Reviews

Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema (2006)

Brian Holcomb

This was never intended to be a conventional movie, but more like a personal industrial film illustrating the process that brings the corpse of a cow to your dinner table.


Fast Food Nation

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Luis Guzmán, Ashley Johnson, Bobby Cannavale, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, Paul Dano, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ana Claudia Talancón
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2007-03-06
Website
Trailer

“BEEF. It’s what’s for dinner,” Sam Elliot reminds us from behind his mustache. But what if it were filled with cow feces? Would it still be for dinner? What if that hamburger came from a slaughterhouses that exploited its illegal immigrant workers? Would anyone really care? What if cows do not really die humanely and were sometimes hung up and butchered while they were still conscious? Would that make you think twice about your Big Mac? This is the driving premise of Fast Food Nation the latest film from independent workhorse Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused).

Linklater is a pretty amazing guy. He’s staked out his own corner on the cross streets of Hollywood and Indie and can move effortlessly from studio pictures like The School Of Rock and The Bad News Bears to his two offerings this year, A Scanner Darkly and Fast Food Nation. While Fast Food Nation is not completely successful as a conventional movie, it’s still an interesting picture, both for its message and its flaws. The film is as messy as its subject, which is filled with uneasy contradictions and justifications.

In 2001, Eric Schlosser pulled an Upton Sinclair with the publication of his best-selling non fiction book Fast Food Nation: The Truth Behind the All-American Meal. But while Sinclair’s The Jungle led to major reforms in the early 20th century, Schlosser’s outrage has led to no such reform in the 21st. The junk food addiction may be so widespread that no one dare question their Whopper. Or is it something else that prevents an uproar?

Schlosser and Linklater did not adapt the book into the expected liberal documentary, but as a fictional film that uses the book’s data as its backstory. This is a somewhat controversial decision and, I believe, one of the reasons for the lukewarm critical response the film received upon release. The screenplay is structured as an ensemble piece like Traffic, Crash or Babel, in which most characters never cross paths but are instead linked through the theme. Here, it’s the corrupt economic system that holds them all prisoner.

There are three sets of characters that follow the money from top to bottom: The representatives of the corporations and the cattle suppliers, the teenagers in suburbia who work for those corporations making minimum wage on the front line, and the Mexican immigrants who must scrape by to survive, finding work only in the slaughterhouses. Conditions there are horrific, as a group of illegal immigrants from Mexico learns. Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno from Maria Full of Grace), Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), and Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon) are given a ride across the border by Benny (Luis Guzman) and soon find themselves in Cody to work in the plant. The job is not only disgusting, it’s also labor intensive and extremely dangerous due to the butchering machines. At first, Sylvia refuses to keep working there, quitting and taking a lower paying job as a hotel maid, instead. But circumstances beyond her control bring her back.

Meanwhile, in a local fast food franchise, server Amber (Ashley Johnson) is having a crisis of conscience about whether to continue doing her job or quit and join a local group of eco-terrorists who want to strike a blow at “Big Business” through something more significant than a letter writing campaign. We are swiftly introduced to all of these characters but at first it seems that Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) will be the focal character. He’s the VP of Marketing for a fast food chain coyly called Mickey’s and one of the creators of its primary product, “The Big One”. We meet him in a business meeting that captures a Dr. Strangelove kind of black joviality; the execs coming up with sales slogans that seem to suggest that size does matter. For about the first hour or so, the film focuses on Don’s journey out to Cody, Colorado, on a mission to find out why “The Big One” has such a high level of cow feces in its meat. Because if the public learns about it, that could be bad for business.

Don is presented as the All-American father, husband, and corporate lackey. He seems not the least disturbed when he is testing a series of chemicals that will make their burgers taste like barbecue or their chicken taste more “Southwestern”. On this issue he thinks the chemical mix needs less liquid smoke and more chemically processed lime flavor. On the issue of feces in the burgers, however, he seems to be rather alarmed. In Cody, he learns things that cause him to question the morality of his industry and his own job. Since Don is not someone who wants to think too hard about these things, he finds himself in a bit of a crisis that is unrelieved by the porn he orders for his motel room.

The point of no return is reached during a meeting with Mickey’s bigwig cattle supplier Harry Rydell (Bruce Willis). Between giant bites of a thick cheeseburger, Rydell tells Don he’s got it all wrong. He doesn’t mean that Don doesn’t have the right information, he means that Don has it all wrong and needs to rethink his position. Rydell tells him that, “We all have to eat a little shit, sometimes.”

Don realizes that he’s been sent on a fool’s mission. To report the truth about the meat plant will put his job in jeopardy due to the old boy network between his boss and Rydell. He was always supposed to give a good report back to the home office. Afraid for his own position and the welfare of his family, Don decides to keep his head down and just do his job. It’s here that Linklater and Schlosser do something that is absolutely brilliant. With Don accepting defeat and finding himself swallowed up in the corporate machine, they allow the movie itself to swallow up his character whole. Like Janet Leigh in Psycho, Don’s character disappears completely with more than half a movie left to go. We are left floating among the other characters and their intrigues without the help of Don’s possibly industry shattering fact finding mission. Their struggles seem all the more hopeless, now.

In some ways, the movie is all over the map. There are too many themes, too many characters, too many cameos from anti-establishment figures like Kris Kristofferson who stops the movie dead with a monologue about how the damn machines have taken over. Even the MTV generation has their own spokesperson, Avril Lavigne, in the film as one of the teenage eco-terrorists. The movie doesn’t really work as a 'movie'. In fact, it fails on almost every level, from its thin characterizations to its occasionally didactic style and lack of melodramatic thrills. But this doesn’t mean it doesn’t work as powerful cinema.

This was never intended to be a conventional movie, but more like a personal industrial film illustrating the process that brings the corpse of a cow to your dinner table. There are fantastic scenes and ideas throughout, including the first act of the college activists to free a corral of cattle that simply refuse to “escape” from death row. It’s a bit heavy handed, but the cattle’s refusal to leave their comfort zone – the confines of their corral during an attempted rescue -- is still an effective device. But the most powerful scene from a movie standpoint as well as social commentary is Don’s chilling meeting with the cattle baron, Harry Rydell. Bruce Willis is simply incredible in this short scene, portraying a man who sees the moral compass pointing in a somewhat different direction. Willis hasn’t been this good in years, and makes you wish he would consider playing more sinister characters in the future.

The final sequence, however, is easily the most memorable. Georges Franju’s The Blood of the Beasts is referenced here as we are finally led into the “killing room” of the slaughterhouse. The images are as shocking and revolting as you can imagine. Though these are disturbing in an obvious way, like a propaganda film made by vegans and animal right’s activists, it remains disturbing, nonetheless. Not only from the perspective of what mysteries may be found in my Whopper, but also from the violent relationship between humankind and its food. The horror of the slaughterhouse is an unfortunate price to pay to enjoy a hamburger. So is the cruel exploitation of labor. But since I like hamburgers, I also find myself seriously conflicted and perhaps content to remain ignorant. This is the messy point of Fast Food Nation.

The DVD contains a series of flash animation featurettes called “The Meatrix” in which The Matri” is parodied with the idea that we live in a dream world and are unable to wake up to the horrors of our own food. This is fun, but the movie says it all better. There is a “Making of” documentary that presents the usual bland information on the shooting and production as well as a commentary by Linklater and Schlosser. This is a very good extra with the two men talking about all kinds of issues outside of just filmmaking. In all, it's a decent set of extras for this release.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image