“Captain Fantastic”: prepper comedy that pays homage to Noam Chomsky


Name: Captain Fantastic
Director, writer:  Matt Ross
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/23, at The Charles Theater, Baltimore, large audience, evening
Length 118
Rating R (some very explicit nudity and biological language, which is quite funny in context)
Companies: Bleecker St
Link: Official site 

Captain Fantastic”, directed and written by Matt Ross, somewhat resembles the “Wilderpeople” comedy (July 10) but is even more focused on fatherhood, in a domestic American (western) setting.

As the film opens, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) Is leading his six kids in a camouflage deer hunt in Washington state’s Cascade mountains (which are often shown with stunning views). The kids paste their bodies, even more than we did in Army basic.  The movie shows us their campground with its little huts, barracks like sleeping quarters, gardens, and animal husbandry.  Soon the kids are all rappelling, and one of the young kids slips and apparent breaks his wrist.  Daddy and the other kids fix him up.

They go around in a “vancredible” bus.  They’re also home schooled.  Soon we learn that the kids know the great books of literature (George Elliot’s “Middlemarch” and I believe Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” get mentioned or show up in the “library”), can do the science and math, and the oldest boy, Bo(a charismatic and fit George Mackay) has gotten into every Ivy league college. Bo likes to quote political manifestos, and at one point says he is a “Troskyite” but may become a “Maoist”.  That makes sense, because Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) had involved everyone taking his turn as a peasant or “prole”.

Ben is no right wing doomsday prepper (and the film doesn’t get into the area of guns).  His hero is Noam Chomsky, and on Chomsky’s birthday, he fakes a heart attack in a supermarket so the kids can shoplift groceries. That’s after an emergency room scene where one of the kids notices that most patients are fat (and probably diabetic). You don’t say those things in public.  It’s like saying Amish kids are usually much fitter than modern teens.


We learn that Ben’s wife – the kids’ mom – has committed suicide in a mental hospital, and the conflict over her father’s (the kids’ maternal grandparents) funeral plans generate the rest of the plot. The patriarch is Jack (Frank Langella), who lives in New Mexico in a huge estate.  Although Jack first threatens Ben with arrest if he comes, Ben takes the family down and they attempt a reconciliation (and now the scenery switches to New Mexico deserts and mountains). The main conflict now comes from mom’s will and her funeral wishes, which had expected modest ceremony, cremation, and disposal of the ashes, in comparison to the lavish funeral desired by Jack.  Ben proves disruptive, which provokes the climax of the film.  Maybe in the end, the kids (most of all Bo) all win out.


The idea of wanting to downplay a funeral, especially if death occurs in certain shameful or violent circumstances, is an idea that has occurred to me.  The idea was even explored on NBC’s “Days of our Lives” with EJ’s murder.



Wikipedia attribution link for I90 thru Snoqualimie Pass in Washington, p.d., from Byways.org    I had an “ephiphany” there at lunch in 1978 on vacation, which would turn out to be prophetic in a few years.

Wikipedia attribution link for view from Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM), which I visited in 1980 and again in 1984 (“Spring Work Camp”).     The facility sustained a

(Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 11:15 AM)


“Time to Choose”: visually stunning world tour on climate change


Name: Time to Choose
Director, writer:  Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck
Released:  2015
Format:  2:35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Washington DC, 2016/6/3
Companies: Abramorama, Representational Pictures
Link: official site

Time to Choose: Climate Change for Good”, by Chad Ferguson and narrated by Oscar Isaac, is the most visually spectacular film on climate change yet, filmed wide screen in remote, impoverished parts of the world.  Indeed, it gives the audience a chance to make a 97-minute trip that would not be possible for most people in person.

The film maintains that to prevent cataclysmic climate change, two-thirds of the planet’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground forever.

The film is in three parts, focusing on coal, oil, and clearing of forests for mega-agriculture.


The coal part starts immediately with mountaintop removal, showing the most graphic photos of Kayford Mountain ever shot for audience (the none cannot be seen from public highways).  About 40 miles square of Appalachia is scared by strip mines (not certain if this includes reclaimed land, like around Mt. Storm). Streams down the hills (typically about 300-400 feet of ridge can be removed, and the blasting is shown) are polluted and residents have many more cancers than usual, especially in children. The labor force is captive.


Southern West Virginia is small fry compared to western China, however. The film shows the colors of Shanghai at night, and the air pollution of both Shanghai and Beijing by day.  But the scarred landscapes in the “west” are indeed shocking and alien.  China is the most crucial country of all in switching to renewables, which it is starting to do. The film then switches to Kenya and Bangladesh, where residents without electricity are starting fresh with solar panels.

The second part of the film has one of the most shocking sights in the film, a floating shantytown in the Niger Delta.  The film gets into the politics of blood oil (as in the book by Leif Wenar) in Nigeria, with allusion to social instability and violence (Boko Haram).

The last part of the film explains the growth of mega-agriculture, away from the self-sufficient small farming before WWII – which has meant clearing of lands and the wasteful practice of raising meat (as in the Australian movie “Babe” in 1995). The film visits Brazil, with the clearing of the Amazon and many other areas, with severe water shortages in Sao Paolo. It then visits the peat bogs in Indonesia, with a presentation of corruption that allows illegal clearing of this resource.  The filmmakers did all their photography illegally; in Indonesia, journalists need a license.

The film made the medical case for vegetarianism, even the vegan diet (which Bill Clinton follows), as reducing Type 2 (insulin-resistance) diabetes.  Children did not have Type 2 diabetes much before 1980, but now it is all too common, especially in lower income communities, because of processed food abetted by corporate agriculture.

There was a QA afterwards.

One question barely touched: is turning this around more a top-down issue (ending crony capitalism and corruption) or is it bottom-up, emphasizing personal lifestyle discipline?

The obvious comparison is Al Gore’s 2005 film “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Below is an independent video “Climb Kayford Mountain” with allusion to “The Sound of Music.”

Below is a video “The Devastating Effects of Air Pollution in China.” If I were living in China, I wouldn’t be allowed to post this (unless I got around the filters with TOR).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Hobet Mine in Boone County, W Va, p.d. photo from NASA.

Below is Shanghai at night, Wikipedia (Mstyslav Chernov) similar to film, under CCSA 3.0.


Last domestic picture is Dominion Power Plant in Mt. Storm, W VA (mine, 2004/8/31)

QA clips:  1  2  3  4

(Published: Friday night, June 3, 11:50 PM EDT)