DVD Picks: The Cove, The Boys Are Back, Bright Star

The Cove – Documentary
Synopsis: Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renown dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taiji, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.

This doc was highly-recommended by a group of friends as we’re having dinner. I haven’t watched many documentaries, but I know that if done well, it can be as powerful and thrilling as any film. The Cove is definitely one that delivers suspense, thrill, and adrenaline rush, but most of all, emotional punch! Even in the first few minutes, one feels for the dolphins and the man who strives to save them. O’Barry is the man who started it all, and he told the cameras that he felt partly responsible for the public’s fascination with dolphins as he was the trainer for the TV show Flipper. The show’s popularity no doubt kicked off the multimillion-dollar seaquarium industry. “I spent 10 years building, and the next 35 trying to tear down,” he said. His change of heart happened right after Kathy, the lead dolphin of the show, died in his arms. He even called it a suicide as the mammal was so miserable living in that man-made water tank. Ever since that day, he put everything he had into the cause of freeing the dolphins.

The large part of this eco-documentary took place in a cove in Taiji where approximately 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered in the most heinous way every year. Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos (known for his photography work for National Geographic) – who’s also a licensed scuba diver – brought a group of daredevil volunteers that include a pair of world-class divers, tech experts and cameramen to help O’Barry’s cause. It’s fascinating watching them find clever ways to get some video footage of this secret ‘slaughter house,’ even enlisting Psihoyos’ friend from Industrial Light Magic! The documentary also delves deeper into mercury-poisoning, with research/analysis support from Japanese scientists. If you eat sushi and fish regularly, you definitely need to watch this!

There’s a reason this movie won a gazillion awards (there are at least 20 of them listed in Wikipedia). But even with all the tech gizmos and breathtaking underwater scenery, what makes this doc great is it never forgets the ‘heart’ of the story, which are O’Barry with his inspiring tenacity, and of course, the subject of his cause. The scenes of the dolphins swimming freely and happily in the ocean are so beautiful and moving, and an Aussie pro surfer told a touching tale of how these dolphins actually saved him from a shark attack. The way these friendly cetaceans are depicted here make the brutal slaying all the more devastating. Suffice to say, I won’t be going to Sea World ever again after this, and I’m certainly glad I don’t eat fish!

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The Boys Are Back
Synopsis: Set in South Australia, this memoir-based film tells the story of a sports-writer Joe Warr who’s suddenly faced with the task of raising his young son after the untimely death of his second wife.

Growing up without a father myself, I’m somewhat drawn to fatherhood-type of movies like this one and Dear Frankie with Gerard Butler. Perhaps I’m also curious how these typically bad-ass actors would fare in a soulful, quieter roles. Well, let me just say that Clive Owen pulls off the tricky role of a grieving husband and befuddled dad believably, which is a 180-degree change from his perpetually cool and confident action hero we’re used to seeing. This film no doubt tugs your heart strings but veers away from being too sentimental or schmaltzy. The credits goes to Owen’s affecting performance, but George MacKay (Harry) and Nicholas McAnulty (Artie) who play his kids are just as noteworthy.

There’s something deliberately unfussy about how the story is told, this is definitely a better and more poignant parenting-themed film from director Scott Hicks than No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. Joe’s journey and his struggle to cope with 6-year-old Artie – who doesn’t know how to express his own grief – feels genuinely real. There’s a particular scene when Artie throws tantrum during an arduous road trip, McAnulty’s wordless performance with his wide, evocative eyes is heart-wrenching. Refusing the help of his protective mother-in-law, Joe sets his own parenting rule, which no doubt make his house look like it’s been hit by a tornado. But somehow, the father and son muddle through the best they know how, and the way the story was handled make their eventual bond feel natural and unforced. I also like the fact that the movie doesn’t gloss over Joe’s past mistakes of abandoning his first wife and son for another woman, nor does it set an unrealistic turn of events as an excuse to ‘spice things up.’ I’m referring to the tentative ‘romance’ if you will, between Joe and a young, benevolent recent divorcee Laura, though it’s clear their attraction is mutual.

Things get more interesting as Joe’s angst-ridden teenage son comes to visit from England. I laughed when Joe explains of the his rules of ‘no cussing’ to Harry, as he himself repeatedly uses God’s name in vain. So blasphemy apparently doesn’t count as foul language? [shakes head] In any case, tension mounts between Joe and Harry, who feels abandoned by his father. At the same time, conflicts arise when the demand of his job requires him to travel. A series of events that follow make the three of them analyze and truly ponder what it means to be a family. As the voice-over says, “life is a journey to be traveled no matter how bad the road,” it really resonates with me, and how true that statement is. There’s really no such thing as a ‘perfect’ family, but we’re all called to make the best of what we have. The Boys Are Back is a satisfying ride, both emotionally and visually, boasting stunning scenery of South Australia countryside with its rolling hills, dusty roads. This easily rival Baz Luhrman’s Australia as a tourism-boasting flick for the land down under.

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Bright Star

Synopsis: Period drama based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at age 25.

My girlfriends and I watched this on our monthly movie nite last month. I’m a sucker for period dramas, a mere mention of tragic/unrequited/slow-burn love stories and I’m there! Given the unanimous critical praise (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!), I was prepared to be dazzled. Alas, the movie doesn’t quite live up to its title. Such a pity because it seems to have a lot going for it and certainly John Keats’ story is worth-telling.

So what’s the problem?

Well, for one it’s the agonizing pace. Granted a measured pace is what one should expect from movies of this genre, but there’s s-l-o-w and there’s s…l…o..o..o..o…w… I mean it just trudges along far too long that our patience is wearing thin. It’s as if the director wants us to reflect meditate on all the lush photography (they are indeed stunning) and savor every little detail on a room, the wildflowers, a bonnet, pretty much everything the camera captures. The critics call this ‘understated’ but the word I’d use is tedious.

But the crucial reason this movie fail to captivate us is because we simply couldn’t connect with Fanny the way we did with other heroines of similar genres, i.e. Jane Austen’s Fannie Price, The Dashwoods, Lizzy Bennett, or most notably Margaret Hale from Elizabeth Gaskells’ North and South. It’s not so much as the actress’ fault as the way her character’s written. Fanny comes out like a whiny & spoiled brat at times, and certainly fits her reputation of being a frivolous fashionista. Yet despite her affinity for fashion, her costumes aren’t that fabulous. Yet Campion keeps hitting us over the head with all the details… yes, yes I get it, she’s a fashion designer, but if I want to see a movie about clothes, I might as well rent The September Issue! Then there’s John Keats himself. I’ve heard lots of good things about Ben Wishaw, but somehow his portrayal comes across as eternally glum and frail, sans the charismatic quality the real poet supposedly had. Worst of all, I don’t find him appealing at all, nor do I find that undeniable chemistry between the two.

Perhaps it’s due to those very reasons that the movie fail to engage on the crucial selling point: the romance. Despite all the flirtation, the poetic letters, the longing glances, I just don’t ‘feel the love,’ that burning passion so fierce and vigorous that a serene bloke like Keats can only express through his poems. I’m not dismissing Keat’s poems by any means, but I don’t think one need to be well-versed in poetry in order to empathize with people falling in love. But even by the end of this movie, I feel like I still don’t know what to make of the characters & their motivation.

Perhaps the one ‘bright’ thing about the movie is Abbie Cornish’s performance. Despite what I’ve said about her character, it’s undeniable that Cornish is a talented actress. She has a certain grace about her and her acting seems refreshingly authentic. I dare say she has a huge potential to follow in the footsteps of Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett because she really is that talented. The one scene where I shed a tear is when John’s death is announced, which caused Fanny to sob so forcefully she’s gasping for air. That performance alone merits an Oscar nomination! Paul Schneider as Keats’ best friend Charles Brown turn in a compelling performance as well. In fact, I could say that his character leaves more of an impression to everyone in our group than the poet himself.

To sum things up, Bright Star isn’t a terrible movie, it’s got its fine moments I suppose, but it’s definitely not great.

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So readers, have you seen or plan to see any of these flicks? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Chat-Worthy Actor: Clive Owen

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This past Monday, IMDb homepage featured Clive on its actor spotlight section. As he ranks pretty high up there in my favorite actors list, I thought I’d put him on the spotlight here, too. The dashing Brit is one of those actors who despite a few lousy flicks (i.e. the preposterous Shoot ‘Em Up and the dull Duplicity), still comes out practically unscathed. IMDb’s description of him is quite fitting: Whether performing Shakespeare, driving a speeding BMW, or holding his own against mega-stars, Clive Owen has established himself as one of the most versatile actors in theater, television, and film.

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Looking at his filmography, he’s got some great movies under his belt. Children of Men is destined to be a classic sci-fi drama, which remains my favorite role from the tall Brit. I also enjoyed his performance in Inside Man, King Arthur, Beyond Borders, Gosford Park, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The International. I even enjoyed his brief appearance in the first Bourne film, Bourne Identity. Though his attempt at comedy in Greenfingers didn’t fare as well as his action/dramatic ones. His latest movie The Boys Are Back shows his tender side as a single parent raising two young boys (check out my review). He also played a dad alongside Catherine Keener in the David Schwimmer-directed indie Trust.

The first time I saw Clive might’ve been in those BMW short films The Hire, which I thought is a pretty shrewd marketing campaign that truly flaunt those coveted German automobiles. This series of eight short films (which you can watch on youtube) was released online back in 2001, featuring popular filmmakers such as John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, etc., and starring Clive as the “Driver.” Sure Jason Statham is cool in The Transporter, but Clive adds a dose of sophistication and class to his ‘cool factor.’ Despite his nonchalant demeanor, he projects a certain brand of pathos with his soulful eyes that I find incredibly attractive.

All that always brings me to this theory: Clive would make a terrific James Bond. Whenever I watched him in action flicks (and there are quite a lot of ’em) or even the way he talks with that deep, raspy voice (always a plus!), I kept thinking how Clive would’ve fit that 007 role like a glove. He not only looks the part (tall, dark and British), he somehow epitomizes what I think the text book super spy ‘model’ is supposed to be. Ok, I know, I know, it’s really a moot point now as the actor himself don’t even want the job. He did do a parody of Bond in The Pink Panther though, which I thought is pretty amusing. On his IMDb trivia, he’s quoted as saying: “Bond was the best thing that never happened to me. I was never in the running but the more I said so, the more people thought I had it in the bag. What’s so funny about it all is my career in Britain was in really bad shape at the time, but my agents pretty much built me a new one in America by playing up all the Bond stories. All I had to do was keep on telling people I was never going to be Bond. I’d like to think I made it on talent, but it’s really just dumb luck. If I hadn’t worn that tux in Croupier, I’d still be begging for the parts Robson Green turned down on cop shows.”

Oh well, at least we have those BMW films to watch Clive looking very Bond-like and wish I could take a ride with him in those ultimate driving machines… well, then again maybe not. Just take a peek at this one called Star and you’ll know what I mean. Directed by Guy Ritchie and starring his own ex-missus Madonna, I bet he’d get a kick out of this one even more now.

Now, this action-packed one called Ticker with Don Cheadle and Ray Liotta is also worth checking out, it’s easily my favorite one of the series:


Updated 10/3:

I hope to see Clive in leading roles again as he’s more versatile than Hollywood gives him credit for. Now that I’ve seen a bit more of his work, I can say that I like him in dramatic roles as much as his more action-packed roles. So here are my top five favorite Clive Owen roles so far:

  • Theo Faron – Children of Men
  • Mac – Shadow Dancer
  • Louis Salinger – The International
  • Sir Walter Raleigh – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  • Joe Warr – The Boys Are Back

Are you a fan of Clive? What’s your favorite Clive Owen movie(s)?

Conspicuous Trailer of the Week – The Boys Are Back

Clive Owen takes a break from being a gunslinging action hero with a tender fatherhood tale that’s based on a true story. The plot centers on a wisecracking sportswriter Joe Warr who’s suddenly thrown into single parenthood in the wake of his wife’s tragic death. Forced to raise not one but two boys, a curious six year-old and a rebellious teen from a previous marriage, he struggles to take care of them in a household bereft of any feminine influence. Ultimately, father and sons alike must find their own way, amidst tumult and grief, to grow up and draw closer as a family.

Brought by the director of Shine and producer of Billy Elliot (which I absolutely adore!), the film is also executive produced by Owen himself. I teared up just watching  the trailer, Clive looks like a natural in what’s promised to be a poignant family drama. Oh, and the scenery of South Australia countryside is breathtakingly gorgeous. Here’s wishing Clive will never again do anything like the atrociously preposterous Shoot ’em up. Ever.