Promised Land is the latest Matt Damon version of Erin Brakovich….only without the drama of a true story, with some reasonable equivocation over the pros and cons of Fracking. The script was co-written by Damon and John Krazinski and has a few good moments, but mostly stays in the mediocre realm.
Te story is about a team of energy salesmen (Damon and Francis MacDormand) who swoop into a community and buy up Fracking rights from farmers at the lowest possible prices and with the least opposition. Naturally, there’s a retired MIT professor (Hal Holbrook) who takes the opposing side and causes trouble in the community. Unfortunately, the closest we get to life and death drama is a photoshopped picture of some dead cows. Maybe therein lies the real problem, ecological disaster is only poignant enough for a film if its about human life or death.
The twist in this plot comes from Krazinsky, the e illogical agitator. Naturally he’s loved and hated by the town folk, but the viewer is having a hard time thinking of him as anything other than Jim from the Scranton Office.
Fracking is simply too complicated an issue. There is lots to commend energy self-sufficiency even if when done badly it can damage the land. I felt like this story did come through, but there goes the drama with it. Complexity helps books and really good movies, but with weak scripts like this it does nothing but make us all yawn.
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] W [/dropcap] e Bought A Zoo is the schmaltzy Christmas version of The Descendants. It’s the true story (except relocated from the UK to Southern California) of a recent widower with two kids (the troubled teenager and the ever-so cute little girl who sees joy in everything) who seeks redemption and healing for himself and his family by buying a run-down zoo (actually more a wild animal park).
This is a Cameron Crowe special, not as “big” as Jerry McGuire, and not as cultish as Say Anything, but he still had me at hello….what with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Damon does his usual top-notch job of being likable, believable and slightly pained by his loss and his need to find a solution to his kids’ pain. Johansson has never been believable at anything since Lost in Translation. We are supposed to suspend disbelief enough to think that this Hollywood glamour girl that is prone to slinky teddies enjoys shoveling Bear shit for…..no money while being oblivious to Damon’s Eddie’s Father self.
The realistic part of this movie is that this 18 acre spread in SoCal is available at a pittance from the state (more likely the FHA in a deal with the USDA). Since Thomas Hayden Church is Damon’s accountant brother, he should have been not only in favor of the trade, but maybe fronting the short sale and paying to strip the copper piping from the animal pens while under contract with the government to manage the wasting property.
But instead, Damon finds salvation in $84,000 hidden in a safe deposit box with a “Break Glass in Case of Zoological Emergency” tag left by his dead wife. We are clearly all meant to see that commercializing nature is the road to self sufficiency. I loved it for all it’s saccharin and hey, who doesn’t like a zoo?
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] C [/dropcap] ontagion is Steven Soderbergh’s all-star rendition of Outbreak (which had a pretty all-star cast too I might add). Let me get this our right away….I liked Outbreak much better than Contagion. Maybe Contagion was all too real and maybe Soderbergh put too much Solitary Man and Syriana in it and not enough Ocean’s Eleven and Michael Clayton. The jaundiced yellow poster with hollow eyes staring back is perhaps all too much. I was also not thrilled with the Memento-like time jumping….I guess I am just a sequential guy who likes movies to move like life moves.
Let’s talk about the cast now. One pundit said that the best thing about the movie is that Gwyneth Paltrow dies in the first 20 minutes. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law do their normal wonderful job, but neither has a role big enough to make up for the other failings of the movie.
What I want to point out is that the subtitle, “Nothing Spreads Like Fear” is the perfect catch-phrase for our current economic cycle…..indeed it might be the perfect rallying cry for the hedge fund industry overall as we march off into the next decade. Remember folks, we are all lemmings at our core and when we get everyone wound up enough about anything, it’s just one step off the cliff to oblivion. How many fear-based market cycles have we seen over the past 4 years? I would tend to say that we are now living in a constant state of fear and that it spreads across the world almost instantaneously via the internet every day…to differing degrees every day. One day it’s the Contagion of Greek Debt. The next day it’s the Contagion of Italian debt. Then it’s the Contagion of AAA French debt which maybe shouldn’t be so AAA rated after all. Then it’s the Contagion of the housing crisis….we all have a home and its value is Zillowing downward every day with apparent great precision….yikes! Well, at least the government is there to bail us all out…..until we realize that FHA is almost out of cash and Fannie and Freddie are pooping the bed…double yikes!
What we need in the movies is less fear spreading and more love and joy spreading. Happy days and noodle pudding as Jack Nicholson said in As Good As It Gets. Take a pill, get a shot, have a drink….and stop the Contagion. Go see the
Wizard of Oz instead.