The Cove – 4.5

As far as the movie goes, it was a lot of buildup, not much payoff. The comparison that came to mind is Man on Wire – assembling the team, figuring out equipment, evading detection, etc. – but there the climax was moments of pure exhilaration and triumph, here it was a scene not too different from what had come before. Maybe the dolphin slaughter film that resulted was too distressing to show us, but the footage that Ric O’Barry carried around on his chest-TV monitor didn’t seem all that compelling, to us or to the millions of Japanese pedestrians who streamed by without stopping.

Why is the dolphin slaughter in Japan morally worse than the slaughter of cows in America (not that the Japanese don’t slaughter cows as well), a question the Japanese raise in the film, and a question that particularly resonates after one has just seen Food, Inc. If it is because dolphins are more intelligent than cows – which seems to be the movie’s response – then where do we draw the line? And how do we judge the “intelligence” of pigs, swordfish and other creatures we routinely devour? I can’t imagine shooting a moose, but I have many fewer qualms about deer hunting. Is rarity the test, or sustainability of the population, or whether the animal appears cute or charming to us humans? Obviously, we shouldn’t be feeding mercury-contaminated dolphin meat to our schoolchildren, but that is a side issue for the crusaders of The Cove. Just as obviously, we shouldn’t tolerate lying to justify killing whales, or bribery to buy votes at the IWC. But are we morally justified in condemning the Japanese for simply killing dolphins because they are such appealing animals?

District 9 – 8

Who are the bad guys here? Is it the “prawns” from outer space? The Nigerian hoodlums?  The profit-driven corporate chieftains at MNU? Or the trigger-happy South African Defense Force? We know the good guy is the pencil-pusher Wikus van der Merve, and what a good guy! Meak, somewhat wimpy, none too bright, and yet he emerges as the only one who gets it right, although he does have to kill a lot of people along the way, and I can’t even remember what happens to him at the end. This film is brilliant in its moral ambiguity, its documentary style is oh-so-clever, and its pacing is perfect. And despite the inclusion of a million creatures from a space ship, I found the movie quite realistic, perhaps because Johannesburg was itself an alien backdrop. The only thing I had trouble accepting was the requirement that MNU obtain prawn signatures on their eviction notices.

The Perfect Getaway – 4.5

This is a one-trick movie, and once you see that it is a dirty trick being played on the viewer, the modest respect I had for the Hawaiian scenery and Steve Zahn’s character flew out the window. There are “red snappers” – I mean, herrings – galore, but the switcheroo is not of that ilk. Nothing that occurs, or is said, in the first two-thirds of the movie makes any sense or has any integrity once the final third comes around. And that final third, on its own terms, is pretty absurd, too. Where was the “screenplay-writer”?

(500) Days of Summer -7.5

Glad I saw this with my wife because, whereas I saw Summer as gorgeous perfection, too good for any guy in this movie, my wife saw Summer as vapid, emotionally withholding, not worthy of Tom, whom I saw as a feckless twerp.  Of course, we were both right, which is a testament to the fine acting performance by Zooey Deschanel, and to the difference between the sexes. None of the situations in the movie bore any relation to reality, as I know it – a greeting-card company where a dozen people sit in cubicles to come up with “I Love Us”?, c’mon! – which made the realism of the boy-girl relationship all the more compelling. Cute, well acted, not too deep – a sweet time at the movies and a nice first feature from director Marc Webb.

Food, Inc. -7

This was an indelicate subject made with surprising delicacy, thanks especially to a compellingly rational lead talking-head, Eric Schlosser. The glaring weakness was the lack of a two-sided argument: none of the big food companies that were vilified – Monsanto, Perdue, Tyson, etc. – were willing to be interviewed, which left me to wonder if there might be another side to the story of the Indiana seed cleaner who was being put out of business through legal harassment. Nevertheless, seeing where your hamburger meat and chicken breasts come from made me feel good about dining at Heartland last week and encouraged me to seek out farmers’ markets for all the cooking I don’t do.

In the Loop – 7.9

Hysterically funny, at least the half I was able to catch. It was paced like a sitcom, and the performances were uniformly over-the-top, but the whole fit seamlessly together, like fingers in a glove. An especially deft and novel leitmotif was the role of 20-somethings, pulling and being hit by levers in the power corridors of Washington and London. The story of how British “intel” facilitated America’s rush into a nameless war might have seemed absurd had not every event in the movie echoed reality as we now know it. An inside source on WMD called “Iceman”? Not half as ridiculous as the CIA’s reliance on “Screwball.” The media’s fixation on a crumbling garden wall while war is being plotted? Try the “beer summit,” while health-care overhaul is left to dry.

Public Enemies – 4

What an expensively handsome emotional zero! A film eulogizing a murdering bank robber was probably misconceived to begin with, but then to direct both John Dillinger and G-man Melvin Purvis as one-dimensional ensured that our sympathies would not be engaged. The love interest, played by Marion Cotillard, set off no sparks, either. The only character who showed any signs of psychological struggle was the Romanian call-girl threatened with deportation if she didn’t finger Dillinger. Interestingly, my only question at movie’s end was, did she get shipped out after all – not did Purvis commit suicide 27 years later, as the credits gratuitously informed us. The clothing and the bank architecture were fun to watch, though.