POSTED ON AUGUST 21, 2013:
Kicking Seaworld's Ass
One flick opens up a can, another just opens
Man's inhumanity to man is only slightly better documented than his inhumanity to animals. We rationalize it, particularly when it comes to food. For every burger-loving homo sapien (of which I am certainly one, with bacon, please) there is a certain cognitive dissonance to what goes into that juicy, cheesy bomb of awesome. In our society, we don't have to do the dirty work of killing our own food anymore. We leave that to the unseen business of the slaughterhouse.
Though at least that business serves the purpose of people not starving. We need to eat (and I would argue for meat as a part of the omnivore's diet), so the rationalizing breaks down to the animal. Cows and pigs are ugly and dumb. Sheep are proverbial victims. And who would eat a cute bunny rabbit? Dogs and cats are practically taboo. None of them are considered sentient.
But the Darwinist realities of feeding people are quite different than from those of feeding our need for entertainment. Blackfish, the new documentary Seaworld would rather not exist, lays bare a different kind of cruelty.
Beginning with the 2010 death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau, Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a full-grown killer whale who was captured two years after his birth and has been consigned to captivity ever since. To date, Tilikum has been deemed responsible for the deaths of two trainers and one misguided fan who decided to evade security to bond with the giant mammal in his "habitat." That would-be Timothy Treadwell got his genitals torn off for his trouble.
Killer whales, much like dolphins in the wild, are generally protectors of humans (the film asserts that the deaths at the water parks are the only known cases of orcas killing people). After all, we are both intelligent mammals who share the gift of language. As it turns out, when you take a giant, sentient mammal and enclose it in the prison equivalent of a shoebox, it starts to lose its mind.
Thus Blackfish delves not only into the psychology of whales, but also those of the clearly haunted, former trainers and employees of Seaworld who had a hand in their capture and captivity.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (and co-written with Eli B. Despres), Blackfish is a devastating portrait of the negligent nature of Seaworld's practices, not just regarding their captive animals but also their employees, who reveal in candid interviews the Wal-Mart-inspired mentality behind a business that values ticket sales over safety or ethics.
Mock Her Hair Color. I Freaking Dare You. Hit Girl returns in Kick-Ass 2, still kind of upset by the death of her insane dad. If your dad was Nic Cage, you’d hit things, too, most likely.
One example is Samantha Berg who, as a post-grad in 1990, dreamed of swimming with the giants but never believed she would be qualified to do so. After sending in a resume, she was surprised to get a call and find that all it took was to be "physically fit and look good in a wetsuit." For slightly more than minimum wage, she was thrown into the trainer gig she dreamed of, never once thinking her lack of qualifications might be life-threatening. When she later learned of Brancheau's death and the park's mealy-mouthed attempts to blame it on "trainer error" she, like the others, felt compelled to come forward.
Time and again, the park tries to shift its culpability in the deaths of its employees from the inhumane practices that are driving the animals crazy to the scapegoat of human error. The absurdity is sickening, while the human remains leave psychological scars and literal blood in the water as the film shows in interviews and archival footage, with sometimes graphic detail.
As a mirror of 2009's The Cove, which details the pointless Japanese slaughter of dolphins for meat that is too mercury-laden for human consumption, Blackfish is a crushing portrait of the business of animals and how capitalism is not just fueled by the blood of humans, but also the truly innocent. And like The Cove, you won't see a more appalling, frustrating, and damning documentary in this or perhaps many years to come.
Blackfish opens this Friday at the Circle Cinema. For more information visit www.circlecinema.com
Going back to the well after the success of a first film which clearly had franchise written all over it is hardly a shock (or really worthy of complaining about). In fact, 2010's Kick-Ass was a lot of fun. So much so, I was actually looking forward to returning to that world, despite how ultimately derivative the homemade superhero genre is. Nothing is really ever going to top The Watchmen.
But director Matt Vaughn, who already had the enjoyable Stardust and the downright great, Daniel Craig-starrer Layer Cake under his belt before taking on the popular Mark Millar/John Romita Jr. comic book, Kick-Ass, brought all of the verve and style that made his previous films such fun to the tale of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nowhere Boy); a high school loser pining for the girl of his dreams, who decides, despite possessing no special skills to speak of, to become a masked superhero.
Picking up three years after the first film, Kick-Ass has retired, but also inspired a plethora of others to don masks and do good deeds. Missing the old days, Dave decides to join forces with a new troupe of vigilantes called Justice Forever, who are led by a crazed, ex-veteran turned Christian warrior, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey, I Love You, Phillip Morris).
Hit Girl helps with his re-training (the time off has dulled Dave's edge for ass-kicking), but she is reluctantly forced to give up her true nature when her father's best friend and her new guardian, Marcus (Morris Chestnut, Identity Thief) insists that she live a normal life; listening to boy bands and adopting a bitchy, Heathers-like clan of popular high school girlfriends. Hit Girl finds the transition disconcerting; more so because of her burgeoning crush on Dave.
Meanwhile, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad) is still stewing about the death of his crime lord father from the first film and pining for revenge against Kick-Ass. When he accidentally fries his mom in a tanning machine, he uses his newfound inheritance to hire a bunch of hardcore criminals and become the world's first evil super-villain, The Motherfucker.
When he finds that Kick-Ass is back in business, The Motherfucker makes it his mission to extract vengeance.
And while many of the cast return, the lack of Matt Vaughn -- or a script that feels like it's even trying to top the first film -- drains Kick-Ass 2 of much of the charm of the original.
Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (whose Never Back Down apparently gave him the chops to somewhat competently pull off the generic fight sequences here), right from the start, Kick-Ass 2 is merely aping what made the first film so energetic and funny. For an easy laugh, they recycle the Kevlar sequence, when Big Daddy shot Hit Girl, forgetting that the element of shock and surprise (and weird glee) is what made that work in the first film. Here, it's a weak homage.
That sense of listlessness pervades much of Kick-Ass 2. The relationship between Kick-Ass and Hit Girl is just going through the motions to the point of diluting whatever chemistry they once had. The script's exposition and meandering narrative mostly sidelines The Motherfucker (whose name is in no way the easiest joke possible, among a few others -- hey, the evil black guy is Black Death!) for much of the first half of the film.
When Kick-Ass joins forces with Justice Forever for their first mission taking out some Asian human traffickers, the consequences don't feed a cohesive story other than to give Carrey an opportunity to be appropriately crazed. It feels like the film is running the meter until the charmless, mean-spirited third act.
Aside from rote attempts to shock for a few cheap laughs, the script feels like an uninspired pastiche. Worse, the teenagers are written by the hand of a seeming 40 year-old, who thinks terms like "obvs," "totes," and the proverbial "I know, right?!" somehow make the characters sound more genuine instead of caricatures from an after-school Disney XD show. Annoyingly self-aware sequel and copycat references cement Wadlow's own referential shallowness instead of revealing true genre satire.
Chloë Grace Moretz and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are too talented to suck, but they also have to do a lot more heavy lifting to give Kick-Ass and Hit Girl a sense of real purpose. Clark Duke, as Dave's best friend and newly minted superhero, Battle Guy, is doing his usual "I coast on unfounded confidence" routine. Indeed, the only times Kick-Ass 2 seems to really come to life at all is with the shockingly committed Mintz-Plasse, who is going all in as The Motherfucker, and with the weirdly subdued Carrey, whose few inspired moments only act as a contrast to the true dementia Cage brought to the first film. Everything else screams lame television knockoff, with extra violence and f-bombs.
Say what you will about the original, at least it felt cinematic and imaginative. Kick-Ass 2's weakness is in thinking it can stand on those shoulders and be automatically adored.
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