Dec 2, 2011 Fox Movies vs Hedgehog Movies. Films Reviewed: Surviving Progress, The Descendants PLUS VTape

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Death, Denial, Drama, Environmentalism, Gas, Hawaii, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Have you ever heard of “Foxes vs Hedgehogs”? Isaiah Berlin (in a famous essay about Tolstoy) wrote that writers and intellectuals were all either foxes or hedgehogs. Hedgehogs know one big thing, while foxes know many things. (He’s talking about expertise in a field versus generalists.) But I wonder if this can be applied to movies? Are their fox movies and hedgehog movies? I don’t know — all movies are collaborations of dozens or even hundreds of people… but they usual seem to be about one big thing. Fox movies (I don’t mean 20th Century Fox) might be ones like Enter the Void, or You are Here, or Magnolia; while hedgehogs are Remains of the Day or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Then there are most movies which have a concept but where there’s no idea at all. I guess they’re neither foxes nor hedgehogs.

So this week I’m talking about two movies, a documentary about everything, and a humorous drama about a family facing a whole lot of problems all at once.

Surviving Progress

Dir: Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks

You’ve probably heard of “peak oil”: that’s the point where the oil yet to come out of the ground is less than what we’ve already extracted, so we’ve already used most of it up. People say we reached peak oil about 8 years ago, most of the found reserves are drying out, and that’s why they’re trying to get oil out of the tar sands and digging in remote areas to find whatever’s left.

But what if it’s not just peak oil? What if it’s peak everything? What if we’re using up all the credit we possibly could in the drive toward over- consumption; all the forests, the water, arable land is approaching point zero; what if the financial sector, with its rapacious, slash-and-burn attitude toward company takeovers in search of the next 10% profit rate…

This new documentary (based on Ronald Wright’s book “A short history of progress) poses a really interesting situation. Progress is defined as a technological advance that takes us out of each successive crisis and saves us. But what if these advances in technology or progress are the cause of these crises?

It uses the example of the mammoth. When the cavemen – who are basically us, genetically – used to go out and chase after woolly elephants, they’d kill one ot two every so often and eat them. But when someone came up with the new idea, the technology, that let them round up a whole herd and chase them off a cliff… well that was that. Peak Mammoth.

So the current financial crisis, the environmental crisis, the water, oil, shortages… maybe all our new ideas aren’t progress at all, but the start of disaster?

This is a really interesting idea, and a fascinating documentary. The movie consists mainly of talking head interviews by lots of famous experts like Vaclav Smil, Jane Goodall and Steven Hawking taking all sides of the argument. Personally, I would have liked more shots of apes playing with blocks or wooly mammoths falling off cliffs, and less long, talking-head interviews… but it’s still a really interesting topic.

(Definitely a fox movie, not a hedgehog, though, talking about everything and its opposite, to cover all points of view – it left me a bit overwhelmed by all it covered, and at a loss as to what the movie says we should do to solve the problem.)

The Descendants

Dir: Alexander Payne

Matt King (George Clooney) is a middle aged corporate lawyer in Hawai’i, who, along with all his cousins, is apparently descended way back from a Hawaiian princess, but looks, sounds and acts like a rich white guy, a haoli. He’s in charge of the family trust for a land grant of untouched beaches and forests left by that Hawaiian royal family a century ago, and suddenly they have to sell it off to developers to make condos and golf courses before they lose it. Then, all of the sudden, everything hits him all at once. His wife is in hospital in a coma, so, for the first time he has to take care of his two daughters, Scottie and Alex (Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley), who are a handful. And if that’s not enough, the doctors say his wife may not survive – her friends, his in-laws, and everyone close need to be told. And his daughter Alex chooses this point to tell him some shocking news about his wife – something he never knew. So now it’s up to the three of them, plus Alex’s boyfriend Sid the pool boy, to journey around the islands to try to tie up the loose ends, and face their upcoming losses.

So it deals with a load of plot lines that are all over the place, like the scattered Hawaiian islands, but it’s held together with traditional Hawaiian music, scenery and style. This is a very sweet and interesting movie about a father and his family facing up to a whole bunch of problems all at once. The cast is great, the acting, the look and feel, the story too. I didn’t leave the theatre thinking “this is a deep movie” – it’s not – but it’s a good movie. It felt like the pilot for a really good HBO TV series. What’s this family’s next adventure? I want to find out!

Surviving Progress opens today in Toronto, and The Descendants is playing now, check your local listings.

Also check out VTape’s program this Saturday, a very foxy movie program, where the staff at this experimental art-video space has selected a special, eclectic program, CARRIED AWAY, which they describe as “a sampler box of chocolates” including “mash-ups, tender meditations, and animations, both precise and apocalyptic”. That’s on this Saturday, Dec 9. Go to www.vtape.org for more information

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: