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
NEXT:
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
NEXT:
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
NEXT:
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Ice on Fire


The sun is setting on our window of opportunity to reverse climate change.

(2019) Documentary (HBO) Leonardo DiCaprio (narrator), Jennifer Frances Morse, Patricia Lang, Pieter Tang, Thom Hartmann, David Yacopian, Michael Mann, Jim White, Peter Wadhams, Janine Benyus, Ottmar Edenholer, Brigitte Knopf, Jürgen Meinholt, Pavel Serov, Jan Wurzbager, Christof Gebald, Daniel Nocera, James Murray, Neil Kermode, Ietef Vita. Directed by Leila Conners

 

Climate change exists; despite the denials of politicians, the petroleum and natural gas industries and others with a vested interest in the status quo, climate change is fact. Climate change documentaries also exist, and have been growing rapidly in number and more strident in tone.

This new HBO documentary which debuted on the cable giant this week pulls no punches. Narrated by actor and environmental activist DiCaprio, the move globe-hops from Norway to California to Colorado to Iceland and all over the world, examining the effects of the polar ice caps melting and how dire the situation has truly become. Many climate scientists have been stunned at how quickly the dominos have begun to fall and several tipping points have already been reached – and exceeded.

Conners gives the film over to those self-same scientists who explain the science of how greenhouse gasses have affected the planet. These scientists are not meant to be entertaining and their explanations can be dry and hard to fathom particularly since so much information is being downloaded into our brains here. But unlike other documentaries, this film isn’t a doom and gloom downer in which only the consequences of our inaction are decried. Conners and DiCaprio take great pains to show solutions that are already underway. The hopeful news is that we have the technology right now to turn around and even reverse climate changes by cleaning up our atmospheres and healing our oceans.

We are shown the Harvard researcher who has created the “artificial leaf,” a means of using photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere and the Connecticut fisherman who has helped nurture a new kelp bed near the Thimble Islands, bringing life back to overfished waters. We are also shown machines in Iceland that use geothermal energy to power a carbon capture machine that converts the carbon into rocks which are then buried; other carbon capture machines route them into greenhouses where it is used to grow food which we then consume. There’s also the researcher seeding the ocean with microscopic particles of iron which makes the ocean less acidic, becoming a magnet for microbial life which reasserts the oceanic food chain.

The film over-relies on graphics to help make their points. It’s not that graphics aren’t useful but over the course of the movie they become distracting, whether they are showing how CO2 particles are trapped by carbon capture machines, or show graphs of the release of methane into the atmosphere over time.

Also, I suspect this movie will end up preaching to the choir and little more. Unlike Wonders of the Sea which had an iconic Republican associated with it and thus might attract some who ordinarily wouldn’t have been drawn to a documentary of that nature, Leonardo DiCaprio is regarded as a leftie Hollywood snowflake who is not to be trusted. The dry scientific commentary and doom and gloom prognostications early on are also certain to get people to change channels before they can get to the meat of the movie.

There is little doubt that our planet is in grave peril and saving it needs to be a priority. While the United States continues to behave as if short term profit is more important (one could say “trumps”) than long-term survival, other nations are beginning to take the bull by the horns. We are still a long way away from being out of the woods but we can get there if we have the will. We could be the generation that saves the planet – or we can be the generation that through our inaction renders it lifeless. The choice is ours.

REASONS TO SEE: The film ends on a hopeful note. There is a lot of good information here.
REASONS TO AVOID: The graphics are overused and distracting. Mind-numbing in its presentation.
FAMILY VALUES: Children might find this overwhelming.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATER: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/15/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Back to the Fatherland

Aniara


A glimpse of a bleak future.

(2018) Science Fiction (Magnet) Emelie Jonsson, Bianca Cruzeiro, Arvin Kananian, Anneli Martini, Jennie Silfverhjelm, Emma Broomė, Jamil Drissi, Leon Jiber, Peter Carlberg, Juan Rodríguez, David Nzinga, Dakota Treacher Williams, Otis Castillo Ǻlhed, Dante Westergårdh, Elin Lilleman Eriksson, Agnes Lundgren, Alexi Carpentieri, Unn Dahlman, Laila Ljunggren. Directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja

 

We like to think we pretty much have a handle on our lives. We more or less know what we want, where we’re going and what we want to do along the way. We know we have a world of endless possibilities to explore. What happens though when we don’t?

In the future, climate change has made Earth unlivable and the human race is moving to Mars. Giant transport ships – essentially city-sized cruise ships – ferry passengers from the dying world to the new one. The Aniara is one such ship, loading up with passengers many of whom have family awaiting them on the Red Planet. The three-week journey is made easier by the presence of 21 restaurants, many more bars and nightclubs, a luxury spa, a massive mall – all the amenities of home.

Mimaroben (Jonsson) whose name is often abbreviated as “MR” runs the virtual reality room MIMA which essentially scans the brain waves of the users and picks out pleasant memories for them to relive. At the beginning of the journey she isn’t getting many customers. She shares a cabin with the Astronomer (Martini), a jaded science officer who doesn’t have much use for people.

But what is to be a routine voyage becomes something completely different in a heartbeat. A field of space junk debris penetrates the hull and forces the crew to jettison the fuel for their nuclear propulsion system. Without it, they are unable to steer or slow their momentum, leaving them to drift through space. Captain Chefone (Kananian) puts a brave face on things and tells the passengers and crew that there will be a delay in getting them to Mars – about two years instead of three weeks – but get there they will because they have a plan to use a celestial body as a slingshot to put the crippled ship back on course to Mars.

As it becomes clear that the Captain is lying through his teeth and that the Aniara is doomed to drift endlessly through space going nowhere, things change aboard the ship. The captain becomes paranoid and power-drunk; MR starts of a relationship with Isagel (Cruzeiro) and suicides become a big problem. Several cults are formed, some hedonistic, most fatalistic.

This is a beautiful film to look at with superb special effects and clean production design. I’ve seen the movie described as Passengers if it had been directed by Ingmar Bergman and it’s not that far from the truth. The tone is extremely fatalistic – it’s Scandinavian, after all – and bleak as all get out. There is some commentary on the excessive consumerism of modern society but in essence, the main theme seems to be that without a destination firmly in mind there is no point to life. I don’t know if I can agree with that.

The film isn’t helped by the bland personalities of the main characters. They are all somewhat one-dimensional, especially MR who is pushed and pulled by the eddies of life without apparently much care as to where they are taking her. She certainly doesn’t seem inclined to do any swimming of her own. While Kananian physically resembles Clive Owen, he’s no Clive Owen and gives the Captain again a fairly one-dimensional portrayal.

There is a lot of intellectual content to unpack here and those who are into cerebral sci-fi are going to find this a big win. Those who prefer their science fiction to be space operas may take some delight in the production design but are going to be bored silly – as many of the passengers are. This is the kind of movie that will appeal to a fairly narrow band of moviegoers but those that are inclined to like it are likely to like it a whole lot.

REASONS TO SEE: The special effects are stunning. The filmmakers get the herd instincts of the passengers right.
REASONS TO AVOID: The main characters are devoid of personality.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some graphic nudity, graphic sexual content, some drug use, a few disturbing images and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a poem by Swedish author Harry Martinson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Passengers
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Nona

The Biggest Little Farm


Farmer, farmer’s best friend and beautiful farm.

(2018) Documentary (NEONJohn Chester, Molly Chester, Alan York, Beauden Chester. Directed by John Chester

If you are someone who watches a lot of documentaries about farming and food production, you’ll be aware that small family farms are essentially endangered species, being pushed to the brink of extinction by factory farms that loads up their crops with pesticides and growth hormones and practices inhumane (to say the least) practices in regards to the livestock.

John Chester is a cinematographer who started out doing nature documentaries. His wife Molly is a chef, food blogger, cookbook author and advocate for healthy farm-to-table cuisine. The two lived in a cramped Santa Monica apartment but dreamed of farm life. They adopted a rescue dog, a big black Labrador-like guy named Todd. When the two would leave the apartment to go to work, the dog suffered from acute separation anxiety, barking non-stop to the point where the landlord finally asked them to get rid of the dog. Instead, the couple opted to get rid of apartment life. They decided to live their dream instead of just discussing it.

They purchased 200 acres near Moorpark, California – about an hour North of downtown L.A. in Ventura County. Not knowing much about farming, they took the sage advice of Alan York who preached the gospel of biodiversity, raising as many crops as possible instead of just a single one and relying on pesticides. The Chesters wanted to integrate flora and fauna, and York had the know-how to make it work.

The film – largely shot by Chester and directed by him – is a chronicle of the first seven years of their journey into Green Acres territory and all the challenges they faced, from predators such as coyotes and mountain lions attacking their chicken population, or pests like snails and various bugs eating the fruits of their labors (literally). In all instances the Chesters tried solutions that incorporated natural elements, like getting ladybugs for the insect pests and so on.

There are obstacles that don’t necessarily have easy and natural solutions, like a drought that has been proclaimed the worst in 1,200 years, or the destructive wildfires that have beset California the past couple of years. The fact that the climate is changing doesn’t seem to deter the very persistent Chester family; however, it must be said that farms like theirs is part of the solution to climate change.

One wouldn’t think that a farm would be an ideal location for nature photography but Chester certainly has an eye for it and some of the images are absolutely stunning. In fact, they are almost too stunning; sometimes we get so caught up in the beautiful images for the underlying message of biodiversity and ecological responsibility to register. What will certainly register is the personality of the various farm animals, starting with Todd the Rescue Dog on down to Millie the pig, Greasy the rooster and onward.

The farm does offer tours (we see one near the end of the film) and there is a URL at the end of the film for which you can follow the Farm where, as they say, the story continues. Those who don’t want to wait to see the film to check out the farm and their activities out can go here.

Watching this simple yet heartwarming film is going to get some viewers to long for a simpler life. Maybe you too will be motivated to start a farm of your own although watching this might convince you that the very prospect is nothing short of crazy. This was a big hit at the recent Florida Film Festival and will be making a run at the Enzian in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for it; this is truly chicken soup for the soul.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is absolutely extraordinary. Nature photography on the farm – also extraordinary. Makes one long for a simpler life. Very sweet and inspiring.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sometimes the message is lost in the beautiful pictures
FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of animal peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: After Winter, Spring
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Charlie Says

Chasing Coral


As water temperatures rise the coral reefs begin to die.

(2017) Documentary (Netflix) Richard Vevers, Zackery Rago, Ruth Gates, Andrew Ackerman, Mark Eakin, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, James Porter, Trevor Mendelow, Jeff Orlowski, Justin Marshall, John “Charlie” Veron, Phil Dustan, Morgan Pratchett, Neil Cantin, Manuel González-Rivero, Joanie Kleypas, Rupert Ormond, Luiz A. Rocha, Sue Wells. Directed by Jeff Orlowski

 

Despite the continued denials of those affiliated with various facets of industry and politics, there is no doubt that the planet is warming up. Warmer air temperatures also lead to warmer sea temperatures as well, despite the continual melting of the polar ice caps. Those warmer seas are having devastating effects on the ecosystems of the ocean.

One demonstrable effect is that the coral reefs are dying. Thriving living organisms that help supply the planet with oxygen and its inhabitants with food, they are losing color in a process called bleaching and turning into barren wastelands like an undersea lunar landscape at a terrifying rate. The largest coral reef on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, lost 22% of its mass in 2016 alone. At current rates – which are likely to accelerate – the coral reefs will be dead in 20 years. All of them.

Richard Vevers, a former advertising executive, was moved enough by the situation to shift his focus into becoming an activist. Orlowski, the documentary filmmaker whose project on the shrinking of glaciers proved a powerful motivation for many who were on the fence about climate change, was enlisted to help document the process of bleaching.

Using innovative time lapse cameras that can survive prolonged exposure to salt water, Orlowski and his team show the sobering process in which living coral ecosystems wither and die in a matter of weeks. One of the developers of the camera, Zack Rago, is a self-described coral nut who became interested – almost obsessed – with coral as a young boy in Colorado, is one of the more entertaining interviewees. His obvious passion and love for the coral shines through and even if at times he’s a bit bro-tastic, there’s no doubting his sincerity.

As grim as the subject matter is however, there is hope – organizations founded by Vevers and legendary marine biologist Charlie Veron (who is a hero of Rago’s) are working to protect and preserve the reefs that are still alive and possibly use coral from those reefs to seed new reefs. However, the continued rise of the ocean’s temperature will need to be halted before the latter an happen and that will mean cutting back severely on the use of fossil fuels.

There are plenty of charts and figures that are used to measure the damage being done, but the most damning and depressing footage is that which shows a reef going from alive and beautiful to dead and barren. Some of the scientists trying to explain what’s happening get a bit jargon-happy which can lead to confusion but at the end of the day this is an essential documentary that everyone who loves their planet – or hopes for their descendants to actually live on it – should see. The sad truth however is that those who truly need to see it probably won’t.

REASONS TO GO: The underwater footage is stunning. The message is terrifying.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scientific explanation was confusing and difficult to follow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film won the audience award for Best Documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Shiner

Downsizing


Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon have no idea how small-minded people can be.

(2017) Science Fiction (Paramount) Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Udo Kier, Søren Pilmark, Jayne Houdyshell, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, Phil Reeves, James Van Der Beek, Alison J. Palmer, Tim Driscoll, Kristen Thomson, Kevin Patrick Kunkel, Patrick Gallagher, Linda H. Anderson. Directed by Alexander Payne

 

This is an example of a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Alexander Payne is one of the finest filmmakers on the planet but I suppose even the best have off-projects. This is his.

In Downsizing, scientists looking at Earth’s environmental challenges of climate change and limited resources come up with a solution – smaller people. Norwegian scientists Dr. Asbjørnsen (Lassgård) and Dr. Jacobsen (Pilmark) make a startling breakthrough – a machine that can shrink people to about five inches tall. A colony is founded in Norway by Dr. Asbjørnsen and his wife (Egeberg) and leads to colonies for the downsized as the folks who have been shrunk are called.

There are some incentives to do that. Because their need for resources is less, their wealth is stretched much further. Someone who has $30,000 in savings can be a millionaire. Financially strapped couple Paul (Damon) and Audrey (Wiig) Safranek decide to take the plunge but at the last moment Audrey changes her mind, leaving Paul five inches tall and about to be divorced. Audrey gets half of everything in the settlement which means that Paul can’t live in the palatial mansion he’d purchased but has to move to an upscale condo while working as a phone salesman for Land’s End.

One of his neighbors is Dusan Mirkovic (Waltz) who is everything that Paul isn’t; outgoing, a bon vivant, adventurous and a risk taker. Dusan makes income on the black market, supplying luxury items like cigars and champagne for the various Downsized developments. Through Dusan Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau), a Vietnamese activist whose political activities got her forcibly shrunk and a leg removed. She is walking around on a poorly constructed prosthetic that causes her to limp and is likely to cause some damage to her hips in years to come. Paul at first offers to help her get fitted for a better prosthetic but quickly finds the woman abrasive and pushy. He also finds that she has a generous soul that is all about helping those around her. Paul realizes that he has found a calling for himself, something he’d always missed as a normal-sized guy – but events in the larger world are putting all of his plans for his future into turmoil.

The first part of the movie seems to be a comedy and that’s how the movie was marketed but it really isn’t that. The movie seems to be an environmental call to arms but it isn’t that either. This simply put smacks of studio interference but the trouble is I’m not sure which part of the movie Payne is responsible for. The two sides certainly don’t integrate well.

That’s a shame because there are things to admire in both sides of the film. There are some very salient thoughts that this film forces the viewer to think about; there are also some genuinely funny moments. There was a chance to give the viewer a sense of wonder, seeing the world from a different perspective but Payne didn’t seize the opportunity and so basically the perspective is just the same as it would be from a normal perspective.

There are also terrible lapses in logic; the world of the very small isn’t well thought-out. The Norwegian colony should have had issues with insects and other pests; nope. We see butterflies from time to time but what about bees, wasps, mosquitoes, house flies? Not to mention beetles, bugs and spiders. It rains a lot of the time in Leisure World. Wouldn’t the rain drops seem bigger to people who are smaller? They look like regular rain though.

I also had trouble with the Ngoc Tran character. You can accuse me of cultural insensitivity if you like, but she is so pushy, so aggressive and so demanding that I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone as white bread as Paul would fall in love with her. It doesn’t make sense and the relationship is central to the movie.

I really wanted to like this movie and it had everything going for it; a terrific cast, a great concept and one of the best directors in the world. It just doesn’t work at all for me and has to be one of the biggest disappointments of 2017.

REASONS TO GO: The movie does have some thought-provoking moments. At least Payne doesn’t do what you expect him to in terms of where the plot goes.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie loses cohesion in the second half and nearly falls apart. There are too many lapses in logic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some sexual references, graphic nudity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production crew used an actual Omaha Steaks plant for filming and employees were used as extras in the scenes filmed there.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews: Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Secret World of Arrietty
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Permission

Geostorm


Gerard Butler saves the day but not his career.

(2017) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Adepero Oduye, Andy Garcia, Robert Sheehan, Richard Schiff, Mare Winningham, Zazie Beetz, Talitha Bateman, Daniella Garcia, Ritchie Montgomery, David S. Lee, Billy Slaughter, Catherine Ashton. Directed by Dean Devlin

 

It was inevitable that the climate change crisis that we are currently facing would eventually lead to some big budget disaster movies. After all, climate scientists have been predicting super storms, increased wildfire activity and rising oceans for years. Hollywood was bound to make a special effects extravaganza about such events.

Geostorm is part cautionary tale in which the technology that has been used to control global warming has been turned around and utilized as a weapon against us. The only ones who can save us all are a hard-drinking, big mouthed astronaut-engineer (Butler) with perpetual six o’clock shadow, his younger brother (Sturgess) who’s a Washington bureaucrat, his brother’s Secret Service girlfriend (Cornish), a brilliant Asian computer expert (Wu), a by-the-book Eastern European International Space Station commander (Lara), a precocious daughter (Bateman), a tough-minded President (A. Garcia) and an even tougher Chief of Staff (Harris). It’s pretty much a parade of cliché characters from start to finish.

I’d go into further detail about the plot but it’s so preposterous that the less you know in advance the better off you’ll be. For one thing, reading the story details on paper might just scare you off – not in the fearful sense but in the “Why would I want to waste my time with that crap” sense. It’s generally not a good sign when a movie opening is delayed several times until it comes out almost 18 months after the original release date – and has changed distributors in the interim as well.

Granted, there are a few things that the film has to recommend it. The special effects for the most part are decent with some even a cut above, but the effects are basically done by a mish-mash of effects houses with varying degrees of success. 80s icon Mare Winningham also makes a brief appearance but is limited to a single scene. She was smart enough to keep her participation to just that.

Butler is generally reliably likable but here it feels like he could care less about the movie, even though he’s one of the producers. Sturgess fares only a little bit better but most of the other actors take their paychecks and move on. So should you.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the special effects are pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is riddled with clichés and ends up being entirely predictable. The usually reliable Butler phones this one in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence, massive destruction and sci-fi action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Devlin has been a producer for more than 30 years primarily with Roland Emmerich, this is his directing debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% Positive Reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2012
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Warning: This Drug May Kill You