McLibel, and six more movies

 McLibel (2005)

In the early 1990s, Helen Steel and Dave Morris were Greenpeace activists who wrote a zine/flyer called What's Wrong with McDonald's, and handed out copies on the sidewalk in front of a London McDonald's.

A copy came in my mailbox back then, so I read it, and there was nothing outlandish about it. Here's the flyer, if you're interested. It's simply a one-page list of scummy things McDonald's does — "promoting unhealthy food," "exploiting workers," "robbing the poor," "damaging the environment," and "cruelty to animals." 

America has corporate-friendly laws, you betcha, but Britain has (or had) libel laws that allow companies to sue over pamphlets like Steel and Morris's. McDonald's sent cease-and-desist letters, but Steel and Morris decided to neither cease nor desist.

Having no funds, they defended themselves in court on the grounds that what was in the flyer was true, and they spent a lot of time and effort proving it.

After a few months of the heavily-publicized court case, it was clear that win or lose, the trial was doing serious PR-damage to McDonald's, so the company asked for a settlement meeting. Steel and Morris secretly recorded it. It's in the movie, and it's as ridiculous as you'd expect. McDonald's wanted to control what Steel and Morris could say about any settlement, and just as implausibly, the activists wanted McDonald's to apologize, not just to them, but to everyone who'd made similar statements and been sued or threatened into silence. As you can guess, no settlement was reached.



Feb. 18, 2023

As you can also guess, Steel and Morris lost in court. Truth is an insufficient defense against the kind of money McDonald's can spend on lawyers. Steel and Morris were ordered to pay £60,000, which, of course, they didn't have, and didn't pay.

But the story doesn't end there. Instead, Steel and Morris took their case to the EU Court, on grounds that their rights to free speech had been suppressed by the British court system.

It's historical fact what happened next, but I remain dedicated to spoiler-free reviews, so I'll only say that it's very much a feel-good movie when it's finished, and PS, McDonald's has never yet sued anyone else over similar specious claims of libel. 

Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake, and Kes) directed the dramatic re-enactments from the court case, which were obviously filmed on sets, with constant reminders that these are actors performing from the court transcript. That's the only way to use re-enactments with any integrity in a documentary, and this is the first time I've seen it done that way.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Horse Feathers (1932)

"Oh, I love sitting in your lap. I could sit here all day, if you didn't stand up."

Groucho, as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, is the wrong choice to be the new president of Huxley College, but he gets the job.

He sings "I Always Get My Man" and his marvelous "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It," and he's ceaselessly funny. Chico and Harpo are also funny, and is there anyone but Harpo on the harp and Chico on the piano that you'd not complain when the movie stops for an instrumental solo? Zeppo must've been adopted; he lacks the family funny bone, and here he plays Groucho's son, a college student. 

As college president, Groucho knows football is more important than academics, so he tries to hire some professionals to beat arch-rival Darwin U. The plot, though, is irrelevant, only a platform for jokes, most of which are funny. Anyone who doesn't laugh at this must have the brain of a four-year old boy, and I'll bet he was glad to be rid of it.

The recurring song is "Everyone Says I Love You," which I thought it was a standard, a classic, but apparently it was introduced in Horse Feathers and has only occasionally been heard since. It's delightful and ought to be heard more. Ought to be the Marxes' theme song — it's smart, silly, but also sweet. Groucho sings it here, and Chico sings it, and Harpo harps it, and a week later I'm still humming it.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Inside Moves (1980)

Roary (John Savage) tries to kill himself by hopping out of a tenth-story window. Somehow he survives, and comes out of the hospital with a limp and some weird body twitches. After lots of rehab, he wanders into a bar, and it's one of those mythical bars of film and television where everybody's gruff but lovable.

The bartender is Jerry (David Morse), who also has a limp like Roary's. They shake hands and become best buddies. When the bar gets into financial trouble (despite always being busy) it turns out Roary has money, so be becomes a minority partner. This angers Jerry, because he wanted to spend Roary's money on an operation to fix his limp.

This story is filled with complicated but unbelievable characters, like Jerry's girlfriend the discount hooker (Amy Wright, $20), and Lucius the big black pimp who wants his ring back from the discount hooker.

Jerry and Roary go to a pro basketball game, where Jerry heckles an All-Star, and then challenges him to a game of one-on-one. The pro basketball player accepts this challenge, because that happens. They play one-on-one, and Jerry (the bartender with a limp, remember) jumps ahead 5-0 against the NBA player. I can't tell you who wins, because — spoilers.

The movie is certainly disabled-centric, what with the limping leads, and a blind guy who pushes a buddy's wheelchair. Harold Russell, who lost his hands in World War II and won an Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, gets his second movie role. 

Screenplay by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson, and directed by Richard Donner. They're all respected professionals, and I can see their lofty intentions here, but this movie bounced off me.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Kiss (1988)

This opens with an unconvincing bit of histrionic horror on a train in Europe, which is immediately forgotten.

The rest of the film takes place in a nameless American city, where a girl's mother is killed in a tragic but amusingly-staged slow-motion auto wreck. Soon the dead woman's long-estranged sister comes to visit, moves in and starts boinking Dad, and the daughter freaks out, not because of the boinking but because strange things start happening.

The strange things are fun — an escalator 'accident', a swimming pool on fire, "all of the sudden I had my whole period in about thirty seconds," a scissor shish kabob through the neck, an annoying teenager flattened by an 18-wheeler, a priest who bursts into flames, some gratuitous Marlene Dietrich, and a very fake-looking feral cat on the attack. 

None of this is half as coherent as an episode of Scooby-Doo, but there's an enjoyable ambiance of dread, and about a dozen genuine scary moments, which is 12 more than most modern horror movies.

For most of the movie I had no idea what was going on, but it's amiable idiocy, and it doesn't hurt that Meredith Salinger is gorgeous and spends almost the whole movie in a swimsuit.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Laboratory Conditions (2022)

Marisa Tomei plays a hospital doctor with a critically ill patient who's suddenly gone missing, and Minnie Driver is a mad scientist in the basement. She's kidnapped the patient and isolated him in a high-tech vault monitoring everything, just to watch him die and see if there's any change that can be measured. Turns out there is!

This is a short from Dust, a great channel/website that makes original sci-fi minis and occasional full-length films, free for the watching. I should watch more of them.

Laboratory Conditions is quite good, and 15 minutes is exactly the right running time — it feels like a good, scary short story.

Written by Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean). 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Love Streams (1984)

This is kinda kooky but human — kinda Cassavetes, in other words. 

Writer, director, and star John Cassavetes plays a drunken pulp writer, womanizer, generally irresponsible man who'd forgotten he's a father until his ex-wife brings his young son for the weekend. Dad gets the kid drunk and takes him to Vegas, then abandons him in a hotel room to go chase skirts.

Gerna Rowlands plays Cassavetes' sister, and if he's a womanizer she's a manizer, and she's a wreck, always cheerful and happy but it's an act. She's mentally unstable, in the process of being divorced by Seymour Cassel, and abandoned by her adolescent daughter.

There's not a conventional plot, nor a resolution, but both Cassavetes and Rowlands seem like real people, albeit not the kind of people you'd want to spend much time with. Like most of Cassavetes' work, Love Streams is compelling, complicated, sometimes off-putting and emotionally raw, and not to be missed.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Visitor (1978)

Lance Henriksen plays the owner of the Atlanta Not-Hawks pro basketball team. The team wins a close game against the San Francisco Not-Warriors, when a Not-Warriors player goes for a game-winning dunk but explodes — literally, into pieces. Perhaps that's why the NBA declined to be associated with this film.

Henriksen's daughter, about 8, has telekinetic superpowers. She made the basketball player explode so her dad's team would win.

Everyone's decided that the kid's powers were inherited from her mother, so it's supposed to be spooky when the girl tells her mom she wants a baby brother. 

Despite being rich enough to own a not-NBA team, Henriksen is under the thumb of a spooky board of directors, and they agree with ESP girl, and order Henriksen to hurry up and father a second child. Toward that goal, I guess, the girl gets a loaded gun for her birthday, and promptly shoots her mother.

The Visitor is a Italian film, but set in Atlanta, and the cast speaks English. It's kind of amazing who's in this shitty movie — distinguished actor and filmmaker John Houston, alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, conservative commentator Neal Boortz, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Franco Nero as Jesus Christ, Sam Peckinpah, and Shelly Winters has the shining, and senses that the little girl is "bad." 

The direction is unsure, and the music is too dramatic, even in scenes with no real drama. The plot is mostly about getting Henriksen's wife pregnant against her will, which is repulsive, but more than that it's all just incoherent.

Verdict: NO, unless you're in the mood for subpar '70s schlock.

♦ ♦ ♦

Coming attractions:

• Duck Soup (1933)
• Kes (1969)
• Kid (1990)
• Nightmare in Chicago (1964)
• Point Blank (1967)
• The Railway Children (1970)
• Samantha (1991)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, try • AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlix • or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.
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Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. *Inside Moves* features one of Hollywood's most unappealing actresses: Diana Scarwid. She wasn't even sympathetic in *Mommie Dearest.* It was like, yeah, keep scrubbing, kid.

    1. I hadn't even noticed it was the same actress, but I *did* notice the 'unappealing'. IMDB says she was Oscar-nominated for INSIDE MOVES, which is inexplicable.


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