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
Interstellar
Unbroken


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


Best Film Editing
Birdman
* Boyhood
Gone Girl
Interstellar
Whiplash


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


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


Best Score
Birdman
Gone Girl
* Interstellar
The Theory of Everything
Unbroken


Best Sound Editing
Fury
Guardians of the Galaxy'
* Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash


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


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
Boyhood
Birdman
The Imitation Game
Unbroken
The Theory of Everything
Selma
Gone Girl
Foxcatcher
Whiplash
Interstellar


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
Boyhood
Birdman
Foxcatcher
Whiplash
The Grand Budapest Hotel


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


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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Voter participation: a lesson for Dallas

For the last couple of days I have been inundated by analyses from pundits on why voters cast their ballots the way they did on Tuesday. But there’s another analysis I haven’t seen that I would welcome and would find even more interesting.

U.S. citizens don’t vote and I have absolutely no idea why that’s so. Of course, there’s always going to be a lot of people who don’t take part in the political process in any form whatsoever. That’s their prerogative. But what mystifies me is that two thirds of Americans who devote the time and energy to register to vote never show up to the polls. Why? That’s what I want to know.

For Dallas municipal elections it’s even worse. Much worse. Last year, only 7 percent — 7 percent — of the city’s registered voters took the time to select a candidate to represent them on the city council. That’s disgraceful. But in 2011, when the city was picking a new mayor as well as council representatives, only 13 percent voted.

In Austin this year, the voter turnout for the city council election was 40 percent of the registered voters. Not great, but still significantly better than the Dallas numbers. In 2010 it was 38 percent in Austin, more than double the 15 percent that voted in Dallas’ 2009 elections. In 2006, it was 40 percent in Austin, 13 percent for the comparable election in Dallas.

That disparity I can explain quite easily because in 2012, only 11 percent of eligible Austin voters participated in the city council election process. The difference? That 2012 election was held in May, the others were held as part of the November general election ballot.

Dallas, for some reason, also holds its municipal elections in May. The argument for this that I’ve heard is that Dallas city council candidates don’t want their elections to be buried beneath all the statewide and nationwide choices that they would have to share the ballot with. What a crock. Talk about basic insecurity.

When Dallas was holding a series of public hearings on proposed changes to the city charter earlier this year I testified at one of them and one of my recommendations was to move Dallas city elections from May to November to attract greater voter participation. C’mon, 7 percent is a travesty that should make Dallas ashamed.

But I would still want to know why most of the nation’s registered voters don’t bother to vote. Would love for someone to take up that issue.

Help for the middle class



In 2008, Time magazine named Robert Reich one of the 10 best cabinet members of the century (he was Secretary of Labor during President Bill Clinton's first term). He has a list of credentials too long for me to list in this space but, if you want to check him out, you can learn all about him here.

This is his analysis of Tuesday's election and it makes a lot of sense to me:

"If you want a single reason for why Democrats lost big Tuesday it’s this: Median family income continues to drop, the first "recovery" when this has occurred. Meanwhile, all the economic gains are going to the richest Americans. If the Republicans think they can reverse this through their supply-side, trickle-down, fiscal austerity policies, they’re profoundly mistaken. The public will soon discover this. But if the Democrats believe they can reverse it simply by raising taxes on the rich and redistributing to everyone else, they are mistaken, too.

"We need to raise the minimum wage, invest in education and infrastructure, lift the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes, resurrect Glass-Steagall and limit the size of the banks, make it easier for low-wage workers to unionize, raise taxes on corporations with high ratios of CEO pay to average worker pay, and much more. In other words, we need an agenda for shared prosperity. Over the next two years the Democrats have an opportunity to advance one. If they fail to do so, we’ll need a new opposition party that represents the interests of the vast majority."

Just though I'd pass it along.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dump the most boring play in basketball

During last night’s telecast of the NBA game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, TNT analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy suggested eliminating the most boring play in basketball: the free throw.

The more I think about his idea the better I like it, although I’m not in favor of what he would replace the free throw with. His suggestion would be that after the first foul is called on each team, the opposing team would get one free throw. If the player converts, his team gets three points. If not, then, of course, nothing. After that, no more free throws after fouls.

I favor his idea of eliminating the free throw because, yes, it is basketball’s least exciting play and eliminating it would speed up the game. However, what I would recommend is that after every foul. the team that is fouled is awarded one point and the ball out of bounds. That would also quickly eliminate the hack-a-player tactics we see at the end of many NBA games that make the final few minutes seem like an eternity.

Waddya think?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Precedent of the United States


An interesting historical note: In my lifetime, there have been only four U.S. presidents to serve two full terms: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In the sixth year of the presidency of each of the aformentioned presidents, their opposition party gained control of both the House and the Senate.

Just saying.

What’s at stake in tomorrow’s election? Only the future of life as we know it on this planet


The only way we can preserve sustainable life on this planet we call home is to reduce greenhouse emissions to absolute zero sometime in this century. That’s the headline from a report issued yesterday by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So how do we achieve that goal? Simple: Eliminate the burning of fossil fuels.

Simple to say, but certainly not simple to do. The reason why eliminating the burning of fossil fuels is impossible is because, obviously, fossil fuels are the product of the massive oil and gas companies who actually run things here on Earth. No it’s not elected officials: Most of them – particularly Republican office holders in the United States — are merely puppets controlled by the oil and gas industry. The industry has bought them. The industry owns them. They will do and they will vote as instructed by the industry. In fact, if Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate in tomorrow’s election, the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe. Here is his reaction to the IPCC’s report, a report, incidentally, supported by 97 percent of the scientific community, according to the NASA website Global Climate Change:

Sen. Jim Inhofe
"The idea that our advanced industrialized economy would ever have zero carbon emissions is beyond extreme and further proof that the IPCC is nothing more than a front for the environmental left. It comes as no surprise that the IPCC is again advocating for the implementation of extreme climate change regulations that will cripple the global economy and send energy prices skyrocketing. The United States is in the midst of an energy renaissance that has the potential to bring about American energy independence, which would strengthen our national security and energy reliability for generations into the future. At a time of economic instability and increased threats to American interests, the IPCC’s report is little more than high hopes from the environmental left."

Like I said: a puppet for the oil and gas industry, whose trying to switch the subject of the debate from renewable power sources to high cost of oil and gas. This is the same clown who said we don’t need to be concerned about glaciers melting because, like ice melting in a glass of liquid, it simply displaces the ice, so the oceans won’t really rise. What the idiot doesn’t realize is that the ice being talked about is ice from land, not already in the water — try adding a lot more ice cubes to that glass of liquid and see what happens.

The IPCC was created more than a quarter of a century ago to assess global warming and its impact. Its latest report reviews 30,000 climate-change studies that establish with 95 percent certainty that most of the warming since the 1950s is man-made.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett
Of course, here in Texas, there is little we can do to stop the flow of red. A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race in Texas in 20 years and that certainly won’t change tomorrow. I recently relocated from Dallas to Central Texas where my U.S. Representative, at least, is a progressive thinker and also a former associate from my days at the University of Texas, Lloyd Doggett. (Doggett was president of the UT student body which also made him head of student publications when I was the assistant managing editor of the university’s daily newspaper. We had numerous encounters in those roles.)

Wendy Davis
In Texas, the magic number progressives will be looking at is 42.3. That’s the percentage of the total votes won by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White in 2010. This year the Democratic standard bearer is, of course, Wendy Davis, who is seen, by some (I am not among those) as the straw horse for an eventual Democratic takeover of the state. If this is true, she must win more than 42.3 percent of the vote. I would say, in order for her campaign to be called "successful," she needs to win at least 45 percent. If she wins less than 42.3 percent, her campaign will go down as an unmitigated disaster and a huge setback for Democrats’ hopes here in Texas, especially when you consider all the attention — even outside of Texas — Davis’s campaign has received. She is considered more than just a candidate by many; she has been elevated to "folk hero" status. It will also be interesting to see if she can collect significantly more than the 2.1 million votes White received four years ago. I sincerely hope she does, but I’m certainly not willing to wager anything of value on the possibility.

Austin's new 10 member city council districts
As a Dallas transplant as well as a significant player in the city’s transition from an at-large city council election system to a single-member district system, it’s fascinating to watch as Austin holds its first city election in which all 10 city council members will be elected from individual districts, with a mayor, of course, being the one at-large candidate. It’s interesting because in Dallas, where African Americans city council representatives fight tooth-and-nail to preserve four black city council districts, even though it could be argued the numbers no longer support that, in Austin only one district is considered winnable by an African American candidate and even in that district African Americans comprise only 35 percent of the voting age population. It would be enough to drive Dallas City Council members Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Tennell Atkins and probably even Vonciel Hill over the edge. The black population here is quite evenly dispersed throughout all sections of the city because Austin leaders did not practice the systems of overt racism that resulted in the racially split North-South Dallas.

I will also give Austin credit for holding its municipal elections in November, which, of course, will mean more voter interest and a higher voter turnout than municipal elections in Dallas, which are held in May, when no other elections that might generate increased voter participation are on the ballot. On the other hand, I will give Dallas credit for doing rail right.

Austin voters will decide tomorrow if they want a light rail system in the city. I am a major proponent of mass transportation, especially in urban areas, but I have yet to make up my mind on Austin’s proposal. Dallas transportation visionaries (hopefully that’s not an oxymoron) wisely saw mass transportation as a regional issue and created, though a public referendum, a regional transportation authority that included 13 other municipalities in addition to Dallas. Plus, it isn’t just a light rail service: it operates buses, commuter rail and HOV lanes. DART is its own regulatory body. It is financed through sales taxes administered by all member cities.

Austin's proposed rail line
Austin is going the light rail route on its own, with a proposal for only one line entirely within the city limits of Austin. It would be located along a north-south line just west of Interstate 35 until it crosses the Colorado river south of downtown where it would veer off to the southeast. One of the arguments against the rail proposal is that there is not that much rider ship along that corridor, that it should be located more to the west where more commercial areas are located. The problem is advocates agree with that assessment, but counter with the argument that "someday there will be more rider ship along the proposed route." I am not convinced that’s a compelling argument, but more than anything else I am chagrined that the rail proponents are thinking only locally and not regionally, especially when such neighborhood cities as Round Rock, Cedar Park, Kyle (my new home) and San Marcos (the fastest growing city in the United States the last two years) are growing as fast as they are. They need to be included in any transportation plan and Austin is shutting them out. In addition, the transportation system will be completely controlled by city government and will be funded by increased property taxes and a hoped-for windfall from the federal government (which probably won’t come if Republicans gain control of the Senate tomorrow).

I moved down here less than a month ago to retire close to the home of my son and granddaughter and I’m not going to live long enough the effects of mass transportation plans in Austin, let alone global climate change. (Neither are the heads of the oil and gas industries which is why they don’t give a damn if they destroy the planet – just as long as they continue to make their obscene profits). So I guess I shouldn’t be concerned about these things, but as the scorpion said to the frog, "It’s my nature." And if you don’t know what I mean by that last statement, rent and see the marvelous film The Crying Game, which, incidentally, a lot of us may be playing (the game, not the movie) this time tomorrow.

This Week’s DVD Releases


A Most Wanted Man *** Directed by Anton Corbijn. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright. A half-Russian, half-Chechen man, brutalized by torture, arrives in Hamburg, where he seeks a British banker’s help in recovering his father’s estate. While the tension is sometimes muted, this is more than a procedural round of spy games. The deliberately paced but riveting film is made all the better because of Hoffman’s breathtakingly nuanced portrayal.

Land Ho! *** Directed by Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens. In a bid to gain life perspective, retired Mitch (Early Lynn Nelson) persuades his ex-brother-in-law (Paul Eenhoorn) to join him on a journey through the frigid landscapes of Iceland. A series of picaresque adventures in a notably picturesque land. Is it enough to sustain anything resembling dramatic momentum? For a while it isn’t, but then, unexpectedly, it is.

The One I Love *** Directed by Charlie McDowell. Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. Confronted with the potential end of their marriage, Ethan and Sophie take off for a weekend together, hoping to negotiate their future. When they reach their idyllic destination, however, the couple strolls into a bizarre new brand of trouble. Unfortunately, someone (screenwriter Justin Lader, perhaps?) needed to improvise some kind of satisfying denouement because the film’s third act just collapses in on itself. The One I Love is imaginative and provocative until it isn’t.

Maleficent **½ Directed by Robert Stromberg. Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharito Copley, Sam Riley, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville. A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land. It’s a dazzling showcase of fantasy-based filmmaking in the 21st century that also manages a feeble attempt at injecting feminist politics into an antiquated narrative. Yet its eventual climax strains from the obviousness of these efforts.

A Five-Star Life **½ Directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi. Forty-something Irene (Margherita Buy) has a dream job that makes her life easy: she is a luxury hotel inspector and her work gets carried out in a wonderful ever-renewed setting, from Paris to Gstaad to Berlin to Morocco to China. Tognazzi’s ultra-sedate romantic comedy is full of aesthetic sophistication and luxurious ambiance, but its pleasures are all secondhand, and the whole endeavor is too starved of incident to really stick in the memory.

Planes: Fire & Rescue ** Directed by Roberts Gannaway. Dane Cook, Julie Bowen. When Dusty learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he joins a forest fire and rescue unit to be trained as a firefighter. Beautiful to look at, this is nothing more than a Little Engine That Could story refitted to accommodate aerial action and therefore unlikely to engage the active interest of anyone above the age of about 8, or 10 at the most.

Hercules ** Directed by Brett Ratner. Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Tobias Santelmann, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, John Hurt. Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord. Strap on your swordbelt, buckle your sandals and oil up your rippling six-pack, because here comes yet another interminable, CGI-drenched mythic mish-mash with far more money than brain cells.

Step Up: All In ** Directed by Trish Sie. Competitors gather in Las Vegas for the ultimate dance-off, including champions from the previous films. Even if the big numbers in Step Up All In don’t always hit the heights of its immediate predecessors, there are enough exultant moments – during the crew battles or Sean and Andie’s pas de deux on a carnival ride — to tide you over until the inevitable Part Six.

The Christmas Candle Directed by John Stephenson. Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, Lesley Manville, Sylvester McCoy, Susan Boyle, John Hannah. In the village of Gladbury, it’s believed that every 25 years an angel comes on Christmas Eve bearing a miracle for one of the residents. But the arrival of a new minister with fresh ideas threatens to extinguish the age-old tradition. The whole thing is sentimental corn, which isn’t bad if it’s handled with conviction and sincerity. But the direction by Stephenson (better known for special effects than directing) is resolutely stiff and hollow. That’s murder for a movie dealing with miracles.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases


Begin Again **½ Directed by John Carney. Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, Yasiin Bey, Cee Lo Green, Catherine Keener. A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents. It may not always swing, but it makes up for that in sincerity and a welcome willingness to ambush expectations.

Life of Crime **½ Directed by Daniel Schecter. Jenifer Anistton, Mos Def, Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes. After kidnapping a rich property developer’s wife and holding her for ransom, two small time crooks discover their hostage’s philandering husband is in no rush to free her from captivity. Mostly, it’s fine. The acting is fine. The writing is fine. The story is fine. There are a few laughs. And that should be fine enough. But with material as rich as Elmore Leonard’s serving as the foundation, just fine is a disappointment.

Wish I Was Here ** Directed by Zach Braff. Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Josh Gad, Pierce Gagnon, Ashley Greene, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin. With his acting career moribund, Aidan Bloom (Braff) steers a new tack in life, taking over his children’s education when private school becomes too costly. Finding much to learn as well as teach, Aidan develops his own unique curriculum for the kids. It’s not a total disaster, but the tricky tone seems like it needed more time in the editing room to focus its story and trim some of the extraneous threads.

Deliver Us From Evil ** Directed by Scott Derrickson. Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, Edgar Ramirez. While investigating a bizarre case, a New York City police officer meets a priest who convinces him the incident is related to demonic possession, and the two men team up to ferret out the truth. You’ll be jolted a couple of times, but these aren’t scares that will stay with you. How about retiring "based on a true story" in favor of "based on a good story"?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A tribute to a great band too few people remember these days

I remember back in the early to mid-1970s hanging out with my brother in the bars in Austin. Usually we'd hit a bar, order a couple of beers and after the live music started we'd quietly walk out and head for another bar. Contrary to popular belief, most of the live music scene in Austin on an average night just wasn't all that good. We walked into one bar one night and saw a bunch of bizarre-looking dudes setting up on the stage, but really paid them little attention. Just another typical Austin band. We ordered our beers and continued with our matter-of-life-and-death conversation. Then these guys started playing, a Colombian cumbia ("Catagenera," the last video in this set). My brother and I stopped talking, looked at each other with the exact same thought in our heads ("Is this music coming from those rag-tag dudes we saw congregating on the stage moments before? Naw It couldn't be.") But it was and we were hooked.

The name of that band was Balcones Fault and I will dare anyone to name a better band to come out of Austin during that time in the 1970s. There might have been a handful just as good -- Plum Nelly (and its direct descendant, Mother of Pearl) and Greezy Wheels immediately come to mind -- but none better.

Balcones Fault played a handful of shows in Dallas. At one obviously meaningful one for me, at Faces on Cedar Springs, I met the woman who would become the mother of my son. But perhaps they were best known for a series of "Full Moon Concerts" they played at Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters. Late in the decade they went out to California to record an album which simply did not capture the magic of the band.

This was a band that was way ahead of its time. If it had been born during the first days of the music video in the early 1980s, I'm convinced Balcones Fault would have been a national success, not just a Texas one. It wasn't enough to hear Balcones Fault, you had to see them.

I recently retired and relocated from Dallas to Kyle in Central Texas (18 miles from my son and granddaughter vs. 234 miles away when I lived in the forgotten triangle of Northeast Dallas) and through some strange series of events I have quickly reconnected with two great musician friends from that era of the 1970s, Ernie Gammage (who sometimes back then and even to this day performed under the name of Ernie Sky) from Plum Nelly and Mother of Pearl and Fletcher Clark from Balcones Fault. Both are still heavily involved in music and I am so delighted to be back in their orbit.

To give you a small idea of what Fletcher was like back in those mid-70s days, check out this Balcones Fault video.

That's Fletcher singing lead and sermonizing on that Balcones Fault show-stopper. But to really get just a small taste of the variety of music styles this amazing band could capture, I've included a couple more samples. Check 'em out and then wish you were there, back in the heyday of Balcones Fault.
 
 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

With this week’s list, I am converting from a 5-star rating system to the more universally used 4-star one.

Snowpiercer ***½ Directed by Joon-ho Bong. Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Ed Harris. The Earth’s remaining inhabitants are confined to a single train circling the globe as revolution brews among the class-divided cars. A rare hybrid that perfectly blends the dazzle of a futuristic action thriller with the intellectual substance of an art film.

A Coffee in Berlin **½ Directed by Jan Ole Gerster. Nothing seems to go right for Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling): His girlfriend dumps him, he loses his driver’s license, and his father cuts him off financially. With nothing else to do, he wanders around Berlin, crossing paths with a slew of eccentric characters. A snappy, quirky German indie that will thrill fans of early Jim Jarmusch.

The Fluffy Movie **½ Directed by Manny Rodriguez. A comedy concert film that captures the on-stage performance and inspirational success story of Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias. Inherently funny, with a terrific sense of timing, an amazing gift for mimicry, and an ability to perfectly imitate all kinds of everyday sounds, Iglesias is always charming and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

Earth to Echo **½ Directed by Dave Green. After receiving a bizarre series of encrypted messages, a group of kids embark on an adventure with an alien who needs their help. Passable family entertainment, neither unforgettable nor particularly bad.

The Purge: Anarchy ** Directed by James DeMonaco. A young couple works to survive on the streets after their car breaks down right as the annual purge commences. The new film pokes heavyhanded fun at extreme conservatives and has a "power to the people" sub-theme, but it’s full of ultra-violence and is dragged down by standard scare tactics, thin characters and the absurdities of the premise.

Life After Beth ** Directed by Jeff Baena. Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser. A young man’s recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead, but he slowly realizes she is not the way he remembered her. This dark comedy has a lot of promise for about half its length. Then, unfortunately, it settles into the mundane zombie genre picture that it seems doomed to be.

Sex Tape Directed by Jake Kasdan. Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Robb Corddry, Ellie Kemer. Rob Lowe, Jack Black. A married couple wake up to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts. The cinematic equivalent of herpes, Sex Tape is an uncomfortable embarrassment to raunchy comedies everywhere. Fortunately, no medication is required after being exposed to it: The effects are not permanent, only painful.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wish I could be there for this one



Patty Griffin will be in Dallas next month
In case you haven’t heard, two of the best pop singers in the business today, Patty Griffin and Mavis Staples, will be together Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Majestic Theater in concert benefitting the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. According to its website, the center uses music therapy in the recovery process for abused children.

I have seen Griffin in concert once, at the very first Austin City Limits music festival, and her performance moved me emotionally on a couple of occasions, most memorably when she sang "When It Don’t Come Easy." I have been searching for opportunities to see her again ever since. It is worth getting tickets to this concert just for Griffin alone, but when you pair her with Staples, this becomes a very special, not to be missed, concert event.

She will be playing closer to me the following night, but unfortunately that show is a taping for an Austin City Limits telecast and tickets for that sold out eons ago.

I discovered Griffin with the song "One Big Love" that was featured on her second album, Flaming Red (1998). Her next album, 2002's Stolen Kisses is perhaps my favorite, featuring such great songs as "Rain," "Chief," "Making Pies" and "Long Ride Home," although it was 2004's Impossible Dream that featured my favorite Griffin song, the aforementioned "When It Don’t Come Easy," along with "Love Throw a Line."

Her songs have been covered by Linda Ronstadt ("Falling Down"), the Dixie Chicks ("Truth No. 2," "Top of the World," "Let Him Fly"), Mary Chapin Carpenter ("Dear Old Friend"), Emmylou Harris ("One Big Love") and many others..

In 2010 she joined Robert Plant’s Band of Joy for a tour and an album. Plant subsequently moved into Griffin’s Austin home and startled both my son and granddaughter when they knocked on their door on Halloween night trick or treating. My son told me he did not know who lived in the house when they went to the front door and were startled when Plant opened the door, warmly greeted the two of them and dropped candy into his daughter’s basket. (That Griffin-Plant relationship has since ended.)

Mavis Staples will be performing as well
Staples, of course, is a blues/gospel/civil rights activist icon, perhaps best known for her work with The Staple Singers ("I’ll Take You There," "Respect Yourself"). VH1 named her one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rolling Stone called her one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2011, she collaborated with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy on an album, You Are Not Alone, that won a Grammy and she and Tweedy teamed up again in 2014 for the Grammy nominated One True Vine.

The Dallas concert will be a reunion of sorts for these two great singers. In 2009 Griffin and Staples collaborated on the song "Waiting for My Child to Come Home," featured on the compilation album Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration. I’m thinking you will hear them sing that song together on Nov. 13.

That collaboration led Griffin to record a gospel album, Downtown Church, that was actually recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville and was released in January 2010.

Ah, yes, this promises to be a great show. I am so sorry I’m going to miss it.

The next Ron Howard epic

Director Ron Howard, fresh from his much underappreciated Rush, will be releasing his next film, In the Heart of the Sea, in March based on the true story of the Essex.

If you’re like me, you don’t know that much about the Essex, but it seems it was a whaling vessel that, during an expedition in the winter of 1820, had a disastrous encounter with a mammoth killer whale. The story of the Essex would become the basis of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. (In the film Ben Whislaw plays Melville, whose investigation of the Essex made public what had happened to it.)

Howard employed many of the same behind-the-scenes people he used on Rush as well as that movie’s lead Chris Hemsworth.

Here’s a sneak peak that looks terribly promising to me (but then sneak peaks are designed to make films look promising):

Monday, October 13, 2014

The words on the shirt say it all


My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

This Week’s DVD Releases


X-Men: Days of Future Past ***½ Directed by Bryan Singer. Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbinder, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart. The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in an effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. Spanning across several continents, and obviously decades, Days Of Future Past feels vast and epic in scope. But as large as the movie is, it never loses sight of character and themes (at least the ones that matter).

Venus in Fur *** Directed by Roman Polanski. Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric. An actress attempts to convince a director how she’s perfect for a role in his upcoming production. Polanski’s direction is masterful — a pleasure in and of itself — but Seigner is the star attraction here, giving one of the best performances of her distinguished career.
 
Chinese Puzzle *** Directed by Cédric Klapisch. Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou. A 40-year-old father’s life is complicated when the mother of his two children moves to New York. Since he can’t bear them growing up far away from him, he decides to move there as well. Klapisch’s film is meandering and cutesy, but his characters are endearing and every so often he comes up with a deft insight, such as how New York City’s streets are like a flayed zombie.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman **½ Directed by Rob Minkoff. Ty Burell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Patrick Warburton, Stanley Tucci, Allison Janney, Mel Brooks, Lake Bell. The time-travelling adventures of an advanced canine and his adopted son, as they endeavor to fix a time rift they created. The film plays with some funny ideas about time travel, and like any good time travel movie, it flirts with paradox and what happens when you violate the rules of time and space. It doesn’t really go far enough with those ideas, though, and the end result is too often timid instead of brash and silly.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases


Obvious Child ***½ Directed by Gillian Robespierre. After being fired from her job and dumped by her cheating boyfriend, a comedian bottoms out and has a drunken one-night stand with a nice guy who’s not her type. Weeks later, she finds out she’s pregnant. It’s a warm, sympathetic, very sloppy, and often very funny little movie about a young woman who, among several other things, is not remotely ready to be a parent and knows it.

Edge of Tomorrow ***½ Directed by Doug Liman. Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Lara Pulver, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven. As Earth fights an alien invasion, Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Cruise) is killed in action, and a time loop forces him to continually relive his last day. With each iteration, Cage’s skill grows, as does his understanding of the enemy and how it operates. They might have called it Groundhog Day 2, but that wouldn’t have conveyed the film’s martial frenzy, its fascinating intricacies or the special delights of its borderline-comic tone.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon *** Directed by Beth Aala, Mike Myers. Comic Meyers turns documentarian with this film on his friend, legendary manager Gordon, whose client list ranged from Blondie to Alice Cooper. The film mixes Gordon’s own reminiscences with those from Michael Douglas, Sly Stallone and more. The movie is like sitting at a restaurant with a guy who’s got some of the best stories you’ve heard in your life — provided, that is, that you’re into stories about showbiz.

The Grand Seduction **½ Directed by Don McKellar. Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liana Balaban, Gordon Pinsent. The cash-strapped burg of Tickle Cove must persuade a doctor to move to town if they want a plastics manufacturer to build a new factory there. But selling the advantages of the tiny Newfoundland village to a young professional isn’t easy. With just a couple of strong casting choices and a winsome tone, an old formula can still work, and The Grand Seduction comes out of the lab with a disarming readiness to please.

Million Dollar Arm **½ Directed by Craig Gillespie. Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Suraj Sharma, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin. Looking to save his failing business, sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) launches a reality show to find India’s best cricketers, with the goal of turning them into professional baseball players and signing them to Major League contracts. What keeps you watching is the charisma of the performers: Hamm does an amiable riff on his Don Draper persona (he’s cynical before the big melt), Bell is a delight as his tart-tongued love interest, and Sharma and Madhur Mittal are all charm as the cultures-uniting underdogs.

A Million Ways To Die in the West ** Directed by Seth McFarlane. Seth McFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson. As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival. As director and writer, MacFarlane appears to have forgotten everything about cinematic standards of pacing, characterization and meaningful smut, resulting in an encore that’s slow, sketchy and dumb-dirty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Unbroken to open Christmas Day

It's written by the Coen Brothers and directed by Angelina Jolie (seems like a unlikely combination to me, but there you have it) and advance word on it is very, very good -- so good, in fact, it's seen right now as the only serious challenger to Boyhood for the best picture Oscar. But advance word is usually excellent on films no one has seen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Fearless Baseball Playoff Predictions

AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD
Oakland over Kansas City

NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD
Pittsburgh over San Francisco

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
Los Angeles Angels over Oakland
Baltimore over Detroit

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
Washington over Pittsburgh
Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Los Angeles Angels over Baltimore

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Washington over Los Angeles Dodgers

WORLD SERIES
Los Angeles Angels over Washington

This Week’s DVD Releases


Cold in July ***½ Directed by Jim Mickle. Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw. When a man kills a home invader in self-defense, the burglar’s father begins threatening the victim’s young son. The first half of Cold in July is tense and suspenseful, albeit in a conventional way; the second half is sickeningly compelling. It’s hard to watch and hard to look away from.

Chef *** Directed by Jon Favreau. Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr. A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family. Like so much in Chef, the plot resolution seems contrived and a bit silly. By then, though, we’ve had plenty of laughs, and generous helpings of warm feelings — the meat and potatoes of real life.

Hellion **½ Directed by Kat Candler. Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis. When 13-year-old delinquent Jacob lures his little brother, Wes, into trouble, the state sends the younger boy to live with an aunt. Now Jacob and his recently widowed father struggle to reform their lives and put their family back together. A little more deviating from the playbook would make Hellion stand out more amidst an ever-growing pack of similar films.

Are You Here Directed by Matthew Weiner. Owen Wilson, Zach Galifinakis, Amy Poehler. Two childhood best friends embark on a road trip back to their hometown after one of them learns he has inherited a large sum of money from his recently deceased estranged father. If Weiner’s Are You Here is good for anything, it’s to illustrate how the themes and conflicts he has worked out with such depth and dexterity in all these seasons of Mad Men can go terribly amiss with the wrong actors, wrong backdrop, wrong tone, wrong time.

Third Person Directed by Paul Haggis. Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger, Maria Bello, Adrien Brody. Three interlocking love stories involving three couples in three cities: Rome, Paris, and New York. Derivative and self-important, Third Person is a concept and not much more, precisely the sort of film that makes you wonder why anybody would bother to see it at all.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Directed by Michael Bay. Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci. A mechanic and his family join the Autobots as they are targeted by a bounty hunter from another world. It’s big, it’s loud and it’s all over the place, never really making a lick of sense. To his credit, sort of, director Bay tries to insert a little story into the film early on, even a little humor, but that’s overrun at some point by explosions and plot digressions.