Manchurian Candidate

The Manchuran Candidate is a chilling picture of the extremes to which globalization can reach when politics and economics become one. Democracy becomes an ideal of the past and the bottom line, made up of the lust for money and power, rules the world.

I thought this remake an admirable updating from fear of the Red Menace to fear of the global corporation. Meryl Streep is an interesting evil mother figure; Denzel Washington plays the role that Frank Sinatra made famous – the brainwashed soldier realizing what the government and commerce are creating: another new world order.

Here is a link to an essay was published last week in The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The essay is an attempt to explore the culture of fear that Hollywood is reflecting on through recent releases:

The Corporation & Manchurian Global:
The psychology of fear in the new world order

Riding Giants

I grew up in San Diego in the 1960’s and surfer culture was pervasive. It was just so cool, even if you never stood on a board (I managed to lay on one in Mission Bay once). It was always an endless summer, even for non-surfers.

Because I didn’t get to see Step into Liquid last year, I wanted to make sure I saw Riding Giants. The movie is a documentary that gives the history of US surfing up to 1948 in about two minutes and then documents the slow swell of the ranks of big wave surfers in Hawaii and California until the present day. It documents  developments in the sport to include tow-in and short board/snow board style surfing in order to ride the big ones surfers cannot paddle out to catch. Included in this history is the influence of Hollywood on surfing when, due to Gidget and other films, the number of surfers grew from 5000 to a couple of million between 1959 and 1964.

I thought it was an awesome film and I stayed with it right through the credits (do not leave; stay for the credits for some excellent interviews.) I had just seen the story of Laird Hamilton on one of the TV news programs and 40 minutes or so of this film tells his story, how he developed the more recent aspects of the sport and his tremendous influence on it. I was very interested to note that through Hamilton’s influence the sport has moved from being highly individual to a 3-member team sport because of the tow-in.

This is not a comprehensive film about surfing (for example, is there really only one female big wave surfer?) Laird is one of the producers, so it is personal for him. But one might say that’s OK, and rightly so. His contribution to the sport is controversial because of the tow in, but no matter. This is a film about being one with nature, in total respect and affection.

Impressive, stunning visuals, especially when Hamilton caught the big one in Tahiti.

Took my breath away.


Danny Deckchair

Remember Hugh Grant’s rather hygeine-challenged house-mate in Notting Hill, played so effectively by Rhys Ifans? Let me tell you, he cleans up very nicely in the quirky Australian comedy, Danny Deckchair.

Danny is a brick-layer who lives in Sydney with his girl friend Trudy,  real estate agent. He has his holiday all planned: a camping trip up north. Trudy makes a work appointment she cannot break (and doesn’t really want to) and lies to Danny about why they can’t go on vacation. They plan a barbeque instead for the coming weekend. Danny overhears Trudy calling him one of the “little people” of the earth…

Things aren’t going so well when Danny discovers Trudy’s lie and it’s too late to call off the barbeque. While at the store Danny gets some big balloons and he and his friends blow them up and attach them to a … deckchair. By mistake, they let go, and sure enough, the chair takes off with Danny in it.

He lands very ungracefully in Glenda’s back yard. She lives in a small town (think Wizard of Oz) and is the only parking cop there. She takes him in… In the space of about ten days he becomes the campaign manager for a local man and practically gets elected insead… and has some other adventures as well.

This is a charming romantic comedy about finding your soul mate and following your dream all the way home along a yellow brick road – kind of.

Oh, Glenda is played by Miranda Otto – of The Lord of the Rings fame.

No country does quirky so consistently and with so much charm as Australia. If you just want to enjoy a nice movie, try Danny Deckchair.


The Corporation

The Corporation is a 2 1/2 hour highly structured documentary directed by Mark Achbar, who produced and directed the Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media in 1992.

For anyone who is interested in the rise of “The Corporation” as a governing institution in the United States, Canada and the world, this is a movie to see. It felt like 2 1/2 hours of a college class on the coming and going and status of democracy, civics, economics, history, health, geography, manufacturing, industrialization, globalization, agriculture, the environment and every other facet of 21st century life – especially information media. That’s what Manufacuring Consent is about: the power of visual and aural language to create non-critical citizens and consumers.

From the dominance of the monarchy, the church and democracy has emerged “The Corporation.”

One of the most fascinating parts of the film is about how “The Corporation” has come to have the legal status of an individual but when a person sues it, no one is responsible (sound like ENRON?). The film then analyzes “The Corporation” according to the Handbook Of Diagnosis And Treatment Of The DSM-IV Personality Disorders; a very creative method I must say. Another impressive point was about the interest of Corporations, and the people that run them, for short term profit at the expense of the environment: the film calls it “the death of birth.”

The film was not entirely negative; it showed how one corporate head of a carpet manufacturing company came to realize the non-sustainability of his company’s products and the stages he went through to become corporately responsible. The film left plenty of space for creative “action” on the part of viewers.

Besides the linguist/political-economist Noam Chomsky, the filmmakers also interviewed Michael Moore and several activists and economists from major universities – and a woman from India who headed a movement to overthrow the use of one-season seeds, that is, seeds forced on farmers that did not generate seeds for the next planting season. She was successful. The whole issue of “copyrighting” DNA so that individuals and universities and nations can “own” life, is frightening, yet Maryknoll Productions has already documented this in its videos 8 – 10 years ago about sustainable crops around the world and the influence and impact of the World Bank, WTO and IMF.

There’s too much in this film to review – if you can, see it yourself. If you are interested in media literacy education or cultural studies, you will find much material for teaching about the power of “The Corporation” within what we hope and pray, is democracy. The film asks: but for how long?

Then see The Manchurian Candidate about the rise of corporation politics: Manchurian Global. I wonder, did the cineatic right hand know what the left hand was doing? The Corporation has to be a contender for Best Documentary at the Oscars. It has already won many awards, including one at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Fear is another theme that runs through “The Corporation.”

Attention anyone interested in social justice and principles of Catholic social teaching: you can find them all questioned and applied in this film; they make an effective viewing lens for watching almost any media artifact:

1) The inherent dignity of the human person, 2) subsidiarity: that no higher level community should strip another community of their capacity to see, judge and act on their own behalf, 3) that the common good be the determinant of economic social organization, 4) the universal destination (or distribution) of goods because ownership of property is not an absolute right, 5) solidarity, the alternative to globalization based on empathy for others, 6) an option for the poor from the social, economic and cultural vantage point of the least among us and finally 7) the integrity of creation.


Maria Full of Grace

Maria Full of Grace was truly a difficult film to experience because it is visceral to the core.

Maria is a 17 year old girl who lives in a village outside of Bogota, Colombia. She works on a flower plantation, and de-thorns long stem roses for export. She quits when her boss refuses to let her take bathroom breaks; she has just discivered she is pregnant.

Maria helps support a house full of women: her grandmother, unmarried single-mom sister, Diana, her nephew and her mother. They insist that she return to work; she refuses. She and her boyfriend decide not to marry.

At a dance, Maria meets Franklin. Soon after as she waits at the bus stop to go into Bogota to seek a job, Franklin picks her up and takes her into the city on his motorcycle. He offers to get her a job; which he does – as a mule.

Maria agrees to consume pellets of opium and take them in to New York. A friend of hers is also recruited. Another mule, Lucy, has already made two trips; she teaches Maria how to swallow by practcing with large grapes. The pellets are about the size of a woman’s thumb; not so small at all. Maria consumes 62 of them.

She and her friend make it through customs, though Maria is stopped; another mule is arrested; and Lucy becomes ill when one of the pellets breaks before she can expel them.

This 101 minute film seemed like it would never end. It is almost understated; the scenes are eliptical, trusting in our gestalt abilities to fill in the visual and digestive details that are missing. Perhaps for a woman it is even more difficult to watch because we can empathize with the gross discomfort as well as the emotional issues that lure these young women to act as drug mules, and risk everything for money and potential retaliatory harm to their families back in Colombia if they fail to deliver. (Of course, there are male mules as well, but this film is not about them.)

Maria is religious; in fact if I could get over the shock of the movie, I could possibly see through to the metaphors in the film that speak to the theological, because they are there.

This is an anti-drug movie; there is nothing hopeful or attractive in the cut-throat drug world it showsus. Maria is a persistently kind person and people show her kindness as well. The film ends hopefully for Maria and for her child, but I wonder about all the other mules willing to put their lives on the line for survival that Maria represents. This is truly a gritty, desperate movie that evokes incredibly strong emotions. To its credit it accomplishes this in a more subtle form than the usual feature-film fare.

I feel the need to pray.


The Village

(This may be considered by some to be a spoiler… You might want to read it after you see the film).

M. Knight Shyamalan has done it again. He has created another horror film with THE VILLAGE. Sure, there’s a difference between this and SIGNS or THE SIXTH SENSE, or even UNBREAKABLE and WIDE AWAKE (a little movie that people who treasure family films – in the best sense of the word – will love). All of these have a spiritual dimension, other worldly. What binds all of these films together, however, is that they are predicated on chaos over which one person or more have no control. This is what makes a horror movie that works. They scare.

I once heard Wes Craven speak and he said that the reason people go to horror films is because they are already scared… They go so they can gain a kind of symbolic control over the chaos of their lives. And there is a beginning, a middle and an end to a horror film. Closure.

What makes THE VILLAGE interesting is that it’s about a group of white people, and families, presumably well off enough to live well in isolated circumstances; there are only hints of any work being done to support the group. The people seem to be living around the year 1900 and they are surrounded by Covington Forest. They seem peaceful, at least the leaders do; everyone else is pretty much terrified by “those of whom we never speak” who dwell in the forest. They are attracted by red berries, so the people dig them up whenever they see them. Some villagers have seen the creatures; they certainly hear them. The creatures wear red capes, and have claws and horns, and skeletal faces. As the film opens we see skinned dogs left about the village, and we see a young girl getting all sweet on a young man, Lucisus (played by SIGNS actor Joaquin Phoenix). School goes on as normal; a wedding takes place; and Lucius spurns the girl in favor of Ivy, the blind daughter of the school master and head of the village, Edward Walker (John Hurt.)

At night, Lucius helps keep guard over the village that is surrounded and seemingly protected by a ring of fire. Another skinned dog appears; someone sees one of the red-caped creatures.

At a meeting of elders one day, Lucius asks permission of the elders to go out among the towns to get medicine for Noah,the “village idiot.”. He thinks the creatures will sense his good heart and let him pass. The elders turn him down.

Adrien Brody plays Noah,  but he is not as handicapped as he seems. When Lucius and Ivy’s love is made known, he stabs Lucius and leaves him for dead.

Ivy seems to have preternatural vision, and the courage of a “man.” She asks permission of her father to go to the towns to get medicine for Lucius. He makes a list of the needed medicines and lets her go, accompanied by two young men, dressed in the yellow capes that are supposed to signal the creatures that those who wear them do so in peace.

This is where we start to understand what’s going on. It’s like the ending comes here but there’s still more scary stuff to come. The acts of the film seem inverted (two and three).

Yet the film worked for me. I went to see this with my sister and I have bruises on my arm where she kept grabbing onto me at the scary scenes.

THE VILLAGE is a psychological horror film about fear – real fear and manufactured fear; fear of the chaos of life and living because of the bad things that can and do happen, fear manipulated to keep people under control so they will be safe (supposedly); and maybe its about the false security created by an addiction to fear.

Who has the right to keep people from living freely, under the guise of keeping them safe, by creating a situation of perpetual terror from threat of attack? Do you terrorize your own children so that they will not stray into the forest and see what’s beyond the narrow horizon you have built for them?

I kept thinking this film was going to be about religious fanatics, but that didn’t happen, though God was mentioned as part of village life here and there.

I think that this film could be seen through the lenses of family, community, faith tradition (how the people who interpret teaching can create and promote an image of God that controls people rather than empowering them to fulfill their true nature as children of a loving God), and nations. Fear is a universal emotion; how we deal with fear is where conscience, freedom and responsibility come into play.

I thought early on that the film was going to be about supernatural evil vs. supernatural and natural good, like THE SIXTH SENSE. No, it was about the extremes good people will go to when they cannot handle the chaos, grief, abuse, and sins that life hands to them. If they cannot name the darkness, they create darkness to deal with it.

THE VILLAGE is a movie with ideas, and without a very satisfying ending.


Some things are never explained, like why Ivy sees people in “colors”; no one ever questions the village elders and how they know what the creatures will respond to and what antagonizes them – though we do find out how the village came to be. The Noah character deserves more consideration than what I have done here, because I didn’t want to give away the whole plot. Shyamalan has finally chosen a female protagonist (all his other films focus on the male characters), though her father pulls all the strings.

Coventry Forest… a wild life preserve… a covenant made between a group of people never to leave the village, and a covenant broken.

Why only white people? (The film offers a plausible answer, that begs even more conversation.)

It would also be worth exploring how Shyamalan uses the same techniques in his films, e.g. the color red (THE SIXTH SENSE); aliens and “the other”…

Lots to talk about.

The Bourne Supremacy

I am a fan of author Robert Ludlum who died in 2001. His spy-thrillers are still a good read, though many took place during the Cold War. One of my favorites is “The Road to Gondolfo” from the early 1980’s about some mafia guys who kidnap the Pope for ransom, but he’s so happy to be out of the Vatican, he doesn’t want to go back. Reminded me of “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O’Henry. Now, people are finishing books Ludlum started before he died, and I think they keep up the tradition satisfactorily. Medical and corporate conspiracies have taken the place of the Cold War….

Anyway, The Bourne Supremacy is a better movie than The Bourne Identity that came out in 2002 – nothing against Matt Damon but if you liked Richard Chamberlain’s TV version, then it might have been a tad disappointing. However, The Bourne Supremacy is an engrossing spy drama that presents a new cinematic technique to viewers. Instead of too many over-long car chases and fights (there are some), much of the action is “chopped up” and blurred so we don’t have to sit through what have become cliche’ sequencing. Same old, same old. On the other hand, the fast moving blurred visuals gave my brother-in-law a headache. I thought it was rather classy, but if over-used, the technique could become predictable.

The blurring certainly reinforced the lack of clarity Bourne has about who he is, why the CIA is after him, and the Russians as well. When Marie, the woman who saved him in the last film, is killed by an assassin in Goa, India, where she and Bourne have been living, he continues his search for who he is.

You have to stick with this one to figure out the plot. You might want to see The Bourne Identity again if clarity of plot is important to you.

What’s interesting is that Marie had been working with Jason to curb his first response to any situation: killing. He realizes he has been brainwashed by the CIA – but why is at the heart of the story. In the film, the CIA basically collapses from the inside because of self-conspiracy, treachery, secrecy, fraud and greed. Is anyone to be trusted ever again?

Joan Allen is excellent as the Berlin CIA bureau chief and is the agent that reveals Bourne’s identity. But she still wants him to come in and talk about it… sequel?

Bourne’s damaged conscience and his humanity begin to emerge as he knits together the threads of his memory and his life.

Matt Damon plays this role supremely well.