Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I saw it in IMAX - up close and personal.

As for story, well, not as tight as the first one.

This film is all about the special effects, and they are amazing. If you want to see robots fighting, this is the one for you.

Music, sound, editing - it's all done superbly.

Acting in this one wasn't as vibrant at the first, either, but it'll do. I thoroughly enjoy LBeouf - there's a marvelous understatement to his acting - he exudes a sort of "common guy" demeanor, but with an edge of passion - he's fiercely loyal and willing to go the extra mile.

Is this one to see in the theater?

If you like action, special effects, you bet - a good rousing night at the movies! See it now, and see in IMAX if you can.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Food, Inc

What has happened to America's food supply?

It's been fast-fooded and corporatized, with decisions made in board rooms on the 20th floor in a building a 1000 miles away from the chickens and pigs and cows and grains that form the foundation of our diet.

There was a time when meat processing jobs were mostly union, and good jobs they were, equivalent to the auto industry.

But along came the fast food concept - workers hired on the cheap, no unions, trained to do one monotonous task, like putting pickles on the bun, with a demand for huge amounts of beef that all tastes the same.

The meat processing unions were busted a long time ago, and wages fell. Butchering is no longer an art; it's just a factory job now, with tens of thousands of immigrant laborers hired, many of them "illegals". There are now only 16 slaughter houses in the United States; in one of them alone, 32,000 hogs a day are killed.

To satisfy the public, raids are conducted late at night in trailer parks near the slaughter houses. Ten, fifteen immigrants are rounded up and deported. But does anyone go after the corporations?

Did you know that it's a crime to have a beef about beef? Remember the trial of Oprah Winfrey? She won it, but the laws remain on the books. If you publicly have a beef with beef, you could be sued.

Some of the most carefully guarded secrets in America - the giant feed lots wherein cattle stand ankle deep in manure infected with e-coli. Where chickens by the millions are raised in darkness, never seeing the light of day, growing so fast with hormones, their legs can't support them.

And all that e-coli stuff - a cow's gut is made for grass, not corn. Corn, with all of its sugars, breeds e-coli, and it spreads and it spreads and it spreads. And rather than treat the cause, science and technology have now produced an ammonia-treated beef additive to counteract e-coli bacteria, and we're eating it now. 

Corn, which is subsidized by our taxes, is cheaper to raise than its cost.

Cheap American corn, underwritten by our tax dollars, has put a million Mexican farmers out of work, and millions more around the world, putting billions more into a very few pockets.

Here in America, a farmer can no longer save seed for the next year, something farmers have done forever. Because Monsanto has had laws passed making seed-saving a copyright infringement in the last 15 years. Monsanto owns the seed, the DNA design. Even if a farmer uses non-Monsanto seed, if a neighboring Monsanto pollen enters the field, it's copyright infringement, and the farmer can be sued. Yes, it's all legal!

And on and on it goes.

Teddy Roosevelt broke up the beef trust.

But like some ugly wart on the bottom of the foot, the beef trust has grown back, with more chemicals and garbage in the American food chain.

Our children are suffering. We all are.

Obesity and diabetes.

Why should broccoli and carrots cost more than beef? Because we underwrite beef and corn with our taxes.

Everywhere they can, the four giant corporations who control America's food supply do everything they can to put independent growers and producers out of business.

It's a terrible thing. The government seems helpless. The American people are addicted to fast food. The only folks who seem to be doing anything are the unions, and it's time for Americans to realize that unions have done more than anything to keep the workplace safe and blow the whistle on corporate greed.

But like a junkie on the street corner, as long as we can fire up the barbie and have our beef, we close our eyes to the horror of what we're eating, and the human tragedy unfolding across the land and the world, not to mention the inhumane treatment of all the animals. And, as one of the farmers said, "If you begin to treat your animals as a product, you begin treat people in the same way."

Hats off to Michael Pollan ("In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser for bringing us this important and rarely heard story.

P.S. check out this New York Times review.

The Proposal

A perfect film, if there can be one. All the elements fit, and fit very well.

First of all, Sandra Bullock has mastered the craft - from the lift of an eyebrow to a catch in her voice, I've never seen anyone with a better sense of timing - the little bits and pieces that add up to a huge screen impression, without being overblown.

Ms. Bulluck plays Margaret Tate, a Canadian immigrant at the top of her profession - a book editor in New York City. There's only one small problem: before her immigration status was resolved, she headed overseas to secure a client, and now immigration officials are deporting her!

Into the office walks her secretary, Andrew Paxton, played ever so well by Ryan Reynolds, her faithful gofur with his own ambitions to be a writer. He's worked, or perhaps slaved, three years for her.

And now when she's about at the end of her career here, headed back to Toronto, unable to work for an American company, she says, "We're getting married."

Immigration jumps on this quickly - if there's any fraud here, it's deportation forever, and jail time for her guy. "Have you told your parents yet?" the sneaky immigration official asks. "I don't have any parents," says Margaret. "But we're going to tell his parents this weekend."

"And where do they live?"

"And where do they live?" says Margaret.

"Sitka. Sitka, Alaska," says Andrew.

Here is where Ms. Bullock offers one of the great moments of film: "Ahhh -las-ka?" with a slight catchin the voice. How she did it, I don't know. But it was one of those remarkable cinematic moments for me.

Bullock and Reynolds are the perfect match, playing skillfully off of each other. He's the nice guy from Alaska; she's the conniving crawl-to-the-top-at-any-price corporate slug. He's at home in a boat; she can't swim. Getting off the plane in Alaska, she's dressed to the nines, as if she were headed to a New York City cocktail party.

And it only gets better - off to Alaska they go to meet his wealthy and powerful family, with one ditzy grandmother played by Betty White. Ditzy or not, she knows a whole lot about life and love.

Andrew's Mom, done by one of my all-time fav actors, Mary Steenburgen, brings a gentle and loving presence to the screen. Her husband, Mr. Paxton, who owns the town, and wants Andrew to return home and take up the reigns of the family business, is done really well by Craig T. Nelson. He captures the character of a man used to getting his way, a man who never has to apologize, a man who believes that his wealth and position confirm his self-opinion - he's right about everything.

Along the way, Oscar Nunez, who's a waiter at the party, a male-stripper and the grocery story manager - he's a hoot, so watch for his performance.

At the heart of the story, Margaret Tate's loss of family and the promise of finding family again.

In one of the most touching moments of the film, she weeps, "I've forgotten what it's like to have a family."

And Andrew, with a family, strong and loving, trying to work out his love for the father, and what the father's love means for him.

The ending?

Oh, you'll have to see it.

Be sure to stay for the credits.

For the guys, don't worry - this isn't a chick flic ... this is a story, this is a film, worth seeing and enjoying, with lots of hearty laughter all along the way.

Hats of the director, Ann Fletcher, who put this one together.

This is one to see in the theater, soon!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Up - Reviewed by Michele Welker Scott

In America’s can-do, make-it-happen-at-any-cost culture, failure is not considered an option. Only the weak surrender; or so we’re lead to believe. But as Walt Disney/Pixar’s latest movie Up shows, sometimes giving up takes more courage than hanging on.

Up tells the story of two men who have spent their lives striving for a dream. One, dashing explorer Charles Muntz , has circled the globe making amazing scientific discoveries. But when a terrible rumor tarnishes his reputation, Muntz is determined to clear the shadow from his name. The other, Carl Fredrickson, has spent his life dreaming of adventure. But while he’s longed to go exploring, somehow life has always gotten in the way.

Both men are determined to live out their dreams, but only one is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish them.

Although children will enjoy the silly antics of the animals and giggle over the humorous dialogue of the talking dogs, Up is ultimately a grownup’s film. Just as The Incredibles dealt with middle-aged angst in the form of aging superheroes, Up tackles the even tougher issues: the anguish of childlessness, the wearying grind of daily life, and the grief and loneliness that follow the death of a spouse or the abandonment of a parent.

Death and abandonment are not new topics to Disney films, of course. In The Lion King, little Simba’s father is murdered; and in Toy Story, Woody the cowboy purposely turns his back on Buzz Lightyear, letting the space ranger fall into the hands of the bully next door. But the tragedies in Up hit much closer to home, and – as a result – closer to the heart as well. The first twenty minutes of this movie are, at times, almost too painful to watch.

But the movie, however sad, does not wallow in its troubles. As with any Disney film, there are moments of pure magic .

The scene in which Mr. Fredrickson releases of his attic full of balloons and sends his house soaring above the city is filled with such beauty and child-like wonder that it outshines any children’s movie I’ve seen in a very long time. Russell, the earnest chubby-cheeked Wilderness Scout, also has his share of humorous moments. And the dim-witted but pure-hearted Dug the talking dog is as endearing a character as Jiminy Cricket. No, Up may be an adult’s movie, but there is just enough laughter and zaniness to make the even the youngest viewers love it as well. And the nostalgic touch of nineteen-forties style adventure will make audiences of any age enjoy it.

The crowning achievement of this movie, however, is not the silliness, but its affirmation of selflessness and sacrifice. The movies tells us that giving up on ambition is not cowardly; in fact, it may be the most heroic thing a person can do.

For when it comes to dreams, sometimes it’s necessary to let go of one in order to be free to grab onto another.