It's a Disaster
Four couples gather together at a house in the suburbs of Los Angeles for a monthly "couples brunch." The hosts, Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller), announce their divorce to their friends at the brunch. Tracy (Julia Stiles) brings Glenn (David Cross), whom she met on the internet, for her third date with him. The remaining couples include Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace) and Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace). If this were a French film, they'd all be having sex with one another by the second act, but, alas, this is an American film, so, for the most part, clothes stay on. The couples' lives remain at stake when they learn that L.A. has been attacked with a dirty bomb.
Who attacked L.A. with the bomb and why? Writer/director Todd Berger seems less interested exploring those questions than in delving into the increasingly heated and complex dynamics between the four couples. Perhaps the film's title serves as a double entendre because, on the one hand, there's the dirty bomb disaster and, on the other hand, there are the domestic disasters that unfold between the characters as secrets, truths and revelations rise to the surface. None of those surprises will be spoiled here, though.
Berger blends comedy, drama and suspense with mixed results. An amalgam of different genres can work well with a sensitively-written screenplay, but It's a Disaster feels both uneven and underwritten because it fails to flesh out all of the dynamics between the characters profoundly enough, and to generate enough humor from the tragic situations. After all, the best comedies derive from tragedies. Berger barely scratches the surface of most of the couples' dynamics except for Tracy and Glenn whose relationship adds a modicum of much-needed depth to the film. Morover, the screenplay doesn't take enough risks and plays things too safely until the very end where it shows a little teeth for a change. If only it had shown some teeth from start to finish, it would have been a much more entertaining, biting and memorable film, but, as such, it fails to pack a comedic, emotional or intellectual punch.
American Meat, directed by Graham Meriwether and opening at the Cinema Village by Leave It Better LLC, offers a rather simplistic perspective on the status quo of the livestock production industry, its problems and solutions. In case you don't already know by now, many commercial farms raise their animals inside factory buildings where they're more susceptible to contagious diseases and, in some cases, heart attacks because they're don't walk freely out in nature. Those kinds of farms not only produce chicken in unsafe, unnatural ways, but also come with the heavy cost of paying the electric bill to heat and cool the animals to keep them alive all year round. Would it surprise you to know that organic farming with free-range, grass-fed livestock who is healthier and more natural? Farmer/activist Joe Salatin and his company Polyface is the ideal model for that kind of livestock production. Why is organic food more expensive? Because our government doesn't provide organic farmers subsidies. There has to be a more complex answer than that simple one, though, but American Meat just scratches the surface without digging deeper by interviewing members of our government, i.e. the USDA, or noting how the USDA and pharmaceutical companies have revolving doors, so-to-speak, with conflicts of interest. While watching American Meat, you can't help but recall a much more insightful and thorough doc that treads similar ground, Food, Inc.. For those of you interested in politics and history, there's The Revolutionary opening at Quad Cinema via Stourwater Pictures, and co-directed by Irv Drasnin and Lucy Ostrander. It centers on Sidney Rittenberg, a true revolutionary who arrived in China after World War II as an interpreter for the US army. Soon after his arrival, he joined the Communist Party under General Mao Zedong. When Joseph Stalin sent a letter to Mao accusing Rittenberg of being a spy, Rittenberg was offered two options: to serve time in prison in China or to go back to the US. He chose the former, and served 6 years in prison. He served another 10 years in prison later on. Rittenberg, now in his early 90's and living in the US, gives his own vivid account of those events. He comes across as articulate and candid, so listening to him and observing him as he expresses his moral conscience makes for a captivating, heartfelt and even gripping experience. It should be a requirement for every young American to watch this documentary because it will teach them the value of courageously standing up for their beliefs, caring about history/politics and maintaining a moral conscience.
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