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Moral of the story: Junk food and fast food are EVIL. This is new. No
one has ever done this moral before. Ever. I just didn't see that one
coming, that message just punched me right in the face, especially with
tag-lines as clever and catchy as "Would you like lies with that" (GET
IT? INSTEAD OF FRIES?! HAHAHA! Hilarity. And yet clever and subtle and
just smart. Or...), or "The truth is hard to swallow" (That's a clear
warning sign that you're in for a festival of condescending know-it-all
messages, when they declare their own message a truth or a revelation
of some sort... how cocky and pretentious, eh?).
As far as the movie goes from a purely political or moral perspective, it's crap. First of all, it isn't controversial at all, despite the fact that they insist on trying to make it seem as if it is. It was controversial 30 years ago. Stop acting like this is some spark to a revolution or something, for Christ's sake. There isn't really anything you didn't know if you watched SuperSize Me and read the book and have just in general not been locked in a closet for the last 20 years without a TV. The messages are old, stale and uninteresting. And because it's a work of fiction, anything bad that could happen, does happen, and then it gets the balls sensationalized out of it. To use this movie as a piece of education would be like using Terminator to ban research on robotics and AI. So, weak and stale points, sensationalized arguments and an arrogant and condescending tone. Oh, you thought this was why I declared this movie garbage?
The story... whoa Nelly... the story. Poor Mexican border crossers get treated badly and butchered, elite corporate guy sells crap to people and doesn't care because he's a corporate guy and that's what corporate guys do, because corporate = evil, and the teenager feels rebellious. The acting is good, but it can only mask the absolute shoddiness of the story to a certain degree. Characters are all on sided, the story is so obviously politically motivated and without emotion, and the characters barely, if at all, tie in to each other. It's just bad.
The only reason anyone is giving this movie a good review is because they agreed with the moral before they even saw it. They liked that it smashed at fast food just as much as they liked to smash at it. Morally inclined bias to the actual review of the movie. That's all it is.
This movie is indeed just plain fart smelly garbage.
Perhaps at the time this film came out it made news, but it is now
merely a moralistic bore. Many writers have made hay of the beef
industry and its hand maiden, fast food in recent years, so if you're
paying attention, nothing in this film is really news.
Beyond that, it is a bleak picture of humanity, which isn't unfair, just incomplete. The story is slow, uncompelling, and boring. I nearly turned it off at a couple different points and regretted that I hadn't. The end was a nice little touch, but not worth the wait.
The characters themselves for the most part were very unengaging, cardboard-like, and simply uninteresting. The fact that this movie was based on a non-fiction book should ward off any potential viewer. I didn't heed the warning, and thus, I wish I had those two hours back. I would have been much better off reading a book about food than watching this movie.
Don't make my mistake--there are much better movies about food out there, this one is terrible.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Judging from the title, I'd expected this to be something along the
lines of a fable like "Supersize Me" or some documentary on The
Learning Channel teaching us a lesson on hot dogs and french fries. But
no. It's am ambitious drama about the illegal importation of Mexicans
to work in a meat-processing plant to service a chain of burger joints
called "Mickeys." There are multiple narratives. They cover the story
of a marketing agent for Mickeys (Gregg Kinnear) who finds out more
about how Mickey's burger patties are produced than he cares to know.
Then there are the illegal Mexicans who include the magnetic Colombian
actress Catalina Sandino Moreno from "Maria Full of Grace." Actually I
got some of the Mexicans mixed up. Not Moreno or Luis Guzman, because
they're familiar faces, but some of the other characters blend into one
another, especially in the meat-packing plant where all of them wear
the same uniforms and surgical masks. We get to know a little about
some high school kids who are offended by the conditions the cattle
live under, and by the fact that there excreta are dumped into ponds
and eventually reach the river. There are relatively short scenes
involving Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Willis.
The movie is a polemic that demonstrates how money and the need to make as much of it as possible corrupts. "Everything's being taken over by machines," intones Kristofferson, an old curmudgeon who loves "the land." That's pretty much the point of the whole movie, as long as we can define "machine" broadly to include mechanisms made up of socially agreed-upon rules.
I was generally sympathetic to the film's agenda but it might have been better if the script had stuck with one person and one narrative thread -- maybe Kinnear's. The script is guilty of pandering though. Mickey's Burgers corrupts, and absolute Mickey's Burgers corrupt absolutely. There's something hateful about everyone associated with Mickey's. The foreman bones all the good-looking young women. Even the guy working at the local outlet spits a ginder into one of the burgers before passing it on to the customer. (Cf., "Casino" in which the same thing was done.) And what, asks the film, can be done about it all? Nothing. The dice of the gods are loaded. The governor of Colorado received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Uniglobal Meat Packing, and the chief of the state's EPA is married to one of its executives. The high schoolers get a lecture from an experienced activist and they cut the wires surrounding the cattle pen. Alas, the cattle are too stupid to know they have been freed and they refuse to leave. That's one advantage cattle have over us. They don't suffer from ontological Angst. They don't ask themselves questions like, "What the hell am I doing, standing here up to my shakra points in my own manure?" They probably don't have any fear about their fates because they don't have the concept of "death". It comes as a surprise when one of them is beaned with an air gun, drained of blood, gutted, sawed up, slashed to pieces, and fed to happy families. The writers and director have the good taste to save this scene for the climax of the movie. I mean that sarcastically.
Eating meat represents a low level of ecological efficiency. Instead of eating 100 calories worth of grass, we feed the grass to cattle, butcher them, and get 10 calories out of it. The rest of it goes to waste, in both senses of the word. Yet the movie is offensively preachy. Why must an important message be spelled out as if to a class of first graders, encased in lectures? Seeing the chunks of meat and fat being processed is enough to turn anyone into a strict vegetarian. The problem is that Homo sapiens is, and has always been, an omnivore. And the problem behind THAT problem is that there are too many Homo sapiens and their number is increasing exponentially. The more of us there are, the more pressure we must by necessity put on the natural and the economic environments. If things continue as they are, there won't be any Kris Kristofferson's boasting about protecting his land from machines. We'll all be chewed up and spit out like hamburger patties because people have to eat, don't they? The only nation on earth that seems to have this figured out is China. It doesn't take a computer to nail down the figures. An abacus will do.
Something just occurred to me. Suppose you're a vegetarian restricted to a kosher diet? And in addition you were committed to organically grown food and averse to genetically engineered food, artificial additives, preservatives, and you avoided fats because they cause cancer, and salt because of concerns about blood pressure, and proteins because of the possibility of gout, and carbohydrates because they might lead to diabetes? That might ease the problem of overpopulation.
This film takes a very serious book and tries to make it into a movie
but in doing so seems to lose the focus of the issues it presents. That
is because it goes into several issues. The main focus is the abuse of
animals and workers in making burgers for consumption at America's Fast
Food Restaurants. The burgers are supposed to be contaminated with
animal droppings to put it nicely.
The film looks at the illegal alien problem in America in that it shows meat plant workers being UN-documented folks who come across the border. It goes into some sexual & drug problems with a supervisor having his way with many of the women at his plant. Late in the movie it shows the killing room. The film presents an inept group of teens who nearly get themselves hurt trying to help the cows.
Because of the number of issues presented, the film tends to lose focus and not present any of them effectively enough. The pace of the movie is something akin to watching an entire professional golf tournament. If your into the activity, you will stick it out. If your not, you will lose your focus too.
After seeing this, I get the feeling the book which I have not read, might be a stronger plot. This is like Melba toast.
I haven't eaten a hamburger or any food - from any fast food joint
(FFJ) since April 1977. I've bought drinks, maybe a coffee, but that's
it since then...
And that happened because I spent two months driving, coast to coast (both ways), across USA at that time. Along the way, and being on a tight budget, I had to sample all the offerings from a great variety of FFJs. So, in a sense, I inadvertently preceded Morgan Spurlock's award winning documentary Super Size Me! (2004) by twenty-five years or so. But, I wasn't out to win awards; I was simply surviving.
But that road trip effectively killed my liking for any fast food from any FFJ - forever.
And, that's another reason I thoroughly enjoyed Fast Food Nation: despite the often heavy-handed socio-political docudrama feel of this film, it's a good story, well acted, and best of all timely.
The narrative traces the interactions of various people in Cody, Colorado apparently the place that has the biggest cattle corral in the world and where most of the meat patties for hamburgers are made. Greg Kinnear as Don Anderson, is an executive for a hamburger chain who's trying to get to the bottom of fecal contamination in their product; Kris Kristofferson is a disgruntled and angry rancher, Rudy Martin, with the inside dope on dirty meat from the nearby slaughterhouse and meat packaging company; Luis Guzman plays the part of a wetback smuggler, Benny, another link in the dirty chain of lousy meat product but big, meaty profits for unethical corporations; Ashley Johnson as Amber is the local girl who wakes up to the truth about fast food while working at Mickey's Big One chain; Patricia Arquette, as her mother Cindy, appears briefly, but effectively; and, Ethan Hawke, as the footloose uncle Pete, attempts to provide worldly advice for Ashley.
But, for the piece de resistance, who better to appear than Bruce Wills, as Harry Rydell, to vigorously argue the case for fast food to serve a hungry and growing nation, not to mention the world. It's a powerful if predictable scene between him and Don, the executive, as they discuss the pros and cons of the issue. Even if you disagree with the words, you gotta hand it to Bruce: he knows how to put a case across without any BS.
The writer/director offers no solutions, of course except to be aware of the ongoing problems facing the food industry, and now, in 2008, all around the world. FFJs serve their purpose, as they must, in keeping the wheels of industry and growth churning, albeit sometimes with losses of limbs, hands, fingers etc. And fecal infested meat patties.
But I opted out a long time ago. However, for those who still use FFJs, you can console yourself that, at least, it's not Soylent Green (1973). Yet.
Recommended for adults. Contains murky sex scenes, much hanging meat and, at the end, buckets of blood, I kid you not.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Syriana meets Super Size Me with a Michael Mooresh appeal, but, nevertheless its sensationalism, Linklater is effective and mandatory for such crucial times we live in. I felt like watching a Lars Von Trier film with lesser doses of sadism. Almost a masterpiece for its context, Fast Food Nation brings subjects that "links" us all in a great food chain of opportunism. There are no victims in the system we created, and therefore no escape as well. The only way is to succumb, and buying us some time before we completely grind one another into slaughterhouses of corporative worlds seems unavoidable. The recycling matter of what we eat is the best answer for what we created, and not a pleasant definition of what we are living in now. Perhaps if the movie was a little longer with more "meat" to it, this would have been a more succulent entrée, or a "BBQ BIG ONE" for all means. Still a very important movie not to be ignored.
This randomly picked up film at a local library was shocking. Even while watching it I expected a horde of junk food establishment defenders to jump to the "contains spoilers" section here at IMDb and I found no surprises there. This film is a much-needed wake up call with a powerful message. It's not a disjointed story: the story is its message. You probably will seriously consider what kind of a hamburger you will eat again after watching this. It will also show you some the work that poor illegal immigrants do that no one else wants. It brought us a large step closer to a vegetarian diet. Cattle-beef meat industry is seriously roasted here to the well done. It recalls "Meat USA" on PBS of some years ago.
Disjointed and unrefined as it may be, Fast Food Nation still remains
one of America's most potent in-house criticisms of our horrid low-rent
eating establishments and the underlying, skull-crushingly ridiculous
bureaucracy that drives an inhumane greed. Largely flawed with a
strained and unfocused narrative, the ambitious non-fiction material
from which it was based does not get a proper transition to screen.
Tackling the abhorrent underbelly of our Ronald Macdonald culture, the
film comes with a vision knowledgeable enough to educate and shock at
least some of it's viewers into becoming more conscious about what they
are actually putting inside themselves when dining via a drive-thru. It
is with constant, poorly implemented cross-cutting to subplots mainly
tying in illegal immigration, that the powerful themes begin to get
lost. While certainly ambitious, the multi-faceted approach into every
surrounding stereotype's participation into this dangerous machine
called corporate farming, does rapidly begin to detract potency from a
vital and urgent heart.
It is my hope that viewers won't get bogged down in the excessive and minor subplots and characterizations, instead appreciating the value this rare type of movie achieves: one that delicately balances social awareness and fun. It is perhaps that precise balance which may, despite much critical panning, help find that delicate center of middle American masses it desperately seeks to engage, in turn becoming a greater triumph then any short-lived award.
At first glance, my impression of Fast Food Nation is that it'll take a
more documentary approach in highlighting issues about the fast food
industry. It did look like it had room for satire with a provocative
style, but should you be expecting something along the lines of Super
Size Me, then this is the wrong movie for you.
For starters, it's got an appeal like Thank You For Smoking, but its narrative choice of attaching characters to mouthpiece different issues, seemed to make the movie feel very scattered in its presentation of ideas. While this approach had its merits, giving different ideas appropriate focus and dedicated screen time, it didn't make a very compelling, thorough argument as a whole. Something along the lines of having too many cooks spoiling the broth, and it really kept the best for the last, building an anticipation which got glossed over too quickly.
Fast Food Nation contains an excellent ensemble cast assembled, and characters ranged from illegal immigrants crossing over the US border from Mexico, to cattle ranchers, food processing plant workers, fast food outlet workers, and all the way up to the corporate boardroom of a fictional fast food chain. The entire supply chain of the fast food industry gets addressed, and every perceived skeleton from the closet gets its fair share of air time. You have doctored reports, tales from the production floor, sexual favours, poor work conditions and lack of benefits, and tons of lies.
Richard Linklater movies have dialogue which rock, and there is no lack of those in Fast Food Nation. In particular, pay attention during the scene with Bruce Willis (yes) and Greg Kinnear. It meanders around, trying to reason, before coming down like a sledgehammer. That conversation itself is a worth the price of an admission ticket, seriously.
The book (I managed to scan through it) probably packed a lot more theories and figures which should make it a compelling read, but the movie, whose screenplay is also co-written by the author Eric Schlosser, in having to adopt a different approach to present those ideas, somehow diluted some of them. But the movie should make you want to pick up the book for more.
And yes, I'm swearing off burgers and fast food for a while.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Richard Linklater gives us three groups of characters the
corporate clones,the cattlemen and the meat packers, with some
angst-ridden adolescents thrown into the loosely-linked ensemble piece.
But when those end credits roll, one felt as if they had consumed a ton
of carbohydrates,and skipped the essential protein. Perhaps it was too
ambitious of an endeavor with too much to tell, to expose, to pound
home, to illuminate rapid images racing past us like the subliminal
imagery used to train assassins in Alan J. Pakula's THE PARALLAX VIEW
(1974), like those fevered images shooting through Rod Steiger's mind
in Sidney Lumet's THE PAWNBROKER (1964). What Linklater missed out on
was the poignant Hispanic drama illustrated in John Sayles' LONE STAR
(1996), or perhaps the acerbic cutting wit found in Jason Reitman's
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING(2005), or even the loopy satire found in Michael
Spurlock's SUPER SIZE ME (2004).
By in large the acting was very good. Greg Kinnear created the corporate brain stormer, Don Anderson, who had the thankless job of traveling to Cody, Colorado to "investigate" the goings on at the primary meat packing plant where his company, MICKEY'S, procured their entire hamburger product; to look into the serious allegations that too much fecal matter was getting into their meat. The problem was no one clued Don into the fact that such forays are supposed to be titular, not actual. He was supposed to take the carefully modulated "tour" of the facility and come home with a clean report exonerating the management, and extolling the virtues of their pristine plant. Instead he actually started talking to folks, and the "truth" he began to hear, and the reality of the situation weighed heavily on him. But caught in the middle, he soon realized that an accurate report on the situation would cost him his job, and possibly his livelihood. So he backed off, and it was implied he "white-washed" the whole affair. Kinnear was good in the part, but he did not bring more to it than he needed. His minimalist lackluster style worked for the character, but we have seen it from him so often before with the two exceptions of the gay character he played in GOOD AS IT GETS (1997), and when he played Bob Crane in Paul Schrader's AUTO FOCUS (2002).
Kinnear shared scenes with Kris Kristofferson, as a straight-talking wealthy cattle rancher, and Bruce Willis as a blue-collared corporate middle man. These big name cameos allowed some of Linklater's political rhetoric to be espoused. Kristofferson underplayed his plain-folks cattleman wonderfully. Willis sat there munching a burger and swilling a beer, in a quietly menacing fearsome manner. As a 30-year veteran in the "meat business", Willis gleefully drove the corporate hard-line wooden stake right into the middle of Kinnear's chest. One immediately felt that Willis was capable of anything, from intrigue to violence, to discourage any further investigation on Kinnear's part. Kinnear backed off quickly, feeling vulnerable, paranoid, and respectful of his "corporate leash".
Plot thread II dealt with a group of immigrant Mexicans that had been smuggled over the border, then up through New Mexico to Colorado. Wilmer Valderrama (THAT 70'S SHOW), and the lovely Catalina Sandino Moreno, MARIA: FULL OF GRACE (2004), played the two primary characters in the Hispanic group. How these vulnerable, needy newcomers were manipulated first by the border coyotes, like Luis Guzman, and then the gringo "Bosses", like the sexist mean-spirited meat packing foreman, Bobby Cannavale (whose performance was so convincing I would have been willing to go to Cody and look for this bastard with a baseball bat), became the primary grist of the second half of the film.
But like a rich meringue topping, a third plot thread was woven into the mosaic the younger generation. This group was spearheaded by the perky Ashley Johnson as Amber, an intelligent teen who dreamed of escaping the confines of Cody, but in the meantime was stuck behind the counter at Mickey's. She lived with a single mother, Patricia Arquette, who had settled into the mid-life malaise of that place, who dated lots of men, drank too much, and didn't give her daughter much to aspire to. Only her wayward uncle, played by Ethan Hawke in another of those several brief cameos, reinforced her resolve, and helped her to see beyond the rut she inhabited; enabling her to shift from servitude to some form of activism. Avrial Lavigne, the singer, was a bit unimpressive as a blond cu-tie in the activist's cell. Paul Dano, from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006), played the part of an arrogant, obnoxious, and petulant punk very effectively. An eon ago, when I too was on the management team of two separate fast food giants, employees like him were prevalent. I, to some extent, empathized with the Mickey's manager, Esai Morales.
The last part of the film was the most graphic, as we were walked behind the facade into the area of the slaughter chutes and the killing rooms, cattle being shot in the heads with stun guns, the steaming gut tables, and the cutting of cattle's throats to a pounding Southwest beat with thick bovine blood gushing into ankle-deep rivulets, and with blood gorged rats scurrying out from within and beneath the machines. FAST FOOD NATION was a work of conscience obviously not a "commercial venture". It will be seen by the smaller audiences in the art houses. It will probably not be seen much out in the mall mega-theaters. I would rate this film at 4 stars, primarily for its earnest attempt to tackle important issues, and along the way providing us with some above average entertainment.
Glenn Buttkus 2006
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