11/12/13: Blackfish, Grabbers, Turbo, Dealin' With Idiots, Paradise

Blackfish (PG-13, 2013, Magnolia)
If you were forced to live in a confined space instead of free to roam the world, would you not act out, and would it not change you? All evidence and common sense says it would — especially if, like Tilikum, one of Sea World’s prized orcas, you had no way to actually understand why this has happened and no way, short of violent and potentially fatal aggression, to communicate your restlessness. But if common sense isn’t enough, the staggering gallery of former Sea World trainers “Blackfish” unleashes, and their accounts of a company that neglected the well-being of its human and whale performers alike while pretending the violent attacks that injured or killed multiple trainers were nothing more than trainer error, is plenty damning on its own. “Blackfish’s” point of entry revolves around Tilikum, who arrived at Sea World with a checkered history but whose value as a breeding whale keeps him in captivity despite a series of tragedies compounding that history. Pile on a lack of regular socialization with other whales and a performance schedule that is now nearly nonexistent, and to hear his former trainers describe it, Tilikum’s life effectively mirrors that of a prisoner in solitary confinement. Tilikum’s story is merely one of several heartbreakers “Blackfish” touches on about a creature that takes as well to captivity as we do. But for all the recounting former employees and (among others) expert witnesses from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration do, the refusal on Sea World management’s part to participate is as troubling as anything anyone says. (They’ve since responded in the wake of the film’s increased visibility, and the debate that has commenced since “Blackfish” originally premiered is very much worth seeking out.)
Extras: Director/producter commentary, director’s note, six additional short features.

Grabbers (NR, 2012, IFC Films)
There’s something lurking in the sea that’s causing bloodied and sometimes headless people to wash ashore on a small Irish island. Also? It’s pregnant. So what better idea than to lure it to land for further study? Considering the best classification this team of a single scientist (Russell Tovey), an alcoholic cop (Richard Coyle), his rookie partner (Ruth Bradley) and the town drunk (Lalor Roddy) can come up with for the creature is “Grabber” — because it grabs stuff, see — the process for studying and containing the creature(s) should be elaborately devised and airtight, right? This is the movies, so of course not. But it may not matter, because once again this is the movies, every movie monster has a weakness, and the Grabber’s perceived weakness represents the break of a lifetime for this ragtag group. “Grabbers” spills the details of that weakness in much of its marketing, but it’s best left unspoiled for the uninitiated — primarily because it’s funny, but also because it embodies everything that makes “Grabbers” so much fun despite fundamentally looking so familiar. If you’ve seen a monster movie before, you likely can see the outline of this one forming before it happens, and even that surprise about the weakness may be just telegraphed enough to give itself away early. But a great delivery can make all the difference, and while “Grabbers” does just fine in the monster (and terrifying offspring) design department, its ability to constantly get the little things right is the real star. Customary subplots take funny and not-so-customary turns, characters (including a bounty of townsfolk beyond the core quartet) both honor and shatter their archetypes at the same time, and even when the things you see coming arrive on schedule, a little sliver of invention (or a sharply funny line) derails the plan in just the right way.

Turbo (PG, 2013, Dreamworks)
It’s kind of ridiculous to quantify logical degradation in a movie that begins with a talking snail watching old tapes of the Indianapolis 500 while his brother Chet urges him to get some sleep because they have work in the morning. Even when Turbo’s dreams of becoming a speed demon somehow come true via a freak accident only Peter Parker could understand, no alarms are raised, because it’s the whole reason this animated movie about talking snails exists. But when Turbo encounters another group of snails with similar appetites for speed and extreme sports? And a taco shop employee — a human one — sponsors his campaign to race in the Indy 500 while a rival driver — again, human — turns completely murderous in an attempt to stop him? Well that’s kinda weird even here, and the only reason “Turbo” doesn’t simply get away with it is because all of this coincides with an encroaching suspicion that the movie doesn’t completely know what to do with itself. Snails make cracks at each other that don’t make sense for snails to make, a soundtrack that’s both a weird fit for kids and a weird fit for 2013 gives rise to music montages that sometimes run right up against other music montages, and “Turbo” just kind of manically fails away with boundless energy and little concept of how to spend that energy wisely before we inevitably get to race day. Here, of course, is the part where we remember this is a kids movie. Outside of the weird song choices, “Turbo” suffices as a colorful, caffeinated movie that bends over backward to entertain. Turbo’s likable, some of his snail friends are likable, Chet is lovable, and that’s enough to make “Turbo” likable — and sloppy and narratively ordinary and kind of incomprehensible at times, but likable nonetheless.
Extras: Shell creator game, interview with Turbo, four behind-the-scenes features, music videos, preview of the upcoming “Turbo” television show.

Dealin’ With Idiots (NR, 2013, IFC Films)
Amid the war zone that is the local copy shop, as Coach Jimbo (Bob Odenkirk) spins a tale about brotherly betrayal, unfinished repairs and what must have been one seriously distressing copy order, there’s a glint of a chance that Max’s (Jeff Garlin) plan to mine material for his next movie by interviewing neighbors connected to his son’s little league baseball team was an inspired one. We know it isn’t, because look at that title, but it’s nice to have hope, isn’t it? Like HBO’s recently-released “Clear History,” which found Larry David playing a bizarro-world version of his bizarro-world self from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Dealin’ With Idiots” feels like a lost episode of “Curb” with Garlin in a role that’s different but not very spiritually far removed from his work on “Curb.” (Sure enough, just as in “History” and “Curb” before that, J.B. Smoove is on hand to steal nearly every scene in which he appears.) “Idiots” is at its best in that copy shop, and that’s a direct correlation to Max’s ability to find a story worth mining. Mostly, he just validates his assertion that few of his neighbors are people he wants to be around any longer than necessary, and mostly, the results are amusing more than insightful, much less revelatory. That doesn’t add up to the screed about little league parents that Garlin may have had in mind when he dreamt this up, but thanks to a large cast (Fred Willard, Jami Gertz, Kerri Kenney, Steve Agee, Richard Kind and Timothy Olyphant, among others, also star) that’s capable of making the best with what it gets, it at least isn’t boring.

Paradise (PG-13, 2013, Image Entertainment)
There’s no rule that says a movie has to have something to say. But as a narrating Lamb (Julianne Hough) introduces us to her previous and present selves — the former a sweet churchgoing Montana girl who’d never sipped alcohol or seen an R-Rated movie, the latter a plane crash victim with burn scars running down her body and a newfound contempt for faith and her previous self — during “Paradise’s” opening scene, it reads like a declaration that a message lies ahead with teeth bared and sharpened. And that’s before Lamb torches her former congregation during a blistering second-scene testimonial that is so pointedly bitter as to antagonize and challenge those who feel differently to just turn the movie off. But then Lamb boards a plane to Vegas to capitalize on her newfound desire to commit sin, only to find herself drowning in a sea of people who largely are so completely terrible that the first two who aren’t (Octavia Spencer and Russell Brand) become her best friends despite making shaky introductions themselves, and the fury that opened “Paradise” makes a strange, sharp turn into a frazzled thrashing for acceptance. Outside of some pointed but tired jabs about race and religion, “Paradise” never really pulls its punches the same way. Nor does it credibly jive as a coming-of-age story for Lamb when the experience is this disjointed and “Paradise’s” portrayal of Vegas makes being locked in a tower look sort of appealing by comparison. Even by the standards of a movie whose only desire is to entertain, Lamb’s story is too stumble-laden to do so coherently, and in light of “Paradise’s” opening salvo and what it at least seemed to represent, the most shocking thing about what follows is how quickly all those teeth fall out.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.