Friday, July 18, 2014

- - Film Review Friday | Week 2 - -

This week I'm back with another set of film reviews! I got to watch three films since last Friday/Saturday and this time around two of them are documentaries.

Although I try my best to not give anything away, please note that there may be spoilers in this post.

Maxed Out (2006) 
Director: James Scurlock 
Screenplay: James Scurlock 
Release date: March 2006 
Genre: documentary 
Running time: 90 minutes
Ratings: 88% (Rotten Tomatoes) | 7.3/10 (IMDb)

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged America's Gulf Coast, it laid bare an uncomfortable reality-America is not only far from the world's wealthiest nation; it is crumbling beneath a staggering burden of individual and government debt. Maxed Out takes us on a journey deep inside the American debt-style, where everything seems okay as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time. Sure, most of us may have that sinking feeling that something isn't quite right, but we're told not to worry. After all, there's always more credit! Maxed Out shows how the modern financial industry really works, explains the true definition of "preferred customer" and tells us why the poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer. By turns hilarious and profoundly disturbing, Maxed Out paints a picture of a national nightmare which is all too real for most of us. 

This documentary points out that credit is a tricky thing. While allowing individuals to purchase something right away with the intention of paying that money back at a later date, credit cards also drive many people into severe debt that is forgiven only in the cases of bankruptcy or death. In terms of the latter, it was heartbreaking to listen to the stories of those people whose loved ones had committed suicide over large amounts of debt that they could not possibly pay off. Two of the individuals who committed suicide were students and their mothers bring to the light the fact that credit card companies often try luring students into signing up right on their college campuses with promises of free stuff.

Throughout the film there is a constant emphasis on the fact that interest plays a huge role in the amount of money that individuals owe the banks. As the interest fees accumulate over time, it becomes more and more difficult for an individual to pay off those debts. This information is certainly nothing new, but it has an impact as you see people on screen whose lives have gone from bad to worse because of accumulating debts and now they stand to lose everything they own.

There were also a few powerful statistics thrown out throughout the film. One of these is that in 2005 (I believe it was), in America there were more people declaring bankruptcy than there were those graduating from college, divorcing, or getting cancer! Can you imagine that? This only goes to show how much of an issue credit and credit card debt really is. Although this film focuses on the United States specifically, I believe it has worldwide relevance.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. (2006) 
Director: Léa Pool
Screenplay: Léa Pool, Patricia Kearns, Nancy Guerin 
Release date: 2011 
Genre: documentary 
Running time: 98 minutes
Ratings: 88% (Rotten Tomatoes) | 7.2/10 (IMDb)

The ubiquitous pink ribbons of breast cancer philanthropy and the hand-in-hand marketing of brands and products associated with it permeates our culture, providing assurance that we are engaged in a successful battle against this insidious disease. But the campaign obscures the reality and facts of breast cancer, more and more women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and face the same treatment options they did 40 years ago. Yet women are also the most influential market group, buying 80 percent of consumer products and making most major household purchasing decisions. So then who really benefits from the pink ribbon campaigns - the cause or the company?

I have the greatest respect for women who are struggling with cancer and I do awknowledge the fact that walks and runs for cancer awareness bring a lot of families together for a united cause. At the same time I've always wondered where the money that is raised goes since it seems that the "pink ribbon industry" - if I may call it that - has tons of money flowing in each year and there just don't seem to be any groundbreaking results coming out of the research.

I hope everyone at some level has questioned where the money goes. However, if you're looking for an answer in this film, you can stop right there. This documentary points out that because so many companies participate in breast cancer awareness campaigns,  it is difficult to determine exactly where the money goes. Let's say, however, that a good portion of the money does go to research. One of the issues that Pink Ribbons, Inc. brings up is the lack of unity within research departments across the globe as there are many overlapping studies and many gaps that have yet to be filled. Simultaneously, the emphasis of the research is on early detection as opposed to prevention. Sure, there are certain things that one can avoid to decrease the risk of getting cancer; however, what about those women who avoid those things and are diagnosed with breast cancer anyways? There are just too few studies that focus on what kind of effect the environment has on breast cancer. Moreover, there are too few studies on the women from specific ethnic groups.

Furthermore, the whole idea of early detection is problematic on its own. Point of the film - early detection does not work for everyone. As it is discussed in the documetary, there are essentially three outcomes of early detection: 1) Cancer is found, treated, and the individual lives out the rest of her life healthy. 2) Non-life-threatening cancer is detected, treated, and the individual gets sick from the treatment. 3) Cancer is detected, but it's in such an aggressive state that it ultimately doesn't matter what stage it was caught in as our technology and medicine is simply not advanced enough to combat it right now.

There was a scene in this film that struck me. As the camera showed the start of a walk/run, a group of cancer survivors were called upon to walk/run into the centre while other participants stood on either side cheering them on. I remember thinking about how there's something that is not spoken here - what about the women who have not "survived"? Does calling women who have overcome their desease as "survivors" devalue the efforts that were taken up by the women who, in fact, did not survive? Pink Ribbons, Inc. certainly delves into the specific language that is used by companies who take part in breast cancer foundraisers/awareness, and you get to hear from women who find frustration with this kind of language.

There's just so much to talk about in this film (such as the origins of the ribbon) that I strongly recommend just going out (or rather, turning on Netflix) and watching this documentary for yourself. I will leave you with this:

Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun. A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease. (Think Before You Pink)


A good tip: Next time you're thinking of purchasing a beauty product, check out the Skin Deep Database to see how the safety of its ingredients measures up.

Into The Wild (2006) 
Director: Sean Penn
Screenplay: Sean Penn (adapted from Jon Krakauer's book, Into The Wild)
Release date: September 2007 
Genre: adventure | biography | drama 
Running time: 98 minutes
Ratings: 82% (Rotten Tomatoes) | 8.2/10 (IMDb)

After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

Into The Wild is an intriguing film about a young man who is drawn to live for a while in Alaska. Propelled onward with the turbulent past of his family in the back of his mind, Chris makes his way across North America virtually penniless, and meets several people along the way - some of whom would really benefit from his company and his refreshing outlook on life. However, the ultimate goal for Chris is always to reach Alaska, a place where he imagines he will be able to live in the moment and 'be one with nature.'

Once in Alaska, Chris found a bus randomly stationed in an area and took up residence in it for over three months. It's great to see that he was resourceful and was able to construct basic things (such as a makeshift shower), but I couldn't get over the fact that as nice as nature may have been, there was such loneliness in what Chris was doing. Not to mention that a lot of things could go wrong and there would be no one there to help him. In this sense I felt powerless as a viewer because the story went on no matter how much I may have wanted it to or not.

I didn't know it until the very end of the film (and I don't think I'm ruining anything here by telling you this), but this story is based off of the travels of an actual Christopher McCandless. You can Google the pictures of the actual young man - he had a camera on him during his trip. There's even a whole Wikipedia article about him. Check it out!

 All of the posters were taken from Google. All of the film descriptions (in italics) were taken from either Google, Rotten Tomatoes, or IMDb.

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