Big Macs, Beer, and Bolsheviks

Super Size Me is this year's big buzz documentary thus far (see Spellbound, Capturing The Friedmans, etc;). It's an amusing stunt and an entertaining crowd pleaser. It glosses on the Michael Moore muckracking template, posing the director-as-star (Morgan Spurlock) as a likeable, cheap shot-taking investigative pseudo-journalist. Although Moore's delivered his share of attention-grabbing stunts, he's never indulged in such extreme, physically-challenging behavior as eating nothing but McDonald's for a month.

In the wake of Eric Schlosser's insightful book Fast Food Nation, Super Size Me uncovers nothing new about the industry. Did Spurlock really need to put his health at risk? He cites the infamous case where two obese teenagers ludicrously attempted to sue McDonald's in 2002 (dismissed because the girls could not prove that eating at the chain made them fat.) However, this is little more than a freak show. Unsettling, yes, but not for all the intended reasons. I admittedly laughed at his exploits, and enjoyed the brief expose of school lunch programs. But I don't think I'll ever need to see this film again, whereas I still believe a yearly viewing of Bowling For Columbine could do everyone good.


The Saddest Music In The World is where Guy Maddin's narrative proficiency finally catches up to his style. This silly, moving, opulent Depression era fable of an amputated beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini!) and a jingoistic contest like no other makes for a strange, enticing pastiche that's too weird to be a pastiche. Maddin's always effectively created his own distinct little world, and this is his most deliriously complex to date. The brief, scattered moments when the film magically switches from black-and-white to color are as illuminating and surprising as your first viewing of The Wizard of Oz for the transitions alone. The cast is solid, with Maria de Medeiros as the elusive, ethereal Narcissa, Ross McMillan as the neurotic, tortured, soulful Roderick, David Fox as his deluded, tortured, ex-alcoholic father, and Mark McKinney as a romantic lead strongly reminiscent of Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, without all the angora sweaters.

If you didn't like Maddin's earlier works, chances are this won't turn you on, either. But this is his first (and probably best) shot at getting the audience he deserves. Please check it out if you can.


Good Bye, Lenin seems like little but a clever farce on the surface, but it's really closer to melodrama, and better for it. Maybe it's just the score, but it reminds me of Amelie in a way, without all the hyper-quirky style and preciousness. Obviously, a lot is lost in translation to non-German/European audiences, but its tendency to ramble and meander through gags, set pieces and slice of life situations gives it some ragged charm. It's a wistful goodbye to an era director Wolfgang Becker has mixed emotions for, and his final send-off is deeply felt, regardless of where you live.