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This week in local theaters

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THE COVE
A lot of recent documentaries use film to tell stories better suited to a magazine article or a position paper, but this gripping real-life thriller by veteran undersea photographer Louie Psihoyos means to provide nothing less than the Zapruder film of a crime against nature. At the behest of Ric O'Barry, an activist who's become an international outlaw by freeing captive dolphins, Psihoyos travels to the town of Taiji, Japan, where cute dolphin-shaped boats and buildings mask a sinister trade in dolphin trafficking—and worse, slaughter of the unwanted. Tailed by undercover cops and lurking thugs, Psihoyos assembles a Mission: Impossible covert-ops team of surveillance experts, adventurers and divers to get footage from the heavily guarded cove where the town's dolphin hunters do their dirty work. And dirty is the word: you'll feel a wave of horror when the view from the crew's underwater camera fades to blood red. Psihoyos breezes past the sensible and ethically wrenching question of how the dolphins' treatment is any worse than that of the adorable piggies that Americans routinely slaughter and serve. But in O'Barry the movie finds a compellingly tormented hero—a reverse Ahab who blames himself, as trainer of the dolphins who portrayed the original Flipper, for condemning the creatures to lives of demand and captivity. Our last glimpse of him sums up the urgency behind the entire activist-doc genre: a lone man standing still amid speeded-up crowd footage, with a TV monitor strapped to his chest like a ticking bomb. (Opens Friday at The Belcourt) JIM RIDLEY

DUCK YOU SUCKER (A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE)
As Peter Bogdanovich tells it, Sergio Leone was convinced that the title of his 1972 revolutionary epic was some kind of widely used American catchphrase. (He certainly has James Coburn say it enough times to make it one, or at least to cook up one widowmaker of a drinking game.) But it's a detail in keeping with the personally skewed mythology of his spaghetti-Western spectacles—atlases of a Wild West that existed only in Leone's movie-fed head. The most obscure of Leone's six major films, a clear transition between his terminal Western Once Upon a Time in the West and his butchered 1984 gangster reverie Once Upon a Time in America, this is where Leone sets a no-return course for the realm of memory and imagination, dreaming up a grandiose collision between grubby bandito Rod Steiger and raffish IRA demolition man Coburn in war-torn 1913 Mexico. As schizoid as Ennio Morricone's gorgeously eccentric score, which alternates clavinet burps, an Irish-whistle theme and vocals that chirp Coburn's name, the movie's a hazy miasma of large-scale violence, scurvy black humor, lyrical flashbacks and constant motion that never quite translates into forward momentum—all in service of a characteristically cynical take on class struggle, with the poor serving as cannon fodder for upper-crust ideologues. Nobody with fond memories of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West should miss it—especially in the pristine print The Belcourt has secured of the rare 157-minute version, which restores some 20 minutes (including the opening citation from Mao). Sarah Childress, who programs Sarratt's excellent "International Lens" series, will host a discussion after the noon screening Sunday, Aug. 23. (Shows Aug. 22-24 at The Belcourt) JIM RIDLEY

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