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Even the most diehard fiscal conservative couldn't deny that the corporate presence is more pervasive and all-encompassing today than in any other period in history.

This is the basic point at which The Corporation begins. Filmmakers Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent) sidestep overt political partisanship. They immediately begin to build a case based on essential human costs and let the facts speak for themselves. The film's main structural device is to take the legal principle that a corporation is considered a person in the eyes of the law and then turn it loose on itself: if corporations are actually people, then how have they behaved?

The film measures case after case of corporate behavior against the Manual of Mental Health Disorders (or DSM-IV), institutional standard for the World Health Organization and the world's medical community as a whole. And some of the film's interviewees agree: corporations act like psychopaths.

Abbott and Achbar display an even-temperedness that might keep them from alienating conservative or commercially minded viewers, but Corporation has a number of flaws that nonetheless weaken its impact. Like Manufacturing Consent, this film takes way too long to get to its most compelling arguments --- and in the process leaves out too much background about the history of corporate power.

Once it gets going, though, the film is unstoppable. Some truly loathsome real-life villains appear, but overall Abbott and Achbar do an admirable job of showing the human face of the modern CEO. By far the film's most useful testimony comes from Ray Anderson, a sober and logical former CEO of the world's largest carpet manufacturer who experienced an epiphany. He now speaks out against industry's unsustainability. "Every ecosystem on the planet," he says, "is in decline. Surely the day must come when this is illegal."

The Corporation documents big business' race to "own" the DNA coding for human life --- very real, and already under way. In this context, Ghost in the Shell 2seems less like science fiction and more like believable drama. The sequel to the watershed anime classic is set in the mid-21st century, in a world where corporations can own people's minds, upload them onto a massive computer network, and transplant them into robot "shells."

Where its predecessor was a breathtakingly transcendent meditation on the meaning of life, Ghost 2 unfortunately fails to live up in almost every way --- most disappointingly, the animation is vastly inferior. This time, obvious CGI stands in for the first film's untouchable aesthetic grace, a shock considering that Mamoru Oshii is once again at the helm.

The characters, most of whom annoyingly spout classic poetry instead of really speaking to one another, way overplay the film's metaphysical hand. The only exception comes when a forensics specialist lectures the two law-enforcement protagonists, both returnees from the first film, on why robots "commit suicide" rather than "self-destruct."

The plot itself isn't the problem; getting lost in it is, and it's hard to imagine how the writers strayed so far afield of such a fertile premise. By the time you get to the provocative and rather rewarding punchline, you'll just be too exhausted. Still, fans might not be able to resist finding out what's happened to the first film's main character. Prepare to be disappointed --- but, at the very least, this time Oshii offers us a much harsher glimpse into a harrowing technological world, a place that now doesn't seem far off at all.

Both The Corporation and Ghost in the Shell 2 are at the Little Theatre for two more days only, through Thursday, November 4.

--- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


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