SACRED COW – movie review

SACRED COW: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat

Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Diana Rodgers
Writer: Diana Rodgers
Cast: Nick Offerman, Narrator
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: January 5, 2021

Before tackling the points made by this new doc “Sacred Cow,” let’s look at the concept of veganism, a philosophy that would not be in accord with the ideology of this film…

Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat Poster

It seems not so long ago that most of us thought that meat was born in plastic wrap, that vegetarians were communists, fascists, or just plain weird, and that if you are not poverty-stricken, why would you ever want to give up meat? Suddenly Hollywood celebs embrace not only vegetarianism (no meat or fish) to veganism (no meat, fish, dairy and eggs). Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Alec Baldwin among others. Even President Clinton was on the wagon, turning his nose up against flesh and enjoying the cooking of a top vegan chef), but now he’s playing the omnivore card.

There are reasons that people abstain from anything that has a mother. They may do this for aesthetic reasons (decaying animal corpses are gross), taste (you don’t like steak or sausage), environmental (you don’t want to be standing next to a cow when it endangers the atmosphere), health (saturated fat raises bodily cholesterol), economics (the high price of meat and fish), conservationist (rain forests are disappearing to make room for cattle grazing and growing animal feed),and best of all ethical (animals are born, live lives in an earthly hell, and are slaughtered without last rites, on their deathbeds with none of their family present and you don’t want on your conscience that you in effect, hired a hit team to take out a cow or a horse, a lamb or a bat).

Diana Rodgers’ movie, however, might give meat-eaters a further excuse to continue their habit and possibly to justify it if debating vegans. What horrifies some vegetarians and vegans so much is not the actual slaughter of cows and sheep and chickens, but the idea that the animals live horrible lives in huge factory farms. This smart film takes a middle ground, showing that cows and sheep can live happy lives, are slaughtered humanely, and what’s more, they benefit us in ways that factory farms cannot. There is considerable information that can be best absorbed by people who study regenerative agriculture such as in colleges that have that subject as a major. City folks would do well to supplement the considerable factual content of the film with readings, and in fact, you can do just that by entering this address in your URL: SacredCow.info.

Unlike factory farms, which in America supply 95% or more of meat, regenerative farms practice sustainable agriculture, not by fighting nature with chemical pesticides and growing corn or soy in a separate area from grazing animals. They grow crops simultaneously with cattle, allowing the animals to fertilize the soil naturally and making marginal soil more arable.

Diana Rodgers, who directs, takes us first to a farm in Monon, Indiana, then spreads out across the land where we here enthusiastic farmers praise how they are raising cattle and sheep. What’s more their animals feeding on plants not damaged by chemical bring more nutrition to our plates.

In a sense, without mentioning keto diets, the folks covered by Rodgers’s doc note that Americans have become increasingly obese at the same time that they ironically had given up considerable meat eating. One subject states even that the high starches with the extra salt and sugar used to preserve and give a bolder taste to processed foods, have added to this massive weight gain.

According to some of the friendly folks who inform us that eating meat is both nutritious and ethical, people who abjure flesh may not grow sufficiently and can suffer degenerative diseases as well. Perhaps, one states, that it’s not the meat that causes increases in weight and blood pressure and blood sugar, but that people who eat lots of meat are also likely to smoke and avoid exercise.

There is much here to consider, particularly if you, like me (a member of PETA), believe that being vegan is not only good for animals who get to live, but is the most healthful of all possible dietary choices.

If this film whets your appetite for more knowledge, particularly if you would like to counter its arguments, you can check out these other movies which may be available on Amazon Prime, including “Eating You Alive,” “The Invisible Vegan,” “Food Choices,” “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm,” among others. The filmmakers of these items would likely take issue with the ideas raised in “Sacred Cow,” considering them to be a gutless compromise solution.

The music is intrusive. What for? Would it be boring to watch a well-produced film like this without such distraction?

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C+ (intrusive music)
Overall – B+

 

WILD MOUNTAIN THYME

WILD MOUNTAIN THYME
Bleecker Street
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Writer: John Patrick Shanley based on his play “Outside Mulligar”
Cast: Jamie Dorman, Emily Blunt,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/27/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Wild Mountain Thyme Movie Poster

John Patrick Shanley, who directs and wrote both the movie and the four-character play on which it’s based, must have French-kissed the Blarney Stone for inspiration once again. His delightfully stereotyped look at an Irish family that is not as traditionally-oriented as it appears is not unlike his equally stereotypical look at an widowed Italian-American woman in “Moonstruck,” who falls for her fiancés’ energetic brother. The movie opens with a drone shot of rural land in Ireland (is there any other?) that could have been made by the Irish Tourist board and has a musical soundtrack that leads the viewer into a mood of enchantment. “Wild Mountain Thyme” considers a 75-year-old man’s decision to leave the land he owns with its sheep and adorable dog to his American relative rather to his local grandson, who deals with the passion of his neighbor whose romantic entreaties he ignores.

In traditional rom-com mode, the young pair remain apart though they are meant for each other, and surely, though we may think we want a non-traditional conclusion to upend a Hollywood ending, we hope that Anthony (Jamie Dorman) will end up with his soul-mate, the pipe-smoking Rosemary (Emily Blunt), who had the hots for Anthony since she was a little girl.

Jamie Dorman, in a role as far apart from that of a veritable sex counselor in “Fifty Shades of Gray,” hangs out regularly with Rosemarie, and given that women are more assertive nowadays than they were when they had the excuse of Sadie Hawkins day to become the pursuers, we can accept her fevered attempts to get Anthony to propose to her. After all she has loved him for the past quarter-century, as we find out when she looks with frustration at the boy’s attraction to another.

Believing that he will be embraced with first dibs on the farm he wants to buy from Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken), Adam (Jon Hamm) takes off from New York where he has a successful career in finance to try his luck as a farmer. Adam would be Anthony’s opposite, asserting his charm to capture Rosemary’s heart, but his city-slicker mentality does not work on Rosemary. Though she meets him in New York for a ballet and dinner, hers is a one-day stand; that is, she has a return ticket to Ireland the following day! “How yer gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? Just watch Rosemary who has seen enough of the big city for the next ten years.

The movie is so charming, not in spite of, but because of its kitsch, and did I imply that Emily Blunt is hot?

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

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

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

 

MR. JONES – movie review

MR. JONES
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter: Andrea Chalupa
Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Celyn Jones, Patricia Volny
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/20
Opens: June 19, 2020

Mr. Jones (2019)

“Mr. Jones” should be required viewing in every school of journalism from Columbia University down to the smallest community college in Nebraska. The true events on which “Mr. Jones” is based focus in part on the newspaper industry which was far more important in its time when everybody read the papers daily, a practice now largely abandoned by people absorbed more in their I-Phones than on reading about something greater than themselves. An intelligent viewer of this picture could not be faulted for noting the current relevance on display, when fake stores from Russia corrupt social media and when every paper whose editorial board leans left and Democratic is considered by the White House to be “failing.”

Warsaw-born Agnieszka Holland, whose “Europa Europa” unfolds a story of a Jewish boy hiding his religion by joining Hitler Youth, is a director who obviously thinks well beyond the rom-com and hyped-up melodrama, is well suited for the task, promoting the central motif that journalists must tell the truth as they see it. There is only one truth, and journalists who for material gain or sensationalist hype do anything to cover up the truth, they are guilty of hypocrisy and an outright betrayal of their (once) revered profession.

Mr. Jones (James Norton) pursues a fascinating story so perilous, so important to tell, that he appears willingly to risk his comfort and even his life. The tale tells of the Soviet Union’s starvation of at least five million peasants in Soviet dominated Ukraine, their farms collectivized and much of their produce shipped out of the country to Moscow. That view is considered controversial, even untrue, particularly by Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a reporter for the NY Times who made his mark after being accorded a private interview with Stalin. From that time he became the mouthpiece of the communist nation, and awarded a Pulitzer for his reporting of what became known as fake news. If Duranty’s sucking up to Russia no matter his personal feelings makes you think of what’s happening on Capitol Hill, you know enough about politics to join the audience of Saturday Night Live.

When Gareth Jones first appears in this shattering narrative film, he’s a kid, yet Britain’s Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) employs him as an adviser—a gig that ends when he is laughed out of a Cabinet meeting for suggesting that the UK would soon go to war against the Soviet Union. Out of the mouth of babes. He is given a reference by the prime minister upon which Jones commits forgery by erasing the sentence about his “former” service to the prime minister, changing that to “valued” service. He receives a journalist’s visa to the Soviet Union where he is expected to write about a Potemkin Village setup, refused admittance to the Ukraine where he smuggles himself in and sees first-hand the starvation and despair of farmers either driven from the land or forced to work in collectives.

Traveling by train as though a first-class tourist, he moves into the third-class compartment finding people without a crust of bread. Walking through the frozen depths of Ukraine farmland after trading a bit of food for a passenger’s overcoat, he finds vast reaches peopled by peasants without hope. (Not mentioned in the movie is that fact that the rich peasants were sent to the gulag or killed, while the masses who work the land have little motivation to produce anything save for their own private needs.)

One comes away from the picture assuming that Ms. Holland’s politics are as Orwellian as George Orwell himself, the latter played by Joseph Mawle. Mawle opens the movie by advising that he will discuss the failures of communism simply, in a book peopled by farm animals substituting for the various personages in a communist state.

Given the poignant scenes of starvation and frozen land with a particularly vivid coverage of a heroin-soaked party attended by a naked, drunk Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, “Mr. Jones” can he heartily recommended not only to the aforementioned journalism students but also to students on the secondary school level who have probably read “Animal Farm” and would be further enlightened by observing Soviet criminality on the screen.

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

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

THE SWAN – movie revei

THE SWAN (Svanurinn)

Synergetic Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir
Screenplay by: Guðbergur Bergsson, Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, novel by Guðbergur Bergsson
Cast: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thor Kristjansson, Gríma Valsdóttir
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/28/18
Opens: August 10, 2018 in NY August 17, 2018 in LA
Svanurinn (2017)
Kids know more about life than we acknowledge.  Before computers and i-phones they read Dr. Seuss and were looked upon as innocent about real life.  It seems now that adults are more ready to talk to children as though they were adults and not too cautious about what they let the little ones see.  This point is made in Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s freshman full-length feature which stars the adorable Gríma Valsdóttir as a nine-year-old who is bright, curious, and a veritable sponge, picking up new things that she learns every day and trying to parse the emotions on display from a group of farmers in rural Iceland.

As Sól, the child—who was cast in “The Swan” after a far-and-wide search and eventually scouted when the director saw her in a staged version of Pippi Longstocking—is sent by her mother to the child’s great aunt north of the capital.  Though she a first resents the move—her mom was motivated because the girl was caught stealing and the farm was seen as a corrective—she soon adapts to the various folks in the family which boards her.  She becomes particularly close to Jón (Thor Kristjansson), who spends every summer with them doing chores and using his free time to write voluminous notes in a journal. (Somebody in the crew seems to have spent long days and nights copying Icelandic notes longhand, filling several notebooks which are vetted by the young girl.)

These farmers are not the happy workers depicted in kids’ picture-books—the ones that are mistakenly given to urban youngsters who cannot relate to any of the nonsense.  Nobody here resembles “Heidi’s Farm Friends,” “Mrs. Wishy-Washa’s Farm,” “Down by the Farm,” and “Jigaree.”  Collegian daughter Ásta, just back from college in Reykjavik, is morose, as her boyfriend ditched her for another.  She complains to her parents that they are using medieval techniques to milk the cows and will be crushed by the big guys.  For his part Jón, who writes for therapy as he confesses that his life has been a mess, takes advantage of Ásta’s misery with a one-night stand that is witnessed by Sól.  He feels a kinship with the child who he believes could herself become a writer.  Sol helps deliver a calf, shown in full detail by German cinematographer Martin Neumeyer, but even that happy event becomes a source of more misery for Sol when the calf is slaughtered despite being treated as a pet by the child.

The fairy-tale nature of the tale is climaxed when Sól goes to the lake in the mountains where a swan, a monster by myth, is said to lure people to their deaths.  She is determined to face up to the handsome creature, given emotional fortitude by her summer’s life with this melancholy family, which gives her resolve never to depend on people again because they are at least as fragile and vulnerable as she feels.

Sól captures the director’s interest, the girl appearing in most frames with a look of curiosity to the strange people surrounding her, obviously learning more about both physical nature and human nature than she could from a schoolbook.  The actress, whose real age is not revealed by internet sources like the IMDB, has a remarkable debut and can expect other offers to follow.  The film as a whole, which was shown at the Scandinavian Film Festival, is slow moving and mostly evenly pitched.  The relationship of the girl to the summer worker, which appears to be headed into pervert territory as he wraps his arms around her at bedtime, is innocent enough in a picture that is a pleasure to watch, a coming of age story that in fact reveals changes in outlook not only of Sól but of the summer farmhand and the family college girl as well.

Unrated.  91 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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