At some point in your early life, you have that life changing moment where you either see a larger-than-life mammal at a zoo, aquarium or SeaWorld (or maybe more impressively in the wild) and realize how small you really are; a moment of respect—hopefully—between progeny and beast, and an admiration of nature that will continue to grow and flourish.
Blackfish is about Tilikum, an aggressive male killer whale (albeit understandably aggressive), and the multiple incidents, including three deaths that prompted the ongoing court case between SeaWorld and OSHA. You have to give director Gabriela Cowperthwaite a lot of props for making an incredibly convincing, moving (and quite disturbing) professional-looking movie about something nobody really had any clue about. Like “whistleblowers,” the movie follows trainers describing themselves, the deceased trainers, and Tilikum. However you feel about SeaWorld, after watching ex-SeaWorld employee, after employee, after employee—and again, and again—come out against their old job, you start to question SeaWorld immediately. Why would so many ex-trainers come out against SeaWorld? The film might be enlightening for some, or just maybe “preaching to the choir.” But, we really don’t hear much from SeaWorld. Could they be “that” clueless, or even cruel? Really? Well, maybe after reading this it is quite clear that they are. This film will make you very uneasy, but it will change your life—as it changed SeaWorld’s. It is a perfect combination of solid filmmaking and subject matter, whatever your opinions. What is crystal-clear though, is that the “make-whales-do-tricks” industry, like most industries where big money is involved, such as big tobacco or American football, the bottom line is all that matters. Everything else, including humanity, takes a back-seat.
The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing is about Anwar Congo (the nicest killer you might ever meet) and his buddies who dance through musical numbers, act tough in film noir gangster scenes and then play cowboys, and yes, drag-queens (whoa!). When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends, who were real gangsters who ran movie theaters, were promoted to death squad leaders. One million alleged communists and ethnic Chinese were massacred. After the death squads, came an ultra right-wing paramilitary group who, still today, boast about corruption, election rigging, extortion, rape and murder. Since all of Anwar’s buddies are film aficionados, they leap at the opportunity to play all of their favorite characters in the movies, and this is where director Joshua Oppenheimer exposes a regime that has never faced accountability for any of its crimes (you literally wonder when they will finally get it, and go after the film crew, and it makes for an uneasy tension throughout the documentary). As light and bizarre as this films starts out, it gets dark as more crimes are exposed, with Anwar eventually having a mental breakdown because of it. Joshua Oppenheimer has made one of the most important, unique meditations on violence, and the men behind the executioner’s mask, you will ever see. In fact, this could be the best film of 2013, it is that incredibly unique. This is super gutsy documentary filmmaking.
If you haven’t seen Taxi Driver, well, now is your opportunity. Wait a minute, you’ve never seen Taxi Driver? It’s almost better that you don’t know much, just dive right in, and get ready for a New York City that is long gone. This is the New York City of pimps, pushers, hookers, drug dealers, X-rated porn theaters, rapists, racists and overall sleaze. This is 70s New York City. Look at the poster, above; an iconic moment in pop culture. And that’s the hero! Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine and Vietnam vet, who drives a taxi in the Big Apple. “You talkin to me, “ is the quote, you’ve never heard in context. Robert De Niro has a mohawk for crying-out-loud, how could you not be the least bit interested?
Taxi Driver is one of the greatest movies ever made. Like The Godfather and The Deer Hunter, this is one of Hollywood’s crowning achievements. It’s their gutsiest movie they were ever involved in. Find a night to watch this, with your friends and family (parents put the kids to bed) and get ready for a movie that will change you forever. Oh yeah, Martin Scorsese directed it, you know the guy who made Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street. Taxi Driver is his masterpiece (although arguments could be made that Raging Bull is better, Taxi Driver is why Quentin Tarantino makes movies, a fact).