SUPER SIZE ME
At its best, Morgan Spurlock's hit documentary Super Size Me plays like an adaptation of Eric Schlosser's exposé Fast Food Nation: smart, funny, well-researched, and scary as hell.
The hook for the film is engrossingly, delectably simple: Spurlock subjects himself to a 30-day "diet" of nothing but McDonald's - he must eat there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ordering everything off the menu at least once, and must always super-size his order if asked - to see what ill effects will result. Thirty days later, the director has suffered chest pains, bouts of severe depression, pronounced sexual lethargy (his girlfriend - a vegan chef, no less - is understandably horrified by Spurlock's endeavor), and a weight gain of 25 pounds, and while Spurlock concedes that no one in his right mind would ever be expected to eat three meals a day in this fashion, there's a point to his experiment: Our obsession with quick, tasty meals of limited nutritional value has turned us into a nation of fast-food junkies. (In one of the film's more frightening moments, a sullen, near-catatonic Spurlock turns almost giddy upon receiving his latest Mickey-D's fix.)
When Spurlock is really rolling, the movie is great fun. There's a terrific comic sequence in which the director asks a group of very young children to identify a series of famous faces, and while figures such as George Washington prove vexing - and one child mistakes Jesus for George W. Bush - none of the kids fails to recognize Ronald McDonald; besides being amusing in its own right, the scene underlines Spurlock's thesis that the fast-food empire has so infiltrated our national consciousness that it's nearly unthinkable to grow up in America without having fast food on the brain. Spurlok's skills, especially for a debuting director, are, in general, impressive; he amasses a great deal of information with humor, speed, and clarity. And Spurlock himself proves an enjoyably game guinea pig. At the start of his month-long experiment, Spurlock is forthright about getting to live out every kid's fantasy, and indeed, he comes across as a delightfully overgrown kid himself; even when his health begins to decline, his joie de vivre is infectious. So much of Super Size Me is so good that you feel like a bit of a churl for pointing out that Spurlock goes off on odd tangents that have little to do with his central thesis (an interview with a man who's eaten two Big Macs a day for decades - with no apparent physical repercussions - has no point), that his moralizing occasionally turns into hectoring, and that his reasoning is often, to put it charitably, specious.
At one point, Spurlock interviews a man who wonders if, at some point, it will be as socially acceptable to harangue overweight people as it is to verbally attack smokers. The director seems to be saying that those overindulging on food are killing themselves as surely as those who do it through nicotine, but the argument, in this context, comes off as petty and mean-spirited: How do you realistically compare smokers with, say, obese individuals who suffer from legitimate glandular disorders and never dine on fast food? In Super Size Me, Spurlock doesn't attempt to analyze any factors leading to obesity besides the fast-food industry; for his cinematic contention to work, McDonald's and its ilk must be solely responsible for our nation's collective waistline. Yet the movie still packs a punch. Morgan Spurlock may not yet be a great documentarian, or even a great provocateur à la Michael Moore, but he has hold of strong material, and he's already proven himself an adept entertainer. (No small accomplishment there.) Super Size Me, currently playing at the Brew & View, is a funny, often audacious piece of muckraking, made by a filmmaker poised to enjoy a real future in audience-friendly docs.
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass' follow-up to 2002's globe-trotting spy caper The Bourne Identity, doesn't have the lightness or humor of Doug Liman's original - granted, the material calls for a more downbeat approach - but what it lacks in variety is easily made up for in professionalism and sheer efficiency. It's so rare to see a modern-day action thriller that's actually smart; watching Supremacy, you sit back in your seat fully content, knowing that Greenglass and company will deliver the goods without treating the audience like saps. As in The Bourne Identity, the action here centers around super-spy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as he picks up clues to his true identity while avoiding execution at the hands of CIA operatives; this time, Bourne is framed for the murder of two agents working in Berlin and must find a way to clear his name while remaining in the shadows. For someone like me, who always has enormous difficulty following the plot machinations of international, who's-screwing-whom-and-why? thrillers, the movie is remarkably coherent. Its greatest asset is its simplicity; there are twists and turns to be sure, but as opposed to any number of senseless Mission: Impossible clones, Supremacy most fully resembles a high-tech variant on The Fugitive, in which Matt Damon's Richard Kimble must continually stay one step ahead of Joan Allen's Gerard.
The casting of Allen as the CIA director hunting Bourne down is pretty emblematic of the movie as a whole; like Ms. Allen herself, the whole enterprise is crisp, clever, no-nonsense, and fiercely intelligent. That's not to say that the film's action-pic set pieces are in any way disappointing; deservedly, much has been made about a late-film car chase through the streets of Moscow that's a miracle of staging and editing. Yet what you take away from The Bourne Supremacy aren't its more overt knockout scenes but rather the moments of contemplation - watching Joan Allen's eyes working the plot through or Damon's shaky recovery following a particularly grueling chase is as exhilarating as viewing any sequence involving hails of bullets or screeching brakes. Supremacy is a very human thriller, and it has weight and power because of your connection to the humans in it. Damon, like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, instills Bourne with such soul that the film often transcends its genre; he's a shrewd enough actor to let the weight of Bourne's experiences affect his every subsequent move, and the rest of the ensemble matches him scene for scene. (The casting might be a bit too on-the-nose, though; anyone familiar with the filmography of Brian Cox won't be at all shocked by his twisty character arc.) Director Greengrass handles the proceedings with superlative skill; his hand-held cameras give the movie an edgy, you-are-there immediacy, and he has a knack for killing off characters a few scenes before you expect them to perish - a nice touch. Despite being a sequel, and an action sequel to boot, nearly everything about The Bourne Supremacy is a pleasant surprise, especially the fact that it stands as one of 2004's finest cinematic offerings.