An Unreasonable Man


 

An Unreasonable Man

Ralph Nader: An American original.

(2006) Documentary (IFC) Ralph Nader, Howard Zinn, Pat Buchanan, Phil Donohue, Joan Claybrook, David Bollier, Mark Green, Andrew Egendorf, Laura Nader, Claire Nader, Richard Grossman, Lawrence O’Donnell, William Greider, James Ridgeway, Gene Karpinski. Directed by Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan

 

Ralph Nader may go down in history as one of the most polarizing figures of the 20th century (and of the 21st as well). In the early stages of his career, he was a tireless advocate for consumers. He took on corporate entities and governmental agencies alike on such crusades as automobile safety, clean air and water, and airline safety. The corporate right hate him like poison and had he stuck to advocacy as he did in the 70s and 80s, he might well be remembered as the greatest consumer advocate of all time.

However, unsatisfied with affecting change from without and feeling betrayed by the Carter administration, he made the decision to attempt to make change from within. Feeling the two major political parties were virtually indistinguishable from one another, he took a different road, finally settling on the Green Party (a political party which got its start in Europe where it remains far more popular than it is here) as his platform of choice. So in 2000, he ran as an independent candidate against Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

The rest, as they say, was history. Gore lost by a narrow margin and we wound up with a president who gave us the Iraq War and the economic meltdown of 2008. There are many pundits of the left who believe that the story would have been entirely different if the votes that Nader received had gone to Gore instead.

Which quite frankly is sour grapes. Gore lost the election at least as much for his failure to effectively establish himself as legitimate presidential material; I remember all the late night talk show jokes likening the former Vice-President as wooden, stiff and humorless. People had trouble relating to him and his campaign failed to motivate younger voters to come out and vote as Obama did in 2008. I myself didn’t vote for Gore, mainly because of his wife Tipper’s involvement with the Parental Music Resource Committee which seemed hell-bent on the censorship of rock and roll and be damned with the constitution. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that distrust.

This documentary covers his career, essentially dividing it up into his advocacy years and his political years. The look is unflinching; while his achievements are praised, Nader himself is portrayed as an inflexible sort who is self-assured that he is right, no matter what. He finds compromise to be an anathema and prefers shaping the world to his point of view – which is where the title of the film comes from, a quote from George Bernard Shaw which reads “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Nader certainly defines this.

Over and over again we see instances where Nader sees things in terms of black and white. There are no shades of grey in his world view. People are either with him or against him; he obviously takes very personally the defection of some of the young advocates who were part of the group he assembled that were affectionately known as “Nader’s Raiders” to government service, which at the time he felt was an ineffective means of forcing change. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that he eventually concluded to take this course himself.

Nader is by all accounts a brilliant man, albeit occasionally infuriating. He has a legacy of legislation that any lawmaker could envy. He also is, perhaps unfairly, blamed for the ascension of Dubya to the White House. That the latter is what may wind up being his more enduring legacy may be one of the most myopic turns by the left ever. The documentary does address that, but at a shade over two hours in length may have people hitting the fast forward button or ejecting the disc more than they will be riveted by the content of the film.

WHY RENT THIS: Remarkably even-handed and fair look at an American icon who often raises very extreme reactions in both followers and critics. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags in places and might have been too long.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Co-director Henriette Mantel was a former protégé of Nader’s.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a number of bonus featurettes that have to do more with the discussion of the political issues that have accompanied Nader’s career, from how third parties have affected American politics to why the right is better organized than the left. For an indie documentary this is an unusually sumptuous presentation.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $176,647 on an unreported production budget; this may have broken even or even made a little bit of cash.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Watch

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold


POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock shows his mettle at product placement.

(2011) Documentary (Sony Classics) Morgan Spurlock, Ben Silverman, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Donald Trump, Jimmy Kimmel, J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg, Brett Ratner, Antonio Reid, John Wells, Rick Kurnit, Paul Brennan, Mark Crispin Miller. Directed by Morgan Spurlock

 

It’s no secret that motion pictures have become a veritable cornucopia of product placement. Actors guzzle down Coke, wear Nike t-shirts and Ray-Ban sunglasses, chew on Beemer’s gum, escape the bad guys in Mini-Coopers and snack on Reese’s Pieces with their favorite aliens. It’s a means of subtle advertisement for a variety of products who pay big money to place their products in prospective hit movies.

Movies aren’t the only place that advertising reaches us. It surrounds us nearly 24-7; on billboards, television shows, pop-ups on websites, garments, taxis, busses, skywriting – even on menus. We can’t turn around without our eyes resting on some sort of advertisement. It permeates our lives so thoroughly we barely realize it’s there anymore.

Morgan Spurlock still notices though. He came up with the concept of doing a documentary on advertising – entirely financed by product placement. He goes into meetings with executives for a variety of products, from JetBlue airlines to Mane and Tail animal care products to POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. He winds up filming some commercials for a few of them,  and actually winds up achieving his goal.

He also talks to luminaries like social commentator Noam Chomsky, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, filmmakers Brett Ratner, J.J. Abrams and Peter Berg and billionaire Donald Trump about the incessant and invasive nature of modern advertising. The talking head sequences are some of the most entertaining in the film, particularly those of Nader and Trump.

He also visits Sao Paolo in Brazil, a city which has banned all outdoor advertising. It is a stark reminder of just how much ads are a daily reality for all of us. The city looks almost naked without the billboards, signs, posters and handbills that are everywhere in the modern city.

Spurlock is a lot like Michael Moore in that he is not a documentarian who is content to stay behind the camera and allow the story to tell itself. Like Moore, he is always part of the story as he was in Super Size Me which is notable in that it was instrumental in getting McDonalds to discontinue Super-sized combo meals.

I don’t think he’ll have the same kind of affect here – there is nothing here that indicates that advertising is anything other than annoying. However, one is given pause for thought when he talks to administrators at a cash-strapped Florida school that has allowed advertising on its school grounds to help raise badly needed operational funds. You have to think that this might well be the wave of the future.

Even if he is a bit intrusive in his own documentary, Morgan is charming and pleasant enough an on-camera personality. Did his idea merit a full-length documentary feature? Probably not. However, I will give you that it at least gives one food for thought, even if it is just a Happy Meal.

WHY RENT THIS: Spurlock is always clever and funny.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not sure this was a great idea for a full length documentary.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language and a little bit of sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: As a means of promoting the film, the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania change its name to POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Pennsylvania for 60 days (beginning April 27, 2011). The town was paid $25,000 for doing the promotion.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: All of the commercials Spurlock made for the various products are here in their entirety. There is also a feature on the film’s appearance at Sundance on the Blu-Ray edition.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $638,476 on a $1.8M production budget; didn’t quite make its production budget back.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Lucky

New Releases for the Week of May 6, 2011


May 6, 2011

Thor gets ready to lay the hammer down on a bad guy.

THOR

(Paramount/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Thor, the God of Thunder and son of Odin is a mighty warrior but an arrogant one. His arrogance unwittingly triggers hostilities between the Gods and the Giants who have been in an uneasy peace for centuries. For his actions, Odin banishes his son to live on Earth and to learn a little humility, which isn’t easy for a God living on Earth but there you go.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette, promos and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence)

I Am

(Paladin) Tom Shadyac, Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn. After a devastating cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly permanently, director Shadyac (auteur of the Ace Ventura movies among others) re-examines himself and his place in the universe, deciding to make a movie about it which might just make up for Ace Ventura, karma-wise.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

In a Better World

(Sony Classics) Mikael Persbrandt, William Johnk Nielsen, Trine Dyrholm, Markus Rygaard. An idealistic doctor who splits time between his home in Denmark and an African refugee camp must choose between revenge and forgiveness. At home his son is undergoing the same choice, albeit in a far different situation. This was the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for violent and disturbing content some involving preteens, and for language)

Jumping the Broom

(TriStar) Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Mike Epps, Loretta Devine. It seems like it would be a simple thing; two young people coming together in matrimony, in beautiful Martha’s Vineyard no less. However their families – one well-to-do, the other blue collar – are at each other’s throats. Not exactly the seeds for a happy nuptial, right?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content)

POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold

(Sony Classics) Morgan Spurlock, Ben Silverman, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader. Gadfly Spurlock (he of Super Size Me) takes on his own industry this time – and product placement therein as he documents his attempts to have his film entirely financed by product placement. Along the way he gives us a glimpse of how the movie industry works – and how pervasive advertising is in our lives.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual material)

Potiche

(Music Box) Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard. Set in the 1970s, the trophy wife of a wealthy French industrialist proves to be better at running his company than he is when he is convalescing from a heart attack, setting the stage for this French war between the sexes. I saw this previously at the Florida Film Festival and reviewed it here.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexuality)

Something Borrowed

(Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski. Rachel and Darcy are best friends; Rachel is the maid of honor for Darcy, who is about to marry the man that Rachel has had a crush on since law school. When Rachel sleeps with Darcy’s husband-to-be after a night of too much drinking, their little circle of friends are in for a game of “change partners!”

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including dialogue, and some drug material)