BORN IN CHINA – movie review

  • BORN IN CHINA

    Disneynature
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Lu Chuan
    Cast: John Krasinski, narrator.
    Screened at: NYC, 4/5/17
    Opens: April 21, 2017 – Earth Day
    click for larger (if applicable)
    As you watch Disneynature’s “Born in China,” do you get the feeling that zoos around the world should be closed and that children (and adults) should depend for nature study on the movies?  I do.  Watch the snub-nosed monkeys in the high, rocky areas of central China, in the pure air far from the poisonous cities of Beijing and Shanghai.  They all day long, the elders nurturing their young, swinging from branch to branch and having one helluva great time unconcerned about getting into Harvard or making it big with a hedge fund.  No facilities in any zoo could duplicate the grounds needed for such a vivacious, intelligent animal.  You say that the animals in zoos could not possibly survive in the jungle if they were given freedom?  This is true.  The ethical way to deal with this is to keep the zoos open until all its current inhabitants die out naturally (as if you can live and die naturally in these prisons).  And never build, renovate or even think of putting these wonderful, innocent creatures behind bars.  This is the position of PETA, and this is my position, and parents, before you criticize, take a look at some of the movies that hit the multiplex year after year, whether National Geographic or any of the Disney studios, and tell me your dissent. This year, “Born in China” will add to the education of you and your young ‘uns, given the expert close-ups of animals that took years to film.

    While China is known for providing us in the U.S. with affordable gadgets as Japan did half a century ago, there are justifiable complaints about the workmanship.  But when it comes to the birds, bears, leopards, chiru (antelopes),that make their homes in most populous Asian country, perhaps the only equal could be found on lands in East Africa.  I don’t believe the Chinese tour industry can take on customers given the dangerous, rocky peaks in China, some of which are 14,000 feet into the clouds, though if you don’t rush out of the theater when the end credits begin to roll, you will see the dozens of human beings involved in the photography scaling the mountains like Nepalase Sherpas.

    Obviously taking years in the making, given the progress of the seasons on exhibit, “Born in China” also has one minute of stunning time lapse photography of flowers as they burst open in a colorful array of nature’s glory.

    Since this is a G-rated film, there are no close-ups of prey animals being torn to ribbons by predators like the snow leopard, but you do see some shots of the large animals feeding on carcasses, having chased down the slower members of the unfortunate prey.  There is one scene of vengeance, however, though this term would be inappropriate to describe the natural course of events, as a horned animal protects one of his young by puncturing the leopard, described in the golden tones of narrator John Krasinski as being “badly injured.”  Again, not to disturb the kids in the audience, we do not see the injury or even hear about the extent of damage.

    China is best known for pandas, here in gorgeous display, the mothers protecting the young while the babies, just like human beings, show their independence by wandering off signaling their ability to fall only now and then in the grass.  Narrator Krasinski gets most excited when he slowly repeats the fact that an adult panda will eat forty pounds of bamboo in a single day.  Talk about a Paleolithic diet!

    Monkeys fly across trees, snow leopards race toward their pray, and cranes, known in Chinese legends for carrying away the souls of the departed, remain with their flocks.  And again, not to scare the kids, Krasinski, though mentioning the word “death” once, notes that according to the circle of life, we are born, we grow old, and we are reborn.

    You and your youngsters may want to do further research into what he or she has seen on the big screen.  Pick up a copy of John MacKinnon and Karen Phillips’s “A Field Guide to the Birds of China;” also Zoe Chant’s just published “The Snow Leopard’s Home.”  Both are sold at Amazon.com.

    Rated G.  79 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

TROPHY – movie review

TROPHY

The Orchard
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B+
Director:  Shaul Schwarz, Co-director: Christina Clusaiu
Cast: Philip Glass, John Hume, Michelle Otto, Christo Gomes, Joe Hosmer, Adam Roberts, Craig Packer, Tim Fallon, Richard Hume
Opens: September 8, 2017
Trophy Movie Poster
There are lots of animals in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to Shaul Schwarz, who directed “Trophy” after having made “Aida’s Secrets,” about two brothers born in a displaced persons camp in Bergen-Belsen who are not aware of each other’s existence for seventy years.  His résumé is filled with quite a few documentaries before that.  The first thing that comes to mind when you watch the closing credits of his latest movie, co-directed by Christina Clusaiu, is: where is the Humane Society notice that “no animals were harmed during the making of this film?”  Ah, that’s because quite a few animals were harmed, though they might have been treated like, uh, animals even if the directors’ cameras were not on them.  And that, in turn, is because this is a film about hunting big game, and investigates quite a few complex debate topics, not the least being that people who kill these African rhinos, lions, deer and elephants are helping them.  They’re conservationists, like our own Teddy Roosevelt, a big game hunter who is known particularly as a conservationist.  He signed into law the creation of five national parks, serving to protect the animals residing therein, though in “Trophy,” he gets little mention aside from some neat black-and-white archival films. Talk about ironies, paradoxes, and conundrums!

Filmed in the aforementioned African states, “Trophy” features a group of talking heads, mostly men with accents that should have required subtitles throughout instead of those that appear when they’re speaking Afrikaans of, in some cases (I think), English.  They have assorted opinions just like people in our own red states and blue states, some favoring protection of animals, especially rhinos, which means they favor conservation, while others favor killing animals and consider themselves conservationists as well.

The movie opens with a father-son bonding, where Philip Glass takes his son not to Broadway’s “The Lion King” but instead to showing the lad a gun and helping him to shoot a doe, because that’s a brave, macho thing to do.  After that, we listen to a John Hume over in South Africa who has dedicated fifty million dollars of his own fortune, garnered from his resorts, to protecting rhinos. When we see him and in his indigenous helpers bending over an awfully still animal, we’re sure he killed the beast, but he actually sedated him, and sawed off his horns.  By doing so, he is preventing poachers from killing rhinos in the wild, as the bad guys would saw off the horns and make fortunes. The horns are sold in Yemen, for example, to make that country’s traditional jambias, or curved knives, and in China, where they are said to enhance virility.  (China’s abundant population proves that the horns work.)

Now, that guy who bonded with his son over the killing of a doe, Philip Glass, like his American composer namesake, strikes a discordant note or two, seeking to hunt the Big Five, to wit: lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant, and rhino. The expression Big Five may have come from the annual meetings in Las Vegas of  the Safari Club International, where rich people book hunting trips, in some cases with guaranteed kills.  Members can actually book specific animals, and for $50,000 and up they are assured success.  They can also buy guns, which I don’t think are used in photograph safaris.

Here’s another contradiction, or paradox, if you will. Some of the local Africans want their animals protected, but at the same time they want them killed, a neat trick.  They have good reason for the latter wish: lions eat the cattle of the indigenous people, one family having to put their cows in their home—though the lions are a step ahead of them, as the king of beasts will destroy the homes to get at the cattle.

Here are two particularly stupid remarks.  One of the women at the Las Vegas convention states that it’s OK to kill crocodiles because they’re mean (the crocs, not the women).  Then Philip Glass, he’s back again, states that evolution is a hoax given the beauty of animals, and that he has the Bible-given right to shoot the beasts.  Apparently he does not agree with Matthew Scully’s book “Dominion.” Scully interprets Genesis 1:28 “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” not as a call to mass murder but rather a responsibility: that people exist to both rule over and to protect other species.

What we have in this doc are viewpoints that on the one hand condemns poachers, most of whom do their killing to make a living, while at the same time refusing to condemn hunters outright—because the money they spend on safaris goes back to conservation, to safeguarding the beasts while (this is confusing to me) even killing animals prevents illegal slaughters by poachers.

If you’re not going to Africa whether to photograph animals or kill them, this movie is not exactly the next best thing.  There are Disney and National Geographic films that do terrific work in showing African denizens close up in gorgeous color, suitable for IMAX.  The Africa photography is fine enough, but more important, “Trophy” does attempt with some success to stimulate the audience to consider the paradox, including (as just stated) that killing animals conserves them.  This is not for the small fry, and in fact the graphic kills could scare adults as well, though in one case, when a recent elephant kill is being chopped up for meat, the camera pulls away from the fallen to focus on the raised axes.  And did I mention that English subtitles should be used throughout instead of occasionally?

Unrated.  108 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

THE LIGHT OF THE MOON – movie review

  • JANE

    Abramamora
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, 411 Celeb
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Brett Morgen
    Written by: Brett Morgen
    Cast:  Jane Goodall, Hugo van Lawick
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/17
    Opens: October 20, 2017
    Jane Movie Poster
    Women are often not treated as well as men in the work force.  They are paid less for the same job and have a tough time breaking through the glass ceiling, as the Forbes list of America’s mostly-male CEOs will confirm.  One area not usually thought of as a male-dominated sphere is nature study.  In the Gombe National Park are of Tanzania one brave British woman challenged the all-male heritage.  Jane Goodall was a twenty-six-year old secretary when she took on a formerly male preserve, chosen by David Leakey, a paleontologist born in Kenya.  He was looking to Goodall not because she had the best training for the job of observing chimps in the wild but because she was untrained.  She was not burdened with the hard knowledge that students in the universities acquire but conversely, because she had no experience in this area (she could not afford university tuition), she would have an open mind.  Leaky was looking for someone who loves animals and had a great deal of patience, inspired by the thought of getting insights into how our Stone Age ancestors lived and thought hundreds of thousands of years ago.  The chimpanzee communities in East Africa would supply clues.  Her decades spent in East African provided the National Geographic and the scientific community at large with breakthroughs, perhaps the leading one being that chimpanzees knew how to fashion tools for their specific needs, particularly sticks that could reach into the ground to pick up bugs for their dining pleasure.

    And patience comes across as the leading quality, as Goodall had to allow a chimp community in the Gombe to get accustomed to her so they would lose their fear of perhaps the only human being they had seen day after day for a month.  As they accepted her as part of their community, they even had the chutzpah to sneak into her tent and steal bananas when she was away, later moving on to try to open cases to satisfy their curiosity.  Goodall found that she could construct a simple device, fill it with bananas, so the chimps would not have to destroy the human property.

    Though accustomed to a solitary life, holding that she was experiencing even greater than her most passionate dream, she became accustomed in 1962 to the inclusion of a male photographer, Dutch citizen Hugo van Lawick, who, in one of the most romantic proposals in modern times (by telegram) asked her to be his wife.   Like the animals who surrounded them, the two human beings had their own baby named Grub, brought up until his school age of six in Tanzania.  We observe the little one smiling, laughing, playing with the chimps, and having a better education than he could have received in some stuffy London school.

    The chimp community did not function in a blessed state of nature always.  Tragedy struck when a polio epidemic caused at least one adult chimp to lose function of two legs and one arm, his suffering ended when Goodall has it shot.  Further, in a rare display of hostility, the chimp community is wiped out.

    The photography, saturated color something like the earlier Technicolor pictures, gives further authenticity to the project.  As a nature film, this is best seen on the big screen where mountains and valleys, streams and waterfalls, make this part of Africa to look like paradise—especially when contrasted with the soulless office buildings and auto traffic of London.  Philip Glass provides marvelous, emotional music as the film is edited from 140 hours of stock to its current hour and a half.  The only parents who might be wary of taking their small fry to this glorious movie are those who for some antiquated reason believe that small boys and girls should be protected from seeing animals coupling.  In one scene, a female of the species stands quietly allowing a host of males to mate, while in another area, predators are observed catching and killing their prey.

    Los Angeles-born writer-director Brett Morgen, whose resume includes sixteen films including “Say it Loud: a Celebration of Black Music in America,” jumps frequently back from the action to interview Jane Goodall.  You may marvel at her lack of pretension.  Now 83, she still enjoys a life worth living, one of those rare people who followed their dreams and had their wildest fantasies come strikingly into reality.

    Rated PG.  91 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?