Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Billy Bob Thornton

Five Christmas Criminal Films


Ah, the holiday season. A time for generosity, merriment, good cheer…and felonies. Yep, in the real world, crooks don’t take a break for Christmas and they didn’t in any of the following five films either.

We’re No Angels (1955)  Humphry Bogart (in one of his very few comedic roles), Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov star as three prisoners who manage a daring escape from Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve and arrive at a small French colonial town. They quickly become involved with a local shopkeeper and his family. Originally, they’re just looking for a hideout and a chance to steal supplies to make a getaway, but much to their own surprise, they end up becoming the ‘guardian angels’ of the family.  Also starring Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone, and Leo G. Carroll.

Die Hard (1988)  Directed by John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in the iconic roles that launched their careers into superstardom. Arguably the most perfect action movie ever made, it also happens to be set during the Christmas holidays, thus we get plenty of tinsel along with the gratuitous violence. And who doesn’t love a DMC Christmas rap?  Featuring such classic zingers as “Ho-ho-ho-Now I have a machine gun,” and “If this is how they celebrate Christmas I gotta be there for New Year’s!”

Home Alone (1990)  Directed by Chris Columbus (Gremlins and Harry Potter) and starring young Macauley Culkin as Kevin McAllister who is mistakenly left behind while the rest of his family flies off to celebrate Christmas in Paris. Kevin finds himself enjoying the time to himself but when thieves Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) figure out the truth, they plan a home invasion only to have Kevin turn the tables on them.  Culkin was nominated for a Golden Globe and Home Alone became the highest grossing live action comedy film of all time.

The Ref (1994) This black comedy directed by Ted Demme stars Denis Leary as jewel thief Gus. Gus accidentally trips an alarm and hijacks a car owned by a wealthy, married couple Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline Chausser (Judy Greer). Unfortunately for Gus, Lloyd and Caroline are a severely dysfunctional couple whose constant bickering drives him nuts. Matters are further complicated by the unexpected arrival of troubled son Jesse, and then Lloyd’s family, including his brother, sister in law, nephew, niece, and horrible mother, Rose (Glynis Johns).  Gus soon finds himself unwittingly playing counselor to the whole clan while trying to avoid the police and get the hell out of suburban Connecticut.

Bad Santa (2003)  Terry Zwigoff, (Crumb, Ghost World) directed this raunchy black comedy Every year professional thieves Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton at his most hilarious) and his dwarf assistant Marcus (Tony Cox of Willow, Spaceballs, and Beetlejuice), pose as a department store Santa and his elf assistant. They use their access to rob the malls blind with the help of Marcus’s wife Lois (Lauren Tom of The Joy Luck Club and Futurama), their getaway driver. Willie’s alcoholism, sex-addiction, and foul mouthed behavior though, have begun to alienate Marcus. Meanwhile, Willie befriends a sweet, fatherless, overweight child named Thurman (Brett Kelly) while taking up with a fetching bar lass Sue (Lauren Graham), with a Santa fetish. It well earned its R rating in theaters and there’s an unrated option now for rental! Bad Santa 2, also starring Thornton, is now in theaters.

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Five Films for Campaign Season


As we enter the final days of a presidential campaign that has been both historic and unusually ahem interesting we are more aware than ever of the vital need to engage in politics, (however distasteful it can sometimes be.) Here are some movies dedicated to examining how the sausage making of electing political leaders actually occurs.

The Best Man (1964) Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (Planet of the Apes, Patton) and written by Gore Vidal was based on his own play of the same title. Starring Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton and Lee Tracy this drama details the sordid maneuverings behind the nomination of a presidential candidate. Tracy was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in what was to be his final film.

The Candidate (1972) This satirical comedy drama was directed by Michael Ritchie (The Bad News Bears, Fletch) and written by former Eugene McCarthy speechwriter Jeremy Larner. Political specialist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) needs a Democratic candidate to oppose a popular Republican incumbent (Don Porter).  Since no serious candidate will enter such an unwinnable race Lucas seeks out Bob McKay (Robert Redford) the son of a former Democratic governor who wants to use the campaign solely as bully pulpit to spread his idealistic platform. Things don’t go as planned. It was widely acclaimed for Redford’s performance and Larner’s script, and the latter won an Oscar.

Bob Roberts (1992) This satirical mockumentary was written and directed by Tim Robbins who also starred in the title role as a conservative Republican folk singer who becomes the challenger against a Democratic incumbent for one of Pennsylvania’s Senate seats.  Shot through the perspective of Terry Manchester (stage star Brian Murray) who’s doing a documentary on Roberts’ campaign while a young reporter Bugs Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito) attempts to expose Roberts as a fraud. It currently has a 100% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Wag the Dog (1997) This hysterical black comedy produced and directed by Barry Levinson kicks off with allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the President and an adorable firefly girl…less than two weeks before the election.  Trouble shooter Conrad Bean (Robert DeNiro) is brought in to save the situation and he concocts an elaborate scheme to distract the public by creating a fake war with Albania. To that end he recruits legendary Hollywood producer Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman) and then things get very, VERY complicated. Besides Hoffman and DeNino we also get Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Denis Leary, and Woody Harrelson all at the top of their game as well. Small wonder it has an 85% rating at Rotten Tomatoes as well as Oscar nominations for Dustin Hoffman for Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Primary Colors (1998) Based on the novel of the same name, directed by Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Silkwood) and starring John Travolta as a charismatic Southern governor trying to win the Democratic Party nomination for President. (Three guesses who this is based on.) Besides Travolta we also get winning turns by Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, and Adrian Lester. Bates was nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actress and screenwriter Elaine May (Ishtar, The Birdcage) also received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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Five Films Featuring Fantastic Felines


Recently I wrote an article about movies with canine protagonists. This got me into trouble at home, where I am ruled by two tyrannical rescue kitties who were very displeased about my specie-est attitude. In order to smooth things over, then I’ve decided to give cinematic cats their proper due.

That Darn Cat! (1965) Based on the 1963 novel Undercover Cat, this comedy caper film stars mischievous Siamese DC (Darn Cat) who lives with two sisters, Inkie (Dorothy Provine) and Patti (Hayley Mills).  One night when out on the prowl, DC follows a bank robber home where he and his partner are holding a bank employee hostage. The hostage manages to replace DC’s collar with her watch and a partial inscription calling for Help. DC makes it home, Patti discovers the watch, and FBI agent Zeke Kelso (Dean Jones) is called in.  Wacky hijinks and romantic complications ensue. It was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Written American Comedy, the cat playing DC received a rave review in the New York Times, and there was a remake made in 1997.

The AristoCats (1970) In this animated Disney classic, a feline family consisting of the elegant and refined Duchess (voiced by Eva Gabor)  along with her three beautiful and talented kittens are set to inherit a fortune from their doting owner. But evil butler Edgar intent on getting the money for himself, drugs and kidnaps them. It is only with the help of street wise stray Tom O’Malley (voiced by Phil Harris) that these pampered pets can find their way back to their posh Parisian home, but Edgar has other ideas. Matters are further complicated by the growing romance between Duchess and Tom.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) In this Japanese adventure-comedy-drama orange tabby kitten Milo (who’s a little curious for his own good) befriends pug Otis. One day Milo plays in a box on the river and is washed downstream and Otis runs after him. Along the way Milo has many escapades and meets such persons as Bear, Fox, Pig, Owl, and more. It was the highest grossing Japanese film produced that year and the third highest of all time, which prompted Columbia Pictures to release a shortened English language version narrated by Dudley Moore.

Puss in Boots (2011) In this spin-off sequel to the Shrek franchise, Antonio Banderas reprises his signature role as the dashing tomcat adventurer Boots. Having learned that outlaw couple Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) have acquired the magic beans to access the giant’s castle with golden goose eggs, he hatches a plot to steal them with the aid of criminal mastermind and Puss’s former friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and street savvy Tuxedo cat Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).  Needless to say things don’t all go according to plan. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a fresh rating of 84% and it grossed over a half billion at the Box Office.

African Cats (2011) This nature documentary film chronicles the dual narratives of a pride of lions and a family of cheetahs trying to survive on the African Savannah. Besides the incredible beauty, charisma, and magnetism of its subjects it also showcases some pretty majestic views of the surrounding countryside as well.

Top photo from Bigstock.