I Am

Tom Shadyac is the successful writer/director who, after films like "Patch Adams," "Bruce Almighty," "Ace Ventura" and "Liar, Liar," suffered a concussion in a bike accident and had lingering ill effects for almost three years. During that time, he contemplated his successes and evaluated the quality of his "stuff." The end result being that he divested himself of his belongings, his real estate, his private jet, his vehicles and set out on a world-wide search to try and find what was missing from his life.

This entertaining documentary has a generous sampling of clips from all over the world, augmented by clever cartoons, great wildlife scenes and earnest discussions about what is important. The result is a wide-ranging piece that goes from quantum physics to migrating penguins, from cheetahs attacking gazelles to firefighters rescuing children. We see Nelson Mandela, Noam Chomsky, Martin Luther King Jr and Alfred Einstein. He quotes them all, plus John Lennon, Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and a dozen others.

At times he struck me as naïve, but at other times I was impressed by his optimism and his energy. For example, during his Q & A afterward, one audience member asked him if he was a Socialist because he gave away his possessions. He said he wasn't political and had come to share the Native American belief that too much "stuff" was a sign of mental illness (I agree! As an extreme example, look at hoarders!).

Another asked if he was a fan of Facebook. He said "Science is neutral. Facebook has been used to drive youngsters to suicide and it has helped generate revolutions. Science is only as good or as bad as the person using it."Many years ago, his late father resigned a law firm and joined with Danny Thomas to found St. Jude's Research Hospital. I don't think this apple fell too far from the tree.

I wish him well....

Hall Pass

Raunch, raunch, raunch; full frontal nudity, female AND male (lengthy shots, if you get what I mean); absurd dialogue; over-the-top situations; and I laughed out loud waaay more than I should. That's the Farrelly brothers for you. You laugh in spite of yourself but you wouldn't want anyone you like or respect to see you.

Through a series of contrived misunderstandings, two long-married couples end up with hall passes. This means that for a week, they aren't married. It's a calculated risk because the wives are pretty sure their husbands' experiences won't live up to their fantasies. Of course, these gals don't foresee the hall passes working both ways but each ends up with her own unexpected dilemma. So you see, you get four epiphanies for the price of one!

As usual, the Farrellys can assemble the most outrageous cast:
  • Owen Wilson - This unlikely looking guy seems to play the same fellow no matter what the film ("Marley and Me" and "Little Fockers"). His character is the first recipient of a "Hall Pass" and can't believe his good fortune.
  • Jason Sudeikis - You pronounce it, I can't. This "Saturday Night Live" alum plays our hero's best friend with the most vivid fantasies...and the dirtiest mouth!
  • Jenna Fischer - Probably best known for her day job in "The Office," her character here is a long-suffering wife and mother who feeds her husband's "posse" during their poker games.
  • Christina Applegate ("Samantha Who?") plays the other wife with a hall pass.
  • Stephen Merchant - This gawky (6'7") Brit is a producing partner ("Extras") with Ricky Gervais. His character is part of the posse which advises our hero during his temporary "freedom."
  • Richard Jenkins - What a chameleon! This time he's a Keith Richards type and he's so good that it took me a while to realize who he was. This is light years from his autistic dad in "Dear John."
  • Bruce Thomas - Yum! This actor is far too handsome for his own good, remember him as the UPS guy in "Forever Blonde?" Well, he's even handsomer now!
  • Kathy Griffith - As herself in a much-anticipated cameo.
  • Joy Behar - As the self-help expert who suggests the "Hall Pass." Is she still on "The View?"
  • Appleby's - May I ask who is in charge of their product placement? Good job!
Some of the action sequences are truly funny and the audience enjoyed every minute. On the other hand, I don't recommend it...I have too much respect for you!



This evening, February 24th, 2011, HBO will televise a one-man show which features actor Laurence Fishbourne as Thurgood Marshall, the first black man to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

This one-act play allows Fishbourne to age from youth to old age as we follow the storied career of one of America's most successful civil rights lawyers. This narrative is augmented with slides projected on the wall behind him that illustrate anecdotes from his past, which range from the classic naked baby on the rug, up to and beyond his wryly contentious relationship with Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The script is brilliant, it combines the dry legalese that surrounds litigation with humor-laced observations of opponents; relates youthful experiences with the wisdom that resulted; reflects on his parents and his teachers and their essential contributions to his life.

This is an enjoyable way to review landmark events in our history, enlivened by personal insight on how they came about.



Whew... THAT was exciting! As soon as I got home I looked up the director (Jaume Collet-Serra) and the screenwriters (Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell) to see what else they have done, but they have very few credits. In any case, they certainly deserve a big round of applause for this high-octane thriller, as does the extremely capable cast.

We enjoyed:
  • Liam Neeson ("The A-Team") is an American scientist visiting Berlin for a conference. He is injured in a car crash and when he awakens from a four-day coma, someone has taken his identity ...we think...
  • Diane Kruger ("Inglourious Basterds") is the illegal immigrant driving his taxi when it's hit.
  • January Jones ("Mad Men") is our hero's loving wife, who seems equally loving with his replacement...we think...
  • Aidan Quinn ("Flipped") is the replacement...we think...
  • Bruno Ganz ("Vitus") is the former Stasi (East German Secret Police) agent recommended to our bewildered hero because "he finds people."
  • Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon") leaves his family in the US on Thanksgiving to come to our hero's aid.
  • Sebastian Koch ("The Lives of Others") is one of the featured scientists at the conference. He brings his two little girls to share the festivities.
Even though we see preposterous fistfights, over-the-top vehicular mayhem, menacing hypodermics, implausible coincidences and white-knuckle suspense, it is entertaining all the way. We strain with our hero as he desperately reaches for a scissors in the breast pocket of a corpse. We frantically swing that wrench with the taxi driver as she tries to break out the window while the vehicle sinks into the icy river. We want that little girl to get out of the hotel before the bomb explodes. Despite the complex plot, the dialogue is crystal clear and we hear every word.

Totally unpredictable, sometimes funny, always involving and another great showcase for Neeson's authentic persona, I heartily recommend this one for action fans.

Cedar Rapids

Until such time as I find recreational drug use to be entertaining, I will continue to have reservations about comedies that feature it. I wish this one didn't, because it does have other things to recommend it.

Namely the cast:
  • Ed Helms - (He's the guy who lost a tooth in "The Hangover.") He plays a good-hearted but naïve insurance salesman in a tiny mid-western town (he has never flown in an airplane or stayed at a hotel). When a colleague dies, our hero is tapped to attend an insurance convention in what seems to him, ultra-sophisticated "Cedar Rapids," Iowa. Of course, a lot of the humor comes from the audience feeling vastly superior to this poor schlub.
  • John C. Reilly - (Mr. Cellophane in "Chicago.") Our hero has been warned to avoid this guy at all costs, so of course, because of overbooking, the two of them must share a hotel room with...
  • Isiah Whitlock, Jr - (He was the crooked senator in "The Wire.") His is the first black face our flabbergasted hick has ever seen. To our great relief, this character is a genuinely decent fellow.
  • Sigourney Weaver - (She played the scientist behind the action in "Avatar.") Formerly, her character had been our hero's seventh- grade teacher. Now that she is divorced, she is indulging in some recreational sex, which he mistakes for love...
  • Anne Heche - ("Men in Trees") Her character attends these conventions every year and firmly believes that "what happens in Cedar Rapids, stays in Cedar Rapids."
  • Stephen Root - (This slick character is a loooong ways from the stapler-centric boob in "Office Space.") He plays our hero's conniving boss, who has more than one dirty secret to hide.
Looking back, I think I'm prepared to overlook that lengthy drug scene and focus instead on the happy ending.


Days of Glory

The Seattle City Library rarely lets me down; I just watched the DVD of a 2006 French/Algerian film (English captions) called "Days of Glory" (“Indigènes"). It is a little-known tale about a little-known military operation during WWII.

The French recruited Algerian and Senegalese soldiers to help them fight the Nazis. The recruits were promised liberté, égalité, fraternité, as their reward. Instead, those North African (Muslim) men were used as a human shield for French troops, who followed them and claimed their victories. There were no promotions for these soldiers, their mail was confiscated and destroyed, they fought in the European winters wearing just their sandals but still were told to expect Veteran's benefits at the war's end. That promise has been repeated over the subsequent decades but never funded.

That adds another aspect to the recent riots in France. Not only are the Muslims marginalized, they have been lied to for over sixty years.

There are a number of Algerian actors in this film and I recognize a few of them. One of them, a little guy who is usually in comedies (and has a missing right hand from a childhood accident) is one of the producers. When the actors got together before the filming began, they realized that they were reliving the experiences of their grandfathers! They felt, and I agree, that it is a story that must be told.

This is an important element in the history of WWII.


What can I say? I was part of a subdued screening audience who quietly exited the theater after Javier Bardem gave us a harrowing workout. Bardem is a fine dramatic actor: "The Sea Inside," "No Country for Old Men," "Live Flesh" and "Before Night Falls" come to mind, although he isn't above a little froth now and then ("Eat Pray Love" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona").

In this Spanish drama (English captions), he is custodial parent to two elementary school-age children, living a marginal existence in Barcelona; he scrapes up jobs for illegal immigrants, both Chinese and Senegalese. His former wife is bipolar, so she isn't much help when he discovers he is very, very ill.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Babel," "21 Grams" and "Amores Perros") uses a hand-held camera more than I like: the chase scenes are almost unwatchable. On the other hand, he captures realistic moments, e.g., the little boy kicking the table leg as he eats; the capable take- charge actions of the Senegalese woman with the "anchor baby"; the conditions at the graveyard as it's prepared for demolition.

As one catastrophe after another piled up on our hero, I despaired for him. As one illegal Chinese immigrant after another struggled for survival, I realized how desperate their lives must be. As one cacophonous nightclub scene after another assailed my senses, I covered my ears and wanted them to end. As one fantastical image flitted after another, I reminded myself the movie was from Spain and there ARE cultural differences.

This is a masterful job by a fine actor in his prime, but do NOT go expecting a light-hearted romp!