This KCTS/Earth Fix co-production doesn’t so much tackle the Northwest coal train controversy as rest a comforting hand on its shoulder. In its sturdy, pro-forma style — wide shot, medium shot, talking head format that conforms to the conventional KCTS template — this documentary delivers a balanced but banal back-and-forth between coal supporters and opponents. Filmmakers Katie Campbell and Michael Werner opt for a patient overview of the subject, blending soothing Americana-rich visuals with an overly polite journalistic balance. Even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of coal’s harmful effects on the environment, Campbell neglects to ask coal supporters the most important question of all: “Why is your temporary coal-based income more important than the fate of our planet?”
And speaking of global warming, Seattle-based beacon in the smog, Grist, partnered with journalists from Climate Desk on this three-parter to ferret out the type of climate change denier who hides under his virtual bridge, emerging only to rankle the scientific community with their fact-challenged insistence that climate change is a hoax. Climate Desk outs a troll named Hoyt Connell in Part One, rounds up his opposite, a nuclear physicist named Rosi Reed in Part Two, then brings them together for a Skype smackdown in Part Three. The gimmick must have seemed like a good idea over a two-Red Bull lunch, but the troll is treated like a lovable, untrained puppy, the physicist rambles off-topic and the showdown amounts to a lot of he said/she said babble (see Coal documentary above). Time to get serious, people.
It’s Not About The Nail
A woman sits on a couch complaining to her mate about the relentless, distracting pressure she feels in her head. When he offers to help she impatiently replies, “You always try to fix things when what I really need you to do is just listen.” The problem is as obvious, however, as the literal nail embedded in her forehead. This short film, written and directed by Jason Headley, hammers home in 90 swift, sure-footed seconds a relationship truism that Judd Apatow may spend the rest of his career struggling to illuminate. The perspective here is decidedly male, but the brilliant economy of this sketch makes the point that “listening,” no matter how easy it might look, is a skill every man could stand to sharpen.
Zombie Parkour/The Movie
Still craving flesh after my matinee viewing of "World War Z," the new zombie epic that is so tame it’s like watching the vegan version of the undead, I searched “zombies” on the online aggregator TubeFilter. This led me to a URL promising a tantalizing, adrenaline-rich diversion featuring zombies chasing a lean cuisine skilled in the athletic French art of parkour. Popularized in movies such as "District B-13" and the opening chase in "Casino Royale," this urban art combines the graceful Älan of the gymnast with the playful imagination of the acrobat. In real time, participants, called traceurs, scamper along rooftops, slither through windows and vault over concrete walls without the aid of digital technology. They are the Luddite’s answer to the computer-generated action figures we encounter in our dreary American blockbusters. Alas, there was little to chew on in this ten-minute nibble. A few nifty parkour pirouettes do not disguise the absence of plot, character or convincing make-up. It’s an idea with legs, it just needs more meat on its bones.
Cinephiles may shudder at the idea of seeing Ingmar Bergman’s "The Seventh Seal" reduced to a digital stream, but stow the snobbery and prepare to gorge on Criterion’s 101 Days of Summer movie series, courtesy of Hulu. Each day the online service streams an essential art film for free for 48 hours. With a HuluPlus subscription you can cue up classics such as Nicolas Roeg’s "Walkabout" or Francois Truffaut’s "The 400 Blows" anytime the shut-in urge strikes. Some titles aren’t even available on DVD anymore (except in the European PAL format), such as Wim Wenders’ sublime "Alice in the Cities." (I saw it 25 years ago in an exquisitely shabby Parisian cinema). A must-see is the scene in Norman Mailer’s one-of-a-kind, perfectly bizarre mockumentary "Maidstone," where Rip Torn lays into Mailer in a moment of unscripted fisticuffs. Lower the shades, turn out the lights, shut down that email. It’s movie time. (Here's a clip from the 1965 007 homage Ironfinger.)
For more nuggets from the Digital Prospector, go here.