Saturday, May 26, 2012

Super Size Me

 Morgan Spurlock, 2004, 89m

You should see this film for reasons of health. It accentuates my feeling of revulsion towards junk food, specially the multi layer types which have to be consumed in portions that fully occupy the mouth--hardly the thing you can talk things over over. Eating, and eating together, should be a sacred act of human communion and bonding. Taste is not on the taste buds alone. But here it is reduced to a physiological exercise of stimulating and eliminating hunger using products that are essentially synthetic. This is eating for the sake of eating.

The director fed on nothing but what was available at McDonald's for thirty days, recording his own feelings as they vary between disgust, craving and fear. His medical parameters are monitored on a daily basis. The deterioration in health is even more drastic than anticipated. Among other things, the lipids and the weight shoot up. Most alarming and unexpected are the cirrhosis like signs which surface in the final days of the experiment, which could even be life threatening. Although framed in a breezy comic style, the topic is too serious to have any other effect than to set the alarm bells ringing.

Of course, arguments can be made about the drastic nature of the project, yet it is impossible to ignore the conclusions.  The results may be scaled down to the extent of one's own consumption, but it is hard to challenge the authenticity. One particularly gruesome animated sequence depicts the assembly line transformation of a chicken into golden deep fried nuggets. We also have the privilege of sharing the intimacy of the operation theater where an obesity surgery is being performed as swathes of lard are removed from an opened abdomen. Over-nutrition, like other addictions, is the result of an enfeebled mind. It is hardly less frightening than images of starvation, differing mainly in being self imposed.

Roger Ebert's review

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


2010, 87m, Junger and Hetherington dir

The directors spent two years around 2007 embedded in a group of American soldiers in a dangerous war theater of Taliban insurgency. In April 2011 the second of the two directors was killed on a similar assignment in Libya. This is an apolitical film and examines the ground realities of this war from the viewpoint of young American soldiers para dropped and transported into a hell within a Himalayan demi paradise. We can imagine the plight of the hapless mountain dwellers, viced between the grips of the insurgents on one side and on the other of foreigners with deadly weapons descending from the sky. We see people killed on both sides. In a revealing moment, an Afghan elder covers his mouth to unsuccessfully stifle a yawn as an American officer monotones the economic benefits expected to result from cooperation with the invaders rather than the insurgents. A worthwhile addition to one's cache of images of the world we share.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock, 2011, 88m, documentary

Half knowledge may be dangerous, but in our complex world, it is a better option to tunnel vision. Film documentaries seem a short route to the big fuzzy picture.This film is about the complex cut throat field of advertising and ruthless consumer manipulation and deception, even in America with all its laws. This funny film is not only about advertising but is itself an advertisement for various products which served to finance it. The director goes around meeting various business executives discussing the idea of sponsorship and in the process we gain insight into the way things are sold. Engrossing and educative.

Friday, May 18, 2012

No End in Sight

Ferguson, 2007, 102m

The decision making process behind the Iraq war is the subject of this dazzling documentary film. Even without grasp of the history of the period, the exposition is authentic, honest and focused enough to give one a perspective on how the gears of our world operate, and the kind of people  who deliberate the chess moves in which thousands of lives are at stake. Greed, vindictiveness and callousness worthy of the fading memories of fascist dictators are the forces that generated this war. The people at the helm seem to be as insulated as someone playing video games in the comfort of home. A highly illuminating film.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Visitor

2008, 105m

A delicately shaded humanistic drama set in post 911 US, involving characters from different nationalities. Some of them are illegal residents, living under the constant possibility of detection and deportation. While the romantic quadrangle has been nicely presented, what holds attention is the plight of the large floating population of undocumented aliens, whose bliss in paradise may be rudely interrupted by any small banana peel in the form of encounter with the authorities. There is a thriving profession of immigration lawyers. Manna from heaven is the proverbial green card. As the young Syrian drummer, having fallen foul with the police, says through the bars of his cage in a detention center, " you are outside and I am inside", as though speaking of alien species. I am left a bit puzzled by the contradiction between the juicy bunch of grapes America appears through the eyes of aspiring to be legalized residents, and the harrowing visions of Michael Moore. Maybe they are just the vastly different views of insiders and outsiders.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Inside Job

Charles Ferguson, 104m, 2010

An outstanding documentary. Panoramic cinematography and razor sharp editing give us a visually and mentally exhilarating presentation on a subject that is too abstruse for most of us to understand. Most of us have been victims of the global inflation and impaired employment following the recession starting in 2008, when some leading financial institutions and banks in the US went bankrupt. Life has certainly become harder, even as the symbols of homogenized development, different kinds of concrete structures, mushroom all around. The film examines this phenomenon in calm but merciless objectivity. What becomes clear is that the cause lies in the greed and selfishness prevailing among the rich, mighty and learned, people in positions of the highest social respectability, like professors and deans in the best known universities and the captains of the finance. It is a puzzle how a self respecting individual can guzzle packages running into hundreds of millions, even as ordinary folk are rendered homeless or jobless. The clear answer is that these are hi-tech crooks. These are the creatures who run the world, or are at least key players, engineering wars if their need be. One needs to make the mental effort to glean the corruption and decay that underlies the glitter of apparent progress and growth of knowledge. Indeed, to borrow Michael Moore's word, we are living in a fictional bubble. It ought to be scary. This is a low decibel more clinical version of Moore's Capitalism: a Love Story.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Better Life

2011, 97m
Carlos is a document-less immigrant Mexican gardener, single parent to his teenage son, laboring hard to provide his son with a future in the US. He adds his savings to money borrowed from his sister to invest in a truck which he hopes will be his gateway to prosperity and legalization. But in a trice the truck is stolen and he is plunged into problems with the authorities. A well made film which gives us glimpses of the fringes of immigration. The story has some resemblance to The Bicycle Thief. It is an engrossing, understated movie on a simple theme.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bowling for Columbine

Michael Moore, 118m, 2002

Going by Moore, the US must be one of the worst societies in the world. Its people live in fear and insecurity, their minds constantly manipulated by the rich and powerful. Two students of a school gunned down seven fellow students and a teacher in 1999. The film explores the high crime rate prevailing in the US, compared to neighboring Canada, as well as some European and Asian countries. He particularly focuses on the laws which provide easy availability of firearms and ammunition. An interesting sidelight is Charleston Heston, the famed film star, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments. Heston was an office bearer of the National Rifle Association, which enthusiastically encourages gun ownership. It is amusing and chilling to see  an erstwhile Moses vehemently espousing the cult of gun posession. On the whole, this first of Moore's films, which catapulted him to fame, is less focused than the subsequent ones. Its thesis is, "violence exists", rather than "why".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Michael Moore, 2007, 122m

In this tragi-comic documentary, Moore again unloosens cannon fire on American society. He is a born clown and like the clown in Lear, he uses tears and laughter to lay bare the anomalies of our age. This time his target is the notorious American medical health care system, in which the profit motive appears the prime, and taking care of the old and sick, the least, of considerations. This is contrasted to the universal health care systems prevalent in Canada and Europe. In the final hilarious sequence of the film, Moore takes a boat load of sick citizens denied care in the US, landing up in Guantanamo Bay, where the incarcerated Al Qaeda suspects have access to state of the art treatment. Moore demands the same for his passengers, some of whom made heroic contributions during the 911 attack. Finally, they avail the excellent facilities in Cuba.

The term Sicko presumably applies to the greed which is the defining feature and driving force of American society. This is possibly the most scathing of Moore's films. Old age and sickness are primal human sufferings. To have access to timely, affordable and humane treatment, as is possible in many industrialised countries excepting the US, is a dream for most of us. Moore is an impassioned crusader as well as a gifted artist who cannot fail to have an impact on the ills he chooses to attack.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fahrenheit 911

Michael Moore, 122m, 2004

This sledgehammer documentary starts by portraying the deceptions preceding Bush's assumption of the Presidency. Iraq was made the scapegoat for avenging 911, since it had no connection with 911, nor was it making WNDs. We learn of the astronomical business profits which could accrue from control of Iraqi oil, and this was a major consideration before and after the terrorist attack. The American people were apparently duped into supporting the unnecessary and unjustifiable conflict, so costly in human terms. Marshaling an array of startling information, Moore once again gives us a riveting glimpse into the workings of the modern world, as he perceives it. He is a propagandist before he is a documentarian, but his projections have the ring of authenticity, and he is certainly speaking on behalf of the common man. Moore's films definitely have considerable educational value for innocents, bias notwithstanding.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Capitalism: a Love Story

Michael Moore, 126m, 2009

This film gives a startling picture of the workings of the American economy, a picture which looks uncomfortably familiar at the other end of the globe, as the world transforms towards a homogenised McDonald's. 95% of the wealth we are told, gets siphoned to the upper 1% of the populace. The complexity of the system, in the hands of predatory corporations, inflicts suffering and heartbreak on the ordinary folk, or "peasants", as they are euphemistically referred. The banks are painted the chief villains, holding de facto control on the reins of governance, and the devilishly intricate engines of exploitation. This is an openly propagandist piece, and Moore, distinguished documentarian that he is, using every trick of satire and parody, lets loose this powerful onslaught on the injustices capitalism in general, and banking in particular, are alleged to represent. A must see movie.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Auschwitz 2011 and Auschwitz 2011

1. Uwe Boll (dir), 70m
2. Wudzki (dir), 58m
These are two quite two different films with the same name, year and topic. The first is a mixture of documentary and feature. It is a totally unnecessary film, giving a crude treatment which adds nothing to the discourse. The other is a well made documentary, sensitively narrated which revives the yet fresh memory of the unprecedented and unspeakable events.

The Stranger

Orson Welles, 1946, 90m

A straight suspense thriller which could easily be mistaken for Hitchcock, except for its lack of psychological depth, or Freudian overtones. Its about an escaped German war criminal, and the chase to pin him down. It is characteristic of Welles to chose the challenge of an outright villain. He was driven by the creative urge, never aiming at being an icon of any kind. The references to the chambers seem farcical, since so grim a topic seems unfit for box office fodder, and that too in 1946. A less than riveting movie in its genre.