A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 418 – An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth – April 22nd, 2011

I have avoided this movie since it first came out. I have avoided it very intentionally and as much as I possibly could. This is because I knew it would put me in a state of mind that I cannot really afford to be in. Much like politics, I find the environment to be an issue that makes me angry and depressed and filled with such overwhelming feelings of both dread and impotence. That’s not a good state to be in. I find it much more manageable on a small scale. Do what I can and focus on that. The big picture is overwhelming and out of my control and I can’t deal with that and keep myself emotionally stable.

Part of the problem is that I grew up with parents who are, by their natures, scientifically curious. My father started out as a chemist before he shifted to medicine. My mother was told that women couldn’t be scientists and her options were secretary, nurse or teacher. She went with teacher and taught science for over twenty years. They were talking about climate issues and the environment as early as I can remember. I vividly recall being the only one in my Girl Scout troop to attend a conservation fair we’d all planned on going to in order to earn a badge. I went because my parents both wanted to go. I took classes in environmental science. I did a summer program out on the ocean where we took samples and counted pieces of plastic found in the surface water off Cape Cod. I grew up aware of the issues Al Gore has been lecturing about. Really quite aware of them. So when I hear these things presented I’m usually struck by how little has changed in the years since my childhood and now.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. A lot has changed. Ozone hole? Yeah, we’re working on that. But um. Everything else? Not so positive a change. The graphs and charts and pictures Gore uses in his slide show, which is the bulk of the documentary, are fairly damning. The whole point of his lecture and slide show are to show people just how dire the situation is. The point here is to try and counteract much of the media coverage that says that science is unclear on global warming when in fact no, it’s not. Al Gore wants to make the message that global warming is happening and it’s dangerous and it’s not going away unless things change the dominant message and I’ll be honest, this documentary and the books associated with it have definitely made an impact. Gore is a well known guy, and having him turn from the sort of political career where you run for office towards an environmental activism-based political career is something I applaud. If things are going to change on a political level, which I think they need to, then there need to be people like Gore who can get politicians listening.

Unfortunately (in some ways), I’m not a politician. So when Gore trots out his photos of glaciers now and then? I can’t act on that in a significant way. It just makes me feel sick to my stomach. When he talks about US emissions standards and the US auto industry and Kyoto? I can’t act on those either. Not in a big way. And the small ways feel like very small drops in a very large bucket. I didn’t feel educated by this documentary. I just felt like I was hearing the same things I’d been hearing my whole life. Just said by someone who can command more attention than the people I’d heard it all from before. Gore makes a good spokesman for climate issues. I didn’t need a spokesman.

I did find it interesting that there were segments of personal interest in the documentary. The film will cut away from the lecture Gore is giving to a room full of polite and probably like-minded folks and let Gore talk about his life for a bit. And I think this ties into the spokesman bit. These segments, where he talks about losing his mother to lung cancer and how his son almost died? His childhood and the area he grew up in? These are here to humanize Gore. This is a man who ran for president of the United States. He’s a big figure. So let’s bring him back down to the ground for a bit and show how he’s a regular person like everyone else. He’s lost family and had hard times and through the personal segments we hear how those things have colored how he views the world. I’ll buy that. It’s an attempt to make the audience feel like there must be moments in their own lives that they can compare Gore’s to. So that when he starts in on his conclusion, telling us all that he believes we’re capable of hope and change and fixing things, we’re all supposed to think “If he believes it and can do it, so can I!” Unfortunately, I have trouble with that.

Part of the problem I have is in how Gore presents his hopeful argument. The things Gore likens the environmental struggle to are things like women’s suffrage and slavery and segregation and the Berlin Wall. And I take issue with the wording he uses there. He claims that the American public said “Of course women should get the vote!” No. That’s not really how it happened. Politicians didn’t see one march or parade and go “Oh of course!” It was a nasty and bloody struggle, and I can speak about it because I’ve studied it in depth. We’re talking about a fight that took years and involved things like an effigy of the president being burned outside the White House. We’re talking women being beaten by police in the streets just for marching peacefully. And that’s not even touching on slavery or Berlin. These were not lightbulb over the head moments. These were not things that the American people were made aware of and instantly decided to fix. These were long and drawn out fights. It is such a misrepresentation it made me scream at the television “NO!” I couldn’t hold it in. It will not be easy, just as his comparisons were not easy.

As a science fiction fan I spend much of my time letting my imagination explore possible futures. Some of those futures are post-apocalyptic. Plagues, bombs, meteors, alien invasion, what have you. And in those cases the population of the Earth is often severely lessened, as is the level of technology and industry. Things might eventually get better, but it took an apocalyptic event to bring that about. There’s a very concrete sense of starting from scratch. And I like post-apocalyptic fiction, but then I like things like Star Trek too. If pressed, I’d have to say I prefer things like Star Trek. Where we figured it all out and somehow got our shit together and fixed things before we broke them so bad we couldn’t go back. And I like them because they represent the future I would love to have. The future I wish I could believe in. And I can’t. I just can’t bring myself to believe that the people with the power to change the big things will do so and will do so in a timely enough fashion. It is thoroughly depressing.

April 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

Movie 151 – Home (2009)

Home (2009) – July 29th, 2010

We do enjoy documentaries, and ones about nature and the Earth are always interesting. I don’t think we own nearly enough documentaries, personally, so that’s one of my goals for our collection (along with getting some good Bollywood – any suggestions?). I feel like this is an episode of NOVA crossed with Koyanisqaatsi. It’s beautiful, but then having seen the writer/director Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s photography in books, I fully expected to be mesmerized by the visuals.

So let me start with the positive. Visually, this documentary is amazing. The arial footage is spectacular. The natural world footage, with its amazing colors and fascinating shapes, is almost startling, and I say this as someone raised on nature documentaries. I knew Arthus-Bertrand’s work already, and I knew he would go for arresting shots. There are some beautiful views of the Grand Canyon, and some absolutely stunning shots of salt evaporate islands in the Dead Sea that almost look computer generated. There’s a lot of talk of minerals early on, and so we get some simply astoundingly colored shots with earth colored by sulfur and iron and a variety of others. It’s beautiful. It’s truly a visual masterpiece and even more so when juxtaposed with the shots of human habitations and industry, then shots of the effects the latter has on the former.

To be honest, I think I’d have enjoyed it more on mute, with the Koyanisquaatsi soundtrack playing. The narration is full of information and statistics and science, and that’s all well and good. It’s very informative and certainly puts the visuals in context. But I get the feeling it’s largely preaching to the choir. Who is watching a documentary like this who doesn’t at least know the basics of what’s being explained? Do we need to be told “everything is linked” several times over? I can think of children’s novels that do it more gracefully. I’m not saying there’s not a valuable message here, I’m just saying that I think the people likely to pick this up are people who already know and care. I don’t know how productive it is for the audience for a documentary to be guilt-tripped. Over and over and over, since the narration seems to say the same thing several times in only slightly different phrasing.

We know this stuff. It’s horribly depressing. It’s overwhelming. It’s a morass of anxiety and depression-inducing bad news. And I know it all. Not the numbers, but I know which way the wind is blowing. I try not to dwell on it or I wouldn’t get up in the mornings. Yes, I get it. We’re parasites (Americans in particular). Thank you. The last fifteen minutes is devoted to pointing out that yeah, okay, while we suck and all, we’re working on things. The phrase “It is too late to be a pessimist” is repeated several times, trying to convince me that it hasn’t just spent almost two hours spouting some horribly pessimistic stuff. It’s not enough. It should have been worked into the rest of the movie, with each depressing segment buffered by information about what’s being done and what can be done in the future, but it wasn’t.

I wish there was an alternative soundtrack that gave the information without the guilt. That being said, it is a beautiful movie, as evidenced by the amazing end credits, which go through some fascinating images from all of the locations that were used in the filming, labeling each with the location the shots were taken in. It’s almost worth watching for the end credits alone. It’s really all far more effective to let the images speak for themselves.

July 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Home (2009)

July 29, 2010

Home

It’s Wil Wheaton’s birthday today, and NASA’s birthday, so we wracked our brains and searched our collection for something cool and space-themed. What we came up with was this: an introspective and mesmerizing documentary about the planet we find ourselves inhabiting. I hadn’t watched it yet, so I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but judging from the cover I took it to be a film in the vein of the Planet Earth documentary by the Discovery Channel. But it’s not quite that.

What it is is, in a word, preachy. Sanctimonious. I think it’s intended to be a wake-up call, but the narration is an almost monotonous laundry list of the ails of the world as brought upon the planet by man. We’re inundated with statistics like “One in ten natural rivers now no longer reach the sea in the dry months.” “Since nineteen-fifty the population of the Earth has tripled.” The repeating refrain drums into our heads the headlong acceleration of human expansion. “Faster and faster.” And my problem is not that I disagree with the central thesis of the film – that the current expansion of the human race is unsustainable – but that the way the message is ceaselessly drummed home is so self righteous and irritating.

I have to wonder what audience this narration was intended for. If to my ears, those of somebody who largely agrees with the bleak message being conveyed, this writing seems overbearing and irritating, then how must it sound to anybody who disagrees with the message? It would be simply unbearable. They’d turn the movie off in the first five minutes. So this self-righteous ranting must be aimed at other people like myself with environmental leanings. So the movie is unlikely to have any real impact, since the people likely to be able to bear to watch the whole thing are already making efforts to live in a more sustainable manner.

Luckily, the film is not irredeemably unwatchable. This is because it is filled with a never-ending sequence of jaw-dropping images captured by writer/director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. There’s also a great orchestral score. For much of the movie I simply wanted to turn the narration off and take in the amazing visuals. These are, for the most part, great wide areal tracking shots. Both of unbelievable natural beauty and of human excess and destruction. In one way it does live up to my expectations before I put it in: it shows a vast variety of different locations throughout the entire world. Every continent is represented and many, many countries. I could just get lost in these pictures.

So I don’t feel like I completely wasted the last two hours, even if I did have Glenn Close preaching on and on at me about how we’re destroying the only home we have and everything’s going completely down the crapper. At least it was accompanied by an amazing array of pretty pictures.

July 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Hoot

July 14, 2010

Hoot

Amanda needed this movie for an event she’s holding at her library tomorrow, so she wanted to re-watch it before showing it to the kids. Naturally this means that we added it to our collection and we’re reviewing it tonight. I haven’t read the book this is based on, so I’ll leave the comparison to Amanda. In the mean time, how do I feel about the movie?

I’m not blown away. But then again, I am not the target demographic. The movie is very solidly positioned for a middle school crowd, and I don’t really know what appeals to the kids today (with their iPhones and their baggy pants…) I’m not fond of the heavy-handed voice overs that very explicitly describe the plot for the viewer. I’ve always felt that children are perfectly capable of reasoning things out for themselves. You don’t need to dumb things down quite so much. I’m also not too fond of the soft country soundtrack, but that’s more a matter of personal preference than anything else.

I do quite like Tim Blake Nelson as the put upon surveyor who can’t seem to catch the vandals who are for mysterious reasons wreaking havoc on his construction site every night. He’s doing pretty much the same country bumpkin he performed in O Brother Where Art Thou, but it’s such a fun performance that I don’t mind. Then there’s Luke Wilson as the painfully earnest officer Delinko, who’s out to catch the vandals. Of course both of them are really the supporting cast, since the real heroes of the movie are the kids.

The story here is that of young Roy Eberhardt, who is sick and tired of having to change schools as his dad moves constantly from state to state. His latest move is to Coconut Cove, Florida, a little coastal town that seems to be situates somewhere in the keys. When he arrives he is assaulted by a local bully, and intrigued by a mysterious boy who he spots running around town with no shoes. It transpires that the peculiar running boy is a homeless environmental activist who goes only by the moniker “Mullet Fingers.” Mullet, his badass step-sister Beatrice, and Roy all team up together to try and save a colony of protected burrowing owls that have their homes on a lot that is destined to become a pancake house.

I appreciate the somewhat overdone environmental message of protecting weak and endangered animals. And the whole “spirited youths overcome nasty bumbling adults” theme is always fun. But I just don’t know how I feel about the movie as a whole. To my eyes it seems like a blunt instrument. It feels too contrived and simplistic. But then again, I’m not ten or twelve years old. Maybe I would enjoy the movie a lot more if I were. Maybe I’d be all “Ha! Take that, stupid grown ups!” I know that I’d have very much enjoyed the character of Mullet Fingers, who lives all on his own with no school and no parents. He’s like an environmentally minded Pippi Longstocking.

I’m inclined to say I would probably have liked the book more, but as I said, I have no basis for comparison. I just feel like these larger than life characters might have been more believable on the page than they are realized in the flesh.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment