Weekly Mini-Reviews: “Blackfish,” “Halloween,” “Misery” & More

October 20-26, 2013

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Blackfish | Gabriela Cowperthwaite | 2013 | ★★★½

Blackfish is far from the pinnacle of documentary film making as far as art or intrepid journalism is concerned, but it’s also a highly effective piece of activism that simply must be seen. It chronicles the incidents that have happened in Sea World because of Tilikum, an orca that has been in captivity for more than 20 years. Experts believe that his violent behavior is caused by the captivity but Sea World keeps saying that whales are better off in captivity, which is false, of course. The film combines interviews and archival footage of various interviews to get their point across. There were moments when I felt like I couldn’t breathe, others when I couln’t hold back the tears, and others when I was angry at the dirty business that is Seaworld. Will I do anything to stop this besides boycotting Sea World? It’s unlikely, but it’s great that this film is out there for everyone to see and hopefully we will see some reach change soon.
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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas | Collin Higgins | 1982 | ★★★½

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is everything that you would expect from a film with that title from the 80s and starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, and Dom Deluise. It is campy, visually tacky, loud, and, well, it’s very much a product of it’s time. But this are not negative things, as when they come together to tell this story, they make for one of the most delightful films I’ve seen all year. With the exception of the awful duet between Parton and Reynolds, the film if filled to the brim with energy and it’s contagious. I couldn’t help but smile and tap my feet from the moment the music started. And it’s also a bit scary, not because of it’s content, but because it’s theme of Bible-thumping moral crusaders ruling the country not because they are the majority but because they are the loudest is as relevant today as it was when this was made. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun and I love it for that.

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Halloween | John Carpenter | 1978 |  ★★★★

This was my first time watching Halloween and I must say that given it’s status and the many films it inspired, it was something that I was not expecting. Rather than building it’s tension on expecting, say, the cat to jump at any moment, John Carpenter keeps his villain front and center throughout most the film, and it’s essentially about him stalking Laurie and her friends. Carpenter then just builds the tension around how naturally creepy it is to have this hulk of a guy wearing a mask on Halloween stalking people on plain daylight. And the atmosphere this and how the camera seems to move naturally builds an atmosphere of impending doom that few others have matched. And I love how the characters, unlike in many other films this inspired, aren’t one bit self aware of the dangers that are about to befall them and just go about their day until death is staring right at them. And of course, that wonderfully creepy score by Carpenter is a big part of that feeling of dread we feel since the iconic opening credit sequence begins. I look forward to having this on rotation every Halloween.

I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère) | Xavier Dolan | 2009 | ★★★

I had always been curious about this film considering the reactions it got when I premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and this is despite the fact that I hated Xavier Dolan’s second film Heartbeats. And it’s easy to see why people when wild for it: it’s very confident and it has a very honest emotional core, two things which are rare enough on a directorial debut, let alone one by someone so young (he was only 19 years-old when he made it). It’s a bit self-indulgent, but not a lot and it’s forgivable considering he may have been experimenting (though not as forgiving for his second film). Also the characters are not the easiest to like, and his own performance is relatively weak when compared to Anne Dorval’s as his mother. It’s a nice debut feature which signals the arrival of a potentially great talent.
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Misery | Rob Reiner | 1990 | ★★★

Perhaps it’s because of the time I live in, but on a story level there’s nothing particularly shocking about Misery. I mean, Annie Wilkes is now everywhere today, just with different names and now thanks to the internet they can actually be famous. And on the film making level there’s also nothing particularly exciting either. Those two things together would generally result, at best, in a mediocre film. Yet, it isn’t. It’s actually quite good, and for one reason only: Kathy Bates. Her performance may have started out odd and badly over-the-top but as the film progresses her performance lives up to its reputation. She is just so believable, and time has only made her performance creepier. She alone gives the film the necessary atmosphere to excel as a horror film that the director could not give it. The film may not be great, but it’s worth watching for her performance alone.

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The Painting (Le Tableau) | Jean-François Languionie | 2012 | ★★★★

The Painting starts out weakly by setting up it’s Holocaust allegory by introducing the three kind of drawings of drawings that inhabit their world: the Toupins (perfection), the Pafinis (half-finished) and the Reufs (sketches). The Toupins, thinking they are perfect what to get rid of the others. There’s also a “Romeo & Juliette” element to it. But then about 15 minutes it, we realize that this is going to be something different and thematically goes somewhere I didn’t expect it. It still remains a relatively family-friendly affair but it takes on on the subject of why their God (the painter) made their world so cruel and unfair and it becomes about them going doing what he didn’t ever think of doing and make a better world for themselves. Sure, many films have tried to take on those themes but this one does it in such a fantastic way, without hammering it down on our heads, but also without pulling any punches (see that scene towards the beginning when a Reuf is beaten up). That alone makes it a must see, but then when you add the amazing and gorgeous animation, it becomes an essential viewing.

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Populaire | Régis Roinsard | 2013 | ★★★★

Populaire plays out like “Rocky meets Pygmallion” set in the world of competitive typewriting in 1959. It follows a young girl from a small town whose only talent seems to be type writing as she moves to a big city and meets a man that wants to cultivate that talent and enters her in a competition. And of course, they fall in love It’s as fluffy and predictable as it sounds with a nice helping of schmaltz. That may sound negative but it really isn’t as they balance it all properly. It doesn’t have any illusions of grandeur or try to sell it as an important film on feminism or something like that. But best of all, it complements the gorgeous visuals perfectly. This way, the beautiful pastel-colored purposely artificial-looking sets and costumes, the flashy editing, and stylish cinematography don’t feel like they are there for the sake of being there. Populaire is one of the biggest surprise of the year, and it deserves your attention.

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