Random Factoid #450

21 10 2010

Documentaries can often arouse passion and indignation. But do they change our minds or just preach to the converted?

That’s the question that Patrick Goldstein of The Los Angeles Times‘ blog The Big Picture asks, and it’s the question Marshall of “Marshall and the Movies” will try to answer.

There has been an influx of politically-charged documentaries hitting mainstream consciousness as of recent, beginning with Davis Guggenheim’s but actually Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Ever since then, we’ve seen movies that tackle touch issues like the economy (“Inside Job”), education (“Waiting for Superman”), dolphin killing (“The Cove”), and Iraq (too many to name) going outside their usual art-house audience.  These are very different kinds of documentaries from the ones that you see at school and on the history channel; they are made by filmmakers with a mission to prove that something needs to be changed and then try to spur you to action over the course of the movie.  The Internet has made it a whole lot easier to give such help, and documentaries have become a powerful tool for real change.

But, as Goldstein puts it, “Documentaries can often arouse passion and indignation. But do they change our minds or just preach to the converted?”

Here’s my take on these politically-charged documentaries.  I am willing to listen if the movie gives me the facts first and then allows me to make my own conclusion.  I don’t mind listening to a differing opinion, but as long as I get some separation, I can bear it.  If a filmmaker can’t do that, I really don’t want to spend my time watching the movie.  I want to be informed, not lectured.

REVIEW: The Cove

8 03 2010

I write to you today not out of my obligation as a blogger, but rather out of my obligation as a human being.  We are the most dominant species on this planet, and it is thus our duty to care for all the other creatures with whom we cohabit the world.

The shocking documentary “The Cove” shows our species at its absolute worst.  In Japan, a group of fishermen lead a senseless and barbaric slaughter of dolphins in a cove.  Perhaps even more shocking is how the community meets this with either apathy or the willingness to turn a blind eye.

Leading the crusade against this grave injustice is famed dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, who blames himself for the slaughter.  O’Barry was responsible for training the dolphins on the ’60s TV show “Flipper,” which was the main reason for the large rise of popularity of the animals in America and worldwide.  However, things changed for O’Barry when one of the dolphins that he trained committed suicide in his arms out of depression.  Since then, he has committed himself to working as an advocate for dolphins, even getting arrested for trying to help them escape out of captivity.

In making the documentary, the filmmaking team of “The Cove” found themselves living out a heist film.  The people of the community wanted to protect themselves from the inevitable punishment that would come with discovery of the horrific actions occurring in their cove, and they did their share to obstruct the filmmakers from getting the real story.  They waved signs in front of the cameras and acted rudely in an attempt to illicit a reaction, which could put them in jail.

Using secret cameras and stealthy techniques, the filmmakers managed to capture the horrifying realities of the slaughter.  But the movie doesn’t just stop there.  It simply won’t settle with just pandering to WWF members.  The filmmakers expose the effects of humans, showing how the slaughter leads to dolphin meat being disguised as other meat in supermarkets.  Dolphin meat has about five times more mercury than the maximum allowable rate, and this was being served to children at schools in Japan.  (After the movie’s release, Japan stopped serving it to them.)

“The Cove” took home the Oscar for Best Documentary at the Oscars last night, but this is hardly the movie’s greatest reward. That honor is reserved for the great activism that it has inspired with its powerful filmmaking.  I have seen a few social issues documentaries, and none have gotten to me quite like this one.  “The Cove” is more than just a movie; it’s a courageous act of humanity.  A /

Please take a look at the website for “The Cove” and find out ways that you can help end this senseless slaughter.

LISTFUL THINKING: Ten Under – Best of 2009

1 01 2010

It is hard to nail all the great movies of a year in ten slots.  So, in order to fully honor 2009 in movies, I have also concocted a list that would be the equivalent of my #11-20.  I call it “Ten Under.”  When you someone is ten under in golf, it’s a great thing.  So rather than focusing on the fact that these movies are not in the top 10, I want to celebrate their merit in a positive way.

Note that rather than ranking them, I will present them in alphabetical order.


Tender but never maudlin, “Adam” is unparalleled in the number of “aww”s elicited.  Hugh Dancy’s affectionate performance as the titular character with Asperger’s syndrome is the crucial element to the movie’s success, and you can feel the care put into every twitch and line.  It is sure to warm your heart, if not melt it entirely.


James Cameron’s “Avatar” will be remembered not just as a movie but as a watershed in the history of cinema.  The movie’s astounding effects are enough to make you forget some of the flaws in the script, and they really do have the power to create a new world.  Cameron goes all out to make sure Pandora is not just brought to life, but also flourishes.  How quickly can he get to work on the sequel?


“The Cove” is a powerful documentary that alerts us to a crisis we need to correct – and it is completely void of Al Gore lecturing.  While systematically running down everything wrong with the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, the filmmakers show us how they verified the massacre.  This never feels like a documentary because they wisely set it up like a crime/heist film, and the excitement builds up until it breaks and we feel nothing but a fervent urge to aid their cause.


Thank heavens for viral marketing because without it, I would never have seen “District 9,” which appeals and amazes on all fronts.  Smarts?  An elaborate Apartheid metaphor and undertones of racism, check.  Acting?  An incredibly physically and emotionally committed performance by South African actor Sharlto Copley, check.  Visuals?  Aliens that make James Cameron’s output look like the Smurfs putting on a production of “Cats,” check.  There is no doubt about it, “District 9” has the goods and delivers.


For me, “Drag Me to Hell” was the year’s biggest surprise.  I’m not usually the horror movie type, and I generally consider mixing horror and comedy about as toxic as drinking and driving.  But Sam Raimi’s movie made me reexamine my policy.  “Drag Me to Hell” is scary good, frightening and hilarious often at the same time.  Featuring electrifying action scenes and some purposefully atrocious one-liners, it’s a movie that keeps getting better the more I think about it.


Who would have thought that Wes Anderson’s humor would transfer like carbon paper to animation?  Anyone who instantly recognized that “Fantastic Mr. Fox” contained the same spirit as previous projects surely did.  It’s the same undeniable, albeit a little peculiar, fun that Anderson has sharpened with each movie.  There’s never a dull moment here, and whether it’s filled with clever wordplay or amusing animation tricks, this stop-motion joy delights at soaring levels.


I’ll admit to not being entirely won over by Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” at first sight.  But I think “Up in the Air” shed some light on the director’s aim with the movie.  I have concluded that it fell victim to my incredibly high-expectations after “Knocked Up” rocked my world.  “Funny People” tones down the laughs and amps up the deep thoughts.  Adam Sandler’s comedian George Simmons is absolutely miserable in his isolation, and the news that his life will end soon only makes him realize how alone he actually is.  Over the course of the movie, which never feels as long as it actually is, Simmons tries to forge a meaningful relationship with a green comic played by Seth Rogen.  It doesn’t quite have Jason Reitman’s insight, but “Funny People” is an impressive rumination on similar themes.


If a bromantic comedy genre ever catches on, “I Love You, Man” will be its “The Great Train Robbery.”  The movie follows the relationship between Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) and Sidney Fife (Jason Segel) that forms after the former’s wife worries about him not having any guy friends.  Their adventures are dastardly hilarious, but the movie’s unforeseen strength is its brain.  “I Love You, Man” is a brilliant satire of how we see relationships, executed by the juxtaposition of a romantic partnership and a casual friendship.  Slowly but surely, the functions of both of Peter’s relationships begin to switch.  If we weren’t aware of the context of Sidney and Peter’s male camaraderie, would we see them as lovers?  Would the casual observer?  Look deeper into “I Love You, Man” because it is the most understatedly brilliant movie of the year.  Slappin da bass?


The hand-drawn animation glory days are revived with great verve through “The Princess and the Frog.”  There is plenty to evoke these classics of my childhood, but even more is new – and no, I’m not talking about the race of the princess.  The movie is as lively as its New Orleans setting, with some larger-than-life characters that amuse and enchant.  Randy Newman’s jazzy score is a vivacious addition to a vibrant movie, and the songs aren’t too shabby either.  With Anika Noni Rose’s silky smooth voice behind the tunes, “The Princess and the Frog” is a high-spirited time as only Disney can give us.


Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” earned plenty of enemies for its rather despondent outlook while aiming to entertain the youngsters.  It packs plenty of rollicking fun for that demographic, but the movie definitely means more to those who can look back on childhood for what it really is.  While there is plenty of bliss in this time, our youthful years are also filled with questioning and struggles.  Jonze gets the big picture, and his movie provides one of the few honest portrayals of childhood in cinema.  Stark and grim as it may be, we can’t argue with it.