English-lit majors know that this story about the 19th-century Romantic poet isn't going to end well. But Jane Campion's account of his youthful love affair with Fanny Brawne is so sublimely seductive that Romantics and romantics alike may well hope it does. The forthright Fanny (Abbie Cornish) comes to know her neighbor, the struggling poet (Ben Wishaw). He is sensitive and kind (and has dreamy hair), and finds inspiration in Fanny's joie de vivre and (limited) independence. It would be easy to transpose these two into contemporary archetypes, young artistic souls who easily meld, though naturally, much of the drama here is rooted in mores of the past. (For instance, Fanny cannot marry the penniless Keats.)
This is a costumed parlor drama that nonetheless has an ethereal air about it: Is it the candlelight, the strolls in fields of flowers, or the genteel scenes of unspoken longing? Campion (The Piano) has long had a sure touch with this sort of emotionally charged, vaguely dreamlike material, and those who surrender to scenes depicting rooms of butterflies or lovers pressed silently to opposite sides of a shared wall should find Bright Star affecting. There's also plenty for the more prosaically romantic to enjoy, be it a nasty love-triangle with Keats' mentor-companion, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider); a courtship via billets-doux; and that old favorite, the untimely death that forever separates (or does it?) young lovers. Altogether, handsomely filmed, well acted and likely to have you revisiting Keats' works. Starts Fri., Oct. 2. (AH) [3 out of 4 stars]
Ric O'Barry trained dolphins for the hit 1960s TV show Flipper. Since then, he's become a highly visible fighter for dolphin rights, advocating for their release from theme parks and swim-with programs, and working to prevent their needless slaughter. One such site of concern is Taiji, a picturesque fishing village in Japan, the source of most of the world's "working" dolphins. There, such animals can sell for up to $150,000 each, but the majority netted in huge sweeps go for a couple hundred dollars and are killed for meat.
All this and more comes to light in Louie Psihoyos' muckraking documentary about Taiji's secretive cove. The narrative is driven primarily by an undercover operation O'Barry spearheads to discover exactly what happens behind Taiji's fences.
The film is never not interesting, but suffers somewhat from a scattershot approach. The drama turns on three bitter ironies that, while discussed, could have been honed more sharply. Irony No. 1 is O'Barry's singular role in popularizing the use of captive dolphins as entertainment. No. 2: Killing dolphins for food is a Pyrrhic game, since their flesh is extraordinarily high in mercury. And No. 3, and least explored: Dolphins are mammals, smarter and more sentient than our beloved, pampered dogs, yet they suffer greatly from their resemblance to fish, to which we credit little.
The film picks up steam when O'Barry and his crew begin their covert surveillance of Taiji's dolphin cove. It's a real-life action thriller, complete with neat-o high-tech gadgets. The fun stops, though, when the videotape is reviewed: What happens to the dolphins is shocking and horrifying. It's not easy to watch, but we should see: This is dark side of that supposedly fun stuff dolphins do for our amusement. In English, and some Japanese, with subtitles. Manor (AH) [2.5 out of 4 stars]