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

The Apparition


When the going gets tough, the tough go camping.

When the going gets tough, the tough go camping.

(2012) Supernatural Horror (Warner Brothers) Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Tom Felton, Julianna Guill, Luke Pasqualino, Suzanne Ford, Rick Gomez, Anna Clark, Tim Williams, Marty Martulis, John Grady, Meena Serendib, Melissa Goldberg. Directed by Todd Lincoln

6 Days of Darkness 2013

There are a lot of things that are at the moment unexplained. Ghosts, for example; while there is yet no definitive proof of their existence there’s enough anecdotal evidence that the possibility remains that there is something there. Some scientists in an effort to make a pre-emptive strike in case that definitive evidence comes to light are positing that ghosts (and other paranormal phenomena) are the results of disturbances in electromagnetic fields.

Science by its nature strives to understand the hitherto unknown and the supernatural would certainly fall into that category although science also has a tendency to pooh-pooh the existence of such things with a kind of snarky arrogance that comes from thinking that science has any sort of grasp on how the universe actually works. For the record, if everything that was knowable could be condensed to all the hot dogs ever consumed, human knowledge would constitute less than a bite of a single hot dog. Then, of course, is the maxim about not messing with things we don’t understand.

A group of student scientists do exactly that as they attempt to use scientific means to replicate an experiment that attempted some thirty years earlier to communicate with a recently deceased student. What happens is well nigh impossible – something powerful manifests itself and one of the researchers (Guill) is sucked through a vortex in a solid wall. Sucks to be her.

Cut to modern day suburbia. Kelly (Greene) and Ben (Stan) live in a new home in a nice development that her parents are renting to them (they had bought it as an investment). They’re the first occupants and it’s so new that most of the other homes in the subdivision are as yet vacant, although that may have as much to do with the economy as it does to the recentness of the construction.

But weird things begin to happen. Things move seemingly on their own. Lights turn on and off. Strange noises can be heard in the night. Weird mold appears on the walls. Soon those things begin to get more and more disturbing as Kelly’s clothes are shredded and a neighborhood dog ambles into their home and drops down dead.

Not a little freaked out, Ben and Kelly leave and move into a hotel room but the attacks continue. Finally they are contacted by Patrick (Felton), one of the researchers among the student scientists who explained that a malevolent entity had used their experiment as a kind of portal into this world. But why are they targeting Kelly and Ben? I’ll bet you can guess.

Horror movies tend to borrow from several different sources and quite frankly, I don’t have a problem with that as long as it’s done well. Here, you’ll see bits of Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity and Incubus in the mix and unfortunately, not done particularly well. For one thing the first twenty minutes of the movie is made up of trips to Costco and chores around the house, all set to dialogue that no real human being would utter. A test a screenwriter can always use to determine if their dialogue is authentic is to actually say it out loud; I doubt the writers of this movie used that method.

Another issue is Greene. She’s actually not a bad actress, one of the better ones to come out of the Twilight series but here she has absolutely no charisma or life. She’s portrayed to be a pretty self-confident woman but then she’s objectified by being dressed in the skimpiest of outfits, and at the end of the day her self-confidence seems to descend into bitchiness. Her character is as thoroughly unlikable a scream queen as I’ve ever seen and I wound up feeling kind of bad for her. Hopefully next time she’ll choose her project more wisely.

Stan, who has garnered some attention in Gossip Girl as well as Captain America: The First Avenger is actually pretty strong as a leading man. Even though he doesn’t generate much chemistry with Greene, nonetheless he does capture your attention when he’s onscreen. He has some decent potential which hopefully will get realized further down the line.

There are a few decent scares and the presence of Draco Malfoy…er, Felton…in a good-guy mad scientist supporting role is a plus as well. Still, suburban ranch homes are a little harder to generate scares from than the spooky Victorian down the block. It is established near the end of the film that in order for the entity to do any harm to you, you have to believe in it first. I suppose I’m safe from this guy because I didn’t believe it for a second.

WHY RENT THIS: Some decent scares. Stan is promising as a leading man.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Ghastly performance by Greene. Takes way too long to get started. Predictable.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some disturbing and horrible images as well as a bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Warner Brothers was required to release this film to finish out their contract with Dark Castle, the production company that made it. They delayed the movie for over two years, spoiled the ending in the trailer and booked the fewest number of screens for a wide release in the studio’s history.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are several featurettes having to do with Joshua Warren, the film’s consultant on the supernatural, including a tour of haunted Asheville, North Carolina (apropos of nothing  since the movie was filmed in the desert community of Palmdale just outside of Los Angeles) and a re-creation of the experiment depicted in the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.6M on a $17M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Grudge

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Day 5 of Six Days of Darkness 2013!!