Eco-Terrorist: The Battle for Our Planet


More confessions from an eco-terrorist.

(2019) Documentary (Breaking GlassPeter Jay Brown, Darryl Hannah, Paul Watson, Robert Hunter, Pete Bethum, Peter Hamerstedt. Directed by Peter Jay Brown

 

When one looks around at the planet, there’s no doubt that ecologically speaking, we’re in serious trouble. Global warming, overfishing, fracking, strip mining, rain forests burning, entire species dying off at a terrifying rate. All of that is occurring right now, even as we speak.

Some groups are fighting back. Whales have been under attack by the illegal whaling industry, primarily conducted by Japan. The slaughter is threatening the ocean’s eco-system. When two of the founders of Greenpeace, Paul Watson and Robert Hunter, felt that their organization was not taking effective steps to stop the slaughter, they broke off and founded a new group – the Sea Shepherd Society.

Utilizing old rustbuckets that passed for sea-worthy vessels, the two decided to take a more direct involvement, putting themselves in the line of fire so to speak and deliberately ramming whaling vessels in an effort to delay them in their deadly harvest. Each day the whalers are at sea costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars; with almost no assets to speak of, the Society was virtually lawsuit-proof and they had an enviable record of saving thousands of whales without causing a single injury or fatality.

The group attracted notice and Watson became something of a rock star and the group’s work was depicted on the Animal Planet show Whale Wars. Donations poured in and between that and what the group made from the television show they were suddenly flush with cash. They were able to pay their volunteers, afford better ships and were no longer lawsuit-proof.

Peter Jay Brown, a filmmaker and environmental activist, has been one of the longest tenured members of the group, having started when the group tilted at windmills in ships that didn’t have working toilets. Once again, he has filmed and narrated the activities of the group, concentrating on their history and their tactics.

I can’t help but admire the passion and spunk of those involved in the organization. Certainly, they are fighting the good fight. Sadly, I doubt that this documentary is going to win them a lot of converts; the narration comes off as nearly condescending, a big image problem for those on the left. This film really embodies that. It brushes off the whaling industry as “unnecessary” which makes no logical sense; why would the Japanese spend millions of dollars to send a fleet of ships to harvest whales if there was no good use for them? If it wasn’t lucrative, the Japanese wouldn’t defy world opinion and international maritime law to do what they do.

Like I said, I admire what this group does and even though their tactics can be somewhat manipulative, I suppose all’s fair when it comes to the planet’s survival. I just wish they didn’t find it necessary to treat their viewers like idiots. I also would have preferred a little more objectivity. This comes off a bit too much like propaganda.

I certainly hope that readers will look into the activities of these cheerful eco-pirates and understand that what they’re doing is important and support them on that basis. I also hope that left-leaning filmmakers understand that just because their cause is just doesn’t mean they have to talk down to their audience who likely want to be presented with both sides of the coin, at least in a rudimentary way.

REASONS TO SEE: A depiction of people doing good and necessary work.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is hagiographic almost to the point of being condescending.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third in a series of “Eco-Terrorist” films that Brown has made.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Mister America

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In the Heart of the Sea


Chris Hemsworth wonders where his hammer went.

Chris Hemsworth wonders where his hammer went.

(2015) True Life Adventure (Warner Brothers) Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Tom Holland, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawle, Edward Ashley, Sam Keeley, Osy Ikhile, Gary Beadle, Jamie Sives, Morgan Chetcuti, Nicholas Jones, Donald Sumpter, Richard Bremmer, Charlotte Riley. Directed by Ron Howard

Most people are aware of the saga of Moby Dick, the story of Captain Ahab’s obsession with a great white whale that took his leg and eventually much more than that. Many consider it the greatest novel ever written by an American. What a lot of people don’t know is that it is based on the story of the whaleship Essex which was attacked by an unusually large whale in the Pacific in 1820.

It’s a story that has made the rounds in Nantucket and the whaling community of New England, so Herman Melville (Whishaw) wants to get the scoop right from the horse’s mouth – the last survivor of the Essex, Tom Nickerson (Gleeson). At first, Tom is loathe to tell the tale but at the urging of his wife (Fairley) who points out to her husband that they need the money – and to Melville that Tom needs to let all of the demons of that ill-fated voyage that have troubled him for so long out. Eventually, Tom tells the tale and quite a tale it is.

Putting to sea for a two year voyage, the Essex is commanded by George Pollard (Walker), scion of a respected Nantucket seafaring family but inexperienced at the helm. He is given Owen Chase (Hemsworth), a well-regarded first mate who has ambitions to captain his own ship someday but a son of landsmen (or land lubbers if you prefer). As they head out on their trip, hoping to pull In 400 barrels of whale oil, Pollard steers them directly into a squall, nearly wrecking the ship in the process. Not an auspicious start.

Things get worse though. The usually fruitful hunting grounds of the Atlantic are barren – already almost completely fished out – so the crew makes a try to go around Cape Horn for the Pacific fisheries, a long journey adding months to their already long and arduous trip. Lurking there is an abnormally large white whale, one that means business. The encounter between the whale and the Essex won’t be a happy one – certainly not for the seamen of the Essex.

The ship is stove and the crew is forced to abandon ship, the survivors getting into three ships normally used in the harpooning of whales. One disappears completely, never to be seen again (in reality, the third ship washed ashore years later with three skeletons aboard, and while the remains were never positively identified it as believed to have been the one from the Essex) while the other two, try for the coast of South America or at least Easter Island. However there are more than a thousand nautical miles to make it there and little food or water. Pollard commands one ship, with his cousin Henry Coffin (Dillane) aboard while Chase the other with his close friend Matthew Joy (Murphy) and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (Holland) on board. Which ones, if either, will make it to safety? And what must they do in order to get there?

Tales like Treasure Island and Moby Dick have always excited the American imagination, although to be honest in these more cynical days of CGI and cell phones, the lure of uncharted waters is not as enticing so in that sense In the Heart of the Sea is something of a hard sell for the American moviegoing public. It would take a truly stirring movie to get people into the theater to see it.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Ron Howard delivered. There are moments, yes, where the movie really works – the sequence of the whale attack is actually one of them, although it is clearly a digital creation. The framing device of the conversation between Melville and a middle-aged Nickerson also works, mainly because Gleeson is so compelling an actor.

But there are also moments in which the movie just seems to drag. Quite frankly, watching sailors slowly dying of starvation and dehydration is not exciting which sounds a little bit cold but there you have it. Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt draw parallels from the whaling industry of the 1820s to the oil industry of today, parallels which have some justification, but still the harpooning sequences are bloody and a off-putting to modern sensibilities. I’m not sure we need to be told that whaling was a brutal, bloody business.

I did want to like this movie more than I ended up doing and I think that I may well have gone a little easy on it if the remarks of other reviewers are to be believed. Hemsworth, usually reliable an actor, feels like he’s had all his charisma sucked out of him for this one; you get the sense he’s like a caged animal, wanting to break out of the shackles his character has had put upon him. When the framing sequence is what works best about a film, you have a problem. And yet, I still recommend the movie nevertheless. There is enough here to keep one’s attention, but if you choose to wait until it’s available on home video, I wouldn’t dissuade you.

REASONS TO GO: Rip roaring adventure yarn. Framing sequences work well.
REASONS TO STAY: The story isn’t as exciting as the book based on it was. The pace is a bit leaden through the second act.
FAMILY VALUES: Some startling violence, disturbing images, moments of peril and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the sixth film directed by Howard to be based on a true story. The others are Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon and Rush.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moby Dick
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Youth

The End of the Line


The End of the Line

The bounty of the sea isn't endless.

(New Video Group) Ted Danson (voice), Charles Clover. Directed by Rupert Murray

Fish are a staple of the diets of many regions, including ours. Accordingly, the sea has always been a source of bounty, a necessity to many of our cultures. Entire civilizations have grown around our ability to catch fish. We have always considered the ocean to be a near-limitless source of food. That belief was naïve to say the least.

This documentary, based on a book by Charles Clover, looks at the overfishing and the non-regulation of factory fishing that has brought us to the point that if things go unchecked, there will be no seafood of any kind left by the year 2048. That’s right, 38 years from now Red Lobster could be nothing more than a fond memory.

Rather than just give dire warnings, the documentary looks at things that have already happened and are happening currently. One of the first things the film examines is the disappearance of cod from Nova Scotia. In 1992, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney declared a moratorium on cod fishing which enraged the region’s fishermen, many of whom had relied on the industry for generations. However, it was a case of too little too late; the cod population still hasn’t returned to the Maritimes 18 years later.

The film looks at practices like bottom trawling, in which huge ships drop huge nets that dredge the bottom of the ocean (doing irreparable harm to the seabed in the process) and bring up entire schools of fish. Entire species are being decimated to sate our insatiable appetites for seafood.

The Japanese continue to hunt whales to near-extinction despite near-universal condemnation of the process. They call it a part of their culture, which is absolute crap – human sacrifice was a part of certain tribal cultures, that doesn’t make it right. Wrong is wrong.

The movie has the sad tendency to preach a little bit, and gets repetitive in its message. Still, the message is important; the ocean’s bounty isn’t limitless and like any finite resource, it is our responsibility to steward it logically and reasonably.

Fortunately, as the documentary informs us, the problem isn’t irreversible even now. Sustainable fisheries are not only possible, they are thriving. Responsible fishing practices such as those used in Alaska set reasonable quotas that if adhered to can keep the industry thriving indefinitely. Establishing marine preserves that are no-fishing zones will give the oceans a place to heal and species a place of refuge to build up their numbers again. In several Caribbean countries this practice is already paying big dividends.

Individuals can also contribute by questioning where their fish are coming from, free range sources (bad) or sustainable fisheries (good). Make sure that the tuna you’re eating isn’t bluefin tuna (an endangered species). Refuse to patronize restaurants and grocery stores that aren’t adhering to responsible and reasonable fish purchasing.

There are already encouraging signs; Wal-Mart is pledging to obtain their fish from sustainable sources and McDonalds already obtains 90% of their fish from such sources. Still, there are some disturbing and discouraging stories, such as Mitsubishi (yes, the Japanese car giant who also have their fingers in other pies) stockpiling bluefin tuna and fishing for as much as they can get their fat, greedy hands on in order to make a killing on their frozen tuna once the species disappears forever. If true, that may very well be the most reprehensible story I’ve ever heard.

One of the true tests of a documentary based on a book is whether or not it acts as a supplement to that book, or if it merely reinforces that book. Unfortunately, The End of the Line is the latter, juxtaposing Oceans-like scenes of schools of fish swimming placidly in the ocean and dolphins playing in the waves with piles of dead fish in a Tokyo fish market and pollution floating in the open ocean. The message is an important one and it deserved a better film to deliver it; most audiences would be far better reading the book, although I’ll concede that some of the images are riveting here. Either way, it is part of our responsibility as custodians of our world to sit up and take notice before once again we collectively shoot ourselves in our collective feet.

WHY RENT THIS: An important message that should be heard.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie tends to be on the preachy side and occasionally belabors their points.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images might be a bit disturbing for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The book’s author, Charles Clover, is seen in the movie trying to get Nobu, one of the world’s high-end sushi chains, to refrain from using bluefin tuna on their menu.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are six webisodes further exploring the issue, as well as three different versions of the movie of varying lengths.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Cove


The Cove

A bucolic place for a slaughter.

(Roadside Attractions) Richard O’Barry, Louis Psihoyos, Hayden Panettiere, Dan Goodman, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Isabel Lucas, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Paul Watson. Directed by Louie Psihoyos

Since the advent of “Flipper,” most people generally look favorably upon dolphins. Research indicates that dolphins are highly intelligent and even self-aware. There are many reported instances of dolphins saving humans from harm in the ocean, and anybody who has seen dolphins in the wild playing and cavorting will know that these are creatures who know what joy is, perhaps better than we do.

Most civilized nations deplore the killing of dolphins and certainly the eating of them. It is in many ways similar to the taboos we have about eating dogs and cats, but there is also a medical reason for it as well – dolphin flesh is highly saturated with mercury, and repeated ingestion of dolphin can lead to mercury poisoning and eventually, death.

There are also those who love dolphins above the affection the general public gives them. Richard O’Barry is one, and he comes by that love honestly. At one time, he was considered the world’s foremost dolphin trainer. When the creators of “Flipper” were looking for someone to be their dolphin guy, Richard O’Barry was that guy. He trained five of the dolphins used in the store, including Kathy, the one among them who was his favorite.

After the show was canceled, the dolphins were sent to places like the Miami Seaquarium where they would perform in shows, captivating large audiences who thrilled at their stunts. The dolphins seemed happy enough – after all, they were always smiling.

That smile, according to O’Barry, is one of nature’s greatest deceptions. Dolphins smile because their facial structure is built that way – it is not a reflection of their emotional state, which is communicated through a body language that O’Barry eventually learned to read. What his dolphins were telling him, said Barry, was that they were stressed and desperately unhappy – to the point where Kathy committed suicide in his arms by deliberately closing her blowhole so she would stop breathing.

From that moment O’Barry would devote the rest of his life to tearing down a business he had helped to build up – the captivity of dolphins. Needless to say, he is not one of Sea World’s favorite people.

But even that has taken a back seat to his most recent focus. Japan is one of the few countries left that condones whaling; whale meat is consumed in Japan and whale by-products are used in various products. Despite a worldwide ban on whaling, Japan continues to do just that and thus television shows like “Whale Wars” depict the ongoing struggle between Japanese whalers and opposing activists from such organizations as Greenpeace and the Cetacean Society.

Even more shocking, however, is the secret in a small town called Taiji. Beautiful, quaint and charming, set into the rocky and hilly slopes leading to a beautiful shoreline, the fishermen of Taiji have every year lured thousands of dolphins into their Bay, where female bottlenose dolphins primarily are selected to be sold to Sea World and other such parks; it’s a lucrative business, with each dolphin netting upwards of $150,000 U.S. from the parks.

While that in itself isn’t a good thing, it’s what happens to the rest of the dolphins who aren’t selected for theme park use that is truly horrible. Whatever it is, it takes place in an isolated cove where the security is tighter than Fort Knox. Angry fishermen protect it with ferocity; the police and the town mayor is in on whatever it is that’s going on. As recently as this past week, O’Barry has received death threats for his activities, forcing him to cancel face-to-face meetings with the leadership in Taiji.

O’Barry knows the secret; the dolphins, instead of being released back into the wild, are slaughtered, and for no good reason. Ostensibly, it’s for their meat but because of its toxicity dolphin meat fetches next to nothing on the Japanese market, so the good citizens of Taiji mislabel it as whale meat and sell it for quite a bit more. Lies upon lies upon lies – it’s like a small child who is trying to hide their stolen cookies. It’s pretty obvious what they’re doing.

However, there’s no real proof, so O’Barry enlists Psihoyos, a National Geographic photographer and co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society, a non-profit group that tries to save the ocean and its inhabitants from man’s degradations. Once O’Barry shows him the security in Taiji and Psihoyos has drawn his own conclusions, they decide the world must see what’s going on behind figurative closed doors – in that secret cove, protected by razor wire and guards.

What follows is as tense and entertaining as any Mission: Impossible movie and worthy of the Best Documentary Oscar that it won earlier this year. A team of experts, including world class free divers, adrenaline junkies, technogeeks and audio experts are put together to hatch an insane plan to capture footage of the cove. They enlist some geniuses at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’ special effects group, to create cameras that can be disguised as rocks. Special underwater cameras and microphones are brought in.

Planting them won’t be easy. The team, particularly O’Barry, is being watched night and day by the police. When they go out to place their equipment, it is under cover of darkness and they use decoys to throw off the cops.

Although it’s a bit of a spoiler, I have to tell you that they get their footage and when it is revealed onscreen, it is absolutely horrifying. The entire cove turns red with dolphin blood. It is one of the most sickening things you will ever see, and those who are sensitive to such things should probably turn away or even leave the room when the footage begins to show.

However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see the movie. It’s an important message and one that will shock and outrage you. The Japanese excuse their behavior as it being a part of their culture. Well, slavery was a part of our culture too and that got stamped out – at great cost, yes, but stamped out nonetheless. That’s something the good people of Japan need to impress upon their leadership and they can do it by refusing to eat whale meat, and refusing to eat anything that comes from Taiji. That’s how you change hearts and minds.

Of course, that’s for the Japanese people. If you’re interested in helping, you can either go to the movie’s website (just click on the picture above) or you can go to Richard O’Barry’s new organization at this website http://www.savejapandolphins.org/ for updates on O’Barry’s crusade.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s an important documentary that tells a shameful story; after seeing it you are certain to be up in arms over the situation. Psihoyos directs this almost as a thriller more than a documentary and it is a wildly successful gambit.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the scenes of dolphin slaughter are very disturbing and go on a bit longer after the point is already made.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some truly disturbing scenes of humans perpetrating dolphin slaughter, as well as some harrowing true-life suspense. The very sensitive little ones, particularly those who love dolphins, should be forewarned that some scenes may be too graphic for them.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This documentary inspired a new Animal Planet series called “Blood Dolphin” starring O’Barry; it made its cable debut on the network in advance of the new series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an informative piece on the effects of Mercury poisoning, as well as some additional details on the special cameras used in the making of the film.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Extract