Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Can Fight City Hall, but...

You can fight City Hall.

You won’t win, but you may at least get some concessions.
I live in what used to be called the Varsity Heights section of Boca Raton in a house built in 1957.
Everyone had septic tanks back then, and because our neighborhood was mostly blue-collar and most of the houses high and dry on the eastern slope of the Boca Ridge, the city put off sewers in our neighborhood until last.
The talking and planning began way back in 2000. In July of 2006 residents were notified of impending assessments and fees, averaging the astronomical sum of $30,000.
There was a great hue and cry duly covered by the Boca Raton News. Hearings were held, residents begged and pleaded, and the city listened. Through various concessions by the city and state, the figure was pared to about $6,000, and the city ultimately made a time payment program possible.
Construction began in 2006 and continued a couple of years in phases. Finally on Oct. 16, 2008 the city decided on a 90-day deadline for residents to hook up to the new system and have their septic tank disabled, all at home owners’ expense.
Everyone has a reason to procrastinate. In my case I was going through a two-year legal battle with my wife over divorce. As part of mediation we were both allowed to live in the house until it was sold.
Meanwhile the deadline loomed. My ex was out of work and I was struggling. We applied for a city/state aid program to help with the hookup, but when they learned the house was up for sale, we were denied.
The divorce became final June 23, 2009. We continued to try to sell the house.
Meanwhile the deadline passed.
I think Boca Raton may have more code enforcement officers than any other department. At least it looks that way when you see all their trucks parked at the community center.
Aggie, our officer, is a nice and courteous woman, just doing her job.
My ex hopes to refinance and buy the house. I hope for her sake and our three daughters that it works, but meanwhile I am staggering under the burden of paying the bills. I am not alone.
I received a letter from the city from the Special Master of the City of Boca Raton that there would be a court hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 at City Hall. I didn’t know we had a Special Master, but he is Michael J. Gelfand, and he must be a lawyer or a judge because he seemed very calm and fair-minded.
I was the first one there. I recognized Craig High, a friend who lives about a block away, and another guy who told me he lives at the end of my street.
Around eight or ten guys filed in. I recognized them all from the neighborhood. I realized we are all in the same boat. None of us is rich, and some have lost jobs, failing health, nasty divorces and in some cases already in foreclosure.
By luck of the draw, I went first. I felt like James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” It was my plan to throw myself at the mercy of the court, so I began a litany of woe that began back in 2004 with a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and subsequent surgery. Then I spoke of marital problems, court battles, divorce and the coup de grace: the closing of my longtime employer, the Boca Raton News.
I told the court I was not trying to evade responsibility, but that I truly didn’t know what was going to happen in the immediate future. So I plead for time to talk to my ex and figure out some kind of plan to come up with the $2,500 to complete the hookup.
The Special Master conferred with a representative from the city and decreed that he would extend the time to apply for a permit to March 8 and to March 29 to get it approved.
The work must be complete and final by July 26, or homeowners face a $100 a day fine.
We bought some time, but not a solution. Some of the guys are in much worse shape than I. When facing seemingly insoluble problems there are three paths you can take: wallow in despair, ignore it completely and hope it will go away, or stand your ground and face whatever is dealt you. When you have nothing more to lose you have nothing left to fear.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Indiana Jones of Medical Research

Extraordinary Measures Noble but Unexciting

It’s fairly easy to write a review when a movie terrible or great. Writing about a film that sucks can be great fun.
When a film falls somewhere in the middle it is much more difficult.
An example is “Extraordinary Measures,” currently in theaters.
“Extraordinary Measures” is a disease-of-the-week movie with noble intent and a wry performance by Harrison Ford as a renegade researcher. Think of Dr. Robert Stonehill as the Indiana Jones of medical research.
Nice guy John Crowley (Brendan Fraser in low-key-but-impassioned mode) seeks out Dr. Stonehill at his Nebraska lab in desperation.
It’s little Megan’s (Meredith Droeger) eighth birthday, and it could well be her last if some kind of cure can’t be found for the rare genetic disease she and her brother have. Crowley’s beautiful, dutiful wife Aileen (Keri Russell) is beside herself with worry.
Dr. Stonehill is doing some radical genetic experiments that show promise down the line, but in the cautious, profit-driven world of American pharmaceutical marketing, it can take years and years of research and testing before a medicine can be approved by the FDA.
Dr. Stonehill is a crank and a loner, but he is also a fighter who is contemptuous of Big Medicine. You just know the good doctor is going to rise to the occasion and kick some pharmaceutical ass.
Like “The Blind Side,” “Extraordinary Measures” is “inspired by true events.”
However, medical research is not quite as exciting as football or the Memphis ghetto.
So Scottish director Tom Vaughn pulls at the heartstrings while trying to drum up urgent suspense over the fate of the kids.
The young woman who saw the film with me was misty-eyed through much of the film. I asked her if she had a cold or allergies and she sad no.
So yes, “Extraordinary Measures” is effective emotional catharsis for some people, but not so much jaded film critics who have seen it all before.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Do Not Underestimate "The Maid"

Oh, the problems of the rich.
“The Maid,” an import from Chile, explores what goes on in the mind of a maid who has been with a family so long she is like a member of the family- but not quite.
Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) is a stony, stoic all-purpose servant to the family of a genial, well-off doctor Mundo (Alejandro Goic), his chic, lovely wife Pilar (Claudia Celedon) and three rambunctious children.
While the family has dinner in a formal dining room, Raquel is off by herself in the kitchen, eating some unidentifiable brown goop.
She seems the picture of misery, but then she is called to the dining room and surprise! They have a birthday cake for her.
Raquel is 41 but she seems much older and she is wracked with aches and pains. Along with the cake and a present, Pilar announces she is hiring another maid to help out Raquel.
Raquel protests she does not need help, but when she passes out on the job Pilar hires another maid, a sweet young thing named Mercedes (Mercedes Villaneuva).
Mercedes is a clear threat to Raquel’s dominance, and she plays all manner of dirty tricks on the girl, not the least of which is locking her out of the house and playing deaf.
Raquel successfully drives Mercedes away in tears, but when she suffers another collapse and lands in the hospital, Pilar’s mother lends her Sonia, the maid from Hell.
An older woman who has seen it all, Sonia asked Raquel, “Why do you make such an effort for these ingrates?”
“I love them and they love me,” Raquel answers.
With such an attitude Sonia is not long for the household, but now even Raquel admits she needs help. Lucy (Mariana Loyola) a woman closer to Raquel’s age is hired, and the rapport between the two servants is immediate.
Written and directed by Sebastian Silva, “The Maid” is a kind of coming of age tale of a woman who has been emotionally repressed and stunted all her life. It’s is one of those engaging little movies that make you thankful for foreign and indie films.

Messenger Sends Message of Civilian Pain of War

The powerful civilian war drama “The Messenger” is playing exclusively at the Gateway in Fort Lauderdale, with wider release coming.
Though it is by no means a feel-good movie, “The Messenger” stands head and shoulders above other films being released locally this weekend.
Newcomer Ben Foster is a marvel as Staff sergeant Will Montgomery, a tightly-wound, combat-wounded, Southern-born American G.I. and Iraq War hero. Sgt. Montgomery is winding up his duty stateside with the difficult, unwanted assignment of delivering the bad news of the death of fellow soldiers to widows, family and friends as part of the Army’s Casualty Notification Service. Oscar buzz for Foster as Best Actor began when the film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Woody Harrelson gives one of his the best performances of his career as Capt. Tony Stone, Montgomery’s stern, stony and hard-drinking superior officer and veteran bearer of bad news.
“Avoid contact with the next of kin (NOK),” Stone warns the rookie. “No hugs or consoling, and absolutely no interaction or involvement with their personal lives.”
Despite a rocky start, Montgomery learns there is a method to the Army’s madness: he is surprisingly good at dealing blows as humanely and professionally as possible while enduring all manner of physical and emotional abuse.
Then Sgt. Montgomery meets Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), a new widow with a young child.
A forbidden friendship blossoms between Montgomery and the new widow parallel to a friendship that grows between him and Capt. Stone.
There is very little black and white in the story co-written by director Oren Moverman (with Alessandro Camon). Just as Capt. Stone is not as bad as he first seems, so the grieving widow Olivia may not be as virtuous as she first appears.
Samantha’s heart-rending performance is a reminder the horrible residual effects of war. The physical cost can be measured in dollars, but the emotional damage is in calculable.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jekyll & Hydes Played for Laughs at Caldwell

Caldwell Theatre Company dons a collective lampshade for its second play of the season, “Chemical Imbalance.”

Continuing through Feb, 7 at 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, “Chemical Imbalance” is a thoroughly silly farce by Lauren Wilson, based on “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr., Hyde,” published in 1886.

There must be a lot of split personalities out there, because “Jekyll and Hyde” has been the subject of more than 120 movies alone, as well as countless songs, musicals, essays and scholarly studies.

There is absolutely nothing scholarly about “Chemical Imbalance.” Director Clive Cholerton warns us up front that if we are looking for serious meaning, we have come to the wrong show.

“Chemical Imbalance” is a showcase for Tom Wahl in the lead role of Jekyll/Hyde.

Carbonell Award-winner Wahl has played some fine serious roles, but here he goes about the serious business of being funny.

It’s almost as if the role was written expressly for Wahl, down to his thinning hair, which is mentioned pointedly more than once.

What hair he has Wahl uses in his transformation from kindly medical Dr. Henry Jekyll into crazed homicidal maniac, Mr. Hyde.

Wahl musses his fringe of hair, goes through Elvis-like gyrations and stealthily inserts gnarled false teeth to become evil, stooped Mr. Hyde.

Jekyll/Hyde is not the only good-bad equation in this flat-out farce.

Tiffany-Leigh Moskow does her share of scenery-chewing as bad seed Penelope and her good-girl twin sister Calliope.

Diminutive Moscow is quite believable as a 10-year-old girl, but in reality she is a graduate of Syracuse University and her credits include Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. It is bad girl Penelope’s blood that Dr. Jekyll needs for his evil potion, but she proves an elusive subject.

The twins’ fussy, fashionable mother, Lady Throckmortonshire, is played by John Felix in elaborate drag. Felix is funny regardless of costume, but resplendent in costume designer Alberto Arroyo’s giant, outrageous hats, Felix is a stitch, especially when the Lady mistakenly downs the potion.

Special notice is deserved by Erin Joy Schmidt in the dual roles as Jekyll’s sister Ambrosia and a moustache-twitching constable.

Wynn Harmon is pleasingly goofy as Jekyll’s vacant best friend Xavier, and Amy Elane Anderson has bawdy fun with her push-up bra as would-be fiancĂ©e of Jekyll, Rosamunda Dewthistle.

No farce would be complete without a couple of knowing house servants, and Lindsey Forgey and Laura Turnbull ably fill the bill.

Great theater? Nah. Good laughs? Yes. At Caldwell Theatre it is decidedly comedy tonight.

Tickets are $34-$55. Call 561-241-7432 or go to

Friday, January 8, 2010

Leap Year

Look Before You Leap

"Leap Year" is a romantic comedy rather short on laughs but plenty long on gorgeous scenery, and unfortunately, tired plot devices.

Adorable Amy Adams is the equally adorable Boston Irish lass Anna, a take-charge girl who "stages" expensive apartments in preparation to rent.

Adam Scott is her all-business cardiologist boyfriend, Jeremy. Scott is an actor who is adept at playing smug, insufferable characters. We dislike Jeremy instantly.

Anna frets that Jeremy will never pop her the marriage question. He has nimbly dodged the issue for four years.

Her tradition-minded dad (John Lithgow) is concerned Anna will end up being an unclaimed blessing, so he cooks up a bit of blarney about an Irish tradition that allows single women to propose to a man once every four years, on Leap Year Day.

In the first of many convenient coincidences, Jeremy has business in Dublin.

That's all it takes for Anna to pack up her sky-high heels and girly wardrobe in a Louis Vuitton suitcase and buy round-trip airfare to Ireland.

Wouldn't you know her flight is diverted by bad weather to Wales, the first of many such detours. She misses a train and is stranded in the middle of nowhere, finding the only available taxi in town at a small Irish pub run by a morose young bartender.

Handsome Declan (Matthew Goode) is also driver of said taxi: an old, decrepit Renault R-4.

Declan is so contemptuous of the perky, pushy American he says she can keep her offer of 500 pounds to drive her to Dublin. One of the nosy locals argues sensibly Declan should take the money and drive.

Opposites-attract romances have been a staple of movies ever since Clark Gable romanced Claudette Colbert on the road in 1934 in "It Happened One Night."

That justly-honored movie was by the great Frank Capra. "Leap Year" is directed by Anand Tucker, with a story by script doctors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan.

Amy Adams tries her adorable best with athletic pratfalls, mud baths, barf and numerous other humiliations, but the supposedly sizzling chemistry between Anna and Declan does not really ignite until the obligatory finale, which seems to take forever.

Ah, but as a travelogue for Ireland, the Emerald Isle has never seemed more romantic or fetching.