The Pollinators


Poetry in motion.

 (2019) Documentary (1091Alan Ard, Maryann Frazier, Jonathan Lundgren, Zac Browning, Bret Adee, James Frazier, Davey Hackenberg, Lucas Criswell, Sam Ramsey, Susan Kegley, Jeff Anderson, Leigh Kathryn Bonner. Directed by Peter Nelson

 

For most of us, bees are annoying and a swarm of them is to be feared; they can make picnics and outdoor activities a non-starter. However, they are absolutely vital to agriculture. They pollinate flowering crops that allow those flowers to become fruit, nuts and vegetables.

It is no secret that the bee population is declining at an alarming rate. This should concern everyone, because as one beekeeper wryly puts it, “We all, you know, eat.” I had always thought that farmers relied on local beekeepers but given the extent of agriculture in the 21st century that’s no longer possible. Beekeepers truck tens of thousands of bees via semi-tractor trailer across the country on interstates to farms whose orchards are just beginning to flower and require the pollination. Those windows of opportunity for the farmers are often brief and they can only give the beekeepers a few days’ notice that their bees are needed. This results in a logistical task equal to those of Hercules.

But bees have other challenges that they face. These same orchard growers use pesticides to help thin their flowers so that the resultant fruit are the largest possible; they also must use pesticides and fungicides to protect their crops. Most of these are harmful to bees, particularly the neonicotinoids which are prevalent currently.

In fact, much of modern agriculture is dictated by the big chemical companies. Big agriculture has deemed that monofarming – sticking with a single crop (usually corn, rice or soy) is the most efficient way to farm, and on the surface it might seem so. Those three crops I named are also not reliant on pollination, so that cuts the cost of importing bees. However, those crops use an enormous amount of space – the corn crop alone takes up 5% of the total land in the United States – and give nothing back. In fact, they leech the nutrients from the soil, producing food that is less and less nutritious and tasty, forcing home cooks and professional chefs alike to have to use more salt and sugar to give them a taste. They also rob bees of their own food source, causing mass starvation of bees in the wild. In addition, bees are attacked by a species of mite that came over from Asia that renders the bees more susceptible to the pesticides and starvation. It’s no wonder that entire colonies of bees have died off.

With the EPA and FDA unwilling to help – one beekeeper refers to the EPA derisively as the Chemical Protection Agency – a revolution in agriculture is quietly underway. Farmers and beekeepers are engaging in something called regenerative farming – going back to crop rotation, something that was done on farms globally until recently – and planting things like clover, rye and local grasses that are bee-friendly, giving the bees a source of nourishment beyond the crops they are pollinating.

Nelson, a veteran nature documentary cinematography, takes the director’s chair for the first time and does a bang-up job, delivering a massively informative documentary that calls attention to the problems in a sober and fact-based manner, offering solutions and allowing the beekeepers whose love for their charges goes beyond being their means of making a living to do the finger-pointing when needed and at the right targets – Big Agra, Big Chemicals and government agencies that are no longer even making a pretense of protecting the citizenry of this country but instead serve the interests of the wealthy. That farmers can and are taking matters into their own hands is both comforting and energizing.

Too often we see documentaries that call attention to a major problem and leave the viewer feeling helpless and hopeless, but that isn’t the case here. We all have a vested interest in the health of bees as their efforts help nourish all of us, and I do mean all. Nelson has a cinematographers eyes and utilizes plenty of slow-motion bees in flight images, aerial shots of bucolic farms, and close-ups of soil both lifeless and teeming with life. This is an excellent film that reminds us that we are all part of a system that works in harmony; disrupting even something as seemingly insignificant as the honey bees can have catastrophic consequences for us humans.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderful bee photography. Gives insight to a very real problem and to those who love bees and are fighting to save them.
REASONS TO AVOID: The focus on agriculture may not resonate with those not involved directly with it other than as consumers.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One in every three bites of food that you take has benefitted from the pollinizing by honey bees or a similar species.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Kanopy, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/19//20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: More Than Honey
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Berlin, I Love You

Mr. Holmes


Even the most beautiful garden path can be the road to Hell.

Even the most beautiful garden path can be the road to Hell.

(2015) Drama (Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam, Philip Davis, Frances de la Tour, Charles Maddox, Takako Akashi, Zak Shukor, John Sessions, Michael Culkin, David Foxxe, Oliver Devoti, Mike Burnside, Nicholas Rowe, Sam Coulson, Frances Barber. Directed by Bill Condon

The difference between reality and fiction can often be the mere stroke of a pen. Often we are presented with an image, one that in time becomes as reality. What happens to the real person then, when the fictional image becomes more powerful than the real person who inspired it?

In a sleepy seaside town on the east coast of England lives a cantankerous old man in an old cottage overlooking white chalk cliffs. He spends his days pottering around, caring for his bees and chatting with Roger (Parker), the son of his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Linney). It is nigh on impossible to believe that once upon a time, this old man was the most famous and honored detective in Great Britain, for he is Sherlock Holmes (McKellen), now 93 years old and living in retirement in post-war England.

It is 1947 and he has just returned from Japan on a visit with Umezaki (Sanada), with whom he has been corresponding about the nature of prickly ash, which is said to have restorative powers for those afflicted by senility. Holmes witnesses first-hand the horrors of Hiroshima only two years after it was annihilated by the Americans and their atomic bomb; for a man who has lived through two world wars, this visual representation of man’s inhumanity to man is almost more than he can take.

Holmes’ great mental facilities and his memory has become suspect and the 93-year-old man is trapped by his fading intellect. He is trying to recall his last case, one which caused him to retire to the seaside, but he can’t remember it, or what about it caused him to put down his magnifying glass for good. He feels like he needs to recall this; everyone he knows is dead save for the two living with him now who didn’t know him when these events transpired. All he knows is the case involved a distraught husband (Kennedy), a mysterious wife (Morahan) and a music teacher (de la Tour) who was also something of a spiritualist. As the case unravels, so does Holmes. Can he remember the details of the case and find peace, or will he join his colleagues in the Choir Invisible first?

This is the Bill Condon of Gods and Monsters, not the one who directed the two installments of the Twilight saga. Other reviewers have described this movie as elegiac and that’s nearly the perfect description; there is an air of melancholy, of lost lives and overwhelming regret and loneliness. Much of the movie is told through flashbacks as the elderly Holmes recalls shards of memory and starts to assemble them into a cohesive whole. There is an amazing scene where a middle-aged Holmes speaks to one of the main players in the mystery he is revisiting in his old age and describes that he has consciously made the choice to be lonely, but somewhat ironically follows up that having the great intellect is reward enough. As he nears the end of his life, Holmes no longer has the comfort of that intellect, although germs of it remain.

&We forget that McKellan is one of the great actors of our time; we tend to associate him with Gandalf and Magneto and need to remember that this man has a Shakespearean background and has some of the most honored performances in the history of the English stage,. His gruff exterior hides inner pain, as he for perhaps for the first time in his life feels fear; fear that the thing most of value to him is being slowly stripped away from him. For someone like Sherlock Holmes, dementia and senility are the absolute worst calamities that might befall him. We see the uncertainty of a man used to relying on the powers of his mind suddenly unable to trust those powers any longer. It’s a bravura performance that not only humanizes the great detective who is often seen these days as something of a caricature but also makes him relatable. In the past, Holmes always seemed above the rest of us; we could admire his skills while finding him cold and unapproachable. Befriending Sherlock Holmes would be something like befriending an iPad; it can be done but it wouldn’t be very satisfying if you did.

I haven’t read the novel this is based on but I’m going to make a point of finding it. There is a marvelous backstory as we discover that for the sake of making the chronicles of Sherlock Holmes’ career more enticing to the reading public his dear friend Dr. Watson has taken a few liberties with the truth. For example, Holmes tells us in a somewhat bemused tone, that he never wore a deerstalker cap (which was actually an invention of illustrators Sidney Paget and Frederic Dorr Steele, who assumed the deerstalker was the chapeau of choice due to Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of his headgear, although the author never expressly stated that Holmes wore a deerstalker) nor did he smoke a pipe – he tended to prefer cigars. We get the sense that Holmes is somewhat amused by Watson’s inventions regarding his life but is to a large extent also trapped by them.

Purists of the Holmes canon will probably have a bit of a meltdown regarding some of this, but I personally think (not being a Sherlock Holmes expert in any sense) that the author and filmmakers do honor the spirit of the character here. We get a sense of what a real human being would be like if possessed of the same mental acuity as Sherlock Holmes. It would be a marvelous life indeed – and a lonely one as well.

In some ways this is likely to get lost amid the bombast of the summer’s louder and more well-heeled blockbusters, but this is as entertaining as any of them – and more than most of them, for that matter. I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to the great detective’s final years and found it believable and enjoyable, and that is all you can really ask of a summer movie indeed.

REASONS TO GO: Tremendous performance by McKellan. Terrific backstory.
REASONS TO STAY: Not for purists.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the concepts here are pretty adult; there are a couple of images that are disturbing as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actor playing Holmes in the movie that the “real” Holmes goes to see is played by Nicholas Rowe, who starred in the title role of Young Sherlock Holmes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seven Per-Cent Solution
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Little Death