unbeknownst to the Japanese public, said fisherman slaughter tens of thousands of dolphins. The water runs deep red, and the meat is disguised and sold. It’s an extremely well guarded secret – imagine the public outrage if all of this information had gotten out at once. This reaction is exactly what Louie Psihoyo’s disturbing and effective exposé The Cove is gunning for.
It doesn’t feel like a documentary – it feels like a heist film. Most of the setup shows how wary Taiji town officials are to the approach of a camera crew. Horrifying footage is obtained through hidden cameras designed as rocks. Much of the literal investigating is done at night and covertly. The Cove digs in deep to the total implications of what’s going on – when the filmmakers take to the streets of Tokyo, we see the shocked reactions of passers-by as they are told what is going on. Their responses are genuine, they clearly didn’t know.
There’s no justification for animal cruelty, but that doesn’t mean people don’t argue in its favor. The Cove, 91 minutes, is emphatically one sided on this issue. I’m not sure if I wanted to hear anyone’s point in favor of this practice, but it might have solidified The Cove’s feeling as a full, complete film. Considering the reputation of outsiders, it’s not particularly surprising that no formal counterargument was formed; early on, O’Barry remarks that the fishermen would kill him if they had the chance. The lack of a round existence is the film’s biggest stumbling block, and for the most part, it may have been beyond its control.
Regardless of its balance, The Cove is still startlingly brilliant in its existence. You’re informed and enraged. Through impassioned defenses, incriminating footage, and ingenious formatting, we have a documentary that works, despite its shortcomings in both length and presentation – it’s still watching a completely nonfictional story unfolding with the persuasion of any multi-million dollar thriller.
by Ken B.
Nine is a big, lavish, colorful production. I didn’t really like it. It is, as many of you know, based off a wildly acclaimed 1982 Broadway musical, which in turn is based off Federico Fellini’s great 8½ (1963). One of the defining factors of Fellini’s film about the mind of a faded director was its surreal imagery and feel. Nine is the antithesis of this, whether intentional or not. It is alive, possibly grotesquely alive, with hints of sensuality, memory, and depression nearly buried by an overstuffed execution at the movie’s very worst moments.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars, and is of course wonderful, as Guido Contini, an Italian filmmaker nearing the age of fifty in 1962 Italy. (Much like Guido Anselimi in 8½, he is ill, aggravated by his chaotic career and lifestyle.) He has a wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard), and a mistress, Carla (Penélope Cruz). Guido is faced with directing a project he has no motivation to create. His most recent pictures have been flops, and many who see him imply that he made his greatest films long ago. At a press conference, only two bits of information concerning the film are made available (possibly because these are the only things that Guido knows): It will be called Italia, which a reporter points out is a pretty bold title, and it will star who is considered Contini’s muse, actress Claudia Jenssen (Nicole Kidman).
This 118 minute movie revolves around Guido coping with his struggle, with memories from his childhood, and balancing this with the facets of the dissolving equilibrium of his personal and professional lives, all interspersed with lush musical numbers. They all vary in memorability, quality, and ease of placement (there are only two I can actively remember, even less than 24 hours after viewing it), but share the same type of blaring style.
The point of Nine is not to have quiet, intimate sequences of character development, but it’s worth wondering how much more enjoyable the film would have been if director Rob Marshall and screenwriters Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella had attempted to work a little more of it in. Such a suggestion works its way through in early scenes, like between Guido and a costume designer (Judi Dench).
For every positive quality about Nine, there is a corresponding negative. You could see it for the grand production design and the great acting, or be scared off due to the bloated nature and forgetability. I don’t know what exactly you want in a movie, and it is easy to see people quickly falling passionately for what Nine resonates. However, it is my experience that the poorer aspects of the film end up weighing the entire production just under the line of calling it a good movie.
by Ken B.
This little known tense thriller takes place in one room. Much like (the far superior) 12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957), claustrophobic cinematography keeps the mood going. Despite being outshined by Men, this movie still holds its own. Set in an alternate universe, candidates for a high profile job are placed in a classroom-like area, given a piece of paper, a stack of tight rules, and a question to answer, (the question isn’t revealed to the end.) Director Stuart Hazeldine directs this superb cast of not-very-well-known actors in a highly recommendable production, in a room that quickly shows its legion of secrets. While it becomes somewhat predictable as the end nears, there’s still something about it that’s very well done.