This whole film could so easily have been on Upworthy, with one of those ridiculous clickbait titles along the lines of After Watching This, You Will Never Look At SeaWorld The Same Way Again, Ever. Had this been the case, I might never have watched it, so it’s rather fortunate that the title is Blackfish and that the film was hosted on Netflix, a much more agreeable website in my humble opinion.


With its ominous poster of an orca set against a black background, you would be forgiven for thinking this film is about how killer whales are just that: killing machines. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. The documentary studies the various killer whale attacks that have occurred since they have been kept in captivity by humans, noting importantly that such attacks have never happened in the wild. Furthermore, the film goes on to expose how SeaWorld not only tricks their employees into thinking that what they’re doing is good for the whales, but also how they’ve tried to cover up the attacks by saying it was a ‘trainer fault’, dispelling the idea that the whales might be unhappy or maddened by their surroundings.

It’s incredibly well put together, and they lay the facts out pretty clearly. I was quite impressed to discover just how social these animals are, and how large the emotional part of their brain is. On occasion, there is also video evidence showing just how brutal the orcas can be; perhaps the most horrifying of these is one where an experienced trainer is dragged to the bottom of a deep pool by his foot and held under for over a minute. Though he survives the ordeal (whoops, spoilers) it’s nevertheless a chilling sight.

One always has to be careful with a documentary like this, a documentary attacking a company. Though Blackfish‘s intentions are clearly good, they don’t paint a complete picture of SeaWorld and leave out the details of their better projects, such as their conservation efforts and research. SeaWorld have been more than happy to point this out in their counter-Blackfish campaign. While I believe many of Blackfish‘s points are valid, I do disagree with their anthropomorphisation of the killer whales, saying they have ’emotions’ such as grief and anger, as I don’t think this is very scientific. As always, one has to take the information presented with a pinch of salt, but at the very least you have to suspect that there is something fishy (buh-dum-tsh) about SeaWorld.

Having been to one of the SeaWorld parks and seeing the Shamu show when I was younger, the film has certainly made me feel uneasy about the whole affair and with both sides putting forward great arguments it’s difficult to know who to trust. Perhaps the only certainty is that the orcas are beautiful creatures and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. If you don’t have an hour and a half to dedicate to this film though, I know a progressive rock band who wrote something more succinct but with the same basic message.


The World’s End

I was very much looking forward to The World’s End, as I have enjoyed the previous films in Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, on multiple occasions. However, my smiles began to fade as the film drew to its conclusion. Before reading on, I should mention that this review contains spoilers. Spoilers in more than one sense of the word.


The film focuses on Gary King (Simon Pegg), a banterous lout who dreams of finishing the twelve-stop pub crawl he began twenty years ago in his home town of Newton Haven. He enlists his uptight, square, middle-class friends, played by Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine, who reluctantly heed his requests. The comedy is sharp, though rude and incredibly funny.

However, problems arise when King is confronted by an angry teenager who drips blue ink when he is decapitated during a gruesome fight. Something is wrong with Newton Haven, but the fivesome decide to continue with their crawl. The banter is still up to par.The-Worlds-End-2However, by the time they reach pub number seven, something annoying happens. One of Gary’s friends explains to another’s sister (Rosamund Pike) that he has loved her for years, and says that he’s “not just saying that ’cause [he’s] had seven pints.” However, the bloke in question has actually only had six pints by this point, because they missed one out at an earlier pub. Usually, I wouldn’t be so pedantic, but a lot of the comedy in this film works because the facts are so fastidiously accurate. That was the start of a small tear in confidence that would soon grow into a huge gash. Hur-hur, gash.

It was at this point anyway that the laughs seemed to run out. When it had just been about the pub crawl, this was a laugh-a-minute movie. I hadn’t been expecting the robot element, but welcomed it as fun mystery. However, then came the long and brutal action scenes. Seeing all five of the main cast suddenly turn into fighting machines was a leap too far, but the film wanted to go further.

the-last-round-in-the-worlds-endIt seemed that Gary was determined to have a pint in each pub, going as far as to sup half full pint glasses if he was not allowed in a bar. This lead to excruciating shots of him trying to drink whilst fighting. I’d given up caring about this part of the film, and it soon became that I wanted him to finish each pint is because I knew the story wouldn’t progress without it.

At the final pub, naturally titled The World’s End, Pegg and Frost descend into a lair where the alien force has been living for a whole heap of exposition. No laughs here, the dialogue became very confusing and Gary behaving like a twat didn’t really lighten the mood. It was clear that Wright and Co. were simply trying to be clever by throwing as many things at the audience as they could, but this led to a point where I simply wasn’t laughing any more, and subsequently gave up caring about what was going on.

The main problem with this film is that it is inconsistent. I was hooting with laughter for the first forty-five minutes or so, but was stony-faced by the time it came to the end. The script could have easily done without the alien invasion; the character interactions were hilarious enough in themselves. Less is more! While the blue blooded robots were ridiculous enough, the whole exposition as to why they were there in the first place made little sense and, more importantly, was not funny at all. By the end of the film, we were in a drastically different place than we were at the beginning, in a place that didn’t seem to have some poetic irony to it or anything. I’m sure there are people out there who will love the pub-crawl-cum-apocalypse facet of this movie, but I simply feel the second half of this film was a gigantic letdown.

The Dictator

This is the last of the three film reviews I wrote for the abominable Tab journal, yet I feel this one has a more interesting tale than either Michael or American Reunion. It was getting close to exam time, but I managed to convince my fellow Clareites Niv and Binky to join me on this cinematic escapade. With Sacha Baron Cohen at the helm, I knew this would be a film worth reviewing.

The contents of the film were shockingly bold and seemingly offensive, yet the three of us were laughing incredibly hard at it all. As risqué as it was, I decided that if a comedy film makes you laugh to this degree then it must surely be a success. So it was that I wrote a positive, four-star review.

Now, I always see reviews as a chance for creativity. Indeed, I recall a play named Zombie Haiku receiving a negative review in haikus on the very same website, although perhaps the reason this bout of activity was more well-received on the site is because the reviewer happened to be the boyfriend of the afore-mentioned Tab editor Jim Eason. From The Dictator, I had learned that the route of insensitive humour was a viable one, and decided to use it sparingly in my review, as an attempt to mirror the bold comedy contained within the film. My review was to be a litmus test; if the readers didn’t like what they read in the review, then they certainly wouldn’t like the film.

Nevertheless, the powers that be sought to put an end to what they think could have been a controversial mess and asked me to extinguish my attempts to be distinctive and edgy. Since it was their website and not mine, I had to bend to saying what they wanted me to say; indeed, Jim Eason once bent my whole review for me into something she… I mean he wanted me to say! I can accept that the changes made on the website may have been for the best, but I was upset to be robbed of the chance to say exactly what I wanted to say and exercise a little creativity whilst doing so. Now that I have my own blog, this need no longer be the case. I present to you the uncensored, uncut version of my review of Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. Read with caution!


Let me start by saying that if you expect to sit through a Sacha Baron Cohen film without being offended, then you clearly know nothing about him. Those who are in any way squeamish towards the indecent treatment of women, children, Jews, Muslims, dead people, black people, 9/11 and/or rape should not see this film. Once again, Baron Cohen delivers a film that is about as respectful and sensitive as a 1955 bus driver from Alabama.

Importantly, The Dictator is a markedly different venture to Baron Cohen’s previous two films, the controversial Borat (2006) and its arguably weaker cousin Brüno (2009). We now return to a more conventional comedy film, entirely scripted and without relying on the outrageous reactions of unsuspecting non-actors. This is clearly a good move, as our star is now too famous to dress up in another disguise and fool more Americans.


However, not all has changed. Once again, Baron Cohen portrays a foreigner – this time a farcical send-up of Gaddafi with elements of other famous dictators thrown in – speaking in broken English, and a legend in his own country. Once again, the character enjoys living in a bubble of oblivion and naivety, blissfully unaware of the offence he creates. And once again, under his thick shell of impudence, the protagonist just wants to be loved. This formula has worked time after time, so why fix something if it’s not broken?

A political film it may be, but The Dictator always stays close to its true goal: comedy. The movie is positively saturated with jokes, running gags, physical comedy, satire, dark humour, non-sequiturs and even something that would work as a standalone sketch, with varying levels of quality and political correctness throughout. Once again, Baron Cohen takes a very visceral approach to comedy, often taking rather risqué scenes and drawing them out much further than other comedic writers would dare, in an effort to make the audience squirm in their seats. Perhaps the saving grace of the humour is that it is never tasteless, especially given the context of the film. In fact, there were probably only a handful of jokes that didn’t make me laugh out loud.

While I won’t divulge the elements of the plot, I will let on that it gets rather daft towards the middle. In particular, a scene where our main characters must deliver a baby together comes off as surreal and slightly out of place, but hilarious all the same. The plot feels designed around the jokes, but when I’m laughing this much, this isn’t really an issue.

To use a cliché, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and with The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen has broken as many political eggs as he can find to form a giant laughter omelette. Rather like Four Lions, the subject matter of this film is treated with all the subtlety of Kristallnacht, testing the audience’s ability to laugh at such bold humour. With such a wide range of outrageous entertainment, the film has the ability to generate huge laughs all the way through, making this comedy a success as far as I’m concerned.


The internet is a funny place, where a previously overlooked film can suddenly find its fifteen minutes of fame when lampooned for just one poorly delivered line. I discovered Taffin via what has become the normal route, the YouTube clip of Pierce Brosnan yelling “Maybe you shouldn’t be living here!” with extra emphasis on the last word. Incredibly, I’ve found that people often overlook the fact that, perhaps to balance out his unnaturally long line, his previous line is cut short, so that he simply says “What goes on in this town is none of your busine-” With its recent addition to Netflix, I decided to discover the movie behind the quote.


Taffin is set in Brosnan’s native Ireland, but would work well as a Western. In fact, the very ordinary contemporary Irish look adds to the films atmosphere. Brosnan plays Mark Taffin, a freelance do-gooder who isn’t afraid to kick ass to get what he wants. He is what Clint Eastwood is to A Fistful of Dollars. What makes it awesome is how domestic most of the issues he deals with are. He helps a young band get a new van after the auto dealer sells them a clapped out old van that doesn’t work. He tries to save a sports ground from being demolished for a new roadway by convincing them to build over the meadow in the next field. These things you wouldn’t expect to see in any other film.

There is a bit of unintentional humour in this film; besides that line, I was chortling right from the start when I saw that the names of two cast members were Ray McAnally and Alison Doody. However, this low-budget film actually plays out rather naturally and doesn’t feel laboured at all. I really liked the character of Taffin, who was clearly a deep thinker as well as being a pair of fists. His character development throughout the film is interesting in itself. One wouldn’t have expected such character depth from a film like this.

It’s easy to see why Brosnan was picked for the role of James Bond shortly after this movie was made. He had the looks, he could be suave and he also could do action. However, Taffin goes deeper than most Bond films and sees a troubled individual torn up by the actions he takes. It’s a low-key film for sure, but there’s more here than meets the eye.

Raging Bull

It’s been a while since I looked at the Scorsese/De Niro partnership; the last feature of theirs I watched was 1976’s Taxi Driver. Raging Bull is said to be one of the best films of all time, but I couldn’t help feeling it came a bit short.


The film is a biopic of the life of 40s boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro); to me, it is about how his destructive personality led to his very ruin. Despite becoming a famous sports champion, he had anger management problems, and wasn’t good at discussing his issues with other people. On top of this, he was constantly jealous of his much younger wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), even to the point where he’d chastise her for saying hello to another man. When she eventually sleeps with his younger brother Joey, played by Joe Pesci of Lethal Weapon fame, he loses it and beats up both Vickie and Joey before taking his wife back. The film appropriately ends with Jake in 1964 being a fraction of a man he was at the beginning of the 40s.

In my opinion, the film wasn’t really that clever, and was ultimately rather predictable.  I don’t think that the film really gives any insights into the human psyche and simply explains that acting in such a manner will only be detrimental to yourself and others around you. I would have much preferred a film which explains why he became so angry and jealous in the first place, or what made him choose boxing. Perhaps then I would have at least had some shred of empathy for Jake rather than just wishing he’d go to hell for being such a bastard. Furthermore, the film is principally recorded in black and white, which, by 1980, was more of an artistic choice than a financial necessity. I simply don’t see at all why black and white is necessary in this film; just because it’s set in the 40s and 50s doesn’t mean it has to be shot in black and white. Unless I can discern a reason for the artistic choices people make, it just seems pretentious.

I wasn’t drawn in by Raging Bull; the reasons Roger Ebert give for liking it simply aren’t enough for me. Scorsese doesn’t do much more than tell the story of Jake LaMotta, who is incredibly still alive today at 91; Joey is 88. I feel like critics may have had stars in their eyes, quite literally, as they watched the very capable acting of Robert De Niro, but this did not distract me from the very thin message that the film was trying to deliver. Not one I’d want to see again.

Man of Steel

Having watched 154 hours worth of Smallville, it was a little difficult to see the whole ‘birth of Superman’ thing get done again in just two and half. Nevertheless, I suppose it had to be done, and who better than to make it an all-out visually spectacular Hollywood blockbuster than pyromaniac producer Christopher Nolan, and homoerotic director Zack Snyder. I say homoerotic because Snyder previously directed 300 – possibly the most oiled man flesh in one film – and Watchmen – that swinging blue penis cannot be erased from my memory. This film is no different; the casting is such that I found the actor playing Superman to be much more good looking than Amy Adams playing Lois Lane. Yes, I may have a bit of a man-crush on Henry Cavill. Let’s move on.


The film consists of three acts. The first act is the death of Krypton, and heavily features Russell Crowe as Jor-El. The setting and the visuals actually reminded me of David Lynch’s infamous Dune film, which he directed after The Elephant Man. Lots of bangs and booms help to accentuate the rather complicated reasons for Krypton’s destruction, so the audience is unlikely to be bored.

The second act is mainly exposition, interspersed with scenes of Clark Kent growing up and discovering his powers. Weirdly enough, they show his X-ray vision power near the beginning, but he never actually uses it for anything useful in this film. In fact, it’s shown as a weakness. Clearly, I was never going to like this part as much as I liked Smallville, but the last scene with Clark and his father was actually rather moving. The relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane is a bit rushed and seems unnatural, probably one of my least favourite aspects of this film.

The third act is, you guessed it, explosions. Bang, smash, crash, wallop, boom, etc. If you’ve seen a Christopher Nolan movie before, you’ll know exactly what to expect. While I know that there’s nothing very philosophically exciting about the carnage Nolan wreaks on screen, it cannot be denied that it is very exciting. With lots of invincible beings punching and shooting each other, there’s a lot of action to be gained, and countless buildings to be demolished. Action junkies will love it.

It’s not a terribly thought-provoking movie, and it’s ‘epicness’ is only simulated by the large budget, terrific visuals and booming soundtrack. Nevertheless, it’s immensely entertaining, and should keep action fans pleased. Apparently this’ll be the beginning of some DC Comics universe series, perhaps to rival the success of Marvel’s Avengers. I won’t be following it that closely, that’s for sure.

World War Z

Zombies, I love ’em! So many great zombie films out there, many of them bringing something new to the whole zombie genre. Particular favourites of mine include Braindead for being so silly and 28 Weeks Later for being so serious. I even liked The Walking Dead before it stopped being about zombies and started being about people having arguments with each other. However, the latest addition to the zombie genre, World War Z by director Marc Foster, is a bit of a duff one in my humble opinion. It may come as no surprise that Foster also directed Quantum of Solace, the Bond film that missed the mark just like this movie did.


Let’s start with the title. The name is World War Z, which sounds like it could be a 1960s horror B-movie, except that this is in fact your standard Hollywood blockbuster. The title built me up for something quirky, but this was disappointingly deadpan. According to The Oatmeal, this film is nothing like the book whatsoever. I didn’t even realise this was an adaptation of a book until I read the credits. If I am to believe the blurb, the book actually looks at how such an apocalypse would devastate our planet, while the film is simply a relatively tame action movie. Understandably, fans of the book are disappointed.

The film stars the excellent Brad Pitt who intrepidly flies around the Earth trying to find a cure to this apocalyptic zombie virus. I say ‘excellent’ to imply that he’s been excellent in other things, although he’s actually rather uninspiring in this film. The zombs aren’t the staggering type, but more of the sprinting relentless type; think 28 Days Later. Anyway, all this flying and exposition meant less contact time with the zombies, and hence more boredom. When the action did come, it certainly wasn’t as creative as one might have hoped, but I did enjoy a scene where a myriad of undead people formed a scrabbling pile to climb over a wall. Interestingly, I saw this scene in a trailer before I realised that they were actually zombies, and was rather disturbed. It’s interesting how we can perceive the same image in different ways depending on the context; now that I knew they were zombies and as such had no feelings, it was fine that they should crush themselves against a wall.

There simply wasn’t enough peril in this film to keep me interested. For a whole twenty minutes near the beginning of the film, Brad Pitt and his family were sat on a boat hundreds of miles away from the zombies. There’s no danger in that scene, so the audience becomes less involved. You know that Pitt’s going to go back into the action somehow, so it’s just about waiting for him to do so. The plot seemed unnecessarily complicated; I couldn’t possibly tell you what they were doing in each of the countries they visited. While it’s nice to see zombies again, this will not be remembered as a classic of the genre. Perhaps a film for Pitt fans only. The book, on the other hand, looks quite interesting and I may well check it out.