GUNDA – movie review

GUNDA
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Writer: Victor Kossakovsky, Ainara Vera
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/28/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Poster

Why is Joaquin Phoenix a producer of this movie? That’s a no-brainer. As a vegan (no meat, fish or dairy) he is one among a fair number of actors who allege to be against breeding and eating animals, including Alec Baldwin, Alicia Silverstone, Betty White, Casey Affleck, Ellen DeGeneris and many others. They are putting their mouths where their beliefs are, projecting their love of what most of us consider “product” or “objects” but which they presumably consider subjects with their own lives. Like we human animals, these four-legged and two-legged fellows and even a one-legged chicken in this movie also like to mate, to suckle their babies, to protect their families, and to do what they have been created to do. (Dogs sniff, roosters makes the sun rise, piggies cool off with mud baths.)

“Gunda” may not be an animal rights movie like “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm” and “Food Choices” but makes its points in ways more subtle than what PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk considers effective. (Newkirk’s statement that “A rat is a pig, is a dog is a boy” may be insightful but is not likely to win converts.) Victor Kossakovsky, who co-wrote and directs, focuses regularly on documentaries like “Russia from My Window,” which shows things in St. Petersburg that usually go unnoticed. He does not speak atop a soapbox here, in fact no human speaks at all. “Gunda” is black-and-white, dialog free, and sumptuous.

The film was shot on farms in Britain, Spain and Norway. While three types of farm animals are on display, the pigs are the stars, the animals that hog the limelight, that ham it up to the extent that they can. As seen in high-contrast black-and-white throughout with not a single human in view, “Gunda” shows an enormous sow at the moment a litter of piglets emerges, a dozen or so, button-cute. They compete to drink mother’s milk, happy that she has a generous number of teats, and she in turn takes care of her brood. They follow her around like ducklings paddling after their mom. Sometimes she nuzzles them with her large snout. They all have the run of the farm, and yet often prefer to go indoors through an opening that could barely fit the mom, who has to bend in the middle to squeeze in. They are a lot better off and happier that they are not among the 90% of pigs that are factory farmed, unable to move a muscle as they lie in their crates.

They are an intelligent animal, more so than dogs, and in some cases make good pets who learn quickly and do not bite. Though the farm is the best place for pigs, every morning, noon and night here is like the previous morning, noon and night, month after month, year after year, which may be the origin of the term ground-hog day.

As for the cows and the one-legged rooster that take up the attention of the filming crew, they are, what’s the best word, “meh.” So…if you really really really want to know what it’s like to be pig or a farm animal in general, since you can’t actually be “pig for a day,” the next best thing is to watch the movie. I can’t think of any other film like it, which doesn’t mean it will get your pulse pounding or have you in stitches.

93 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN – movie review

SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Screenwriter: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick
Cast: Morgan Spurlock
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/19
Opens: September 6, 2019

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken Movie Poster Sizes 11x17" 16x24" 24x36"

When you see what goes into the chicken sold in fast food restaurants (and realize that probably the red meat industry does likewise for its burgers and fish) you may decide to go vegan. It’s not just the unhealthy ingredients and the lack of transparency in the franchises like Popeye’s, KFC, and Chick Fil-A. It’s the way that small farmers that grow the animals that wind up on your dinner plate are shafted by the five big corporations to which they sell the birds, principally Tyson. You may even go further than giving up animal flesh and think that you want nothing to do with capitalism. “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken” provides not only terrific information about the chicken industry. It is so entertaining that you might decide that documentaries, often at the bottom rung of movie popularity, are as worthy of your time and money as dramas and comedies.

There’s no wonder that this movie with its terrific, rapid editing, puts Morgan Spurlock on the same plane as Michael Moore. Like Moore, Spurlock knows how to be political without making you think that “educational” films are like carrots and broccoli: healthful and filling but simply not the kinds of foods you salivate over. You will remember that Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” thirteen years ago took aim at the fast-food burger chains, particularly McDonald’s, where the documentarian took all his meals for thirty days straight at Mickey D’s and wound up feeling ill and carrying around a huge weight gain. Now, paradoxically, in order to satirize the chicken industry, he opens a chicken restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, the center of food marketing experimentation, and buys a farm in Alabama to raise the cluckers. You may wonder whether he is actually doing this, or simply imagining a script for his vivid new doc. After all, how can a filmmaker, however on the A-list of documentaries, manage in a field so different from his own?

If you’re concerned about your health—and surprisingly enough many Americans can’t give two figs for what they put into their bodies—you have probably been impressed by claims made by the food industry such as “natural,” “hormone-free,” “locally grown,” “organic,” “free range,” “sustainable.” Turns out that for the most part these words are simply marketing tools and just a bunch of B.S. Looking at a farm that raises chicken “free range” instead of caged, you find that the chicks are on the big main floor with hardly room to move—so they might as well be caged. Think of the New York City subway system on a work day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But what if you really are not a particularly ethical person and you don’t care how the chickens are raised? You don’t mind that the vast majority of chickens are from one breed known for growing so fast that they can hardly walk, and that some will die on the floor of heart attacks and other maladies. Your health is still affected when you eat deep fried chicken, far more caloric and greasy than grilled, but for most of us, taste is the most important factor.

But maybe you care about the small farmers that, being forced to sell to one of the five giant corporations, namely Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Foods and Koch Foods. The biggies like to keep the farmers in debt, paying them less if they have complained or, in this case are giving information to Spurlock about the underside of capitalism. They supply the farmers with housing, land and equipment but make sure that the farmers pay so much for improvements such as heating units that they are like serfs under feudalism rather than workers under capitalism.

Spurlock has a gift for interviewing, peppering his questions with witticisms and employing the talents of people who explain the principles of marketing, all backed up by a bouncy musical score employing passages from Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saens and George Frideric Handel. If you’re concerned that the movie provides no solutions, that’s because are none. Eighty-eight percent of Americans will buy chicken each week.

103 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-