Film Shots: Blackfish and RIPD


Blackfish (4.5/5):

There are plenty of films that depict captivity as a tool of destruction. Whether it’s a tale revolving around a POW camp (Rescue Dawn comes to mind) or merely Jack Nicolson losing his shit at a snowbound hotel in The Shining, isolation lures a human being down a path of desolation. We undeniably understand the perils of a human confined against their will, but, for one reason or another, we fail at seeing how captivity drastically affects an animal. Through zoos and amusement parks, we pay money to watch animals interact in a simulated environment, albeit one predicated on their natural habitat, but at times I wonder if this interference isn’t detrimental to the animal. Blackfish, a frightening documentary, makes the case that captivity, at least in regards to killer whales, is not only harmful to the animal, but everyone else involved. The central character to Blackfish’s argument is a killer whale named Tilikum, a monstrous beast living at SeaWorld. Tilikum, an animal that has claimed two lives prior to arriving at SeaWorld, is living the dream at an amusement park which offers a unique experience: aquatic animals performing stunts with humans. It’s all adorable up until Tilikum kills a trainer, spawning a cover-up by SeaWorld brass and igniting a national conversation about animals used as entertainment tools.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite aggressively delivers her position by exposing Tilikum’s past through interviews with his previous trainers. All of Tilikum’s previous companions assert the monstrous whale is a magnificent creature soured by horrible living conditions. Small quarters and abuse from other whales, factors not found within a killer whale’s habitat,  likely laid the foundation for Tilikum’s kills. Supplementing Tilikum’s life story are more tales of destruction by other killer whales at parks like SeaWorld. Through  explicit, disheartening videos, we see other killer whales behaving in ways that contradict the triumphant, heartwarming shows SeaWorld puts on.  Suddenly,  we see Tilikum, a creature SeaWorld has no problem painting as a gentle, majestic animal that was merely riled up by a careless trainer,  as a complicated being saddled with baggage designed by human indecency.  Cowperthwaite’s narrative is compelling and easy to support, especially when we realize Sea World knows how devastatingly unpredictable their marine performers are. Yet, the most powerful aspect of Blackfish is how it portrays the perceived murderer in Tilikum.  Here is an animal, ripped from his natural order, gravely reacting to the restraints placed upon him. Tilikum isn’t a murderer anymore than he is a victim to our own indulgences; a victim born out of our need for control.

RIPD (2/5):

Where do we go once Death steals our last breath? If you’re a cop, you’re sent to the Rest in Peace Department, a police department dedicated to capturing asshole ghosts on Earth. The RIPD is essentially purgatory, acting as a redemptive tool for questionable cops who  want to get into heaven. Detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) learns about this ethereal destination after he is killed in action by his traitorous partner Bobby (Kevin Bacon). Once he’s transported up to the police station in the sky, Nick teams up with veteran ghost hunter Roy (Jeff Bridges), a prickly US marshal circa the 1800s with an affinity for cowboy hats. What an odd couple! Roy and Nick head back to Earth to hunt monstrous dead folks that haven’t crossed over, as Nick comes to terms with his unexpected death. They do this all while cloaked in the skin of a hot blonde and old Asian man. Naturally, Roy is the hot blonde. In the process of hunting down poorly designed judgment dodgers, Nick and Roy stumble upon a nefarious plot revolving around pieces of gold and a portal returning the dead back to Earth. So, basically it’s Men in Black with ghosts, except boring and uninspired.

Being that the film deals with the afterlife and ghastly incarnations, one would expect it to be moderately imaginative in its proceedings. It isn’t, and in just about every department, it feels like a lesser riff on Men in Black. From the mismatched partners to similar character designs and action sequences, RIPD simply has nothing going for it besides Jeff Bridges trying to resuscitate every scene he finds himself in. Watching Bridges wallow in this monstrosity is beyond depressing, but he does provide a few laughs when he’s alongside Mary- Louise Parker. Outside of Bridges, there is truly nothing driving us from beginning to end, except for seeing how bad the film can get. If there is one thing I can appreciate about it, it’s that it gets to the action right away, but this also hinders the film’s foolish attempts at earning a sentimental ending.  Not helping is the film’s horrendous special effects that make 1990 film relics look more realistic.   Honestly, I think it’s only fitting that a film about dead people is this decrepit and lifeless. From the tired, nonsensical plotting to Ryan Reynolds delivering a muted performance, everything about RIPD is derivative, pointless and dead on arrival.

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