Battle in Seattle

In November 1999, the first inkling we had of any problems with the WTO Ministerial Meeting was when the Seattle Police Department commandeered the rooftop of my condominium as a vantage point for their SWAT force. Limos would deliver representatives from the various countries to the Paramount Theater and the Washington State Convention Center, just a stone's throw (...smile...) from our building. The Seattle PD was required to protect the dignitaries, so if they got to the rooftops first, it would leave no place for would-be assassins to set up shop.

First-time Writer/Director Stuart Townsend has made judicious use of actual news clips and cleverly shot Seattle street scenes to cobble together a fairly low-budget but chaotic movie about a chaotic time. In reading trade magazines, I see the critics are rating this movie everywhere from A- to a D+. I have to say that I fall right smack in there...somewhere...

As someone who had to cross police lines to get to work, I know the police were desperately understaffed; some of us brought them sandwiches because they went from 12 to 18 hours with nothing to eat or drink. According to Townsend's interpretation, the original organizers of the protest had made a pact with the mayor, here played by Ray Liotta ("The Rat Pack," "Wild Hogs" and "Heartbreakers"), to conduct a major -- peaceful --protest, then march to Seattle Center and hold a rally at Memorial Stadium. By the way, the police chief, the mayor and the governor all have fictitious names...to protect the innocent...

What no one knew, both in real life and in this screenplay, was that a group of anarchists had moved in and began smashing windows and vandalizing the streets of downtown Seattle. This was in direct violation of the pact and everything went downhill from there. As tear gas and billy clubs came into play, the National Guard was deployed and we became an armed camp. One of my granddaughters was trapped in the bank building where she worked, six blocks from the melee and tear gas was sucked in through the ventilation system. By the way, the anarchists were, in reality, some of the experienced anti-establishment rioters who made our lives a living hell in Eugene, Oregon in the late 60s, early 70s.

The weakness in Townsend's script centers around too many coincidences, e.g., a Seattle policeman, played by Woody Harrelson ("Transsiberia" and "No Country for Old Men") has just come from a doctor's appointment during which he gets his first hi-tech peek at his unborn child. His wife, played by Charlize Theron (an Academy Award for "Monster," plus "Hancock" and "Sleepwalking") is mildly conflicted about being pregnant, she thinks she might rather go to Brazil. While shopping for baby clothes, a store window is shattered. As she rushes out to try to get home, she gets caught up in the riots, is tear gassed and bludgeoned, whereupon she loses the baby.

Of course Harrelson and the charismatic leader of the pacifists have a face-to-face encounter (you'd think Seattle was about the size of Tombstone with only one main street); and when the hundreds of protesters are jailed, the charismatic leader and his latest "squeeze" just happen to be in adjacent cells so they can commiserate and hold hands. A television news personality opts to go to jail with the protesters rather than cover President Clinton's arrival at Boeing Field. ...Ya think???

Comic relief is supplied by André Benjamin. He sings "Don't worry; Be happy" while waiting to be booked in jail. While waiting to get out, he tells the charismatic pacifist, "Look at it this way. A week ago, people didn't know anything about the WTO. Now..." he pauses and laughs wryly, "...they still don't know anything about the WTO, but at least they know it exists!"

My sentiments exactly!


Take a fellow who has dominated every entertainment genre he has tried: movies, television, music; next cast a gorgeous Academy Award winner; then add a charismatic television stalwart; combine the three of them into an action-filled cartoon premise and what do you get? Yup! You have another July winner for Will Smith. This latest outing for our depend- able Mr. Smith ("The Pursuit of Happyness," "Ali" and "I am Legend") may not enjoy the blockbuster success he had with "Men in Black" and "Independence Day," but this is a crowd pleaser, just the same.

Smith is the eponymous "Hancock," a gone-to-seed, alcoholic superhero who inflicts so much damage when he does his heroic deeds, the police hesitate to call him. He can fly, is impervious to bullets, missiles, fire and explosions; but when he stops a train, it is derailed and destroyed. When he rescues a beached whale, he tosses it back into the ocean, he hits a yacht and sinks it. When he stops a car chase where the troopers are trying to capture a lethal joyriding gang, he smashes freeway signs and causes multiple traffic crashes. He has a bad, bad attitude; as a result, the public thoroughly dislikes him. When he is criticized, he lips off at his detractors then retreats to his remote desert shack to sulk.

Jason Bateman ("Juno," "Arrested Development" and "The King- dom") is a sunny would-be do-gooder, who tries to inspire corporate giving to "make the world a better place." His character is so open- hearted, loving and supportive, you want everything to go his way. He realizes his project isn't going very well, and after Hancock stops a train that is bearing down on him, they go to Bateman's house for dinner to discuss his concept of changing our superhero's lousy public image.

Bateman's wife, played by the awesome Charlize Theron ("Battle of Seattle," "The Italian Job" - 2003, and an Academy Award for "Monster") is clearly nonplussed when she first sees Hancock. We don't know why (neither does he), and therein lies the tale...or at least one of them. The "reveal" was done sotto voce so I could only glean the general idea of that secondary plot.

There is cartoon violence and a certain amount of PG-13 blood, but in my opinion, it isn't overly graphic. In one instance, Hancock slices off the hand of a bomb-wielding villain, but the audience cheered. No trauma there! Hancock's time served in prison is a nice mix of cartoon violence and character building.

This movie promotes esoteric things like washing up, shaving, and being polite. We all laughed as Bateman coached Smith on how to say, "Good job!" And it was painful to see Smith's scruffy character squirm as he was forced to read a public apology for his previous behavior.

All three of these actors have a reputation for accountability, each has had his or her share of heartaches but each seems to be out of the woods and is out there doing the job. I like all three of them, so I liked their movie!


Under the Same Moon

"La Misma Luna" is a wonderful, wonderful movie!

I was advised to go see it by someone who was going to join me, but failed to show. (Ahem. You know who you are...smile...) It didn't matter! I was transported from the first frame.

Carlitos, played by Adrian Alonzo, is a nine-year-old Mexican boy who lives with his grandmother and works for a "Coyote." He sees many aspiring immigrants, desperate to get to the United States, fork over astonishing amounts of money for safe passage. Every Sunday morning at 10:00 AM, his mother calls him from a pay phone in California where she works as a domestic, saving her money to pay her son's way... eventually....The apple didn't fall very far from the tree, as he too, has been saving HIS money! They are both desperate to be together; she has been gone for four long, sad, formative years.

His sickly grandmother dies in the night and Carlitos knows if he stays, a sleazy uncle will take over, simply to get his hands on the $300.00 Carlitos receives each month from his hard-working mother, played by the lovely Kate del Castillo. He has a general idea of how people cross the border, so he grabs his savings and takes off. Most of the script is in Spanish and the captions are welcome, but the translation is realistic and authentic.

America Ferrera from the television show "Ugly Betty" does a cameo in this film, and one of the principal actors, Eugenio Derbez, is evidently a well-known and much loved comic actor in Mexico. I know he's really good in THIS role. This terrific little saga will bring you faces you will come to adore, believable characters and situations, excitement, lots of humor, and a deep abiding belief in the goodness of human nature.

Right down my alley, correct?



In Bruges

Here is a chance to see some premiere acting. Our story takes place in Bruges (Belgium) and features a team of hit men. Obviously, based on the release date, the studio has no hopes for 2008 Oscars, but all three of the lead actors have a chance to shine and all three knock it out of the park. They portray the two hit men and their boss.

Brendan Gleeson in particular ("Cold Mountain," "Breakfast on Pluto," and "Troy") has a lengthy one-take scene with a telephone no less! It goes on and on, he moves through a wide range of emotions, moving around his hotel room arguing a point and ultimately conceding defeat, all with no cuts, no splicing, no cobbling together of a scene. It is very, very impressive!

Colin Farrell ("Phone Booth," "Minority Report" and "The Recruit") may even live down "Alexander" if he keeps delivering work of this caliber! He is the other half of the team of hit men sent to Bruges after a particularly tough job (during which he "hits" an uncredited CiarĂ¡n Hinds). The effects of that job continue to haunt him and he seems more and more like a loose cannon.

Ralph Fiennes ("Quiz Show," "The English Patient" and "The Con- stant Gardener") is their boss who is completely out of patience with a supposedly professional hit man who suffers qualms after the fact. He is a contradictory blend of cold ruthlessness mixed with unexpected mercy. The concern of two of the men for the stubborn (but very pregnant) hotel proprietress is actually quite believable.

The running gag is, as a city, Bruges is such a non-entity no one expects anything important to happen there! In reality, it's a lovely city, with impressive ancient architecture, canals like Amsterdam and lots of history, but the incredulity of the characters when they respond, "In Bruges?!" always got a laugh. One of our guys is basically a tourist at heart, travel brochures in hand, so he comes to appreciate the place more and more, while the other is bored, miserably cold and truculent.

This movie has a clever script written with a deft hand that includes many nice touches of dark humor. Alas, some of the folks in Wednes- day's audience thought it was downright hilarious. I will admit that some of the dialogue got past me, so I'm looking forward to the DVD, which will be funnier simply because of the captions. Incidentally, like an Eddie Murphy movie, by the time you've heard the "F-word" the tenth time, it loses its punch, but be warned...



Non-stop violence, bloody beatings, grisly bullet wounds, vehicular mayhem, a spectacularly unrealistic train wreck and cold-blooded killings. Hmmm... I guess we got our money's worth, huh?

All those things notwithstanding, I actually got a kick out of watching Angelina Jolie ("Beowolf" and "Lara Croft") transform the nerdish nobody James McAvoy ("Becoming Jane," "Starter for Ten" and "Atonement") from a browbeaten, cube-dwelling accountant into an action hero, a trained operative and a fully fledged member of a secret society of assassins.

His boss had abused him, his girlfriend was unfaithful to him and his best friend betrayed him, but he had never done a thing about it. Once the pillow-lipped Jolie takes him to our favorite authority figure, Morgan Freeman ("The Bucket List" and "Bruce Almighty"), he is shown that he has some of the attributes that his father also had. His father had abandoned him when he was a week old, so he wants to take their word for it.

This ridiculous movie is messy, cartoonish, silly and illogical but the satisfying ending had the audience applauding.

Actually, I was glad to go home, even though, as a rule, I enjoy watching McAvoy.


The Love Guru

Let's make a list of (to my way of thinking) unfunny items:
  • A cross-eyed guru played by (Sir) Ben Kingsley ("Schindler's List," "Gandhi," "You Kill Me" and "Sexy Beast")
  • A French-Canadian accented Justin Timberlake (mostly vocal work and TV) whose character is nicknamed "Le Grande Coq" (nudge, nudge, get it?)
  • Fornicating elephants
  • Fart jokes
  • Diarrhea jokes
  • Chastity belt jokes (it clangs at inappropriate moments)
  • Lots of slams to the crotch
  • Utterly ridiculous self-help affirmations (well, maybe some of those ARE funny...)

For some reason, these items leave me cold. I know, I know, I'm just a stuffy old poop!

On the other hand, I like the magic carpet that beeps when it backs up and I'm always bewildered when I see "name brand" actors show up in trashy trivia like this:

  • Val Kilmer ("Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang" and "Top Secret")
  • Mariska Hargitay ("Lake Placid" and "Law & Order" on TV)
  • Jessica Simpson (well, she's sort of a name brand)
  • Deepak Chopra (Real-life self-help guru)

In a nutshell (by the way, this movie is loaded with double entendres), Mike Myers' character Pitka, an American-born guru trained at an ashram in India, is hitting the big time but is unable to reach that final epitome of success, an appearance on Oprah. His agent tells him if he can engineer a reconciliation between Romany Malco ("Baby Mama" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), a temporarily incapacitated ice hockey star and his unfaithful wife, thus enabling the hockey star to recapture his self confidence and win the "Big One," Pitka can appear on Oprah and will no longer be called "The Poor Man's Deepak Chopra." The owner of the hockey team, played by Jessica Alba ("Into the Blue" and "Good Luck Chuck"), is considered a curse by the locals because their team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since she inherited it.

All we can look forward to is one sappy situation after another, a brief Bollywood-type musical interlude and an unrealistically happy ending. If you are a Mike Myers fan ("Austin Powers" and the "Shrek" voice) this might be right down your alley. Otherwise...


You Don't Mess With the Zohan

This farce was written by Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up" and "The 40- Year-Old Virgin"), Adam Sandler ("Reign Over Me" and "50 First Dates") and Robert Smigel (a Saturday Night Live writer), all three specialists in crass humor, so the theater was packed with their fans... and they weren't disappointed! This is absurd comedy from the get-go. You are first treated to lots of full-backtal (as opposed to full-frontal) nudity with Sandler's obviously newly buffed body which, later on, is augmented with an outrageous codpiece! His character, the eponymous Zohan, is a Mossad agent, weary of the constant warfare and destruction that is the standard order of the day in the Mideast. He wants nothing more than to become a hairdresser. In fact, he has a cherished Paul Mitchell book of hairstyles which is like pornography for him, he retreats to the privacy of his bedroom to daydream over it.

His parents think he should remain a Mossad agent ("It's steady work!"). In fact, his father, played by Shelley Berman (YES! THAT Shelley Berman for you folks familiar with 50s television!), is incredulous and assumes that if his son wants to be a hairstylist, he must be gay. Zohan's mother tries to reassure him that things will soon be better, "This war has been going on for 2000 years, how much longer can it be?"

Forced to confront a Palestinian hero, "Phantom," played by John Turturro ("O, Brother Where Art Thou?" and "Margot at the Wedding"), he dodges missiles, catches bullets with his nose and plays tennis with a live grenade (Did I say this is an absurdist comedy?). This battle allows him to fake his own death so he can slip out of Israel and migrate to the United States, where his first cab driver is an uncredited Chris Rock ("Lethal Weapon" and "Nurse Betty"). His lusty landlady is one of my favorite character actresses, the zaftig Lainie Kazan ("Beaches" and "My Favorite Year" plus LOTS of television).

To his dismay, the Paul Mitchell Hair Salon will have nothing to do with him, so he briefly becomes a limo driver for Henry Winkler (The Fonz in "Happy Days" and LOTS of television work) who is his petrified client. Eventually he becomes a sweeper in a small salon run by a beautiful young Palestinian woman, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, who is drop dead gorgeous! He soon becomes their star stylist ("...with benefits") for a horny mob of elderly women.

An evil developer wants to raze the block where many small businesses are thriving: the hair salon, an electronics store, the perennial "going-out-of-business" outlet. This local New York City neighborhood is com- prised mostly of Israelis and Palestinians, so he hires thugs to vandalize shops and blame "the enemy" (remember, this is a 2000-year-old war!).

My main problem was making out what they were saying. Most either had or used a Mid-eastern accent (and I don't mean Illinois!). I was happy to see Sandler skipped his usual temper tantrums. I find them tedious. As to the absurdities, I had already suspended disbelief, so had a much better time than I expected. Just remember, this is Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, so it's really, really crass!

Martian Child


That was a BIG kiss to the wonderful friend who finally lit a fire under me to get this great, great 2007 DVD from the library. As recommended, I watched the extras and was reminded that the screenplay is based on a story written by the man who experienced it. Short story writer David Gerrold may already be a part of your life if you ever watched or loved Star Trek; he wrote, "The Trouble With Tribbles."

Over a decade ago, he realized his life wasn't going where he wanted, so he adopted a little boy who was "hard to place." He found a child who had rationalized that he felt different from other children so he must be from Mars. The dedicated producers spent almost ten years finding the funds, adapting the story, assembling the cast and finally shooting this sweet, heartwarming, family film.

The prolific and dependable John Cusack ("Must Love Dogs," "Say Anything," "Grosse Pointe Blank," "The Sure Thing," "Grace is Gone," "Serendipity," "Being John Malkovich" and "The Jack Bull" ...should I go on?) is once again joined by his sister Joan ("In and Out," "Raising Helen," "High Fidelity," "Runaway Bride," ...all the way back to "Sixteen Candles." She was the geeky girl in the neck brace!) who, once again, is playing his sister. Hey! Isn't that type casting?

Despite well-meaning advice from friends, family and professionals, our hero ventures into the daunting task of trying to "find" this kid and create a relationship with him. (The boy spends most of the first few visits in a cardboard box!) If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that ALL parents are amateurs. No one REALLY knows what he or she is doing; we just jump in, do our best and keep our fingers crossed! (And a child really is a little alien for the first eight or ten years of his or her life.)

No blowie uppie stuff, no sweaty bodies, no car chases or gun fights, just a decent man trying to provide a decent home for a little boy who hasn't had much luck, so far... The generous (captioned!) extras have inter- views with both the author and the (now grown) "Martian Child," so you know going in, that this terrific film will have a happy ending.

Gone, Baby, Gone

This is one I avoided when it was in the multiplex but once it was out on DVD, free, from the Library...what the heck?

Actually, Ben Affleck is probably a better director than he is an actor. He was always nice looking and seemed to land good roles ("Pearl Harbor" and "Hollywoodland"), but his career never really took off. This time, he opted to direct his younger (shorter) brother Casey (the "Ocean's" franchise and "The Assassination of Jesse James..."), and the results are laudable. Affleck and Aaron Stockard adapted a novel by the same name, written by Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River"). Remember, Affleck has already garnered one Academy Award for his writing..."Good Will Hunting."

This movie takes place in Boston, Affleck's home town. He has managed to show a grittier side of Boston than the one we have come to expect from a tourist's perspective, so that in itself is interesting. The movie is about a man and his girlfriend, played by the aforementioned Casey and Michelle Monaghan ("The Bourne Supremacy" and"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") who are semi-professional detective/skip tracers.

They are contacted by the grandmother of a little girl who has disap- peared. Grandma, played by Amy Madigan ("The Laramie Project" and "Pollack") wants their help tracking down the child. Her daughter, the little girl's mother, is played by Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan ("Dan in Real Life" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") ...she didn't win...

As the couple reluctantly takes the case, they immediately encounter local law enforcement officials, Morgan Freeman ("The Bucket List" and "Million-Dollar Baby") and Ed Harris ("Pollack" and "A History of Violence"), who, under duress, share some of the details they have uncovered so far. Because this is Affleck's neighborhood, it turns out he has uncovered far more than the police department, so they begin working together.

The more our would-be detectives become acquainted with the missing girl's mother, the more they realize that she is a loser, a druggie, a neglectful parent and only marginally concerned about her daughter's whereabouts. On the other hand, they become more and more focused on...hopefully...finding the girl still alive.

This movie has a couple of violent (guns) scenes, interesting characters, and a resulting conundrum where we find ourselves, along with our hero, pondering the ultimate issue of right and wrong. I found this movie to be involving, interesting and extremely well acted. (With that cast, how could it NOT be?!)