Tag: health

Forks Over Knives


Forks Over Knives (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

When there are reports that an average person in America is twenty-three pounds overweight; that one in five American children are considered to be obese; and that cancers, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic heart conditions can be solved simply by switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet, one cannot help but pay attention. And yet although “Forks Over Knives,” directed by Lee Fulkerson, means well, some of the studies presented tend to leave a lot of pertinent questions unanswered. In addition, it makes careless assumptions based on supposed hard evidence.

Its approach mainly consists of presenting medical doctors and scientists who have made and are making an impact in supporting the diet that consists strictly of whole foods and plants. While these professionals on screen are impressive, the picture neglects to provide a counterpoint—medical doctors and scientists who do not support the diet. By having only people who agree on the same thing, the interviews end up quite repetitive and dull.

I found some of the charts to be troubling in presentation. Some of the animated diagrams are quite beautiful. A standout involves “stretch” and “density” receptors on the stomach which is meant to explain on a very elementary level, appropriate given the target audience, how we get the feeling of satiation. Another is the “cancer atlas” of China which involves a massive study that focuses on eating habits and cancer.

But when it summons bar and line graphs coupled with a voice explaining what the bars and the lines mean, one ought to look or listen more closely. For instance, at one point it brings up the average amount of sugar, dairy, processed foods, and the like that are consumed by a typical person. However, one bar depicts, for example, data that is gathered in 2006 and another bar on the same chart is supposed to be data acquired in 1999. Assumptions are made based on these graphs—that are not even based on the same year. The lack of consistency leaves room for significant misrepresentation.

Supporters of the vegan diet traverse dangerous grounds when they make claims that simply eating whole foods and vegetables can reverse even the worst chronic and degenerative diseases. While they have some data that seem to support their claims, making very general statements is misleading. The truth is their data can only support—not prove—some of their claims on some of the diseases. For instance, there has not been a study of every type of cancer based on the whole food, plant-based diet. Cancer goes through remission even if one is not on the diet in consideration. The picture does not even discern between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

What do I believe in? I believe in moderation, being in control of your body and your choices, and choosing to live a physically and mentally active lifestyle. In order words, I believe in eating steak and having a slice (or two) of chocolate cake and then choosing to go to the gym to burn it off after a couple of hours or the next day.

What I do not believe in is a panacea. An approach that works for you may not work for me. “Take this pill and you’ll get better” or “Go on this diet and you’ll get better.” The difference is scant.

Safe


Safe (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Carol (Julianne Moore) is an upper-middle class housewife living in the San Fernando Valley who begins to develop a set of non-specific symptoms that has her doctor baffled. Despite her constant headaches and general feeling that something is not quite right with her body, she is perfectly healthy—at least according to the medical exams. What caused this illness—assuming there is one to begin with? Could it be due to the smoke she inhaled while driving on the freeway? Could it be because of the so-called “fruit diet” that she and her best friend took part in? Or is it due to something else entirely?

Written and directed by Todd Haynes, “Safe” is a polarizing film because it is not easy to sit through. The dialogue is sparse and seemingly superficial. The pacing is slow and deliberate. The use of the camera can come across static at times. Not one of the supporting characters are the least bit interesting. It does not provide easy answers with respect to the protagonist’s condition. And yet it is worth seeing.

Moore delivers a magnetic performance. Because dialogue is limited, the performer must be able to pull our attention by exhibiting an intelligence, a desperation, a certain strength that cannot be denied. Although Moore plays a character whose health is flailing, she provides substance by welcoming us to consider what Carol is thinking.

This is particularly apparent when the subject is looking herself on the mirror. Sure, there is the basic question of “What is happening to me?” inside her head but there is also sadness, regret, frustration. Another is when the camera transfixes on her face. Those eyes are haunting—she just as well could be a friend or a loved one in silent suffering.

Notice the writer-director’s ability to frame a scene. Initially, I was thrown off by the camera’s insistence of observing from afar despite a conversation occurring between two characters. The picture made me realize that I am so used to recognizing context or body cues when characters are interacting that once that comfort is removed, I am frustrated. But after the same technique is employed about three or four times, I began to wonder what Haynes is trying to accomplish.

Since Carol’s source of illness is believed be environmental, are we supposed to take notice of the bed flowers from just a feet or two away? The couches that have been delivered recently? The room that provides no proper air flow? Since the clues are there, the film begs for a second viewing. Such is a sign of a great movie.

The latter half piques our interest because there is doubt regarding the validity of the treatment center that Carol comes to join. Because the former half makes us paranoid of what is in the air, the food, the water, on the bedsheets, maybe it is possible that the group is some kind of cult. I looked for classic signs—some are present but many pieces are missing—but was unable to form a precise conclusion. This group lives in isolation. There are many more trees than there are shopping malls. Still, Carol does not appear to be getting better. What is going on?

“Safe” engages the viewer to ask questions and to look a little closer. Not many things are exactly as they appear. There are no twists to make someone go, “Oh! So that’s what’s going on all along!” There are only inferences and sometimes the terror is in the not fully knowing.

Contagion


Contagion (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), while on a business trip to Macau, became sick. She returned home thinking that what she had was a common case of cold. Within two days, she died. So did her son. This left Mitch (Matt Damon), Beth’s husband, shaken with disbelief–that a few coughs and sniffles could destroy his family. But what Beth had wasn’t typical. Within a couple of days, health organizations from all over the world realized that what caused Beth’s death was a virulent virus that had the capability to invade its host’s respiratory and central nervous systems. And it was spreading at an exponential rate. “Contagion,” written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, was at its best when it was coldly calculating. Such a tone was prevalent in the first half and it was appropriate because viruses don’t discern between good and bad people. It was simple: we observed a human being develop the symptoms of the fatal disease and he or she died within a couple of minutes after we met them. Then it was onto the next victim. It was scary, mysterious, and real. The director juggled different characters, scientists and civilians, with relative ease. There was Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) who worked for the CDC whose confidence relied on a plan of attack that worked in the past. But this was a different breed of disease and it was mutating at such a rapid pace. We observed this man’s confidence crumble which happened to be parallel to society’s laws and regulations slowly being thrown out the window. With people not getting enough answers and becoming more terrified each day, they had to lie, steal, and kill to survive. And such actions were not limited to civilians. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was Mr. Krumwiede (Jude Law), a sort-of journalist/blogger who led a popular website, who claimed that the government didn’t want people to know the truth. In some ways, he was right despite his fear mongering. For me, while watching the film, the main source of drama wasn’t in the fact that I became more paranoid of germs as it went on. I know that there are “good” germs that protect us from “bad” germs; that our bodies rely on select foreign organisms to function well. What piqued my curiosity was the struggle between figures who wanted to keep things hush-hush, like Dr. Cheever, and those who wanted to reveal information, even without proper scientific research, like Mr. Krumwiede. I was left in the middle and, as it turned out, I found myself caring most about people who ended up confused but tried their best to make it through just one more day, like Mitch and his daughter. Despite the film using a lot of foreign-sounding words like “pleomorphic,” “encephalitis,” and “immunoglobulin domains,” which not everyone had to understand to realize that something bad was happening, the picture had a heart. Notice that the director always reverted to Mitch and his struggle to keep his daughter safe from the virus. Although still interesting, “Contagion” lost a bit of momentum in its second half. But all is forgiven because no one turned into a zombie.

Picture Me: A Model’s Diary


Picture Me: A Model’s Diary (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sara Ziff and Ole Schell’s documentary focused on Ziff’s journey as a fashion model from when she was eighteen years old on her first flight to Paris until she was twenty-three with prospects of attending Columbia University. Sara didn’t plan on becoming a model. Her parents valued education and she thought she was eventually going to follow their footsteps. But when she was approached by a photographer on the street and asked if she was a model, her life changed. Before she knew it, she was traveling all over the globe and getting paid $80,000 per job. But was the money worth losing her health and sanity? “Picture Me: A Model’s Diary” is the kind of film I would recommend to anyone thinking of entering the fashion industry. While it did acknowledge that being a model did have its perks like having a healthy salary (assuming the model eventually becomes an “it” girl which is a rarity), it was more concerned about showing us the ugly side of modeling and what magazines and television channels dedicated to fashion purposefully hide from us. By interviewing actual models, allowing their faces to be shown, and sharing their painful experiences with sexual harassment, the film successfully highlighted the exploitation inherent to the business. It also tackled issues like eating disorder and body image, drugs as a tool for a model to have the energy to keep going from one show to another, and modeling agencies hiring girls as young as fourteen years old but ultimately failing to protect them from elements that no young person should be exposed to. The latter was of special interest because the fashion industry loves to use very skinny and tall girls with no breasts and no hips because the dress just hangs on the body. But is it morally right to put such young girls in fashion shows where they were expected to get naked backstage in which photographers were free to take pictures and watch them undress? How is that different from watching child pornography? I admired the film because it wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. Furthermore, the documentary surprised me when it acknowledged how Ziff’s salary affected her relationship with her boyfriend (Schell) and her family’s opinion of her earning more money than them. On one hand, Schell was proud of Sara and said things like, “I’ve never held so much money in my hand!” On the flipside, there certainly was jealousy there. On their trip to Las Vegas, Sara asked her boyfriend why he never paid for her. He claimed that he did. Sara was reluctant to discuss it further because the camera was on. It was real and it felt incredibly awkward to watch. I do have favorite fashion models. I follow them on Twitter and read their blogs. With all their traveling, photoshoots, and runway work, it’s easy to admire them. But then there are moments when a model would Tweet about being so exhausted and not having eaten for almost twenty-four hours other than some candy or a piece of bread and a cup of coffee. Then I’m reminded of the models, both male and female, who decided to take their own lives. Maybe “being pretty and on time” is not the only requirement in becoming a model.

Two Bits


Two Bits (1995)
★★ / ★★★★

Twelve-year-old Gennaro Spirito (Jerry Barone) was desperate to get into La Paloma, the newly-opened movie theatre in town, but he didn’t have twenty-five cents to pay for the admission ticket. Everybody seemed to not have any change to spare because of the difficult times. Even his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) saved every bit of money they had for food in order to care for Gennaro’s ailing grandfather (Al Pacino). Inspired by young street performers, our little protagonist decided to earn the money himself by taking odd and sometimes dangerous jobs to finally get inside the newfangled cinema. Main critiques about the film was directed toward a selfish main character who only cared about raising enough money as everyone else worried about bigger things in life such as hunger and deteriorating health. I felt differently because Gennaro was just a kid. Even though he was on the cusp of being a teenager, his brain was still like that of a child’s. He fixated on one idea and couldn’t let go until he was able to grasp it. In some ways, I found his adamant nature amusing because I was able to relate to him on some level. For example, when I really want to see a certain movie, I just can’t help but think about it. No matter what I do, I find it difficult to get rid of the fantasy of finally sitting down and seeing something I’ve so been yearning for. Obviously, there’s more to life than watching motion pictures, but Gennaro’s perseverance to see a film in the movie theater was more than the obvious. Whether he was consciously aware of it or not, I believed that he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself, perhaps to share a rewarding collective experience in a dark room with strangers. Another interpretation was maybe he needed a temporary escape from his grandfather’s illness and the streets that served as his playground which was filled with people dealing with the Depression. Just because Gennaro was adamant about going to the movies, not once did I think that he didn’t love or care for his mother and grandfather. However, I did wish that the relationship between Barone and Pacino’s characters was explored in a deeper way. The adult Gennaro (narrated by Alec Baldwin) claimed that he and his grandfather had a special relationship. In the end, it still wasn’t clear to me what made their relationship so special. There were moments of genuine connection between them, like when the grandfather asked his grandson for a really big favor which might have been a bit too much to ask of our protagonist, but I didn’t feel the special element that the adult Gennaro, through a retelling of his memorable day, wanted us to experience. Written by Joseph Stefano and directed by James Foley, “Two Bits” contained some thoughtful scenes but it just felt short in achieving the magic that Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” and Victor Erice’s “El espíritu de la colmena” seemed to effortlessly possess.

Waking Sleeping Beauty


Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I grew up on Disney’s late 1980s to mid-1990s animated movies like Ron Clements and John Musker’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel’s lesser-known “The Rescuers Down Under,” and Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s “The Lion King,” but I don’t know much about the history of the team behind such hits so I just had to watch this film. With their successes, it’s difficult to imagine, let alone appreciate, the hardships the artists went through to release commercially-pleasing projects and at the same time ward off their competitors (Steven Spielberg, working for a different company at the time, was actually one of them). And that’s exactly what this film was about: To tell the story of the behind-the-scenes struggles the writers, artists, and leaders in the company who had no choice but to live up to Walt Disney’s many profound accomplishments. I thought it was fascinating in the way it explored the collision of vastly different ideas in how to launch a story and how those ideas cost millions of dollars, while only a minute amount ended up on screen. When the documentary showed us how much of the sketches ended up in recycling, the voice inside my head couldn’t help but yell out a resounding, “No! Don’t throw all of that hard work in the trash!” I learned a whole lot from the film and, in a way, it changed the way I saw the animated movies I cherished as a child. I didn’t know that “The Rescuers Down Under” (a box-office flop upon its release and, to this day, highly underrated) was Disney’s first ever animated film made digitally. I thought that each frame was drawn by hand but looking back on it, the images looked sharper and more defined than its predecessors. I almost wanted to see the movie again so I could observe the risks that the animators took in order to release movies at a much faster rate. The documentary also tackled the issue of the workers’ debilitating health. Since the animation studios’ projects were hit-and-miss, at some point the workers were not properly compensated; they had to draw all night and come to work in the morning with uncontrollable shaking of the hands, while some suffered long-term carpal tunnel syndrome. I thought the company’s goal of releasing one Disney movie per year was unrealistic considering the amount work the team had to inject in each project. “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” directed by Don Hahn, is a required viewing for those who love classic Disney animated films and are children at heart. There were some fun and touching appearances from Tim Burton, Howard Ashman, and John Lasseter, but watching it should make us appreciate the talent behind the art we feel like we have a deep connection with.

Sex Positive


Sex Positive (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Prior to this film, I didn’t know who Richard Berkowitz was. I decided to watch the documentary because I’m always interested in learning more about diseases and their impact in society. In “Sex Positive,” directed by Daryl Wein, the focus was on Berkowitz’ contribution in promoting safe sex in order to protect everyone, especially the members of the gay community, from transmitting different factors that could promote AIDS. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the credit he deserved. What I enjoyed about this movie was it was essentially about activists of the LGBT community disagreeing about elements of a certain issue–the mechanisms regarding how one can get the infection, prevention, and the relationship between promiscuity and the epidemic. Most of the documentaries I’ve seen about AIDS and homosexuality were from heterosexuals’ perspective so it was a nice to observe and listen to the issue from a different angle. The documentary felt personal and sometimes too revealing because we got to learn about Berkowitz’ sexual history. There were some outtakes in which he was reluctant to talk about his history with S&M because he wanted to focus on the issue of activism and promoting health. Those outtakes were important for me to see because it showed me that Berkowitz was more than hustler. He deeply cared about his community and he was willing to go great lengths in promoting safe sex, sex positivism, which was the middle-ground between two camps: anti-sex (celibacy) and pro-sex (sex without using protection at all). He also highlighted the roles of our choices and our personal responsibilities in terms of sex, that our lives are in our hands and we should always be aware of the consequences. However, I thought the documentary was a little too short and too quick with the facts. Specifically, I wanted to know more about progress (if any) of promoting safe sex in the late 80’s. I felt as though the movie only covered the early 80’s up and the early 90’s. I also wanted to know more about the papers Berkowitz published about sex and the LGBT community while he was in college although the movie did spotlight the fascinating pamphlet “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach.” Toward the end, Berkowitz providing insight by revealing certain statistics was simply icing on the cake. “Sex Positive” is a solid documentary with a very interesting subject and I highly recommend it. I just think it needed an extra thirty to forty minutes to develop some ideas so it wouldn’t have felt as rushed.