Ktismatics

9 February 2008

King of California, 2007

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 1:35 pm

California Coke

I have no idea who Michael Cahill is, other than that he wrote the screenplay for and directed this movie. Though it’s not a great movie, I did find myself thinking about it when I woke up in the middle of the night. What I liked was its sense of topography. It’s about a teen-aged girl and her crazy dad (capably played by Michael Douglas), who hatches a scheme to dig up a cache of Spanish gold buried somewhere under the L.A. suburbs. Equipped with maps and surveying equipment, he starts retracing the trail of some Spanish conquistador, reluctantly aided and abetted by his sane and responsible kid. They find rocks on a golf course with etchings that match the marks recorded in the Spaniard’s journal, they use a rented backhoe to dig up potsherds in a new housing development, they mark off distances inside the Costco store. The crazy dad ends up jackhammering a hole in the Costco display floor and, using scuba diving equipment he finds in the store, he plunges into an underground river in search of the buried treasure.

California Dishwasher

It sounds like some kind of slapstick adventure, but the idea of remapping the territory of a legendary old Spanish version of California still laid out right underneath the engineered suburban grid really appealed to me. That and Evan Rachel Wood, playing the daughter, who gave a remarkably expressive performance in what’s intended to be a very square role.

California Gold

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36 Comments »

  1. Does he find “it”?

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    Comment by seyfried — 9 February 2008 @ 3:24 pm

  2. You decide. He leaves a note for his daughter to buy a particular dishwasher from Costco, which she does. The last screen grab is shot from inside this dishwasher, with her looking in. What does she see in there, do you think, that casts this golden glow on her visage?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  3. I say, you’ve got quite a lengthy Tide commercial.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 9 February 2008 @ 4:12 pm

  4. Yes, there’s a lot of money in dishwashers — that’s why Costco stocks them.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  5. Wait–Jet-Dry not Tide (lol).

    Film seems a bit heavy-handed, if you as me, but the premise does sound slightly invigorating. I’ll take Aguirre, though.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 9 February 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  6. For me the best thing about the movie (besides the reterritorialization of California) was the father-daughter relationship — the idea that even if you know your father is crazy you almost can’t help but stick with him. As a father myself I’m concerned about my own craziness adversely affecting my daughter’s life, that she’s too loyal for her own good. After I watched that short by Cronenberg you linked me to I watched an interview with Cronenberg and George Romero where both of them, speaking as parents, thought kids shouldn’t be allowed to watch some of the movies they’ve made.

    The movie doesn’t say for sure that there’s gold in that there dishwasher, but here’s another thing. Shortly after he’s released from the asylum Michael Douglas recounts a dream or hallucination where he sees naked Chinamen wading onto the southern California beach, carrying their clothing protected in plastic bags. At the end of the movie the daughter drives to the beach with the dishwasher in the back of her beat-up old Volvo wagon, has the golden epiphany depicted in the screen capture, then hears a commotion from the beach: it’s the Chinamen wading onto shore. First the Spaniards, then the English, now it’s the Chinese’s turn to dig the gold out of California. So here’s another link to Eastern Promises maybe, though in this movie you get the sense that the thrilled Chinamen deserve to be next in line.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  7. “I’ll take Aguirre, though.”

    Seyfried have you seen Herzog’s movie about the plane crash survivor? This was a flight he and his crew were scheduled on for taking them into the jungle for shooting Aguirre, but they got bumped. There was a storm, the plane was struck by lightning, and only one person survived the crash. So Herzog documented this woman’s experience of the crash and her resourcefulness in finding her way out of the jungle and back to civilization. Fascinating. Herzog showed this movie at the U. of Colorado a few years back, and I asked him if he thought that feats of seemingly superhuman effort required people to return almost to the subhuman animal instinct level. I’m not interested in the superhuman, only ordinary humans, replied Herzog. I’m pretty sure he was bullshitting me.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  8. Twenty years from now, and we’ll never be able to shake those Eastern Promises connections from you and Dejan.

    “As a father myself I’m concerned about my own craziness adversely affecting my daughter’s life, that she’s too loyal for her own good.”

    How old is your daughter? Consciously or not, I suppose you can’t ever escape feeding that sort of loyalty – even during the worst of situations. Of course, there’s slight healthiness in being a apologist for your parents; someday (or now) your daughter will be able appease your self-concern and worries, seeing the best in you despite whatever you might think. Ostensibly, more fathers worry about promoting a form of paternal abjection, however; instead of being a habitual apologist for her father, my girlfriend allowed her father to represent a symbol of mistrust for all men for quite some time. But, I guess, I never think of it too much the other way around.

    Interestingly, I just finished watching Marnie (I should write about it) which had to deal with a female taking on self-assumption of the Symbolic Order, and then having those superficial layers torn down by an obvious Hitchcock (the director, not the trope) surrogate. It all comes back to fathers (or absence thereof).

    “Seyfried have you seen Herzog’s movie about the plane crash survivor? This was a flight he and his crew were scheduled on for taking them into the jungle for shooting Aguirre, but they got bumped. There was a storm, the plane was struck by lightning, and only one person survived the crash. So Herzog documented this woman’s experience of the crash and her resourcefulness in finding her way out of the jungle and back to civilization. Fascinating. Herzog showed this movie at the U. of Colorado a few years back, and I asked him if he thought that feats of seemingly superhuman effort required people to return almost to the subhuman animal instinct level. I’m not interested in the superhuman, only ordinary humans, replied Herzog. I’m pretty sure he was bullshitting me.”

    I’m not aware of it. The only Herzog-on-Herzog film I’ve seen is “Burden of Dreams”. That’s a pretty hilarious response from Herzog – did you hear where he rescued the other Phoenix (Joaquin; Herzog hasn’t transcended time…yet) from a car wreck a few years back?

    Ah, I found the film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0249248/

    Like

    Comment by Seyfried — 9 February 2008 @ 5:58 pm

  9. In the back story the mother was a hand model, possessed of “uncannily childlike hands.” She was obsessively protective of her hands, insisting that no one touch them. Then one day she up and left. So you’ve got a physically and emotionally remote mother and a loving but idiosyncratic and psychotically manic-depressive father, meaning the daughter has to be the adult in the family from an early age. The father’s digging around under L.A. is juxtaposed with occasional glimpses of the family’s past, narrated by the daughter. So we presume that this digging in the dirt is also an excavation of the unconscious. The dad, unlike the mom, is willing to get his hands dirty, so the daughter gains some kind of perspective on her life. She longs for domestic tranquility, watching the dishwasher demo over and over while her dad is jackhammering his way under the Costco floor. She wants clean dishes, not some dark and sulphur-befouled underground river. But the dad knows she wants this calm clean life, and so he brings his legacy up from underground and deposits it inside the dishwasher for her. Or something.

    Marnie I remember but not clearly. Tippi Hedren is the frigid klepto that Sean Connery marries and tries to understand. But I don’t remember her childhood trauma.

    Our daughter is fifteen, the same age as the girl in the movie — here’s one of her paintings. Apparently she presents her parents to her pals in a good light, because they seem to think we’re cool. However, today she was telling me she thinks she learned shyness when we moved to France when she was in the fourth grade. The new school and new language caused a self-consciousness that she’d not experienced before and can’t seem to shake now that we’re back in the States. So here we think we’re offering some kind of special experience and she’s scarred for life by it.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2008 @ 6:46 pm

  10. Sounds a lot more provoking than you originally let on. ;) Or maybe that’s just you ‘wising up’ when mentioning paternal obligations/ramifications.

    Hark! I’ve seen that painting somewhere–was it another website? For fifteen (my youngest sister is 16), she’s got something more, I think, than obvious artistic talent. I’ll resist playing an art therapist (or cheerleader, in this case), but I’d say she’s got a good grip on what’s best for her; the ability to enunciate concerns of prior experiences and avoidance of (supposed?) euphemistic parental treatment (“Well, it was for the best!”) seems like she’s got the ability to be objective about a few things, at the very least.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 9 February 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  11. She’s glad you like the picture, and agrees that she’s been able to get some distance from her less-pleasant life experiences.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2008 @ 10:05 pm

  12. Though I wasn’t wild about this picture, the fact that it woke me up suggested that it had more to say to me than I’d originally given it credit for. Most likely it’s the parenting “angle,” following on our brief discussion of Dejan’s father and my own sense of inadequacy. The only other movie I saw between this one and Videodrome was Verhoeven’s Black Book, which I found quite made-for-TV ordinary and forgettable. There’s surely stuff to be seen in Black Book, what with the Jewish heroine falling in love with the Gestapo boss and the Jewish traitor smothering to death in his coffin with all the loot he’d pilfered, but I guess I don’t find it worth my while to look for it

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2008 @ 8:29 am

  13. In the King of CA the idea is that, because of the childish and delusional self-indulgence of their parents, the children have to be adult squares, working at McDo’s instead of going to school, becoming accountants instead of making movies, etc. I don’t see it, at least not here in Boulder, former nexus of the Beat Generation and recently named by Forbes magazine “the smartest town in America.” The adults are BoBos and so are their kids; high school is all about putting together a dominating portfolio for applying to high-status universities. All the experimentation is squeezed out of the high school life; the parents are more like Dustin Hoffman’s parents in the Graduate or Harold’s mother in Harold and Maude. They don’t wear suits or hold the same sorts of republican cocktail parties, but the push is the same as it was a generation ago, only more so. Now instead of a 4.0 GPA and good extracurriculars you need a 4.5 GPA, an IB degree, and a “passion.”

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2008 @ 11:18 am

  14. Of course the movie is all about money. The girl works at McDo to make ends meet; the dad is sinking all his money, including the family house, into a get-rich-quick scheme reminiscent of the Spanish conquistadors. By the end the old man’s long-shot investment apparently pays big dividends. So it’s not about taking a risk for the sake of art or science or self-knowledge — it’s about the advantages of taking financial risks for the sake of big ROI. The Chinese are next: they’re investing in US govt. bonds, and maybe some day they’ll be redeemable for title to the State of California.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2008 @ 4:08 pm

  15. Great stuff, Ktis. Keep it coming.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 11 February 2008 @ 12:40 am

  16. Seyfried tell me this: If a college student wanted to find something like a Lacanian-Deleuzian analyst, how would s/he go about it? I’m not necessarily talking about therapy, but more the exploration of the unconscious and cultural influences on individuation and personal agency. Kind of like trying to find your passion, but without the marketing hype. Phone book? Cultural studies professors?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  17. Thinking about a career move?

    I’m not sure which direction you’re going in; personally, through the university — professors or departments — seems like the more feasible route. Of course, there’s this: http://www.psychdirectory.com/ I suppose the problem with Lacan and Deleuze, is that they tend to be lesser attached to therapeutic practices, thus really only – and often pejoratively – being attached with the academics and cultural reinterpretation. Still, there’s something oddly appealing about “finding your passion, but without the marketing hype”, it’s like almost just to the right of Huckabees, clear of being in a registered ‘crisis mode’.

    For the record, most of the people my age write-off Lacan as a fraud.

    Like

    Comment by Seyfried — 11 February 2008 @ 2:43 pm

  18. I’ve been thinking about starting up a practice but ambivalence and pessimism keep me immobilized. This whole fraud thing is a difficult thing to overcome, especially in a very pragmatic outcomes-oriented society. In France Lacan is mainstream — when I was still living there I told a friend I was thinking about starting up a psych practice for Anglophone expats; “Lacanian?” was the first question she asked me. You could go to the local Barnes and Noble equivalent and see all sorts of Freudian-Lacanian books in the self-help section. Here the closest you get is Jung. I didn’t much care for Huckabees but I know what you mean: it’s easier to imagine a fictional practice like this than a real one. In fact, both of my novels’ main characters are practitioners of this sort, and somebody who read my first book said it reminded him of Huckabees. The problem is that I can’t figure out how to get the fictional version published. So I’m cycling back to the real world, somewhat reluctantly and certainly pessimistically, to see if there’s anything I missed when I thought about it before. I sent an email to Dr. Sinthome (Larval Subjects) to see how he’s able to attract analysands to his Lacanian practice, but it’s been 6 days now and I haven’t heard from him.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  19. Sounds like a dangerous rut, Ktis. It seems like such an uphill battle to assume populist appreciation of these sorts of ideas, especially when we’re so reluctant to be self-governed – helped, but not governed. Of course with Lacan it’s ultimately about the dangerous discourse; I mean, he is actually viewed as “self-help” there?

    Okay, well, how do the Lacanian-Deleuzian practices work there?

    Like

    Comment by Seyfried — 11 February 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  20. It’s a matter of cultural context — Freud too was always a bigger hit on the continent than in the States. Here you can say you’re a cognitive behaviorist or a life coach or even a shaman and people know what you’re talking about, but the analytic tradition exists only in Woody Allen movies. Lacanian self-help is maybe putting it a bit strongly, but Lacanian self-analysis books for a general educated audience, absolutely.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2008 @ 4:09 pm

  21. “Sounds like a dangerous rut”

    Another source of my ambivalence is that, once somebody went through my Deleuzian find-your-passion exploratorium, s/he’s end up writing novels and trying to run a Deleuzian practice that have no customers. I.e., unless you’re lucky you’ll find that your passion is to dig holes in the Costco floor and diving in with scuba gear. Do I want to be responsible for people going off the rails?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  22. ‘Do I want to be responsible for people going off the rails?’

    I think that’s taking the film a bit too strongly – not that it doesn’t have a point. Moreover, couldn’t I suggest the same of your daughter witnessing your own apathetic demise? Or well, perhaps she’d be more proud of you digging than talking about it?

    Like

    Comment by Seyfried — 11 February 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  23. Okay Seyfried, you’ve gotten too depressing now, although the phrase “witnessing your own apathetic demise” does possess a certain perverse charm. So what to do next: write another unpublishable novel, or launch an unsellable practice? Actually, since my last comment I got an email from the director of giftedness or whatever at the local high school who thinks a practice that focuses on “identity” would be a good idea. Now I’m off to listen to some psychologist give a talk about high schoolers — I’ll see if I can alienate him permanently.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2008 @ 6:25 pm

  24. I’ve gotten too depressing (re: “So what to do next: write another unpublishable novel, or launch an unsellable practice?”)?

    “Actually, since my last comment I got an email from the director of giftedness or whatever at the local high school who thinks a practice that focuses on “identity” would be a good idea”

    That’s great. I didn’t mean to be cutting you down; I just think the sense of “adult squares” can be overstated, because in real-life, not fulfilling any sort of drive or aspiration can be just as damaging (arguably, more) of a portrait to sons and daughters than those witnessing their parents’ quixotic adventures. Of course, it’s hard to me to particularly empathize; I’m doing a field (accounting, then law) that really doesn’t encompass a lot of interests, but just things that will permit ‘other interests’ in the near future. To an extent, I almost envy your (and your field’s) liberation and intellectual pliancy – something that permits artistic ‘free-lancing’ and artistic registry. Ostensibly, teaching or clinical practice is really the only two ‘safe’ sources of income in regards to the field, but at least hacking away at some sort of floor, is infinitely more interesting than the historical stagnancy of jurisprudence/accounting.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 11 February 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  25. I didn’t mean to be cutting you down;

    Seyfried be careful how you address my sensitive and hyperintelligent American dad, because if you’re not careful we might end up having to ask Jonquille to do some retraining!

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    Comment by parodycenter — 12 February 2008 @ 3:53 am

  26. Dejan how was your first day at the office? I hope you’ll be able to change your nocturnal lifestyle in order to accommodate the 9-to-5 expectations.

    It’s okay Seyfried. My career as a novelist, atheistic Bible commentator and Huckabee’s practitioner all constitute a return of the repressed for me. I did sensible and reasonably lucrative jobs for quite a while, doing work that’s really not too different from accounting (building computer simulations of work processes, measuring and statistically evaluating outcomes). At a certain point I at last heeded the long-repressed call to become a Spanish explorer. I’ve never been manic, but I was enthusiastic and sort of evangelistic about exploring as a way of life. That enthusiasm has gradually faded until now it’s little more than a dim flicker. So it’s hard to get enthusiastic on other people’s behalf, to be a good advocate for the repressed Other in their lives.

    Last night I went to hear a Ph.D. psychologist giving a talk entitled “A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Teenage Years.” It’s all about parents wanting to get their kids to do what’s good for them, which means doing what their parents want them to do. So this guy is a good cognitive-behaviorist, proposing various technologies of behavioral and attitudinal change that parents can implement to maneuver their kids in desired directions so that they can become happy and successful adults some day. And I’m thinking: when humans evolved there was probably some important social function to be performed by people who were at their physical peak and who craved risk-taking and whose faculties for rational judgment and impulse control hadn’t yet matured (i.e. rigidified). In paleolithic times the teen-agers would have been the explorers, extending the territory of the species, pulling experience into language, imagining possibilities no one had ever experienced before. Now teen-agers spend all their time training for these lame-ass jobs, while parents and psychologists think up technologies for suppressing and diverting their intrinsic prevalence for risk-taking.

    The giftedness expert is concerned mostly with smart kids’ emotional needs — how to keep them happy despite a purported specialness that makes them different from and more sensitive than other kids. That’s fine, an emotionally secure base is helpful if you’re going to be an explorer — fort-da in Freud’s mythology. But at some point the kid actually has to make the expedition, to go out into the unknown. You’d think school would be the time to do it, but all the adventure has been squeezed out of it. And pretty soon fulfilling one’s emotional needs for security and happiness become ends in themselves, as kids settle into an ever-more-conservative social order. Dejan is right about the state of psychology: the (male) cognitivists spend their time reinforcing the law of the Big Other, while the (female) emotionalists help people settle comfortably into the overdetermined social order.

    So here I go into youth culture, purporting to help kids, but I’m there to get kids to realize that there is no Big Other, that it’s possible to redraw the maps of the territory even when — especially when — you’re a kid, that adulthood is as much a societal power position as it is a psychodevelopmental phase. And these kids’ parents are going to pay me to do this? Maybe so.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 12 February 2008 @ 4:50 am

  27. Well, if one must be restrained, it would have to be from somebody named Jonquille.

    Like

    Comment by seyfried — 12 February 2008 @ 10:23 am

  28. Ktis, was this lecture at the same high school as the one which is interested in your “director of giftedness or whatever at the local high school who thinks a practice that focuses on “identity” would be a good idea”? Or were you just attending due to curiosity and, well, perceived obligation?

    “So here I go into youth culture, purporting to help kids, but I’m there to get kids to realize that there is no Big Other, that it’s possible to redraw the maps of the territory even when — especially when — you’re a kid, that adulthood is as much a societal power position as it is a psychodevelopmental phase. And these kids’ parents are going to pay me to do this? Maybe so.”

    Lol. From hindsight, I know many parents who wish their high schools would have undertaken such a program; despite my high school area reminding me of a lot like your description of Boulder (^^^^), it might very well, or so it seems, be the ‘boomerang kid’ capital of the US.

    Like

    Comment by seyfried — 12 February 2008 @ 10:40 am

  29. “Well, if one must be restrained, it would have to be from somebody named Jonquille.”

    Dejan said “retrained,” but I like the S&M image you conjured up with your misreading — maybe the videodrome signal is having an effect? Have you encountered Jonquille, who has been an occasional visitor here and who has been Dejan’s blogging partner at the Parody Center for some months. Recently their partnership has frayed and is now perhaps sundered, I don’t know.

    Yes, same high school. The gifted lady works for the school district; the psychologist runs a group private practice, but his talk was promoted by the school. So I’m conducting some reconnaissance to see if I want to get into the identity-formation biz. I definitely wouldn’t promote myself as a specialist in adolescents — just seeing if any sort of resonance arises as I explore the scene. Tomorrow night I’m going to the gifted parents support group to see what that’s all about. If you must know, I don’t have any particular parenting issues I’m trying to resolve — my issues are elsewhere. She is always, however, interested in my reports on these forays into psychological space. Psychology interests her too.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 February 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  30. ‘Dejan said “retrained,” but I like the S&M image you conjured up with your misreading — maybe the videodrome signal is having an effect?’

    More like high serotonin levels from oversleeping. Hurts much worse than spouting abdominal vaginas. Ah! I haven’t encountered, Jonquille; though, Dejan, while (enjoyably) tangential, is so remarkably brilliant and candid that I can’t imagine him putting many people “off”, or at least longer than temporarily.

    “Tomorrow night I’m going to the gifted parents support group to see what that’s all about”

    Just to clear this up, when you say “gifted” and refer to a school program, is this an actual specialty center in the high school (like we had) or an entirely different school?

    “She is always, however, interested in my reports on these forays into psychological space.”

    Which sort of lends itself to my previous point – that she wants to see you go after El Dorado then sit around presupposing Quixotesque windmills. Consequently, it sounds to me like she’d really benefit from you taking the aforementioned job, yes?

    Like

    Comment by seyfried — 12 February 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  31. We’ll have to wait for Dejan to defend his offensiveness, since he seems trapped in gainful employment and lack of an internet connection these days.

    No, there’s no separate gifted school; it’s a program within the regular school, though I still don’t quite know what the program is since neither I’ve never investigated it before now. There is no job to be had — it’s a matter of whether I want to piece together a part-time private practice, so now I’m trying to make some contacts that might be useful in that regard.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 February 2008 @ 9:36 pm

  32. I wish you the best, Ktis. Really, I do.

    Like

    Comment by seyfried — 12 February 2008 @ 9:59 pm

  33. Exactly.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 13 February 2008 @ 4:39 am

  34. is there gold in the dish washer? what does the chineese people as to do with this endind..kinda random,where do they come from, a boat? i did see any boats….honestly i think the endind is not well made

    Like

    Comment by matt — 18 June 2010 @ 9:52 pm

  35. Hi Matt. I thought the Chinese people were there as the next wave of conquistadores, exploiting the riches of California. First came the Spanish, then the English, then the faceless investors who own the superstores, next the Chinese. Where did they come from? They’re already there, buying up US government debt. If the US keeps borrowing and China demands payment, then they own California. At least that’s what I thought the filmmaker was saying. Gold in the dishwasher? Why not?

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 June 2010 @ 10:24 pm

  36. I’m trying to figure out what beach is shown at the end of the movie…. does anyone have an idea?

    Like

    Comment by Maryna — 20 September 2014 @ 2:58 am


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