No one likes being preached at. No matter how much you agree with Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, there’s still a large part of you that wants to punch him in the face. Hard. Repeatedly. Likewise with Moore and Spurlock at their most sanctimonious.
These preachy personalities with their ‘mission’ documentaries seem to have become a lot more popular of late: both on film and on television (or at least British television). It seems everywhere you look there’s a Jamie Oliver telling you to teach other people a healthy recipe, or a Gok Wan telling you to be a “natural beauty”.
Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe did a whole show on the phenomenon, showing how easy and lazy it was to make ‘good’ television around such campaigns:
Joining in on the fun isThe Cove. Its campaign? Dolphins. They’re being killed in a cove in Japan and we really should care about it. Now, don’t get me wrong we really should care about it. However, there’s a difference between objectively showing me the evidence: trusting that I have the ounce of morality it takes to believe the slaughtering of dolphins is wrong, and ramming said opinion down my throat.
The film centres on Ric O’Barry a man who worked as the main dolphin trainer on the 1960s show Flipper. A man who, I must admit I was fascinated by. Someone who’d seen the error of his ways and was seeking redemption by doing his utmost for the safety of dolphins worldwide.
He emotively tells us the pain he saw in a dolphin’s eyes the day before they died. This apparent suicide convincing him of the wrongness of keeping dolphins in captivity. The film contains lots of accounts like this, as people use their personal experience to essentially prove dolphins are people too. Of course they’re not. But the film goes to great lengths to show the viewer “they’re just like us”.
If such accounts were used in some religious documentary attempting to prove Christianity, Islam, Scientology or whatever, people would rightly point out that personal experience is just that -personal and subjective. It has no place in proving anything objectively. Experiences like this are perhaps useful in helping explain why a person holds the beliefs they do, but nothing more than that. In fact, I would have no problem with such opinions being shared in a film that looked at why people were willing to risk so much for the fate of these smiling mammals. But that’s not this film.
Aside from these accounts, the film also goes into Ocean’s Eleven mode about half way through its runtime. Ric O’Barry and the director assembling a crack team of specialists to set up secret cameras all round this Japanese Cove. This aspect of the film completely succeeds on an entertainment level, going toe-to-toe with the best scenes from any heist movie.
Nevertheless, this stylish and brilliantly edited part of the movie still feels manipulative, and took me out of the experience: forcing me to consider how everything was put together. It led me to question how much of what I was shown was real and exciting, and how much of it was made to look that way for the sake of an exhilarating scene.
The Cove is a movie which was made with the best of intentions. I have no doubt that the people behind it completely believed in the importance and virtue of what they were doing. However, in being unable to take a step back from their cause, they’ve made a film which treats its audience like children: telling us what’s right and wrong instead of trusting us to see it for ourselves. I come from a school of thought that documentaries should document, and in telling, as oppose to showing us something, I believe the film has failed. An admirable failure, perhaps. But a failure all the same.
Coming from completely the opposite end of the spectrum, is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. A film the term Best Worst Movie was almost made for.
The plot is similar to the recent Liam Neeson film: Taken. Arnie’s an ex-commando and his daughter has been kidnapped. It’s up to him to rescue her.
Commando is the best type of B-Movie, since it has no illusions about its own artistic merit. This leaves it free to be as silly as it wants. Like Terminator, it realises Arnie is at his best when not given too many words all at once. Instead, almost all his dialogue is delivered in one liners such as:
Arnie: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last…. I lied
Cooke: You scared, motherf****r? Well, you should be, because this Green Beret is going to kick your big ass!
Arnie: I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I’m very hungry!
Aside from these one-liners, the other thing that differentiates it from the average action flick is that, at the time, it held the record for most number of on-screen kills in a movie by a single character. The final showdown between Arnie and his adversaries setting the benchmark for how to ramp it up to the max right before the credits roll:
There’s not much more to say about Commando, except it’s Arnie doing what he does best. Although I think he’ll be best remembered for The Terminator movies, he’s not the only reason those films work. Commando, on the other hand, is completely his film, and the amount of enjoyment you get from it rests entirely on whether you can buy into his unique acting ability and on-screen presence. For those of us who can, Commando is way more fun than it has any right to be.