Archive for February 27, 2011

So, the Oscars are tomorrow night. And Winter’s Bone isn’t gonna win Best Picture. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t gonna win Best Actress. And the venerated Academy, as always, will totally blow it. While Natalie Portman is up there taking her bows for Black Swan, just know this much — she didn’t deserve it. And when The Social Network or The King’s Speech is crowned the year’s best film, know, likewise, that they didn’t deserve it.

Did you see Winter’s Bone? Because you really should. I’m going to mention that time and again here, so get used to hearing it. The marquee at the Uptown theater here in Minneapolis billed it as “The Ozark Third Man,” and truthfully that’s a pretty apt description. While not wanting to give too much of the plot away, let’s just say that a story comparison with the Welles classic is pretty much inevitable since it revolves around a hell of a lot of intrigue and so-thick-you-can-cut-it-with-a-knife-suspense as teenage accidental-head-of-household Ree (Jennifer Lawrence, in a seriously incredible performance) searches for her lost father who disappeared into the underworld of crystal methamphetamine manufacture just as his family’s Ozark lean-to faced foreclosure and the inevitable sheriff’s sale.

Ree’s mom is a basket case that doesn’t know up from down, so it’s up to her to both find her old man and somehow keep it together for her mom, herself, and her younger siblings. It’s not an easy task, to put it mildly, and her only “assistance” comes from her seriously creepy uncle, another meth-head named Teardrop (John Hawkes, in a killer role that absolutely drips with bad karma) who looks like he might just kill our intrepid young heroine at the drop of a hat in spite of the fact that we keep hoping against hope that there’s some drop of human decency buried inside him somewhere.

Anyway, Hawkes is great, but this is Lawrence’s show all the way. I’ve never seen her in anything before, but we’re sure to see her again and again the years to come, because she flat-out owns both this role and, more generally, the film itself. She’s brave and vulnerable, steady and anxious, fearless and terrified — and delivers it all with more subtlety and nuance any of her more celebrated peers are capable of on their best days.

To be sure, director/co-writer Debra Granik and her screenwriting collaborator Anne Rosellini deserve a lot of the credit here for authoring such a compelling character and constructing such a taut narrative around her(and cinematographer Michael McDonough earns a serious tip of the hat for his capturing of the dark majesty of the rural southern Missouri locations so well —and by the way,  a great many of the bit-part players and extras on display here are genuine locals), but Lawrence is really asked to carry an exceptionally heavy load here and she more than succeeds in that task.

As each layer of this mysterious onion is peeled back we’re left with ten new questions for every answer we get, and you know things are bound to get only worse before they get better, the only real question is just how fucking deep this whole mystery goes and what finding the answers out is really going to mean for Ree and her family. You won’t dare turn away, I’ll tell you that much.

And that’s about all you’re going to get out of me, to be frank. Winter’s Bone is a film about which the less said, the better. You literally can’t bear to give anything way to someone who hasn’t seen it. I just hope my sparsely profuse (okay, I know that’s a contradiction, but give me a break, will ya?) words of praise are enough to whet your appetite to get up off your ass and see this flick ASAP. And if you’re still not sold on it, then how about if I tell you that there’s a cameo appearance from Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, as well? That oughtta do it.

Winter’s Bone is available on DVD and Bluray from Lionsgate as well as on demand at Amazon and on most cable and satellite systems (which is how I saw it so I can’t really comment on any specific DVD extras or technical specs, sorry). How you choose to see it, though, is less important than just plain seeing it, and doing so as quickly as possible.

Let’s face it — we, as a species, are completely, hopelessly, unequivocally, irrefutably fucked.

You know it. I know it. And Michael Ruppert sure as hell knows it. And while we may not have the guts to admit to this basic truth in polite company, Mike’s got no such hang-ups.

Ruppert is a former LAPD narcotics unit detective who was run off the force when he refused to play along with CIA drug running into his district in the early 80s. Thus began a remarkable exodus of sorts for Ruppert that lead to attempts on his life, homelessness, and finally, independent investigative journalism.

Documentarian Chris (American Movie) Smith ran across Ruppert when researching a project on The Company’s involvement in the crack cocaine trade, and eventually abandoned that project in favor of Collapse, an 82-minute soliloquy wherein Ruppert sits down in front of the camera, chain-smokes, and lays out the whole score on everything. Prepare to be scared. Damn scared. In fact, Collapse is easily the most frightening film of 2010, and probably the flat-out scariest movie we here at TFG have thus far reviewed.

It’s also as close to an absolutely essential piece of filmmaking as you’re ever likely to witness.

According to ex-detective Mike, as well as countless geological experts, the oil on planet Earth is running out, and at a rate much more rapid than our leaders are willing to admit — even though they certainly damn well know it. And that’s essentially the cause of every major geopolitical grand scenario we say playing out before us today, from 9/11 to the turmoil in the Middle East to the economic meltdown to — well, you name it.

Oil, you see, is about a whole lot more than oil itself. It’s also about transportation, food, jobs, and the underlying social order itself. Notice how at the stores these days it’s not just the price of gas that’s going through the roof? I paid nearly six bucks for plastic trash bags the other day. What’s plastic made of? You got it — petroleum.Even more importantly,  what’s the key ingredient in most pesticides and fertilizers that enable mass food production? You got it. Petroleum.

When the price of oil goes through the roof, as is the case these days, the price of food goes up, the price of  transportation of any and all goods goes up, the price of everything goes up. Welcome to the end, my friend. Pull up a seat and catch the show.

Ruppert doesn’t pull any punches in this interview-cum-monologue, and frankly he says exactly what we all need to hear. We’re hopelessly hooked on oil for the very survival of our civilization, and pretty much none of the alternatives are going to work, even if we got way more serious about implementing them than we apparently have the political will to. Ethanol’s a joke. Hydrogen’s a joke. Hydroelectric’s a joke. Wind and solar have some potential, but on the scale we’d need them to be up and running it’s already too late. Nothing will replace oil because nothing can. It’s the most public secret in the world, but it’s one nobody’s got the guts to face. It’s so damn scary to contemplate that we just plain can’t do it.

And therein lies the rub — because if we want to survive, we’ve got to. Plain and simple. Ruppert lays out an interesting comparison between two countries that were completely dependent upon Soviet oil imports, Cuba and North Korea, both of which ended up SOL when the “evil empire” collapsed. North Korea had no plan in place and as a result, they’re still completely fucked. Cuba, on the other hand, didn’t exactly have a plan, but adapted on the fly and, after a few rough years, not only survived, but thrived. The grow food on every piece of arable land. They practice sound crop rotation. They save driving for absolutely essential occasions. They decentralized, and localized, their food production and economic trade. And so far they provide the only possible model of success for society as a whole to build on in the trying times to come.

There’s just one rub, though — Cuba is an isolated, self-contained island. On the other hand, there are over six billion of us out here, all dependent, to one extent or another, on oil for our survival.  It’s not gonna be pretty when it all comes down, folks, especially for those of us that live in major metropolitan areas. Ruppert lays out some potential strategies for long-term survival for those of us willing to listen, but frankly, there are no guarantees, and all bets are off.

Collapse got some limited theatrical burn, but if you missed it, now’s your chance, since it’s just been released on DVD from MPI Media Group. While the only extra to be had is an updated interview with Ruppert on his life since the film’s release, the fact is you’ll be so shell-shocked after watching the main feature that you won’t care about silly things like DVD extras anymore. You may not want to face up the reality of what our guy Mike’s got to say, but your one overriding thought from start to finish while watching him go at it will be “Holy shit, this guy’s absolutely right.”

Ruppert boils down his message to humanity in stark and simple terms — it’s time to either evolve or die.

What’s it gonna be?