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No less biased than Gasland
FrackNation sets out to discredit the claims made in the feature length documentary film Gasland and does so quite effectively, using mostly the same journalistic techniques as Gasland itself: cherry picking evidence, cynical editing of interviews and conversations to show detractors in a negative light, misdirection etc. For example, there's a particularly irrelevant sequence in which a poor Polish grandmother speaks about the hardship she faces in paying her energy bills. It has nothing to do with objective debate about fracking whatsoever, but cynically manipulates the viewer's emotional response to the film's message (Gasland uses the same trick with sob stories of lost property values and health woes, unsubstantiated by evidence). It's curious that the majority of popular feature length documentaries follow the same basic formula: a highly persuasive attack on some phenomena or other drenched in enough ideological bias to make the editors at Fox News blush.
As is fairly typical for documentary films on such emotive subjects, people who agree with the filmmaker's point of view rate it highly and rave about the film's objectivity while those who are predisposed against that point of view disparage it as industry propaganda and attack the credibility of the filmmakers. If like me to start with no pre-formed opinions on the subject of Fracking, you may find yourself very much persuaded by watching either Gasland or FrackNation, but even if you watch both, you will not have received much in the way of balanced and objective information on the subject. To get that, you need to check other, less biased sources of information. I read articles on the subject from Wikipedia, New Scientist, the United States Geological Survey and a variety of news organisations and watched both movies, and the opinion I formed was as follows: the jury is still out. There isn't very much reliable evidence that fracking causes water contamination, earthquakes or any of the other things it is blamed for, but it does appear to also be true that there are some regulatory shortcomings and independent research doesn't seem to have caught up with the pace of development in the industry. In other words, fracking is probably a good thing but we need to do more to prove that scientifically.
I rated FrackNation 6/10 based on the fact that it made me think about the issues it raised and helped me to form an opinion on it's chosen subject, but in a way that was incomplete and in some ways unhelpful. It was fairly interesting to watch, but I strongly encourage anyone interested in this subject to consult sources of differing viewpoints.
I thought it was pretty decent actually
With an average rating of 4.6 I was in two minds about even watching this movie, but it turned out to be relatively decent in my opinion. Many of the user reviews criticise ATM for having a weak plot full of holes that compromise suspension of disbelief; I thought the narrative slightly stretched the boundaries of plausibility in a few places but not distractingly so. I think it's fair to say that implausibility in film is only apparent when the narrative establishes the boundaries of reality and then breaks it's own rules: we don't complain when Harry Potter casts spells with a magic wand because it's consistent with the narrative, and I don't think ATM's narrative makes any promises that it fails to keep. It's a straight up suspense thriller and it delivers on the task of building suspense.
It isn't an artistic masterpiece and it isn't trying to be. Nor is it a realistic depiction of events that could happen in real life. The characters don't have a huge amount of depth and the plot turns are somewhat predictable. But sometimes that's exactly the kind of story I'm in the mood for, and I don't think it would be fair for me to hold this movie to a standard that it doesn't hold itself to. It was enjoyable viewing and I got out of it what I wanted and expected, and I can't really say fairer than that.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Devoid of narrative
This would be up there with the worst movies I've ever seen, except it doesn't meet my definition of the word "movie". The more accurate word would be "screen-saver". It certainly has the characteristics of a screen-saver: vaguely interesting abstract imagery in somewhat random order with little or no sound.
I only made it through the first 45 minutes before I could take it no longer. I often enjoy abstract/arty films but one thing I can't stand is a lack of narrative, and I've never seen a "movie" quite so completely lacking in this regard. It wasn't as though there's a story that's difficult to follow or anything - in the first 45 minutes at least there is barely even any dialogue, let alone story.
For the first half of the movie I thought the basic premise - a small group of staff isolated in a radio station and learning about the outbreak of a virus in the outside world through the airwaves - was solid, even if the execution was poor. That's an idea that could have looked great on paper, but would have needed stellar dialogue to compensate for the total absence of action; instead we get dull, rambling conversation between a DJ and his producer, interspersed with calls from the outside world that don't quite seem to drive the plot forward in the way that they should.
A little over half way through is where it really comes apart. They discover that the virus is transmitted by the speaking of certain infected words. Yes, *words*. Only English ones though, apparently. I couldn't have been more incredulous if they had discovered the method of transmission was for a victim's feet to turn into hairy sharks and tickle the virus onto people with their shark moustaches. Seriously.
Even if you find a way to get on board with the idea of a virus that transmits itself by infecting a spoken language, there's little to like here. There's very little action or excitement, the characters are annoying the story doesn't really go anywhere. Give it a miss.
The Dictator (2012)
I left the cinema after 45 minutes of this spectacularly unfunny film. I enjoyed Borat and Bruno so I was surprised by just how much I hated The Dictator. It reminded me of spoof movies like Scary Movie with it's steady stream low quality, witless jokes that might appeal to people who laugh at their own farts.
Sacha Baron Cohen's reality-style comedies work because the audience is either cringing in sympathy for his unwitting victims or wincing in revulsion at the lengths he will go to for a laugh. His willingness to push boundaries in these films is what makes them entertaining, but in a scripted comedy, Cohen's utterly unsubtle sense of humour comes off as crass, lazy and cheap.
Anna Faris's character epitomises everything that is wrong with The Dictator. She's a political activist that works in a non-profit feminist vegan health food democratically run co-operative shop who doesn't shave her armpits. She's a caricature of a kind you would expect to find in a formula spoof movie. It just isn't funny.
Very good, but not as wonderful as I was expecting
Virus outbreak is one of my favourite movie sub-genres and I had heard reviewers saying Contagion was *the* best movie ever made in this sub-genre, so I was looking forward to it's release for weeks. I was always going to enjoy this movie no matter what - but I left the cinema a little disappointed that it wasn't the instant favourite I hoped it might be.
The plot, pace and dialogue feel realistic - more so than my favourite movie of the genre - Outbreak - and that's where it falls down slightly. It's somewhat lacking in drama and excitement. I'm not asking for a game of chicken between a helicopter and a bomb-laden jet but I would have liked to see more of a sense of panic and chaos as the virus took hold, and more conflict and irrational behaviour resulting from that panic. Conflict and a sense of supreme urgency is ultimately what made Outbreak a better movie than Contagion in my opinion.
Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
I wouldn't describe Steve Carell as a comic genius exactly but he's usually entertaining. In Dinner for Schmucks though, his character is so irredeemably unlikeable that the only emotion I could muster was annoyance. Steve fails to capture the charm of Zach Galifianakis' very similar character in Due Date or the wit of Jim Carrey's somewhat similar performance as the unwanted friend in The Cable Guy. He just comes off as a feckless moron who's unlike-ability is topped only by Lucy Punch's horrendously over-the-top performance as the token psycho ex-girlfriend.
Paul Rudd plays it is as bland and safe as I've come to expect from every performance he ever gives. He is surely one of the least versatile actors ever to make the Hollywood A-list. The plot is fairly uninteresting but that wouldn't matter so much if it was funnier. Unfortunately the jokes are mostly bad.