Category Archives: Movies

Halloween 2012 Moviepalooza

One of the best things about Halloween is the wall to wall oldie horror flicks on TMC. First up: Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve playing a young woman with obvious mental issues that everyone around her blithely ignores. It’s a Roman Polanski film – the first one of his films that most English-speaking audiences had seen. Deneuve’s character slowly goes completely batshiat insane after her sister leaves her alone in favor of a vacation with her (married) lover. A young man who meets Deneuve’s character and, for whatever reason, thinks he’s attracted to her despite her almost zombified state, should have rethought that after he tracks her down and is bludgeoned to death by her while she’s suffering from hallucinations. There’s other blood and gore as well, but the movie is so slowly paced that it can be hard to sit through to the end. If you’re not a fan of Polanski in general or of psychological thrillers specifically, you probably won’t like this one. If you don’t mind the slow buildup of story and emotion that is the hallmark of almost any Polanski film, and can watch someone’s slow descent into a more hellish existence than she already inhabits, it isn’t a bad way to pass some time. On a scale of 5, I’d give it a 3.5.

Review: Colony

I’ve watched Colony several times now. The synopsis as given by the filmmakers says “Colony documents a time of unprecedented crisis in the world of the honeybee through the eyes of both veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers getting into beekeeping when most are getting out. As Mendes tries to save the nation’s collapsing hives, the Seppi’s try to keep their business alive amidst a collapsing economy.”

This may be the documentary they wanted to make, but it doesn’t ¬†actually seem to be the one they did make.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is touched on in the film, but as one person (Randy Oliver) puts it, sometimes things like this are cyclical and happen for no particular reason other than it just does. Maybe it is systemic pesticides, maybe it is disease, maybe it is the stress that bees face due to the migratory nature of commercial pollination, maybe it is some combination of these and other factors, or maybe it’s something else altogether, but the film itself takes no particular stance on it, nor does it offer any steps that any individual could take to help. Dave Mendes is featured, talking to groups about pesticides, trying to get people together to do something (in the film, what this may be isn’t entirely clear). Outside of the film, anyone interested in bees at all knows that Mendes is all over the place talking about the need for research and so forth, but this isn’t really touched on in the film. There are some shots of a congressional hearing talking about money for research, but nothing more than one might get in a summary story from CNN or the like.

The rest of the film focuses on the Seppis, a religious family running a commercial operation in California. Most of that focus is not on the effects on CCD on their operation – although there are some points where they do talk about dead hives – but on their negotiating attempts with almond farmers to get a certain price point per hive for almond season. While this holds some interest for people really interested in beekeeping, I imagine this would be fairly boring overall. Quick summary: almond farmers pay migratory beekeepers a price per hive to have bees to pollinate the short flowering season in the fields. With hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds in California, as you might guess this involves a lot of money in the end: with an estimated 1.4 million hives required to pollinate, do the math at even a hundred dollars per hive.

And this business side, I think, is where people like me begin to really think about what’s going on in this film. Before I get into that, though, I have to point out one of the most irritating moments about this film, which involves one of the Seppi sisters talking about the hive. While holding a frame covered with bees, she points out the queen, and says, “They’re somewhat of a matriarchal system.” No, they are a matriarchal system. That’s what it means when the female of the species is in charge, making the decisions, and doing the work. She mentions the queen lays all the eggs and the workers do the nursing, cleaning, and foraging, and says, “But they wouldn’t be there without the male.” After pausing, she gives a little smirk to the camera, and spouts this gem: “You have to remind feminists that.”

OK, which feminists would that be? The ones who never got out of sixth grade biology and know nothing about reproduction? Or the ones uninterested in the submissive woman line touted by certain religious sects – the women (and men!) who happen to be the ones who fight for equal rights for women, and in the past managed to get women not to be counted as chattel, to be able to go to school and receive an education, to be able to work in the same fields as men, and got the right to vote? Those feminists? None of those I know think men are unnecessary or think that complete separatist living is the way to go – those types, like the people who seem to think feminism is a dirty word or that women should just give up their own dreams to accede to what someone else thinks they should do are, fortunately, fringe and rare.

On to the business side. The son who appears to be the primary force of the beekeeping business, says they had 1200 hives (and they want to “bless” farmers with their bees). During the film, the discussions with farmers talk about pricing between $140 and $170 per hive for pollination. For convenience, let’s just say a thousand hives. That’s a lot of money either way. At one point, though, the mother says that the parents are pumping in $20,000 above what the business makes to keep it afloat. Ignoring all the other income (the dad works as a teacher, apparently, and the family may have almonds of their own), as a businessperson myself I have a hard time understanding why it isn’t possible for them to run this business and live on $150,000 a year, even after expenses knock out part of that gross income, especially when they’ve had a few years of managing the business under their belts. Now, I don’t know anything about their accounting or their books or their expenses, but if you’re in the hole that much each year, perhaps you need to take some business classes or exit the field, because something is not right.

In the end, this was a rather unsatisfying documentary, and likely to be not something terribly interesting except to those of us who keep bees (or will be keeping bees).

A way to get angry, and a way to get motivated

No, it does not involve brainless or rude clients this time.

The other day, I sat down and watched some documentaries, mostly (of course) related to food and the production of it, one after another.

We Feed the World – Subtitled. About the production o food in various countries and the lives of people who create it.

Our Daily Bread – No dialogue. Images of production and processing of foods from tomatoes to beef, and the people working on the lines or in the fields (or, in some cases, in what amount to hazmat suits, spraying down the vegetables).

The World According to Monsanto – This is, as you would imagine, about Monsanto, the giant conglomerate that controls a lot of how food is produced. The format is a little cheesy, with segments starting off with Google searches, but the information is sound. And a little scary.

The Future of Food – Primarily about GMO (genetically modified) and GE (genetically engineered) foods, and the companies that want to control food from the seed to the supermarket.

Food, Inc. – An overall look at how a handful of major corporations control about 80% of the food that is produced and the conditions under which livestock is raised and processed. There is also a segment on organic foods, and ironically, some of the more well known organic outfits are owned or are subsidiaries of giant multinational companies, something many people don’t know. There is also a segment on Monsanto’s “farm police” who go around to farmers and accuse them of infringing on Monsanto’s patents just because their GE crops cross pollinated into another field. I have to admit, this sort of thing as seen in various of these movies really did make me angry – and it’s why that while I hold a number of stocks in my portfolio, Monsanto will never, ever be one of those.

Watching all of these back to back is enough to get angry and disgusted, but also enough to boost up the motivation to grow some things on your own if at possible. And really, it is possible: you don’t need acres of land like I have (even though it will take years more of work for me to rehab the soil to make it viable, leaving me to grow in frames for the time being), and you don’t even need a huge back yard to do it. From people growing tomatoes in pots on their balconies to people who have built a couple of frames in their tiny back yards, it is possible to supplement or replace the often tasteless things you can buy at the store. And it will be something where you know exactly how it was grown, how it was handled, and who grew it. Because you grew it yourself. Anyone who has plucked a ripe tomato off a plant and eaten it while standing in the sunshine breathing in the green smell of plants and the gritty earth knows the difference. I highly recommend that everyone give it a try.

The last round?

Please let this be the last round of freezing temps. I have tomatoes and peppers and eggplants and flowers and all sorts of other things to get growing outside. Mother Nature: you are not helping.

On a side note, what is it with the long, long movie trailers that pretty much give you the entire movie in the extended trailer, making it unnecessary to see the movie? Number one, it hardly qualifies as a teaser, number two, it’s annoying considering how many times they play, and number three, people are going to go see the type of movies they like (Fast and Furious) or the actors they love (Clive Owen, Julia Roberts) regardless. I was so happy when those Valkyrie trailers finally stopped running, but it’s a bit like tribbles or gremlins: more have multiplied to take its place.

Boo!

One of the best things about a job like this, working anywhere you damn well please as long as there’s internet access, is that you can make yourself very, very comfortable, grab a coffee or some tea, let one cat curl up on the desk, the other in front of the heater at your feet, have both dogs sleeping under your chair, and flick the tv into life while you try to whittle down a todo list that never seems to get much smaller.

I’m a big fan of B-grade movies, and horror movies are generally pretty good for this sort of thing, since many are low budget and not populated by actors who would rival Laurence Olivier or Katharine Hepburn for any major awards. This is why I dearly love Monster Fest, brought to us by the fine folks at AMC each year around Halloween.

Case – or cases – in point: Puppet Master and Hellraiser.

The former is just plain old schlock where a bunch of psychics apparently can’t see the killer puppets coming. One by one, they’re offed by malevolent stop-motion puppets in a variety of gory ways (although the gore is not explicitly shown, as I expect having to purchase/make that much fake blood would have cut into the budget significantly). When the lead actor is Paul LeMat and the most innovative part of the movie is a camera angle at the height of the puppet, eight or nine inches off the ground, when they slice open someone’s throat or drill a human in the skull because that human forgot the cardinal rule of these movies – do NOT kneel on the floor and look under the bed, because you know damn well there are, in fact, monsters there – well, that’s all bonus for a bad movie junkie.

The latter movie is a delight for anyone who laughed at that scene in Nightmare on Elm Street where the chick is rolling around on the ceiling because she fell asleep and Freddie got her. That would be me. Julia and Larry are an unhappily married couple who move into a new house where the kitchen is filled with rotting flesh, trash, and assorted maggots. In real life, this would probably be a tip that something was wrong, but in the movies, people blithely move themselves in, not caring or knowing about the fact that Larry’s missing brother Frank – with whom Julia had an affair and with whom Julia slept on the day of their wedding – is actually rotting under the floorboards in the attic because he bought a puzzle box off some old dude in a generic desert city, tried to play with it, and got sucked into some other universe where cenobites tortured him in some weird S&M thing that isn’t ever fully explained.

Whew.

Things get interesting when Larry scratches himself on an exposed nail and, being the sissy he is, runs to Julia to have her fix it. Julia happens to be in the attic where she’s having some out of body experience with old Frank. Larry bleeds all over the floor, and Frank magically starts putting himself back together. This is a way for Frank to put some skin back on his bones and escape the cenobites, get him back with Julia, and have the two of them live happily ever after – except old Frank isn’t looking too hot, and needs Julia to bring more victims to the house so they can be killed and Frank can use their blood and skin and whatnot.

Or something. It’s a standard, really, of bad/evil thing eating/using the flesh and blood of the living.

Larry and his daughter, who don’t seem all that bright about the things going on in their very own house, finally catch on. Larry gets killed by Frank, who then pulls a Hannibal Lecter and skins himself as Larry so when Larry’s daughter runs to him to tell him there’s something really, really wrong with Uncle Frank, he can tell her he’s taken care of it. Got that? Naturally, Larry’s a pile of skinned out flesh on the floor somewhere. The daughter steals the box, opens it while she’s in the crazy person hospital, and makes a deal with the cenobites that will spare her if she gives Frank back to them. Which she does, of course, since someone has to come out of this alive. It’s in the horror film rulebook.

And yes, it’s all as silly and weird and as full of crappy special effects as it sounds, up to and including both the part at the end where the box is on a fiery trash pile, some bum sticks him arm in, picks it up, turns into a dragon-looking thing, then flies off with it and the credits that run by like a squirrel on speed. Sequel City, here we come!

The head-scratching, laughter, and general amusement can all be yours, too – if you’re willing to sit through massively bad films on a regular basis.

M:I III – Mission: Mundane

Have you ever seen those behind the scenes, or “making of” shows, where they detail the making of a movie? In particular, if you have ever seen a montage of a director calling out “Action!” “Action!” “And…action!”, then you’ll be in familiar territory if you go to a screening of M:I III.

As with all reviews, this contains spoilers. If you have already seen the movie, or just don’t care, read on.

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Brokeback Mountain – Gay cowboys, no pudding

I’m probably one of the dozen people left in the country who actually wanted to see this movie while it was in theaters but did not. I finally got around to it because a friend dropped off the DVD. She fell asleep while watching it and has not yet seen the entire thing; when one of my sisters saw what I was watching she said, “Oh, the boring movie.”

So the movie and I didn’t exactly start off with the greatest of introductions. Still, I managed to get through the movie over the span of two days, watching it in pieces.

As usual with my movie reviews, this one won’t be short. Also as usual, if you haven’t seen the movie, there are spoilers within.

Continue reading Brokeback Mountain – Gay cowboys, no pudding