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Death, where is thy special sauce: Spurlock at McDonald’s in Super Size Me.

Unhappy Meal
By Ann Morrow

Super Size Me
Directed by Morgan Spurlock

The McStomache. That yucky, dead-weight-in-the-tummy, energy-sapping feeling caused by an overly large meal of McDonald’s is something that most of us have experienced, which is why Morgan Spurlock’s stunt documentary, Super Size Me, is funny and effective, eliciting chuckles of self-recognition as we watch the trim, fit, 33-year-old filmmaker turn himself into a bloated coach potato before our eyes. With the redundant cause of proving that fast-food meals are not part of a healthy diet, as the industry claims, Spurlock eats three meals a day at Mickey Dee’s and nothing else. Whilst consuming a Super Size serving of cheeseburgers, fries, and soda, he is quickly afflicted by another phenomenon: the McGurgles. A half-hour later (which is how long it takes this 6-foot-1 reporter to consume his meal), he goes into a stupor, and hangs his head out his car window making retching noises. Just in case there’s any confusion as to what he’s doing, the camera cuts to a puddle of special-sauce-colored puke.

Juvenile? Yes, but the man’s got a point: Fast food is unhealthy, often unappetizing, sometimes unsanitary, and no doubt a leading factor in America’s obesity epidemic. And in case you’re wondering what, exactly, constitutes an overly large portion, it’s anything above “small,” with the Super Size qualifying as masochistic gluttony, a point that the film drives home by plunking down a two-liter soda bottle next to the 42-ounce (that’s right, 42) bucket o’ Coke that McDonald’s promotes as a single serving for a single consumer. Less than a week in, Spurlock admits to being bored with the stuff, yet he still eats it with gusto, and not all of it is produced by journalistic zeal: He’s hooked, and goes on to examine the addictive qualities of certain saturated fats as well as the obscene amount of sugar in the average fast-food repast. By the end of the month, he has put on 25 pounds and skyrocketed his cholesterol level, and is constantly lethargic. He strikes a blow for science when two of his doctors express astonishment that his daily Mac attack is having the same effect on his liver as alcoholism—only faster.

As a filmmaker, Spurlock is lightweight Michael Moore; we definitely get our fill of the affable reporter stuffing his face, while the home-video-style production, especially the weird ditties on the soundtrack, are annoying, and a graphic examination of a stomach-stapling procedure is gratuitous. But the amusingly illustrated effects of scarfing down those red-and-yellow feed bags really hit home, and much of the information is valuable, especially the sequences on America’s appalling school-lunch programs and McDonald’s insidious, billion-dollar advertising campaigns to make lifelong consumers out of small children. What the film doesn’t do is examine the sociological phenomena behind the explosion in fast-food eateries, such as long work hours, unsupervised kids, poverty, and the American love affair with the automobile. Since virtually everybody thinks fast food is bad (according to a poll) and yet almost everybody eats it, the solution may not be lawsuits or the vilification of Ronald McDonald, but lifestyle changes on a super-size scale.

Through the Past, Lightly

Bon Voyage
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau

Remember the charming inter-national hit Amélie? It suffered a critical backlash in France, as a number of commentators charged that the whimsical romantic comedy whitewashed the multicultural nature of contemporary France. They had a point. But poor Amélie has nothing on Bon Voyage, a stupefyingly feel-good whitewash of French history. Bon Voyage, a star-studded farce set during France’s brief period of combat in World War II, offers up a happy-face version of the capitulation to the Germans.

The fun begins with Viviane (Isabelle Adjani), a shifty-but-gorgeous movie star involved in a murder, and Frédéric (Grégori Derangére), the childhood friend and worshipful admirer she pulls into her web of lies. There’s a bit of genuine fun involving a traffic accident—naturally, there’s a corpse in a car trunk—and, before you can say Blake Edwards, Frédéric is in jail. The Germans march on Paris, and Viviane, along with trainloads of refugees and the French government, is off to Bordeaux.

As suggested above, director Jean-Paul Rappeneau has a deft touch with farce. The various quick escapes and eruptions of sex and violence that punctuate the action bring genuine laughs. Viviane’s constantly self-dramatizing moments are framed like real movie melodrama, but always with a subversive visual twist; Adjani is in on the joke, making these moments some of the picture’s best.

Given the setting, it’s inevitable that the plot takes a serious turn. Frédéric breaks jail with the help of a sly crook (Yvan Attal), who entangles them with an elderly nuclear physicist (Jean-Marc Stehlé) and his dewy young assistant Camille (Virginie Ledoyen). All end up in Bordeaux, where Viviane has cleverly attached herself to Beaufort (Gérard Depardieu, surprisingly nuanced), a shifty government minister seemingly eager to deal with the conquering Germans. Happily, the physicist has, inadvertently, brought the politician something to bargain with: The only “heavy water,” a necessary ingredient for an atomic weapon, in Europe. (Except, of course, for the heavy water the SS stashed at Stalag 13 on that episode of Hogan’s Heroes.)

While the laughs continue, the film’s dreary theme begins to get in their way. Everyone, alas, is exactly who you think they are. Frédéric, who is revealed to be a great writer, and Camille, who is a patriot, fall in love. They are young, and good. Vivian, Beaufort and an oily journalist (Peter Coyote) play their loveless sexual games. They are middle-aged and bad.

No moral ambiguity here. The collapse of an entire society? Move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here. Just stare at the sexy young couple in love.

—Shawn Stone

Jolly Green Giant Redux

Shrek 2
Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon

A sophomore effort, of nearly any kind, is almost universally accepted as the great equalizer. No matter how wondrous a music act’s premiere album was, or how brilliant a novice director’s fledgling flick, Round 2 is, more often than not, the moment when reality sets back in. It’s that slap in the face, or the cold shower, that brings you back to your senses and reveals your feet of clay.

Quite honestly, the Shrek 2 previews seemed to follow this pattern. “Hmm, that’s kind of funny . . . sort of,” one thought watching them. Here it comes, the franchise. Admittedly, I, and a couple hundred Torontonians, left the theater following my first viewing of Shrek feeling as if we were walking on the same fluffy cloud of happiness. It was one of those rare times when everybody applauded, and we were united in a shared sense of joy and fun. While Shrek 2 doesn’t offer up that same euphoria, that sense of having witnessed something very special, it is darn good, and a hell of a lot better than was expected.

Now that Shrek (Mike Meyers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are married, it’s time to meet the princess’ parents, the king (John Cleese) and queen (Julie Andrews), a communion that borrows as much from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as it does the famous banquet scene in the 1933 The Private Lives of Henry VIII. Clearly, Mummy and Daddy are not thrilled at the prospect of little grand-ogres. Along with the enterprising Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), the king concocts a scheme to make Fiona forget Shrek and marry Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Along the way, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) go Hollywood, at least physically speaking, and beloved characters from the first installment, including the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio and the Gingerbread Man, lend a hand, or paw, to ensure that true love triumphs over, well, ridiculousness.

The visuals are stunning, enhanced by now to convey lovely nuances in lighting and skin tones. The script—basically a satire about Hollywood excess—is snappy, albeit with far too many references to sex and body parts, although the bit about Pinocchio wearing women’s underwear actually met broad appeal throughout the family-dominant audience. Movie buffs will love especially a montage of the lovebirds on honeymoon, including a paean to From Here to Eternity (don’t blink or you’ll miss a hilarious cameo by the Little Mermaid) and a seemingly gay frolic through a field of daisies, made all the funnier by the fact that the bridal couple is being pursued by angry villagers bearing pitchforks and torches.

In short, Shrek 2 is a worthy companion to its predecessor; for once, a sophomore effort exudes confidence, class and comic precision.

—Laura Leon


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