Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 5

Two more movies, as the weekday grind starts with HOT COFFEE (ha, get it, "grind"..."coffee!") Uhhhhh...sorry. Anyway, HOT COFFEE is one of the social action documentaries in the festival, and it uses the famous McDonald's spilled coffee lawsuit as a jumping off point. You know the case, right? Where the lady was holding her coffee cup between her legs as she drove, spilled it on herself, and sued for millions and millions of dollars? Well, did you know that actually she wasn't driving, the car was parked and she was in the passenger seat while her grandson was in the driver seat? Did you know that McDonalds intentionally kept the coffee way hotter than was safe for human consumption (because their market research showed that drive-through customers preferred it extra hot so that it would be drinking temperature once they got to their destination)? Did you know that there were months worth of complaints--it was hardly an isolated incident? Did you know McDonalds had specifically used a cheaper cup with a poorly fitting lid in order to save a couple of cents per cup? And after all this happened, McDonalds major response was to print a warning label stating that the coffee is hot, which only makes sense if you believe that the root cause of the accident was A) she didn't know coffee was hot, and B) she thought the best way to find out was dumping it in her lap.

Okay, all that above I knew and wrote before seeing the movie. The movie didn't contradict any of that, and I even included a few points the movie didn't address (warning, don't take my word for anything, check it for yourself. I'm operating on my own fallible memory). What I hadn't seen were the pictures of her burnt legs, which if anything makes me think she deserved more (the jury awarded ~$200,000 in economic damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages, which was reduced to ~$400,000 by the judge). But really that's just the movie's jumping off point to address four major fronts on which the civil justice system (remember, your right to your day in court) is under attack:
  1. Tort Reform
  2. Caps on Damages
  3. Judicial Elections
  4. Mandatory Binding Arbitration contracts
First time director (previously a lawyer) Susan Saladoff does an admiral job not only explaining each of the issues via interviews with experts, but delivering the message with personal stories. She interviews parents of twins, one of whom was born with brain damage because their doctor missed obvious danger signs and delayed a cesarean section too long. She interviews former judge Oliver Diaz, who lost his re-election bid when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce targeted him as not being business friendly enough. And most harrowing, she interviews a young woman who was working for KBR (part of Halliburton) in Iraq when she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by her co-workers, and had to fight 4 years for her day in court (now scheduled for this June).

Perhaps the most moving lines were at the end, with a former judge explaining that suing someone is actually a heroic act. It takes a lot of work, and you have to put your life on hold, but by going through the process and getting a jury to acknowledge that someone has wronged you, you don't just get compensated, you change their behavior and prevent them from harming others. The world is a much safer place because of lawsuits changing economic behavior.

I think it's pretty obvious that this film was pretty much preaching to the choir with me. But this choir member was happy to learn a few new hymns. And if you want to learn more, check out their website by clicking here. And especially check out their Take Action link.

And then the second film of the night was HAHAHA, by Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo. He's up to his old, playful tricks again, employing parallel actions, a character who is a filmmaker, and lots of talking over drinks. Specifically, two old friends meet for drinks as one is on his way out of Korea--moving to Canada to live with his aunt. They each tell stories of their recent trips to the same seaside town, and the audience learns (but they don't) that they were there at the same time, and ran into a lot of the same people. The similarities don't stop there. They both drink a lot, they write/recite poetry, they both have impulsive love affairs (oh yeah, that's the inspiration for the poetry). Early on, one challenges a tour guide at a historic site. When she tells a class that the more they know, the more they can see, he asserts the opposite--the less you know the more you see. Hong Sang-soo is clearly creating a situation where the audience knows more than the characters. Question is, does that make you see more or less than they do? I don't know the answer for sure, but I think, "more."

Total Running Time: 203 minutes
My Total Minutes: 233,496

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