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Notes from the back row

Nice sharks, cold blood and Woodcock

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This week is a big one at the good old Village 8. Back by popular demand is Canadian Rob Stewart’s epic documentary Sharkwater . Stewart is a wildlife photographer and a biologist and this film, his first, is an advocacy documentary pushing a social and scientific agenda. Shot over four and a half years, Sharkwater mixes fantastic high def underwater footage with solid historical facts and disturbing looks at the multi-billion dollar industry of shark fishing/poaching. Long line fishing, loose standards in international waters and crooked, bought-off governments have all but devastated the world’s shark population. Forget Jaws , Stewart says, sharks aren’t out to get us nearly as much as we seem hell bent on getting them.

Stewart and his posse literally do battle with poachers, ramming their boats, and towing them back to harbour, only to have the criminals set free by crooked Costa Rican government officials.

For a film about sharks Stewart does turn the camera on himself a bit too much (count how many times he says, “I” in the narration, and his flesh-eating disease segment, while ironic, could have been shorter or omitted), but for the most part this is an incredible, must-see movie that includes truly heartbreaking footage of a shark being butchered for a single fin and then tossed back into the ocean to die.

The fin trade is supposedly run by the Taiwanese Mafia, and shark fins, and their unproven medicinal value, are big money throughout Asia, but mainly China. Personally I’m getting pretty sick of China. Their market for shark fins, ground-up rhino horns and bear gall bladders is appalling, and don’t even get me started on the 56-year occupation of Tibet. Apparently, China is poised to be the next world superpower… rad.

Enough politics though, let’s focus on that old dish that’s best served cold- Revenge. The Brave One (gay title) stars Jodie Foster in a wanna-be über-feminist flick with a plot totally lifted from one of my favorite comic books, The Punisher. Foster, playing a New-York-loving talk radio personality, and her fiancé are savagely attacked by thugs in Central Park. He dies, she goes into a coma and is, understandably pissed off and afraid when she awakes. The city she once loved seems dark and ominous now so Foster, with the superhero-esque name Erica Bain, gets a gun and starts shooting people. At first, it seems she kills in self defense; the next time, maybe not. Soon enough people are talking about the new “Vigilante” and NYPD detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard from Crash ) has to hunt her down.

The Brave One , hoping to be like Crash and tap into some awards, is less about the act of revenge than the consequences of it. It wants to skirt the blurry lines between right and wrong, justice and law, and the desire and repulsion of inflicting hurt. Sounds like Death Wish, but here the violence has a lip-gloss feel to it — very feminine — and the film’s point is often voiced directly by the characters (or call-ins on Erica’s talk show) rather than slowly revealed. The Brave One is a slick looking picture, better than both Punisher movies, but not that much smarter.

Smart isn’t a very apt description for Mr. Woodcock either. It’s a throwback comedy about a grown man (Sean William Scott) trying to convince his mother not to marry his old PE Teacher, the tyrannical Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thorton). Of course, his plan backfires and high jinks ensue and when it’s all said and done about the only thing you can be sure of is this movie certainly won’t ever be billed as “back by popular demand.”

AT VILLAGE 8 Sept. 14-20: Becoming Jane; Mr. Woodcock; The Brave One; Sharkwater; 3:10 to Yuma; Superbad; Shoot Em Up; Hairspray; Bourne Ultimatum; Balls of Fury.

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