Eating Our Way to Extinction


Vegans will inherit the earth.

(2020) Documentary (Seine) Kate Winslet (narration), Sir Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Otto Brockway, Joanne Kong, Joseph Poore, Peter Wadhams, Jeremy Rifkin, Bruce Friedrich, Tara Garnett, Roger Roberts, Oliver de Schurrer, Gerard Winterbern, Dr. Sylvia Eagle, Don Staniford, Liv Holmefjord, Udo Erasmus, Gemma Newman, Taryn Bishop. Directed by Ludo and Otto Brockway

 

Climate change is, without a doubt, one of the signature agenda items of our generation. It might surprise you, though, to learn that one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere come from what you might consider a harmless source: animal husbandry. The raising of animals for food creates an enormous amount of hydrocarbons but in order to keep all those animals fed, much of the crops that we grow go directly to them and not to hungry humans. It does seem somewhat bizarre.

This slick, well-meaning documentary charts how our lust for hamburgers and chicken nuggets are leading to an absolutely ruinous future. Oscar-winner Kate Winslet narrates, soberly ticking off points and captioning footage that is, to say the least, disturbing. The makers of the film claim that this movie will change the way you look at food, and it might very well do that.

Now, there are an awful lot of scientific talking heads, and that’s all well and good, but it can get a little bit dry, although the nifty animations help. What I found to be a major failing of the film, though, was that it seems to be presenting veganism as the only solution to the problem. That doesn’t take into account that humans have been raising animals for food for thousands of years and it is only recently that it’s become a problem. And while I admire the passion behind the project, I don’t appreciate being hammered over the head with a point of view that reminds me of an overzealous Christian missionary trying to convert me to Evangelical Christianity.

But it IS a problem, and we need to insist that our meat comes from healthier sources and not factory farms. Whenever possible, buy locally sourced meat and yes, that may be more expensive, but we should also be eating more vegetables anyway. I don’t think that the solution is for the entire planet to go vegan – that would bring on a whole slew of other problems. There is a tendency to think that because a problem is extreme that an extreme solution is required. What we need is to act in moderation. Eat less meat. Eat healthier meals. If we can stop consuming the massive amounts of beef, pork and chicken that we do, we can actually slow down climate change. But we also need to regulate Big Agriculture and their use of toxins like pesticides, growth hormones, dyes and preservatives. This movie, while on the strident side, gives us a good starting point in how to change our ways to make a difference for future generations.

The movie is playing tonight only as part of Fathom Events. Check your local listings to find the nearest theater playing it. Otherwise it will be appearing on most major streaming platforms later this fall.

REASONS TO SEE: Intelligently presented.
REASONS TO AVOID: Tends to hammer the viewer over the head with its points.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Brockway brothers also directed the official promo for Virgin Galactic.
CRITICAL MASS:As of 9/16/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fed Up
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
No Responders Left Behind

Reminiscence


Life is no carnival in the near future.

(2021) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Mojean Aria, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan, Javier Molina, Sam Medina, Nono Nishimura, Roxton Garcia, Giovannie Cruz, Woon Young Park, Han Soto, Rey Hernandez, Gabrielle Echols, Andrew Hyatt Masset III, Nico Parker. Directed by Lisa Joy

 

I guess that it makes sense that when you have nothing to look forward to, one’s attention will turn to what came before. In a world where climate change has wreaked havoc, the citizens of a half-drowned Miami find solace in reliving their own memories.

This is the world that Nick Bannister (Jackman) finds himself. A former military man in the border wars that erupted when the oceans rose, he makes a living with a machine that was used to extract information from the memories of military prisoners but he now uses it on civilians who want to relive their favorite memories – a wedding day, playing with a beloved dog, a romantic evening and so on. He also has a side business using his machine to interrogate prisoners of the Miami DA (Martinez).

He has a pretty good life, all things considered – his partner Watts (Newton), although a high-functioning alcoholic, keeps him fairly honest. Until Mae (Ferguson) walks in. She’s lost her keys and needs help locating them. The Reminiscence machine might just be the trick she needs. While in her mind, Bannister discovers that she is a chanteuse, singing a song (“Where and When”) he has fond childhood memories of. He initiates a relationship with her, and for awhile it is summer in Miami.

But then she disappears, and he just can’t believe she up and ran out on him. Using his detective skills, he discovers a dark conspiracy with which Mae may or may not have been involved. At the heart of it is a wealthy developer (Cullen), his mentally ill wife (de Tavira), a corrupt cop (Curtis) and a New Orleans-based drug lord (Wu). Despite Watts’ skepticism, Bannister is convinced that Mae is an innocent caught in events beyond her control, and he will stop at nothing to find her – and the truth.

This is the motion picture debut of Lisa Joy, best known for being co-creator of HBO’s Westworld series with her husband Jonathan Nolan (yes, that makes her Christopher Nolan’s sister-in-law and there is no little of his influence felt here). The world that Joy has created here is melancholic and believable. The overall feel is very much like an old noir movie with a healthy dose of romance injected in, as well as some innovative production design and strong visuals. She definitely has a very cinematic eye, from the images of a partially submerged Miami, to a grand piano sinking into the waters during the climactic fight scene.

The noir elements become overbearing, particularly in the overly florid narration which is overused. Joy seems so taken with it that she utilizes the opening monologue twice which I suppose is meant to lend emphasis but instead lends repetition. I get that the elements of the story lend themselves to a noir retelling, but in a lot of ways it feels kind of gimmicky here.

That doesn’t extend to the script which has some pretty interesting ideas throughout, and the production design brings many of them to life. The overwhelming feeling is resignation; people are growing restive at being pushed into soggier and soggier environs while the ultra-wealthy stay largely dry, but the feeling is that we’re on a downward spiral and we might as well just accept that and live in the past because it’s so much better than what we have in store. Not the most heart-warming of messages.

But Joy does coax some strong performances, particularly out of the ever-expressive Jackman who generally does better when his characters are drowning in their own dark sides; while his chemistry with Ferguson (a strong actress in her own right) is oddly flat, it might be due to the somewhat incomprehensible accent she takes on from time to time. It’s jarring and sounds absolutely phony.

Critics have absolutely savaged this movie, and there is some reason for it – the film is definitely flawed, but the visuals are compelling and as I said there are some interesting ideas developed here. Sadly, the insistence on turning this into a Raymond Chandler adaptation instead of letting the story stand on its own really hurts the movie overall, although I will say if you hang in there, the final 30-45 minutes do pick up.

REASONS TO SEE: Lots of interesting ideas and visuals here.
REASONS TO AVOID: The noir element is heavy-handed, particularly the florid narration.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence and profanity, some sexual content and drug content throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jackman and Ferguson previously starred together in The Greatest Showman.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through 9/20)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews; Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inception
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Good


					

Bring Your Own Brigade


This used to be my house.

(2021) Documentary (CBS News) Marily Woodhouse, Brad Weldon, Lucy Walker, Derek Rickmers, Lauren Gill, Norma Weldon, Maeve Juarez, Char Mullen, Marshall Mullen, Mike Zucolili, Malcolm North, Steve Pyne, Zeke Lunder, Dave Jones, Kristen Shive, Chad Hanson, Mark Emerson, Mike Davis, Greg Bolin, Chris Brandini, Rick Halsey, Jim Broshears, Jody Jones. Directed by Lucy Walker

 

As I write this, the Dixie fire is burning out of control in California. Another hot summer, another spate of wildfires are scorching the West. This has beome the new normal. But does it need to be?

Oscar-winning documentarian Lucy Walker, a British transplant now living in the United States, asks that very question. She opens this two hour long documentary with footage of wildfires from around the world, including heartbreaking footage of a baby koala in Australia burning alive until saved by human hands. The animal’s piteous screams of pain are not likely to be forgotten to anyone who sees this movie anytime soon.

Then we see the human side. Walker had been in Paradise doing research on the 2017 Thomas fire that had nearly leveled the town when the Camp fire broke out, as did the Woolsey fire in Malibu. Walker had crews in both locations and was there when 88 lives were lost and thousands of structures consumed. The Camp fire remains the deadliest forest fire in the history of California.

Hearing the 911 calls of panicked people in cars and in homes, knowing that they’re about to burn alive, is absolutely devastating. While some of the folks you hear did actually manage to escape, not all of them did. It is much like hearing the 911 call of Melissa Doi from the 83rd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The footage of burning cars and fire all around the vehicles, taken with cell phones by the survivors of the fire, would put Dante to shame.

But while Walker early on says that the movie is about hope, and it might be hard to find at the beginning. However, she examines the issues of the underlying causes of these fires and while climate change is certainly a culprit, it is by no means the only one. Logging companies planting new new trees too close together cause fires to spread further and faster; the refusal to use controlled burns to help cut down the flammable material in forests, and infrastructure (power lines that are poorly maintained, and in the case of the Camp fire, were directly responsible for the fire) maintenance inadequate to what is needed as well as homeowners failing to clean their rain gutters, leaving dry tinder in proximity to their roofs.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching thing about the documentary is what happened in Paradise afterwards. While Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise showed a heroic side of the community (and Walker dutifully trots out Barry Weldon, a resident caring for his blind mother whose house was spared and who then put up homeless neighbors in his home), we see here firefighting professionals making a number of recommendations to help avoid the mass destruction that occurred in 2018. The city council, spurred on by angry citizens of Paradise, voted every one of them down. Every. One.

Then again, many of the folks in Paradise, given only minutes to gather belongings and flee, went immediately for their guns. Eyewitnesses report the ammo left behind going off like a war zone during the fire. One can draw parallels between the refusal to accept sensible precautions in the guise of asserting personal freedom by the citizens of Paradise to the current stance of those refusing to get vaccinated against a deadly pandemic. It turns out that we, as a species, are pretty much a bunch of morons.

The film is currently playing in select theaters around the country. Subscribers to CBSN and Paramount Plus will be able to see the movie on those services beginning August 20th.

REASONS TO SEE: Human denial is both fascinating and horrifying. Spectacular footage of the Camp fire.
REASONS TO AVOID A little bit too anecdotal.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity as well as some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT The Camp Fire remains the deadliest wildfire in the history of California to this date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews; Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Toxico

Never Gonna Snow Again (Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie)


Zhnia knows where his massages rank.

(2020) Dramedy (Kino Lorber) Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostraszewska, Agata Kulesza, Veronika Rosati, Katarzyna Figura, Lukasz Simlat, Andrzej Chyra, Krzyfsztof Czeczot, Maciej Drosio, Olaf Marchwicki, Astrid Nanowska, Wojciech Starostecki, Jerzy Nasierowski, Konstantin Solowiow, Blanka Burzynska, Adrian Podlaski, Lena Wochal, Casper Richard Petersen, Maria Seweryn. Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert

 

Remember when it seemed as if everyone in the movies was wealthy and white? The pendulum has swung in a differing direction and now it feels like movies tend to be about marginalized groups more often than not, superhero movies notwithstanding.

Into a toney, gated community on the edge of a big Polish city, comes Zhenia (Utgoff), a handsome, enigmatic young man from the Ukraine with a serene smile and the magic hands of a trained masseuse. He speaks Russian, and as he gets a residents permit for plying his trade in the development he informs the bureaucrat that he lived in Pripyat, the village just outside of Chernobyl. Zhenia was just seven years old when the reactors blew.

He is accepted in the community as not only a wonderful masseuse but an excellent listener, even if some of the residents are concerned that he might be radioactive. He does seem to have some supernatural ability to take away pain and anxiety, even for a little while. He also can hypnotize his clients and from time to time move objects with the power of his mind.

Several of the middle-aged women in the community have become infatuated with Zhenia, including Maria (Ostraszewska), an exhausted mother whose children are contemptuous of her, Wika (Rosati) whose husband (Simlat) is dying of cancer although with almost blind optimism he assures everyone around him that he is indeed getting better, and a woman (Figura) whose devotion to her bulldogs approaches a kind of mania. But who is Zhenia, why is he there, and what does he hope to accomplish before the demons of his past catch up with him?

Movies like this can go one of two ways; one is the mythic, which is not the way Never Gonna Snow Again goes. The filmmakers, veteran Polish auteur Szumowska and her longtime cinematographer Englert, who shares directing credit with her here. While Zhenia has at times some Christ-like qualities, this really isn’t a Christian parable. Instead, there is a lovely bittersweet feeling here, almost elegiac in places. The greys and blues that are the bulk of the palate that Englert uses make this ideal rainy-day viewing.

\Utgoff is tremendous here. Zhenia is a bit of a cypher, releasing information about himself in dribs and drabs, but Utgoff makes him compelling. He moves with a dancer’s grace (and in fact, Zhenia dances a ballet at a couple of points in the movie) and with an impressive physique is bound to make a few hearts of those who find such men attractive go pitter pat. Utgoff has a good deal of charisma, but wisely knows when to use it and when to be less forthcoming. The end result is that Zhenia turns out to be something of a blank slate that the other characters (and the viewers) project their own interpretations on.

And Englert is nothing less than spectacular as a cinematographer here. If he toiled in Hollywood, he’d be getting regular Oscar nominations – his shot compositions are some of the finest you’ll ever see in a movie. Szumowska has the experience to know when to let the images speak for themselves and doesn’t always clutter them with dialogue. It makes for an almost spiritual feeling in certain places.

The one criticism I’d make about the movie is that the plotting sometimes feels too static; we get these wonderful images and some compelling business but it doesn’t always take us anywhere. In that sense, this is a movie that is better experienced than watched passively. Let it wash over you and make you a part of it rather than trying to figure it out might be the best way to go, because if you choose the latter course, you may end up feeling frustrated at several points in the movie.

There is some satire here, and some pointed, sharp humor as well as some social commentary (the title itself is a reference to climate change) and some thoughts about Polish nationalism – a trend which seems to be running in a number of Western nations lately, including our own. However, the points are rarely made more than gently and subtly, and while some characters appear to be taking stands in favor or against one cause or another, we are never preached to, at least overtly.

\All in all, this is the kind of movie that weaves its own magic and you’ll either be enchanted by it, or you won’t. I do think you need to be in the right frame of mind for it (which, I suppose, is true for any movie) but it is worth the effort. This is the kind of movie that will stay with you for a long while afterwards.

REASONS TO SEE: Utgoff is compelling. Beautiful shot composition. A wonderfully bittersweet tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story is kind of static in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nudity, some profanity, sexual overtones, and plenty of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Poland’s official submission for the most recent Best International Feature Oscar.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS:As of 8/3/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Teorema
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Who Are You, Charlie Brown?

After Antarctica


Traversing the Antarctic is like travel on another planet.

(2021) Documentary (Moniker) Will Steger, Jean-Louis Etienne, Keizo Funatsu, Geoff Somers, Dr. Victor Boyarsky, Dr. Qin Dahe. Directed by Tasha Van Zandt

 

In 1989, a multi-national team led by American polar explorer Will Steger and French naturalist Jean-Louis Etienne, determined to make a non-mechanized journey from coast to coast in Antarctica. This meant they crossed on foot or by dog sled, and navigated by sextant. The 220 day expedition covered 3,741 miles through some of the most ferociously inhospitable terrain on the planet. They faced a storm that lasted 40 days (and 40 nights, I assume) that led to near-whiteout conditions. At times, the temperature reached 113 degrees below zero.

The purpose of the trip was to call attention to the polar regions and the effect that changing climactic conditions were having. The scientific data that the team recorded helped climate scientists determine that the ice caps were melting, and that climate change was posing a survival threat to the human race.

Steger has gone on to do other polar expeditions – it is something in his blood, in his nature. Footage of that 1989 trek, a journey that shaped his life. Now in his mid-70s, he decided to make a trek across the Arctic circle by himself to further call attention to the crisis, one which has in many ways largely been ignored in any meaningful way since that first expedition.

This documentary juxtaposes footage from that 1989 expedition – which is simply terrifying – with the gentler footage of Steger’s more recent trek, undertaken 30 years after the first. The idea, I think, is to illustrate how the climate crisis has grown more urgent in the intervening years but the idea backfires as the viewer gets involved more in the adventure aspect of that 1989 expedition which was undertaken in such hazardous conditions, than in the message that Steger himself is trying to deliver. It is truly a vivid illustration of the adage “never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” and the 1989 Trans-Antarctic was a hell of a good story.

The footage – some of it shot by Steger himself – is phenomenal and certainly the movie is worth seeing for that alone; it’s just I think that the important message that is trying to be communicated here gets lost in the sheer magnitude of the courage of those men who undertook the trip, which I think is somewhat ironic. What Steger ends up doing is competing with his younger self for screen attention. That’s never an easy task no matter how important the message.

The film is currently playing the festival circuit and has yet to get distribution. However, don’t be surprised if a documentary-oriented streamer like Discovery Plus, or a program like POV on PBS snaps this one up eventually.

REASONS TO SEE: Beautiful natural footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: The back and forth between the 1989 Trans-Antarctic expedition and Steger’s recent solo expedition robs the film of dramatic tension.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some animal peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steger was 75 years old when he embarked on his final Arctic expedition.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shackleford
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Catch

Wetware


Never grab a woman by the elbow; she might be a genetically-enhanced killer.

(2020) Science Fiction  (GravitasCameron Scoggins, Morgan Wolk, Jerry O’Connell, Bret Lada, Aurélia Thiérrée, Susan S. McGinnis, Labhaoise Magee, Lauren Carole Ritter, Matt Salinger, Nicole Shalhoub, Brandon Alan Smith, Ariel Zevon, Jessica Blank, Jeff Zinn, Bianca Ilich, Dallas Mahan, Hunter Hard, Kristan Lyon, Kimberly Arthurs. Directed by Jay Craven

 

The world is changing before our very eyes, and not necessarily in a good way. Climate change is leading to some hard decisions that are, for the most part, being ignored. Overpopulation and automation is leading to a shortage of jobs. Something has got to give.

In this dystopian future, climate change has decimated the world. Most people are chronically unemployed; the jobs that are available are largely menial jobs people are unwilling to perform. In fact, most of them are performed by Mungos, genetically engineered folks who have had their memories purged and given the abilities to do whatever job it is they are assigned to do without complaint.

But there is a worldwide economic crisis in the offing and Galapagos Bioengineering, the company that markets Mungos, is looking to market a new product; genetically engineered super-soldiers that can do just about anything a superspy can do, as well as have the skillsets of an elite soldier. The company desperately needs funds from financier Wendell Blaine (O’Connell) to fund their new project and it is up to genetic engineer Hal Briggs (Scoggins) to create these new superhumans.

But Briggs has a problem. One of those volunteering for the project, Kay (Wolk), has caught his eye and so he engineers her to fall in love with him. As she and the other prototype Jack (Lada) undergo testing under the watchful eye of Carr (Shalhoub), the project manager who has an agenda of her own, Briggs is left to contend with the ethical ramifications of what he’s done and with a hidden conspiracy that threatens everything, not the least of which is his continued existence.

Based on a novel by Craig Nova, Jay Craven – noted for Vermont-set adaptations of novels by Howard Frank Mosher – is a bit of a departure for the New England-based filmmaker. He has given us a remarkably self-assured and thoughtful sci-fi slice with elements of noir. His cast of mostly local Vermont actors are surprisingly strong, with Wolk as the haunted woman who agrees to have her memory wiped and become something new being a particular standout but buttressed by strong performances by Thiérrée and Salinger. The production values are also pretty impressive for a low-budget production.

The movie has a few ideas to kick around, some of which have been recycled from other places – what makes us human, which I thought was better-explored by Ridley Scott’s Philip K. Dick adaptation of Blade Runner and of how central memory is to our identity, also explored in the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry. Still, there are also ideas that are a bit more timely, such as the lengths we will go to for employment – particularly relevant during the economic crash brought on by the pandemic – and the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots and the shrinking space in the middle class.

Craven’s attempts to add a noir edge to the movie falls mainly in the dark neon-lit spaces and in particular, the dialogue which at times feels a bit pretentious and is the weakest part of the movie. However, Craven wisely doesn’t fill in all the blanks here and leaves viewers to do some thinking, which I think an increasing number of sci-fi cinephiles are learning to appreciate.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly strong performances and production values.
REASONS TO AVOID: The dialogue is trying too hard to be noir-ish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Craven’s day job is as a professor of film studies at Marlboro College in Vermont.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blade Runner
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Sister of the Groom

2040


The act of planting a tree can lead to a better future.

(2019) Documentary (Together) Damon Gameau, Eva Lazzaro, Zoë Gameau, Tony Seba, Eric Toensmeier, Paul Hawken, Kate Raworth, Malala Yousafzai, Brian von Heizon, Fraser Pogue, Leanne Pogue, John E. Petersen, Genevieve Bell, Sharon Pearson, Neel Tamhane, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Colin Seis, Amanda Cahill. Directed by Damon Gameau

 

In the midst of a global pandemic, with rioting going on in our cities, I think that some of us can be forgiven for looking towards the future with a bleak eye. It doesn’t have to turn out that way, though.

The future weighs heavily on the mind of Australian filmmaker Damon Garneau (That Sugar Film). That’s because he has a four-year-old daughter, and with the dire warnings about climate change, he wonders what kind of dystopian society his little girl Velvet will have to live in and what could be done to stave off the worst effects of climate change now – with technology that is already available to use.

He started off with talking to young kids about what they wanted the world to be like, asking them about what kind of technology they wanted to see. Some said basic things, like clean water, and the end of deforestation. Of course, there were some silly things, like chocolate rain and plant-powered rocket boots. Nobody ever said kids were practical; just imaginative.

Garneau called this project “an exercise in fact-based dreaming” and that’s how it is presented here, with plenty of graphics and whimsical effects to illustrate what the world might be like in the year 2040 (when Velvet, played as an adult by actress Eva Lazzaro, will be 25 years old). Some of the technology described in the film is already in use.

In Bangladesh, for example, engineer Neel Tamhane is setting up villages with solar panels and hooking them up into mini-networks, within which they can sell any energy created that they don’t use, or buy more if they end up needing more than they produce. The money that would go to energy providers then stays within the community, and in the case of natural disaster (flooding is frequent there), it is much easier to get the network back up and running. It also keeps money spent on energy within the community rather than going out to a provider, increasing prosperity within the villages. It also opens up life for those villages, allowing children to study after dark, and gives the villagers the opportunities to watch sporting events, news and other programs in the evening, as well as lighting the village so that further commerce can take place. These kinds of micro-networks would reduce our dependence on petroleum, reduce energy costs and also could act as additional income for those who don’t use as much energy as others.

The oceans are also in dire straits, and aquaculturist Brian von Heizon suggests that we grow new forests of kelp off of various coastal regions, then moving out into deeper waters. Kelp stores carbon and helps scrub it out of our atmosphere and our oceans; can be used as food and as biofuel, and also helps regulate the temperature of the ocean by allowing cooler water from the deeper parts of the ocean to bring the temperatures down near the surface, which would be conducive to various types of shellfish and fish, as well as providing a habitat for fish. These tethered kelp colonies are already on the drawing board for use in areas where the ocean needs to be renewed.

Farmers Paul Hawken, Fraser and Leanna Pogue recommend soil renewal by growing crops that help replenish the nutrients of the soil, and growing less corn and soy, both which tire out the soil by stripping it of its nutrients. Crops like sorghum and sunflowers (along with others) can help replenish the soil; having animals like cows and pigs graze on land that has been “rested” from growing anything more than grass also helps restore the soil. All of them say we need to put an end to Big Agra, through which factory farming has delivered nothing but obesity and disease, and has proven catastrophic to the soil. In case you wonder if we can afford to lose the food coming from Big Agra, they supply an amazing small percentage of what humans eat (about 20% – the rest of what they grow is to feed food animals) – and small family farms tend to be much more efficient and grow healthier produce, which we should be eating rather than chowing down on fast food burgers.

We need to rethink private ownership of cars, using driverless smart cars on demand as well as energy-efficient mass transit to get us where we need to go. Building high-speed electric trains are more fuel-efficient than flying jumbo jets and not having to park as many cars – nearly a third of the total land mass of Los Angeles is used for parking cars and roadways – can improve air quality, particularly if we turn disused parking lots into green spaces.

One thing that should be a priority worldwide; educating women. In many parts of the globe, women do not get the same education chances that men do; women are often put in arranged marriages at a very young age, or are forced to work to help support the family rather than go to school. Adding millions of minds to the ranks of the educated can only do our world good.

The movie goes on and on with examples of what we can do right now to mitigate climate change and maybe even remove the threat entirely. We have reached a tipping point and things are going to get worse, true, but if we have the will, which for the most part our leaders do not since business and government are all about chasing short-term profits to begin with – we can make a  more livable world than the one we have now.

Gameau makes an engaging narrator, although his Aussie accent can be a little thick at times. The movie uses a lot of interviews with children, but especially towards the end it felt like they were reading from scripts, while the film is giving the impression that these are what children are thinking right now. Originally I had been impressed at how articulate the children are, until it becomes obvious that they are reading and not speaking. That’s a no-no in my book.

If the movie is guilty of anything, it might be naivete. Big Oil, Big Agra and Big Finance aren’t going to give up the status quo very easily, and moving to cleaner and cheaper energy is going to be no easy taslk, not to mention that getting masses of people to give up much of their meat nas well as private ownership of their cars is going to take some fancy taking. However, these are the kinds of decisions we need to make if we are truly committed to making a better world for our kids. If you are in need of hope for the future, this is the documentary to see.

REASONS TO SEE: Practical, real-world solutions to problems that seem insurmountable. Hope-inducing. Gameau is an engaging narrator.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the kid interviews seem scripted.
FAMILY VALUES: Recommended for the entire family.<Although Gameau flew from place to place on commercial jets, the film ended up being carbon-neutral due to tree plantings and utilizing low-carbon technology in filming.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Although Gameau flew all over the world to make this documentary, the production ended up being carbon-neutral due to all the trees that were planted by the production team as well as their use of carbon-friendly technology in making the film.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Virtual Cinema Screenings
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/6//20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic:  77100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ice on Fire
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Tommaso

Dark Matter (2019 short)


What a rush!

(2019) Sports Documentary Short (1091Travis Rice, Elias Elhardt, Graham Tracey (narrator). Directed by Curt Morgan

 

Elite snowboarders Travis Rice and Elias Elhardt head up to the remote northern Alaska mountain range, most of which is only accessible by helicopter to shred down ridges that, some of them, seem to be only wide enough to walk single file along  Couple this with narration that talks about the insignificance of our place in the universe and you have maybe the most unusual snowboarding doc ever. Or maybe not. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t seen a whole lot of them

I guess it takes a special personality to want to get on a fiberglass plank and rocket down the side of a mountain at breakneck speeds. And, I suppose it takes a different but equally special personality to want to watch someone doing just that. The four different cameramen capturing the footage show us a pristine Alaska, beautiful mountains covered in snow. The helicopters that drop off the snowboarders capture some of the footage; some of the rest of it comes off of Go-Pros mounted on the athlete’s helmets.

The narration talks about carbon footprints and the effects of climate change on places like this, but the crew uses a helicopter to get where they’re going and to capture footage. That seems kind of at odds with the message of ecological responsibility, but maybe that’s just me.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not the target audience of these sorts of documentaries and I totally get that there are people who love these sorts of films. This is only 25 minutes long but there is a bit of repetitiveness to it; how many times can you see two snowboarders rocketing down the side of a mountain before it starts to blend together. The answer to that question is going to determine how much you’re going to be into this film.

REASONS TO SEE: Some spectacular footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat pretentious narration.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s nothing the entire family would enjoy (assuming the entire family is into extreme sports).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the fifth project that Rice and Morgan have worked on together.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Depth Perception
FINAL RATING: 6/10
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BlacKKKlansman

A Reindeer’s Journey (Aïlo: Une odyssée en Laponie)


They don’t get much cuter than baby reindeer.

(2018) Nature Documentary (Screen MediaDonald Sutherland (narrator). Directed by Guillaume Maidatchevsky

 

After viewing the watershed nature documentary March of the Penguins, a colleague of mine opined that what she took out of the film most of all was “it sucks to be a penguin.” Well, when she sees this one she’s going to add reindeer to that list.

Reindeer are native to Lapland, a region above the Arctic Circle straddling Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. The climate is harsh in winter and they have a fair share of predators that cause them difficulties. Climate change has only made the weather worse and worse still, has played havoc with their traditional migration routes – as have loggers who have displaced wolves from their habitat, sending them into places where reindeer once were relatively safe.

This film captures the first year of life for Aȉlo. Donald Sutherland intones that Laplanders have a saying that reindeer get five minutes to learn to stand, five more minutes to learn to walk, then five minutes to learn to run and swim. That’s how dangerous the climate and predator situation is in Lapland.

Like many nature documentaries, Aȉlo is anthropomorphized to a large extent. Sutherland – who does excellent work here, lending much needed gravitas – imbuing him with human qualities and human thought processes. Chances are, Aȉlo and others of his species don’t spend a lot of time ruminating on how tough life is in the Arctic Circle. Most animals function primarily on instinct and experience.

That isn’t to say there aren’t moments that are captivating, such as when Aȉlo mimics a rabbit and later on, a stoat. There’s no doubt that Aȉlo is insanely adorable and kids are going to be absolutely enchanted with him (and a lot of adults too). To add to the plus column, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking – even the scenes of winter are refined with varying shades of white and blue, all filmed in the low light of perpetual Arctic twilight.

To a large extent, this isn’t as educational as it could be although Sutherland does his best. Labeling lemmings the “chicken nuggets of the North” is kind of amusing, but it oversimplifies their place in the food chain. I do give the filmmakers points for not shying away from the effects that climate change is having on these animals.

All in all, this is a solid although not remarkable documentary. Those of you who have children who really love animals and are captivated by the DisneyNature series of documentaries will no doubt find this right in their wheelhouse. The film doesn’t turn away either from the grim reality of life in a harsh environment (reindeer die, although never on-camera). While the movie is making a brief theatrical run in New York City, it is available on VOD on basically every major streaming service and likely a few of the minor ones as well. It also is or will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray just in time for the holidays and makes an awesome stocking stuffer for the animal lover in your family.

REASONS TO SEE: Aȉlo is insanely cute.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fairly standard nature doc.
FAMILY VALUES: This is extremely kid-friendly.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is a French/Finnish co-production.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu,
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frozen Planet
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
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Shock and Awe

Fantastic Fungi


Paul Stamets makes some new friends.

(2019) Documentary (Diamond DocsPaul Stamets, Brie Larson (narrator), Michael Pollan, John Stamets, Charles Grob, Art Goodtimes, Lori Carris, Jay Harman, Andrew Weil, Peter McCoy, Steve Sheppard, Suzanne Simard, Patricia Stamets, Eugenia Bone, Roland Griffiths, Tradd Cotter, Tony D. Head, Brandon Hopkins, Judith Goedeke, Mary P. Cosimano. Directed by Louie Schwartzberg

 

Most of us don’t pay much attention to the fungus among us; if anything, when we see molds and mushrooms growing, we react with revulsion (for the most part). These things accompany decay and death, and remind us of our own mortality. One day, we too shall rot.

But the various types of fungi are part of a vast world we know little about. This documentary, directed by Schwartzberg who happens to be one of the best at utilizing time-lapse photography in the business, aims to educate us about these things which are somewhere between animal and vegetable

Paul Stamets is our main guide and he has the enthusiasm of an obsessive hobbyist. Self-taught about the marvels of mycology (the study of mushrooms and their ilk), he has become one of the foremost experts on the subject, holding half a dozen related patents and recently giving a TED talk on “Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World.” And no, that isn’t a facetious title.

We find out about mycelium, a thread-like growth that connects trees to one another, allowing them to share nutrients and even identify other trees grown from their own acorns. Mycelium have a similar architecture to the Internet as well as our own neural net; vast networks of them exist in the old growth forests. The largest and oldest living thing in the world is a patch of mycelium living on an Oregon mountaintop.

However, fungi have a usefulness that have real world applications. Penicillin is derived from a mold that is related to mushrooms and has saved thousands upon thousands of lives since its discovery; a variation of that mold is responsible for Gorgonzola cheese. There are studies that show that a variety of mushrooms may allow neural connections that have been destroyed to grow back again, which may end up being a cure for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Mycelium and other molds and fungi also take carbon out of the air and store it underground, which helps with the climate change fight.

There are also, of course, the magic mushrooms, those that alter consciousness. While Stamets expounds on the so-called “Stoned Ape” theory in which homo erectus, consuming psychedelic mushrooms, which in turn makes neural connections that allow us to develop speech and intelligence (a bit of a stretch), there is no doubting the real-world benefits of psilocybin as organic pain reducers for those with terminal diseases. Stamets also credits the use of magic mushrooms with curing his childhood stutter.

Stamets makes for an engaging subject and the visuals are beautiful (and occasionally terrifying). The film is crammed with information, so much so that you’ll probably need repeated viewings to take it all in; fortunately, the film isn’t too long and the visuals make it more palatable. There is some voiceover narration by Oscar winner Larson taking the point of view of the fungi which I found unnecessary, interrupting the flow of information with flights of fancy.

Nonetheless this is one of those documentaries that has a lot to offer and for those who are inquisitive about the world around them, doubly so. I found it to be fascinating both visually and in terms of the information that’s delivered. While those frightened of decay and rot may shy away, there is a bit of comfort in it as Stamets explains; our DNA becomes part of the world, nourishing it and helping heal it. That’s not a bad legacy to leave behind for anyone.

REASONS TO SEE: Extremely informative. Some wonderful time-lapse sequences.
REASONS TO AVOID: Larson’s voice-over narration is unnecessary.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images of death and corruption.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gravning was a long-time member of Seattle’s rave scene and had been invited to the rave depicted here but was unable to go.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/14/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Earth
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again