Friday, September 28, 2007
There was a buzz in the air in Westwood last night...
As attendants rolled out the red carpet, the word was out that Ben Stiller's new romantic comedy, "The Heartbreak Kid", was being unveiled at the Landmark Theater.
Security was tight.
When I approached the entrance, a couple of burly bodyguards blocked my path, but they parted like the Red Sea when I flashed my ticket with instructions to admit.
The paparazzi swarmed the entire outside perimeter, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Stiller, or at least some notable celeb to take a snap at.
In the lobby, ushers sharply attired, stood at attention, discreetly sweeping up the odd bit of trash which somehow managed to drift surreptitiously to the plush rugs underfoot.
Popcorn and soft drinks were on the house; modest offerings, yes - but zesty, nonetheless.
The atmosphere in the lobby was electric....
Pretty ladies in simple, elegant party dresses - usually a couple of inches above the knee, with a lot of bare shoulder and plunging neckline - chatted each other up; while their male counterparts - sartorially attired in monochromatic hues of black (occasionally grey) - scanned and sized up the power-brokers in the foyer.
Alas, a number of guests were a trifle disappointed when they were asked to take their seats after a Fire Marshal warned that lingering in the lobby was against local code.
For star-gazers, it meant there would not be chance to mingle with the celebrities as they were escorted into the gala premier.
With little fanfare, the curtain fell, and the film sprang to life on the screen.
Judging by the enthusiastic applause as the credits rolled, there were quite a few studio executives and production people in the theater last night, cheering on their talent.
The story quickly unfolded with a rapid-fire array of zany jokes spilling off the screen at breakneck speed.
In the opening scenes it was quickly established that Ben Stiller's character was a 40-year old man named Ed, yet to take the matrimonial plunge.
Egged on by his father, played by the star's real-life father (and a humiliating experience at the wedding of his ex-girlfriend to another man), Ed stumbles into a young beauty, pursues a brief courtship sans sex, and is suddenly married off before we can toss rice.
Heading down the highway to Mexico and a much anticipated honeymoon in romatic climbs, it suddenly becomes apparent to our heartbreak kid that something is not okey dokey upstairs with Mrs. Right.
In a handful of hilarious scenes - where Stiller's comedic timing is in top form - he is crushed to uncover his wife's sordid past...an addiction to blow, twenty-six thousand dollars of debt, and so on.
While most men would be thrilled to discover their new bride was a wild seductress in bed, capable of pretzel-bending moves not listed in the Guinness Book of Sexual Records, our conquering hero is mortified.
He confides to a friend he's been had, in more ways than one!
At this juncture, there is a bit of a lull, the audience becomes restless, and the filmgoer tosses and turns a bit in their seats.
But, when the missus gets badly sunburned, the tale takes an refreshing turn, the "kid" gets back on track, and everyone snaps out of their deep funk.
While Ed's wife is recuperating in their suite, our antsy Lothario is forced to fend for himself at the luxury resort.
As fate would have it, he falls for a young beauty from the States more suited to his down-to-earth organic tastes.
Suddenly, the whole movie shifts into high gear; there are complex, side-splitting moments of mayhem, mistaken assumptions, and turn-abouts that only Stiller's fine, comedic tuning could ever manage to pull off without a hitch.
While the film is funny, and Stiller commands with a captivating, charismatic presence on screen, the tendency to go for the toilet humor is his undoing.
"Heartbreak Kid" had the potential to be a classic, entertaining romantic comedy, able to stretch across the demographic; but the overly-aggressive bedroom scenes, which border on soft porn, stall the movie's widespread appeal from the get-go.
A couple of naughty visuals also register a definite no-no - in polite company, anyway.
Hence, the R rating.
For the most part, Stiller's in charge, at what he does best, but without gaining any groundbreaking, innovative, or artistic ground in the eyes of the industry.
In my estimation, the summer's blockbuster hit, "Knocked Up", was a much better film in the romantic comedy genre; if it's still playing locally, jump at the chance to spring for a ticket.
Sorry about that, Ben!
Thursday, September 27, 2007
On the heels of the atrocities unfolding in Mayanmar, which have shocked the sensibilities of the civilized world in recent days, Los Angeles will host a peace walk on Saturday, September 29th, 2007.
Citizens concerned about World Peace within shouting, walking, or sprinting distance, are undoubtedly planning to attend.
The march will commence at 9:30 at MacArthur Park and will be led by respected Zen Master, and honored Buddhist Spiritual Leader, Thich Nhat Hanh.
I attended the peace walk last year and it was an enlightening experience.
Shortly after the Master arrived at the podium to convey simple messages of peace, he led a contingent of young children out of the picturesque park along Wilshire Boulevard through traffic-free city streets, then back again.
The theme of the event was "peace" in every step, based on the Buddhist teaching of mindfulness.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh,
"Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing."
That day, each individual was urged to be mindful of each step planted on the earth, to breathe deeply, and focus on world peace.
As we walked for peace, there was an intense calm - and except for the occasional helicopter buzzing overhead - a profound silence which was sweet, beckoning.
Each foot - whether clad in leather, sandal, or humble sneaker - took a mindful step in unison with the other; with great accord, we were keenly aware that a mere second of life (we often take for granted in the throes of our hectic daily lives) is so precious.
When the sun broke from behind billowing clouds, and beamed down on the peace walkers, a moment of sublime joy touched each and every one.
The mystical event brought a smile to the face!
Thich Nhat Hanh was born Nguyễn Xuân Bảo in Thừa Thiên in 1926.
A graduate of Bao Quoc Buddhist Academy in Central Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh received training in Zen and the Mahayana school of Buddhism.
Ordained as a monk in 1949, he is now recognized as a Dharmacharya and as the Spiritual head of the Từ Hiếu Temple and associated monasteries.
According to biographers, he is the Elder of the Từ Hiếu branch of the 8th generation of the Liễu Quán lineage in the 42nd generation of the Lâm Tế Dhyana school (Lin Chi Chán 臨濟禪 in Chinese or Rinzai Zen in Japanese).
On May 1st, 1966 at Từ Hiếu Temple, Thich Nhat Hanh received the “lamp transmission”, making him a Dharmacharya or Dharma Teacher, from Master Chân Thật.
On these shores, some Buddhist precepts have baffled and confused the seeker in the modern era.
With this in mind, Thich Nhat Hanh combined his deep knowledge of a variety of traditional Zen teaching methods with methods from Theravada Buddhism and ideas from Western psychology to form his approach to modern Zen practice, popular in America today.
As a result, Thich Nhat Hanh has become an important influence in the development of Western Buddhism.
When Thich Nhat Hanh arrived in the US in 1966, his first task was to lead a symposium in Vietnamese Buddhism at Cornell University and to continue his work for peace.
For example, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 entitled: “Searching for the Enemy of Man” and it was during his 1966 stay in the U.S. that Thich Nhat Hanh met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War.
Dr. King gave his famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, wherein he publicly questioned the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Subsequently, later that year, Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize.
In his nomination Rev. King said,
"I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity."
Without doubt, it is due to Thich Nhat Hanh's inspired method of teaching, and insightful interpretation of the scriptures, that the truth of the Masters is understood in remarkable, simplistic ways.
One of my favorite quotes,
"Looking deeply is to remove the frontier between our notions and reality."
Walk for peace, perfect peace...
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Yesterday, I reported on the peaceful demonstrations by Monks in Yangon (Myanmar) protesting the repressive ruling junta...
Tuesday, in the wake of protests in recent days, the Government banned all public gatherings of more than five people and imposed a evening curfew in Yangon and Mandalay.
Unfortunately, as night fell on this predominantly Buddhist country last night, a number of Monks were under arrest for defying the Military ban on public assembly.
Before the melee began, eye-witnesses noted that the police fired warning shots, beat their shields with truncheons, and shouted to the protesters to disperse.
There were reports that a handful of Monks were beaten before being dragged off to confinement.
In an effort to effect calm and order, troops and riot police assumed positions outside at least six large activist monasteries.
Of course, the actions of the junta were outrageous!
When Spiritual Leaders are not treated with dignity and respect, or permitted to engage in peaceable assembly, there exists the kind of atrocity that can never be tolerated in a Civilized Society in the free world.
Although Mr. Bush met with the U.S. Assembly Tuesday and imposed stiffer sanctions against Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), it appears there needs to be a bolder call-to-action.
Citizens of the World are called to unite, and urged to implore their Governments and respective leaders, to address the issues now with the specific aim of ensuring that the serious rights' violations occurring today in Myanmar come to a swift end.
Peace, perfect peace...
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Governor Schwarzenegger announced on Monday he'll be pushing through a bill with the specific aim of divesting State Pension Funds from Investment Houses and Finance companies which do business with Iran's Energy and Defense Departments.
The sum in question may amount to a total of $24 Billion Dollars in assets, according to informed sources.
Schwarzenegger anticipates support from the voters because,
"California has a long history of leadership and doing what's right with our investment portfolio," the Governor assured the press in Sacramento, yesterday.
"Last year I was proud to sign legislation to divest from the Sudan to take a powerful stand against genocide. I look forward to signing legislation to divest from Iran to make an equally powerful stand against terrorism."
Two major State Pension funds are expected to oppose the move - in part - on grounds that divesting stock could cost more than $120 million in expenses for the State in the form of taxes, commissions, and the like.
A CalPERS spokesperson argued that the Fund can be more effective in persuading corporations to change their political policies by exerting influence as a major stockholder.
I say, nonsense!
I agree with Arnold's position that, "...the State should make a strong statement against terrorism by exerting financial influence of the Nation's two largest public pension funds."
As Americans, are we only prepared to take action against terrorism provided it is perceived as a financially sound move?
Even if divesting means unexpected expenses, additional taxes, and the imposition of commission costs - such action is bold-faced, vital, and heroic.
In this hour of uncertainty, it is important that we let our hearts and minds lead - not our pocketbooks!
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (President of Iran) opened his mouth to speak at Columbia University on Monday, September 24th, quite a few jaws dropped.
In spite of the fact that most researchers agree that at least ten percent of the population is "gay", Ahmadinejad assured the stunned audience that, "there are no homosexuals in Iran - not one".
Why, did his regime exterminate each one?
And, while we're on the subject of extermination, it should be noted that he further shocked students, professors, and politicians alike, when he made the remark - matter-of-fact - "that the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews should not be treated as fact, but theory, and therefore open to debate and more research".
Quite frankly, I am at a loss to know how to respond to such bizarre notions, except to note that on occasion, silence speaks louder than words.
In the event Mr. Ahmadinejad is - indeed - one of the men pictured in the photo above, I am inclined to concede, "that says it all".
A picture is worth a thousand words!
Monday, September 24, 2007
Unfortunately, Carol Burnett was forced to cancel her upcoming stage appearance in "What's been bothering you, lately?" due to an unexpected family situation.
Now there's an old familiar face I haven't seen for a season or two.
Of course, many are familiar with Ms. Burnett's award-winning variety hit - The Carol Burnett Show - which aired on CBS almost perennially.
A handful of her television characters (such as the Charwoman and Mrs. Wiggins) wiggled their way into our hearts - and when recalled - bring a smile to the face.
The Carol Burnett Show basked in the limelight for 11 successful seasons.
Critics and an at-home audience heaped praise on the weekly variety show over the years which ended up winning 25 Emmy awards, 8 Golden Globe Statuettes and 3 People's Choice Awards.
Along the way, Ms. Burnett introduced an ensemble of fine, versatile character actors: Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Viki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner - to name a few.
Each week, side-cracking skits, and a bevy of superstar giants - Rock Hudson, Art Carney, Lucille Ball, Jonathan Winters, Carol Channing, Vincent Price, Liza Minnelli, Paul Lynde - too many to name here, really - held a worldwide audience in its charming sway.
Burnett became known for her Tarzan scream which she often offered up when requested by any number of her adoring fans - usually at the Q & A at the end of each show each night - a signature moment on the hilarious Carol Burnett Show.
Each night, as she waved a heartfelt goodnight to her guests, she tugged on one ear - a coded message, of sorts, to her grandmother - to signal all was well.
Ms. Burnett's first taste of success arrived on her doorstep when she appeared on Broadway in the 1959 musical, "Once Upon a Mattress".
Then, she landed a plum assignment as a regular player on the "Garry Moore Show" which boosted her into the National spotlight, and later, International recognition.
I had the good fortune to rub elbows with Ms. Burnett on a TV mini-series.
The comedy was a spoof on glitzy, melodramatic Night-time Soap Operas - such as Dynasty, Dallas, and the like - set in (a drum roll, please!) FRESNO, the wine-growing country in Southern California. It was a real hoot, if memory serves me right.
I played a reporter slash photographer in the climatic court-house scenes where the plot sickened most...ha!
The production Ms. Burnett was scheduled to appear in was written by Charles Grodin, capable actor and former talk-show host.
The celebrated comedienne would have starred in the role of Ms. Michaels, a qualified life coach, specializing in couples' therapy.
I was looking forward to the production, weren't you?
I trust that Ms. Burnett will resolve her personal problems and be back on the boards soon!
Now an old familiar tune starts playing inside my head...
Carol, "I'm so glad we had this time together..."
Sunday, September 23, 2007
When I first sauntered into the Landmark Theatre to take in "Assassination of Jesse James", I was unfamiliar with the events leading up to the demise of the notorious outlaw.
As the opening scenes unfolded, I was fascinated by the psychological facets of the intriguing tale.
A young gun idolizes Jesse James, slyly maneuvers to be within a hair's breath of his hero, angles for the role of sidekick, and then - when spurned like an unwanted lover - turns on him.
In adept hands, "Jesse James" would have been a taut, powerful, character-driven story.
Here, we're treated to a plodding, sloppy, throw-away vehicle for Brad Pitt which ultimately gets stolen out from under him by relative newcomer Casey Affleck.
In the role of Ford, Affleck - with one, suggestive glance - manages to convey what it takes Pitt a minute or two of serious over-acting to accomplish.
Obviously, the pop culture icon approached the role on the premise that "uneasy is the head that wears the crown".
His portrayal amounts to a rogue's gallery of oft-misunderstood glances, and the occasional searing one that hints at gears turning clickety-clack inside a shrewd, calculating head; but in the final analysis, each is devoid of insight or depth.
If there's a mysterious persona beneath the skin of Jesse James, it fails to register up on the screen.
One scene sums up the underlying theme of the film to a "t".
One lazy afternoon, Ford is bathing in a wide deep tub outdoors when he turns to encounter a gang member studying him.
At one point, during a brief conversation, the unshaven cowboy leans over and observes that for a guy who's small in the scheme of things he's pretty well-endowed.
Without batting an eye, Ford replies, "You here to look at dick?"
The film is about posturing, guys sizing each other up, and falling into line accordingly.
The big honcho that he is - Jesse need only bark "lick my boots" - and one of the boys would oblige, "Sir!"
Ford, at least.
In fact, there are so many curious meaningful glances between Ford and James, that one half expects the two to haplessly fall into each other's arms at one juncture and kiss. Yes, an underlying theme appears to be that the two were inclined towards latent homo-erotic tendencies.
Although the saga unfolds lamely enough on its own - to help things along - some genius at the studio concocted the idea to facilitate the use of a narrative; a clever (!) device to fill in the gaps (many!), head the audience in the right direction (did we care?), with the ultimate aim of dissipating the surreal fog that most assuredly clouds our sensibilities as the movie jogs along at a snail's pace.
Heck, even the gravely high-pitched tone of the narrator's voice grated on my nerves. Just awful!
When it came to casting voice-over talent the director couldn't even get that right!
Over the years, Westerns have transformed into a form of distinctive American entertainment.
Typically, a plot may fix on a gang of tight-lipped cowboys who shoot from the hip, ready to spring into action, nab the villain, save the homestead - whatever.
Heh, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The larger-than-life Western is usually played for keeps against a breathtaking expanse or captivating wild-west backdrop.
And, conflicts are often resolved spur-of-the moment in a drunken brawl or impromptu moment of trigger-happy deadly gun play.
In the final stretch - order is resolved - you betcha! Come hell or high water.
Film scholars point out the genre has portrayed much about America's past - exalted faded values - for instance; often taken a sacred bow to a mythical by-gone era in the process.
In a nutshell, a lot was accomplished by pure physical action - with a keen eye towards wild runaway stagecoaches, bold-faced on-the-run holdups, and determined lawmen in hot pursuit.
In Jesse James, the cowboys belly-ache a lot, gossip (oh, I forgot; women gossip, men discuss), and quite generally, chortle endlessly ad nauseam about this 'n that.
The whole Kit 'n Kaboodle slip-slides along about about as fast as molasses in January.
About the time the audience starts to flip out their cell-hones to check the time, yawn, or doze off like the guy seated next to me - the film embarks on a wide turn into an epilogue. By this time, the filmgoer is half asleep or too groggy from all the lethargic goings-on to snap out of the haze they've fallen into.
When the final days of Ford's life are revealed, at least it's a sign that the curtain may be falling down soon on the whole sorry scenario.
As one historian astutely observed,
"The Western film genre often portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature, in the name of civilization, or the confiscation of the territorial rights of the original inhabitants of the frontier."
"It is the major defining genre of the American film industry, a nostalgic eulogy to the early days of the expansive, untamed American frontier (the borderline between civilization and the wilderness)."
In sum, the Western may be the oldest most enduring and flexible of genres - one most characteristically American - rooted in mythical origins.
Over the past few decades, Westerns has been written off, resurrected, redefined, even reinvented.
Although the genres' popularity waned in recent years, it has returned with new vigor with the resounding success of the release of movies like, "3:10 to Yuma".
In the instance of "Jesse James", the filmmakers have managed to "Assassinate an American Art Form", the Western.