Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Protect the women and children — he’s running and bumbling again

You would think he would learn from his disaster four years ago, but apparently not. Our own dear Gov. Hair is running for President again.

This was readily apparent by two recent actions. First, he went off to Iowa to chat with citizens who rebuked him in the Hawkeye two four years ago. Now, give me one good reason why anyone in their right mind would journey to Iowa unless it was to place some chips early for the Iowa caucuses, the first test for anyone thinking about aiming for the Oval Office.

Second, he sent a whole bunch of National Guard troops to the Rio Grande Valley to handle what he is calling our "immigration crisis." Why would he do that? What does he hope to gain? What will National Guard troops do? What is happening these days at the U.S.-Mexican border is that hundreds of children, slightly more than 27 percent of which are coming from Honduras, which has the world’s highest murder rate, are coming to the border and immediately surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol agents. They aren’t trying to sneak into the United States illegally. So what’s the National Guard’s role in this? No, this is just our demagogue governor grandstanding for his Tea Party base so that he can establish his bonafides for another Presidential run. What an embarrassment!

Exodus chapter 22 verse 20 reads: "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." It’s shameless that so many politicians, our own governor
being just one prime example, will, when the chips are down, let politics trump their so-called religious beliefs. But Hair’s certainly not going to let religious beliefs stand in the way in his quest for power.

Now the good news is that he doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance of even winning the Republican presidential nomination which means that after the 2016 primaries he should fade back into the dusty scrubble of Paint Creek, hopefully never to be heard from again.

Monday, July 21, 2014

This Week's DVD Releases

Blue Ruin **** Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Bad news from the past unhinges vagabond Dwight Evans (Macon Blair), sending him on a mission of bloody retribution that takes him to his boyhood hometown. A Clint Eastwood vigilante fantasy with an anti-Clint at its center — small-statured, round-faced, nervous Dwight (Blair), whose burning desire to avenge the long-ago murder of his parents doesn’t make him one whit less terrified of actually doing it.

Dom Hemingway **½ Directed by Richard Shepard. After finishing a 12-year prison sentence, safecracker Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) sets out to collect the money he’s owed by his former partners in crime. An uneven movie, to be sure — plot holes abound, and some of the clichés can be distracting — but it’s still hard to resist. Because rarely have an actor and a part been so perfect for each other, and Shepard lets his lead run wild with this offbeat, contradictory character.

Cesar Chavez **½ Directed by Diego Luna. A biography of the civil-rights activist and labor organizer (Michael Peña). Plays more like an exercise in nostalgia than a dramatic re-creation of a triumphant fight for civil rights.

Heaven Is For Real **½ Directed by Randall Wallace. The story of the 4-year old son (Connor Corum) of a small-town Nebraska pastor (Greg Kinnear) who, during emergency surgery, slips from consciousness and enters heaven. When he awakes, he recounts his experiences. A well-meaning but misshapen movie about the folly of pursuing answers to unanswerable questions.

Sabotage ** Directed by David Ayer. Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house. A sloppy whodunit, distinguished by its scatological humor and gore. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard.

Transcendence ** Directed by Wally Pfister. A scientist’s drive for artificial intelligence, takes on dangerous implications when his consciousness is uploaded into one such program. Pfister, best known until now as the cinematographer on Christopher Nolan’s big films, makes his directorial debut here, and as dumb as Jack Paglen’s script is, Pfister seems to have no feeling whatsoever for the staging of sequences or for any sort of dramatic narrative momentum. With Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman.

Make Your Move ** Directed by Duane Adler. A pair of star-crossed dancers (Derek Hough, BoA) in New York find themselves at the center of a bitter rivalry between their brothers’ underground dance clubs. Hough’s dancing is far more impressive than his acting, and BoA, despite her perky sexiness, is an even less compelling screen presence. But they certainly move well together, and that’s pretty much all that matters here.

Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club Directed by Tyler Perry. A diverse group of single mothers come together after an upsetting occurrence at their kids’ school. The problem here isn’t the writer-director’s politics, but his stifling lack of imagination, his complete refusal to even attempt narrative dexterity.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn * Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. A curmudgeonly man (Robin Williams) is mistakenly told that he has 90 minutes to live by his doctor (Mila Kunis) and promptly sets out to reconcile with his wife, brother and friends in the short time he believes he has left. Robinson’s overheated dramedy feels disconnected from reality in every emotional way. With Peter Dinklage, James Earl Jones, Melissa Leo.

Monday, July 14, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Wrinkles **** Directed by Ignacio Ferreras. Set in a nursing home, this animated feature chronicles the friendship between new arrival Emilio (Tacho González), a retired bank manager afflicted with Alzheimer’s, and his chatty Argentine roommate, Miguel (Álvaro Guevara). Unfolding in simple yet wonderfully expressive hand-drawn frames, the film’s unsparingly observant plot depicts the slide into senility with empathy and imagination.

Under the Skin **** Directed by Jonathan Glazer. A seductive alien (Scarlett Johansson) prowls the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, in search of prey. A totally wacky head-trip with midnight movie sensibilities and a daring avant garde spirit, Glazer’s movie is ultimately too aimlessly weird to make its trippy narrative fully satisfying, but owes much to Johansson’s intense commitment to a strangely erotic and unnerving performance unlike anything she has done before.

The Face of Love **½ Directed by Arie Posin. A widow (Annette Bening) falls for a guy (Ed Harris) who bears a striking resemblance to her late husband. A maudlin, superficial exercise in obsession masquerading as a heartfelt romance and study of grief, and character development is sorely lacking. Although well-acted, particularly by Bening, the story feels contrived. With Robin Williams, Amy Brennerman.

Rio 2 **½ Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their three youngsters visit the Amazon, where they find the rain forest in peril and contend with their old nemesis, Nigel the cockatoo (Jemaine Clement). It’s a bright and fun movie, but also repetitive and overloaded with plot. A nice enough diversion, but not a necessary one.

A Night in Old Mexico ** Directed by Emilio Aragón. After losing his longtime home to property developers, rancher Red Bovie (Robert Duvall) decides to take a road trip to Mexico, accompanied by his grandson. But their adventure turns dangerous after the pair unwittingly drives off with a drug dealer’s money. Formulaic and often hard to swallow, the picture offers little beyond the familiar pleasures of Duvall’s old-coot mode.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Linklater's "Boyhood"

I have never heard advance word as positive about any movie as I have heard about this one. It opens a week from today and people are not calling it "the movie of the year"; they're calling it "the movie of the century."
Can't wait.

Monday, July 7, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Jodorowski’s Dune **** Directed by Frank Pavich. The story of cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the seminal science fiction novel. Cheerfully partial and unapologetically deferential to its subject’s operatic self-promotion, Jodorowsky’s Dune makes you wish that he had scraped together the final $5 million needed, we are told, to realize his dream.

Le Week-End ***½ Directed by Roger Michell. A British couple (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan) return to Paris many years after their honeymoon there in an attempt to rejuvenate their marriage. This film doesn’t feel obliged to pick a winner or lob easy answers; it aims to observe, with humor and humanity, with penetration and without oversimplifying. With Jeff Goldblum.

The Raid 2 ***½ Directed by Gareth Evans. Only a short time after the first raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force. Those with a high tolerance for violence and gore — at one point, Rama battles assassins labeled "Baseball Bat Man’‘ and "Hammer Girl’‘ simultaneously — will eat this up.

Watermark ***½ Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky. A documentary on how water shapes humanity. By keeping explanatory talking-heads interviews to a minimum, the filmmakers put their trust in the audience to draw their own conclusions based on what they present to us.

Maidentrip ***½ Directed by Jillian Schlesinger. 14-year-old Laura Dekker sets out on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. Schlesinger’s first feature, made in collaboration with Dekker and composed largely of footage that the hardy adventurer shot herself, is both low-key and lyrical as it focuses on the mundane and the magnificent.

Nymphomaniac Volume 1 *** Directed by Lars von Trier. A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her erotic experiences to the man (Stellan Skarsgard) who saved her after a beating. Felt at times like a long-winded dirty joke — meandering, incoherently provocative, self-indulgent without being fun enough to make up for it.

Nymphomaniac Volume 2 *** Directed by Lars von Trier. The continuation of Joe’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sexually dictated life delves into the darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman’s (Skellan Skarsgard) care. The problem with Volume 2 lies not in its display of erect penises and reddened buttocks, but rather in its dull narrative and overworked ideas.

Bad Words *** Directed by Jason Bateman. A spelling bee loser (Bateman) sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult. Soars in the bits of riotously offensive chitchat between Guy (Bateman) and a young Indian hopeful (Rohan Chand); it wobbles in plot developments involving the effortlessly starchy Allison Janney as the contest’s "queen bee"; and it splats in the I’m-secretly-hurting conclusion.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? *** Directed by Arvin Chen. A married man begins to question his sexual orientation as he and his wife consider having another child. Dutifully hitting its marks up to a point, this story of a married man struggling to stay closeted proves to have a maturity that eludes more overtly ambitious dramas on the subject.

Kid Cannabis **½ Directed by John Stockwell. Teaming with his best friend and a ragtag group of potheads, enterprising teen Nate Norman (Jonathan Daniel Brown) sets up a lucrative operation smuggling large amounts of marijuana from Canada to Idaho. But the young drug traffickers soon sow the seeds of their downfall. Has its entertaining moments and boasts pungent performances from such supporting players as Ron Perlman and John C. McGinley, but never quite succeeds in managing its uncomfortable tonal shift from dark comedy to true-crime thriller.

Stage Fright ** Directed by Jerome Sabel. A snobby musical theater camp is terrorized by a blood-thirsty killer who hates musical theater. Whether it’s being sexy, jokey or homicidal, Stage Fright doesn’t deliver the goods with sufficient spirit. It lacks the sparkle to be a truly killer show.

Don Peyote ½* Directed by Michael Canzoniero, Dan Fogler. Driven by hallucinatory dreams, jobless stoner Warren Allman (Fogler) decides to film a documentary that will alert others to the dark future looming over them. All the controlled substances in the world couldn’t improve a viewing of this execrable film,, a tedious, incoherent look at a paranoid stoner’s emotional and spiritual unraveling.

10 Rules for Sleeping Around no stars Directed by Leslie Greif. Two couples — one with an open marriage and the other soon to be wed — see their best-laid plans go ironically awry during a weekend gala at the home of a media tycoon. A sex comedy can sometimes get by, even if it is deficient in one of the two things that term promises. But a sex comedy that is short on both sex and comedy is unlikely to please anyone.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Brooklyn improves its Nets' worth

Gotta hand it to the NBA's Brooklyn Nets. First they banish coach Jason Kidd to the boonies and get a pair of second-round draft choices in the process. Then they hire Lionel Hollins to replace him. Hollins took the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference playoffs in his last three seasons with the team. In his last year, they made it all the way to the Western Conference finals.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Best Movies of the First Half of 2014

It's July 1, meaning half the calendar year is over. In the world of movies, that usually means those released so far will be ignored by year's end. So here's my opportunity to give them their due. What follows are my choices for the 25 best movies released so far this year. After that comes my list of the 25 best films of 2013, which I never got around to publishing before and after that is my list of the 25 best films of the last 10 years.

1. Ida
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. We Are The Best!
4. Ernest and Celestine
5. Gloria
6. The LEGO Movie
7. Locke
8. Stranger By the Lake
9. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
10. Jodorowsky’s Dune
11. Under the Skin
12. Child’s Prose
13. Blue Ruin
14. Only Lovers Left Alive
15. How To Train Your Dragon 2
16. The Immigrant
17. The Lunchbox
18. The Dance of Reality
19. Obvious Child
20. Finding Vivian Maier
21. Omar
22. Night Moves
23. X-Men: Days of Future Past
24. Like Father, Like Son
25. Le Week-End 

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Gravity
3. Before Midnight
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
5. Stories We Tell
6. The Gatekeepers
7. Her
8. American Hustle
9. The Act of Killing
10. Blue Is the Warmest Color
11. The Missing Picture
12. All Is Lost
13 Nebraska
14. The Great Beauty
15. The Past
16. Fruitvale Station
17. The Square
18. Dallas Buyers Club
19. Blackfish
20. The Wind Rises
21. Twenty Feet From Stardom
22. Captain Phillips
23. The Selfish Giant
24. Cutie and the Boxer
25. Short Term 12

1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2008)
3. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
4. Ratatouille (2007)
5. Gravity (2013)
6. The Social Network (2010)
7. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
8. A Separation (2011)
9. Before Midnight (2013)
10. Killer of Sheep (2007)
11. The Hurt Locker (2009)
12. WALL-E (2008)
13. Sideways (2004)
14. Carlos (2010)
15. Amour (2012)
16. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
17. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
18. The Class (2008)
19. There Will Be Blood (2007)
20. Toy Story 3 (2010)
21. Moolaadé (2004)
22. The Queen (2006)
23. Stories We Tell (2013)
24. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
25. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Monday, June 30, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Lunchbox **** Directed by Ritesh Batra. When Mumbai’s eerily reliable lunchbox delivery service erroneously sends a meal prepared by a young housewife to a lonely widower on the brink of retirement, the mistake ignites an exchange of notes and mutual fantasy between them. This is a first feature for Batra, but it nicely captures the almost overwhelming crush and noise of contemporary India, and it plays cleverly and delicately with the tension of whether its two correspondents might eventually meet. Theirs is one "virtual" romance that has nothing to do with social media.

Like Father, Like Son ***½ Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. When a successful businessman learns that his 6-year-old son was switched at birth with another child, he and his wife must decide whether to seek out their biological son or choose the boy they’ve been raising. Despite the film’s emphasis on the father’s transformation, the most piercing moment for me came in the scene in which his wife anguishes over her guilt in not realizing right away, as a mother, that the boy she was raising was not her birth son.

The Unknown Known ***½ Directed by Errol Morris. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld discusses his career in Washington, D.C., from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Over the course of 106 minutes, Rumsfeld’s rambling assertions grow exhausting, particularly because Morris never manages to direct them toward a larger argument.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It’s how the team was named that matters

Eugene Talmadge, the governor of Georgia from 1933 to 1937 and again from 1941 to 1946, was an overt racist. Although the unemployment rate for blacks in Georgia was twice as high as it was for whites, Talmadge refused to allow blacks to go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Georgia. He fired University of Georgia regent Walter Cocking when the latter raised questions about the disparity between black and white schools in Georgia. When the rest of the regents overrode Cocking’s firing, Talmadge fired three members of the board and replaced them with three of his cronies.

Eugene Talmadge
Talmadge often bragged that the African American boys called him "mean Lugene." Talmadge said that he liked the "nigger" well enough in his place, and his place was at the back door, with his hat in his hand and saying, "Yes, Sir." Talmadge confessed to having flogged at least one African American. On his death bed, he told his Baptist preacher that the black race was created inferior by God. He said the white race was on top, the yellow race next, then the brown and red races, and at the very bottom, the blacks who were created to be servants to all other races.

Talmadge acted aggressively to enforce Jim Crow. His response to two federal court orders decided in 1946 illustrates his attitudes. In Morgan v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on busses engaged in interstate commerce was unconstitutional. Talmadge pledged that there would be no more interstate bus travel in Georgia, only intrastate. Passengers would have to get off the bus before entering Georgia and buy a ticket good only for transit through Georgia. When they had crossed Georgia, they would get off and buy a ticket to the other state.

On March 8, 1946, the federal district court ruled in Albright v. Texas that political parties could no longer exclude African American voters. Admitting African Americans, about a third of the state's population would begin the end of total control of state government by Talmadge and other white supremacists. Talmadge announced plans to call a special session of the state legislature to overturn all the state's election laws. His plan was thwarted in part because eliminating all election laws would also eliminate the county unit system, a convoluted voting scheme that allowed him to remain in office even though he might not win the most popular votes in an election. Instead, he ran for governor on a platform of white supremacy.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

One of Talmadge’s closest running buddies was a fellow by the name of George Preston Marshall, who shared Talmadge’s racist beliefs. In fact, when Marshall died in 1969, his will directed that the bulk of his estate be set up as a foundation that bore his name. He attached, however, one firm condition: that the foundation, operating out of Washington, D.C., should not direct a single dollar toward "any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form."

George Preston Marshall
Marshall, born in 1896, became financially successful through his ownership of a chain of laundries in Washington, D.C. In 1932, he and three partners were awarded an NFL franchise for Boston and he named his team the Boston Braves because the team shared a stadium with the old Major League Baseball team, Boston Braves. Marshall’s partners sold their interests to Marshall after one season and, thus, in 1933 he moved the team’s home to Fenway Park so he could name them the Redskins. He thought Redskins was funny, just as he thought the war paint and feather headdress he made the head coach wear were funny.

This is a man who proposed to his wife against the backdrop of a group of black performers he’d hired to croon "Carry Me Back to Ol’ Virginny" as he popped the question ("Massa and Missus have long since gone before me / Soon we will meet on that bright and golden shore"). Who ordered the Redskins marching band to play "Dixie" right before "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to every game — up into the 1960s. And who reportedly instigated the banning of black athletes from the NFL from 1933 until 1946.

I say "reportedly" because the league’s owners at the time always kept it a deep secret, but Thomas G. Smith, who wrote a 2011 book about all this, got as close as a person could get to putting Marshall at the center of the ban. The league had blacks before 1933 only because people didn’t care much about pro football then, not nearly as much as they did about baseball. But in 1933, at someone’s instigation, the owners got together and agreed on the ban. Certainly, Marshall was the biggest racist of the bunch.

Most famously of all, Marshall was the last owner to accept a black player — fully 15 years after the ban was lifted. And his team drafted an African-American then (in 1961) only because it was forced to by the government — the then-new stadium that later becamel RFK Stadium was built on Department of Interior land, which permitted the Kennedy administration to order the lessee (the team) to adhere to federal nondiscrimination policies. In other words, Marshall wasn’t merely a standard-issue racist of the time, like H.L. Mencken or countless others. He, like his buddy Talmadge, was diseased. He seethed with hatred of nonwhite people. And "Redskins" is his handiwork.

In the ongoing debate on whether the team’s name should be changed, the argument should be framed around the name’s origin and the racist who decided to attach the moniker to his franchise. When seen in this light, a name change is long overdue.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Good night, Eli

My two favorite pieces of trivia about the great Eli Wallach are (1) he attended the University of Texas because of its comparative "low" tuition and (2) he turned down the role of Maggio in "From Here to Eternity," a part that provided a comeback for one Frank Sinatra.

Monday, June 23, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clerq **** Directed by Nancy Buirski. The tragic story of 1950s ballet sensation Tanaquil Le Clercq unfolds through rare performance footage and the star’s own words. While it does profile the work of brilliant dancer, the film also contains two complex and moving love stories as well an account of a physically devastating tragedy followed by an extraordinary tale of struggle and survival.

Anita ***½ Directed by Freida Lee Mock. Tells the story about young, brilliant African American Anita Hill who accuses the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of unwanted sexual advances during explosive Senate Hearings. As a documented record of Hill’s story and her achievements, this is a serviceable, at times riveting documentary.

Rob the Mob *** Directed by Raymond de Felitta. A Queens couple who specialize in robbing mafia social clubs stumble upon a score bigger than they could ever imagine, becoming targets of both the mob and the FBI in the process. Throughout the film, de Felitta maintains an unfailingly sympathetic stance toward the lovers and the mafiosi alike, while keeping enough distance from all to disapprove of their dirty deeds and deter any viewer identification with them. With Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Ray Romano, Andy Garcia.

Enemy *** Directed by Denis Villeneuve. A man (Jake Gyllenhaal) seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. More than a thriller, this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel The Double is an absurdist-existential mood piece — and a very dark mood it is.

Some Velvet Morning **½ Directed by Neil LaBute. Pretty young Velvet (Alice Eve) is amazed when her ex-lover Fred (Stanley Tucci) shows up unannounced at her New York home with his suitcases, eager to rekindle their romance. If you’re patience doesn’t wear out, the movie culminates in a clever shock ending that not only explains everything but gives what you’ve just seen a rewarding jolt.

Pandora’s Promise **½ Directed by Robert Stone. A feature-length documentary about the history and future of nuclear power. Less an exploration of the subject than a well-constructed sales pitch.

300: Rise of an Empire **½ Directed by Noam Murro. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green), vengeful commander of the Persian navy. Other than for the pleasure of watching Green try to conquer ancient Greece dressed as a distant forebearer of Catwoman, more is less and a little late in this long-aborning sequel.

Blood Ties **½ Directed by Guillaume Canet. Two brothers (Clive Owen, Billy Crudup), on either side of the law, face off over organized crime in Brooklyn during the 1970s. What Lumet or Cassavetes often showed with a look, an image, a movement, Canet chooses to tell, and often at length, with the most heavy-handed dialogue imaginable. With Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts, James Caan.

Wolf Creek 2 ** Directed by Greg Mclean. Backpackers Rutger (Philippe Klaus) and Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn) escape the city for an adventurous vacation in the Australian outback, but their dream trip turns into a nightmare when they run into a bloodthirsty serial killer (John Jarratt) with a penchant for sadistic games. Alas, this Creek has run dry.

Winter’s Tale Directed by Akiva Goldsman. A thief (Colin Farrell) breaks into an ill girl’s home and then falls for her. It is sincerely, painstakingly and astonishingly awful. With Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jon Stewart: Gay Watch Texas Edition

On last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart "discussed" the move by the Texas Republican Party to include a plank in its platform endorsing reparative therapy to cure homosexuality. This is must-viewing, especially if you're a Texan with an IQ above 40 (which may, the way it appears, eliminate the overwhelming majority of Texas Republicans).

Monday, June 16, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Grand Budapest Hotel ****½ Directed by Wes Anderson. The adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. This is one of Anderson’s funniest and most fanciful movies, but perversely enough it may also be his most serious, most tragic and most shadowed by history, with the frothy Ernst Lubitsch-style comedy shot through with an overwhelming sense of loss. With F. Murray Abraham, Matthieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson.

Ernest & Celestine **** Directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner. The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest (Forest Whitaker), and a young mouse named Celestine (Pauline Brunner). A tale of found family, sweetly realized and supported by clever writing and talented voice work, but it’s the animation that really makes this Academy Award-nominated movie. With Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Jeffrey Wright.

The Lego Movie **** Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. An ordinary Lego construction worker (Chris Pratt), thought to be the prophesied "Special", is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis. Lord and Miller irreverently deconstruct the state of the modern blockbuster and deliver a smarter, more satisfying experience in its place, emerging with a fresh franchise for others to build upon.

Joe **** Directed by David Gordon Green. When ex-con Joe (Nicolas Cage) hires 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) to help clear trees for a lumber company, he doesn’t expect to become a father figure for the abused boy. A beautiful film, shot by Tim Orr, that is elevated by Cage’s stirring portrait of a violence-prone man who can’t restrain himself from doing good.

Jimmy P. ***½ Directed by Arnaud Desplechin. A Native American Veteran (Benicio Del Toro), suffering from a series of psychological issues, develops a deeply powerful friendship with his progressive French psychoanalyst (Mathieu Almaric) as they discover and attempt to understand the source of his illness. The film is saved largely thanks to the subtext of ethnic discrimination that runs through the film, and two riveting central performances, which overcome a wobbly start to find emotional balance by the final reel.

The Final Member **½ Directed by Jonah Bekhor, Zach Math. This documentary follows curator Siggi Hjartarson as he works to complete his collection of specimens at the Icelandic Phallological Museum: the world’s only penis museum. Smartly, the filmmakers minimize their topic’s punchline potential. But even though the running time is short, the movie feels stretched out.

13 Sins **½ Directed by Daniel Stamm. Desperate to get his finances in order, a man (Mark Webber) agrees to appear on a game show where performing 13 tasks could win him $6 million. This horror flick is passable enough when it comes to dialing up the suspense, but the Saw formula of a mysterious voice guiding our hero through a series of depravities has gone a bit stale.

Almost Human ** Directed by J.H. Wyman. Two years after disappearing in a blinding flash of blue light, a young lumberjack returns to rural Maine and embarks on a murderous rampage.With acting this wooden even among those not playing zombies, though one at least attempts a rural Maine accent, the suspense lies less in who will die than in how grisly the means.

Walk of Shame * Directed by Steven Brill. After an uncharacteristic drunken one-night stand, an aspiring news anchor (Elizabeth Banks) winds up on a wild trek across Los Angeles with no car, money or memory. Even when it’s at its best, Walk of Shame is rarely more than merely amusing. On the other hand, when it’s at its worst, it’s nothing short of insulting, thanks to its willingness to engage in the kind of gross stereotyping that treads uncomfortably close to racist territory. With James Marsden.

Authors Anonymous ½* Directed by Ellie Kanner. A band of unpublished writers who gather to gripe about their misfortunes must cope with the sudden success of Hannah (Kaley Cuoco), who’s just joined their group. Little more than an exercise in sustained contempt, a petty little missive directed at anyone who dares to wield a pen.c

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Case Against the Heat

Could Carmelo Anthony and LaBron James wind up playing together in The Big Apple?

I noticed it for the first time at the beginning of the 2011 NBA finals. ESPN.com asked its visitors to pick which team it wanted to win the finals and it displayed a U.S. map showing which state was rooting for which team. I was interested in 2011 because my beloved Mavericks were playing the Heat that season. It was the first season the Heat were playing with "the Big 3" — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What made the results interesting to me was that 49 of the 50 U.S. states were hoping the Mavs would win. The 50th state, of course, was Florida, but even there support for the Heat was not overwhelming. ESPN ran the same survey in 2012, when the Heat played the Oklahoma City Thunder and in 2013 when the Heat played the San Antonio Spurs. In both of those instances the results were the same – 49 states wanted the Western Conference team to win, Florida barely voted for the Heat. The all-sports network probably conducted the same survey again this year, but I didn’t notice.

This morning on Mike & Mike, a sports talk show that runs on the ESPN radio, the two were showcasing run of their regular features called "Love It or Shove It" in which an idea is placed on the floor and the two say whether they "love" the idea or hate ("shove") it. One of tje topics featured this morning was the idea of James, Wade and Bosh opting out of their current contracts, then re-signing for a reduced salary so the Heat can add the scoring machine, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, to their roster. Mike Greenberg, the reporter of Mike & Mike, hated the idea; Mike Golic, the former pro athlete, loved it. Golic said the league has always had dominant teams, so what’s wrong with this being the era of Heat dominance. Greenberg really couldn’t put his finger on why he hated the idea, but it smelled to him for some reason.

Perhaps I can help Greenberg out. As ESPN’s pre-NBA finals maps indicate, the overwhelming majority of the NBA world hates the Miami Heat and they hate it for one reason — the manner in which the team came together. With most of the other NBA dynasties — the Celtics, the Pistons, the Bulls, even the Lakers, for the most part — they seemed to come together organically. The superstars on those teams were associated with those particular teams — they did not make their reputations with other teams before joining the dynasty teams. The two exceptions that I can think of happened with the Lakers – when Kareem Abdul Jabbar joined after becoming a superstar with the Milwaukee Bucks, and when Shaquille O’Neal left Orlando to move west.

But the Heat situation was unprecedented. Never had three players negotiated among themselves to form a union. Not only did James abandon Cleveland to "take his talents to South Beach," but Chris Bosh announced Wade had persuaded him to come to Miami just a few days earlier. Not only that, this was one of the worst cases of "Reverse Robin Hood" — robbing the poor to give to the rich — in sports history. Remember, James and Bosh simultaneously joined a team that had won an NBA title the year before. The sports world would have loved James and Bosh if they had decided "to take their talents" to Sacramento or Washington, D.C., two teams that have never tasted an NBA finals, let alone a title. But when they opted for Miami, the Heat became the most hated NBA franchise and joined the New York Yankees as the two most hated sports franchises for exactly the same reason — they weren’t interested in "winning" championships, they only wanted to "buy" them.

Now, if Anthony comes to Miami, the Heat will accomplish what I thought would be impossible — they will surpass the Yankees on the hate meter.

But I really don’t think Anthony-to-Miami is a realistic scenario. For one thing, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra is already having trouble coming up with enough offensive sets that involve Bosh. And if he adds another ball hog to the roster, there’s going to be some bitterness in some quarters on that roster. Besides, who will Anthony replace in the starting five? The only logical candidate is Rashard Lewis, who is a far better teammate than Anthony. I think Lewis leaves the Heat if Miami seriously considers signing Anthony and Lewis will be a devastating loss to Miami. If Melo moves, I think it’s more likely he joins James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston or Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago. But I think the most likely scenario is this: Knicks top dog and basketball guru Phil Jackson will find a way to convince (1) Anthony to remain in New York, the city he loves and (2) James to repair his tarnished image by joining Anthony in the media capital of the world.

Monday, June 9, 2014

NBA Finals Game 2

The mirror image of Game 1. While the Spurs won that first game by playing flawlessly in the final half of the fourth quarter, they completely fell apart during that same time frame in Game 2 — missing crucial free throws, poor shot selection, lack of ball movement. Am I detecting a pattern here? I guess the Spurs can take some solace in the fact that they played that badly and still only lost by two points. But the Heat can also claim it doesn’t matter whether it’s two points or 20 — a win is still a win. So now it’s a best three-out-of-five series with Miami having the home court advantage.

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Missing Picture **** Directed by Rithy Panh. Panh uses clay figures, archival footage, and his narration to recreate the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed between 1975 and 1979. A gripping, fascinating and visually arresting memoir.

Omar ***½ Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. A young Palestinian freedom fighter (Adam Bakri) agrees to work as an informant after he’s tricked into an admission of guilt by association in the wake of an Israeli soldier’s killing. Abu-Assad shows a world from which all trust has vanished, where every relationship carries the possibility — perhaps the inevitability — of betrayal and where every form of honor is corroded by lies.

Alan Partridge *** Directed by Declan Lowney. When famous DJ Alan Partridge’s (Steve Coogan) radio station is taken over by a new media conglomerate, it sets in motion a chain of events which see Alan having to work with the police to defuse a potentially violent siege. An often funny workplace hostage comedy that doesn’t demand prior knowledge of the character.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit *** Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. The movie itself isn’t dull. It’s moderately stylish, moderately suspenseful, fun in patches. It hits its marks. But the setup lacks urgency. With Kevin Costner, Branagh, Keira Knightley.

Adult World *** Directed by Scott Coffey. Amy (Emma Roberts), a naive college graduate who believes she’s destined to be a great poet, begrudgingly accepts a job at a sex shop while she pursues a mentorship with reclusive writer Rat Billings (John Cusack). Proceeds by fits and starts, but fans of Cusack won’t want to miss his performance as the petulant poet, whose resistance is inevitably worn down by his persistent fan.

Tim’s Vermeer *** Directed by Teller. Inventor Tim Jenison seeks to understand the painting techniques used by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer. An entertaining and interesting film, and one that speaks with a reasonable degree of credibility. And while that might not make it high art, it’s good enough for me.

Visitors *** Directed by Godrey Reggio. Completely devoid of dialogue and backed by a soundtrack by Philip Glass, this cinematic showpiece explores humans’ reactions to technology and media. Strange and surreal but with moments of real beauty.

The Short Game **½ Directed by Josh Greenbaum. Eight grade-school golfers must navigate parents, coaches, and their own pint-sized rivals as they compete in a junior-level championship at the prestigious Pinehurst golf course in North Carolina. Greenbaum is observant of tears and laughter alike, but he might have made fewer sacrifices in the name of a tidy package.

Non-Stop **½ Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera. On a commercial flight at 40,000 feet, federal air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) starts receiving text messages from a threatening blackmailer who claims he’s on the airplane too. A solid, workmanlike action picture that builds slowly, bends over backwards to over-explain itself and its villain, and delivers a lulu of an ending.

Devil’s Knot ** Directed by Atom Egoyan. The savage murders of three young children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual. This stilted crime drama from Egoyan feels misguided from the start. He’s attempting to fictionalize a true story that has already been told better, several times over. With Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon.

Perfect Sisters ** Directed by Stanley M. Brooks. Tired of their mother’s alcoholism and a string of her abusive boyfriends, two sisters plot to kill her. Brooks’ first directorial feature provides scant psychological depth, drawing its characters and staging their incidents in crude fashion, despite superficial production gloss. With Abigail Breslin, Georgie Henley, James Russo, Mira Sorvino.

Capital ** Directed by Costa-Gavras. The newly appointed CEO of a giant European investment bank works to hold on to his power when an American hedge fund company tries to buy out his company. Ends up being neither a high-stakes thriller nor a cutting commentary on real-world bad behavior. It’s just CEO exotica, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Haunt ** Directed by Mac Carter. An introvert teen befriends his new neighbor, and together the couple begin to explore the haunted house his family has just purchased. Bland and bordering on nonsensical, Haunt trots out all the standard haunted-house tropes without breathing any new life into them.

The Secret Lives of Dorks Directed by Salomé Breziner. High school übergeek Payton (Gaelan Connell) lusts for cheerleader Carrie (Riley Voekel), who wishes he’d chase fellow dork Samantha (Vanessa Marano), who happens to love him. This movie, also featuring Jim Belushi, is, well, the Jim Belushi of high-school romantic comedies: indifferent, kind of exhausted.