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Recent Movies: Fed Up; The Case Against 8; Belle; Great Old Movies: A Short Film About Killing; Pather Panchali

July 19, 2014

Recent Movies

Fed Up

This U.S. documentary centres around the obesity epidemic among young Americans in the U.S. during the past thirty years.  The exposé includes knowledge on the true way nutrition works and how the U.S. sugar, cola, and junk food industries have manipulated governments to keep their profits high at the expense of so many people.

Considering the conspiracies exposed in this film, it must have taken a lot of courage for the film-makers and interviewees to participate in this daring project.

There are scientific facts about how nutrition works and whether exercise can actually burn calories from certain foods.  Some of these facts are presented with cartoon-like graphics.  This helps maintain attention as scientific facts are occasionally hard to follow.

The movie’s deeper truths are exposed with the lies about nutrition (claiming that calories from a cola have the same consequences as those from almonds) and the devious ways that large corporations have hijacked many well-intended government health initiatives including those outside the U.S. borders such as the World Health Organization and those within U.S. borders such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight child obesity.

It’s easy to feel down by the end of this film although there is a bit of optimism in the reference to the battles won against the tobacco industries.  In any case, the graphics, interviews, old footage and the downright courage of everyone involved in “Fed Up” made the film well worth viewing.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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The Case Against 8

The “8” in the title refers to Proposition 8, a California referendum in 2008 that overturned that state’s legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry.  This documentary covers a five-year period in which two same-sex couples (one male, one female) work with a team of lawyers to fight for the restoration of equal marriage.

Even though the end result is already known, this film has a very powerful effect mainly because of the people involved.  Most shocking is that a devout Republican attorney, Ted Olson, is part of the team to fight for equal marriage.  One of his colleagues in the battle is David Boies who had fought against Olson in the 2000 U.S. presidential election case on whether the Florida votes should be counted.  This is an odd but intriguing pairing, indeed.

While the legal storyline is fascinating, the main force of this film is intimate portraits of  the two couples who are the plaintiffs in the case:  Kris Perry, Sandy Steier, Jeff Zarrillo, and Paul Katami.  The revelations of their lives, their coming-out stories, and the support of their families hits right at the emotional core.  These are four fascinating people.

“The Case Against 8” begins with high emotions but it flattens a bit somewhere during the second half.  However, the personal victories that are exposed in the end leave such a rise in the heart that this movie must be credited for its inspiration in showing the very best of the collective human spirit.  This is truly a case where the personal is political and it is magnificent.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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Belle

Based on a true story, “Belle” follows the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761 – 1804).  Referred to by her family as Dido, she was born to an African slave in the West Indies .  Her biological father was John Lindsay, an upper-class British naval officer who takes Dido after her mother’s death to live with his uncle (William Murray, aka Lord Mansfield) and his wife who are already raising another great-niece close to Dido’s age.  Lord Mansfield is also a judge in an upcoming trial that might change the course of slavery in England.

Like many other stories of this era, there is a palpable intensity in how people relate to each other regarding class, rank, politics, and inheritance rights.  This shows especially in attempts at matchmaking for marriage prospects.  It seemed that men, as well as women, struggled to “marry up”.

What makes “Belle” so fascinating is how race is thrown in the most unusual way into this familiar equation.  One might have expected Dido’s race and birth circumstances to have her ranked at the lowest end of society.  It certainly causes her a share of harm and injustice yet her father’s bloodline and inherited wealth leave her advantaged in other ways despite how cranky this might make others feel.  This twist makes the film very unique compared to many other stories dealing with class and race prejudice.

The film’s ending is its weakest part.  After a bit of research, it is apparent that a few liberties were taken on historical accuracy.  More importantly, director Amma Asante chooses a very sentimental and syrupy approach to manipulate the audience.  This approach is contrary to the much better one that Asante used through most of the film.  Yet, overall, this is a fine film with a story that deserves to be told.

Rating:   * * *

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Great Old Films Seen Again:

A Short Film About Killing  (1988 – Poland)

(Spoilers issued throughout this review)

In Warsaw, a young drifter commits a heinous act of murder and must face the death penalty for his crime.

The film begins by following three characters in their day-to-day activities as they drift through a very bleak and cynical city.  The bleakness is emphasized greatly by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak.  While the lack of information and activity would seem dull in most circumstances, there is an odd fascination that keeps one’s attention mainly because of the photography and the superb level of detail and mood created by director Krzysztof Kieslowski.

The final half-hour includes the last minutes in the life of one of the characters portrayed by Miroslaw Baka.  His performance in this scene is riveting and adds to the greater tension of the scene such which includes the close-up detail of the hangman making sure everything is properly prepared for the execution.  This scene is one of the most memorable in cinema.

There are a few flaws.  There is little information about how the crime was discovered and, by the end, we know more about the criminal’s motives but there’s still a yearning to know more.  But these missing links could be filled in with the viewer’s imagination.  With such an emotional grip by the end, the film’s flaws are more than overshadowed.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

Exceptional Achievements:

1)  Directing by Krzysztof Kieslowski

2)  Acting by Miroslaw Baka

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Pather Panchali  (1955 – India)

A poor family in rural Bengal, India in the 1920s deals with life’s struggles but the two children, Durga and Apu, manage to find joy in the simplest things.

Director Satyajit Ray keeps a very smooth and gentle flow moving in this film.  Even the smallest of situations can be made to be eventful.  His camera helps us to experience the beauty of such things as a wind blowing against a field or lifting lily pads in a river.  The mood is greatly aided by the sweet musical score by Ravi Shankar especially when the sitar is played.

As the film is mostly seen through the eyes of the older girl and her younger brother, the audience can feel many emotional memories of childhood including that emotional love/hate ambivalence that is shared among siblings, cousins, and neighbours.  This emotional gut feeling also occurs when Durga and Apu have wants that exceed their family’s means but they also have a sense of wonder in things adults would either take for granted or are too busy to experience.

While the film might seem simple through most of its duration, this technique is used to build up for a final fifteen minutes that is so shocking and gripping, it would move even the most still of hearts.  The impact is felt well after the film’s conclusion.  One powerful technique Ray uses is to have the camera on the faces of two people simultaneously where one is aware of the shocking event while the other is blissfully ignorant.

The rating below reflects my feelings after a fourth viewing but, keep in mind, it was a perfect four-star rating the first three times I saw Pather Panchali.  It must be seen at least once.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

Exceptional Achievement:   Directing by Satyajit Ray

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