Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie (February 25th and 26th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[FORCE OF NATURE: THE DAVID SUZUKI MOVIE screens Saturday February 25th at 7:05 pm and Saturday February 26th at 4:40pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

There was a time when Canadian cinema - the English-speaking side, anyway - could always be relied upon to come up with a pallid ripoff of some mainstream Hollywood hit. After John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN the Canadians gave us PROM NIGHT (and TERROR TRAIN). After CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND came STARSHIP INVASIONS. I think there was a terrible Canadian movie about killer bees set loose here in mere anticipation of Irwin Allen's THE SWARM coming out, just entitled THE BEES or something like that. Don't ask me the titles of the Canuck responses to JAWS, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE and PORKY'S but I think they were there. Aye, for the longest time such B (or BEE) grade copies could be relied upon from the land of Justin Bieber.

That hasn't been the case in a long while, to my knowledge. I suspect that after Bush-Cheney launched the Iraq invasion the Ottawa government remembered all that tempting natural gas and oil they've got up around Edmonton and held back on the Weapons of Mass Imitation. Didn't want to take any chances anymore with Americans spoiling for fights and all. Still, as I watched this 2010 Canadian docu-lecture, it was like a flashback back to the days when "SCTV" was still on the air making fun of this sort of thing, eh? Remember a little moneymaker called AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH? Well, here's the version...with Mounties.

Sorry to be so cynical, but that's how FORCE OF NATURE plays out - complete with the closing-credits plug that, as with Al Gore's self-aggrandizing eco-flick, a book version of this is on sale now. At least FORCE OF NATURE's well-spoken star is not a wealthy showbiz-whoring politician, at least not yet. David Suzuki is best known in Canada as an award-winning geneticist and popular-science writer-presenter on a long-running TV show "The Nature of Things." As such he's Canada's foremost steward of the environment. I rather thought Farley Mowat was, but okay, one can never have enough environmentalists, unless you believe blowhard Cleveland-Akron radio dittoheads. Here Suzuki speaks in Toronto for a massive crowd at what is billed as his "Legacy Lecture" (you know, I tried to do that at Visible Voice Books in Tremont last week; the nice manager had to pull people off the street to get attendance up past the number of fingers on one hand).

In his 70s now, Suzuki worries about the state of the planet. In one scary analogy he likens the human population growth over the last two centuries to bacteria overrunning a test tube. Simple math demonstrates that even though ample food, space and resources seem to exist, homo sapiens' exponential birth rate will exhaust that in a mere generation or two. Humans can effectively alter the whole face of the planet, becoming a "force of nature," and not in a good way. Suzuki points to the "First Nation" native peoples of remote Canada, whom he befriended and assisted with their anti-logging struggles. While industrial-capitalist-salarymen don't look past the next fourth-quarter earnings on the Dow Jones or the Nikkei, these tribes try to live in a way that ensures the cedar trees will be around to provide their canoes 500 years from now.

Like AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH we get autobiographical details about the prophet behind the podium. Suzuki's Japanese-Canadian family in British Columbia suffered the same indignities as many Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, getting sent to internment camps while a jittery government confiscated their property. There are some heartrending stories Suzuki tells about losing relatives forever, to deportation and then Hiroshima-Nagasaki, where memorial rituals are shown here in preserved A-bomb ruins. But not long afterwards Suzuki takes us to a Japanese seafood auction where, he shows us, great species are mindlessly netted to extinction, with no thought except to how much more yen the sushi chefs are going to pay prepare their little food-as-art masterpieces. Suddenly one's opinion of the Japanese gets quite SANDS OF IWO JIMA. Here's where you should all open up a new browser window and see if my YouTube cohorts have put up all the Nippon-bashing from "Family Guy," especially last week's porpoise episode. Seth MacFarlane's got my vote for Shogun. 

Surviving the internment camps (where, we're told he got bullied by the other Japanese kids for not being Japanese enough. You still feel okay driving that Honda or Toyota?) Suzuki moved with his folks to a lonely Anglo town, where he cultivated an interest in biology and the natural world mainly because, well, there were no dateable girls around (by that formula I should’ve been Linneas). Suzuki worked at Oak Ridge in Tennessee and on Canadian university campuses, becoming a high-profile activist as well and landing the television gig that has made him a media ambassador of scientific principles. He shows why here by repeating the mind-stretcher about how chemically inert argon atoms persist and permeate the atmosphere, and at any point irrefutable mathematical statistics dictate that we are all inhaling argon that was in the lungs of Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc or the dinosaurs…but not LeBron James. His argon atoms hated Cleveland too and all went with him to Miami, deal with it. 

Director Sturla Gunnarsson has a strange sort of technique that quick-zooms in on Suzuki every so often, arbitrarily, like it's a signal for a reel change or something. I thought fellow Canadian Mike Myers had that cinematic-environmental scourge under control years ago with this "Wayne's World" gags ("Unnecessary zoom!!!"), but guess not. On that note, in one of the various tangents that make up this always-listenable life journey, Suzuki laments that when he started doing "Nature of Things" in the 1970s they could let the camera just roll as great minds of science spoke uninterrupted for nearly three minutes nonstop. Now the MTV-digital editing cuts their deep thoughts up into camera confetti.

But dude, aren't you David-Frakking-Suzuki? I may have had my job applications rejected by every TV station in Cleveland (and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands, damn it all. Damn it all to hell), but even I know you’ve got to have some influence, can't you tell the producers it's your show and you'd rather they not slice-dice everything into an epileptic-fit-inducing Pokemon segment? If Suziki-san is ordering modern civilization to drastically alter the direction of rapacious progress, you'd think he'd manage to pull that one little thing off on his own. Just saying. Either that or video editors are the real "forces of nature."

No, I didn't think AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH was very much above average either, was one of the few critics who went to print with that contrarian heresy. One Gore fan accused me of being a "right-wing blogger." Unfortunately not. I don't make near enough. And to think's got a paying gig open for one.

I'd just like confirmation that the book version of "The Legacy Lecture" is on recycled paper. Word was the home heating-electric bills at the Gore mansion were out of this world. (2 out of 4 stars)

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