The Netflix Files: “Virunga” is planet of the (bipedal) apes

Ranger Station

One of Virunga National Park’s ranger lookout stations.

Virunga National Park is home to some of the world’s last mountain gorillas. Located in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virunga faces threats from poachers, armed rebel groups, refugees, and an unscrupulous British oil company, all of whom are competing for the park’s precious mineral resources. The documentary film Virunga (available on Netflix) follows the intrepid park rangers as they struggle to defend the park and its gorillas.

Virunga’s park rangers can only be described as militant conversationalists. They have to be in order to hold any power in a region infamous for its violent clashes between armed rebel groups from the Congo and neighboring Rwanda. The opening scene of the film finds a legion of rangers trekking through a field with AK-47s slung across their backs and rocket launchers swinging at their sides. Gunshots explode in the distance, and the rangers charge through the brush with guns at the ready, looking more like an advancing army than a group of friendly naturalists. The rangers find an improvised poachers’ camp and burn it. Continue Reading


The Netflix Files: Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

IsTheManWhoIsTallHappy_Promo

I’ll admit this up front: if your main goal in watching Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (2013) is to arrive at an answer to the titular question, you’ll be disappointed. Almost none of the film’s meandering 88 minutes, if any at all, are devoted to meditations on correlative assessments of height and happiness.

It is hard, in fact, to say what the 88 minutes are devoted to–the movie covers so much ground while moving so slowly that it’s hard to understand, when it ends, how it’s been less than six hours, much less an hour and a half. Some of this impression may come from the altered mental state in which I watched Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?, but that caveat is not at all beside the point, since I can give the film my wholehearted recommendation only to those planning on ingesting herbal enhancements before viewing. Luckily, its availability on Netflix instant play ensures this is a feasible pre-watching activity.

Indeed, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? is, while perhaps far from stereotypical stoner cinema, an essential entry into the genre. What it is–and I apologize for taking so long to get to the point–is a 90-minute conversation between the linguist Noam Chomsky (calling him a linguist is like calling Da Vinci a painter) and French filmmaker Michel Gondry (whose filmography includes, among others, cult classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay).

The genesis of the film, Gondry explains at the outset, came from his interest in Chomsky’s ideas dating back to his appearance on “some DVDs [Gondry] picked up at the video store a few years ago.” What DVDs those are, or why any profit-maximizing video store would stock them, is another point entirely, but Gondry quickly goes on to describe Chomsky as “the most important thinker alive,” presented as a quote from no one in particular.

He set out to interview Chomsky–twice, it turns out–and supplement the audio of the interviews with animation because “animation is clearly the interpretation of the author… it’s up to [the audience] to decide if they’re convinced or not.”

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The Netflix Files: Undeclared

seth rogen's looked the same for 12 years

Sometime between the lauded-but-unwatched one season of Freaks and Geeks and the breakout success of The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Judd Apatow went to college. The school, University of Northeastern California, embodied neither the raunchfest that was Faber College nor the watered-down, contrived fluff of Pennbrook University. Rather, UNEC was a place where the often banal realities of higher education got the Apatow treatment. That is, it was a particularly humorous sketch of collegiate life that embraced, rather than sidestepped, the bursts of sentimentality and awkwardness that arise from an honest depiction of freshman year. Like Freaks, Undeclared survived only one season on FOX and, just like Freaks, that one season is available for your thorough enjoyment on the ‘flix. Continue Reading