Showing posts with label dogwoof. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dogwoof. Show all posts

9 December 2012

Chasing Ice Review

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Climate Change has become an alarmingly polarising topic. Arguments and counter arguments, denials and debates feature heavily across news channels and a montage of these, complete with Fox News’ raging lune Glenn Beck open the cinematic documentary Chasing Ice.

There’s no mistaking the leanings of director Jeff Orlowski’s cast here who set out to prove, in the most tangible way they can, the existence of, and the damaging effect that Global Warming is having on our planet. Focussing on the work of photographer and former scientist James Balog the film we see his creation of the Extreme Ice Survey and its intention to photograph decaying glaciers around the world.

Initially a sceptic of global warming Balog had his views altered dramatically when he saw first hand the effect it was having across the globe. On photographic shoots and work with National Geographic he realised the severity of the situation and became determined to share this with as many people as he could. An article for National Geographic saw him photograph the changing landscape of the Antarctic and the shocking rate of calving (the term for glaciers breaking off into the Ocean) quickly becoming the magazine’s most read feature and paving the way for this feature length documentary in an attempt to capture a wider audience.

Knowing the answer lay in the changing ice, Balog went about documenting the change in these great colossal structures in a way that could be simply acknowledged and understood en masse. The film introduces the rest of his ensemble, rounding up the crew as if in an Oceans film or, more suitably, Philippe Petit’s bunch of daring sidekicks in Man on Wire. Between the engineers, photographers, scientists and science geeks they manage to create cameras that would survive such harsh conditions and go about setting them up in spots in Alaska, Montana, Iceland and Greenland where we meet the closest a glacier will get to celebrity status having been the one to send out the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

Capturing these images is no mean feat (one effort sees Balog and a young assistant literally hanging over a bottomless pit) and the excursions begin to take their toll on the intrepid photographer, in particular his already dodgy knee. This is an opportunity to show the action man nature of Balog as he heroically soldiers on over the icy mountains with nothing but a pair of sticks to hold up his amputated stump of a leg - a grand exaggeration but there’s an element of Chasing Ice that plays up to one mans relentless pursuit of change at all costs. We see him break down in tears at one point and there are fleeting moments spent with his family as even they understand the noble quest of our protagonist.

A large amount of the film’s success rides on the images and the impact they have. It’s packed with powerful, provoking visuals of these dying giants and interspersed with Balog’s photography highlighting the magical, other worldly qualities of the architectural marvels and white canvases. The film’s payoffs are the shots they were able to capture from the stationed cameras and when at the end they are shown the results are staggering. We see the largest ever glacier calve recorded on camera, the size of Manhattan and 3 times the height of the Empire State Building and time-lapse footage of the glaciers receding at a rate far greater than at any point in history. These images are, says Balog, key to realising the dangers of climate change. Despite the relatively small temperature change, the altered atmosphere and change this has on the air itself is far more significant with these glaciers acting as a canary in a coalmine alerting us to significant danger.

Much like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Chasing Ice may be met with acclaim among those who believe whole-heartedly in the perils of the topic but equally with a general sigh of ambivalence by an unwilling majority. The recent hype around the Kony 2012 project showed that passion projects can be seen in large numbers and while those featured here are unlikely to come under the levels of scrutiny Invisible Children did, they may miss out too on the amount of coverage it they received.

We are not patronised or offered a quick fix scheme as Balog realises it will not come from a film but hopes this offers enough definitive evidence to enough people to demand some kind of reaction as he takes his finding higher up the government hierarchy. Orlowski has certainly helped his cause whose cinematic portraits fittingly elevate Chasing Ice into more than just science lectures for the screen.

Matthew Walsh


Rating: NC
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Release Date: 14th December 2012 (UK)
Cast: James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Adam LeWinter

7 September 2012

The Queen Of Versailles DVD Review

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The American dream is one founded on improvement, the distinguishing feature key to the US is the emphasis on financial improvement over self. These two parallels take centre stage in Queen of Versailles, a film by Lauren Greenfield who originally set out to tell the story of the building of the largest house in America but ended up telling one about the pitfalls of being a billionaire in the time of a market crash.

Versailles was a pet project of timeshare tycoon David Seigel and his wife Jackie whose inspiration from Louis XIV’s palatial pad is mixed with the Vegas parody hotel French House. Featuring every Cribs gimmick you can imagine and a staircase of Award Ceremony stature, the house is ridiculous, at least it would have been. The crash leaves the building unfinished and unused.

It’s purely by chance that Greenfield’s cameras happened to be filming at that specific time but it’s a chance that turned this potential puff piece about the follies of the rich into something far larger – a story on a grand and very contemporary note narrowed down and focussed into one singular family.

We are introduced to the family in their current home, an already vast Orlando mansion full of staged portraits and garish bling and awash with tiny dogs, both present ones running around and deceased ones like Chanel, displayed and exhibited in glass cases. Talking heads and news footage gives us an impression of the Seigels, David the man with the Vegas tower to outshine Donald Trump’s made his millions through timeshare schemes “The best thing in the world is being rich, the next best thing is feeling rich”. This motto is fed further down the employment food chain as employees are encouraged to feel akin to Doctors and Surgeons saving lives on a daily basis. It’s management speak on a super-sized US scale and it’s one that’s got David Siegel far.

We learn early on about his “possibly illegal” influence on George .W. Bush’s successful 2004 Presidential campaign which in hindsight he reflects regretfully possibly avoiding a war. We learn too of his meetings and dealings with the great and the not-so-good across America and the inevitable fondness for beauty pageants; he’s a key donator to the Miss America Foundation and it is here that he met current wife Jackie. The suburban girl turned former Miss America is mother to seven of David’s children, the large number being a result of her realisation that she can afford to, and guardian to an eighth from adoption. She’s right about the financial benefits; the house is flooded with helpers mainly migrants who do everything around the house and some who live in out-houses in the garden. It is this sheltered existence that comes crashing when the banks start calling for a few hundred million dollars.

By now, tales of recession loss are well known but the grandness of the scale in Greenfield’s film is what takes Queen of Versailles into incredulous levels. In amongst the mass redundancies, crisis meetings and anger towards the banks for selling “cheap money” we see the coping methods of this one family, removed as their lives may be. The supporting cast of cleaners, cooks and nannies are let go and their home swiftly feels the impact as that army of small dogs start to make their protest known in the only way they can.
The unfamiliarity of a scaled-down lifestyle often brings the films funnier moments, the family’s first commercial flight and Jackie asking the rental car assistant for the name of the driver so accustom is she to a chauffeur. This naivety lends itself to laughs but the scaling down is, of course, relative and the realities of thriftiness don’t always come easily to Jackie as testified by the size of a Christmas shopping trip and a brand new bike being added to a garage full with brand new bikes.

Between shopping trips and parties Greenfield finds a family whose concerns and relationships aren’t a million miles away from our own. Jackie is generously shown in a caring light and while the limelight isn’t something she’d shy away from there are moments of generosity that suggest the crash may have brought out more sympathetic traits. She lends an old friend a sizeable amount to keep her house and invites the cameras in to her charity warehouse where much of the stock is her own expensive home-ware (the extortionate original price being shouted out to bargain hunters from the owner). The financial strain starts to bring out positive qualities in the Siegel’s and while the pressures of keeping afloat a company of his size has sapped a deflated David, there are signs that even he may be beginning to realise his part to play, “We’ve got to live within our means…nobody is without guilt.”

The Versailles project of the title was never lived in by the Siegel’s. They were forced to reluctantly put it on the market under the gaze of news channels for $100m or an unfinished shell at $75m. The figures are staggering and difficult to comprehend but the achievement by Greenfield is to centre on the human aspect we can relate to and leave the Versailles house as a white elephant, an empty monument for this inverted rags to riches tale.

Matthew Walsh

Director:Lauren Greenfield
Cast: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel
DVD Release Date UK:10th September 2012