The Yes Men Fix the World

The Yes Men Fix the World

Just say Yes Men.

(Shadow Distribution) Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, Reggie Watts. Directed by Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum

There is no doubt that the world faces many problems, from economic and political injustice to catastrophic climate changes, many of which can be laid at the feet of the greed of men and their institutions. Not all of these problems exist in the light of day; some require inventive thinking to receive any attention at all.

The Yes Men are what I call guerilla performance activists; in their ten years of existence, they create fake websites for major corporations, trade organizations and government entities, and impersonate representatives of the same at speaking engagements. In these guises they make outrageous claims calling attention to the injustices and corruption that they perceive are taking place.

They first came to public attention via a 2003 documentary, The Yes Men. When they created a fake website for the World Trade Organization, they were startled when it was perceived to be real, and offers for speaking engagements were sent. Being rash, somewhat fearless and possessed of an enormous amount of chutzpah, they went on to make outrageous claims purporting to be on behalf of the WTO. This caught the attention of the media who eventually discovered it was a hoax.

Their latest venture is the first to be self-directed, and follows the two of them as they carry out a series of clever pranks. They begin with Bichlbaum posing as Jude Finisterra, a representative of Dow Chemical. On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, in which due to the negligence of Union Carbide (which Dow now owns) toxic gasses escaped, killing thousands in Bhopal, India and condemning hundreds of thousands to live with illnesses and birth defects as a direct result of the contamination, the BBC conducts an interview with the Dow “representative” (the BBC had evidently booked him as a result of using one of the Yes Men’s fake websites for Dow).

During the interview, the nervy Yes Man announces that for the first time, Dow was intending to take responsibility for the role in the disaster and would be liquidating the assets of Union Carbide in order to create a $12 billion fund to take care of the affected people of Bhopal.

The news was a sensation. Nearly all of the major media news sources picked it up and Dow’s stock plummeted, a net loss for the corporation of nearly $2 billion in value until the interview was finally revealed to be a hoax. Self-righteous BBC interviewers, perhaps stung that they had allowed the interview to take place, upbraid the Yes Men for cruelly providing false hope to the victims at Bhopal. Bichlbaum responds by pointing out that the pain they may have inflicted on the people of Bhopal was far less than what Union Carbide did to them and what Dow Chemical continues to do; to this day not a penny in reparations have been paid by Dow or Union Carbide to the victims.

While this is the largest and most visible of their pranks, there are several other portrayed here, including appearing as spokesmen for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, proclaiming to post-Katrina New Orleans that undamaged public housing that was slated to be torn down would be in fact left standing to provide affordable housing in a city that increasingly has less and less of it.

They show up at a convention of oil men with a gag that recalls Jonathan Swift; that when conventional petrochemical sources run out, that they were developing a means of refining oil from human remains. They also show up at a seminar of insurance people under the guise of being Halliburton executives touting the “Survivaball,” a ludicrous survival suit that will allow the wearer to survive any global climate catastrophe.

While it must be said that some of the pranks might have caused some discomfort, the truth is that these are situations that need to be covered. In a world where corporate greed is at its apex and that corporate arrogance and disregard for human lives has reached an all-time high, it takes a crusader to point out the consequences of these actions. They may not be wearing suits of armor (cheap suits are more like the uniforms they wear), but they tilt at windmills nonetheless, providing voices of sanity (ironically) amidst the white noise of corporate and political claptrap.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie succeeds in calling attention to issues not necessarily given coverage by mass media.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the pranks have a cruel streak in them – not intentionally, but there nonetheless.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of blue language but otherwise suitable for all audiences to a point – some of the issues and humor may be a little bit more than younger kids can handle.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the Yes Men are aliases. The real people portraying them are a teacher and a writer, and both have histories of activism prior to the formation of the Yes Men.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Additional pranks and a “how-to” featurette explaining how to pull off a Yes Men prank are included.




Love Happens

Aaron Eckhart has hypnotized John Carroll Lynch with his dimple into thinking that they're having a drink together.

Aaron Eckhart has hypnotized John Carroll Lynch with his dimple into thinking that they're having a drink together.

(Universal) Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart, Judy Greer, Dan Fogler, Martin Sheen, John Carroll Lynch, Joe Anderson, Frances Conroy, Sasha Alexander, Clyde Kusatsu, Michael Kopsa, Michelle Harrison. Directed by Brandon Camp

When we lose a loved one, part of us goes into the grave with them. Moving on with your life can be the most courageous thing you ever do.

Dr. Burke Ryan (Eckhart) has become the guru of grief. His bestselling book “A-Okay” deals with the grieving process and has struck a chord with millions of people in mourning. He is selling out seminars and is on the verge of signing a deal with a major marketing firm to turn him into the next Dr. Phil, something his shark of a manager Lane Marshall (Fogler) has been angling for.

Burke came by this knowledge honestly. His wife had died in a tragic car accident three years prior. Now, he is returning to conduct a seminar in Seattle, where his wife grew up and is buried. While in the hotel, he literally bumps into Eloise (Aniston), a quirky florist who takes great delight in writing two-dollar words like “quidnunc” (a word so rare even my spellchecker didn’t recognize it) behind paintings. Intrigued, he asks her out on a date but she explains, in sign language, that she’s deaf, which apparently prohibits her from dating.

Except that she’s not deaf – the joke’s on him! Miffed, he tells her off, then she tells him off, then he sends her flowers inviting her to dinner. Ain’t love grand? In the meantime, his seminar is going as expected, although Walter (Lynch), a grieving father who drove all the way from Montana to attend the seminar (at the behest of his sister, alarmed that the tragedy had also cost Walter his marriage and his contractor’s business) is proving to be a tough nut to crack, so consumed by his own pain that he can’t see anything else.

Because when a dimpled chin guy who just told you off asks you out on a date you should always take him up on it, Eloise goes out to dinner with Burke. A friendship develops, deepening into mutual attraction. Lane is alarmed because Burke is blowing off meetings with the marketing firm execs, and Burke’s nameless father-in-law (Sheen) has shown up at the seminar in order to brand him a hypocrite. As Eloise gets closer to Burke, she begins to realize that he is anything but “A-Okay.”

This is Hollywood formula romantic comedy trying desperately to masquerade as an indie romantic comedy. Director Camp, who also co-wrote the film, has a good eye and utilizes his Seattle and British Columbia locations nicely – it’s a lovely looking film.

The problem here is the writing is hackneyed and full of clichés. Eckhart’s Burke is a brooding, grieving doctor who stares sorrowfully off the Space Needle, uses alcohol as a crutch and won’t use elevators, ever. Know how he’s finally moving on with his life? He gets on an elevator. Ooooooooo those Hollywood writers sure know how to throw a curveball, don’t they?

Aniston’s Eloise is one of those quirky free spirits who probably should have been played by Zooey Deschanel, who’s much better at it. Eloise’s best friend is Judy Greer, who is also much better at playing the flighty best friend – God knows she does it often enough. Aniston herself is adorable, but little more than that. She can be a really marvelous actress, but she hasn’t found the part yet that lets her shine that way. The closest she’s come to stretching is Derailed but otherwise she just seems to get Rachel parts over and over again, which this one is.

Lynch, who is best known for playing Drew Carey’s brother, is a marvelous character actor who takes over whenever he’s onscreen. His part may be a cliché, but Lynch goes way past that level and gives Walter more depth then any other character in the movie. Sheen lends gravitas to the thankless role of the cantankerous father-in-law.

I don’t mind being manipulated – that’s part of a movie’s purpose after all – but I do mind when I see it coming. The big catharsis for Burke is well-performed by Eckhart, but far too pat and coincidental. Camp tries to bring an indie feel to a major studio rom-com, but submarines himself with intrusive product placement (hellloo Home Depot).

The grieving process has been the topic of few really good movies in Hollywood, and the filmmakers missed their shot at making one here. While some of the advice Burke spews as the grief guru is good, it is mostly pretty pat. It’s too bad the writers couldn’t have come up with real characters dealing with the issues of their grief. Then, instead of love happening at random just because, we might have seen a relationship blossom in a more believable manner. That’s the kind of movie that makes me feel a-okay.

REASONS TO GO: Eckhart and Aniston are attractive leads. Camp makes excellent use of his Seattle and British Columbia locations.

REASONS TO STAY: A cliché-ridden script populated with depthless characters misses the opportunity to do a real examination of the grieving process and moving on with one’s life.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that most kids haven’t seen before. The grieving parents might be hard for smaller kids to watch.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Brandon Camp is the son of Joe Camp, who directed Benji.

HOME OR THEATER: Perfect viewing for cuddling on the couch on a rainy night.


TOMORROW: Monsters vs. Aliens