(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Creatures of the Deep

One of the wonderful benefits of living close to the shore in southern California is the occasional glimpse I get of whales in their natural habitat. Grey and “killer” whales are relative fixtures, especially during their migration periods. One can also drive just a couple of hours to San Diego’s Sea World to see orcas in captivity. After viewing the new documentary Blackfish (opening today in Los Angeles and New York City), though, you’ll think twice about visiting Sea World or any other venue where these magnificent creatures are—as the film relentlessly asserts—exploited with tragic results.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite draws from interviews with numerous whale experts and trainers, who by and large testify they were uneducated or under-trained before being put in the water with their trainees, in her primary effort to understand how one aquatic star at Sea World in Florida came to be involved in the deaths of three people over the last two decades. Tilikum (Chinook for “friend”) is an 8,000-pound bull orca, the largest in captivity, who was caught in 1983 when he was about 3 years old. He and two other whales were implicated in the death of a trainer in 1991 at the first water park that housed him. After being moved to Florida, the body of a nude man was found in Tilikum’s tank in 1999. Most recently and notoriously, Tilikum killed and partly devoured trainer Dawn Brancheau before a live audience in 2010. He was subsequently removed from performances for a year but has since returned.

In Blackfish, orcas are described as “top predators” who also display undeniable intelligence, probably not the kind of animal anyone should be alone with in a tank. As a trainer states in the film, “When you look into (a whale’s) eyes, you know somebody’s home; somebody’s looking back.” What’s more, orcas are potentially mindful of their species’ history of being caught and exploited. One former whale hunter shares a fascinating recollection of how adult whales without young would intentionally lead him and his fellow hunters away from those whales with babies, who would swim in another direction. He also confesses that several young whales died during the hunt and that the hunters cut the carcasses open and filled them with rocks and anchors to sink them, thereby eliminating evidence of their illegal activity.

The documentary’s content is potent stuff that will surely upset many animal admirers. It is also frustratingly one-sided, with nary a comment included by anyone who favors or benefits from the exhibition of captured whales. Such facilities as Sea World can and do serve a valuable educational purpose that is barely acknowledged. Greater objective balance on the part of Cowperthwaite would make Blackfish a more complex and interesting, less preachy exposé.

Leviathans from the ocean deep also play a starring role in the recently released Pacific Rim, but they aren’t of this world. In Guillermo Del Toro’s brightly colored sci-fi adventure, fearsome kaiju (a Japanese term meaning “giant beast” à la Godzilla) are being sent from another dimension through a rift at the bottom of the sea in the not-too-distant future for the sole purpose of destroying humanity. Fortunately, we have developed 50-story tall, nuclear-powered robots called jaegers to destroy them during massive-scale hand to hand combat.

Charismatic Charlie Hunnam, well known to older gay viewers as the original Nathan on the British version of Queer as Folk, heads a quirky, international cast that includes Rinko Kikuchi (Babel), Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses), Torchwood’s Burn Gorman and sexy Idris Elba (Thor). Del Toro regular Ron Perlman (Hellboy) also makes an amusing appearance as a black market seller of kaiju parts. The movie’s art direction and CGI effects are impeccable, which is typical of Del Toro’s work.

My inner 10-year old thought Pacific Rim was totally cool, engaging and entertaining. My current, outer 45-year old thinks it best not to think too hard about the plot, which frequently strains credibility even for such comic book-ish fodder. In the end, one can do a lot worse for summer movie entertainment than a souped-up, over-priced tribute to 1976’s Godzilla vs. Megalon.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Blackfish: B
Pacific Rim: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.


  1. Dear "Reverend":

    Regarding your review of BLACKFISH, you say, "The documentary’s content is potent stuff that will surely upset many animal admirers. It is also frustratingly one-sided, with nary a comment included by anyone who favors or benefits from the exhibition of captured whales. Such facilities as Sea World can and do serve a valuable educational purpose that is barely acknowledged. Greater objective balance on the part of Cowperthwaite would make Blackfish a more complex and interesting, less preachy exposé."

    BLACKFISH is not about 'upsetting' "animal admirers". It's about stating the facts...and hoping that the human audience (bearing in mind that we are supposed to be the most intelligent and evolved creatures on the planet) will recognize these ABUSEMENT parks for what they are...and shut them down!

    If you're looking for someone to blame for BLACKFISH being "frustratingly one-sided", as you so eloquently describe it, you need look no further than the company which most "favor$ or benefit$ from the EXPLOITATION of captured whales" (and is, coincidentally, mentioned in the very next line of your blurb): Sea World. Sea World was given an opportunity to contribute to the movie, but refused!

    I'm guessing there are some people out there who, either for profit or solely for the sake of 'stirring the pot', might claim that documentaries about the Holocaust (or any/all other disasters throughout history, whether natural or manmade) are "frustratingly one-sided, with nary a comment included by anyone who favors or benefits from...", I don't know, population control???

    Like all human endeavors, BLACKFISH may not be perfect. But if we focused a little bit less on the minor flaws/imperfections of a documentary and a little more on the subject matter -- and what all of us supposedly 'superior' (i.e., intelligent, caring and compassionate) human beings can do to eliminate such abuse -- the world would be a much better place...for all of us "EARTHLINGS" (yet another documentary you would no doubt deem "one-sided").

    Regarding Sea World's "valuable educational purpose ", there was a time when that may have been the case, but today, with the Internet, rescue and rehab (and release!) facilities, whale watching (whether from shore or from strictly regulated whale watching boats), etc., there is no excuse whatsoever for keeping such animals in captivity. Any excuses you may offer are no different than Japanese whalers attempting to justify the killing of hundreds of whales every year for "RE$EARCH"...or Big Tobacco claiming that is does not target KID$. Just in case you missed it, Reverend, check out the third letter of RE$EARCH and the fourth letter of KID$. Oh, and let's not forget the first letter of $EA WORLD! Sadly, tragically, that seems to have become the top priority: $$$

    Just a wild guess here, Reverend, but is it safe to assume that you will NOT be attending any of the global protests this coming Saturday, regarding ....unless, of course, you want to do yet another, "Gosh, these protests are awfully one-sided!" review.

    I won't hold my breath waiting to see this comment posted on your blog, but feel free to surprise me.

    Errol E. Povah
    Box 18004, 1215c 56th St.
    Delta, B.C. CANADA
    V4L 2M4

    604 930-4832

  2. Dear Errol: Thank you for reading and for your passionate response. I don't disagree with you regarding the importance of the issues raised by the film, but my responsibility as a critic is to analyze the film itself. I haven't heard anything about the upcoming protests you mention. Feel free to reply with more information about them.


  3. Editor's note:

    Our Chris Carpenter is indeed a Reverend, there is no need to put his title in quotation marks.

    Also, please refrain from posting personal information such as addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Links to personal websites/blogs are OK.

    - KH


  4. Dear REVEREND and KH:

    Thank you, both...for posting my somewhat sarcastic comments (oops!) and for your responses.

    But again, Reverend, with the utmost of respect: I'm quite well aware that your "responsibility as a critic is to analyze the film itself", but it seems to me that your biggest criticism of BLACKFISH is that it is "frustratingly one-sided." Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that you continue to point the finger of blame, for that one-sidedness, at the film or, more specifically, the producer/director when, in fact, as I indicated in my previous comment, $ea World was given more than one opportunity to provide 'balance'/'non-frustrating two-sidedness'...AND THEY REFUSED! Why? Call this speculation on my part if you must but, until I hear a better 'excuse' from $ea World, I'm stickin' with this one: $ea World refused to comment because they know damn well that there is no justification whatsoever for their barbaric abuse of animals unless, of course, we count $$$ as justification.

    Regarding the protests (and thank you, again, for asking about them...and giving me an opportunity to provide more info): I was a little late checking back here, but...

    Yah, the protests are today (Sat, July, in about 8 hours!), the day after BLACKFISH was released in much of the world.

    I'm in the Vancouver area, so I will be attending the one at the Vancouver Aquarium, from 11:00 a.m. til 2:00 p.m. Individuals from many different organizations are involved in the local event, including, in no particular order, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, No Whales In Captivity, Vancouver Mermaid, PETA and the Vancouver Animal Defense League, to name just a few.

    Again, for more info, visit . Even if you haven't seen the movie yet, just google "BLACKFISH trailer"...and I suspect you'll be sufficiently motivated to attend the protest nearest you!

    When the buying stops, the killing can too!

    Thanx again, guys!