Magnolia: A Pair of Docs
If my cinematic kryptonite exists, it does so in the form of documentaries. No matter what subject being discussed and dissected for however epic of a running time, I'm game to watch and -- more often than not -- usually enraptured by the proceedings (save for 2016: Obama's America, but that's something for another rant or five). One of the genre's rising MVPs is Magnolia Pictures, whose docos Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Page One: Inside the New York Times, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi have been among my favorite films in their years of release. 2013 alone sees the release of Blackfish and Evocateur, but for now, I wanted to spotlight a pair of Magnolia's catalogue documentaries -- of which one is traditional, rabble-rousing fare, while the other uniquely breaks down aspects of our world into numbers.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2010 Oscars, Food, Inc. investigates how developments in the food industry have changed how society eats -- for better or worse. Technology has made what were only seasonal products available all year round and led to an abundance unlike anything before. But what about the economic and health-related consequences suffered in the process? Food, Inc. sheds light on examples of how these advancements have resulted in serious issues experienced not only by consumers but by people working in the industry. Farmers are driven into debt by contracts with companies that force them to foot the bill for expensive changes in their business. Corporations try to crack down on smaller outfits, while their own self-enforced policies have sometimes led to easily-avoidable deaths. Food, Inc. does seem overwhelmingly grim at times (saving an optimistic plea for change until the very end), but the desire to improve matters that it compellingly instills within you isn't too bad of a trade-off.
Based on Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's 2005 best-seller, Freakonomics is an anthology documentary whose segments explore how economic changes can be brought about in the strangest of ways. Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock poses the concept of a child's name effecting their lot in life, while Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) focuses on the realm of cheating in Japanese sumo wrestling. Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) goes into the correlation between declining urban crime and abortion, and Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady end with an experiment in offering schoolkids incentives to succeed. The King of Kong's Seth Gordon provides little topical tidbits between each vignette, all of which are fascinatingly presented. Freakonomics can be cute and amusing, and it can be dark and dramatic, but on the whole, it's a fresh, remarkably engaging, and extremely informative piece of work.