Sunday, August 8, 2004


In Spanish with English subtitles

Transporting cocaine from drug-producing countries to the marketplace has always been a challenge. In countries like Columbia and Peru, the use of trucks, light aircraft and fast speedboats are some of the traditional methods. More often it is people who are used to transport the drug; they are called mules.

Sometimes these mules are outfitted in tight fitting corsets and shorts with the cocaine sewn inside and then take a flight to their destination. Less sophisticated methods include duct-taping the packages of drugs around their legs, shins or stomach. Sometimes they are given false-bottomed suitcases or the drug is stuffed into wine bottles or fake shampoo bottles or even jars of jam. In one complex process, cocaine is liquefied and then applied to clothes as a "starch" which will later be melted off. Customs agents are also on the lookout for a new scheme that entails solidifying cocaine into flat discs that look like CDs.

However the most common method of transport is to have the mule ingest "capsules” of cocaine packaged in tied-off condoms or the fingers from surgical gloves. The mules are then given special drugs to stop regular digestive functions (such as the production of stomach acids that eat through plastic) and other drugs to delay the normal discharge of the stomach contents. Acute cocaine intoxication due to the bursting of capsules within their gastro-intestinal system is always present and can lead to death if not treated in time (generally by a surgical intervention known as a laparotomy which is the cutting through the walls of the abdomen, like a Caesarean section, and removing all the drug). Mules generally are paid $5 to $10,000 per trip depending upon the amount carried and the difficulty of infiltrating the particular country they are sent to.

Catalina Sandino Moreno: Maria Alvarez, a 17-year old working in a flower factory
Wilson Guerrero: her boyfriend Juan
Yenny Paola Vega: Maria’s friend Blanca
Jhon Alex Toro: Franklin, a young man Maria meets one night
Jaime Osorio Gómez: Javier, Franklin’s boss
Guilied López: Lucy, someone Maria meets in Bogata
Patricia Rae: Carla, Lucy’s sister living in Queens NYC
Orlando Tobón: Don Fernando, an ex-Columbian running a small business in Queens

One more story about someone deciding to break the law because they don’t see any better alternative. Told this time from the point-of-view of a young woman it is easy to understand how some people get into this situation. That doesn’t mean to say we need to condone her action but it does give us some insight. The acting by Maria in her movie debut is excellent.

for obscenity, violence and scenes of drug use.

As the movie tag line says “based on a 1,000 true stories” it comes across very much like a documentary because so much of what we see looks real.


In Arabic with English subtitles

Al-Jazeera ("The Island" in Arabic) satellite news station was launched in November 1996 and is the fastest growing television network among Arabic speaking people around the world. Programming is focused primarily on news coverage and analysis by many former employees of the BBC Arab Service. With more than 30 bureaux and dozens of correspondents covering the four corners of the world, Al-Jazeera produces programs that are available world-wide through various satellite and cable systems to 35 million viewers, 24 hours a day.
This so-called “Arab version of CNN” has earned a reputation as an oasis of free speech in a region dominated by government censors. Its intrepid reporting, candid talk and lively documentaries are unlike anything most Arab viewers have ever seen. But it has also attracted the ire of many Arab governments (including Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia) unaccustomed to hearing open criticism.
Al-Jazeera has given millions of people a refreshing new perspective on global events. Officials there say that if the U.S. and Britain object to the opinions they see expressed on the station's programs, they are welcome to equal air time in which to respond. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US Secretary of State Colin Powell have both appeared on the network to express their government’s position of matters of importance.

Hussein Ibrahim, a Qatar-born, Western-educated correspondent for Al-Jazeera who formerly worked for the BBC Arab Service.
Samir Khader, a senior producer at Al-Jazeera
Lt. Josh Rushing, the press liaison officer at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar

By their own admission, they are equally guilty of slanting the news so this film about Al-Jazeera provides us an opportunity to hear and see the “other side of the story”.

For example, one night during the Iraqi war the U.S.A.F. strafed and bombed the Al-Jazeera Baghdad bureau along with the offices of the Ab Dubai television station and the hotel where journalists from several Arab countries were staying. The death of one journalist prompted an apology from the U.S. Armed Forces spokesman who said “they took action in response to being fired upon by people at these targets". Al-Jazeera suggests this military action was because of their anti-American views.

We also told that it was a staged contingent of Iraqi sympathizers who were seen walking in behind the American tanks as they entered Baghdad happily waving the original flag of Iraq (banned since 1991 by Saddam Hussein) that they just “happened to have” with them. When later interviewed by Al-Jazeera it was apparent these men were not from Baghdad at all but Kurds trucked in from the U.S.A.-friendly northern part of the country.

It is interesting to hear Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying that the Al-Jazeera network is willing to distort the truth, to disseminate misinformation to make its case and they will continue to do so until they are caught in a blatant lie. The pot calling the kettle black?

for war violence, brief language.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004


Imax documentary

Filming took place over a period of 18 months to encompass the three seasons (rain, heat, wind) of the Kalahari desert.

The thin story line (the “old” lion is challenged by a younger male) is interspersed with the daily life of a small group of lions. Most of the film is devoted to scenes of violence: the stalking and killing of other wild animals, the fight for dominance of the pride.
Cinematography as usual is excellent with mouth dropping sunsets and sunrises. In addition, the close-up shots are something to behold which begs the question: have they developed newer and better lens or are they using some other technique to get these results? In any case, the images are spectacular.

for General Audiences

Taking a close look at the nighttime sky it seems to me that the producers (National Geographic) have capitulated and begun using CGI (computer generated images) which is counter to the magazine’s principal of “no manipulation of any photographic image”. Guess there is an exception to every rule?



Denzel Washington: U.S. Army Captain Bennett Marco
Liev Schreiber: U.S. Army Sergeant Raymond Shaw, winner of the Medal of Honor
Meryl Streep: Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, the real power behind her son’s political career
Jon Voight: Senator Jordan, up against Shaw as the running mate of the president elect
Kimberly Elise: Rosie, a grocery store clerk

The dual premise of the movie rings true: people can be manipulated and politics are controlled by big business who would like nothing better than have their own puppet in the White House.

In this case it takes Major Marco some time to uncover these truths albeit in a somewhat confusing manner. The acting throughout is excellent although Meryl Streep playing a tough bombastic politician is somewhat out of character.

for for violence and some language.

The shirt collar of Major Marco’s shirt is crinkled but when we see him in close-up it is neatly ironed.

The letter “E” in the red neon sign for the hotel is defective and blinks when Major Marco first goes there to see a former comrade; on the second visit the blinking letters are now “O” and “T”.

When Major Marco is in the police station the suit lapel of the investigator has a brown spot on it except for one scene where it is no longer visible only to return in the following shot.

There are so many plot twists and turns it’s easy to get confused. Several things to keep in mind:
 after the ambush attack during the first Gulf War, we are not sure what happened to the soldiers in Marco’s units until he experiences the flashbacks
 Manchurian is a multinational defence conglomerate (not the region in China) a world wide conglomerate that had employed a genetic scientist to do research in mind control methods so people programmed will respond to certain words and carry out the task demanded of them
 the purpose of the shoulder implant is never completely explained
 Manchurian Global is the largest single contributor to Senator Shaw’s political career and she has been told the mind control words
 Senator Jordan, after talking with Marco, knows too much for his own good
 the vice-president elect (Shaw) gets confused and stands in the location on stage designated for the president elect
 Rosie is an excellent marksman (markswoman?) and can wound a man in the shoulder preventing him from taking his own life