Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blackfish: Sea World Humane Policy Vs. The Killer Whale

What is it about documentaries? Why are they always so good? I got invited to a free screening of this documentary today and since some plans I had were cancelled I ended up using this to fill up my evening.

Big ole shout-out to my fave society for the hook-up.

The movie is about Orca whales, but this is no National Geographic wildlife study, or version of Oceans with a Morgan Freeman voiceover. It's a study on aggressive behavior in Orca whales due to years in captivity, largely focusing on Sea World and their malpractices.

Wow, I actually don't think I've ever done a documentary review before...a little unsure as to how to proceed here without my "plot" section...hmm...Well, let me just tell you a little about the subjects that they hit on during this film.

It begins talking about a period of time forty years ago when people started capturing random baby Orcas around Washington. The guy talking about it likened it to kidnapping a child from its parents. Apparently, Orca whales' brains are said to have enormous similarities to human brains, including an extremely emotional part to them that makes them form strong relationships. Orca whales actually are so tight-knit to their own families in the wild, that children hang out with their moms for their entire lives. They never separate. So taking these babies away from their parents is devastating to both the mother and the parent. And it's a practice that Sea World continues today, permanently ripping children from their mothers for exhibition all over the different resorts in the country.

It's okay though, guys, these Orcas are wild and happy and free!
(Also I don't believe they allow capture of them anymore)

After capture, the whales were then taught obedience and tricks during the day, and shut up into smaller areas at night. Again, since Orcas are so tight knit in their own families, this group of different Orcas being thrown together at random is at first very dangerous for whoever the new guy is. The whales fight for dominance and, since they are limited to fighting in a very small pool with no easy way out, many harm and sometimes even kill one another.

Also the floppy dorsal fin is a byproduct of being kept in captivity

The movie also examines the very real danger that the Sea World trainers are in while dealing with these animals. While in the wild there has never been a reported case of an Orca attacking a human, there have been over 70 attacks in Sea World's history and a few fatalities as well, most notably being Dawn Brancheau in 2010 at Sea World in Florida.

The psychoses that these animals develop as a result of being kept captive in unnatural conditions, the movie theorizes, therefore breed resultant conflicts between trainer and animal. The effects of stress make the animal frustrated and it can randomly act out, with sometimes fatal consequences.

A very sad, but very informative film. Interesting.

For anyone interested in learning more about these kinds of inhumane practices against sea mammals, check out www.emptythetanksworldwide.com. Additionally, there is going to be a protest (I learned during the Q&A) on July 27th throughout the US in front of assorted aquariums and Sea World sites.

9 out of 10 stars

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Frances Ha(ha)

Just got out of the theater less than an hour ago so I feel like I should write down what I thought of this one while it's still fresh in my mind. I had heard about Frances Ha on NPR a few months ago, actually. They had the director on the radio show talking about it, as it was his latest film, and I watched the trailer as soon as I was out of my car. Having seen Greta Gerwig in Zoe Versus I was interested to see what this movie would be like.

This is Frances (ha..)

The plot follows firstly Frances and her roommate Sophie. Accompanied by jubilant, whimsical, and almost childish music, we get the idea straight off the bat that they are the best of friends. This is only even more exacerbated when we see Frances, in the next scene, break up with her boyfriend after he asks if she would like to move in with him and she replies that Sophie is depending on her to renew their lease for the next year.  In what ends up being an unexpected turn of events, we see Frances's security from her relationship with Sophie ripped away from her as Sophie elects to move in with her boyfriend and pursue her own life goals. What follows throughout the rest of the film is Frances trying to find her feet without the stability of her best friend, Sophie, as her rock.

How to Survive Your 20s Without Your BFF: 101

This movie, being one of those almost hard to watch awkward-funny movies like Tiny Furniture or Dan in Real Life, manages to squeeze out quite a few "oh no" chuckles. Frances, after losing Sophie, then rooms with two men who deem her "undateable,"loses her job as an apprentice dancer, becomes an overaged RA at her old college, and hits rock bottom as a "pourer" at a classy town restaurant. The situational comedy is so tangible as awkward moment after awkward moment is met with her trying to laugh herself off. Despite wanting to just cover my eyes during one extremely uncomfortable dinner scene, the whole movie you just end up sympathizing with her more than anything. Who hasn't  said an inappropriate comment that has just fallen completely flat at one time or another?

"Oh my god, why did I just say that?? Now everyone thinks I'm
a total IDIOT...SHIT..."

What I really like about Frances in this movie, as well as Gerwig in general, is that despite her total lost-ness, she tries to remain upbeat and no one is ever asking her "What's wrong?" or "How are you?" (even though at times, you wish they did!). Even though she seems to make a mess of herself (galavanting off to Paris at one point, on a whim), there is never a scene that is over-acted. In fact, the under-acting in this is what makes it seem so personal. One scene that almost breaks your heart is when she goes home for Christmas and there is about a seven minute run of clips of her smiling and laughing and enjoying the company of her family, and then taking down decorations and going shopping with her mother and running errands with her dad, and then saying goodbye to them at the airport. While there's nothing dramatic about the shot, the look on her face says it all, as her smile fades and she remains facing backward on the escalator, realizing that she's going to have to go back to NYC. It was like watching a five-year-old get on the school bus for the first time.

Another cool thing about this film is the interesting camera work and soundtrack. The soundtrack very much reflects Frances's state of being, with fun music while she and Sophie are hanging out together, and then absent when she is speaking with her soon-to-be ex boyfriend. The camera, too, keep with Frances's state of being with its fun approach to focus, sometimes putting her in spotlight focus and then other times keeping everyone on the same level. It's also in black in white, and set in New York City, so it felt very Woody Allen-y.

And so now of course I want to move to NYC and be whimsical
and dance on the sidewalk like this chick.

All in all, this movie is really thought provoking, especially pertaining to the commentary that it makes about women's friendships, how difficult it is to be single when your best friend is not, and even more generally how hard it is to grow up. Even though Sophie very clearly loves Frances (as a friend, obvi), her life is pulling her in a different direction, and the struggle that Frances has with being on her own is something that I think is very relatable to anyone who has ever had a best friend, or more specifically to anyone in their twenties (no but seriously).

A happy ending gives you closure on this one, and it was really delightful to watch.

8 outa 10.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Heat: See? Girls Can Be Funny Cops Too!

Two posts in two days? I know what you're thinking...

But I'm not gonna. Cuz I ALSO saw ANOTHER movie last week and didn't have the opportunity to write about it. It was a sneak peak from Philly Film Society so I want to take advantage of the fact that ya'll probably haven't seen it.

What movie, you ask?

See above.

Riding the tails of the crazy success that Bridesmaids was, this movie takes a crack at the buddy cop genre with the first buddy cop film to feature two female leads (feminism. hell yeah.).

Our plot follows two lady cops who couldn't be any more different (I know, who's ever heard of a movie with characters like those before??!). One, Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is a special agent in the FBI who never misses the tiny details and has a reputation for being by-the-book, narcissistic, and a pain in the ass. Opposite her, in the dregs of Boston, we have Officer Shannon Mullins, a hellcat with no tolerance for opposition to the law or anything else that she finds annoying. Thrown together by several circumstances, they end up working together on a case to uncover a covert crime syndicate that has been taking over Boston's drug scene. Together, I've gotta admit...they make one hell of a hilarious team.

Boom baby.

This movie seems to be following predecessors that include The Other Guys  and 21 Jump Street and I really have to hand it to them: they've really found a hilarious formula here.  Mixing the absurd (Mullins at one point pantomimes going through her police chief's office looking for his "teeny tiny" balls) with a liiiiittle bit of compassion (scenes including Mullins's brother who was formerly in a drug ring, and Ashburn's total cluelessness when it comes to being not-weird), this movie was nothing if not 100% entertaining.

I think this picture says it all.

The true star here is Melissa McCarthy. Her ad-libbing skills are unmatchable. The character that everyone found so funny in Bridesmaids is exacerbated in this, made more badass and totally ruthless. With all of her insults she is so incredibly sharp that it's hard to take your eyes off of her comedic genius. Bullock is her usually quirky funny self, a mixture of Miss Congeniality's Gracie Hart and Two Weeks Notice's awkward turtle, Lucy Kelson. Incredibly, she still manages to hold her own, but as more of a sidekick to McCarthy's brash character.

Please go see this movie. Omg. It was so funny. Never has there been more loling.

9 outa 10. Pure entertainment.

Just watch the trailer even. I promise, it's hilarious.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Purge (Bleeehh)

Haha, okay, cheesy joke, but we were making it throughout the previews and all day today so now it's become associative. Yes, I saw the latest futuristic dystopian doodad in theaters and here's what I have to say:


As an avid reader of graphic novels and comics (shut up.) I gotta say I wish that they had simply made a graphic novel, comic series, or even TV series about this idea. It has so much potential and I feel like it got marketed wrong and just kind of...missed the mark. And when it could've been really interesting too!

For those of you that haven't seen the trailers, the film is about The United States, recently "reborn" by some new founding fathers. In this new "utopia" (-cough-DYSTOPIA-cough-), unemployment is at an all-time low, along with murder and other crime. The reason? The Annual Purge. The Annual Purge is a day that allows people to release aggression and animosity by murdering people, looting, and participating in all kinds of crime while the government turns a blind eye for a full twelve hours. Great idea right? Just like communism!

It could totally work! Y'know, as long as you totally ignore
human nature and morals and rights...it's a GREAT idea!

SO in the backdrop of this day in 2022, the day of the annual Purge, we have a family of four in the upper-class suburbs. The Sandins are a regular ole family, the dad sells security systems, the mom is a housewife (I think...), the daughter is an overachiever with boyfriend problems, and the son is a sensitive gizmo-freak. Normal, perfectly normal. And in the normality of every year beforehand, they shut themselves into their own home and lock down for twelve hours while the purge happens outside.

I'm about 30% sure you can't get in here...

That is, until they let a fugitive into their home and all hell breaks loose. During a commotion that occurs when the man is let inside, the family breaks apart (in more ways than one) and is set into a sequence of events that could damage the family forever. Visited by some psychotic twenty-somethings after the man inside (for apparently no other reason than the fact that he is homeless) they are given the opportunity to turn the man over. But after they lose their window they are invaded by this group of weirdos and must defend themselves alone. Interesting plot twists keep you on your toes, even until the end.

So, let's get down to brass tacks: did I like the movie?

What I liked about this film is the fact that they thought up this idea at all. How often in politics are people convinced that something is GENIUS when, in practice, it ruins most of the beauty of humanity (again, communism: great on paper, horrible in practice)? The "new founding fathers"have introduced a principle that everyone has thought of at least once in their lives, even fleetingly, and gives them the chance to carry it out without repercussions. The people in the film seem to use this principle as a right, making it all the more horrifying. Neighbors openly sharpen machetes, security cameras pick up friends in camo with machine guns "going out hunting" and yet nothing is to be done about it. Because it is legal, people don't seem to put up a fight against the moral fabric of killing someone. The rich, especially are highlighted in this movie as taking the opportunity that the Purge offers to clear riffraff off the street, such as the homeless, the poor, and people that would be the most defenseless when push came to shove.

Like this homeless guy

The movie therefore gives an interesting perspective (from the rich) when they are faced with the possibility of saving a man on the basis of the fact that he's human, and not on his economical status. In that sense, the movie is a great commentary on classism and government.

What I DIDN'T like about this film is the limited way that they play with this crazy idea. For a theory this big, you could've brought in SO many different elements. I would've loved to see a multiple-storyline film with one person in the ghettos, one cop, one rich family (such as the Sandins), and one other grab-bag character. That would've been CRAAYYY. Or even a storyline that goes outside the house. One of the things that makes the plot so crazy is the fact that you have no one to call for help except your neighbors. And yet, limiting a family to a house with no way out is something that you see in horror films ALL THE TIME. When a Stranger Calls, Panic Room, Cabin in the Woods, Evil Dead (-shudder-). Literally, ALL. KINDS. of movies use broken phone lines, absent cell signals, and downed power to make it seem like there's no way out. So I feel like it could've been a little scarier if they had gone outside the house.

We have no power, so we can't call the cops---oh wait, irrelevant...

The other thing that seemed to piss off a certain someone that I saw the movie with was the fact that it was not scary. This movie has been marketed as though it's a ripoff of The Strangers, or other scary serial-killer movies that have people sporting masks in them. These kids, however, are amateurs. And for all their creepy swinging in swings, they are no match for a double-barreled shotgun.

Seriously, if you block off their masks, it's just a bunch of yuppies
doing some night time house repairs.

I had a lot of feelings about this movie, but my top feeling is frustration that they didn't do more with this idea. I think it still would make an excellent comic series, but as a two-hour movie it somehow doesn't go into the depth needed for such a controversial topic.

Eh, 6 outa 10.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Miracle of Sound and How So Many People are Butchering It

Ok. Just because I have my own blog about film, let me take the time to rant you dear readers about something that has been driving me CRAZY lately:


Now, if I were the head of a film company that was churning out movie after movie after movie every year, perhaps I would lose a little respect for the details. Just like MacDonald's will never serve the kinds of burgers that you get at a steakhouse for $50+ it's stupid to point out mistakes in cheap movies. People just don't care.

But seeing stupid flaws like blatantly unsynchronized sound in movies like The Great Gatsby (which I never got around to writing a review for...woops!) and even more recently Now You See Me, just pisses me off. It's like the equivalent of finding something crunchy in your $50+ burger, and not being able to help but spend the rest of the meal chewing cautiously for fear of finding another one.

Do people really not see this? Am I being over-the-top by noticing these little cracks in perfect films? Because it really is something that cheapens the final product to me. Something that didn't quite get polished over and therefore dulls the quality of the movie.

Just wanted to get that rant out there.

Also, here is a lesson in the importance of sound:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Now You See Me: Magic Isn't for Nerds Anymore

Hello my little darling readers. If you thought that some terrifying movie called Evil Dead really got the best of me and that I had started watching movies unable to fight the flashback horror of creepy armless girls and weird blood-rain, you were horribly mistaken. I have simply been on hiatus. However, I am back to write you the very best and hopefully entertaining of reviews, although I probably won't be up to the same velocity as I was in my prime (what was that, like, four a month or something?), I will try my best to write one a month. It could be more than that but, funnily enough, I finally got a job that takes up the majority of my time. Take that, Recession!

According to Google, this is what a recession looks like...

ANYWAY! The reason that you all came here: to read about Now You See Me. Like you, probably, I saw this trailer on TV and I thought "Wow! This looks like Ocean's Eleven and Burt Wonderstone [did anyone else see that? no?] had an attractive baby!" There was no question that I had to see this movie right away.

So, this movie starts out by highlighting the talents of four magicians. Yup, magicians. But these aren't the people that showed up at your grade-school birthday party.

Wait..was that ever actually a thing?

These guys are legit. A mentalist, a pick-pocket, and two ex-partner illusionists who band together to create the biggest magic tricks of all time. And when they, out of nowhere, start this huge show on the Vegas stage, things get wild. Robbing a bank and humiliating an insurance mogul, among other things, they get in trouble with the FBI, who then are after them for the duration of the movie. Hunting them at each show, they only seem to be met with failure at the precautions that these magic performers have in place. With these guys, things are never as they appear, and anything that seems to happen out of nowhere only adds to the intrigue of what their ultimate motive actually is.

Why you do dese crazy tricks, magic people?

What makes this movie so cool is that it's sort of like the nerds are finally coming out on top. Like who has ever known a magician at all, let alone one that is cool? But this movie points out that in order to be a magician, one has to be incredibly clever and forward-thinking. It's not about mirrors and smoke, but about careful planning and ultimate payoff.

And bubbles. It's also about bubbles.

It also conveys an incredibly satisfying feeling that justice is finally being served to the everyman. While corporate banks, insurance CEOs, and even the police have impressive power in our country, they are taken down by carefully planned illusions and tricks to benefit middle class citizens. Not your average illusions and tricks either. (Unfortunately, the preview gives away most of the cool ones, but it doesn't make their effects any less dazzling.) It was even cooler to witness a magic show where the audience in the movie theatre were freaking out just as much as the audience on screen. SO many twists and turns in this flick will make it impossible for you to predict the crazy plot-twist ending.

Spoiler alert: the rabbit is behind the mirror in the box.

This film ended up being like a classic action movie with a twist. I've gotten tired of seeing all these buff dudes trying to save The White House, FBI agents going after serial killers, and super hero flicks. Yes, I'm sure they're all very lovely, nothing is wrong with any of those genres, but I feel like Hollywood has gotten so caught up in formulas for hits that they seldom reach for anything just plain interesting anymore. This movie really delivers something a little more like a dependable action movie from the 90's. It has the flavor of an espionage film without all the red tape, and the ethical backbone of a moody drama without all the boring long takes and sad music. Actually, come to think of it, you know what made this movie so great?

It entertained.

The audience was laughing and sympathizing and reacting to all of the tricks on screen, they appreciated the dialogue, and they freaked out with every plot twist. A full audience nonetheless and that, these days, is rare.

Looked just like this. Mostly.

All in all, despite being a small release (the theater I went to only had one theater showing Now You See Me, while The Hangover 3 had an astounding three theaters all its own), this is definitely a flick that I would recommend seeing. Good, old-fashioned fun and great performances by Jesse Eisenburg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, and Melanie Laurent. Go see it, it's good.

8 outa 10 stars.