Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fast Food, Borat & Bond

Fast-Food Nation (directed by Richard Linklater): Rating 7/10

It is a bad sign when a free advance screening of a movie is not even close to half sold out. And that was the surprising scene on Tuesday, Nov 14 at the advance screening of Linklater’s latest flick. Why did the crowds stay away? The big multiplexes in my city didn’t even bother booking this film and the city’s art-house theatre was left to carry the burden of being the only theatre to open this movie on Friday, Nov 17th. So is this film that bad? Ofcourse not! It is definitely worth seeing just for the different ideas portrayed.

Linklater and Eric Schlosser have crafted a fictional story meant to show a slice of the hierarchy involved in the fast food chain. The lowest rung starts from the illegal workers (Catalina Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderrama) who come over from Mexico to work in the lowest paid jobs in the meat industry. We also meet the transporter and guide who help in the border crossing. Next up, is the meat packaging plant where people work in dismal conditions to service the stomachs of a hungry nation – cutting, dicing & chopping the animals herded in from the cattle range. We are also introduced to a cattle ranger (Kris Kristofferson) who provides his animals for the plant and even get a glimpse at the sly broker (Bruce Willis in an amusing cameo) between the plant and the rancher. The small town fast food chain and its young disillusioned teenage staff are shown along with the manager trying to sell the job as a career to the kids. The other kids (what is Avril Lavigne doing here?) who don’t work at the fast food chains but want to take action against an oppressive system are also given some air time. And there is even place for the one who got away -- Ethan Hawke plays a person who was lucky enough to leave the small town in search of a better life; he duly returns to tell his niece to follow her dream and eventually leave the town. And no film would be complete without the distinguished executives of the fast food chain. Greg Kinnear plays the marketing head in charge of coming up with the slogan and ideas for the next big burger.

This is a movie in fragments with multiple short-stories and each story having its own style different from the other segments. Overall, the film can be seen as a combination of satire, a political statement, serious drama, mocu-mentary and a coming of age film. I read in an interview that Linklater wanted to model the story after Traffic and you can see that in the overall film structure. However, Traffic had a consistent feel to every segment whereas Fast-Food Nation feels like different episodes put together. For example, take the Ethan Hawke segment. While his presence is refreshing in comparison to some of the other film segments, his character seems out of place. Hawke’s character seems to have flown straight out of the pages of other Linklater films such as Waking Life, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset where his character pretends to have pseudo-intelligent babble. What exactly is he doing in this movie? Just there as a favor to the director? Bruce Willis is fun to watch and he spouts some very interesting words but he is just a tiny fraction of the story. As are many other cameos and roles. I still believe all these different items could have worked together only if the movie had more energy to it. Every frame feels tired and exhausted. Eating fast-food does not fill one with much energy, so if the idea was to mimic the staleness of fast-food on celluloid, then the movie has accomplished its goal. But the problem is we have already seen how an absorbing movie can be made about fast-food -- Super Size Me may have been a documentary but it was far more interesting to watch than a fictional small town tale with global implications.

The film starts and ends with the Mexican border crossing, with the story going full circle as a younger generation of workers is shown to be entering the nation. Greg Kinnear’s character also starts and ends the movie, even though he disappears half-way through the film. Nothing wrong with that as his character has merely served his purpose and no longer needs to be there. One note about the killing assembly line at the film’s end. I am glad that Linklater put that scene in the movie. Even though the scene might not change anything regarding fast-food, it might make some people think about where their food really comes from. I find it amusing to see people getting shocked and disgusted at animals being slaughtered but no-one utters a peep when humans are tortured and mutilated both in real life and on screen.

Borat (Directed by Larry Charles): Rating -- Very Nice!

“Hello, my name Borat” By now, everyone has heard of Borat but not everyone likes him. But Borat probably does not give a goat’s ass if people don’t like him. His goal is not to be liked but simply to get a reaction from people. And his movie does just that. There is some slapstick comedy in the film but most of the humour is derived from little movement. In fact, the genius lies in Sacha Baron Cohen merely staying still and uttering just a few well chosen words. In other cases, a mere attempt to kiss or shake hands with men is enough to produce the desired effect. What is offensive to one person is humour to another! I have read how Borat offends “everyone”. Now that statement is true in the film’s context but in a larger context, it is not totally correct. Borat has carefully chosen the people he wants to offend and only targets a narrow category. I wish he had targeted more political people but maybe those were items that were left out on the editing table and are on the DVD instead? One of the funniest political sequences is the rodeo scene when he changes one word without the crowd fully understanding it (and even if they did catch the mistake, they might have attributed it to his bad English). Borat says that his nation supports the American president’s “war of terror” and the crowd applauds loudly. This was in Texas so it is clear the crowd were applauding the president’s agenda not Borat’s message.

Yes, this is a funny movie. But I am surprized to see how high the North American critics have rated this film. Normally, they question the logistics of each film scene but I have not seen that done for this movie. Maybe this movie is critic proof because there is no real story for the film but just scenes which serve as mere excuses for gags and laughs. The short length of the movie (84 min) also ensures that the humour comes fast and before the jokes get boring, the film ends gracefully.

Casino Royale (Directed by Martin Campbell): Rating 8/10

Yup, Bond is back! But with a new star, comes a new look and attitude. The classy look is replaced by a raw &rugged style. This is the start of the story so appropriately the new Bond is not up to speed regarding etiquette and diplomacy. He is reckless and even when he has been beaten fairly, he can’t accept defeat. For example, at the start of the movie, Bond is beaten for agility and pace by Sebastien Foucan’s character. Bond understands he can’t match his opponent’s flexible movements so he opts for effective, intelligent techniques and even brute force. But despite his best effort, he fails to catch his opponent. Instead of keeping quiet, he storms into the embassy and blows the entire place up. This gets him in trouble but that only galvanizes him into more action.

The film is written by 3 writers and at times it shows. The first segment is all action, the middle part the casino and gambling stage of the film and the last 30 minutes is sappy romance where Bond is at his most vulnerable. Paul Haggis in one of the writers and I am sure he had something to with exploring Bond & Vesper’s loneliness (such characters could find a tiny cameo inMillion Dollar Baby and Crash). But also, there is a tiny tip to Shakespeare as Vesper complains she can’t get rid of the blood from her hand (Lady Macbeth and foreshadowing both in one go?). A torture scene born from the remains of the chair sequence in Pulp Fiction and dark atmosphere of Saw is needless present but also contains fresh humour keeping in character with Daniel Craig’s brash attitude.

This is a different film from the previous Bond series where Pierce Brosnan played a charming Bond who didn’t get involved in physical violence. Daniel Craig is more suited to playing the tough guy who prefers to get his hands dirty and is willing to punch his way through trouble. And Bond has to deal with two women who are more than a match for him. Bond’s attitude is appropriately dealt by M’s razor sharp words (Judi Dench is perfect again) and Eva Green is a delightful edition as a Bond girl who is more brain than brawn. But the film’s long running time (2 hours, 20 min or so) adds a lot of un-necessary scenes which should have been left out on the editing table.


patrick said...

just watched Fast Food Nation, it's an impactful flick to say the least... earlier today i passed up a sausage mcmuffin because of it.

Sachin G. said...

Yeah it does leave an impact. I am still surprized at how this movie came and went without much mention.