At Any Price
Although I had been vaguely aware of genetically modified food products, I learned about it in a lot of detail when I recently read the book Wheat Belly. I took that advice to heart and gave up eating wheat, which I learned is a far cry from the natural wheat our parents and grandparents ate, and that what we eat now has unexpected side effects.
Ramin Bahrani, who directed and wrote a terrific script (with Hallie Elizabeth Newton), has created a devastating indictment of modern agriculture and genetically modified seeds (GMO), based on an actual incident that he discovered while doing his research. He stayed with a farmer he had met earlier, Troy Roush, who explained to him how he had been investigated by Monsanto for patent infringement in the use of Monsanto’s GMOs and how two agents followed him around. Facsimiles of those agents appear in this picture.
Dennis Quaid gives an Oscar®-quality performance playing Henry Whipple, a third-generation farmer growing corn and selling GMO seeds. Although Henry is devoted to his family, he seems to spend much of his time as a salesman, and a self-centered one at that. He’s got a devoted wife, Irene (Kim Dickens, in a fine performance), and two sons. One of the sons, Dean (Zac Efron) is more interested in becoming a NASCAR race driver than taking over the family farm. Dean has a cute girlfriend, Cadence (played in her film debut by Maika Monroe, in a performance that marks her as a real comer). Henry is cheating on Irene with Meredith (Heather Graham). There are other relationships with other farmers and their families that come to have ravaging effects on the Whipple family.
Quaid is brilliantly cast in this role. He can flash his fantastic smile at a moment’s notice, regardless of what’s going on inside. He is required to express a wide range of emotions in this film and he never fails.
Efron also gives an exceptional performance as the dissatisfied son. Things progress as they do in real life, as the problems of the Whipple family keep piling up. While this is dramatic, it is so well presented that it looks like we are viewing real lives as they unfold as lives do.
Bahrani has directed a socially valuable and entertaining film. This is a view of farm life that shows it to be far from what most people in the city imagine it to be, abetted by the outstanding performances of the entire cast.
This is the mostly true story of a serial killer named Richard Kuklinski (a.k.a. The Iceman) who eventually became a contract killer for the mob. Extremely well directed by Ariel Vroman, who also cowrote the script with Morgan Land, the story and chronology have been changed, probably for the purposes of making it into a movie.
Vroman gets exceptional performances out of Michael Shannon as Kuklinski, Winona Ryder as his wife, Deborah, Chris Evans as fellow hitman Robert “Mr. Softee” Pronge, Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski’s younger brother Joey, Ray Liotta as The Gambino Crime Family soldato, Roy Demeo, and David Schwimmer as Demeo’s goombah Josh Rosenthal. In fact, this is the best performance I’ve ever seen Liotta give. He proves he can act without using an F-bomb every other word.
The only thing off-putting about this film is the graphic violence. Many of Kuklinski’s murders are shown in relatively graphic detail. But the story is so well told that even if you have to avert your eyes a couple of times, it’s an entertaining film.
The film was shot almost entirely in Shreveport, Louisiana (because that’s where producer Millennium Films is located), although the settings are New Jersey and New York. While the film shows that Kuklinski was working in a porn film lab when he met Demeo and became a contract killer, in fact his killing spree started in the early to mid-50s when he started killing for the sport of it, and he probably didn’t meet Demeo until the early ‘70s, after he had been a contract killer for Newark’s DeCavalcante crime family for an extended period of time. This only shows a small portion of his murders and completely omits the fact that he killed for the fun of it and was doing so before he hooked up with the mob.
One aspect of the film shows that Kuklinski was extremely protective of his wife and daughters, and that they knew absolutely nothing about his murderous activities. However, this diverges somewhat from the facts and is an oddly sensitive portrayal of a cold-blooded monster. It downplays the fact that while he never mistreated his daughters, he often beat his wife.
The film is well made and holds interest, but I deplore the delicate treatment of this despicable beast. Watching Vroman’s take, one almost feels sympathy for him.
This documentary about women who have sex on camera in the porn industry is not as titillating as one would suspect, nor is it as revealing. Director Deborah Anderson interviews 16 of the most successful female porn stars as they are posing for a fine art photographic book. Although they all justify what they do, their justifications for the morality of what they do are mostly puerile rationalizations. I was disappointed that they didn’t go into more detail about how they view the morality of what they do and how their profession of having sex on a daily basis with other actors affects their personal love relationships. Even more disappointing, the film doesn’t show any of the behavior they engage in on camera. That would contrast their actions with their rationalizations. Since there are no sexual acts actually shown (although there is some nudity), the stark contrast between what they say and what they do is missing. To just say that they engage in sex, and then showing them talking about the morality of it isn’t the same as watching the actual acts in which they engage before listening to their justifications. Since it doesn’t do this, it lacks the impact it could have had.