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Films I Forgot To Review: Not Dolphin-Free
by Peter Sobczynski

Another helping of current films that I was simply too lazy to go about at length

I am perfectly willing to admit that when it comes to quirky romantic comedies about two emotionally damaged oddballs who must overcome the various obstacles in their lives if they hope to make a go of it together, I may not exactly be the target audience for such things. That said, I like to think that I am still able to recognize the difference between one that is good and one that is bad and I am here to tell you that “Adam” is a very bad one indeed. This time around, the couple in question consists of Adam (Hugh Dancy), a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome whose sheltered existence comes to an abrupt end when he loses both his father and his job within the space of a few days, and Beth (Rose Byrne) a wannabe children’s book author on the rebound from the breakup of a bad relationship. Dancy and Byrne are both appealing enough performers and I can see how the two of them might click in a romantic comedy with a strong screenplay and tight direction but writer-director Max Mayer has neglected to supply them with either one. The screenplay is a mess that includes any number of unnecessary subplots--one involving Peter Gallagher as Byrne’s potentially shady and definitely disapproving father is pointless even by the standards of subplots involving Peter Gallagher (and that doesn’t even take into account his character’s tendency to throw out random Roaring Twenties references as though he was doing another revival of “Guys and Dolls”) while neglecting to pay off what should have been key story points (much time is spent on Adam practicing for an important job interview and then we never actually get to see any of it). Look, if you want to see a quirky rom-com, go seek out “(500) Days of Summer”--at least that has some wit, intelligence and insight to it. “Adam,” on the other hand, is little more than treacly junk about which the nicest thing you can say is that it is slightly better than “The Ugly Truth.”

Anyone who grew up watching the string of fantasy films produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment during the 1980’s is likely to experience a certain sense of déjà vu while watching “Aliens in the Attic,” a film that overtly tries to follow in those footsteps. This time around, a group of kids discover that a group of aliens have crash-landed on the roof of their vacation home in the hopes of digging up a communication device that will allow them to signal their fellow creatures to begin an all-out planetary invasion. Naturally, it falls to them to figure out a way to save the world without letting their parents know what is happening and, in a development that will no doubt shock many of you, they manage to save the day through the virtues of teamwork and family (although befriending one of the aliens and facilities with videogames and potato guns also play a part). The chief flaw of the film is that, unlike the better Amblin vehicles, this film is aimed strictly at the younger audiences and as a result, any real sense of danger or menace has been ruthlessly removed and as a result, the entire things comes across as what “Gremlins” might have been like if my mother had directed it instead of Joe Dante. However, if you can accept the child-like nature of the story, it does have a few compensations--there are some funny lines here and there, the kids aren’t too obnoxious and it moves quickly enough. (In addition, dads and older brothers roped into taking the little ones may appreciate the frequency of screen time in which starlet Ashley Tisdale parades around in a bikini.) Most of all, it comes as a bit of a relief to see a movie aimed at kids that doesn’t come with the increasingly irritating 3-D gimmick, the distracting vocal contributions of big-name stars or backstories so elaborate that they make the Bible seem streamlined by comparison--it just jumps in there with nothing more on its mind than to entertain and for the most part, it does just that.

Slinking into town with no advance screenings and an ad campaign that actually brags that it was created by the people responsible for the screenplays of the last couple of entries in the increasingly tiresome “Saw” series, “The Collector” appears to be little more than just another torture-porn extravaganza consisting on nothing but endless scenes of people being gruesomely murdered in ways that even the Marquis de Sade might have found a tad excessive. For the most part, that is exactly what it is but as I was watching it, I was somewhat startled to discover that it actually has a few intriguing qualities amidst the blood and guts. The premise of the film--a desperate ex-con () breaks into an isolated house that he believes to be empty in order to steal a precious gem to pay off his wife’s gambling debts, only to discover that the family is being brutally tortured to death by a masked madman and that all the exits have been booby-trapped--is kind of intriguing and the extended and largely silent sequence in which our hero gets into the house and slowly (and painfully) begins to realize that something is very wrong is actually a stylish and relatively spellbinding display of pure cinematic craft on the part of debuting director Marcus Dunstan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Patrick Melton. Once the bloodshed begins in earnest, however, it quickly becomes tiresome and the whole thing turns into yet another grisly bit of nonsense in which actual tension and terror has been replaced by endless buckets of blood pouring out of character that are so thinly developed that it is impossible to generate any sympathy for them. And yet, those opening scenes really are something and suggest that Dunstan may actually have it in him to create a decent horror movie somewhere down the line--this one isn’t it but at least it has a few moments that don’t realize that.

“The Cove” is a documentary that probably won’t win many points for subtlety but with a subject like the one it is tackling--exposing how fishermen of the coast of the Japanese fishing town of Taji annually round up all the dolphins unlucky to be caught swimming in the area into a remote cove in order sell most of them to aquariums around the world and kill the rest in order to pass off their mercury-laden flesh as whale meat--that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The film follows around a group of animal-rights activists recruited by Ric O’Barry (who trained the dolphins for the old “Flipper” TV show and has since dedicated his life to preventing their capture and captivity) to infiltrate the cove and set up hidden cameras in order to record the carnage and expose it to the world. Along the way, the film investigates why these people are so obsessed with killing dolphins and the real machinations behind the benign-sounding International Whaling Commission. Even if you aren’t a die-hard animal-rights supporter, it is virtually impossible to come out of this film without feeling angry about what is going on over there, especially after watching the horrifying footage of dolphin slaughter that concludes it. At the same time, “The Cove” is actually a remarkably gripping film in many ways--watching the activists as they attempt to pull off their duties while under constant danger of being caught offers up the same kind of adrenaline rush that you get from a well-made action thriller. You should definitely see this film--however, if you have made plans to go to Sea World anytime in the near future, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to go to EPCOT instead.

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originally posted: 08/07/09 14:11:49
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