Tuesday, August 31, 2004

13 Going on 30

I was in Tulsa last week to speak at a conference of religious educators and a couple of women came up to me and asked if I had seen this film, starring Jennifer Garner and released earlier this year. I had to admit I had not, although Jennifer Garner is one of my favorite new stars (ALIAS is my guilty pleasure, as I think I have mentioned before.) These two ladies said: the main character is not a nice person, and she grows and changes... the movie is a thoughtful surprise.

I admitted that I had not seen the film and this past week my sister and I rented it while on vacation. We really enjoyed it! The two ladies were so right.

The movie begins with Jenna's (Garner) 13th birthday party and the consequences of the choice she makes about who her friends are.

The film is an excellent journey into the moral imagination; it's an unconventional conventional romantic comedy with lots to talk about: who we choose for friends, the fidelity of friends (or lack thereof), greed, power and finally, growing up; the consequences for the choices we make - or not. 

The type for this commentary is pink because the movie is kind of ... pink. But it's an excellent film that even us older folks can enjoy.

Friday, August 27, 2004

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


Saturday, August 14, 2004

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.


Saturday, August 7, 2004

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.


Wednesday, August 4, 2004

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.