Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is one of his best, while Blackfish and The Attack are thought-provoking
It’s a great week for new movies. Three just want to entertain; others tackle real issues either dramatically or in documentaries. Many get high marks.
Here’s the list:
Blue Jasmine: 4 ½
The Ghosts in Our Machine: 3 ½
2 Guns: 3
The Attack: 4
Fruitvale Station: 4
The Smurfs 2: 2 ½
Harryhausen Tribute: --
BLUE JASMINE: You’re going to want to see this one because Woody Allen has done his best work in years and Cate Blanchett has done possibly her best ever. Allen is back from his European interlude but still travelling. He takes his New York sensibility to San Francisco where his story sends Cate into an unfamiliar environment and down several steps in social class. She plays a pampered, privileged wife who is suddenly adrift when her husband (Alec Baldwin) is jailed for financial fraud. He’s been cheating on her too, she learns. Now psychologically shaken as well as penniless, but still trying keep on airs, she comes to her sister (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay, just until she gets back on her feet. She has few ideas on how to do that and Allan’s sly script charts her fumbling attempts, her discomfort in her sister’s working class crowd (which includes Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay) and her neurotic outbursts and arguments. It’s the drama of this damaged woman, more than comedy, that Allen delivers and Blanchett easily rides the sudden transitions in her character’s mood and keeps us engrossed. Empathetic even. (Park Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5
BLACKFISH: This startling documentary makes the case against keeping whales in captivity without haranguing and nagging. It hardly even says it. But it does get the message across with a compelling story, pictures and eye witness testimony . Largely that’s about Tillikum, who was captured and taken from its mother in the waters off Iceland, performed for a while at the former water park near Victoria called Sealand of the Pacific and gained notoriety. He and several other whales pulled a trainer into the pool and caused her to drown. Tillicum was exonerated but later killed again, twice, at Seaworld in Florida, where he was sent and still works as an entertainer.
The most recent death, a top and experienced trainer, drew filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite to look closer. What she uncovered is chilling. Some whales go crazy in these confined pools. They attack each other and, in many unpublicized cases, the people who work with them. The industry tries to blame the trainers, not the whales and the conditions they live in but former water park employees, witnesses and a few dramatic videos put a lie to that. This film carries an emotional punch delivered with solid research and interpretation. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
Playing in Tandem with …
THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE: Keeping whales in captivity for our entertainment also figures in this documentary alongside a host of other issues about our relationship with animals. Their use in research. The fur business. The meat and dairy industry. And, through the heartfelt words of photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, the kinship we, animals ourselves, should feel for them. For more than a decade she has been making her case through pictures and a foundation. We see a couple of her field trips, including a trespass into a hidden-away fox farm in northern Europe. The film spares us from really gross pictures but those soulful and fearful eyes of the foxes and later the caged-up mink are quite moving. There are scenes of so-called humane cattle kills but they’re minor compared to the happy scenes at animal sanctuaries, three in Ontario and one in New York. Toronto filmmaker Liz Marshall also gets her message across without harping on it. She’ll do a Q&A via skype after the Aug. 7 screening. Other guests will talk Fri., Saturday and Aug 8. Check the website: http://www.viff.org/theatre for details. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
2 GUNS: A summer trifle mixing two big stars in with comic bantering and heavy gunplay. You’ll be reminded of many similar movies but will probably enjoy it anyway.