Percy vs. Goliath

DVD REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$14.99 DVD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic elements.
Stars Christopher Walken, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Luke Kirby, Adam Beach, Martin Donovan, Roberta Maxwell.

Themes of corporatism and environmental activism seep into the otherwise affable underdog legal drama Percy vs. Goliath, which tracks a Canadian farmer’s battle over seed rights with a multinational chemical conglomerate.

The story is drawn primarily from the case of Monsanto v. Schmeiser, a late-1990s/early 2000s legal dispute in which Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) was sued by the Monsanto Company for inadvertently planting some of its genetically modified canola seeds on his family farm in Saskatchewan.

Monsanto might be best known as the corporation that sponsored a number of Tomorrowland attractions at Disneyland in the 1950s and 1960s (including the House of the Future) before developing Agent Orange for the U.S. military to unleash on Vietnam. In the 1980s the company turned to genetically engineering crops and experimenting with other GMOs.

Percy eschews GM seeds in favor of saving his own supply from the most robust crops from the most recent harvest. Monsanto, sending investigators onto Schmeiser’s land to test his crops, alleges he has been planting their patented seeds without a license. Percy contends the Monsanto seed must have blown onto his land from neighboring farms that use it, and that he repurposed it without realizing what it was.

The Schmeisers’ lawyer (Zach Braff) encourages a quick settlement to avoid a protracted and expensive legal fight. Percy, being too proud to submit, carries on thanks to the support of an environmental activist (Christina Ricci) whose organization wants to hamper the implementation of GMOs in agriculture.

From their perspective, Monsanto is attempting to squeeze out farmers who won’t do business with them by making it impossible to avoid their products. The Schmeiser case in particular involves a strain of canola seed engineered to resist a herbicide called Roundup, also produced by Monsanto. The innovation of the GMO is that a farmer could spray his fields with Roundup to kill weeds while leaving the crops unaffected.

That creates a catch-22 for farmers such as Schmeiser who don’t buy from Monsanto, as the only way to know they’re using Monsanto seeds is to spray the field with Roundup — so that any crops that survive would be owned by Monsanto, and rest would be dead, which doesn’t do the local farmer much good.

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Percy continues to get hammered in court on the basic legal premise that the seed is patented and he should be aware of what he’s planting. As a result, Percy’s reputation is damaged as the community begins to see him as a thief. But with the increased attention of his case bringing him support from other farmers who have had similar experiences with Monsanto, Schmeiser vows to continue the fight all the way to Canada’s supreme court, even if it bankrupts him and costs him the family farm.

The film is grounded by its solid performances and does a good job of presenting the stakes of the case and their significance, letting the political subtext speak for itself while it focuses on the personal story of Percy’s family and their allies. A lesser movie might have chosen to dive more into the debate and focus on Ricci’s activist character, whose base attempts to manipulate the Schmeisers into becoming the face of her cause are soft pedaled a bit because the film is sympathetic to the desired outcome.

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Walken ably carries the film as Percy, who is presented as a crusty and proud everyman who just wants the chance to earn his keep in peace — though the real Percy was much more politically inclined than his humble movie counterpart is made out to be.

Percy’s story was previously the subject of the 2009 documentary David versus Monsanto, a title that used the other half of the “David vs. Goliath” sobriquet.

‘Redemption Day’ Coming to DVD Feb. 23 From Paramount

The action thriller Redemption Day will come out on DVD Feb. 23 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

The film is available in select theaters, on digital and on demand.

Having just returned home, decorated U.S. Marine Captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) finds his wife Katie kidnapped by a terrorist group while working in Morocco. He is forced back into action for a daring and deadly operation to save the women he loves.

The film also stars Serinda Swan, Martin Donovan, Ernie Hudson, Sami Naceri and Andy Garcia.

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Tenet

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Action;
Box Office $57.9 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language.
Stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Martin Donovan, Clémence Poésy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh.

Christopher Nolan’s films often employ time-shifting narrative techniques that challenge the viewer to pay attention in order to be rewarded with a compelling entertainment experience.

With Tenet, is it possible that Nolan has crafted such a bizarre premise that even his smartest fans will have trouble wrapping their heads around it?

If there were a movie or TV show in which the characters were watching a “Christopher Nolan-style” movie, and then the makers of that program had to create a fake film to both represent and satirize a Nolan movie, something like Tenet is probably what they would come up with.

The story involves a CIA agent (John David Washington) who finds himself caught up with a super-secret organization on a mission to stop World War III from being started by enemies from the future who are able to invert the entropy of objects so that the travel backwards in time. The main enemy in the present is a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) who wants to assemble a device that will wipe out time itself, causing a paradox.

A common trait to Nolan’s films is how much they seem to be meta-commentaries on the art of filmmaking, and Tenet is no exception. In addition to the editing techniques that alter the flow of time much like the way a viewer can jump around a movie using a home video player, Washington’s character is referred to only as “The Protagonist,” a word that literally the word that means the main character of a story.

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At its simplest level, the film could be described as a time travel spy thriller, but that does little to convey just what a viewer is in for. Characters fight other characters who move backwards through the scene, then discover inversion machines that allow them to revisit earlier scenes, forcing characters in two different time frames to interact with each other, culminating in one of the most cinematically engaging, if utterly nonsensical, battles one is likely to witness.

Unlike Nolan’s earlier movies, such as Memento, Inception or Interstellar, where the time-shifting techniques have a certain logic to them, the exposition in Tenet would seem to defy all sense of rationality, yet they still work within the confines of the story as long as one doesn’t think about it too hard.

When a scientist character in the film trying to explain inverted time tells the hero, “Don’t try to understand it … just feel it,” she’s basically giving instructions to the audience, too.

And that’s pretty much the only way a viewer can make sense of what’s going on — by not trying to. Just enjoy the film in the moment, accept the notion that the characters have a handle on it, and take it in as an expression of pure cinema.

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There have been some grumblings about the sound mix favoring background noise and music to the point of making the dialogue hard to hear, and requiring subtitles, but I was able to make out what the characters were saying just fine. Perhaps it’s just a factor of getting used to it after multiple viewings.

The Blu-ray includes a comprehensive, multi-part behind-the-scenes documentary that runs about an hour and 15 minutes and covers the production from Nolan’s conception of it, to casting it, to crafting the action scenes, to post-production, editing and music. Viewers who’ve just watched the film and are still trying to make sense of it can take some satisfaction in seeing the stunt coordinator breaking his brain trying to conceive of how to depict a fight between two characters moving in opposite directions through time, and know they aren’t alone.