"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

It's got an amazing cast, each of whom I absolutely adore. The director directed some of them in Bridesmaids, which is absolutely hilarious. The editors were responsible for 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman, two favourites. But don't slam me as anti-feminist when I say this is a horrible movie, and I wonder if it got 73% on Rotten Tomatoes because reviewers were wary of giving a bad review.

There are a few great scenes, but it all falls apart. Kate McKinnon (whom I think was channelling Quicksilver, but my kids don't see it) does a dance that could have been funny, but it's almost painful to watch her exchange with Kristen Wiig. It's not the acting, but that it's filmed oddly so they feel like they're in different rooms, as if they filmed all their lines one at a time, then meshed them into a scene together. There were many times the film had a strange, filmed-by-high-school-kids type of feel to it, which is what prompted me to actually look up the editors.

This genre of film is right up my alley, except I cringe at ridiculous incompetence disguised as humour (Chris Hemsworth being baffled by glass or how to answer a phone or the difference between his eyes and ears - actually). The homage to the original was heavy-handed. Some of the cameos were worth the two minutes of film, but others were wasted. The remake of the title song was painful, and the much-hyped heavy metal concert scene was positively bland, Ozzy's micro-appearance notwithstanding. Who goes to a concert at four in the afternoon? The action scenes felt plodding. And then it all ended in the middle of a boring sibling argument over a car. No final joke. It just panned out to credits with some non-funny 'bonus' bits that are now to be expected.

Despite passing the Bechdel Test (among others), it didn't feel like a feminist celebration. This is making the rounds on Twitter, and it's far funnier than the movie it describes:

There's an awkward sub-plot that shifts the genders on the stereotype of bosses hiring a ditzy secretary for a little eye candy at the office. Maintaining a sexist trope but switching the genders doesn't make it any less sexist or offensive, or, in this case, any less dumb and annoying. The film doesn't have to solve all the problems with sexism, but it would be nice if it didn't add to them. That sub-plot wasn't part of the original film. Annie Potts was sexy, but she was no bimbo.

I wonder, though, if we're so excited to have a female version of a male film, that we're wary to say anything wrong about it, especially in the face of the kind of criticism it received before it was even released because of the female leads. We need movies like this to prove a point, that they can be good. And they can be, it's just this one isn't. And that's okay. There are an awful lot of movies with amazing male actors that are completely unwatchable. It happens. And the small but vocal faction that is obsessed with denigrating anything female-driven just needs to be eye-rolled into oblivion.

Some women have argued that every feminist should be supporting Hillary, but it's not feminist to vote for just any woman or to blindly support anything a woman does. It's feminist to support the principles that will erode inequality and oppressive stereotypes. Having female leads isn't enough to make a film feminist, or for this feminist to suggest anyone see this film. Ever

Fractured Land

I went to see this at the Perimeter Institute last night, and was so excited to meet the star of it, Caleb Behn, Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne-Za hunter, fisher, activist, and lawyer. Unfortunately, he cancelled. It was disappointing, but the film made it clear that he's a seriously busy guy! It was worth going to see the film anyway.

It's a perfect film for my Native Studies class. It brings in the notion of a split identity, of the relationship with the environment, the need to regain legal control over the areas being destroyed, and the challenge of putting it all together.

Behn's parents are polar opposites: his dad endured the residential school system and spoke at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his mom is the highest ranking female executive at an oil and gas company. He's trying to cope with a system that destroyed his people, and she's trying to change the system from within. They divorced when Behn was ten, which he refers to as the first great break in his life.

The film lets us dwell on some beautiful scenery juxtaposed with concerns about checking game for contamination before eating it and the quickly dwindling number of animals to hunt. Behn lives in Northeastern B.C., land covered by Treaty 8, and the third largest hydrocarbon deposit in BC. It took 88 years to turn the pristine land into an industrial wasteland. The area is rife with cancers and birth defects.

The bulk of the film is about the treaty obligation required of any corporation or government entity to consult with Indigenous peoples on any action that could impede their rights. But they reveal that most of the consultations were for show, a quick by-the-way long after all the paperwork was completed with little in the way of real information provided to allow impacted groups to make an informed decision. Behn's grandfather commented that the government "makes the words dance on paper."

At this point one gets the sense that it's all so much about money and greed. The energy corporations rubber stamp the consultation and, in one historic day, they were able to make $476,000,000. Fracking is facilitating a new land rush. Behn relates, "They came for the trees, then the gold, the fur, the children, the oil, and now the gas." The government propaganda ads suggest that washing a car near the roadway is worse for the groundwater than pumping chemicals and fresh water down 2.5 km for the shale gas, leaving behind tailing ponds that end up back in the water system. The oil and gas company activities are regulated by their own industry. And LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) is being targeted for international markets in Asia. It's not about the jobs; it's about the fortunes they'll make. The attitude is one of getting not just what we need to survive, but as much as we possibly can - in the words of Rich Coleman, "to win this race before the rest of the world." Except the faster we extract, the faster we destroy our own land.

The film brought in many voices to add to Behn's experiences. Hydrologist Gilles Wendling explained that nobody has clearly examined exactly where the waste water goes. Dr. Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell warned that LNG emissions will soon rival the tar sands. An industry spokesperson from CAPP suggested that gas below the earth is a gift from the creator, and she explained that the industry will shut down a fracking site in a minute if there's any problems - except they never have despite all the many concerns raised. If they destroy the headwaters of the Tahltan River, they will destroy everything downstream.

Little Tahltan River

Behn had only positive things to say about the good heart of the people working on the ground in the industry. It reminded me of Julia Butterfly Hill, two years up a tree to save it from logging, explaining how fond she grew of the loggers, reminding us that we need to change the system, not demonize the players:

But many of the workers on fracking sites are itinerant who move on after 4-6 weeks to another of the 28,000 wells in B.C. The landscape is disappearing under the weight of one proposal after another, a death by 1,000 cuts.

Behn was able to speak at a moratorium on fracking and realized, "If we get this dialogue wrong, things will be very very dangerous in our territory." His speech was well-received, but then they moved on to the next item on the agenda. "There's so much more to politics than speeches and young people raising their voices." It's hard to get our heads around the slippery inner workings of the system.

The film also raised some interesting psychological issues about suffering, authenticity, and the burden of fame. Behn was born with a cleft palate, and he believes it made him more empathetic towards others. I've often commented to classes about the number of famous activists who were raised with some type of early hardship. Behn suggests it's good to have suffered: "Sometimes pain can be good." Personal pain can open our hearts to others in a way that might not be reached if we've never been a little cracked. Behn grapples with his own authenticity as he recognizes the benefits he's had from having a mom in this lucrative industry. And some of the Indigenous protesters insist that "you can't tear down the master's house with the master's tools" because he has a law degree from their universities. There's a split between the old traditions and modern day culture that's hard to bridge. And Behn is startlingly honest discussing his new fame as an activist, how girls made themselves available and he didn't always act honourably: "Relationships are the clearest expression of my failures as a man." The film did a brilliant job of getting us to really understand the complex experience of fractured people, of all of us.

I didn't leave the film feeling any better about the world, but I felt less alone in the fight, and really really lazy for the pittance I offer compared to the men and women on the front lines.

Before the Flood

First of all, I love that this Leo DiCaprio film, directed by Fisher Stevens, was free to watch everywhere on the National Geographic Channel for a while. But if you missed it, here's the gist of it.

Without ads, it's 90 minutes, jampacked with information. The pacing is good, and that's key. I can't help comparing it to Josh Fox's film, because there are marked similarities - both feature one man, a passionate novice in the field, talking a little too much about himself as he flies around the world narrating his learning experience through listening to a variety of experts - many of the same experts even - as he aims to get some kind of a hopeful conclusion. But Leo's film works so much better. It helps that he has funds and connections - where Fox had footage from drones, DiCaprio had footage from space - and that he's a much better orator and has an incredible cinematography crew (and it doesn't hurt that Trent Reznor did the music), but what Stevens and DiCaprio got from the interviews and what they did with the material, the basic trajectory of the film, is what nails it as the superior vehicle to inspire positive change. In 2000, DiCaprio interviewed President Clinton on Earth Day, and they talked about the need for citizens to use better lightbulbs. He recognizes we're getting nowhere with that kind of rhetoric, and he does a good job at getting at the big picture quickly.

DiCaprio frames the film with a discussion of Hieronymus Bosch's famous triptych: The Garden of Earthly Delights, which is timely as Bosch died 500 years ago this year and you can take a really interesting, brief online tour of the work. The painting hung over DiCaprio's crib as a child. My parents were wary about giving me a book of his work when I was about ten. It's pretty disturbing for a little one, depicting our deal with God, our fall from grace, and the hell that awaits us for all our sins.

He also starts and ends the film at the United Nations as he took on the role of the UN Messenger of Peace with a focus on climate change back in 2014 when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, "If this boat is sinking, then we will all have to sink together." And then he gets moving. Here's a very brief summary of pertinent remarks made with each place or person interviewed:

Michael Brune of the Sierra Club explained how the economy is based on fossil fuels: oil for transportation and coal and gas for electricity. We're going to more extreme sources now with mountaintop removal, fracking, offshore drilling, and the tar sands - the most devastating way to produce fossil fuels that poisons miles of rives and land and requires the clear-cutting of the boreal forests. On a copter flying over the sands, DiCaprio said "It looks like Mordor," which is exactly what Maude Barlow said about it. He started shooting The Revenant in Alberta, but they had to move to Argentina because there wasn't enough snow in the winter in Canada.

Dr. Enric Sala of the National Geographic and Jake Awa, their arctic guide, looked at the sea ice and watched the narwhals passing by. The arctic is the air conditioner for the northern hemisphere, and by 2040, we'll be able to sail over the North Pole, unencumbered by icebergs and all that snow.

Professor Jason E. Box, a climatologist, thinks our projections are conservative and Greenland will be gone in a few decades if we stay on our current path. He showed DiCaprio how a climate station works and that it just looks like broken down pool equipment.

Mayor Philip Levine suggested we bring all the unconverted to Miami so they can see first hand the "sunny day flooding" they get randomly. It's taken $400 million of taxpayer money for a pump project to keep the city out of water, and that will just buy them 40 years of time before they'll have to leave. Yet officials in Florida are banned from discussing climate change thanks to the work of Rick Scott and Marco Rubio.

Michael Mann, an American climatologist, says we have as strong a scientific agreement on climate change as we do on gravity. There's opposition because of politics, lobbying, and industry creating a massive disinformation campaign. Scientists are vilified and attacked by congressmen. Mann has received death threats, an FBI investigation, and threats to his family. The lobbyists don't have to win a legitimate debate; they just have to divide the public enough for them to stay their course.

Front groups funded by the Koch brothers ensure all legislation supports fossil fuel interests. They're doing everything they can to protect that wealth. They own the house of representatives, with James Inhofe, the snowball dude and the largest recipient of Koch funding in the Senate, receiving $1,837,427. These people are engaged in an effort to lead us astray in the name of short term fossil fuel profits. These companies have invested all their money in one basket, and they're not going to let anything happen to it. And they control the government through cash flow. Check out this 30 minute documentary if you want more info on the Koch Brothers' War on Climate Science.

Ma Jun, at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, explained that China has surpassed the US as number one polluter because the pollution of the world's industry is all dumped there since we've outsourced all our factory work. They want to hold power plants accountable, and have made a cool national pollution map database that makes all emissions public, transparent, and updated hourly. They won't let companies operate in the dark. But this was only possible because China's media talked about it constantly. It motivated China's policy of green growth.

Sunita Narain, at the Centre for Science and Environment, explained that the biggest problem in India is poverty, so energy access is as big an issue as GHGs. There are 300 million people without any form of power generation; they burn cow dung to cook on. Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa, said that they need electricity to be affordable and coal is cheap. But if they all start using it, then the entire world will be fried. One US citizen uses as much energy as 34 Indian citizens, and lifestyle consumption has to be at the centre of the discussion. Sunita explained that if the US will shift to solar and wind, if they lead the way in turning their back on the fossil fuel industry, then everyone will follow. But DiCaprio lamented that it's just not going to happen. It's a fossil addicted country. So then India won't do it either. Here's the thing: if a wealthy country can't find a way to stop using harmful energy sources, then the poor countries look at that and don't see why they should bother. The sacrifice is so much greater for the poorer countries, but the rich countries aren't going to bend on this. So we're screwed. The rich can withstand the first hits of climate change, but the poor are already impacted today. Only the poor really see that it's real and it's urgent.

Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, regularly deals with severe flooding into fresh water ponds so there's no drinking water on the island. Soon they'll be underwater. They're trying a policy of migration with dignity: they bought land and are offering to relocate people away from the coast by choice. But the reality is that they won't be able to accommodate all their people. Tommy Remengesau, President of Palau, showed an area that was a community just a decade ago, but is completely gone. Small island nations contribute the least to climate change and feel the worst impacts.

Jeremy Jackson, PhD, an American marine ecologist, says that what we've done to the rest of the world is criminal. We're reversed half a billion years of evolution by destroying ocean areas that once were dominated by abundance. They went underwater to look at areas with dead coral reef. In the last 30 years, 50% of all coral has been lost. Oceans are a stabilizing force, but they can't take in CO2 as quickly as we're producing it. Lindsey Allen of the Rainforest Action Network says we're taking away ecosystems that normally help us stabilize climate by clearcutting and slash and burning rainforests. Farwiza Farhan, HAkA Chairperson, flew over the fires in Sumatra, Indonesia. They were intentionally set in order to make way for rows and rows of palm oil tress. It's the last place in the world with elephants, tigers, rhinos, and orangutans living together, but palm oil has taken over 90% of the forest land. Ian Singleton, PhD, runs a sanctuary to try to save them. The animals he doesn't save, die.  (Leo and Fisher almost died filming the fires.)

So, we can't seem to stop people from buying these products, and we can't seem to get the government to stop the companies from destroying the land. What else can we do?

How stupid are we that we can't see the connection between our constant consumption of these products and the destruction of the environment, or, at the very least, the destruction of animal habitat directly leading to significant extinctions?? Buy what you need, not everything you want, and stay low on the production chain.


Professor Gidon Eshel, PhD in environmental physics at Bard College, says the easiest and most important thing we can do is to change our diet. Tonight. The foremost reason for deforestation is beef, which is an inefficient form of food. 70% of agricultural land in the US is for cattle feed. And cows produce methane, CH4, which is 20 times worse as a GHG than CO2. It's great if you can go vegan, but it helps even to change from beef to chicken. And that's something we can all do immediately.

Elon Musk, CEO of Spacex, a Tesla Gigafactory, has made battery storage a priority. He built a Giga factory that can create power with just solar and wind. We just need 100 gigafactories to power the entire world. It's very manageable. We just need a few industrial companies to do the same thing and we'll get there very quickly.

Gregory Mankiw, Professor of Economics at Harvard, says we need a hefty carbon tax on any activity that puts carbon in the atmosphere to nudge people in the direction of doing the right thing.

BUT, my concern with this argument is that when cigarettes are taxed, people don't stop buying them. They need to get cancer to stop smoking, not a price hike. They need to see the direct consequences of their behaviour before they'll change. A gradual rise in price doesn't affect us enough. Maybe if it's a huge increase very quickly we'll actually change. We need a carbon tax that will affect industry enough to change their practices, not citizens.

Then he went on to explain the flow of power. When Obama first started he wouldn't support gay marriage because it polled terribly. But once the people got on board, he supported it. Politicians aren't elected leaders; they're elected followers. They'll say whatever the public will support. So we just need to get the public to really understand how this all works!

John Kerry, Secretary of State, says the Paris negotiations are different because Obama was able to announce his intentions to reduce with Beijing. The two largest emitters made a public declaration to reduce, which is a huge statement. The concern in the interim is that people are being displaced and there will be wars over water, and any extremist philosophy will appeal to a desperate people.

Johan Rockstrom, Stockholm Resilience Centre, says we're moving quickly towards 4° warming in this century, and we haven't been at those temperatures in 4 million years. We're moving faster than predicted and seeing impacts already. At 3° warming, regions will become unlivable and agriculture will collapse. We're hitting feedback loops where the melted ice leaves behind dark earth that absorbs more of the sun's rays. We have a really small window for world leaders to fix it. It can be done, though. Germany is at 30% renewable power, and Denmark is using 100% wind. Once we invest in it, then we have free energy forever.

BUT, I think this is the whole stopper for investors. It doesn't make financial sense to invest in something people will just need to buy once. If we can't get out of our current growth economic mindset, then we'll never survive.

Barack Obama says the Paris summit is a massive step forward, but there's no enforcement and we just have to take it on faith that each country will hit its own targets. It's historic because each country is locked into targets, so the architecture is in place. But we have to have increasingly ambitious targets for the next twenty years.

BUT - the next twenty years?!? That's way too gradual a change! We really don't have twenty years to get to the targets that we should be imposing today. Will Hilary have big enough balls to do what's necessary? Could anyone stand up the the money infiltrating congress through corporations? Which leaders will actually, for real, fight climate change when it means cutting their own funds?

Dr. Piers Sellers, an astronaut and director at the Earth Sciences Division, NASA, with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, says the science community hasn't done the best job of communicating the threat to the public. It's like an ant trying to understand an elephant by crawling around it. From space we can see everything and how it all works together. There are satellites looking at every aspect of earth every day. Their climate simulation tool shows the biggest impact will be the slowing of the gulf stream which will stop the transportation of heat to Europe, so it will get much colder there, and the moving of the precipitation belt, so there will be more drought in hot areas. This is going to fuel conflict in Darfur and Syria. It will make the US dustbowl much drier in the next decades.

The facts are crystal clear, but there are ways out of it. We have to stop burning fossil fuels right now. We need the people to come out of the fog of confusion with the issues, realistically appreciate the threat, and get on with it. 

Pope Francis says this is our home; it is going to ruin. Our common home has fallen into serious disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point. He made a call for action to stop global warming and poverty, to accept the modern science of climate change. We must speak out as loudly as we can and immediately take action. 

Leo DiCaprio's address to the United Nations: We have the means to stop the devastation, but lack the will. We must go beyond the promises of the agreement with no more excuses and studies and manipulation by fossil fuel companies. The world is watching. We'll either be laudified or vilified. It's up to all of us.

How to Let Go of the World

I was really looking forward to seeing the latest Josh Fox film on fracking. I loved Gasland (for which Mark Ruffalo was just added to the US Terror Advisory List for promoting), and then Chris Hedges gave this film a nod, which means a lot to me. And then one reviewer wrote that the film will "restore your faith that we, as a people, have the power to save ourselves." Exactly what I need. So I bought it on iTunes and settled in for some enlightenment.

Maybe my expectations were a smidge too high.

It fell into the same problems that made Rob Stewart's films less than stellar. In Sharkwater, Stewart had long dramatic interludes focusing on himself and the problems he experienced being unwittingly thrust into activism. And then in Revolution, he spoke at length about beginning to learn about the environment. At least Stewart, near the end, seemed to recognize the part he himself was playing in exacerbating climate change with all the air travel the film required. Did it really require it, is the question. Stewart starts asking himself some really hard questions, which I respect. Fox doesn't go there.

Like Stewart, Fox is just learning - or, at least, he presents the appearance of just learning about climate change. He's been in this a while, so I can't imagine he doesn't get the big picture yet, and I'm really not a fan of the technique of feigning ignorance to get people on board. It feels like he hadn't done any research before the shoot so we could watch him discover what it is to "eat from the tree of knowledge, and now there's no going back." I want a documentary to tell me something I don't know, and tell me with confidence. I want a climate change doc, especially, to tell the world everything they need to know to get with the program. There were too many shots of Fox walking through forests in awe of nature - look at that spider! and that tree! and that bird! Even worse, most of those shots weren't of the forest, but of Fox looking at the forest. We were to be enthralled by his wonder at nature, not by nature itself. If he were my son, this would be my favourite movie ever. But he's not.

That gets to the bigger problem here: that this film is way too focused on Fox to be compelling to anyone who isn't related to him or doesn't have a crush on him. It starts with a painfully awkward dance to show how happy he is that a river nearby won't be polluted with oil. It was a hard-won victory, and I get the celebratory tone, but there are other ways to show joyfulness without forcing us to watch a guy dance in his living room for the entire opening credits. He finds it helpful to cope with tragedy by playing the banjo. That's really nice for him, but it's doesn't necessarily translate to helping us cope by listening to him play.

Like Stewart, Fox does it all, and sometimes it's better to spread the jobs around a more talented pool. His narration is stilted, with long dramatic pauses mid-sentence throughout. There aren't rises and lulls in the intensity of his tone; it's all drama all the way through: "Just a few months later.  New York City.  Was about to get.  A wake-up call."  Couple that with a really quiet voice juxtaposed with sudden bursts of loud extended musical interludes meant my finger hovered on the volume the whole time. He had some great footage from a camera strapped to a drone, and he had the cash to film in twelve different countries, but he didn't spring for a steadicam, so much of the tromping through the forest had a Blair Witch effect.

He collected the usual litany of talking heads: Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, Elizabeth Kolbert...  but only for a few minutes each. If I had the chance to chat with Elizabeth Kolbert, I'd have so many more questions to ask. She's got a wealth of knowledge that was largely ignored. And the McKibben interview was in a food court, and they decided to include their argument with mall security about filming in the mall. I struggle to see the purpose of that clip - why they'd choose a food court to film in, and why they'd choose to highlight the conflict. Is it to mirror the pipeline protests? A corporation vs citizen struggle? He was just a security guard doing his job. Weird.

He threw in some stats about increasing weather events, rising sea levels, endangered animals, factory farms, ocean acidity, threatened protesters, that the window to slow the expected 2° rise by 2036 closes within a year from now (NASA thinks we may have already hit 2°), and that all our 40-year-old pipelines are going to break. He referred to the Amazon rainforest as the lungs of the world even though the oceans create significantly more oxygen. Standard stuff. But a few of his poignant pieces of information were learned by most of us in grade three: "People. And animals. Exhale carbon dioxide. Trees. Take in. Carbon dioxide."

What I learned? To make a good documentary, you really have to get over yourself and your personal learning experience and make the subject matter the star of the show. Read some Monbiot before you start shooting so you don't sound like you've never heard of any of this before, and so you can temper your amazement at what's being shared. A lot of it is old news to anyone remotely familiar with the issues, like that Republicans don't think climate change is caused by human activity. Even better, read the IPCC reports that came out in 2014.

As far as learning basic information about climate change, there are better films to watch to understand all the meetings leading up to Paris. Like this one at only 4 minutes:

And then Grist also explained what happened in Paris, but in much more positive terms than Fox:

So his big question, the big draw to the film, is the focus on what won't be destroyed by climate change. His thesis is that we'll still have courage and creativity and resilience and all sorts of other wonderful human attributes that should be celebrated. But, I think we won't have any of those if we don't have any humans left. This is where some knowledge of Naomi Klein's and Gordon Laxer's plans for change would have helped add some substance to his song and dance. He's struggling with how to cope with all the knowledge, but he hasn't gotten far enough in depth in his own journey to have us walk with him. He seems to want to escape rather than actually cope with the reality of it all - to actually feel that reality.

By comparison, a much better film on the complexity of coping with the environmental destruction in our own backyard is Fractured Land with Caleb Behn. Both Behn and Stewart were willing to question their own motives and involvement in a way that Fox skirts around, refusing to acknowledge, which leaves his film feeling superficial at best. And of the three filmmakers, Behn's film offers the most complex understanding of the situation and leaves you with the most hopeful spirit. We can't have real hope if we distract ourselves with music in the face of significant loss. We have to have a clear path to walk to help make it okay.