Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Blackfish; Argo; Summer Wars; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; This Is 40


Which concerns the instances of deaths and injury caused by killer whales in captivity.
Lots of talking heads, a mixture of ex-trainers and employees and scientists, what is amazing is the amount of footage available. Whilst the incidents that took place and were captured on camera by visitors are understandably available, there are numerous instances of out-of-hours training sessions and the attacks that happened at those times, and it’s quite hard to work out how the film makers got hold of this footage as I would have assumed it would have been owned by SeaWorld.

The instances of orca interaction are engaging, and the enthusiasm of the neurologist claiming that their emotions are more advanced than ours, due to having parts of the brain that we don’t, build up in such a way that when you see footage like the orca capturing for Sealand in the 70s it is pretty upsetting.

By the end of the film there’s little doubt that keeping these or any whales in captivity is wrong, not just for the animals themselves but for the people working with them.


As it’s based on a true story, it’s hard to know whether the more clichĂ©d aspects actually happened, but some of Argo certainly feels a bit too much like other thrillers. The 6 people at the heart of the story, stuck in Iran during the revolution and in hiding, are only sparsely sketched with just Scoot McNairy as Joe Stafford given some meat as ‘the cynical one’ who immediately dismisses the escape plan as doomed and likely to get them killed. Surprise surprise, as Joe is ultimately the one to make their cover work and succeeds in getting them that last step towards home.
Other elements equivalent to the bomb countdown turn out to be fabricated - the last minute interrogation by revolutionary forces was made up, as was the jeep and police chase on the runway. However, these worked well to inflate the tension and kept your heart pounding, despite knowing the outcome in much the same way that United 91 worked so well even though you know what happens in the end.

Affleck plays it pretty light for him, no shouting or tub thumping or rousing monologues, quite often he seems dejected and defeated even before things go wrong, so it’s pretty much Affleck doing subtle. But it does help it feel more real, rather than the shooty-fighty secret agent films we’re used to, and the supporting cast do a good job of bringing their real-life characters to life, with the likes of Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston all putting in a good turn.

Despite the twisting of some elements of the story, Affleck manages to avoid the vilifying of the Iranians without making the revolutionaries’ actions seem reasonable.

Not as good as the Oscar would suggest, but definitely worth a watch.

Summer Wars

Bravura Japanese anime film with a dizzying plot that basically boils down to: an AI invades Oz, an all-pervasive ultra-advanced social network which most of the world now depends on to function. The AI messes up everything from water to traffic to satellite systems, leaving a maths genius boy and an extended family that can trace their family tree back centuries to save the virtual world.

A schoolgirl invites a nerdy boy, working as a part-time Oz coder, to do a job for her in the country. The job is to pretend to be her fiancĂ© for her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday party, the head of a large extended family living at a large house with roots going back over 500 years. One night he gets an anonymous maths puzzle, which he stays awake to solve. The next morning he finds that Oz has gone haywire with many accounts cannibalised by an AI and infrastructure melting down, and he is being touted as the scapegoat on TV.

Visually dense, Summer Wars has a huge amount going on, both in the CGI visuals in the virtual world of Oz and those of the more traditional setting of the Sanada Clan’s family home.
The huge cast of family members introduced illustrates how director Mamoru Hosoda (of the acclaimed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) expects the audience to keep up, rather than kowtowing to them, and ultimately it makes for a satisfying tale despite the inevitable real-world consequences that are introduced to give the drama a little more immediacy towards the finale.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Boonmee is ailing. He travels to the honey farm that he owns,  and is visited by his family, including his dead wife and disappeared son in spirit monkey form.

The film feels very much like a tone poem or something a bit ethereal like that. Lots of sitting for intermittent chat, journeys through lush jungle, aspects of past lives such as the princess whose beauty fades but finds comfort in the form of a water deity in the shape of a fish who pleasures her in a jungle pond.
Glimpses of the red-eyed, thick haired monkey spirits who Boonmee’s son has joined.
A moment in a hotel room where Boonmee’s sister talks with her daughter, and her son arrives, trying to decide whether to continue being a monk.

It’s hard to put a finger on what is going on, besides Boonmee making peace and saying his goodbyes, but the world painted in the film is evocative and a pleasure to be in if you’re in the right mood.

This Is 40

Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd return to the roles they played in Knocked Up, as Debbie and Pete who are now struggling with the onset of middle age whilst feeling far from grown up.

The theme of extended adolescence has been around a long time now, particularly in the comedies director Apatow has been involved with, but Rudd and Mann make for good company despite their character’s whining, and Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris again reprise their roles as the couple’s daughters and both are charming.

Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham, Johnathan Lithgow, Jason Segel and Megan Fox all crop up at some point to round out the cast, and though the incidents in the plot are fairly predictable and generic the players manage to keep you onside despite the over long running time.

Definitely an enjoyable film rather than a triumph, This Is 40 has a relatively low belly-laugh ratio due to all the griping and soul-searching, but to be honest I would watch Rudd in almost anything. 


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