Monday, January 26, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness *** Directed by Mami Sunada. Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli: the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, the producer Toshio Suzuki, and the elusive and influential ‘other director’ Isao Takahata over the course of a year as the studio rushes to complete two films, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. If you’re not enraptured with the work of Miyazaki, Takahata and the rest of the artists at Ghibli, this may not be precisely what you’re looking for, but Sanada captures something poetic about art and creativity that could speak to anyone, animation fan or otherwise.

Art and Craft *** Directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman. When one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history is finally exposed, he must confront the legacy of his 30-year con. A documentary that adds fuel to the argument that the art market is a rigged game manipulated by curators and gallerists spouting mumbo-jumbo.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? *** Directed by Shion Sono. The bitter feuds and unrequited loves that bind two warring Yakuza clans are intensified by the comical interference of a deluded film director and his guerrilla crew, who are hired to propel the daughter of one of the gang leaders to movie stardom. The film’s blast of self-mocking overkill can be charming.

The Book of Life *** Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum. Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears. The characters move around in a thoroughly realized universe full of imaginative and beautifully rendered detail. Too bad the rest of it isn’t more interesting.

Fury **½ Directed by David Ayer. During the waning days of World War II in Europe, U.S. Army Sgt. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) leads his tank crew against overwhelming German forces. It’s engaging and watchable, even as it marches toward a seemingly suicidal climax. Yet the complex dynamic between Wardaddy and his men is fascinating.

My Old Lady ** Directed by Israel Horovitz. Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith. An American inherits an apartment in Paris from his father that comes with an unexpected resident, his father’s former lover. Though Horovitz’s directing is workmanlike solid, and while the movie has a certain charm that makes it easy to walk in the door, it gives you little reason to stay.

The Judge ** Directed by David Dobkin. Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall. Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. The film is well served by intense performances from its two stars, but is undercut by obvious note-hitting in the writing and a deliberate pace that drags things out about 20 minutes past their due date.

Open Windows ** Directed by Nacho Vigalondo. Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey. A jilted fan finds himself pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse after he accepts the opportunity to spy on his favorite actress via his laptop. Timidity and perhaps fear, of visual confinement, of lingering emotional engagement, closes Vigalondo’s most promising windows.

Miss Meadows Directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins. A proper elementary school teacher (Katie Holmes) moonlights as a vigilante. Hopkins is unsuccessful in navigating the absurd storyline’s jarring tonal shifts, with the result that this kinder, gentler variation on Ms. 45 mainly emerges as off-puttingly bizarre.

Before I Go To Sleep Directed by Rowan Joffe. Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong. After surviving a brutal assault, a woman awakens each morning incapable of remembering anything about her past, including the previous day. If it weren’t for the diligent performances of its stars, who inject some emotional depth into this bogus claptrap, this would be an unwatchable, titter-inducing catastrophe.

The Remaining Directed by Casey La Scala. Friends gather at a wedding, but the celebration is shattered by terrifying apocalyptic events. There’s a fundamental problem here. The movie relies on the instinctual human fear of death, but its message is that dying is a promotion.

Days and Nights Directed by Christian Camargo. Christian Carmago, Katie Holmes, William Hurt, Allison Janney, Cherry Jones, Russell Means, Michael Nyqvist, Jean Reno, Juliet Rylance, Mark Rylance, Ben Whislaw. An aging actress’s makes a fateful choice to visit her son and ailing brother in 1980s New England. The drama over dinner comes in small analgesic portions, and the secrets feel canned and the dialogue is too pretty to be believable.

The Color of Time Directed by 11 different directors. Zach Braff, Bruce Campbell, Jessica Chastain, James Franco, Henry Hopper, Mila Kunis. Takes the viewer on a journey through several decades of American life from poet CK Williams’s childhood and adolescence in Detroit in the 1940s and ‘50s to the early 1980s. The tone is delicate and vaporous, more attuned to mood and melancholy than anything resembling a conventional narrative. And despite the ambition on display, the film feels awfully slight, like a dream forgotten immediately upon waking. In its admirable but muddled attempt to fuse pure poetry and pure cinema, it ends up doing justice to neither.

Monday, January 19, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz *** Directed by Brian Kanppenberger. The story of the programming prodigy and information activist who took his own life at the age of 26. Delivers a touching, morally outraged portrait that, in memory of Swartz, may inspire people to ask hard questions about how the new world is being shaped away from view, behind closed doors.

The Drop *** Directed by Michael R. Roskam. Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini. An ex-con resolves to start a new life away from crime, but his bartending job at a local tavern pulls him back toward trouble when the load of cash that gangsters are laundering through the bar mysteriously disappears. The movie’s unpredictability is organic rather than sensationalistic. The movie doesn’t pull surprises out of thin air for the sole purpose of shocking the viewer — it lets them develop naturally.

The Green Prince *** Directed by Nadav Schirman. The son of a top leader in Palestine’s militant Hamas movement, spends a decade working as a mole for Israeli intelligence. A narrative documentary thriller that effectively employs many elements of a John le Carré spy novel: international intrigue, arresting twists and turns, and characters with complicated motivations.

Coherence **½ Directed by James Ward Byrkit. When a passing comet causes a neighborhood to lose power, four couples gathered for a dinner party discover a nearby house whose lights are still on. But the friends’ decision to investigate sparks encounters with bizarre phenomena. Byrkit and his actors successfully build a sense of tension, and then dread, from what appears to be an extremely limited budget. Indeed, the movie was shot primarily in his own living room.

Lucy **½ Directed by Luc Besson. Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman. A young woman forced to become a drug mule for the mob develops superhuman abilities when the narcotics she’s carrying in her stomach accidentally leak into her system. Besson’s script may let Johansson and Freeman down in the third act, but the 89 minute long Lucy is so brisk it’ll give you whiplash. Even marginal thrillers benefit from a director and star who have a sense of urgency and are as hellbent as this on not overstaying their welcome.

The Boxtrolls **½ Directed by Graham Annabelle, Anthony Stacchi. A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator. This animate feature stands reasonably well on its own, as a cool steampunk fairy-tale that serves as yet another testament to the artistry of the folks at Laika.

May in the Summer **½ Directed by Cherien Dabis. May (Dabis) travels to Jordan for her wedding to Ziad (Alexander Siddig), a fellow Arab American, but faces the disapproval of her mother, a converted evangelical Christian who doesn’t want her daughter marrying a Muslim man. It’s diverting to watch and has moments of brilliance, but even with all its refreshing female characters, the film doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

Life’s a Breeze ** Directed by Lance Daly. In the process of making over an aging matriarch’s ratty apartment, a cash-strapped Irish clan inadvertently discards her mattress that’s stuffed with nearly one million euros. From a filmmaking standpoint, is something of a jumble. There’s a whimsical score that sounds like a Mumford & Sons bridge on repeat that underlines the quirky tone in rather annoying ways.

Rudderless ** Directed by William H. Macy. Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fisburne. Devastated over his son’s death, former ad exec Sam (Crudup) removes himself from society to drink away his grief. When he summons the will to perform his son’s songs at a local bar, the music gains popularity and Sam claims to have written the tunes himself. This, despite a few stellar moments, is a not-quite-tragic-enough meditation on mourning and self-healing, crossed with a not-quite-gritty-enough portrait of indie rockers trying to break big.

The Zero Theorem ** Directed by Terry Gilliam. Living in isolation in a burnt-out church, Qohen (Christoph Waltz), an eccentric and reclusive computer genius plagued with existential angst, is obsessively working on a mysterious project personally delegated to him by Management (Matt Damon) aimed at discovering the meaning of life, or the complete lack of one, once and for all. Orwellian paranoia doesn’t die, it just gets fresh trimmings, and while The Zero Theorem is as messy and overstuffed as Fibber McGilliam’s closet (OK, I’m dating myself here), its sorrow and anger and demented humor strike just enough fresh sparks to keep his career alive.

White Bird in a Blizzard ** Directed by Gregg Araki. Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Chrisdtopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane, Angela Bassett. A teenage girl’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother disappears. An odd little concoction, a coming-of-age story that, only in passing, is also a mystery.

Annabelle Directed by John R. Leonetti. A couple begins to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists. Sadly, Annabelle, a cheap, sleazy, low-budget prequel meant to explain the origins of that particular doll, is as undistinguished, uninteresting, and unscary as the worst of the Chucky films.

Wolves Directed by David Hayter. Lucas Till, Stephen McHattie, Merritt Patterson, Jason Momoa. A boy trying to find out about his family history stumbles upon a town of lycans. If you’re in the bag for werewolves (or have a thing for hairy dudes smoking distinctive pipes), Wolves is a beckoning howl in the night. As an action movie, however, it’s surprisingly tame.

Mea culpa! Comments have been posted

I'm going to blame it on the fact that I relocated, but, whatever the reason, the system built into this blog failed to notify me that a number of individuals had commented on some of the articles I had posted. I stumbled onto that fact this morning, found the comments and all those outstanding comments have now been posted to their respective articles. So sorry about the delay. Believe me, I wasn't trying to silence anyone else's opinion. This is all about the free flow of ideas.

Monday, January 12, 2015

This Week’s DVD Releases

A real busy week.
(Click on title to see the film’s trailer)

Love Is Strange ***½ Directed by Ira Sachs. John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei. After 28 years together, Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) finally get hitched. But when the marriage raises controversy at the school where George works, he’s fired. Unable to afford their New York City apartment, the couple is forced to live apart. One of those lovely little movies that starts out being about a handful of people and ends up being about all of us. That’s a tricky act to pull off and the talented writer-director Sachs stumbles occasionally over moments of self-conscious lyricism. But when the film recovers its balance, looks at its characters with fondness and with faith, it quietly soars.

The Strange Little Cat ***½ Directed by Ramon Zürcher. Three generations of a middle-class clan gather in a Berlin flat during the course of a day. This kind of vérité surrealism doesn’t come along very often, and the glorious oddness that Zürcher manages to infuse into even the most routinely domestic activities is really the gift the film keeps on giving.

Gone Girl ***½ Directed by David Fincher. Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward. With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent. A rare movie: a delicious thriller that provides plenty of titillation and gruesome pleasure while offering a dollop of social commentary. It’s smart, twisted, bloody, and almost guaranteed to satisfy anyone with a penchant for the macabre.

Wetlands *** Directed by David Wnendt. When an embarrassing shaving accident lands rebellious teen Helen (Carla Juri) in the hospital, she develops an unlikely bond with her male nurse (Christoph Letkowski) who she seduces with stories of her sexual adventures while using her illness to reunite her divorced parents. Even though Wetlands is absolutely, brutally unrelenting in its depictions of bodily functions and searching adolescent sexuality, it’s also an inventively sharp, briskly edited, spectacularly-acted post-adolescent coming-of-age story.

Keep on Keepin’ On *** Directed by Alan Hicks. A documentary that follows jazz legend Clark Terry over four years to document the mentorship between Terry and 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin as the young man prepares to compete in an elite, international competition. One of the delights of this documentary is hearing Terry tell stories. Watching the movie feels as if you’ve sat down in someone else’s living room to hear tales of other legendary jazz musicians, such as Count Basie or Miles Davis.

Expedition to the End of the World *** Directed by Daniel Dencik. A three-mast schooner packed with artists, scientists and ambitions worthy of Noah or Columbus sails to the rapidly melting massifs of Northeast Greenland. The movie reveals some of the most stunning landscape cinematography imaginable, while everyone on the isolated ship waxes philosophical (which I guess I would do as well had I been in their place).

Middle of Nowhere *** Directed by Ava DuVernay. After her husband is sent to prison for eight years, medical student Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) shelves her studies to focus on her partner’s welfare as he serves his time. Nothing is easily resolved in this complex drama, which makes it all the more honestly moving. More than anything, this is a film about a woman on a journey of self-discovery, finding her way gingerly. (This film was released originally in 2012. It is coming out on DVD now to capitalize on the fact that DuVernay directed Selma, which is currently receiving a lot of Oscar buzz.)

Bird People *** Directed by Pacale Ferran. Josh Charles, Anais Dumoustier. In an airport hotel on the outskirts of Paris, a Silicon Valley engineer abruptly chucks his job, breaks things off with his wife, and holes up in his room. It’s a tricky proposition that will surely ruffle the feathers of many viewers, but one that also makes a curious, if lasting, impression, thanks in part to strong turns from Demoustier and Charles.

The Two Faces of January **½ Directed by Hossein Amini. Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst, Oscar Isaac. A con artist, his wife, and a stranger flee Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective. A sun-splashed noir that loses its appeal in the last act.

Jimi: All Is By My Side **½ Directed by John Ridley.André Benjamin, Hayley Atwill, Imogen Poots. Chronicles Jimi Hendrix’s rise to fame and the personal demons he battled along the way. At times the movie feels absolutely authentic. More often, though, it’s meandering and melodramatic, with far too many scenes of Hendrix jabbering and squabbling with two key female figures in his life, and not enough of the music.

Honeymoon **½ Directed by Leigh Janiak. Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway. Soon after arriving at a secluded woodland cabin, a honeymooning couple sees their bliss evaporate when a sleepwalking incident leads to increasingly odd behavior by the bride. It waffles between dramatizing youthful self-absorption and succumbing to it, and this tonal instability comes to effectively mirror the domestic discord that’s revealed to be its real subject.

Finding Fela! **½ Directed by Alex Gibney. A documentary that looks at the life and music of Nigerian singer Fela Kuti. As a portrait of a great artist and activist, Finding Fela is worth a look, but it’s Gibney’s weakest work as a filmmaker.

Memphis **½ Directed by Tim Sutton. A strange singer with "God given talent" drifts through the mythic city of Memphis. This is a bold and bewildering conjuring act, that might mean nothing at all, but the sleight of hand is worth the price of a rental.

Bad Turn Worse **½ Directed by Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins. Three Texas teens hope to make a break for it and escape their dead-end existence in a cotton-mill town but get sucked into the seedy underbelly of organized crime when one of them steals from a gangster. Though its influences (Badlands, early Coens) are writ large, and the denouement disappoints, the performances convince, the dialogue captivates and the sense of backwater boredom is overpowering.

A Walk Among the Tombstones **½ Directed by Scott Frank. Private investigator Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife. Unlike his tough guy roles in Taken or Non-Stop, Neeson is at least given some good dialogue. And he’s a lot more world-weary than kick-ass here.

21 Years: Richard Linklater ** Directed by Michael Dunaway, Tara Wood. The godfather of independent film is profiled in this survey of the first 21 years of the director’s career. It’s perhaps surprising that there aren’t more Linklater documentaries out there, considering how substantial, influential, and plain brilliant his body of work is. In the meantime, this one will have to do.

Young Ones ** Directed by Jake Paltrow. Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit-McPhee. As Earth withers in drought, farm owner Ernest (Shannon) defends his property and his children, Mary (Fanning) and Jerome (SmitMcPhee), from the harsh frontier. But Mary’s manipulative suitor plots to take Ernest’s land for a devious scheme, and Jerome is forced to fight back. The way it reaches to find the humanity in a place devoid of hope shows admirable attempt at a singular vision. But Paltrow overestimates the timeless nature of the story.

Alien Abduction ** Directed by Matty Beckerman. North Carolina’s Brown Mountain Lights phenomenon provides the grist for this saga that follows the vacationing Morris clan, whose camping trip becomes a living nightmare after a wrong turn leads to an encounter with aliens. Despite a neat narrative twist delivered during the end credits, this is ultimately a by-the-numbers enterprise that will please only the most undemanding renters.

Men, Women & Children Directed by Jason Reitman. Examines the countless ways the online landscape affects the relationships, communication and self-images of digital-age adolescents, whose parents try to contend with the pitfalls. Both heavy-handed and ham-fisted, this is a self-important morality tale where you can see everyone’s uppance coming long before it arrives.

Jessabelle Directed by Kevin Greutert. Recuperating at her father’s Louisiana home from an accident that’s left her unable to walk, Jessie (Sarah Snook) finds a gift from her long-dead mom and an angry ghost. The too-infrequent scare techniques are mostly by the book, rarely developing sufficient dread to heighten the film’s rather unremarkable climax.

The Culture High Directed by Brett Harvey. Joe Rogan, Snoop Dog, Sir Richard Branson, Wiz Khalifa. A documentary that explores the deep moral divisions and scientific controversy that fuels America’s political debate regarding the legalization of marijuana. Harvey has gotten the documentary look and format down pat, complete with generic and gratuitous nature and cityscape shots. Where he shows an amateurish hand is in the term-paper-like voice-over narration and the inclusion of underqualified talking heads.

Revenge of the Green DragonsDirected by Wai-Keung Lau, Andrew Loo. Two best friends rise through the ranks of New York’s Chinese underworld in the 1980s. In Lau and Loo’s telling, the off-the-boat indoctrination of young, undocumented Chinese families into vicious gangsterism is overstated and cartoonish, like The Warriors trying to pass itself off as a docudrama.

Viktor * Directed by Phillippe Martinez. Gerard Depardieu, Elizabeth Hurley. Viktor Lambert is serving a seven-year sentence for an art heist in his native France when, just months before his release, he learns of his son’s murder. Would be campy fun if it wasn’t so relentlessly tedious.

The Identical * Directed by Dustin Marcellino. Seth Green, Ashley Judd, Joe Pantoliano, Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta. Follows young Ryan Wade (Rayne) as he pursues a musical career, unaware that he’s the twin brother of a rock superstar. Embarrassing and weird.

Fugly! * Directed by Alfredo De Villa. John Leguizamo, Rhada Mitchell, Rosie Perez, Griffin Dunne. Fame proves elusive for comic Jesse Sanchez, who reflects on life from the bottom of a bathtub. It’s a comedy that’s so broad and cartoony that the occasional dramatic pivots seem diminished and ridiculous, like performing a soliloquy on a Chuck E. Cheese stage.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

There’s something (mathematically) screwy about this sentence

From an article on Page 1B of today’s Austin American Statesman involving the cold front that hit the area:

"The National Weather Service says stiff winds will be coming from the north, too, which should make for tricky driving east or west, fully 50 percent of the directions Central Texas motorists drive."

Monday, January 5, 2015

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on title to see the film’s trailer)
NOTE: It’s quite possible the best and the worst films to be released on DVD this year are both coming out this week.

Boyhood **** Directed by Richard Linklater. Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane. Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke. The life of a young man from age 6 to age 18. The greatest movies, the ones that stick with us, are those that hold up a mirror to the human condition and reflect something back at us that we too often manage to overlook. Boyhood is one of those movies, and with it Linklater proves he is among the best practitioners of that art.

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case *** Directed by Andreas Johnson. A documentary that reflects on artist Ai Weiwei’s battle against the lawsuit thrust upon him by the Chinese government in an effort to silence him. While Johnsen competently follows Ai over the course of more than a year of contemplation and anger, The Fake Case doesn’t introduce anything new to the equation, and mainly succeeds by virtue of its subject’s inherent appeal.

Get On Up *** Directed by Tate Taylor. Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer. Traces the legendary James Brown’s rocky road from humble origins to superstardom as the Godfather of Soul. A triumph — a messy, qualified triumph that even at 138 minutes makes an incomplete case for Brown’s meaning to American life and culture — but a triumph nevertheless.

Dinosaur 13 **½ Directed by Todd Douglas Miller. A documentary about the discovery of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found. Using home-video footage and talking-head interviews, Dinosaur 13 dramatically depicts the thrill of archaeological discovery. But the overbearing soundtrack and shots of weeping palaeontologists do feel a touch manipulative.

Ways to Live Forever **½ Directed by Gustavo Ron. Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Greta Scacchi. Like most inquisitive boys, 12-year-old Sam wants to know about UFOs, horror movies, ghosts, and girls. Sam also has leukemia, and although his mother and father don’t want him to dwell on it, Sam wants to know everything about his disease and death, a possibility he might face. A little wan but a lot likable, Ron’s film is a forthright and surprisingly buoyant drama about facing death before you have really lived.

Horns ** Directed by Alexandre Aja. Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Kelli Garner, Heather Graham, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan, James Remar. In the aftermath of his girlfriend’s mysterious death, a young man awakens to find strange horns sprouting from his temples. This seems to have been made by people who couldn’t decide if their film was a horror flick, a whodunit, or a Hellboy knockoff.

The Houses October Built ** Directed by Bobby Roe. Looking to find an authentic, blood-curdling good fright for Halloween, five friends set off on a road trip in an RV to track down a legendary underground haunt. If you’re relatively easily scared or are in a room full of people who are, the film might be good for a few screams. But only if you’re the patient sort. It takes almost an hour to get to the good stuff.

Two Night StandDirected by Max Nichols. Miles Teller, Analeigh Tipton. After an ill-considered one-night stand, two young New Yorkers are obliged to extend their time together when a paralyzing snowstorm strikes the city, confining the pair to a small cramped apartment. Two Night Stand is a one-act sex comedy badly in need of two more acts, not nights.

The Longest Week Directed by Peter Glanz. Jenny Slate, Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup, Jason Bateman. After his wealthy parents divorce, 40-year-old Conrad Valmont (Bateman) loses his generous living allowance and posh hotel digs. It takes effort to turn a movie with a cast as appealing as the one in The Longest Week into a grating exercise in narcissism, but writer/director Glanz proves up to the task.

No Good Deed * Directed by Sam Miller. Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba. An unstable escaped convict terrorizes a woman who is alone with her two children. By its end, No Good Deed becomes troublingly easy to read as a parable about the untrustworthiness of black men. The filmmakers, hopefully, may not have intended it that way, but the movie is so bereft of anything else that its forays into moralistic paranoia stick out.

Left Behind ½* Directed by Vic Armstrong. Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thompson, Nicky Whelan, Jordin Sparks. A small group of survivors are left behind after millions of people suddenly vanish and the world is plunged into chaos and destruction. Good God almighty: Not since Edward D. Wood Jr. unleashed a flotilla of paper-plate UFOs on beautiful downtown Burbank has there been a movie as stem-to-stern inept as this adaptation of the bestselling Christian novel series.

Atlas Shrugged III: Who Is John Galt (no stars) Directed by James Manera. The few remaining entrepreneurs in a country whose economy is on the verge of collapse rise up against a bureaucracy that’s squeezing the lifeblood out of the populace. The movie’s so slipshod and half-assed that I almost feel for author Ayn Rand, whose ideas have proved enduring enough that they at least deserve a fair representation, if only for the sake of refutation.

Monday, December 29, 2014

New movies released on DVD in 2014: From best to worst

4-star films
1.  12 Years a Slave
2.  Gravity
3.  Inside Llewyn Davis
4.  American Hustle
5.  Her
6.  Ida
7.  The Act of Killing

3 1/2-star films
8.  The Grand Budapest Hotel
9.  Blue Is the Warmest Color
10. All Is Lost
11. We Are the Best!
12. The Missing Picture
13. Nebraska
14. The Great Beauty
15. Ernest & Celestine
16. Fruitvale Station
17. The Past
18. Dallas Buyers Club
19. Snowpiercer
20. Captain Phillips
21. The Lego Movie
22. The Wind Rises
23. Gloria
24. 20 Feet From Stardom
25. The Selfish Giant
26. The Spectacular Now
27. Short Term 12
28. Stranger By the Lake
29. Cutie and the Boxer
30. Locke
31. Wadjda
32. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
33. Pride
34. Jodorowsky's Dune
35. In a World
36. Blue Jasmine
37. Only Lovers Left Alive
38. Enough Said
39. Under the Skin

3-star films
40. Calvary
41. Blue Ruin
42. Mother of George
43. Abuse of Weakness
44. Guardians of the Galaxy
45. Philomena
46. How to Train Your Dragon 2
47. Obvious Child
48. Tim's Vermeer
49. The Lunchbox
50. The Guest
51. Blue Caprice
52. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
53. Rush
54. The Invisible Woman
55. The Wolf of Wall Street
56. Night Moves
57. The Trip to Italy
58. Frank
59. Omar
60. The Punk Singer
61. The Dance of Reality
62. Frozen
63. X-Men: Days of Future Past
64. Joe
65. The Skeleton Twins
66. Finding Vivian Maier
67. A Most Wanted Man
68. Cold in July
69. Like Father, Like Son
70. Le Weekend
71. The Grandmaster
72. 22 Jump Street
73. Edge of Tomorrow
74. The Raid 2
75. The Broken Circle Breakdown
76. We Are What We Are
77. Fed Up
78. Captain America: Winter Soldier
79. Happy Christmas
80. The Fault in Our Stars
81. Palo Alto
82. The Unknown Known
83. Venus in Furs
84. Noah
85. Neighbors
86. Chef
87. Land Ho!
88. The Double
89. Inequality for All
90. The Armstrong Lie
91. Korengal
92. The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

2 1/2-star films
93. Lee Daniels' The Butler
94. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
95. You're Next
96. Alan Partridge
97. The One I Love
98. Borgman
99. Saving Mr. Banks
100. The Good Lie
101. Kill Your Darlings
102. Nymphomaniac Volume 1
103. Belle
104. The Rover
105. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
106. The Patience Stone
107. Chinese Puzzle
108. Kelly & Cal
109. Out of the Furnace
110. Young & Beautiful
111. The Congress
112. Big Bad Wolves
113. A Coffee in Berlin
114. Godzilla
115. Begin Again
116. Veronica Mars
117. About Last Night
118. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
119. Muppets Most Wanted
120. Oculus
121. Lone Survivor
122. Nymphomaniac Volume II
123. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
124. Enemy
125. They Came Together
126. Breathe In
127. Life of Crime
128. Great Expectations
129. What If
130. The Railway Man
131. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
132. Mr. Peabody and Sherman
133. The Best Man Holiday
134. Go for Sisters
135. Hateship Loveship
136. August: Osage County
137. Fading Gigolo
138. Dolphin Tale 2
139. Escape From Tomorrow
140. Deepsea Challenge
141. The Equalizer
142. Bad Words
143. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
144. How I Live Now
145. The Grand Seduction
146. 1,000 Times Good Night
147. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
148. Million Dollar Arm
149. Non-Stop
150. Maleficent
151. The Maze Runner
152. Filth
153. For No Good Reason
154. The Fluffy Movie

2-star films
155. Dom Hemingway
156. About Time
157. I'm So Excited
158. The Hundred-Foot Journey
159. Tusk
160. Hellion
161. Thor: The Dark World
162. Magic in the Moonlight
163. Draft Day
164. Jersey Boys
165. Thanks for Sharing
166. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
167. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
168, Mood Indigo
169. The Amazing Spiderman 2
170. Earth to Echo
171. The Signal
172. The Book Thief
173. Carrie
174. The Monuments Men
175. Labor Day
176. Robocop
177. Cuban Fury
178. Ender's Game
179. Closed Circuit
180. Cesar Chavez
181. God's Pocket
182. The Face of Love
183. A Five Star Life
184. Half a Yellow Sun
185. The Purge: Anarchy
186. A.C.O.D.
187. Life After Beth
188. War Story
189. Riddick
190. Oldboy
191. Escape Plan
192. The Fifth Estate
193. Words and Pictures
194. The Sacrament
195. Afternoon Delight
196. Stalingrad
197. Rio 2
198. Elsa & Fred
199. The Counselor
200. Divergent
201. Last Vegas
202. 300: Rise of an Empire
203. Planes: Fire & Rescue
204. Black Nativity
205. In Secret
206. The Giver
207. Heaven Is For Real
208. Hercules
209. At the Devil's Door
210. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
211. If I Stay
212. Step Up: All In

1 1/2-star films
213. A Million Ways to Die in the West
214. This Is Where I Leave You
215. Delivery Man
216. Into the Storm
217. Wish I Was Here
218. Stephen King's A Good Marriage
219. Transcendence
220. Devil's Knot
221. Austenland
222. Machete Kills
223. Ride Along
224. The Quiet Ones
225. Sabotage
226. Romeo and Juliet
227. When the Game Stands Tall
228. Deliver Us From Evil
229. Brick Mansions
230. 3 Days to Kill
231. Homefront
232. Last Weekend
233. The Other Woman
234. Tammy
235. Pompeii
236. Need for Speed
237. And So It Goes
238. Free Birds
239. Think Like a Man Too
240. The Jungle Book 2
241. As Above, So Below
242. The November Man
243. Third Person
244. Gimme Shelter
245. Walking with Dinosaurs
246. The Nut Job
247. Are You Here
248. Son of God
249. That Awkward Moment
250. Sex Tape
251. Runner Runner
252. The Expendables 3
253. Grudge Match
254. Diana
255. A Long Way Down
256. Baggage Claim

1-star films
257. The Christmas Candle
258. The Hero of Color City
259. Transformers: Age of Extinction
260. Blended
261. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
262. Winter's Tale
263. Let's Be Cops
264. Endless Love
265. I, Frankenstein
266. Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas
267. 47 Ronin
268. Cam2Cam
269. Mom's Night Out
270. Legend of Oz: Dorothy's Return

1/2-star films
271. Reach Me
272. Kite


This Weeks’ DVD Releases

(Click on title to see the film’s trailer)

Kelly & Cal **½ Directed by Jen McGowan. Juliette Lewis. Struggling with the challenges of parenthood, a dispirited young mother (Lewis) finds an unlikely friend and confidante in her paralyzed teenage neighbor (Jonny Weston). It’s easy to see how an unhappy transition to suburban mommyhood might be enough to unhinge any self-respecting former punk rocker but, even so, it’s a little hard to take the angst-ridden mid-life shenanigans in Kelly & Cal seriously.

The Equalizer **½ Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo, Bill Pulman. A former intelligence operative comes out of retirement to help a young prostitute, only to end up in the Russian Mafia’s crosshairs. Bring on the sequel please, because, as fine as Denzel is, director Fuqua’s film is not so good — a self-consciously stylized, stop-and-start hodgepodge of Death Wish street vengeance, Bond-style Russian villainy, and moodily shot Boston locales.

Tusk ** Directed by Kevin Smith. Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez. When podcaster Wallace Bryton goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe, his best friend Teddy and girlfriend Allison team with an ex-cop to look for him. This is not a particularly good movie, but the vivid anxiety dream at its heart makes it one of the most personal films this writer-director has ever made.

Elsa & Fred ** Directed by Michael Radford. After losing his wife, Fred (Christopher Plummer) feels disturbed, confused and alone, so his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) helps move him into a small apartment where he meets Elsa (Shirley Maclaine). The corny love story is all the more disappointing given the pedigree of the octogenarian actors.

Stephen King’s A Good Marriage Directed by Peter Askin. Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia. With a serial killer on the loose and a disheveled stranger stalking her, a devoted wife has further cause for alarm after she unwittingly uncovers an ominous secret about her husband that threatens their happy marriage. Comes off as curiously flat for a movie about a woman who sleeps next to a murderer every night.

Last Weekend Directed by Tom Dolby, Tom Williams. Patricia Clarkson. When an affluent matriarch gathers her dysfunctional family for a holiday at their Northern California lake house, her carefully constructed weekend begins to come apart at the seams. The characters flutter about, argue and flirt, but they are simply too bland and vacuous to make much of an impression. It doesn’t help that half of them serve no purpose other than to fill the camera frame.

Reach Me ½* Directed by John Herzfeld. Danny Aiello, Tom Berenger, Lauren Cohan, Kevin Connolly, Terry Crews, Cary Elwes, Kelsey Grammer, Omari Hardwick, Elizabeth Henstridge, Thomas Jane, Ryan Kwanten, Nelly, David O’Hara, Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Sizemore, Sylvester Stallone, Danny Trejo. A motivational book written by a mysterious man quickly gains popularity, inspiring a group of people that includes a journalist, his editor, a former inmate, a hip-hop mogul, an actor and an undercover cop to re-evaluate their choices and decisions by confronting their fears in hopes of creating more positive lives. A misbegotten venture that constantly ups its own ante on histrionic overacting, ludicrous plot twists and insipid empowerment mantras.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Oh, mama, is this really the end?

A few observations before I plunge head first into the holidays.

  • The Austin chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals took out a full page advertisement in today’s Austin American Statesman that features the name, affiliation and mugshot of each of its members. I’m not sure it was the wisest thing to do, at least in these times. There are 27 mugs on the page: 23 white men and 4 white woman. It looks like shots of the Republican Congressional leadership group. C’mon gang, there’s got to be a "financial service professional" of color somewhere in Austin you will allow into your Klan.
  • There’s also a story in today’s newspaper about a troublemaker in the East Texas town of Rusk who thought he should be able to put up a non-religious display alongside the nativity scene on view behind the county courthouse. The powers-that-be followed the East Texas non-tolerant script verbatim and told that lad "You gotta be kidding me. Get outta here." So the lad, along with a few of his friends demonstrated outside the courthouse where they were greeted with a typical East Texas neck holding a sign that said "If this was back in Bible times, all y’all would’ve been stoned." Yeah, boy, that’s the Christian spirit!
  • The best line I’ve heard recently comes in a commercial for, of all things, a cellphone app for a war game in which a rather healthy looking blonde woman encourages her troops about to go into battle by telling them: "You have absolutely nothing to fear except for what’s about to come out of those woods."

Monday, December 22, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on title to see the film’s trailer)

Pride ***½ Directed by Matthew Warchus. Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine. In an unlikely alliance, striking British mineworkers draw support from a coalition of gay and lesbian activists who solicit donations to help tide over the miners’ families during the 1984 standoff with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government. The film moves effortlessly from some pretty intense dramatic moments to hilarious scenes showcasing the contrasting lifestyles of the gay and straight worlds to some vignettes of incredible poignancy.

The Trip to Italy *** Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon. Two men, six meals in six different places on a road trip around Italy. It’s Sideways meets My Dinner With Andre — a low-key, sensual affair punctuated by off-the-cuff moments of brilliant wit and wordplay — and the result is delectable.

The Good Lie **½ Directed by Philippe Falardeau. Reese Witherspoon. Sudanese refugees given the chance to resettle in America arrive in Kansas City, where their encounter with an employment agency counselor changes their lives. The images have the power to disturb but lack the gut-punch impact necessary to give us an immediate and lasting connection to the protagonists.

A Thousand Times Good Night **½ Directed by Erik Poppe. Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. After a near-death experience, a top war photojournalist (Binoche) is forced to choose between her work and the family on whom she depends. The first English-language film from Norwegian director Poppe is a conscientious and beautifully shot movie that ultimately bogs down in its own disinclination to come to any kind of dramatically useful conclusion about its subject.

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Guest *** Directed by Adam Wingard. Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe. A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence. It’s hellish good fun. Stevens is mesmerizing as the avenger, helping director Wingard turn The Guest into a blast of wicked mirth and malice.

The Skeleton Twins *** Directed by Craig Johnson. Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell. Having both coincidentally cheated death on the same day, estranged twins reunite with the possibility of mending their relationship. If a movie with suicide as a central theme can be deemed funny, then writer/director Johnson has pulled it off, mixing heartache and humor and giving Wiig, especially, the opportunity to shine.

The Maze Runner **½ Directed by Wes Ball. In a postapocalyptic future, an amnesiac named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up to find himself trapped with a group of other teenage boys in a mysterious community called the Glade, where they must uncover the deadly secrets of a giant maze in order to survive. It’s bleak business, and as it hurries toward its explosive, expository conclusion, the film becomes nonsensical, too.

Magic in the Moonlight ** Directed by Woody Allen. Eileen Atkins, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Suimon McBurney, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver. Exposing a phony soothsayer proves harder than expected when the debunker (an Englishman) becomes smitten with the purported fraud (a French beauty). It starts off with a flourish and winds up limp, like a rabbit pulled out of a hat that turns out to be dead.

At the Devil’s Door ** Directed by Nicholas McCarthy. When a gung-ho real-estate agent is asked to unload a house with a dark past, she encounters the sellers’ unhinged daughter. Goes right up to the threshold of being an interesting possession saga but never truly gets inside.

This Is Where I Leave You Directed by Shawn Levy. Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Jane Fonda. In accordance with Jewish custom, four siblings gather to sit shivah after their father’s death but are soon bickering and renewing old grudges. A totally aimble, utterly unmoving filler given a major shot in the arm by its cast, people it’s simply a pleasure to watch, even with the creeping feeling they’re better than this.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles * Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Johnny Knoxville, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Shalhoub. When a kingpin threatens New York City, a group of mutated turtle warriors must emerge from the shadows to protect their home. This isn’t a movie; it’s a brand re-launch that’s going to satisfy stockholders far more than it’s going to entertain the people who paid to rent or buy it.

Cam2Cam * Directed by Joel Soisson. While on vacation in Bangkok, Allie Westbrook (Tammin Sursok) meets two expatriate men who invite her to participate in a racy sounding online game. Ostensibly a lame treatise on how slippery self-image can be in the Internet age, the film ultimately reveals itself as a much lamer treatise on the evil sorcery of female sexuality.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Big 12 football fans: Stop your whining

It’s still going on: all this groaning and whining and gnashing of teeth all because poor TCU and poor Baylor got left out of the four-team college football playoff. I read four letters to the editor about it in this morning’s newspaper. Get over it. The system worked. The four best teams got in. And we don’t need to expand the playoff to six, eight or 16 teams to remedy the situation. It’s absolutely fine just the way it is.

How could the voters have TCU ranked No. 3 the week before the final poll and then drop them all the way to sixth at the end, these groaners ask. Actually, that’s not exactly the way it happened. Ohio State played itself into the No. 4 slot. Regardless of what any Big 12 apologist claims, Ohio State’s (and I was not a supporter of the school’s top four qualifications before this) final victory, a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin, was not only, by far, the most powerful statement made by any college football team that weekend, but one of the most overpowering of the entire season. And not just because it was in a conference championship game, as the detractors claim, but because it was against a team that was ranked 11th in the AP poll going into the game, had a running back that wound up being the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, and had only lost a game by more than one score once in the last five years. They held that Heisman runner-up, Melvin Gordon, to 76 yards on 26 carries, his second worst performance of the season. Not only that, the Buckeyes were a 4½-point underdog going into the game because the week before they had lost their starting quarterback to a season-ending injury. Nothing that the TCU or Baylor did that weekend — or the entire season, for that matter — even came close to matching what Ohio State did the final weekend of the season. Also consider this: Ohio State finished the season on an 11-game winning streak and defeated nine bowl-eligible teams, all but two by double digits. Ohio State earned that No. 4 ranking.

But there are overlooked reasons why this four-team playoff system worked so well. I don’t know about you, but under the BCS system, the only bowl games I cared one bit about were the BCS championship game and whatever Bowl Texas was in. However, this year, we’ve got a number of high-tier bowl games that are not only extremely watchable, but, if the oddsmakers are correct, will be more thrilling than the semifinals of the playoffs. The Peach Bowl (when was the last time anyone outside of Georgia cared about the Peach Bowl?) has an intriguing TCU-Ole Miss matchup in which TCU is 3½-point favorite. The Cotton Bowl this year will feature a Baylor team that lost its last bowl appearance 52-42 to Central Florida facing a far tougher Michigan State squad. Baylor is a 3-point favorite. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time either the Peach or the Cotton bowls seemed this attractive and it’s all because of a playoff system that worked. As a comparison, Ohio State is a 9½-point dog to Alabama and Oregon is favored over defending national champion Florida State by 9.Only two other bowls have a wider spread.

So here, in short, is what happened to Baylor and TCU: they got passed over by a better team. My advice: Quit crying about it and play your way into the playoff in 2015.

Monday, December 8, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on title to view the film’s trailer)

Calvary *** Directed by John Michael McDonagh. Brendan Gleeson. An anonymous man comes to Father James in confession and vows to kill him in one week, simply because the priest is himself a good man. McDonagh (who wrote and directed The Guard and is the brother of Martin In Bruges McDonagh) has crafted a darkly hilarious and deeply ruminative update on the passion play.

Guardians of the Galaxy *** Directed by James Gunn. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro. A group of space criminals must work together to stop the fanatical villain Ronan the Accuser from destroying the galaxy. Though the special effects win the day, Guardians of the Galaxy holds court with a sense of humor that transcends its more familiar ingredients.

Frank *** Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Domnhall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scott McNairy, Michael Fassbinder. An aspiring musician joins a band of eccentrics led by an enigmatic singer — who wears a fake head — and his unstable girlfriend. A film that is always interesting, largely thanks to an entirely committed cast and a writer willing to play with themes like a band improvising until it finds the right tune. There are a few off-key notes but the melody finally comes together.

Dolphin Tale 2 **½ Directed by Charles Martin Smith. Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson. The team of people who saved Winter’s life reassemble in the wake of her surrogate mother’s passing in order to find her a companion so she can remain at the Clearwater Marine Hospital. Life lessons are learned, children do some growing up, nothing too terribly upsetting happens, and the corniness is, mostly, kept to tolerable levels.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead **½ Directed by Tommy Wirkola. After medical student Martin escapes from Nazi zombies, he finds himself charged with murdering his friends. The film is playful throughout. Unfortunately, the shoddy treatment of the film’s sole LGBT character and a tendency to use people in wheelchairs as punchlines mar this otherwise delightful gruesome confection.

When the Game Stands Tall Directed by Thomas Carter. Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Laura Dern. The journey of football coach Bob Ladouceur (Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport. Hoosiers this ain’t. The redemptive final game has some nice plays and bone-crunching sound effects, but no grit. Ultimately, it’s a ho-hum, bromide-filled production undeserving of a victory dance.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

In new college football playoff system it’s what you call the game the counts

I really hope Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is on the phone right now. And I hope he stays on the phone until he convinces two of these four teams — Colorado State, BYU, Utah State or Boise State — to leave the conference they are currently members of and join the Big 12. Then it all becomes symmetrical again — you actually have 12 teams in a conference called the Big 12.

But symmetry and logic are the least important reasons for adding these teams. Th real reason is that then you can divide the conference into a South Division — consisting of Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech — and a North Division with Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia and whatever two new teams are added.

Why is that important? Because then you can have a conference championship game and it appears you need to have a conference championship game in order to make it into college football’s four-team playoff. All four teams in the playoff — Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State — won a conference championship this weekend. The two teams left out — Baylor and TCU of the Big 12 — won convincingly yesterday, but they only won regularly scheduled games.

Baylor defeated a very good Kansas State team 38-27. Had the Big 12 had 12 teams in the conference and that Baylor-Kansas State game had been a Conference Championship game and not just a regular season game, I absolutely guarantee you Baylor would replace Ohio State as the No. 4 team in the playoffs. The Bears finished fifth only because that game wasn’t set up as a championship game.

That’s why I hope Bowlsby is on the phone taking steps to correct this injustice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Bad Apology

It’s a ridiculous idea to begin with: the President of the United States (the most powerful human being in the Free World) pardoning a pair of turkeys. And by that I don’t mean two movies like Dumb and Dumber Too and The Legend of Hercules; I’m talking about the feathered birds usually devoured on Thanksgiving. But even Presidents must endure ridiculous ceremonies so Barack Obama, joined by his two teenage daughters, Mahlia and Sasha, participated n the sparing of the birds. All three looked as if they desperately wanted to be anywhere else but where they were. Especially Mahlia and Sasha who came across just as you would expect any 13-year-old and 16-year-old would. The whole affair would have been quickly forgotten if not for Elizabeth Lauten, a communications director, of all things, for Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who wrote on her Facebook page:

"Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events."

The only part of this I’m not surprised about is that it came from the office of a southern Republican, who just hate the fact that a black man is in the White House. The reason they oppose all of Obama’s policies is not because they are against them so much, (for example, a bi-partisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate would pass the House if Republicans there would simply let it come up for a vote) as they simply hate Barack Obama. The kind of personal attacks such as the above one leveled by Ms. Lauten are simply another example.

But going after the President’s two teen-age daughters is simply going too far. And I guess the public outcry over Ms. Lauten’s Facebook post made her realize that fact, so she issued the following apology:

"I wanted to take a moment and apologize for a post I made on Facebook early today judging Sasha and Malia Obama at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony. When I first posted on Facebook I reacted to an article and quickly judged two young ladies in a way I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. I'd like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and I pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience."

That is a terrible apology for two reasons:

1. She didn’t apologize to the individuals she should have been apologizing to. She should have begun her apology by saying "I wanted to take a moment and apologize profusely to Sasha and Malia Obama for a post I made on Facebook today judging them at the ...."

2. The statement " I'd like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words ..." She is not apologizing for what she said, like she should be; she only seems to be sorry because some folks were "hurt and offended" by what she said.

And this from someone serving in the capacity as a congressman’s communications director.

Well, to be accurate, a former communications director. Elizabeth Lauten has resigned, as well she should, especially after communicating a wrongheaded Facebook criticism of the President’s daughter followed by a misguided apology that wasn’t really an apology at all.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's ranking in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 11-1 (1)
2.  Oregon 11-1 (2)
3.  TCU 10-1 (4)
4.  Ohio State 11-1 (8)
5.  Florida State 12-0 (6)
6.  Mississippi 9-3 (11)
7.  Mississippi State 10-2 (3)
8.  Baylor 10-1 (7)
9.  Michigan State 10-2 (12)
10. Georgia 9-3 (5)
11. Kansas State 9-2 (13)
12. Wisconsin 10-2 (14)
13. Georgia Tech 10-24 (19)
14. Arizona 10-2 (16)
15. Auburn 8-4 (10)
16. Missouri 10-2 (17)
17. UCLA 9-3 (9)
18. Oklahoma 8-3 (15)
19. LSU 8-4 (21)
20. Boise State 10-2 (NR)
21. Arizona State 9-3 (18)
22. Clemson 9-3 (24)
23. USC 8-4 (25)
24. Nebraska 9-3 (NR)
25. Louisville 9-3 (23)
Dropped out: Marshall (20), Arkansas (22)

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on title to see trailer)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ***½ Directed by Matt Reeves. Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kod Smit-McPhee. Ten years after a pandemic disease, apes who have survived it are drawn into battle with a group of human survivors. Not quite the intimate parable of the first movie nor a balls-to-the-wall battlefield extravaganza, Dawn is pitched somewhere in the middle, with much of its two hour-plus running time powered by the simmering, expertly sustained tension both between and within the two species.

The Congress **½ Directed by Ari Folman, Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti, Danny Hustion, Jon Hamm, Kodi Smit-McPhee. A film star agrees to have her digital image recorded for reuse in future films. Despite the handsome payoff, however, she begins to recognize some unforeseen consequences of the deal. Folman’s vision is just too personal and obtuse, and the result can feel rather like watching someone else drop acid, enjoying their giddy descriptions of all the pretty colors but unable to fully engage.

The Hundred-Foot Journey ** Directed by Lasse Hallström. Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte La Bon. The Kadam family leaves India for France where they open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s Michelin-starred eatery. It delivers the kind of sentimental sledgehammering I found myself willing to forgive — the presence of Helen Mirren goes a long way in that regard — but once the story goes off on a pointless tangent, the whole soufflé collapses.

As Above, So Below Directed by John Erick Dowdle. When a team of explorers ventures into the catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, they uncover a dark secret. It’s more unpleasant than scary, and ever so slow in getting up to speed.

The Hero of Color City * Directed by Frank Gladstone. A diverse band of crayons strive to protect not only their magical multihued homeland but the imagination of children everywhere from a terrifying monster. Cannily distills the children’s movie to its lowest common denominator: bright colors flashing on screen.

Kite ½* Directed by Ralph Ziman. India Eisley, Callan McAuliffe, Samuel L. Jackson. When her cop father is killed, a young woman tracks the murderer with the apparent help of his ex-partner. A kill-a-minute gore-a-thon whose twist is so obvious your grandma will see it coming. Kite never gets off the ground.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Missouri prosecutor basically admits to abusing the legal system

Missouri prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch botched it. Big time. His own words prove his mishandling of the Michael Brown shooting case.

Instead of allowing the grand jury hearing the case against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to act the way a grand jury is supposed to act — i.e., to determine whether there is probable cause to proceed to a trial — McCulloch converted that grand jury into the trial jury, the jury to determine Wilson’s guilt or innocence.

McCulloch admitted last night in a televised news conference he presented all the evidence available in the case. Sorry, but that’s not the prosecutor’s job. He or she is not supposed to assume the role of both the prosecuting and the defense attorney. The job of the prosecutor, as the name implies, is to prosecute. He or she is supposed to tell a grand jury that there is sufficient reason to indict a person for a specific crime — in this case, voluntary manslaughter would seem appropriate and doable. Then the prosecutor is only required to present just enough evidence to win an indictment on that charge. He doesn’t even — nor should he — present all the evidence his prosecutorial team has assembled in hopes of winning a guilty verdict at trial. And he’s certainly not obligated to present the defense’s case as well. He shouldn’t even try. It’s not in his job description. But that’s what Robert McCulloch, by his own admission last night, did.

I am not arguing Wilson’s guilt or innocence here. What I am arguing is that his guilt or innocence should have been decided by 12 of his peers in a criminal jury trial not by a grand jury. That’s simply not a grand jury’s function.

I do wonder about several missing pieces of the puzzle, however, There is no testimony to reveal, nor did any of the reporters at McCulloch’s news conference last night even ask, how far Wilson was from Brown when the white police officer repeatedly shot and killed the unarmed black teenager. To me, that’s a legtimate question. Why didn’t Wilson shoot to incapacitate the subject? Why did he feel he needed to shoot to kill? These are unanswered questions that, from what I gathered, were never posed to the grand jury.

In 1964, when McCulloch was 12 years old, his father, a St. Louis police officer, was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect. He used that killing as the centerpiece of his first campaign for elected prosecutor. He wanted that job, in effect, to get revenge. Last night, I guess, he got it by twisting the legal system into functions it had no right to perform.

Shame on him. Shame on the entire Missouri legal system.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 10-1 (1)
2.  Oregon 10-1 (2)
3.  Mississippi State 10-1 (4)
4.  TCU 9-1 (5)
5.  Florida State 11-0 (6)
6.  Georgia 9-2 (9)
7.  Ohio State 10-1 (8)
8.  Baylor 9-1 (7)
9.  UCLA 9-2 (12)
10. Auburn 8-3 (10)
11. Mississippi 8-3 (3)
12. Michigan State 9-2 (11)
13. Kansas State 8-2 (14)
14. Wisconsin 9-2 (13)
15. Oklahoma 8-3 (15)
16. Arizona 9-2 (22)
17. Missouri 9-2 (20)
18. Marshall 11-0 (18)
19. Georgia Tech 9-2 (17)
20. Arizona State 9-2 (16)
21. LSU 7-4 (19)
22. Arkansas 6-5 (NR)
23. Louisville 8-3 (NR)
24. Clemson 8-3 (25)
25. Boise State 9-2 (NR)
Dropped out: Nebraska (22), USC (23), Utah (24)

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on title to see trailer)

What If **½ Directed by Michael Dowse. Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall. Wallace (Radcliffe), who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry (Kazan), who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life. If you can suspend your incredulity for a moment, What If has its bright moments. And that’s thanks in large part to its leads, who manage to do what Radcliffe has always done well: conjure up a little magic.

War Story ** Directed by Mark Jackson. Catherine Keener, Ben Kingsley, Hafsia Herzi. After being held hostage in Libya, a war photographer struggles to cope with post traumatic stress syndrome and takes some time off to heal in Sicily, where she tries to help a Tunisian immigrant who desperately needs an abortion. Jackson’s direction strips much of the urgency from any character’s grasp by insisting that their dilemmas can only be revealed with stone-faced austerity.

The Giver ** Directed by Phillip Noyce. Jeff Bridges, Merly Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift. In a future society called The Community, pain, war and disease have been eradicated, as have individuality and free will. When a teenager learns the truth about the real world, he must decide whether to reveal all or remain quiet. While the adult performances are strong, especially Bridges in the title role, youthful characterizations are not nearly as illuminating as they were on the page.

The November Man Directed by Roger Donaldson. Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey. An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect. A humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller.

The Expendables 3 Directed by Patrick Hughes. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes. Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Expendables square off against a villainous arms trader who’s hell-bent on destroying the team. The Expendables 3 is silly and overblown and it could definitely do without Banderas’ motor-mouth routine (not to mention an out-of-nowhere reference to Benghazi), but it’s less silly and overblown than The Expendables 2, for whatever that’s worth.

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas * Directed by Tyler Perry. Seeking to impress their daughter’s well-heeled beau with a lavish Christmas shindig, a snooty couple deprives their maid of her holiday. But things don’t go as planned when the housekeeper’s family shows up. An exceptionally poor piece of holiday cash-in product, rushed and ungainly even by the low standard set by Perry’s seven previous Madea films.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Oscar Nominations Predictions -- The Technical Awards

Listed alphabetically. *Indicates the current leading contender.

Best Cinematography
* Birdman
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
* Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Best Film Editing
* Boyhood
Gone Girl

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Guardians of the Galaxy
* Into the Woods

Best Production Design
* The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods

Best Score
Gone Girl
* Interstellar
The Theory of Everything

Best Sound Editing
Guardians of the Galaxy'
* Interstellar

Best Sound Mixing
Guardians of the Galaxy
* Interstellar
Into the Woods

Best Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Armies
* Interstellar

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Good night, Mike

One of the truly great ones says good-bye. I never met Mike Nichols, but I marveled at him beginning with his days as half of the comedy duo of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. I remember standing in line waiting to see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in the rain in New York City and being stunned by the fact that this was a work of a first-time director. His directorial touches in only his second film, The Graduate, are still being taught in film school and the ending of that film shows how you can say so much without saying anything. I also think he never received the credit he deserved for films such as Silkwood, Catch-22, and Primary Colors. I don't think he was America's greatest contemporary director, I reserve that honor for Martin Scorsese. But he's certainly in the group portrait.

Oscar Nominations Predictions -- The Major Awards

It's that time of year again when I start making my fearless predictions on what will be nominated for the various Oscars. Today, I'm going to predict those artists and films I believe will be nominated for the major awards; however, I must inform you I also reserve the right to update these choices the closer we get to nomination announcement time. Tomorrow, I will give you my choices for the technical nominations. They are listed within each category in the order I believe they have the best chance to be nominated. So, here we go:

Best Picture
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Gone Girl

Best Director
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl

Best Actor
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
David Oyelowo, Selma
Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher

Best Actress
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Reece Witherspoon, Wild
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Best Supporting Actor
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Tom Wilkinson, Selma

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Kiera Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Adapted Screenplay
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Best Animated Feature
The Lego Movie
Big Hero 6
How To Train Your Dragon 2
The Boxtrolls
The Book of Life

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 9-1 (1)
2.  Oregon 9-1 (3)
3.  Mississippi 8-2 (5)
4.  Mississippi State 9-1 (2)
5.  TCU 9-1 (4)
6.  Florida State 10-0 (7)
7.  Ohio State 9-1 (9)
8.  Baylor 8-1 (8)
9.  Georgia 8-2 (11)
10. Auburn 7-3 (6)
11. UCLA 8-2 (13)
12. Michigan State 8-2 (16)
13. Kansas State 7-2 (14)
14. Wisconsin 8-2 (20)
15. Oklahoma 7-3 (17)
16. Georgia Tech 9-2 (24)
17. Arizona State 8-2 (10)
18. Marshall 10-0 (21)
19. Arizona 8-2 (23)
20. Missouri 8-2 (NR)
21. Nebraska 8-2 (15)
22. LSU 7-4 (12)
23. USC 7-3 (25)
24. Utah 7-3 (NR)
25. Clemson 7-3 (18)
Dropped out: Notre Dame (19), Texas A&M (22)

Only Republicans can make Texas blue

Texas Democrats can take a lesson from this most recent statewide election: There is nothing — absolutely nothing — they can do to elect one of their own to a statewide office.

Want proof? You would think that competency might triumph over ideology in an election. Not so, here in Texas. Look at the comptroller’s race. I’m betting 90 percent of the Republicans who voted for the Republican nominee for comptroller couldn’t tell me what his name is. Didn’t matter. He was a Republican. Now the comptroller is a fairly important office: It’s the comptroller’s job to tell the legislature how much money it will be able to spend over any two-year cycle. If the comptroller gets the estimate wrong, as was the case with incumbent Susan Combs, legislators will be forced to make extreme spending cuts they don’t have to make, which is largely the reason for the massive and ultimately unnecessary cuts the legislature made in 2011 to the state’s public education system.

In November’s election, voters had a choice between electing as comptroller an accountant, who was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (yep, that’s all one word now), or a rice farmer. Now which makes more sense when it comes to handling the state’s financial forecast? Trick question because the rice farmer won. By 20 percentage points. Strictly because he was a Republican.

See what I mean? Putting far more qualified candidates on the ballot isn’t going to do anything to help Democrats win statewide elections.
Comedian Jon Stewart summed it up pretty accurately during a recent stay in Austin.
"You poor bastards," Stewart told his live audience. "Democrats in Texas are like the drunk guy at the bar who won’t stop hitting on a girl, even though we know she’s a lesbian; ‘no, no, no, dude, trust me. I can flip her, I just need time.’"
Only Republicans can help Democrats win. That’s right. Democrats can’t win in Texas — they simply are going to have to wait for Republicans to screw it up and lose.

How might that happen? It’s going to take a combination of things, some of which you may not want to happen. Such as, the Texas economy is going to have to tank. Big time. Full-scale depression. Food lines. Massive, widespread unemployment. If such a disaster befalls the state, voters will start thinking about changing the leadership in Austin.

But that’s not all. As everyone knows, the Hispanic population is growing quite rapidly in Texas and, for a while, it was thought Hispanics would automatically vote Democratic. The last election proved that was not true. Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott won slightly more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote and no Democrat is going to win Texas while Republicans are winning 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. (It didn’t help Democrats that the reputation of their nominee, Wendy Davis, was centered largely on her pro-choice stance which is not all that popular with Hispanics, most of whom are Catholic.) For Democrats to have a chance to win in Texas, the Republican leadership is going to have to do something really, really stupid that will result in angering the Texas Hispanic population to the point where they will be taking to the streets as in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Massive deportations, stripping those living here legally of their citizenship, repealing the Dream Act — something along those lines.

And finally, for the Republicans to lose, they must nominate a real doofus to head up the ticket. I’m talking about an idiot of the first order, someone like this guy, perhaps even worse.

And if there’s that perfect storm — when all three of those scenarios come together at one time — Democrats just might have a chance to win a statewide election in Texas.

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on the DVD title to see the trailer)

The Wind Rises ***½ Directed by Hayo Miyazaki. A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. The grim subtext of The Wind Rises goes largely unacknowledged, leading to a gaping hole in this otherwise beautifully realized narrative that celebrates the power of curiosity as a motivating force.

22 Jump Street *** Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube. Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) go undercover as college students to crack a fraternity crime ring. There are certainly a lot of actors who can match Hill and Tatum as comic actors, but it’s the oddball connection between these two that makes for a very entertaining couple of hours. Be sure to sit through the closing credits, which imagine all sorts of Jump Street sequels to come.

If I Stay ** Directed by R.J. Cutter. Chloë Grace Moretz, Mereille Enos, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach. While trying to choose between love and a musical career, 17-year-old Mia Hall finds her life upended by a tragic car crash that puts her in a coma. If I Stay never bothers to go after authenticity when there’s a cliché hovering nearby. That may not be enough of a drawback to prevent teenagers from renting the movie in droves, but they certainly deserve better.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For ** Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin. Cornering the market on sex and blackmail, Dwight McCarthy (Owen) matches rich men with prostitutes before snapping their photographs and selling the pictures to their wives, but he’d give anything to go legit. In just about every way, the film is an inferior sequel — dumber, flatter, lacking even the barbaric extremity of its predecessor. Where’s a flesh-eating Elijah Wood when you need him?

Into the Storm Directed by Steven Quayle. When a wave of powerful tornadoes bears down on the town of Silverton, a band of high school students tries to capture the destruction on videotape. When you’re pining for Bill Paxton and the relative emotional realism of Twister, you know you’re in trouble.

And So It Goes Directed by Rob Reiner. Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Sterling Jerins, Frances Sternhagen. A self-absorbed realtor enlists the help of his neighbor when he’s suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he never knew existed until his estranged son drops her off at his home. Reiner assembles a square meal of rom-com pleasure points, but it’s bland, by-the-numbers and not particularly memorable.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Boyhood" appears to be Oscar favorite

From what I have learned talking to those who either vote for the Oscars or are close to the process, Richard Linklater's Boyhood seems to be a runaway choice for this year's best picture award. In declining order, here's how those folks see the best picture contest:
1. Boyhood
2. The Imitation Game
3.  Birdman
4.  The Theory of Everything
5.  Foxcatcher
6.  Selma
7.  Gone Girl
8.  Unbroken
9.  Interstellar
10. Whiplash

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 8-1 (3)
2.  Mississippi State 9-0 (2)
3.  Oregon 9-1 (5)
4.  TCU 8-1 (7)
5.  Mississippi 8-2 (4)
6.  Auburn 7-2 (1)
7.  Florida State 9-0 (6)
8.  Baylor 8-1 (12)
9.  Ohio State 8-1 (15)
10. Arizona State 8-1 (16)
11. Georgia 7-2 (17)
12. LSU 7-3 (9)
13. UCLA 8-2 (18)
14. Kansas State 7-2 (8)
15. Nebraska 8-1 (14)
16. Michigan State 7-2 (11)
17. Oklahoma 6-3 (10)
18. Clemson 7-2 (19)
19. Notre Dame 7-2 (13)
20. Marshall 9-0 (22)
21. Wisconsin 7-2 (21)
22. Texas A&M 7-3 (NR)
23. Arizona 7-2 (23)
24. Georgia Tech 8-2 (NR)
25. USC 6-3 (24)
Dropped out: West Virginia (20), Utah (25)

Monday, November 10, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

(Click on the title to see the trailer)
Abuse of Weakness *** Directed by Catherine Breillat. Isabelle Huppert. A stroke-afflicted filmmaker (Huppert) is manipulated by a notorious con man. Another fascinating entry in the director’s ongoing exploration of the sadistic and masochistic facets of human behavior.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 *** Directed by Dean DeBois. Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig, America Ferrera, Kit Harington, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, T.J. Miller, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Djimon Hounsou. When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. At times terrifying and too tough for tinies, this is nevertheless a triumphant sequel that puts its faith in Hiccup and Toothless to find a way through dark times for man and dragon. Until we all get our own dragon to go flying with, the result is a story sufficiently thrilling to have us all airborne.

Happy Christmas *** Directed by Joe Swanberg. Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey. After splitting up with her boyfriend just before the holidays, a young woman moves in with her older brother and his family. But as she tries to climb out of her rut and start over, her self-destructive behavior gets in the way. It’s not always pretty, and it’s not always exciting, but you genuinely don’t know from one moment to the next how these characters will behave.

Deepsea Challenge **½ Directed by James Cameron. Chronicles Cameron’s solo dive on March 26, 2012, as he pilots a submersible seven miles down to the lowest point of the Mariana Trench to gather data for scientific research. While Challenge makes for a pretty dull glimpse into the inner workings of the sea, it provides a fascinating look at the inner workings of Cameron, whose obsessive and demanding personality translated to movies like Titanic and Avatar.

Mood Indigo ** Directed by Michel Gondry. Wealthy, inventive bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) endeavors to find a cure for his lover Chloe (Audrey Tautou) after she’s diagnosed with an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs. No amount of imaginative trickery can fill the void of feeling at the movie’s center. Whimsy for whimsy’s sake is just too much to take.

Jersey Boys ** Directed by Clint Eastwood. John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Johnny Carrizzaro, Renée Marino, Mike Doyle, Christopher Walken. The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons. The singing talent is there, but Eastwood and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise opt for a more realistic depiction of events. They transform Jersey Boys from jukebox musical it was on stage to movie biopic, exchanging one much-maligned genre for another.

Tammy Directed by Ben Falcone. Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates. After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother. Where 1991's Thelma & Louise was funny and action-filled, Tammy’s story is thin, cringe-inducing and, worst of all for a comedy, not funny. Jokes land with a thud and the pacing is leaden.

Let’s Be Cops * Directed by Luke Greenfield. Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Johnson, Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D’Arcy, Andy Garcia. When two pals show up at a costume party dressed as cops, they end up being mistaken for the real thing and get drawn into a bona-fide crime drama. The screenplay co-written by Nicholas Thomas and Greenfield fails to mine the potentially humorous premise for the necessary laughs, with nearly all of the gags falling thuddingly flat.