The Medicine

The shaman prepares.

(2019) Documentary (1091) Taita Juanito Guillermo Chindoy Chindoy, AnnaLynne McCord, Kerry Rhodes, Graham Hancock, Daniel Pinchbeck, Mauricio Diazgranados, Rachel Harris, Mitra, Carlos Duran, Jeff McNair, Leonardo Cordero, Ricardo Diaz Mayorga, Jordi Riba, Stuart Townsend (narrator), Adrianna Jairsagua, Brandee Powell. Directed by Farzin Toussi


Ayahuasca is considered a dangerous drug here in the United States; it is illegal here. In the Amazon, however, it is an ancient plant concoction that has deep spiritual connotations; not only is it thought to be a means of seeing into another realm (it is certainly a hallucinogenic), it also heals spiritual, emotional and even physical ailments – it is thought that ayahuasca can actually regenerate brain cells, something modern science is unable to accomplish.

Deep in the forests of Colombia are the Inga people, directly descended from the Incas of Peru. They live pretty much the same way as their ancestors did, relying on the bounty of the rain forest to sustain them. Their wisdom comes from the natural world rather than the modern one. Their Taita (a term that encompasses a number of functions, including spiritual leader, medicine man and chief) but is usually one granted to older men. Taita Juanito Guillermo Chindoy Chindoy is something of a rarity; a Taita who was deemed so as a teen, he remains a vibrant young man with a gentle sense of humor.

For those who think that those native tribes to the rain forest are ignorant savages, think again; Taita Juanito has an impressive knowledge of botany, easily equivalent to a PhD. He believes that the ecological disasters are nature’s way of reacting to decades of abuse by humans and he might just have a point. Contributing to it is the rash of hatred that permeates Western culture recently.

Toussi utilizes several scientists (like staff botanist Mauricio Diazgranados from Kew Gardens in London, the pre-eminent botanical garden on the planet) to describe the science behind the spirituality; it turns out that ayahuasca isn’t a single plant but made up as a brew of two distinctive plants; one containing the hallucinogen, the other helping deliver it to the brain cells and retain it there (the effect of the ayahuasca vine by itself is only momentary by itself).

For much of the latter half of the film, we follow the journey of two American celebrities – former NFL defensive back Kerry Rhodes and actress/activist AnnaLynne McCord. The former is trying to connect with his emotions, something frowned upon in football culture; he is also concerned about the effects multiple concussions may have had on his brain and hopes that ayahuasca will mitigate them. As for McCord, she was physically and sexually abused at a younger age and now has difficulty forming romantic connections and emotional intimacy.

Both undergo the ayahuasca ritual with varying results; Rhodes seems more receptive to it and went back for several more treatments. McCord, who had a suspicion of mind-altering drugs to begin with (she doesn’t use recreational drugs or alcohol) seemed less so. Taita Juanito allowed part of the ritual to be filmed, although once the ayahuasca was introduced he would allow only audio recording.

There is some beautiful cinematography of the forest, as you’d expect. One thing I found a little bit bizarre is that the filmmakers note that they resent the lumping of ayahuasca as a drug, with the negative connotations that come with it; yet when.  discussing the effects of it, they use psychedelic imagery more common with depictions of LSD usage. The images are pretty trippy, though.

Unlike other documentaries on ayahuasca, there is more of a scientific grounding here. Yes, a good number of the talking heads here are students of Taita Juanito – some might say disciples – who seem a little redundant when you have Juanito himself available. There is no doubt that he’s a wise man, one with a bit of impishness to him and not at all what you would visualize when the word “shaman” is mentioned.

Particularly early on, the movie is kind of jumbled and a little hard to follow. Eventually it settles down, concentrating on McCord and Rhodes and their interactions with Taita Juanito. The movie would have benefitted from better organization and a little less hagiographic interviews.

The debate about ayahuasca in this country remains not a debate at all; while pharmaceutical companies have been looking into the substance, there has been no serious studies done on it nor does there seem to be a serious movement to have it reclassified. Ayahuasca treatments will remain, for Americans, the domain of the rich and daring. The benefits of the plants in the Amazon are likely to be game-changers, although given the current Brazilian regime the Amazon basin is being handled as a place for exploitation. As time goes by, the shrinking rain forest may see an end to the culture of these indigenous tribes, perhaps in the lifetimes of some of our younger readers. All of that knowledge would then be lost and knowledge lost is always a human tragedy.

REASONS TO SEE: Taita Juanito is a compelling subject.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not really a linear documentary; organized in kind of a scattershot way.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is – I gotta say it – drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ayahuasca is listed in the United States as a Schedule 1 drug which indicates no medical benefit, despite never having been tested for such.
BEYOND THE THEATER: AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
Where Sleeping Dogs Lie


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Sean Connery is the epitome of an extraordinary gentleman.

(2003) Action (20th Century Fox) Sean Connery, Richard Roxburgh, Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsend, Naseeruddin Shah, Tony Curran, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill, David Hemmings, Terry O’Neill, Rudolf Pellar, Robert Willox. Directed by Stephen Norrington


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on a wonderful graphic novel by Alan Moore, had such high expectations among its fans that almost no movie could meet them. Consequently it got terrible reviews and a great deal of Internet drubbing, which is too bad, since it’s quite a nice little movie.

The setting is just before the 20th century. The legendary African explorer and adventurer Allan Quatermain (Connery) lives a semi-retired life, having already found King Solomon’s Mines. He is recruited to save England from a madman, one who is using terrible technology to set world powers against one another in an effort to start a World War.

Queen Victoria is very much against the idea, so she has the mysterious M (Roxburgh) recruit the most extraordinary team of people she can find; Mina Harker (Wilson), who suffers from an unusual blood disease; the brilliant Captain Nemo (Shah), captain of the fabulous Nautilus; Rodney Skinner (Curran), a petty thief who happens to be invisible; and Henry Jekyll (Flemyng), who hides a hideous dark side. They also recruit the fey Dorian Grey (Townsend), a brilliant mind who has seen it all.

Attacked by the goons of their quarry, they escape with the aid of Tom Sawyer (West), a brash American Secret Service agent. Together, as a league, they journey to Venice to prevent the destruction of a peace conference. They are too late to entirely prevent the bombs from going off, but by teaming together they manage to save the city and most of its populace. They find that there is a traitor in their midst, and their adversary is not who they think he is at all.

This film has taken its share of critical abuse, and some of it is deserved. There are some definite leaps in logic; having a sub the size of the Nautilus floating in the canals of Venice is ludicrous at best. The computer-generated Mr. Hyde is dreadful. However, despite the reported problems on the set between Connery and director Stephen Norrington, Connery handles his role like a pro, making a believable Quatermain. He is gruff and irritable but absolutely money in the clutch. This is Connery’s film and he carries it well.

The atmosphere of a Victorian era slightly warped from the reality of history comes off nicely. There are plenty of terrific effects to make this big screen-friendly. The cast, once you get past Connery, is decent enough but nobody really stands out except for Townsend as Dorian Grey, channeling “Project Runway” a bit too much. Wilson, so good in the “La Femme Nikita” TV series, has plenty of screen presence but it’s not really channeled well, more the fault of the filmmakers than the actress.

Does it measure up to its source comic? Depends on what you mean. And it shouldn’t have to. Comparing a movie to a comic is like comparing a car to a plane. They are different media with different qualities. The comic book League is one of the best (IMHO) ever, and the film wisely departs from its storyline. Why compete with greatness when you can, perhaps, establish your own?  Of course, the movie doesn’t really establish greatness but it does try. Seeing all these beloved fictional characters together is a hoot, but ultimately is disappointing; you don’t get the sense of epic adventure their original tales gave us.

The movie actually did better in the global market than it did here in America. Although room is left at the end for a sequel, you will never see one. Moore has divorced himself completely from the movie, which in all fairness, he has pretty much done with every movie made on his source material. Still, it’s a wonderful concept, and the atmosphere combined with Connery as an adventure hero is enough to make this a movie worth seeing – especially inasmuch as this is, in all likelihood, Connery’s final film.

WHY RENT THIS: What is in all likelihood Connery’s final film performance is delivered with all the fire and charisma of all his previous ones. Fascinating concept. A kick to see all those beloved fictional heroes together.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks the epic spirit of adventure of the source. A bit silly in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of action violence, a few bad words scattered here and there and a bit of sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was one of the first five movies to be released on Blu-Ray by Fox.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $179.3M on a $78M production budget; despite the perception that this was a flop,it actually made a slight profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


NEXT: Ice Age: Continental Drift

Battle in Seattle

Police and protesters clash in Seattle.

Police and protesters clash in Seattle.

(Redwood Palms) Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Isaach de Bankole, Ray Liotta, Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Benjamin, Connie Nielsen, Channing Tatum, Joshua Jackson, Rade Sherbedzija. Directed by Stuart Townsend

As 1999 drew to a close and the focus of most people was on the approach of the Millennium, the World Trade Organization, a group born out of the Marrakesh Agreement of 1995 whose purpose is to facilitate trade between nations, prepared to hold a conference in Seattle. Although the group was ostensibly for the purpose of making trade easier, it had become a means for wealthy, industrial nations to impose their will on poorer, emerging nations. Their policies had begun to attract international attention and controversy, and their conference would become a watershed event – for all the wrong reasons.

Jay (Henderson) is an activist much respected among his peers for his responsible leadership and his ability to organize massive, peaceful protests. His brother died during a protest of timber logging, and that event has guided Jay’s every move as an activist. Django (Benjamin) is, like Jay a respected activist and organizer, but whereas Jay is intense and serious, Django is much easy-going and genial. Lou (Rodriguez) is a protester who is bitter and frustrated, her perception being that peaceful protests don’t work against the morally bankrupt. She argues that more drastic measures would be needed to get the attention of those who only respond to power and force. Sam (Jennifer Carpenter) has a nursing background and while she agrees with Jay’s tactics and politics, doesn’t have the will to stand up and be counted.

They, along with thousands of others, have descended upon Seattle to protest the WTO talks there and if possible, bring those discussions to a standstill. They hold the WTO responsible for hunger, poverty and death in the Third World due to their unbalanced policies geared at insuring the rich get richer.

Seattle mayor Jim Tobin (Liotta) is concerned about the protests. He is proud that Seattle landed the conference of a prestigious international organization, and yet he walks a fine line with the protesters; he speaks to the WTO delegates praising the organization and welcoming them to his city, and then later the same day speaks to the protesters, slamming the WTO and asking the protesters to be peaceful in their demonstrations.

Dale (Harrelson) is a Seattle cop who is sympathetic to the protesters, but ready to maintain order. His wife Ella (Theron) is pregnant and works at a fashionable boutique in downtown Seattle. He lets her know about the protests scheduled there for the day and worries that traffic might be snarled. She brushes away his concerns.

Jean (Nielsen) is a television reporter covering the protests for her station. She is essentially apolitical, and is more concerned with getting the story than with taking sides. She’s ambitious and looking to make a name for herself.

At first, the protests are peaceful and effective, shutting down traffic around the conference venue and forcing talks to halt.  However, a small group of anarchists escalate matters, damaging the property of shops carrying goods that bring profits to those they feel are benefitting from the WTO’s immoral policies. The media picks up on this subset of the protest and worried officials from Washington state (as well as Washington DC) bring enormous pressure onto Mayor Tobin to give the go-ahead for police to use more aggressive tactics in dispersing protesters, as well as call in the National Guard to assist.

Mayor Tobin is reluctant at first, worrying that this will only further inflame matters but eventually capitulates. True to his worst nightmare, the protests descend into riots, with police brutalizing the protesters and firing tear gas into crowds of people. Ella, caught in the crossfire, is cruelly beaten by Dale’s fellow officers. Dale is heartbroken and angry at this, begging his commanding officer to be excused from duty but the riots have become too widespread – all hands are needed. This turns out to be a very bad idea.

This is a fictionalized account of actual events. First-time director Townsend (an actor best known for his role as Lestat in Queen of the Damned) integrates actual footage of the riots into his recreation of the chaos which lends an air of authenticity that is the movie’s strongest feature. Unfortunately, some of the subplots – particularly the romance between Jay and Lou – serve to muddle things up and eventually come off as unnecessary and unwanted.

It’s an impressive cast assembled here, with Harrelson deserving particular kudos as the cop conflicted by his political beliefs, and his outrage and anger at what happens to his wife. Liotta, who’s become a first-class character actor, is splendid as the bureaucratic mayor who watches helplessly as events spiral out of control.

Most of the rest of the cast has to suffer through cliché-ridden roles, with Henderson as the passionate and beloved activist, haunted by demons and Rodriguez as a poor little rich girl with daddy issues. Theron (Townsend’s wife in real life) has little to do other than look alarmed and scream loudly when she is attacked.

However, the shortcomings of the script don’t overcome the power of the story. The Seattle riots are widely considered a watershed event of American activism of recent years and managed to focus attention, albeit briefly, on the abuses within the WTO. The filmmakers have a definite agenda but the fault with the escalating violence is not placed in one camp or the other. Fingers can certainly be pointed in both directions. It should also be noted that the filmmakers depiction of anarchists causing property damage and in essence instigating the police response has been denied vehemently by anarchist groups that actually participated in the protests that day.

The important thing for our purposes is whether the movie is entertaining and/or informative. The former is certainly true and the latter is true as well. So the movie is at least successful on those fronts. I think that there is still a more compelling movie to be made on this subject, perhaps a dramatized version of the real people and events of the protests. Until it is, this one will do.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-staged dramatizations of the protests, mixed in with archival footage make those scenes some of the most compelling of the film. Ray Liotta and Woody Harrelson in particular deliver solid performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The extraneous romantic subplot grinds the movie to a halt and many of the characters are little more than clichés.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is pretty coarse throughout and there are some disturbing images during the protest scenes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In one of the shots of the riots, Quest Field appears in the background. At the time of the actual riots, Quest Field hadn’t been built yet. Instead, the Kingdome stood on that site.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A featurette on the background of the WTO.


TOMORROW: Surrogates