Two quick movie reviews

Food, Inc. (2008)

Food, Inc. is actually a documentary that will tell you probably far more than you want to know about where our food comes from today. How food is grown today bears little resemblance to how our grandparents grew their food. In case you were not aware, the family farm is virtually gone and our food is grown by large cooperatives. Unlike a century ago, most of it here in the United States is corn. As we learn, corn is like money in that it is completely fungible. It can and is manufactured into almost anything you can imagine, including batteries. In addition, because our Congress can’t say no to farmers, we subsidize corn, which means it is surreally cheap. Yes, our tax dollars are going so we can eat food that will kill us at incredibly cheap prices.

So rather than have our cattle do what they did for generations and eat meadow grass, we confine them to feeding lots, fatten them up with endless supplies of cheap corn and slaughter them prematurely. The situation is hardly any better for our poultry, the vast majority of which also eat corn, live in stuffy Gulag-like chicken houses and never see the sun.

Because our meat comes from animals that are not eating what they should, and they live in close quarters, and because we give them plenty of antibiotics, there are lots of unhealthy and unintended consequences. If like me you knew most of this, Food, Inc. is still worth seeing because, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. What you learn about the Monsanto Corporation may also disturb you. The evidence of all the unhealthy processed food we are eating is all around us and for many Americans, it is also on their waists.

Ignore this documentary at your peril. If you know you need to eat more whole and organic foods, this movie will give you the motivation you need. It should scare the hell out of all reasonable people and have you driving past the plentiful roadside temptations designed to fatten you up for premature death and heart disease. I’d like to say this documentary is timely, but really, it was needed a couple decades back. Make a note of April 21st because if you haven’t seen it, and even if you have, it will be broadcast on PBS in celebration of Earth Day.

21 (2008)

What were you doing at age 21? Most likely, you weren’t looking for $300,000 to pay your way through Harvard Medical School. Ben (Jim Sturgess) is 21, completing his bachelor’s degree at MIT, happens to be both brilliant and mathematically gifted, yet still cannot get his scholarship into Harvard Medical School. Fortunately (or unfortunately) one of his professors, Professor Rosa (Kevin Spacey) recognizes his mathematical brilliance. Rosa quickly includes Ben in a private little club consisting of mathematically gifted students who develop amazing skills counting cards. Working as a team, they spend their weekends in Las Vegas playing blackjack using legal means, but which entails certain bodily risks if the loss prevention folks at the casinos figure out what you are up to. Rosa is a former card shark himself who stays in the game via the proxy of his students.

For a gifted but shy student like Ben, this peculiar weekend gig has some great bonuses beyond the surreal quantities of cash he quickly earns. This is because the cool kids he hangs out with include Jill (Kate Bosworth), the hottest (and one of the smartest) women on the MIT campus. Ben’s feelings for Jill begin with a hormone rush, which quickly turns into a serious crush, but he suspects he is too nerdy to become her lover. One might say the odds turn in his favor. As long as they can strictly obey their rules in the casino, it looks like easy money for having a natural talent at basic math. Plus those limos and shopping sprees at upscale stores on The Strip are fun too.

Naturally, their luck will run out as they begin to get sloppy and start earning money. Ben’s friends back at MIT begin to feel estranged and wonder where he is on weekends. Living a dual life takes a toll on Ben, but after a while, he enjoys being a card shark far more than being a student. However, face recognition technology is catching up with their surreptitious behavior. Staying ahead of the casino security teams gets chancier with each visit.

21 is far more engaging than it would appear to be, even though we have a pretty good idea on how it will play out. Having been to Las Vegas a few times myself, it almost makes me wistful for the place again. Like Vegas, 21 is quite an entertaining movie. Moreover, it is hard not to feel the suspense as these young adults navigate through the weird world of big money Las Vegas. Along the way, Ben and his team members learn some major life lessons, but at least learn them early. 3.2 on my four-point scale.

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