GasLand


GasLand

When the country is too polluted to live in, country music will have to change too.

(2010) Documentary (Rooftop) Josh Fox, Dick Cheney, Pete Seeger, Richard Nixon, Aubrey K. McClendon, Pat Fernelli, Ron Carter, Jean Carter, Norma Fiorentino, Debbie May, Mike Markham, Marsha Mendenhall, Dave Neslin, Jesse Ellsworth. Directed by Josh Fox

It all started with an offer. A natural gas company offered filmmaker and activist Josh Fox a hundred grand to lease property in Pennsylvania for the purpose of extracting natural gas using a method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in which a liquid is injected into underground rock formations, causing them to crack after which the gas is released. The land is bucolic, a stream winding its way through forested terrain. Fox, understandably, wants to know how this will affect his property.

Therefore he decides to see how hydraulic fracturing has affected other places that it has taken place in and the results are terrifying. Populations of small towns having medical problems. Contaminated water tables (in one particularly gripping sequence, the resident of a place where hydraulic fracturing is taking place lights a match by his water faucet and incredibly, the water goes ablaze.

The people whose lives have been affected so adversely have no recourse, thanks largely in part to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, written by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, which exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Which, when you think about it, is absolutely astounding – there are exceptions to bills that protect our drinking water. Thank you Haliburton.

Fox builds his case persuasively, talking to EPA officials, showing how the process of hydraulic fracturing works and how adverse effects can take place. This is actually quite an informative documentary in that it explains how the process works in terms even a layman can understand.

He also takes a look at the large picture and shows how environmental regulations have been eroded over the years and how energy and mining corporate interests have skewed them in their favor. It’s a chilling picture at how greed and the prospect of wealth have trumped common sense and responsibility.

Natural gas has been touted as a responsible alternative to fossil fuels and the lobby that represents the companies that are responsible for hydraulic fracturing has pointed out several factual errors in the documentary (although the filmmakers with the help of environmental scientists have refuted most of those claims). However, the process of extracting that alternative may be in the long run more damaging to our environment which is somewhat ironic.

Fox has created a cautionary tale about how companies will use whatever means at their disposal to make the most profits possible. Are there alternatives to fracking? Undoubtedly, although the documentary doesn’t give much time to them. However, the fact remains that there are alternative energy sources that are safer to the environment – they’re just not as profitable to big corporate interests and that means we’re going to get screwed in the long run.

WHY RENT THIS: A look at a very important issue not many people know about. Thoroughly researched and thought out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Those looking for a balanced presentation won’t see it here.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there, and some fairly disturbing subject matter.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actress Debra Winger is one of the producers for the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49,428 on an unreported production budget; at best the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Midnight in Paris

The Simpsons Movie


The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons are startled by the first part of "Lights! Camera! Action!"

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Albert Brooks, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Joe Mantegna, Tom Hanks. Directed by David Silverman.

When they made their debut 20 years ago on Tracey Ullman’s short-lived sketch show, who’d have thought The Simpsons would become national cultural barometers? That’s exactly what happened though. Just after their 18th season, America’s most dysfunctional family took a crack at the big screen.

The pollution in Lake Springfield is getting out of control. After Lisa (Smith) nags the city fathers enough, joined in by a new Irish boyfriend named Colin (MacNeille), the mayor (Castellaneta) authorizes a no-dumping zone in the lake.

In the meantime, Homer (Castellaneta again) has picked up a pig for whom he’s developing an unnatural affection for. A depressed Bart (Cartwright) finds solace in the house of Ned Flanders (Shearer), who is more of a father to him than the self-involved Homer. As the pig’s droppings begin to accumulate, Marge (Kavner) demands that Homer dispose of the waste properly. As he’s about to do that, Homer is distracted by a free doughnut giveaway – curse those free doughnuts – and as a shortcut to doughnuts, dumps the waste into Lake Springfield.

That’s enough to tip the Lake into full-blown toxicity. Mutant squirrels convince President Schwarzenegger (Shearer) and his smarmy EPA Chief Cargill (Brooks) to imprison the entire town within a dome. Nothing can get out, nothing can go in – except Maggie (Smith), who discovers a sinkhole that allows egress. Still, it’s a good thing that FEMA wasn’t in charge – the dome would have been late and full of more holes than a fishnet.

Anyway, once the good citizens of Springfield find out that Homer was responsible, the town arrives on their doorstep with torches and rope. The Simpsons barely escape, and are forced to flee to a new life in Alaska. Still, when the family discovers that the government plans to destroy Springfield, Marge is eager to get back and save the town. However, when Homer refuses, the family splits up. Homer must now find his inner Simpson, rescue his family and save Springfield. Is there time for ribs too?

The question you always have to ask in a situation like this was “why make a movie of something that is available on television?” The evaluation has to include whether a big screen is necessary for the story, and will the experience be enhanced in a movie theater as opposed to one’s own home. In the case of X-Files: Fight the Future, the criteria were met. Here, however, it’s hard for me to say unreservedly that this is a movie that cries out for the big screen.

There are some scenes that make for nice movie viewing – the Doming of Springfield, the trip to Alaska, Homer’s encounter with the Northern Lights spring to mind – but for the most part, the movie doesn’t do much more than give us a few obscene gestures and sequences that wouldn’t make it past the network censors. I agree, there are some really awesome laughs, like Homer’s scorn at the Itchy and Scratchy movie and Maggie’s barroom brawl, but the ratio of big laughs is about the same in any typical episode of the series.

I really liked Marge’s videotaped sequence – that was truly a tearjerker – but for the most part the performances were solid as always. The thing I didn’t like was the scale. It just didn’t seem so epic that they couldn’t have done it as a two-parter in the show.

It took 158 drafts to get to the script they eventually used. Plans for a Simpsons movie have been in motion for nearly 15 years now; something tells me, they could have used a little more time to get it right.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the Simpsons. Some good laughs. Alaska, the last unspoiled wilderness.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Never delivers a compelling reason for this to be a movie and not a TV show.

FAMILY VALUES: If you feel comfortable having your kids watch the TV version, there’s nothing here that is any worse than on the broadcast edition.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: During the month of July 2007 when the movie was released, a dozen 7-11 stores throughout North America transformed themselves into Kwik-E-Marts, with several items made famous on the TV show for sale including Duff Beer and Buzz Cola.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: A parody of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission cartoon and appearances of the Simpsons characters on live television are included.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Passengers