Because this is a matter of recent history, Harvey Milk's death is announced at the very beginning of the movie. What follows is the story of how he came to be where he was and what transpired before he was shot. He had received death threats, as does anyone in the public eye, but this prompted his recorded autobiography, which also serves as a voiceover for the film.

We watch him migrate to San Francisco, a middle-aged New Yorker, accompanied by Scott Smith, his partner, both professional and personal. They open a camera and film shop on Castro Street, which quickly becomes a Mecca for gays who are routinely beaten and sometimes killed for their "offense" of living. As Milk becomes more and more incensed, he begins to rally friends, customers and neighbors; they begin to formally protest the treatment of gays. Eventually this segues into politics, where he hopes to make a difference.

His three failed political campaigns teach him vital rules for success: he cuts his hair, shaves his beard and learns to dress like the business man he is, rather than like a hippie; he learns to bring in campaign professionals who know how to obtain necessary things, like newspaper endorsements; one of his opponents tells him that his speeches seem like a hopeless litany of wrongs, so he has the audacity to introduce "Hope" into his appearances.

Milk was eventually victorious because the city had to re-draw its political districts and the new boundary they ratified encircled the area where he had his highest percentage of support. This is the most animated anyone gets in the entire movie. The nuts and bolts of political campaigns are not the stuff of exciting cinema, but in this case they are necessary.

  • Sean Penn ("Mystic River" and "The Interpreter") is the eponymous Harvey Milk, mildly effeminate, a touch of New York in his speech, a man who is not physically attractive, but who develops a winning public persona.
  • James Franco (the "Spiderman" franchise and "Pineapple Express") continues to impress me with his range. This time he is Scott Smith, Milk's partner until he finally runs out of patience because his home is constantly overrun by political activists; he reluctantly moves out.
  • Emile Hirsch ("Speed Racer" and "Into the Wild") is a street hustler recently moved to San Francisco from Phoenix, who becomes a highly efficient campaign worker for Milk, developing a telephone "tree" that enables them to generate throngs of people on the street whenever they are needed.
  • Victor Garber (LOTS of television work, including "Alias") plays Mayor Moscone, eventually persuaded by Milk not to reinstate Dan White, who had recently resigned his commissioner position, but then changed his mind.
  • Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men" and "W.") is Dan White of notorious "Twinkie Defense" fame. In real life, Dan was eventually convicted of manslaughter and spent a token amount of time in jail; he later committed suicide.

Milk's focus was on anti-discrimination: not just gays, but blacks, Asians, elderly, handicapped, etc. I remember the rampant gay-bashing here in Seattle. I don't say it's gone, but there is far less than there was... It's interesting that California, despite its progress for diversity, voted against gay marriage. After the results were overturned by the courts as unconstitutional, they voted again in November 2008 and again went on record as opposed to gay marriage. I read one article by a gay man who said, "Inch by inch... We ARE making headway. Do not despair... Look at how far we've come!"



This wonderful 3-D Disney animated film works on so many levels I scarcely know where to begin.

I'll start with the 3-D: It has already become so ordinary they don't resort to gimmicks in this film. And that's good, because if you see it "plain" there won't be glaring missed effects.

It's predictable. That's how children's movies should be. There's a certain security in knowing there will be a satisfactory ending.

The story is wonderful. It works on an adult level but never forgets that kiddies are the primary audience. The focus is on the love between a child and a dog; what could be more basic? Secondarily, it takes disparate characters, namely a cat and that dog, then literally and figuratively binds them together until they are forced to collaborate and solve their problems. The character development is flawless! The dog is naïve but means well. The alley cat is mangy, skinny and very, very resourceful. The hamster is the ultimate fan who absolutely refuses to recognize reality. The pigeons, both the "New Yawk" variety and the "La La Land" ones are hilarious!

Our hero, the television star "Bolt," expertly voiced by John Travolta ("Pulp Fiction," "Hairspray" and "Swordfish"), is a super dog in a weekly action series. His co-star is a little girl named Penny, voiced by Miley Cyrus ("Big Fish" and "Hannah Montana"). In order to get the best "performance" from the dog, the producers and directors have kept him from knowing that this is make believe, so he really thinks he has super powers. Of course, once he is separated from his human and finds himself a continent away from her, it takes a series of painful lessons before he finally "gets" that he is ordinary, but he knows that he still wants to be with her.

The alley cat Mittens, beautifully voiced by Susie Essman ("The Secret Life of Dentists," "The Man" and LOTS of television guest shots) has the onerous task of teaching Bolt how to be a REAL dog: the protocol of sniffing behinds, the joy of fetching sticks, begging for food and hanging his head out the window of a moving vehicle! Those scenes had me chortling with glee.

The dialogue is authentic, crystal clear (I heard every single word!) and is never confusing. The story unfolds in a logical way, the necessary lessons are learned (some of them the hard way), and sad bits are truly sad; but we get a happy goose-bumpy reunion at the end. Take your kids, your grandkids, your nieces or nephews, the neighbor's kids, the kids down the block, or slip into a weekday matinee when the kids are at school and enjoy it all by yourself!

I loved this movie!


Mystified? Have no fear. Only a very few of us aficionados would recognize these initials as belonging to "The Muscles From Brussels," world-class karate/kickboxing martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme ("Bloodsport," "Time Cop" and "Desert Heat").

In this oddball serio-comic little gem, our hero, cleverly named Jean-Claude Van Damme (?!), has just arrived in Brussels and is unable to use his credit cards. He asks the cab driver to take him to the post office so he can negotiate a money transfer (he has, both in real life and in this pseudo-autobiographical movie, suffered financial setbacks due to ego problems, tax problems, alimony problems and child custody problems). The fellow at the door of the post office doesn't want to let him in. He recognizes who he is and is actually trying to spare him the trouble lurking behind that locked door.

Because Van Damme insists on coming in, he soon discovers that everyone in the post office has been taken hostage: employees, customers and all. Despite his heroic character on screen, in reality he is as frightened as his companions.

The fun starts as he is forced, at gunpoint, to speak with the hostage negotiator. When the negotiator realizes who is on the phone, he, the press, and the gathering throng of fans, think Mr. VD has snapped because of his personal tribulations, and is holding up the post office in an act of desperation.

In flash-backs, we see the perks and trials of celebrity, and how worthless it is in the face of real-life criminals. Various fans ask him questions which indicate that they faithfully read the tabloids. He keeps up a good front and tries to remain polite, but obviously is weary of this sort of byplay. For example, when he explains to the taxi driver that he is jet lagged and tired, she accuses him of playing the high and mighty movie star, too good to chat with the likes of her.

Van Damme does one notable (very lengthy) monologue in which, without cuts or editing, he describes the sad trajectory of a has-been movie star: The instant fame, the money, the ego, the women, the drugs and alcohol, and then the sad dwindling of available roles. Later come the inevitable financial battles as the buzzards pick over the bones of his ruined reputation.

The dialogue is very, very funny. His parents show up; on the phone his mother pleads with him to give himself up, she weeps that they still love him and they are sure things will work out. He has to admit to one of the robbers that even though the tabloids named him as the star of an upcoming martial arts film, Steven Seagal ended up getting the role because he cut off his ponytail. If you don't get THAT joke, this movie is NOT for you!

This unpredictable piece almost looks as though it was shot in black and white, but there is some muted color. The camera does NOT try to flatter Mr. VD, in fact, there is no camouflage of his aging: the bags beneath his eyes, etc., are right there for everyone to see. This is such an honest, funny, well-acted film, I wish more people would see it; but sadly, it will disappear without a trace in a week or two... too bad... I might own this one...


Four Christmases

We start out with two extremely likeable stars, Reese Witherspoon ("Penelope," "Sweet Home, Alabama" and "Legally Blonde") and Vince Vaughn ("Wedding Crashers," "The Breakup" and "Into the Wild") who depict Kate and Brad, a happily unmarried couple who have lived together for three years. Each holiday season they cook up some story to tell their families while they slip off to some tropical paradise.

This year is no different. They tell their families that they are going to Burma to do some charity work, but in reality they are going to Fiji to snorkel and bask in the sun. Problem is, San Francisco International Airport gets fogged in and no flights are going in or out. It causes a huge backup at the airport and television cameras catch our dismayed couple just after they are told they can't get away after all...and their families, all of whom live in the Bay area, see them in living color.

With their alibi gone, now they have to visit ALL of their divorced parents on Christmas Day:
  • Robert Duvall ("Open Range," "Secondhand Lions" and "The Godfather") is Brad's father, demanding and crass, with Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw playing his other two dimwitted sons. There is a $10.00 limit on gifts but Brad and Kate weren't told, so that causes major grief.
  • Mary Steenburgen ("Inland Empire," "Nobel Son" and "The Brave One") is Kate's born-again mother, who seems to be living in an all-female enclave but is visited regularly by her pastor, played by Dwight Yoakam. Brad and Kate get roped into playing the leads in a Christmas pageant.
  • Sissy Spacek ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "In the Bedroom" and "Blast From the Past") is Brad's mother, exploring her inner cougar via a hot new relationship with Brad's (former) best childhood friend.
  • Jon Voight ("An American Carol," "Pride and Glory" and "Transformers") is Kate's father, who has come to realize the importance of family and is now mending fences, particularly with Kate's mother.

This movie has a nice pace, maybe it's a little too slapstick and over-the-top, but it is laced with family-friendly moments where our two nice people must confront their own private demons. In my opinion, once we meet the families, those demons seem pretty inevitable. The movie is predictable, the actors are willing to extend themselves, and we are in capable hands, but it just seemed to me like if they had cut down on some of the "ick" factor (babies throwing up, Brad falling off a roof, horny old women), it would have been a little funnier....

By the way, the multi-talented Jon Favreau is a working actor, but directed one of 2008's blockbusters, "Iron Man." The guy named Jon Favreau who serves as Barack Obama's speechwriter is a different Jon Favreau.



Hmmm... Too much Disney and not enough Pixar...or maybe it's the other way around. Let's talk about it.
  • Disney usually has non-stop action on the screen but knows when to insert recognizable little quirks that will delight the kids. In this case our "hero" tends to track dirt which is verboten on the space ship he boards as a stowaway.
  • Pixar is the brilliant organization that gave us the sweet, impish little goose-neck lamp who ruins its ball by mistake. However, even with credentials like that, their movies can sometimes be too grown up and/or intellectual for the rugrats, like the mid-life crisis in "The Incredibles."
  • Disney has patented the idea of the sidekick who provides humor and insight for the hero (Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio"), but this time has an almost insurmountable problem: The sidekick is a cockroach and 95% of this movie is non-verbal.
  • Pixar has the collection of geniuses who animated "Shrek" so realistically you could see the wind ruffle Donkey's fur, but for "WALL*E" the landscape is bleak and unrelentingly lifeless.
  • Disney has never before had a mental ward in any of their movies. That concept went right over the heads of the children, so when the inmates were unexpectedly freed, it was a non-event to the audience. I wasn't sure how we were supposed to feel about it. Did we sympathize with them for being detained in the first place?
  • Pixar gave us our first full length computer-generated animated movie with "Toy Story," but in that one, the love match between two dolls was relatable and appealing; in "WALL*E," the attraction is between a hardworking mobile trash compactor and what appears to be an alien life form.

As a rule, I can't say enough good things about either company, but in my opinion, this story is too complex and ultimately it overtaxes the attention spans of the little 'uns. Of course we are assailed by the idea of Man the Villain, (mankind has destroyed all life on earth and has been existing on a massive space ship for hundreds and hundreds of years) and (another commentary from Hollywood), all humans have become enormously fat in this dystopian vision of the future. Those ecological points seemed to go right over the heads of the target audience and there were plenty of overweight parents in attendance who didn't seem to find it entertaining...

Naturally our dauntless little trash compactor is admirable: He is resourceful, extremely hard working and has many appealing traits. Pixar has given him a recognizable personality and paints an exceedingly lonely existence for him. It's no wonder he falls for the first quasi life form -- besides his sidekick the cockroach -- that he sees!

The four-year-old girl next to me was extremely well behaved but there were long intervals where she was confused and bored. The infants in the audience were squalling and I sat there regretting I wouldn't have more positive things to report.

Bottom line? In my opinion, more for the grownups than for the kidlets.


Another Cinderella Story

I LOVE dance movies! And this new, updated version of that old cliché, has a lot of dancing. In addition, there were some things that I found particularly enjoyable:
  • Jane Lynch ("A Mighty Wind," "Best in Show" and "Talladega Nights") is the BEST wicked stepmother that ever walked the face of this earth! "Clean up my room! That fish stick has been laying there since Lent!"
  • The new and improved magic pumpkin is an orange VW van, driven by our heroine's BFF (best forever friend).
  • Cinderella is now called Mary. She is played by Selena Gomez who has done a LOT of television work. She has a certain toothy charm that is uniquely her own.
  • Prince Charming this time out, is called Joey Parker, a successful pop prince who is taking a breather from his high-profile existence to "return to his roots" and try to remember why he loved dancing in the first place. Joey is played by the yummy Andrew Seeley ("Complete Guide to Guys" and "Christopher Brennan Saves the World").
  • The selfish step-sisters are played as dumber and dumberer (they aren't aware that their zip code isn't 90210; in fact, they might not know for sure what a zip code actually is!).
The inevitable dance contest had some terrifically talented competitors; in fact, I might have chosen a couple of them over our eponymous heroine.
In this Beverly Hills-based version, Jane Lynch is a music video star, totally self-centered and nasty. I loved that she called one of her masseurs "Fabio" ...and NOT in a flattering way! She travels in a stretch limo, while her much put-upon stepdaughter travels on a skateboard.

This particular iteration of the classic story boasts some very clever choreography, which masks the shortcomings of the two stars. In fact, the choreography is so good, I didn't really care that our hero was a faux Justin Timberlake, complete with the cute fedora and the dance maneuvers with the floor stand of his microphone! When they shot it in silhouette, I really couldn't tell WHO it was!

All of the characterizations are VERY broad with everything painted in neon colors so you won't overlook anything. The camera work and editing are strictly music video'ish and the dance duet featuring our two leads is cleverly done in front of a two-way mirror, so HE thinks he's dancing with his image, while SHE knows he is thisclose to her. Fun!

There is one chaste kiss, mild language and of course, the sweet happily ever after ending.


Quantum of Solace

"Quantum of Solace" is the first James Bond movie to be a direct sequel to its predecessor, "Casino Royale." The director this time, Marc Forster ("The Kite Runner" and "Finding Neverland") flings us into non-stop action and hair-raising vehicular mayhem before we have time to finish unzipping our jackets. The problem is, there is too MUCH non-stop action and vehicular mayhem; we left the theater more than a little confused. Not about the quality of the production, the fascinating locations or the terrific actors, but about the basic story line, muddied by herky-jerky hand-held cameras and hard-to-decipher dialog.

James Bond, capably played once again by Daniel Craig ("Moll Flanders,""Munich" and "Infamous"), is still mourning the loss of Vesper, his lover from "Casino Royale." If you recall, she was trapped underwater in an elevator cage and he was unable to save her.

This time out, he is still trying to solve the tangled web of conspiracies that seemed to involve her, the CIA, M16 and a shadow organization called "Quantum." His boss, M, still played by Judi Dench ("Notes on a Scandal,""Cranford" and "Mrs. Henderson Presents") has serious reservations about his motivation. She strongly suspects that he is out purely to avenge Vesper's death and has lost touch with his fealty to her, to M16 and to Britain.

The plot hinges on an environmentalist who is cutting a deal with a scuzzball representing the Bolivian government, but don't worry, you will see plenty of traitors within the various organizations, interesting locations, beautiful women and LOTS of gun battles, fist fights, aerial skirmishes, knife fights and speedboat chases. Yup, LOTS of blowie uppie stuff!

The villain this time has no gimmicks: no gold finger, no steel jaw, no bald head. Instead, as played by Mathieu Amalric ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" [won Best Actor Cesar, the French Academy Award] and "Munich"), he is simply a successful, amoral conniver who has figured out a way to milk environmentalism and enrich himself at the same time.

My advice? Honestly? Wait for the DVD so you have captions to help you with the complicated plot, and you can reverse it when you suspect something has slipped by (I automatically kept reaching for my remote...).


Role Models

Once again we are faced with two semi-slackers (at least they ARE employed) played by Paul Rudd (“30-Year-Old Virgin” and “Le Chateau”) and Seann William Scott (the “American Pie” trilogy and a voice in the “Ice Age” franchise), stuck in a demeaning, dead-end job in which they promote a phony “energy” drink and make “Just Say No” speeches to area high schools. Rudd is chronically depressed and Scott is an aphorism-spouting lady’s man.

Rudd snaps when his marriage proposal is rejected by Elizabeth Banks (“W.” and “Definitely, Maybe”). After an egregious traffic mishap, they end up with a choice: Either a prison sentence or 150 hours of community service mentoring as Big Brother-types, courtesy of a reformed druggie, played by the hilarious Jane Lynch (“Another Cinderella Story” and the Christopher Guest gang, e.g., “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show”). Naturally she assigns them her two most difficult “Littles,” played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bobb’e J. Thompson. They are, respectively, a Medieval Fair misfit and a potty-mouthed rebel.

Despite the language and nudity (did I just SAY that?) this movie has some redeeming qualities:
  • Growth – the “Bigs” are forced to change their priorities and attitudes
  • Loyalty – they earn to defend someone they care about
  • Tenacity – everyone learns the value of stick-to-itiveness
  • Redemption – this time it's the “Bigs” who learn from the “Littles”
  • Maturity – FINALLY!

This movie is custom made for its target audience – teenage boys – who have already seen and heard much worse language, believe me, but I was happy to see that there IS a moral to this story. As a movie buff, I enjoyed identifying well-known lines from old movies. They went over the heads of most of the audience, but were good for a grin from this cinephile.

Of course the movie is NOT based in reality, but when you watch our heroes march into a medieval melee in full battle attire and “Kiss” makeup, you too, will laugh out loud!


Soul Men

What a quandary! First of all, I've been a fan of Samuel L. Jackson ever since "Long Kiss Goodnight," "Star Wars," "Snakes on a Plane" and up through "Extras, Season 1" and "Lakeview Terrace." Bernie Mac has been around through thick and thin, e.g., ("Pride," the "Ocean's" series, lots of TV, and voice work in "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.") They both turn in commendable depictions of has-been soul-singing legends who are asked to appear at the Apollo Theatre to commemorate the death of the former lead singer of their defunct trio, played by John Legend who has done a little acting but who is better known for his stellar composing and recording career.

Our two heroes have been estranged for decades: Mac's character went into the automobile business, where he prospered but is now semi-retired, and bored stiff. Jackson's character is out of prison (armed robbery), is on parole, and works as an auto mechanic. Mac wants to use this occasion to re-launch their singing careers; Jackson wants to be left alone. Much of the humor centers around the various ploys each uses to achieve his own ends.

Eventually they set out on a road trip from California to New York City for the event. Mac has booked some intermediate stops where they can perform and regain their "chops." Their relationship is contentious: they are still angry about their final fight, which was over the woman who became Mac's first wife (out of four!). They sing, do modest choreography and deliver effective dramatic moments...but the LANGUAGE! It is just exactly what you would expect from these two notorious potty mouths. Without the language, the film wouldn't have felt authentic; but with it... I guess all I can do is warn you... We saw lots of Viagra jokes, smarmy sex, and audience-pleasing vulgarity. I think you had to be there.

Even though Bernie Mac has three more projects yet to be released, this movie concluded with a fitting tribute to both him and Isaac Hayes, who died on August 10th, a day after Mr. Mac (August 9, 2008).