Tim and Eric / Visual Acoustics / I Love You, Beth Cooper / Thirst / The Cove / Ponyo

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!: Season Three
John C. Reilly, Ed Begley, Jr. and hirsute funnyman Zach Galifinakis guest star alongside the guy who played Laura Palmer’s father Leland in Twin Peaks in the third season of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s absurdist comedy skit show, described by the creators as “the nightmare version of television.” The series parodies everything from infomercials to MTV to talk shows, and is probably one of those things you either get—and find incredibly hilarious—or don’t, and hate with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. To truly ‘get’ the show, though, you may need to be under the influence of at least one psychotropic substance—this really is quite wacky TV.

Visual Acoustics
Architectural photographer Julius Schulman was 98 when he died last July, and, as Eric Bricker’s film shows, he savoured every moment of his long life. The film traces Schulman’s life from, in the words of one commentator, “growing up with California” to his career which stretched across many decades. Influential, passionate and uncompromising, his photography became as important as architecture it captured. Although there is something of a conceited and self-important air in Dustin Hoffman’s narration—due to the way it was written, not in his delivery—and though the film has a tendency to linger on extraneous emotional details such as one of Schulman’s birthday parties, it is overall very entertaining—not least because of the magnetism of its subject.

I Love You, Beth Cooper
The director Chris Columbus, who once helped to bring John Hughes’ Home Alone to the screen has settled for far less interesting projects through the years, most recently discovering a new low in directing the shamelessly sycophantic Harry Potter wannabe Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. No one will ever make a better summer movie than Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, but If I Love You, Beth Cooper is an example of an average teen sex comedy/summer flick these days, then, sadly, American Pie marks a high point for a stagnant genre in dire need of a defibrillator and a saline drip. Even Porky’s was better executed and had a better story than the pitiful excuse for a screenplay here—concocted, from his own novel, by Larry Doyle. As the title not-so-subtly imparts, the geekiest geek who ever did geek proclaims his undying adoration for the head cheerleader (Hayden Pannettiere, TV’s Heroes) in his valedictorian speech on the final day of high school. The back cover of the DVD has the following written on it, in a painful attempt by some copywriter lackey to appear relevant and ‘hip’ to kids: “You’ll LOL as [the protagonist] tries to keep up with Beth, and stay away from her maniacal ex-boyfriend Kevin and his ticked-off pals!” If that sells ILY, B.C. to you, you are most likely a teenage girl and/or have already seen this film.

Thirst
Park Chan-wook, director of the ultra-violent cult hit Oldboy, the equally violent Vengeance trilogy and the unusual romantic comedy I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK, returns with a vampire tale unlike any other. An absurd tale of amour fou among the un-dead, Thirst tells the story of a priest who offers to undergo an experimental medical procedure aiming to cure for a disease. The procedure fails, and, through drinking the blood of a comatose patient, the priest is turned into a vampire. He is called upon to pray for a patient who, it turns out, he knew as a child. He becomes close again with the patient and his family, and has a love affair with the patient’s wife. From here the story spirals—awesomely—into depravity and insanity as his bloodlust overtakes his formerly-objective mind. The film’s hyper-stylised camerawork is, particularly in the first third, spectacular. By turns outrageously hilarious and cringe-inducing—but never a gratuitous gore-fest—Thirst is a welcome rush of energy in a genre saturated by mediocre TV series (Alan Ball’s True Blood) and vapid ‘tweenage’ abstinence-parable fantasies.

The Cove
A hit at last year’s film festival, this eco-thriller documentary is both a call to arms and a devastating and thrilling exposé about whaling and dolphin slaughter in Japan. More than two-and-a-half-thousand dolphins were slaughtered every September in a secluded cove in Taiji, a small whaling town in Wakayama, Japan. Their meat, which contains poisonously high levels of mercury due to environmental changes brought about by global warming, was sold to the national school lunch programme. Until this film was released, local government denied that the levels were dangerous; both the slaughter and the dolphin meat programme have since ceased. The film interweaves the mission to expose the practises in Taiji with the story of Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer on the 1960s TV series Flipper. After O’Barry realised that keeping dolphins in captivity was unusually cruel punishment, he started a crusade to free them around the world, in aquatic theme parks and elsewhere. Aided by a couple of free-divers, O’Barry, and some technology on loan from Industrial Light & Magic, former National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos and his crew planted high-definition cameras in the area around the cove in order to capture the cruelty and present the footage as evidence. The resultant film is terrifying, illuminating, and moving—and makes for utterly captivating viewing. The Cove made headlines across the world, and is helping to bring to an end the kind of ritual slaughter it sought to expose.

Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)
After the Oscar-winning success of films like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo—Hayao Miyazaki’s tenth film for the animation studio Ghibli—it is somewhat of a disappointment. Although stylistically the film retains that “classic” Miyazaki look and feel, so-to-speak, the story—a —written by the director himself, is too simplistic to appeal to anyone but very small children. Of course all his films are directed at kids, but there’s usually something in many of them to entertain older viewers. The story follows Sōsuke, a five-year-old boy who finds a goldfish washed up on the shore; he takes her home and names her Ponyo. A kind of cat-and-mouse game ensues between Sōsuke and the underwater overlord who gave ‘birth’ to Ponyo. This is (probably) entertaining for small children, but there’s nothing much here for adult animation fans, unlike the (comparatively) elegant plots of say, Howl’s or Castle in the Sky. But even with its faults, the film is visually fantastic and Miyazaki’s under-recognised composer, Joe Hisaishi, has created a magnificent score that evokes Stravinsky and Wagner’s Die Walküre—indeed, the story partially alludes to that opera, among other texts. Overall, though, Ponyo disappoints on the most basic level: storytelling.

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