How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2022) – dir. by Daniel Goldhaber
This is an inspired, hungry, ambitious film about climate disaster and the people rightfully fed up with collective inaction. It’s an effect thriller, in the style of a heist movie that pulls no punches and advocates for drastic action.
And that’s a fine line to walk, a push for change, an acknowledgement that to bring about change you have to do something dramatic and potentially destructive, all while giving us protagonists we’re meant to root for. To make sure we root for them it helps to have a faceless “big bad,” in other words big oil. In the context of the modest scope of the film, however, there are no real personified antagonists. There is just a pipeline that needs to be blown up.
This is a wonderfully put together movie, beautifully photographed, engaging, exciting and definitely unsettling. It explores a fascinating gray area, looks at the definition of terrorism (the characters consider how they will be viewed by the public, as heroes or terrorists or both), and really it’s just an engaging ticking clock film.
Where it stumbles, I’d say, is on a character level. The eight or so protagonists here are all so idealistic, so driven, so furious at the state of things that there is little room for them to breathe as… well characters. They are a coiled bundle of nerves and fury, and the film hits its stride during their moments of purpose, when they’re planning and carrying out the heist. But when the movie stops and tries to explore them it feels a little contrived. Perhaps we shouldn’t even try to understand them but rather let them exist as they are, in this moment, as these ideological monuments. Like Christopher McCandless (“Into the Wild”) whose idealism and stubbornness made him a hero to some and a reckless moron to others, these are characters who exist more as blank slates onto which we project our positive or negative charge.
You Should Watch If: You like heist movies and the southwest
You Should Not Watch If: You work for big oil
Cam (2018) – dir. by Daniel Goldhaber
Before How to Blow Up a Pipeline Daniel Goldhaber directed this thriller about a “cam girl” who loses control of her online personality. Whereas his recent film was hyper-real, this one plays around in metaphor.
Madeline Brewer plays Alice who, when on ‘camera,’ plays Lola. She is obsessed with breaking into the top 50 ranking and implores her audience (a series of screen names that communicate in tokens and emojis) to help her reach her goal.
The scenes of her performing are compelling and a little disturbing, just seeing the total artifice of it all, the cheap set Alice creates in her home, the amped up performance and even her manic desire to rise up the ranks at all costs. It’s an empty pursuit, or at least that’s how it comes across, and her audience is, as Marcel the Shell would say, not the same thing as an actual community.
It’s attention and gratification that burns quick.
And then the surreal part of the film starts when Alice discovers that “Lola” is online, performing without her. She has been replaced, in a sense, and soon we see how far this goes. Are the other cam girls real? How many have been replaced?
Again this movie works best as metaphor. What does it mean to devote yourself to something so fully that you lose… yourself? Whether it’s a career, a relationship, money, anything. All you care about is the image, the appearance, the end goal and then somewhere along the way you don’t recognize the person you were when you started down that path.
You Should Watch If: You like Black Mirror
You Should Not Watch If: You like modesty
Jungle (2017) – dir. by Greg McLean
Daniel Radcliffe really throws himself into the role of someone stuck in the jungle for three weeks, but man I feel like this movie didn’t work, mostly from a plotting standpoint.
We meet Radcliffe as Yossi Ghinsberg (the real Ghinsberg co-wrote the film), an eager, stubborn traveler who meets a couple new friends, and encourages them to follow a mysterious man into uncharted areas of the Bolivian jungle. After Yossi and another man separate from the group, they themselves become separated after a river rafting accident and then Yossi spends three weeks alone in the jungle, starving and hallucinating (parts of the movie that were better done in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and also The Beach).
So Yossi’s miraculous and true survival is the hook here, but it takes until over halfway into the movie for that part of the story to begin. Beforehand we just watch the gang of four bicker with each other until their internal drama forces them to go their separate ways. And I kept wondering if I missed something. Why are they so mad at the one with trench foot? What are they arguing about? Why are they lost? Where are they going?
I was just as lost as Yossi is near the end, and I guess I have to blame reality because this all happened. They ventured deep into the jungle, got lost, decided to separate for some reason then yada yada, it’s the three weeks alone survival story.
It’s all just very, very scatted and poorly written, kind of like this review because I’m not even sure where to begin or where to end up with it all.
I guess let’s start with the North Star: Yossi’s solitude and survival. Let’s make that the movie, meaning everything leading up to it is somewhat incidental.
What if we start in media res with the rushing river, the threat of death, Yossi and his pal (played by Alex Russell) getting separated and Yossi finding himself all alone. He howls at the sky but he’s drowned out by the raging waters. He looks up at God (he does seem to be a rather religious character as God is mentioned many times) and the camera cranes up, up and away, letting him get swallowed up by the CGI jungle so we see just how alone he is.
FREEZE FRAME. YOSSI (V.O.): Yep. That’s me, Yossi Ghinsberg, all alone in the middle of the Bolivian jungle. How did I get here? Well…
And sure, that’s lame but the movie has plenty of such VoiceOver stitching half-baked scenes together.
So anyways, start with him getting stranded and then let’s flash back to see how he ended up there. What decisions did he make to run so far away from home, what adventures is he seeking out to compensate for his tragic backstory (And there is something of a tragic backstory of which we do see glimpses).
So let’s just start there. The A plot is him surviving in the jungle for three weeks. From there we can weave in two timelines, the first being him arriving in Bolivia and meeting the friends with whom he enters the jungle. The second is a series of flashbacks to his family life, so we see just what he’s running away from.
So we start with Plot A: The consequence
Plot B: The poor decisions that led to those consequences
Plot C: The underlying trauma/conflict that led to the poor decisions that led to the consequences
Anyways, there’s a compelling movie in here somewhere but it feels like a broken Rubik’s cube.
You Should Watch If: You want to see Harry Potter lose some weight
You Should Not Watch If: You, like me, thought this was a horror film about cannibals, and you wish it was