A review of Blue Vinyl

It would be nice if some day we could say, "great, now we know about ALL of the human-made products and processes that can give us cancer and harm the planet, now let's start doing something about them." But alas, it seems that everywhere you look, there's a new story about a chemical or drug or food or way of raising your children that can endanger our lives. Some of it is fear-mongering, but some of it is an honest and long-overdue look at the products and practices that we take for granted, examining them for harm they might cause and seeking healthier alternatives. And in her award winning film Blue Vinyl, that's just what Judith Hefland has done with...get ready for it...vinyl siding.
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The Ambassador

Wednesday night I attended a screening of The Ambassador, a documentary about John Dimitri Negroponte, currently the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and formerly U.S. ambassador to Honduras, the United Nations and Iraq. Negroponte has been a controversial figure due to his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair and human rights violations in Honduras, and the film took on those controversies by documenting Negroponte's career as a diplomat, his public and private statements about the accusations made against him, and the forces that influenced his path all along.
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The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener is surely one of the best films I've seen in a while. It's easy to forget that such a thoroughly high standard of moviemaking is being observed out there somewhere, so it's always refreshing when beautiful and touching exceptions like this one come along. It's even better when you're not expecting it - I went into the theater with only a vague notion of what it was about and a recommendation from a friend who had been to Africa, and was just swept away.

The story is epic but one you can easily bite into - it takes us through the politics and personal pain of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and the people, companies, and governments that play a part in hurting or helping that issue. It's absolutely relevant up to the present day situation, but it doesn't come at you with Michael-Moore-like swings to your head with blunt declarations of shocking facts (though the end result may be the same). Instead, it wraps you up in the personal journeys of two people who are there to do what's right, and encounter all manner of vice and confusion along the way. "Doing the right thing" is nothing near a black-and-white consideration here - by the end of the movie we see the perspectives of the people of Africa, local police and civic leaders, the aid workers, the diplomats, the drug companies, the Western governments, all of the people caught up in every part of the process - and though we may have gut feelings about who are the good guys and bad guys for those two hours, no clear solutions even begin to emerge for the larger problems at hand.

Through all of this, the main characters - brought to life so stunningly and with such heart by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz - are determined to find the truth, seek answers, and remain true to their passions and their values and their love, no matter the risk. Watching them do so is a moving experience in itself, and seeing it set against the very real and visceral backdrop of the modern struggles of today's Africa is just amazing.

Ashton, the guy with the voice

It excites me much more than it should that I've found him after all these years: Ashton Smith. You know, the guy. The guy with the voice. The guy with the voice that narrates over almost every movie trailer, commercial, television show promo, and network news teaser that we see/hear. I didn't think it was possible that it was all the same guy, but it is. Ashton instills solemnity and foreboding into every word he speaks. And yet, he has the tender inflection that can make us rush out to spend money anticipating the best love stories of summer films. Ashton, send me a CD of your greatest hits! Better yet, do my voicemail greeting?

Report on Madison, Wisconsin Film Festival

I attended my first film festival ever this past weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. As someone who generally enjoys movies and sees the art as an important cultural phenomenon (not to mention being interested in writing and making them myself), it was a real treat to participate in an event that is shaped entirely around that phenomenon and the people who love movies.
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Passive Entertainment Convergence

Okay, I'm not usually one to gripe, or even talk about, the horrors of keeping up with all my favorite TV shows and movies. But last night was just not fair. UPN was showing two episodes of Star Trek Enterprise (one of the two TV shows I watch), one at 8 and one at 9. The 9 o'clock showing overlapped with the season finale of The West Wing (the second of the two TV shows I watch), which overlapped with my travel and prep-time for the 10 o'clock theater showing of The Matrix Reloaded (one of the few movies I've bothered to see the premiere of). What's a Science-Fiction/Political-Fantasy geek to do? What kind of messed up cosmic forces come up with that kind of timing? Hmmm...the Borg collaborating with the people that kidnapped Zoe, working inside the Matrix? Nah.