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Reviews: Food, Inc., Moon, Management 

FOOD, INC.

***

The documentary Food, Inc. is the perfect bookend movie, adaptable to many double-feature bills. When paired with Super-Size Me, it serves as the "before" shot, showing how those hamburgers came into being (so to speak), and how they're made so tasty -- and unhealthy. When paired with The Corporation (still the scariest movie I have ever seen), it functions as a particular case study of the evils detailed in that earlier picture, which was all about how these United States of America have been reconfigured to operate as nothing more than the personal (and profitable) playgrounds of a few select conglomerates and their insidious overlords. Heck, it can even be paired with Howard Hawks' classic Red River, in which Wild West cowboy Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) delivers an impassioned speech about the personal satisfaction of herding cattle and feeding the populace  ("... Good beef for hungry people. Beef to make them strong; make them grow ..."). Poor Thomas would (pardon the pun) have a cow if he could see the mechanical means by which animals are slaughtered today. Yet while Food, Inc. contains its share of queasy sequences (the peek inside the chicken house is especially unsettling), its focus is primarily on the manner in which the corporations have long taken over the entire food industry, in essence deciding what we eat and calculating how best to maximize their own profits (there's a reason sugary snacks and Happy Meals cost less than broccoli and asparagus). The result is that animals are brutalized, honest farmers are ruined, and clueless consumers become ever more obese. As is often the case, it takes a personal tragedy for someone to get involved: Lifelong Republican Barbara Kowalcyk found herself on the activist trail after her 2-1/2-year-old son died from E. coli after eating a tainted hamburger (after seven years, "Kevin's Law," a food safety bill named after the boy, still hasn't been passed by Congress). Yet the film makes it clear that both parties are culpable in this national shame: George W. Bush and both Clintons have benefitted from the good fortunes of the Monsanto company (one of the movie's primary villains), and, even as I type this, bipartisan members of Congress -- reportedly with the Obama administration's blessing -- are backing a bill that would require Monsanto's genetically modified seeds to be the chief export in a plan to help overseas farmers produce their own food. Food, Inc. will doubtless rank as the year's most depressing movie. Informed authors like Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) are on hand to cut through the industry hype and misinformation, and the picture ends by stating that it's up to ordinary citizens to effect real change (as if!), but it often feels like our fates have already been sealed. Food, Inc. offers plenty of food for thought, but, as expected, there isn't much here to nourish the soul. Reel Savannah presents Food, Inc., Sun., July 19 at 7 p.m. (two concurrent screenings) at Victory Square Theatres. $8 cash only.

MOON

 ***1/2

With Ziggy Stardust for a father, Major Tom for an uncle and, presumably, the spiders from Mars for assorted in-laws, is it any wonder that Duncan Jones chose a science fiction project to mark his feature film debut?
Jones, of course, is the son of rock legend David Bowie, but after Moon, it's guaranteed that he'll be recognized as a talented artist in his own right. Serving as director and coming up with the original story (Nathan Parker wrote the actual screenplay), Jones has crafted a unique sci-fi yarn that pays tribute to such works as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running while also heading off in its own giddy direction. Sam Rockwell, an actor whose twitchy turns generally drive me up the wall, tones down the quirks to deliver an excellent performance as Sam Bell, an astronaut and employee for the futuristic corporation Lunar Enterprises. It's long been discovered that the moon can provide Earth with its energy; Sam is the man on the moon, tasked with overseeing this operation. But he's mighty lonely up there, talking to himself as much as he talks to the base's mobile computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Fortunately, his three years in space are nearly up, and he's anxious to get back to Earth and, specifically, to the wife (Dominique McElligott) and baby girl waiting for him. But with only weeks left before his departure, he begins to feel poorly, a condition that in turn leads him to have an accident. Upon awakening, he senses that something's not quite right, and GERTY, for one, isn't talking. The resultant twist (which for some reason is included in the trailer) is an intriguing one, and it solidifies the film's initial promise as a heady piece of sci-fi cinema. The prevalent theme is one of identity, and this extends beyond the character of Sam Bell to also involve GERTY, who proves to be one of the most fascinating robots in many a, uh, moon. Working with cinematographer Gary Shaw and production designer Tony Noble, Jones has created the perfect antiseptic look for the film, while composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream) contributes a dazzling score that taps into the movie's otherworldly setting. Yet despite its impressive tech credits, Moon chiefly succeeds because of Jones' ability to take an idea that could have remained as sterile as the moonbase decor and inject it with all sorts of messy emotions. "I'm only human" may be an excuse when uttered in real life, but in Moon, it becomes a declaration of defiance.

MANAGEMENT

*1/2

Combining a jock's air of entitlement with a slacker's sense of detachment has allowed Steve Zahn to carve out a lengthy (if not exactly stellar) career in all manner of indie fare. Not charismatic enough to hold his own in major-studio efforts, Zahn can usually be found in supporting roles in small-scale efforts, sniffing around the edges while the top-billed stars soak up all the acclaim. With Management, writer-director Stephen Belber takes a chance by handing the quirky actor the largest part. It's a move that neither helps nor hinders the project, since the end result would have been desultory no matter who was holding the reins. Zahn stars as Mike Cranshaw, who works for his parents (Margo Martindale and Fred Ward) at their rinky-dink motel in Arizona. A lonely loser with no real prospects, Mike only finds his senses awakened once pretty Sue Claussen (Jennifer Aniston, trying hard under the circumstances) walks up to the front desk. A cold-fish businesswoman (because Hollywood believes no other kind exists), Sue is annoyed by this man-child who's constantly slobbering over her, so she allows him to touch her (clothed) bottom just so he'll leave her alone. So far, so believable (if just barely), but then, in a head-smacking bit of plotting, Sue suddenly decides to screw Mike in the motel laundry room just before taking off to return to her Maryland home. Now hopelessly smitten, Mike drops everything and goes to Maryland, where Sue, instead of scrambling for a restraining order, develops a friendship with her stalker. From here, the movie only gets more idiotic (not to mention even more sloppily written), as Mike quickly lands a bestest-buddy (James Hiroyuki Liao) who helps him secure a job and a place to stay within a matter of seconds, briefly joins a monastery in the hopes of becoming a Buddhist monk, and contends with Sue's psychotic boyfriend, a grotesque caricature played in loco-emotive fashion by Woody Harrelson. So does it all end happily ever after? No fair spilling the beans, but let's just say that, according to this misguided movie's wisdom, every woman should be so lucky to have her very own stalker to help her get her life in order.

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