me! One of the stars of Disney’s Earth.
by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
The starving polar bear may be the poster child for global
warming; in Earth, the big-screen debut of Disneynature
films, the effects of melting ice on the planet’s largest
carnivores are appallingly evident. Though the film barely
alludes to the environmental impact of carbon dioxide, that
substance’s devastation on the natural world is apparent from
the arctic ice caps to the deserts of Africa, where an elephant
herd embarks on a desperate trek for water.
Based on the acclaimed Planet Earth TV series, Earth
the movie is, as expected from a Disney production, family-friendly.
Scenes that may be too intense for small children, such as
predators devouring their prey, are carefully cut away from
before the first mouthful, though without being misleading—lions
do not lie down with lambs, and in fact, a particularly eerie
sequence shows (in spooky shades of night-vision gray) dozens
of lions stalking and overpowering an elephant that’s lost
in the dark. The film’s theme is the cycle of life, and that
includes eating and being eaten. The environmental message,
or proof, rather, is how it shows the effects of accelerated
climate change, and the suffering this causes. A polar bear
dies from exhaustion after four days of swimming in an ocean
without ice floes solid enough to hold his weight, and a baby
elephant falters from dehydration and loses his way on the
long migration to a watering hole.
Mostly, though, Earth is a breathtaking experience
buoyed by the expertise and passion of its filmmakers (directors
Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, a crew of 60 camera
operators, and a hot-air balloon for inhospitable terrain)
to reveal wildernesses and wildlife with astounding intimacy.
Flocks of fragile-looking demoiselle cranes navigate treacherous
air currents 26,000 feet above the Himalayas; a newborn caribou
spring-jumps through a rushing stream; and a cheetah (shown
in super-high-resolution slow motion) sinuously careens at
nearly 70 miles per hour. Maybe you’ve already seen Planet’s
footage of a prehistorically enormous great white shark spiraling
into the air with a seal dangling from its jaws like a tiny
strip of jerky, but seeing it on the big screen is a primordial
is as beautiful as it as astonishing: In a sequence called
the “the beauty of the silent world” that utilizes aerial
photography, a lynx slinks like a ghost through the arctic
scrub pine, giving the voice-over narration (by James Earl
Jones in an uncharacteristically cheery tone) a photogenic
opportunity to explain the importance of the seemingly bleak
stretch of conifers that oxygenate the atmosphere. Though
the writing can be a tad cutesy, especially when following
the progress of three animal “families” (polar bears, elephants,
and a humpback whale and her calf), it’s child-oriented simplicity
is surprisingly effective: “Grass is the unsung hero of the
planet,” Jones chirps after a dismaying look at the expanding
deserts that now cover more than an eighth of the planet.
Though Earth doesn’t offer any solutions (rent The
Eleventh Hour for more information), it’s a rapturous
reminder of what’s at stake in the natural world.
by Joe Wright
I worried that The Soloist was going to be one of those
movies in which a brilliant talent is derailed by madness
or affliction, only to regain his groove in some magical way.
In fact, I think that’s what my eldest was expecting when
he very unexpectedly agreed to come see it with me. I, for
one, was mostly pleased with the actual movie, whereas I think
he was wondering where the revelatory moment was.
Written by Susannah Grant, The Soloist is about what
happens when somebody reaches out to touch someone else, only
to find that said contact results in ongoing commitment, perpetual
guilt and greater understanding. Los Angeles Times
columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) happens upon a
homeless street musician, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who,
in the patois of his particular form of schizophrenia, regales
the journalist with a tale of his Juilliard past. Ayers, and
his music, performed on a broken-down two-string violin, are
strangely compelling and mesmerizing, and Lopez uses them
both for a profile that results in a reader forwarding her
unused cello (Ayers’ first instrument) to his keeping. Lopez
delivers the instrument, and gets Ayers in touch with the
real life LAMP community (a skid-row program for the mentally
ill homeless), and smiling, prepares to go on to his next
assignment, feeling that he’s done a good deed. Trouble is,
Ayers keeps coming back. And people want more about him.
The movie deftly paints a portrait of Lopez as a solitary
man, uncomfortable even phoning it in to his estranged college-aged
son, and certainly ill-prepared for the commitment and/or
responsibility Ayers represents. Lopez badgers David (Nelsan
Ellis), a volunteer at LAMP, to put Ayers on medication, to
get him into “some program” or hospital, anything, basically,
to remove himself from the situation of having to actually
deal personally with Ayers. David, eying this liberal do-gooder
with a wary gaze, calmly informs Lopez about the legal, ethical
and common-sense realities of the situation, before leaving
him to discover the 90,000 homeless people populating the
alleys and parks of downtown LA.
Wisely, the movie avoids the great “aha” moments in which
Lopez realizes, wow, there’s so much more to it than medication.
Much credit goes to Downey and Foxx, who avoid the usual shtick
you get in these types of films, and I couldn’t help but remember
Downey’s memorable “going full retard” dialogue with Ben Stiller
in Tropic Thunder. This isn’t to say that director
Joe Wright employs the same restraint; his camera goes full-tilt
into the deformed, oozing and ragged populace of homeless
America, at times to the extent that it feels like a freak
Still, The Soloist does several things remarkably well.
The act of working, whether it’s as a musician or a journalist,
is given its due, so that we see what goes into being good
at what one does. Of course, in Lopez’s case, we realize the
catch-22 of his situation, having to write compelling pieces
but then, by prorefssional necessity, having to move on to
the next deadline. In essence, this is much of what The
Soloist is about, our collective inability to think beyond
that next work assignment or tonight’s carpool, in such a
way as to truly connect with the souls who live, just barely,
around us. The movie goes disgustingly overboard with its
damnation of religion—particularly Christianity—as a failure
in its attempts to deal with the poor and downtrodden; a Christian
cellist comes across as crazed and impotent, a bigger danger
to Ayers than the cops. That said, it does wonders with the
concept of the transformative power of art on the soul, without
giving way to the usual cinematic conceit that such will magically
“cure” the sufferer. The broader implication is of acceptance,
of what one can accomplish and what to expect of others, and
in this, The Soloist soars.
State of Play
by Kevin Macdonald
What do you people want?
The nifty thriller State of Play is a lot of the things
“sophisticated” moviegoers claim they want from a movie. It’s
smart. It’s tense. It has an actual plot that relates to today’s
headlines and is resolved in a satisfying fashion. It’s full
of appealing movie stars at the top of their game.
And no one’s going to see it.
Many critics—and even some political bloggers (I’m looking
at you, Matthew Yglesias)—are complaining that it’s an imperfect
remake of a British miniseries. Blah blah blah. A Fistful
of Dollars was an imperfect remake of Yojimbo;
it’s still entertaining as hell. Also: This would be a more
sympathetic argument if everybody didn’t fall all over themselves
praising Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, an unfortunate
remake of the Hong Kong drama Infernal Affairs that
was sunk by unwatchable performances.
Really, what is it with you people?
of Play begins with three seemingly unconnected, brutal
deaths. A congressional aide dies under the wheels of a Washington,
D.C., subway train; a street kid and a pizza delivery man
are shot, execution-style, by a dead-eyed killer in an alley.
As ace reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe, reveling in underpaid-journalist
shabbiness) unwinds these events and eventually connects them,
we are presented with a charming rogue’s gallery of characters.
At the paper, there’s perky-but-earnest blogger Della Frye
(Rachel McAdams), a couple of nebbishy researchers (Josh Mostel
and Michael Weston), and alternately nasty-and-nice managing
editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren). On Capitol Hill there’s
Cal’s ex-college roommate, the too-heroic-to-be-true congressman
Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), his stoic—and politically savvy—wife
Anne (Robin Wright Penn), and his “boss,” the smarmy party
enforcer Sen. George Fergus (Jeff Daniels). Somewhere in between
there’s a laconic D.C. detective (Harry Lennix), a deadpan
coroner (Viola Davis) and a pill-popping, public-relations
party boy (a hilarious Jason Bateman).
What’s not to love?
Maybe, just maybe, you people don’t like newspaper dramas
anymore. Certainly many of you don’t like newspapers. Too
bad for you. State of Play, like the best headline-driven
dramas (All the President’s Men, His Girl Friday,
Five Star Final), treats ink as if it were blood. And
that’s what ultimately makes it so much fun.