If there are two things that might sum up a great swath of our American culture, cars and junk food must be near the top of the list. Maybe the adrenaline rush of the first—those muscle cars and gas-guzzlers roaring down our highways—is just the adult manifestation of the sugar high we’ve been groomed to enjoy since childhood. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: neither is terribly healthy. This week, two films (to be fair, one actually takes place overseas) cast an eye over those subjects.
First up is Fed Up, a new documentary from director Stephanie Soechtig (Tapped), and executive producers Katie Couric and Laurie David, now screening at Amherst Cinema. David won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, and many have compared this new film to that landmark. The difference here is that instead of climate change, the subject is the shift in our dietary habits, particularly in our almost unimaginable sugar intake. “There are six hundred thousand food items in America; eighty per cent of them have added sugar. Your brain lights up with sugar just like it does with cocaine or heroin—you’re going to become an addict,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at University of California.
The film piles on a lot of depressing statistics: for instance, we now have a generation of kids that are, for the first time, expected to live shorter lives than their parents.
It’s been a long time coming. The government first issued its dietary guidelines 30 years ago; since then, our country has been almost literally rotting from the inside out. And it’s not just the morbidly obese; as the film points out, many who appear fit on the outside are in fact fighting many of the same medical battles as the obese. Author Michael Pollan says in the film that “the government is subsidizing the obesity epidemic,” with its arcane farm policies. Mark Bittman compares the antics of junk food companies to that of tobacco companies two decades ago—a head in the sand approach to public health.
Unfortunately, Fed Up might suffer a problem that An Inconvenient Truth had—those who are likely to seek it out are likely those people who already know about the issues the film covers. Of course, not everyone has to see a film for it to have a positive effect on their lives, and maybe that’s for the best. As the saying goes: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
In director Steven Knight’s film Locke, Welsh contractor Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises) leaves his job site with the intention of going home to his family and settling in to a feast of sausages, beer and a soccer match. Instead, the rest of the film deals with his increasingly tense car ride after he receives a call from an old flame who is set to have Locke’s baby. As he hurtles toward London to attend the birth, Locke spends his time alternating between the present, where he tries to stage-manage his life through his cell phone; and the past, where he engages in monologues with his own flawed father. It’s a bit of a contrivance—any film set in a single confined space almost has to be—but Hardy is worth a look.
Also this week: A couple of giants come to town. Amherst Cinema screens Jim Hall: A Life in Progress on Monday night at 7 p.m. The documentary about the late, great jazz guitarist alternates between vintage footage of Hall playing with legends like Thelonious Monk and modern footage chronicling the creation of his 1998 album By Arrangement. We lost Hall just last December, a week after his 83rd birthday. With him went one of the last of an old guard of jazz guitarists who were musicians first and guitarists second. On hand to discuss Hall and his legacy will be New England Public Radio’s Jazz à la Mode host Tom Reney.
Over in Hadley, meanwhile, Godzilla has stomped onto the big screen. A new take on an old story, you can count on at least two things: a gigantic, roaring lizard laying waste to vast tracts of land; and a film that will almost certainly be far better than the 1998 Roland Emmerich disaster. This time around, Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is on board to help drive the action. If you’re looking for a summer blockbuster to start off the season, you could do worse. But maybe skip the soda.•
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.