Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Beyond Belief" (but pretty to look at!)

The latest review from the Netflix queue..."Beyond Borders," the sexy development world drama (a film genre of one) with Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie. (Yes, I'm still catching up from all the movies I missed when out of the country. The first season of "Nip/Tuck" is coming up next...)

o Angelina floats through the Ethiopian refugee camp in gossamer white separates and a Kentucky Derby-worthy hat. These never wrinkle or stain.
o Clive Owen does not laugh once. For 2 hours, he remains brooding, unrelentingly tortured and Very Serious about his work. Because he is a man, his clothing is allowed to wrinkle.
o Clive is kidnapped in Chechnya! Angelina must save him! Miraculously she is outfitted with a Doctor Zhivago fur hat and arrived on the snowy, war-torn steppes within mere days. Doesn't travel to Chechnya require a visa? And wouldn't post-Soviet paperwork take a little longer?
o (Spoiler alert) The genetic union of Angelina and Clive - two of most attractive humans ever spawned - is a normal-looking daughter you'd see at any piano recital in town.
o How did they cast the starving refugees? Particularly in Ethiopia and particularly the children are shockingly near-death thin. That has got to be CGI, or else there'd have to be some serious ethical issues about putting these kids on a movie set rather than a hospital.
o And why are the refugees fleeing? Unlike a more recent documentary, "Darwin's Nightmare" (set in Tanzania), surprisingly little exposition is given to how these tragic situations evolved in the first place.

Otherwise it's a visually striking film about well-meaning, well-groomed characters who grapple with moral dilemmas to help the Poor but Proud peoples of the world (who, with the exception of the female Ethiopian truck driver near the beginning, are portrayed not as actual characters with personalities, but as noble, one-dimensional victims).

As the on-location filming apparently inspired Angelina Jolie's humanitarian work, you wish the end film result more effectively related the complexities and nuances of development work and the situations that necessitate it. (In a few scenes involving supporting characters, these do come through, which adds to the frustration.) Maybe this could have been done through sticking with one country rather than hopping from Africa to Asia to Russia for greater visual variation.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shady Tropical Outposts: You never know who you'll meet in the developing world...

Interesting article about the international teaching "career" of John Mark Karr, the individual who either murdered JonBenet Ramsey or, more disturbingly, wishes he did.,8599,1229024,00.html?cnn=yes

This remarkably pale, clammy man hid out in Honduras, the Netherlands, Thailand...any nation where he could tuck his Sansa-belt slacks up under his armpits and reinvent himself. Not so surprising, I think, looking back on living in Costa Rica. Walking on the beach, eating at a cafe, waiting for a bus, you often ran into these expatriates of indeterminate provinance.

One refuge I met from Texas said he lived on an estate in the mountains of northeast Nicaragua and had young girlfriends stashed all over the country whom he'd shower with gifts of clothing and nail polish. He praised their bodies as "perfectly deformed" and declared that American women were "too fat and bitchy" for his tastes. Another from Louisiana, hopping among odd jobs across the country, talked about the 15-year-old girl in Colombia whom he'd almost married. The family had encouraged it, he said. When he visited them, all the sisters stood around his chair and fanned him.

You meet a wide range of expatriates in Central America - students, tourists, partiers, escapees from the corporate suburban grind. Among them, there were always those few Wild West types with crazy stories to tell, usually involving whiskey, women and allusions to some wacky get-rich-quick business venture. These folks would show up in a town, plant themselves in a community and start up a tab at the local bar. Then, one morning several months later, they just wouldn't return from a night at the disco or day out fishing. Sometimes large amounts of money went missing with them.

After returning to the U.S., I switched on "America's Most Wanted" and caught a story about a sketchy plastic surgeon who'd killed a patient via a botched lipo procedure, then chucked her body parts into a cooler which he threw into the river. The authorities of course found it, then him, luxuriating on the beaches of Playa Samara in Costa Rica, a place I'd remembered as the quaint vista where cattle graze on the town soccer pitch between games and howler monkeys serenade the bucolic hostel where I'd spent the night.

Central America - the destination of choice for the discerning fugitive. And why not? The living's easy, the dollar still goes far. Most importantly, no one asks questions, particularly of the gringos.

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