Blackfish starts like so many documentaries do these days: with shock and awe. A 911 emergency call made on Feb. 23, 2010, from SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., informs the viewer of a trainer not just being brutally killed, but "eaten" by a killer whale. The victim's name was Dawn Brancheau, a well-respected professional who had what most described as a great working relationship with her murderer, a giant male orca named Tillicum.
From here, director Gabriella Cowperthwaite explores the nefarious nature of marine-animal captivity as a for-business venture, using the story of Tillicum as a focal point. Since his capture in 1983, the whale's killed three people. Relying heavily on testimonials from ex-trainers and found footage, the film positions Tillicum's story as a grand tragedy of scientific and moral injustice, an indication of nature being bastardized for public exhibition.
This subject matter is especially topical to San Diego, considering how it bluntly addresses the environmental impact of SeaWorld as both a potentially corrupt institution and a kind of insane asylum for animals, with Tillicum being its prized mental patient. There's a lot of anger here, and rightfully so. The talking-head interviews are intensely personal confessions from naïve and well-intentioned trainers attempting to gain closure for their culpable participation with big business.
Discourse really isn't Cowperthwaite's main concern, though. Blackfish —opening Friday, July 26, at Hillcrest Cinemas—is more of a call to arms for awareness and activism. But the calculating execution is so emphatic, specifically the use of sweeping music cues to pinpoint emotion, that the filmmaking often stifles the message. Even more troubling is how Blackfish uses death as climactic event, a way to confirm ideology instead of evaluate change.
Adventures in Wild California : The splendors of California get the IMAX treatment in this breathtaking documentary featuring a plethora of natural and human wonders. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Attack : An Israeli Palestinian surgeon finds his life destroyed after his wife is accused of conducting a suicide bombing that leaves countless dead. It's directed by Ziad Doueiri ( West Beirut ).
Blackfish : SeaWorld and its potentially corrupt business practices take a shellacking in this documentary about the killer whale responsible for three deaths during its time in captivity. See our review on Page 22.
Broche de Oro : Three senior citizens escape their strict retirement home for a road trip to the sea in this comedy from Puerto Rico. Screens through Aug. 1 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Crystal Fairy : Northern Chile's Atacama Desert provides the backdrop to this road film about 20-somethings (Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman) seeking the ultimate psychedelic drug trip. See our review on Page 22.
Smurfs 2 : Another Smurfs movie, because why not? Opens Wednesday, July 31.
Storm Surfers 3D : Surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones travel the globe seeking the ultimate wave, in 3-D.
The To-Do List : Aubrey Plaza ( Parks and Recreation ) finally gets a leading role in this comedy about a high-school senior hoping to gain some life experience before heading off to college.
The Wolverine : Hugh Jackman reprises his iconic role as the immortal clawed X-Man battling a brutal band of Yakuza in modern Japan.
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(500) Days of Summer : Love is hard, so very hard, in the case of these two star-crossed millennials (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel). Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Monty Python and the Hold Grail : The King Arthur legend gets some serious revisionist treatment by John Cleese and company. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Garden in Escondido.
Moonrise Kingdom : Wes Anderson's divine story of runaway young love has an all-star cast that includes Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Edward Norton. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Mission Valley Library.
Terraferma : Set on a Sicilian island, Emanuele Crisalese's latest film tells the story of an old-fashioned fisherman who rescues a boatload of African refugees, only to face the repercussions of his decision. Presented by the San Diego Italian Film Festival, it screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Torn Curtain : Paul Newman and Julie Andrews star in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller about an American scientist posing as a defector in East Germany to smuggle out a secret formula. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 25 and 26, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
La Jolla Fashion Film Festival: A series of diverse programs and parties based on all things fashion and film. Runs Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27 at La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Check ljfff.com for details.
Berberian Sound Studio : A British sound engineer (Toby Jones) travels to an Italian film studio for a project, only to get consumed by the psychedelic environment in this thrilling homage to the Giallo horror genre. Screens at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted : Alex, Mart, Gloria and the rest of the gang join a traveling circus in Europe hoping to find their way home. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at Morley Field Sports Complex in Balboa Park.
The Seven-Year Itch : Billy Wilder's classic comedy-romance helped make Marilyn Monroe a superstar. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Reveal the Path : A documentary about what it means to live an inspired life by way of the bicycle. Screens at 6 p.m. Monday, July 29, at Tiger!Tiger! in North Park.
Rear Window: Jimmy Stewart plays an ace photographer who tries to solve a murder from his wheelchair in this iconic masterpiece of voyeurism and perspective by Alfred Hitchcock. Screens at 8 p.m. Monday, July 29, at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Ginger and Rosa : Sally Potter's latest drama follows two teenage girls living in 1960s London during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, at Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Springsteen and I : See The Boss like you've never seen him before: up close and personal. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, at various local theatres. Visit fathomevents.com for details.
How to Train Your Dragon : Revisit this family favorite about a clumsy young Viking who befriends a young dragon despite being natural enemies. Screens at 10 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, July 30 and 31, at Reading Grossmont and Town Square Cinemas.
The Lorax : Dr. Seuss' classic about a grumpy creature who helps a young boy find courage gets the big-screen treatment. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.
The Graduate : Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Broken : An 11-year-old girl is forced to grow up quickly when she discovers a neighbor abusing another child and must face the consequences of telling the truth. Co-starring the great Tim Roth. Runs through July 25 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Conjuring : Ghosts and demons haunt a large suburban family who just moved into a rickety Rhode Island home with a dark past. It's directed by horror maestro James Wan ( Insidious , Saw ).
Dolphins : This beautiful, Academy Award-nominated IMAX film, screening at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, explores the world of dolphins from the Bahamas to the seas of Patagonia.
Focus on San Diego: This collection of features, documentaries and short films made by local filmmakers runs July 19 through 21 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. Get details at digitalgym.org.
Girl Most Likely : Kristin Wiig brings her patented self-deprecating humor to this story about a failed New York playwright forced to spend time with her overbearing mother (Annette Benning) and start anew.
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster : Documentary about the iconic movie-poster artist Drew Struzan, whose work on the Star Wars films, among others, has become legendary.
Only God Forgives : Seeped in neon reds and yellows, this psychedelic nightmare from director Nicolas Winding Refn ( Drive ) follows an American expat (Ryan Gosling) as he attempts to avenge his brother's murder in Thailand.
Le Petit Soldat : An early Jean-Luc Godard film about a French journalist who becomes embroiled in an espionage plot in Geneva that threatens both his safety and ideological prowess. Screens for one week at the Ken Cinema. See our review on Page 28.
Reds 2 : Bruce Willis and his aged assassins once again try to defend their lawn chairs from shadowy government forces and international terrorists.
R.I.P.D .: Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds play undead police officers protecting Earth from ghouls and goblins attempting to take over the world. Hilarity ensues.
Still Mine : Local authorities stymie an elderly couple's dream of building their final home, resulting in a David and Goliath story set in rural New Brunswick.
Turbo : A normal garden snail finds that a freak accident has given him some unexpected powers in the speed department, allowing him to compete in the Indy 500.
Un Flic : Jean Pierre-Melville's final film follows a professional gang of thieves (led by Richard Crenna) as they attempt to outwit a tenacious policeman (Alain Delon) and score one last big job. Screens for one week at the Ken Cinema. See our review on Page 28.
A Hijacking : This thrilling drama depicts negotiations surrounding the seizure of a Danish vessel by Somali pirates and the survival of the sailors onboard.
The Body : When a cadaver goes missing from the morgue, a policeman must piece together an expanding mystery of murder and deception. Screens through July 18 at Digital Gym Cinema.
Grown Ups 2 : Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James return for another round of juvenile debauchery in this sequel to the 2010 comedy.
Pacific Rim : From the mind of Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro: The world is under attack by reptilian monsters, so mankind resorts to building gigantic robots as the last line of defense.
The Way, Way Back : A 14-year-old boy finds self-worth during a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her combative new boyfriend (Steve Carell).
Yellowstone : The next entry in the Fleet's 40th Anniversary Fan Favorite Film Festival showcases the beauty and geothermal activity of the famed national park. Screens through July 18 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
20 Feet From Stardom : Backup singers for today's superstars finally take center stage in this music documentary featuring a range of inspirational stories about artistic endurance and passion.
Despicable Me 2 : Gru (Steve Carell) and his army of minions attempt to transcend their roles as villains and save the world in this sequel to the popular 2010 animated film.
Hannah Arendt : A biopic about the philosopher who wrote a controversial series of articles about the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker .
I'm So Excited! : Pedro Almodóvar returns to more playful terrain in this racy comedy about a malfunctioning airplane packed with hysterical characters on the verge of nervous breakdowns.
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain : Filmed at a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden during a 2012 concert tour, this documentary showcases the comedian's brash style and formidable presence.
The Lone Ranger : The masterminds behind Pirates of the Caribbean hope to find similar success with this mega-budget adaptation of the classic Western hero (Armie Hammer) and his mystical sidekick (Johnny Depp).
The Heat : Yet another riff on the classic buddy comedy, this time starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as polar-opposite cops tasked with capturing a brutal drug lord. From Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.
Unfinished Song : A bitter curmudgeon (Terrence Stamp) is encouraged by his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) to join a local seniors choir and find his inner song in this charming comedic drama from director Paul Andrew Williams.
White House Down : Yippy-ki-yay, Magic Mike! Channing Tatum does his best John McClane impersonation when terrorists storm the White House and take the president (Jamie Foxx) hostage. Helmed by disaster-movie-director extraordinaire Roland Emmerich ( Independence Day ).
Monsters University : Professional frighteners and quibbling buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are back for Pixar's first-ever prequel set during their wild college days.
Much Ado About Nothing : The Avengers director Joss Whedon steps out of his comfort zone and updates the Bard's classically romantic skirmish of wits with this jazzy black-and-white ensemble piece.
World War Z : The zombie apocalypse is in full swing as Brad Pitt attempts to save the world from certain demise. It's based on the popular graphic novel by Max Brooks.
The East : Brit Marling leads an impressive cast of indie-film regulars, including Ellen Paige and Alexander Skarsgård, in this story about a covert eco-terrorist group aiming for high-profile corporate targets. Ends July 18 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Man of Steel : Director Zach Snyder ( 300 , Watchmen ) attempts yet another reboot of the Superman origin story with Henry Cavill sporting the famous tights and Amy Adams cracking wise as Lois Lane.
This is the End : It's the end of the world as we know it, and the Judd Apatow reunion tour feels just fine. Directed by Seth Rogen, this comedy apocalypse is sure to include multiple plumes of ganja smoke.
The Internship : Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson try to re-train themselves in the digital age with a Google internship. Prepare yourself for Lewinsky jokes.
Before Midnight : Almost two decades after Richard Linklater teamed up with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on the romantic fantasy Before Sunrise , the trio comes together for the final film of the trilogy. Jessie and Celine aren't as young as they used to be, and that makes it the best of all of them.
Now You See Me : Four illusionists—Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco—pull off amazing heists against the 1 percent and give the money to the rest of us.
Star Trek: Into Darkness : The sequel to J.J. Abrams' rollicking reboot feels more like a summer blockbuster than a vital part of the Trek universe. Still, it's always good to see Benedict Cumberbatch on the big screen.
The Great Gatsby : Baz Luhrmann, who made Moulin Rouge , takes on the American literary classic. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby in this tale of class warfare.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
Cosmic Collisions : So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
To the Arctic 3-D : Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.