Keeping up With The Dalai Lama, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, Milk, Viva McDonald’s and more…
Bhutan’s New Young King.
I love Bhutan and want to return someday to this magical Buddhist country (pictured, me at a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan). Bhutan’s fourth King Jigme Singye (his 4 wives, all sisters, are pictured) crowned his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as the fifth King of Bhutan, in the Throne room of the Tashichhodzong Palace during the coronation ceremony in Thimphu, Bhutan on November 6, 2008. With medieval tradition and Buddhist spirituality, the 28-year-old with an Oxford education assumed the Raven Crown of Bhutan to guide the world’s newest democracy as it emerges into the modern world.
Pictured, me at a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan
This is a land perhaps best known for its philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the idea that mental and spiritual well-being matter as much as material gain, that the environment, culture and quality of life also count.
Fifty years ago there were no cars or roads in Bhutan, and television and the internet only arrived in 1999. Wangchuck's 52-year-old father introduced democracy to Bhutan and abdicated in favor of his son. Neither move was taken particularly well by his largely adoring subjects but both are now looking like masterstrokes.
Where to begin? With Nicole Kidman six feet tall and 100 lbs., what woman can relate to her? Since no one has the nerve to tell her, I will. Nicole, you are condemning yourself to play other-worldly, sci-fi cold women. You have left real life to defiantly look very strange. Now on to Hugh Jackman. Fire your staff for not telling you your clothes in “Australia” were way too tight. You could hardly walk in them and it shows! Your beefcake scene embarrassed me.
And director Baz Luhrmann! Shame on you for squandering a lot of money and filming a sub-standard script! You had a good story, but what the hell happened?
Australia starts out as a cartoonish, silly movie. Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) is the spinster wife of Lord Ashley. He does not want her to come to Australia to find out what is happening to their money and property. No wonder. She is uptight and walks in an exaggerated manner through the Australia Outback in the 1940s. Happily childless (she shows no regret), Lady Ashley’s only friend must be a river rock. How does Lady Ashley meet Drover (Jackman)? He is having a brawling fistfight! It’s just lazy and corny.
Conveniently, Lord Ashley had just been murdered. The officials have named an Aboriginal naked old man called King George (David Gulpilil, pictured) as the killer.
There is no reason given why King George would do this, but he sure gets around without shoes or clothes.
Now in charge of 1,500 head of cattle, Lady Ashley needs someone to drive the herd to the Port of Darwin to be sold. Competing with Lady Ashley is King Carney (Bryan Brown). He’s got his own 1,500 head of cattle. It’s a race to the Port of Darwin. Firing her husband’s villainous traitor-employee, Lady Ashley must ask Drover to do it. But he needs help. So, the maid, 11-year old boy, the drunk accountant, and Lady Ashley take to the horses and do the job.
On the road, Lady Ashley notices Drover half-naked showing off in front of her by soaping up. Meeting Drover, Lady Ashley magically tears off her straight-laced demeanor and becomes a hot-spirited, lustful woman with a purpose.
Kidman and Jackman have no chemistry. (I’m not the only one who noticed. Why else would Jackman be conveniently named “The Sexiest Man Alive” right before the film opens?) The 11-year old boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), narrates this epic. He can’t shut up. For a shameful outcast, he sure has a lot to say. Nullah is a mixed-race child and the government is hunting these children to re-educate them in internment camps. His mother was one of Lord Ashley’s servants and sex-slave of a mean, white man.
After the men employed by King Carney set a fire causing the cattle to head for a cliff, King George steers the cattle to water through a dangerous pass. We never see this dramatic drive. Suddenly, they are in Darwin! And the Japanese are coming!
Lady Ashley, who has shown no mothering longings or inclinations, suddenly falls in love with Nullah and discovers passion in the arms of Drover. Poor Lord Ashley!
Out of nowhere comes “The Wizard of Oz". I know I hated “Australia” when Nullah asked Lady Ashley to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and I shouted at the screen: “Don’t do it!”
Sean Penn delivers a brilliant, transformational performance. “Milk” director Gus Van Sant did an awkward, PR guest shot on the season finale of “Entourage” turning down Vince Chase for a role. He passes Vince’s “B-roll” to Martin Scorsese who then casts Vince in his new film. Everywhere I look, I was at a christening last week, I see Martin Scorsese.
“Milk” is the story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), a gay activist in the 1970s, who was assassinated along with San Francisco’s Mayor Moscone by another disgruntled city supervisor, Dan White (Josh Brolin). Harvey Milk knows he is a historical figure, and makes a tape recording chronicling his life; and here, he narrates the film.
Harvey’s story begins when he decides to open a camera shop on Castro Street with his cute boyfriend, Scott Smith (James Franco). Soon the camera store becomes a hub for the outcast gay community and gay activism. Harvey works for eight years to be finally elected to public office with the help of his devoted friends, Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch, who starred in director Sean Penn’s “Into The Wild”); campaign manager Anne Kronenberg and others. When long-suffering Scott leaves Harvey, he takes up with an indulgent, young man, Jack Lira. Availing himself of archival footage, Van Sant (who directed the insufferable “Gerry” and the shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” that was doomed before filming even began with the casting of too big Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates and sexless Anne Heche as Marion Crane) leaves nothing to cinematic dramatization. It all looks and sounds real. “Milk” is a compelling, important story and well directed. However, it is Sean Penn that galvanizes and inhabits the persona of Harvey Milk.
If you are a Sean Penn fan, you will see how truly brilliant an actor he is. (I forgive him the unintentional funny “I Am Sam”.) Every movement, phrase, look, and desire is true to the character. Penn has transformed himself into Harvey Milk. He leaves nothing of Sean Penn on the screen.
He appears small and fragile, and gives Harvey Milk a charismatic presence that allows you to believe he was the spark that mobilized S.F.’s gay community.
Outwardly gay, Harvey eclipsed into a crusader and refused to be swayed or play the political game of “one hand washes the other”.
Unlike Will Smith, who was hired and paid to play a gay hustler in “Six Degrees of Separation” but refused to kiss another man as required by the script, Penn does not hesitate to play a sexually active, modern gay man. In fact, it is rather shocking. Van Sant doesn’t shy away from the reality of the 1970s Castro Street hedonistic lifestyle. There is no moralizing here.
And what of Dan White? Incredibly, one sympathizes with him. Not as a killer, but the position he found himself in up against the media darling that had become Harvey Milk. If only Harvey had been more sensitive to the conundrum of Dan White and given him a crumb from his banquet table. But Harvey had no patience for massaging Dan White’s ego. I have intimately known many, many gay men. I understood Harvey Milk’s cruel indifference to Dan White.
The fact that the script, director and especially Josh Brolin allow us to see Dan White as a conflicted character is a credit to them. Unfortunately, Dan White’s “Twinkie Defense” and insignificant prison sentence brings the audience back to Harvey Milk and the injustice of his death.
Viva McDonald’s is coming to the Las Vegas Strip!
The first ever Las Vegas-themed McDonald’s in the world will feature state of the art technology, including digital video screens, and McDonald’s largest built kitchen. The new Viva McDonald's is located next to Circus Circus in the plot of land where the Westward Ho casino used to be.
I’ve been invited to a VIP event on Tuesday, December 9 from 6-8pm for a behind-the-scenes, hands-on look of the newest Las Vegas sensation. The event will host stars Ronald McDonald, Birdie, Grimace and the Hamburgler. The Grand Opening to the public will be on Thursday, December 11. If I want to I can try my hand at being a McDonald’s employee and flip burgers, fry fries, or work “on the line”. (I watch Chef Gordon Ramsay so I know how to shout orders in a busy kitchen!) Thanks to George Bush and his oily cronies, there will probably be a long line of VIPs filling out employee applications.
At the Grand Opening event on December 11, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Goodman who will give Ronald McDonald a key to the city. At 5 p.m., comedy magician Mac King will arrive and register for 1 hour to sell Big Macs. For every Big Mac sold by Mac King, proceeds will go to Las Vegas’ local Ronald McDonald House Charity.
The Dalai Lama’s Brilliant Move.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, is considering appointing a regent to lead the Tibetan movement after his death until his reincarnation is old enough to take over.
It is the latest proposal intended to ensure a smooth succession after the death of the Dalai Lama. The plan is to prevent China from hijacking his reincarnation.
The most likely candidate for the regency is the 23-year-old Karmapa Lama, the third highest in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy.
Exiled Tibetans fear that following the past practice for finding the Dalai Lama’s next reincarnation would leave them leaderless while the next reincarnation grows up, and open the door for China to appoint its own rival Dalai Lama. When the Dalai Lama recognized a young boy in Tibet as the new Panchen Lama, the second highest in Tibetan Buddhism, in 1995, China detained the child and appointed its own candidate. Last year, China's government claimed exclusive rights to approve all lamas' reincarnations.
The Dalai Lama has proposed several alternatives, including holding a referendum among the world's 13-14 million Tibetan Buddhists on whether he should be reincarnated at all. If the majority wanted to continue the tradition, he said he would be re-incarnated as a young boy, or a girl. "Girls show more compassion," he said.
He also repeated that he could identify a reincarnation while he is still alive, even though no Dalai Lama has done so before. Candidates include movie stars offspring Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and Suri Cruise.
The regency proposal would allow the Dalai Lama to select and groom his temporary successor, while adhering to Tibetan tradition. He is also extremely close to the Karmapa, who is renowned for his good looks and intelligence, as well as his dramatic escape from Tibet to India.
The Karmapa cannot become the next Dalai Lama as he leads a different sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Karmapa would be a controversial choice as he heads the Kagyu (Black Hat) sect while the Dalai Lama leads the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) sect.