Reviewed in brief: "Only God Fogives,” "Blackfish”

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2013 - 1:42 PM
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Yayaying Rhatha Phongam and Ryan Gosling in “Only God Forgives.”

Photo: Weinstein Company,

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Only God Forgives
⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language. In English and subtitled Thai.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.

 

Heads bashed like rotten cabbages. Graphic disembowelment. Leisurely scenes of torture, with victims writhing in helpless terror. In “Only God Forgives,” Ryan Gosling and his “Drive” director, Nicolas Winding Refn, sail into the heart of darkness and emerge with a trinket of crackpot porno kitsch.

The film is set in a fever-dream Bangkok, an almost comically vile snake pit of lust and depravity where Gosling runs a kickboxing gym. His brother, a violent pedophile, kills a child prostitute, and is killed in turn by her father. Enter Kristin Scott Thomas as the men’s mother, a disconcertingly blond nympho moll. She demands the killer’s head on a plate, which brings Gosling into combat with a vigilante cop (Vithaya Pansringarm) who doles out karma with a razor-sharp katana.

The film takes every audience desire and willfully breaks it over a knee. In place of the tough-as-nails antihero he played in the cult smash “Drive,” Gosling is a passive mama’s boy with major Oedipal issues. All the flash and fun is drained from his acting. He goes from one life-threatening situation to the next looking vaguely put out.

The lawman is an impassive totem. Instead of staging their fight scenes as ingenious daredevil feats and giving us the irresponsible thrill we’re hoping for, Refn gives us sledgehammer-slow pacing and leering, fetishistic images of mangled flesh. Except for the shrill snap and humor of Scott Thomas' scenes, this is a zombie movie in all but name.

Shot in ironically lush color by Larry Smith (“Eyes Wide Shut”) and chillingly scored by former Red Hot Chili Pepper Cliff Martinez, the film’s technical gloss is like too-rich sauce ladled over roadkill. Intellectually you can grasp that Refn is making an anti-revenge film, but that’s no excuse. The aestheticized sadomasochism on view here appeals to urges darker than vengeance.
 

Blackfish
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images.
Theater: Uptown.

 

Cetaceans are prime attractions at marine parks around the world, where their airborne leaps and synchronized routines with their trainers thrill millions of visitors annually. But what does it mean for an extremely intelligent and social mammal to be forcibly taken from its family, held in small pools and conditioned to perform tricks for dead fish? The CNN-produced documentary "Blackfish" makes a compelling case that the cruelty of life in captivity is the cause for a rash of fatal attacks by orcas on their trainers, aggressive behavior that no so-called killer whale ever has exhibited in the wild.

The film's protagonist is Tilikum, a three-time killer at Sea World in Orlando. While we can't know what is going through an animal's head, the whale-studying community suspects that the stresses of confinement spark aggressive outbursts.

The film features harrowing interviews with former trainers turned fierce opponents of keeping whales in captivity. Officials of the Sea World amusement park firm, the film's main focus, are represented through damning trial testimony; the firm did not authorize its employees to appear on camera.

Perhaps the tide is shifting. India has just banned dolphin entertainment parks. They are "morally unacceptable," says a government ministry.

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  • Tilikum, a three-time killer whale, in “Blackfish.”

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