Saturday, November 22, 2008

Second Hand Woes

It's no secret that we live in a world of heightened expectations, where marketers concentrate on selling the sizzle rather than the steak.  Many products are oversold, events overhyped, and expectations stretched way beyond their limits.  

Can Sarah Palin really see Russia from her window?  You betcha!

The truth is what what you see is what you get.  In a WYSIWYG world flights get delayed, people have flaws, and software has glitches. Food tastes sour, pens run dry, and lovers fart at the most inopportune moments. One of MadTV's classic creations was an ongoing spoof of the personal ads created by subscribers to the Great Expectations dating service.  Here are three of the best. First off, the immensely talented Alex Borstein in one of her signature roles:

Next, Andrew Bowen impersonating Keanu Reeves:

And, finally, Debra Wilson in fine form:

What each of these characters exhibits is a certain cluelessness about why people may not be drawn to them.  It's not that they don't want or deserve to be loved.  It's just that their behavior triggers a big warning sign flashing over their heads that will tell potential dates to keep moving (if they know what's good for them).

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Even though a movie may score a huge box office success, there's an unstated rule in the film business that a sequel is rarely as good as the original.  Think of what happened with Jaws Rocky, Jurassic Park and other blockbusters whose legacy was transformed into a major franchise (not always with the best results).  

To a certain extent that fate has befallen Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. When the original Dreamworks production of Madagascar hit theaters in 2005 it was an instant success -- and deservedly so.  This time around, it seems more like a case of using computer mapping to generate a population of crack-a-lackin' zebras like Marty (Chris Rock), and replicate cartoon DNA all over the screen.  The penguins are back, as determined to fly as ever, and Sacha Baron-Cohen's mad King Julian is still a deliriously daffy delight.

But with only Etan Cohen in charge of the script, the story seems to be running on a much lower octane level of fuel.  It will make millions, to be sure. "Spin-off product" is written all over the screen.  If you don't believe me, check out this video treatment of rapper's song (destined to become an anthem for chubby chasers around the world ) sung by Moto Moto, the male hippo who likes his women big and chunky.

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It's rare that one thinks of the earth's ecological system as second-hand goods. However, a stunning new documentary written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Jean Lemire uses the degradation of the earth's atmospheric health as the basis for exploring climate changes in Antarctica.  

No doubt inspired by the famous Shackleton expedition (whose history hangs over this expedition with ghostly prescience), the scientists and filmmakers expect their three-masted schooner to be locked in place by pack ice throughout the Antarctic winter.  Instead, they discover that, with a 6 degree Celsius rise in temperature resulting from global warming, the pack ice will not form and stay solid for long.  

This phenomenon offers a dangerous warning about the degradation of the earth's atmosphere. Important marine patterns of migration and mating have been thrown dangerously off cycle. Instead of being able to freely cross from the Sedna IV to their land base (using the wood and rope bridges that have been built), the crew must cope with ropes and cables that keep snapping as the ship -- buffeted about by strong winds -- comes close to being wrecked on a nearby reef.

Another result of global warning is that some of the food stores delivered by an Argentinian icebreaker (valuable supplies which had been carefully buried in ice caves on shore) have defrosted and started to rot.  With scuba divers in flippers attempting to play hockey while testing to see which ice floes will hold their weight (and crew members merrily playing ping pong on a table that has been brought out onto the ice so they can play in the open air), the entire expedition takes on a very different reality than what was originally planned.

For those who enjoyed the BBC's Planet Earth series (which aired on the Discovery Channel), Lemire's The Last Continent offers a sumptuous visual treat.  Its stunning views of the Antarctic landscape, coupled with great underwater photography, place it at the top of the list of great travelogues and nature films.  The San Francisco Film Society will be presenting Lemire's documentary as part of its Quebec Film Week at Opera Plaza (which has limited seating) and, trust me, you won't want to miss it.

In addition to Donald Sutherland's ominous voiceovers, you'll be acutely aware of the powerful dynamic added to this film by Canadian composer Simon LeClerc's musical score (whose portentous orchestrations invoke memories of such epic maritime disaster films as James Cameron's Titanic and Ronald Neame's The Poseidon Adventure).  

I can't recommend The Last Continent strongly enough. Here's the trailer:

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