I was on The Today Show this morning for my other job talking about the hundreds of millions of dollars paid to the CEOs of failed companies Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.
You can also see a piece about my speech last week to the International Corporate Governance Network, a quote from me in Al Hunt’s Letter from Washington column for the New York Times, and my (subdued!) comments on Terra Industries, which re-appointed directors who had been voted off the board.
“Marie Antoinette would be embarrassed by these guys,” says Nell Minow,
the irrepressible shareholder advocate and corporate-compensation
watchdog who is co-founder of the Maine-based Corporate Library. “They
have no clue as to how much they’ve devalued the brand of American
capitalism with this sense of entitlement, the arrogance; they
genuinely feel the world will come to an end if they don’t take
A rainbow-colored wishing rock creates comic chaos in a film from Robert Rodriguez about bullies, family communication and being very, very careful what you wish for. It is also about an army of crocodiles, a telepathic super-genius baby, and a pig-tailed villain named after a font.
Rodriguez is a one-man studio who brings a stylish, kinetic energy to two kinds of movies, the ultra-violent (“Desperado,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”) and the family-friendly (the “Spy Kids” series). He is writer, director, cameraman, editor, co-composer of the score and in this case also father of four members of the supporting cast.
He understands that kids would be as likely to wish for getting their braces off as for money or superpowers. He knows how to get them actively involved in figuring out what is happening. He can tell that they will find a booger monster wildly funny. And he knows that what kids and parents wish for most is to be close to friends and family.
The title refers to the way the story is presented — brief intersecting stories going back and forth in time, each filling in additional details of the others. It is set in a community that literally exists in the towering shadow of Black, Inc., a huge corporation headed by Mr. Black (James Spader). He wants to create the ultimate technology, the Black Box, with innumerable functions that include a phone, vacuum cleaner, toaster, dog groomer, and baby monitor. Black’s harried employees include Mr. and Mrs. Thompson (Leslie Mann and John Cryer), who are assigned to lead competing teams and get so caught up in the pressure to succeed that they communicate primarily by texting, even when they are standing next to each other.
That is why they do not notice that their son, Toe (Jimmy Bennett), has no friends and is thrown in the trash every morning by a group of bullies at school led by Mr. Black’s children Cole (Devon Gearhart) and Helvetica (newcomer Jolie Vanier in Wednesday Addams mode). They throw a rock at Toe that turns out to have magical powers. But Toe and the other people who come in possession of the rock are no better at holding onto it than they are at stating their wishes with the requisite precision. Like all fairy tale wish-granters, the rainbow rock is very good at finding loopholes.
Toe presents each character’s experiences with the wishing rock, going back and forth in time and letting us put the pieces together. Toe’s neighbor Loogie (Trevor Gagnon) and his brothers make a number of wishes that do not turn out the way they had hoped, including a wish for “telephonesis” instead of “telekinesis” and wishing for wisdom without being more specific about who should become wise. And then there is another neighbor, Toe’s former friend Nose (Jake Short). He is confined to home with his germaphobic mad scientist of a father (William H. Macy), who spends every minute he isn’t wiping everything down with antiseptic working on contraptions to create a bacteria-free environment. When Toe’s sister (Kat Dennings) unknowingly carries the rainbow rock to her job as Nose’s tutor, Nose uses it to make an unselfish wish – but that does not keep the consequences from being equally disastrous. When Toe’s parents wish they could be closer, the result is more literal than they had in mind.
And then Helvetica and her father get the rock, and things really get out of hand.
After the disappointment of “Spy Kids 3D” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl,” it is good to see Rodriguez moving toward what made the first “Spy Kids” one of the best family films of the last decade. This film is not as imaginative or heart-warming as that one, but it is refreshingly un-glamorous and it has a warmth and sense of fun that makes it just the end-of-summer treat a family might wish for.
Harvard professor of Symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) returns for another round of save the world heroics peppered with chases, kidnapping, murders, clues, codes, and ancient manuscripts, a beautiful and very erudite woman, murky motives, and a lot of historical, religious, and artistic arcana, all to the music of angelic choirs and crashing horns.While the book occurs before the blockbuster sequel, this movie begins after the events of The Da Vinci Code. Langdon is not the Catholic church’s favorite guy, given his heretical findings about the role of the real-life Mary Magdalene and the efforts of the church to suppress it. The Vatican has repeatedly denied his request for access to some of their historic documents. But when a crisis hits just as the cardinals have convened to select the new pope and the four leading candidates are kidnapped, with the clues pointing to a secret and possibly terrorist sect of Catholic rebels, the Vatican calls on Langdon to solve the mystery.To make things more complicated — and believe me, this gets very complicated — something else has been stolen. It is “antimatter” created by a supercollider that is intended to find “the God particle,” the piece of matter that will answer some important questions about how the universe began. And if they don’t get to it by 8 pm, there will be a very, very big boom.It isn’t just atoms that are colliding here. Author Dan Brown specializes in dark conspiracies of power in the name of faith. He posits this story as a conflict between religion and science going back hundreds of years. Once again, he takes intensely detailed research into church culture, history, and canons, even the intricacy of Vatican succession and chains of command plus Galileo, Raphael, sculpture, and architecture, and then he builds a fictional story around it, giving a standard chase and explosion saga some added weight, freight, and interest. Once again, however, the heavy exposition translates unevenly to the screen as the actors have to chew through paragraphs of detailed information as they are careening through the streets of Rome.Hanks (without the scholar’s mullet this time, thank goodness) is game throughout, always seeming skeptical without being cynical, though for a guy who says he is “anti-vandalism” he leaves a lot of destruction in his wake. Ewan McGregor seems a little lost as the assistant to the late pope whose position gives him a fragile claim to authority. And the lovely Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer is wasted in a role that calls on her to provide instant expertise in everything from astrophysics to Latin and pharmacology. Like its predecessor, this book and film have been controversial, challenging the church for the way it responds to challenges. For much of the story, Langdon is chasing after the Illuminati, for the purposes of this story a pro-science group “radicalized” by mistreatment hundreds of years ago and allegedly seeking the destruction of the church hierarchy by infiltration or violence. The bark of author Brown and director Ron Howard is provocative but the bite is thoroughly de-fanged and by its fictional overlay and its conclusion. Most of those who have what Langdon describes as the gift of faith will be satisfied.
The biggest acting achievement in this film is four Oscar winners valiantly managing to hide their embarrassment in appearing in sheer holiday dreck. Its leads are not as successful. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn cannot manage to disguise their shame and all but skulk through this latest lump of coal in the cinematic stocking.
We get a couple of “Christmas Craziness” movies every year, shrill, over-the-top extravaganzas about dysfunctional families and holiday pressure, ending with some realization of a highly secularized discovery of the true meaning of Christmas. Following in the miserable tradition of Surviving Christmas, Christmas with the Kranks, Deck the Halls, this is one more overstuffed turkey of a movie trying to draw laughs with barfing babies, bratty children, embarrassing revelations, and old people talking about sex.
Not only that, it begins with our heroes, Kate (Witherspoon) and Brad (Vaughn) in the midst of a sex game in which they pretend to meet for the first time, taunt each other with crude insults, and then have a quickie in the bathroom. Yes, these are the lovebirds with whom we’ll be racing to four different homes, each designed to illustrate Tolstoy’s view that every family is unhappy in its own way.
Kate and Brad plan to avoid Christmas entirely by telling their families they are on a humanitarian mission but going to Fiji for a fabulous sun ‘n’ fun vacation. But they are busted when the airport is fogged in and they appear on the news, so they are stuck visiting their parents on Christmas. Since both parents are divorced, that means four houses. Robert Dvuall is Brad’s father, who hosts them with Brad’s cage-fighting brothers (“Iron Man” director Jon Favreau and country star Tim McGraw) and their children. After a few rounds of insults and smackdowns, it’s off to cougar-ville with Kate’s mother, Mary Steenburgen and her female relatives, who enjoy hugging Brad so much he wishes he was back in the hammerlock. Brad and Kate get dragged into playing Joseph and Mary in the mega-church nativity with preacher Dwight Yoakam. Brad’s mom Sissy Spacek and her boy toy host them for a game of “Taboo” that reminds Brad and Kate how little they know each other and then Kate’s dad John Voight goes all Bruce-Demi-Ashton with the whole family at his house.
Director Seth Gordon is an able cinematographer and documentary-maker (“Shut Up and Sing,” “The King of Kong”) but he shows no feel whatsoever for comedy pacing or romantic banter. A battalion of writers apparently each worked on different pieces which were thrown together without any effort at consistency. Kate has a completely different relationship with her sister in one house than she did in the other and the evolving interest in building a family is forced and flimsy. All four visits and the interactions between Kate and Brad feel slack and saggy and after sitting through it, so do we.