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Affecting killer whale doc marred by technical flaws

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Blackfish

Reviews

BLACKFISH. It's often hard to separate the power of a documentary's content from the quality of its presentation. The substance of Blackfish is heavy-hitting, devastating and dramatically eye-opening; however, much of the presentation is distracting and poorly devised.

Blackfish tells the story of a male orca whale named Tilikum. You may remember this particular orca for his role in the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of 2010. Brancheau was not Tilikum's first victim, but hopefully she will be his last. The documentary draws attention to the beauty and majesty of orcas, their highly developed brains and how living in captivity pushes them to the brink of insanity. The film does not tiptoe around the heinous reality surrounding orca whales in captivity; the footage is graphic to the point of making you shift uncomfortably in your chair (baby orcas in nets, mommy orcas crying, trainers being brutally attacked, etc.), and the testimonials from former trainers are heartbreaking.

Director and writer Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Animal Nightmares) tells nearly all of the story via newsreel montages, personal and expert testimony, and excerpts from the SeaWorld v. OSHA case that was settled last year. Though the montages and testimony are moving, the court excerpts are awkward. No actual footage was available, so quotes from the case are typed out across the screen, with pencil-style drawings in the background. To be clear, the drawings are not courtroom sketches; these are faceless, cartooned figures with typed text running over them. The illustrations ruin the flow of the film's narrative, and make a relatively short movie feel a lot longer. The repetition of some of the narratives also makes for poor pacing. It feels less like the director is trying to hammer a point home and more like she's trying to stretch for time.

Blackfish presents plenty of airtight arguments, despite its flaws in composition. It would be surprising if people came out of this film without completely reconsidering their thoughts on animals in captivity. Cowperthwaite is clearly talented, and she's certainly working her way up the documentary film maker ladder, but she still has a lot to learn about style. PG13. 83m.

CLOSED CIRCUIT. This isn't the first time a movie trailer has led to a total letdown. The two-minute preview set up Closed Circuit as a fast-paced conspiracy thriller with sexy British accents, but that was a cloud of lies. The directing talent of John Crowley (Intermission, Boy A) did little to bolster Steven Knight's (Dirty Pretty Things) pathetically written screenplay, and no amount of sexy pronunciations could draw the ear away from the clumsy dialogue and boring plot.

Following a terrorist attack at an open market in London, an arrest is made and a trial is quickly approaching. The original defense lawyer for the prime suspect dies in an apparent suicide, and Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is handed the case. He must work closely with his former lover, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), to get to the bottom of the case (gotta hate it when that happens). Once the two of them start to get too close to the truth, it becomes apparent that their lives are in danger. If it sounds exciting, be warned, it's not. At all.

The lack of writing quality is apparent in the first few lines of dialogue. Clumsily inserting the entire exposition into seemingly casual dialogue is a rookie mistake, and Knight has penned too many scripts to be a rookie. Similar lazy writing errors are made throughout the entire film, with graceless explanations of the British legal system, shoddily written romantic entanglements and emotionally flat moments of attempted tension.

The ending of the film (which held absolutely no surprises) smacked of cliché and convenience. More than one person in the theater had to be woken up when the credits rolled. So, if you need a two hour nap that will cost you about ten dollars, Closed Circuit might be exactly what you need. If you want a compelling British conspiracy film, then you're better off renting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. R. 96m.

— Dev Richards

Previews

THE FAMILY. Luc Besson directs Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones in this mob/witness protection action-comedy. R.

RIDDICK: RULE THE DARK. Vin Diesel returns as the sci-fi anti-hero with night vision on a dark planet full of monsters, bounty hunters and bad weather. R. 119m.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW. Boy wakes up on girl's lawn, girl falls for boy, coming of age tale ensues. R. 95m.

Continuing

BLUE JASMINE. Cate Blanchett is a socialite on the cusp of a breakdown who slums it with her sister in this well made Woody Allen drama. PG-13. 98m.

DESPICABLE ME 2. Gru (Steve Carell), the girls and the minions are back saving the world in this fun animated sequel. PG. 98m.

ELYSIUM. Matt Damon turns workman's comp into revolution in this effective dystopian sci-fi with Jodie Foster as his sharp-suited foe. R. 110 m

GETAWAY. Speedster Ethan Hawke is pressed into service by mysterious Euro-villain John Voigt, who kidnaps his wife. Disney princess Selena Gomez rides shotgun. PG13. 94m.

KICK-ASS 2. Teen superheroes and villains clash again. Just not as kick-ass as Kick Ass. R. 103m.

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Moving Civil Rights era tale with Forest Whitaker as a White House butler through the decades. PG13. 132m.

MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. Attractive, young "shadowhunters" battle demons in an even scarier New York that's invisible to mere humans. PG13. 130m.

ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US. Directioners, rejoice. All others, run. PG. 92m.

PLANES. Like Cars, but not. Really, not. PG. 92m.

WE'RE THE MILLERS. Implausible drug smuggling comedy wastes the usually funny Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Anniston. R. 110m.

THE WORLD'S END. Slow start, but a quality apocalyptic pub crawl with the boys from Shawn of the Dead and their mates. R. 109 m.

YOU'RE NEXT. Thrilling action and scares during a family vacation that's ruined by killers with crossbows and creepy animal masks. R. 96m.

Returning

THE HARDER THEY COME. Jimmy Cliff start in the 1973 cult classic as a singer on the wrong side of the law. R. 105m. At the Minor on Thursday at 9 p.m. only.

THIS IS THE END. The end of the world stoner bromance with Seth Rogan and company is back in case your short-term memory is fuzzy. R. 107m.

— Jennifer Fumiko-Cahill

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    About The Author

    Dev Richards

    Dev Richards

    Bio:
    Dev Richards has been a freelancer for the Journal since 2011.

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