Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sports radio: Excusing the inexcusable

I was driving my dog down to the Santa Fe Trestle Trail early this evening so she could join her two best canine friends (and My Hero) for a sundown romp and on the way I was listening to ESPN radio. Usually I play my iPod when I’m in the car, but I was hoping that Chuck Cooperstein was hosting one of his infrequent shows since the Texas Rangers, which normally would be on ESPN at this hour, had a later starting time playing out west in Oakland. Lucky for me, Cooperstein, perhaps my favorite sports radio personality and easily the finest basketball play-by-play announcer I’ve ever encountered, was on the air. Joining him, I think, was someone who identified himself as Tim MacMahon, a name I am familiar with because someone with that name is a writer for ESPN.com. I am going to jump to the conclusion that Cooperstein’s co-host this evening and the ESPN.com writer are one in the same.

The two were discussing the situation of Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson and MacMahon had the audacity to excuse alleged Peterson’s child abuse of his son on the grounds that Peterson was raised to discipline children in that manner. Since Peterson’s father used on switch on him, MacMahon claimed, it was going to follow that Peterson would discipline his children exactly the same way.

The pictures above depict the wounds found on Peterson’s child and, remember, these pictures were taken days aftet the wounds were inflicted. That any child is forced is suffer through such abuse is inexcusable. But when did "Two wrongs do actually make a right" become a justification for such abuse? "My dad was a racist so it’s OK for me to be a racist, too." Perhaps some misguided fools actually believe that’s true, but civilized society says that type of thinking is way, way off base.

The Minnesota Vikings suspended Peterson from the team’s game last Sunday, but then this week they said the suspension was lifted and he would play in the Vikings upcoming game against the New Orleans Saints. MacMahon defended the decision on his "My father made me do it" argument. And much to my dismay, Cooperstein didn’t seem to raise a voice in objection. He said only the decision on whether Peterson should play was not the Minnesota head coach’s or even the NFL’s, but the Vikings owners.

Peterson committed an act of domestic violence, much the same as the indefinitely suspended Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens did, but because Peterson’s was committed against a helpless child makes it, it my estimation, even more heinous. And it seems Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton agrees. Today the governor said Peterson should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but the running back "is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the State of Minnesota. Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system."

At least I’m not the only one rejecting "He was just raised that way" argument.

Update: Early Wednesday morning, the Vikings obviously saw the error of their ways (even if MacMahon may not agree).

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Ilo Ilo **** Directed by Anthony Chen. Leaving the Philippines to work in Singapore, Teresa is hired as a maid by a couple whose spoiled son delights in bullying and belittling her. Over time, the household dynamic shifts as the son comes to revere Teresa, much to his mom’s annoyance. Chen captures with both humor and heartbreaking realism the complicated mechanics of the family dynamic and how outside forces work to shape it.

Burning Bush **** Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Focuses on the personal sacrifice of Prague history student Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1969. Political thriller, procedural, emotional drama and a rousing cry for basic human rights and values.

The Fault in Our Stars *** Directed by Josh Boone. Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern. Teenager Hazel (Woodley), who has pushed people away since her cancer diagnosis, reluctantly joins a support group, where she bonds with a boy named Gus (Elgort). Together, they face the challenge of building a relationship under the shadow of terminal illness. It’s as is manipulative as can be, pulling out all the stops — kids with cancer — in its attempt to bring the tears. And you know what? It works.

The German Doctor *** Directed by Lucia Puenzo. The true story of an Argentine family who lived with Josef Mengele without knowing his true identity, and of a girl who fell in love with one of the most infamous Nazi war criminals of all time. The story-telling is a little too pat to deliver the surprise moments that reveal character or sweep audiences up emotionally. The film remains a creepy story with a lot of morbid fascination, set off by the captivating young Florencia Bado in her first screen role.

Godzilla *** Directed by Gareth Edwards. Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn. Godzilla rises from the sea once more in this remake of the original 1954 Japanese monster saga. In this version the fire-spewing giant sides with humanity to battle against equally terrifying beasts. An uneven spectacle that can’t sustain its solid first-half character moments. But the movie can also flash a surprising, often clever sense of legacy, and is intermittently thrilling.

Burt’s Buzz ** Directed by Jody Shapiro. The director ventures into the reclusive backwoods world of beekeeper Burt Shavitz. Shapiro fails to sell Shavitz as the "wise and wry, ornery and opinionated" figure that’s promised. No opinion, wise or otherwise, is uttered by this rustic quasi-eccentric, let alone a green ethos.

Think Like a Man Too Directed by Tim Story. Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Jenkins, Romany Malco, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Gary Owen, Gabrielle Union, All the couples are back for a wedding in Las Vegas, but plans for a romantic weekend go awry when their various misadventures get them into some compromising situations that threaten to derail the big event. Silly, unfunny and formulaic.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A passing worth noting

Frankie Valli (left) and Bob Crewe at the Broadway opening of Jersey Boys

Bob Crewe died Thursday and not much has been mentioned about it. Maybe it’s because Crewe was one of those "behind-the-scenes" music geniuses.

He is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. If he had only written one song, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, it would have qualified him for the Hall, but he, along with co-writer Bob Gaudio wrote most of the big hits made famous by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. He also wrote a song Bob Dylan recorded during his "basement tapes" sessions, although Dylan’s version of the song has never been released.

Crewe’s first major success came in 1957. He had started his own record label, XYZ, and one of the groups he signed to that label was The Rays. In 1957 he and Frank Slay Jr., a pianist from Dallas, co-wrote a song called Silhouettes, which The Rays recorded. The song was picked up by the larger Cameo Records label and climbed as high as No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. (The song came a hit again in 1965 for Herman’s Hermits and that’s the above-referenced song Dylan recorded.)

On the B-side of the Rays recording was another Crewe/Slay composition called Daddy Cool which became a Top 10 hit in 1957 for The Diamonds.

That success led Crewe and Slay to be signed with Swan Records and while there Crewe produced such hits as Lah Dee Dah for Billy and Lillie and Tallahassee Lassie for Freddy Cannon.

He teamed with Gaudio in the early 60s. Gaudio, at the time, was regarded somewhat of a boy wonder in the music business. At the age of 15, while singing with a group called The Royal Teens, he co-wrote its only hit, Short Shorts. Crewe’s and Gaudio’s first collaboration, Sherry, in 1962 for The Four Seasons. They later wrote (and Crewe produced) such additional Four Seasons hits as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Walk Like a Man and Bye, Bye Baby (Baby, Goodbye), Together with Sandy Linzer and Denny Randall, Crewe wrote my favorite Four Seasons hit, Let’s Hang On.

In the mid 1960s, he discovered a band called Billy Lee & the Rivieras. He renamed the group Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, which scored major hit singles with Crewe’s arrangements of such songs as Devil With a Blue Dress On and Jenny Take a Ride.

Crewe’s last major success came in 1975 when he co-wrote with Kenny Nolan the song Lady Marmalade that became a No. 1 hit for Labelle.

Crewe was featured prominently in the Broadway musical Jersey Boys about The Four Seasons.

In April of this year Crewe, who had been in declining health for several years, checked himself into a Scarborough, Maine, nursing home. He was 83 when he died there Thursday.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Goodell’s Goofs

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is taking a lot of heat tonight because it appears a police official sent the league office the nefarious tape of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice delivering a punch to his wife that knocked her unconscious in an Atlantic City, N.J., hotel elevator back in February. Not only that, the police official has a recording indicating someone in the NFL acknowledged receipt of the tape back in April and indicated the recipient actually viewed it, describing it as "terrible." This after Goodell went on CBS News earlier this week and said absolutely no one inside the NFL had seen the tape until TMZ.com released it to the world on Monday.

But I say Goodell has more than that to answer for and, in my mind, when the NFL received and first saw the tape is the least of his worries. Look, we already saw a rape of Rice and his then fiancée walking into the elevator. A few seconds later, another tape depicted Rice dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator. We saw these tapes back in August. And, if there was any question about what happened on the elevator, Rice answered that by admitting he hit her. So there’s that.

So Goodell responds by handing Rice a two-game suspension, illustrating to the world he doesn’t take violence against women seriously, To give him the only credit he’s due in this entire affair he later admitted, but only after being roundly criticized for his lenient treatment of Rice, that perhaps he made a mistake and announced future offenders would be punished more severely.

But here’s my problem with that. Goodell is still not interested in seeing justice is done or that the truth is revealed in this incident. From Day 1 until right this moment he has only been interested in protecting the brand and, in so doing, he has soiled it.

During his initial "investigation" into the crime, when he interviewed Janay Rice about the what happened in the elevator and the events surrounding it, he talked to her with both Rice and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in the room, sitting on either side of her. You kidding?

Earlier this week Goodell sent a letter to NFL owners saying "It would have been illegal for law enforcement to provide [the] Rice video to [the] NFL" Look the FBI claims it hired Secret Service and ex-FBI agents to look into this and now Goodell is trying to convince us those aces couldn’t get a copy of the tape but TMZ.com could? You kidding?

Then the NFL had the audacity to claim it was opening an "independent" investigation into how the league conducted itself in this matter and that a former FBI director no less, one Robert S. Mueller III, will conduct the investigation. Here’s my problem with that. At the same time the NFL said this so-called "independent investigation" will be overseen by two other attorneys, John Mara and Art Rooney. Oh, by the way, Mara is also the owner of the New York Giants and Rooney is the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. How can that be called "independent" by any stretch of the imagination? That would be like having Dick Cheney heading an "independent" investigation to whether the United States should have invaded Iraq. You kidding?

We are also told that the NFL is getting "serious" about domestic violence and will not tolerate it among their ranks. Sure. Fine. Whatever. San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested Aug. 31 for felony domestic violence after police were called to his home and discovered his fiancée with "visible injuries." McDonald made three tackles in last week's win over the Cowboys and the team plans to start him this weekend as well. On June 15, Carolina Panthers' all-pro defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting a female (his girlfriend) and communicating threats. (To seemed to be a particularly vicious attack, according to the police report and the victim's own account of the incident.) Hardy also played the opening weekend and is scheduled to start again Sunday. You kidding? So much for "zero tolerance."

How many more times will Goodell goof things up in this matter before he finally resigns or is fired? I, for one, have lost all trust in Goodell and the NFL "brand." I honestly believe millions of other Americans feel exactly the same way. How long will the NFL continue to let that trust and that brand corrode?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hang your head in shame, NFL, then fire it

I don’t need to see an actual video of a member of ISIS decapitating an innocent victim to know that the organization needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. Their bragging about it is more than enough to convince me.

Ray Rice
In February, Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice knocked his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an elevator at an Atlantic City, N.J., hotel. We know that it is true because (1) surveillance video cameras outside the elevator captured on film Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer from the elevator and (2) Rice subsequently admitted in court rendering the punch that knocked her out.

In July, the NFL handed Rice a two-game suspension, displaying to the whole world how little it regarded the seriousness of domestic violence. In the wake of the ensuing uproar among all decent individuals, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell backtracked, admitting the suspension was way too lenient and adding that from henceforth and forevermore any NFL player found to have committed any form of domestic violence (i.e., causing bodily harm to a woman) would be faced with a five-game suspension.

Janay Palmer
Today, TMZ.com, which discovered the initial video, released a copy of the above
video taken from a camera positioned inside the elevator in question, graphically showing Rice delivering the blow that knocked Palmer out. Baltimore Ravens officials said they were so aghast at the video that they were thowing Rice off the team and the NFL announced it was suspending Rice indefinitely.

What???? Just because you now see the video of the actual incident? How does seeing it change anything? You already knew exactly what happened inside that elevator on that day? And what happened has not changed simply because you can now see it for yourself.

The latest Roger the Dodger
Plus I am convinced the NFL is lying – that’s right, lying – when it claims that today was the first time they had seen the video from inside the elevator. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said he spoke to NFL officials who had seen the tape and who had told him what happened inside that elevator "wasn’t pretty." On July 29, Sports Illustrated NFL guru Peter King wrote:

There is one other thing I did not write or refer to, and that is the other videotape the NFL and some Ravens officials have seen, from the security camera inside the elevator at the time of the physical altercation between Rice and his fiancée. I have heard reports of what is on the video, but because I could not confirm them and because of the sensitivity of the case, I never speculated on the video in my writing, because I don’t think it is fair in an incendiary case like this one to use something I cannot confirm with more than one person. I cannot say any more, because I did not see the tape. I saw only the damning tape of Rice pulling his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator.
The NFL has acted shamefully in this matter. It is, without question, the most embarrassing moment in the history of the league. And Ray Rice should not be the only one punished because of it. Roger Goodell must go. He must tender his resignation immediately. Then, and only then, will the NFL be able to begin to remove the tarnish it applied to itself today.

The Wash Situation

Ron Washington congratulating Tony La Russa for out-managing him in 2011 World Series
Let me get this out in the open right at the outset: I am not a huge Ron Washington fan. I know the overwhelming majority of baseball fans in this area as well as most if not all the area sportswriters think the former Texas Rangers manager walks on water, but I’m not that convinced. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the Rangers win the 2011 World Series if Washington hadn’t completely bungled the pivotal Game 6.

Colby Lewis
For example, top of the fifth, Rangers up 4-3, two out, runner on third and Mike Napoli at the plate. For some reason I never understood, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa orders right-handed pitcher Fernando Salas to walk Napoli intentionally. Washington pinch hit David Murphy for Craig Gentry and Salas walks Murphy to load the bases. Next up for Texas is pitcher Colby Lewis. Washington had a lot of options at his disposal on the bench to possibly break the game wide open: left-hand hitters Mitch Moreland and Endy Chavez as well as the switch-hitting Esteban German. He also had a fresh bullpen. So what does Washington do? Unbelievably, he let Lewis hit for himself. (Curt Schilling twittered at that moment: "What in the hell is happening... Can't decide the worse move, Lewis hitting or Holland warming????") Lewis strikes out to end the inning.

Mike Adams
Now let’s go to the bottom of the eighth inning. Rangers are ahead 7-4 and appear on their way to a world championship. Left-hander Derek Holland is now on the mound for Texas. First Cardinal up is switch-hitting Lance Berkman who hits signicantly better against righties than lefties. Holland retired him on a foul ball. Next up for St. Louis are three consecutive right-hand hitters, Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina and Washington has one of the best right-hand relievers in the business, Mike Adams, who established a solid reputation for retiring righties in the eighth inning all season. Amazingly, Washington never even left the dugout. So what does Craig do against Holland? He homers. After that he brings in Adams who retires Freese and Molina. I’m betting Craig doesn’t hit a home run against Adams and the Rangers win Game 6 and the Series.

Earlier in that game the Rangers had runners on first and second, nobody out, again with Lewis up. The Cards sold out on the bunt and rushed their corner infielders toward the plate. When Washington saw this he should have waved off the bunt, but he didn’t and Lewis bunted into a double play.

Neftali Feliz
OK, I’ll grant you that Neftali Feliz, one of the game’s great closers, blew the ninth inning of that game. But the Rangers were back in front in the 10th thanks to Josh Hamilton’s two-run homer and the Cardinals had the bottom of their order due up. Send Feliz back out there. He was only 23 at the time had all winter to rest his young arm. If nothing else, bring in C.J. Wilson, one of the elite lefties in the league that year, as your reliever. But, no. Washington summons 41-year-old Darren Oliver from the bullpen. We all know what happened next.

Esteban German
Go back to Game 1 of the series which the Rangers lost 3-2. In the seventh inning, Texas had runners on first and second with two out and the next scheduled batter was relief pitcher Alexi Ogando. On the mound for St. Louis was lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Washington had two right-hand hitters on the bench: Yorvit Torrealba and, Matt Treanor plus the switch-hitting German. Torrealba had 108 hits during the regular season as well as four more in nine at-bats during the ALCS. He was tearing it up. Treanor didn’t play much in the second half of the season due to injury and, in fact, had not a hit since the All-Star break. German had only 5 hits the entire season, only a total of 22 hits in three major league seasons and had not even been to the plate in 24 games. Obviously, Torrealba is the logical choice but Washington pinch hits German who promptly strikes out to end the threat. The Ranger never had another runner on base the rest of the game. Now I’ll admit there’s no guarantee that Torrealba gets a hit I that situation but you simply don’t insert a pinch hitter into a pivotal moment in a World Series game who hasn’t batted in almost a month.

I’m not saying any single one of those bad decisions cost the Rangers the Series but put them all together and the evidence is obvious.

Now back to the present. I, for one, am not all that sorry to see Washington leave as the Rangers manager.

But I’m still mystified by the timiing and the reasoning. The reason given for his resignation was "personal issues," but general manager Jon Daniels went out of his way to assure the world it was in no way drug related (Washington had admitted to using cocaine in his past).

So here’s my theory.

Yu know who
One month ago, the Rangers placed their valuable ace Yu Darvish on the 15-day disabled list because of right elbow inflammation. I thought to myself at the time, that’s the last we’ll see of Darvish this year. The Rangers were in last place in the American League West with the worst record in baseball so what good would it do to bring Darvish back to get, what, maybe two more wins. Not at the risk of further damaging that valuable right arm. Darvish ranks right up there with Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in the majors. The Rangers invested vast sums of money in him. Why risk this investment as well as his and the team’s future by forcing him to pitch in meaningless games this year? And, then, a week or two into Darvish’s rehab period, Daniels suggested much the same thing.

Jon Daniels
Washington’s reaction was quick, hot-tempered and wrong. He said if Darvish was cleared by team doctors he should be out there on the mound, whether or not he was pitching in games of no importance, (He did, a couple of days, later apologize after, I must believe, wiser voices whispered in his ear.) But I think the damage had been done. I know I was thinking at the time that had I been in Darvish’s shoes I wouldn’t be thinking too highly of Washington right about that time. In fact, I might have even gone to my agent and told him to inform Daniels that, after this season ends, either he goes or I go.

So Daniels is left to ponder: Lemme see. Who’s more valuable to the Rangers future? Ron Washington, who bungled us out of the 2011 World Series, or Yu Darvish, runner up in last year’s Cy Young voting? Hmm, Washington or Darvish? Darvish or Washington? To me, the choice was obvious.

I’m not going way out on this limb and declare that’s what transpired, but until I get a better explanation …

By the way, the day after Washington’s resignation, Daniels officially announced Darvish would not pitch again the rest of the year. Coincidence? You convince me.

This Week’s DVD Releases

Ida **** Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Anna , a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation. Unfolds partly as chamber play and partly as road movie, following two women on a search for their dead beloveds’ anonymous graves.

Fed Up ***½ Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. An examination of America’s obesity epidemic and the food industry’s role in aggravating it. A formulaic and functional documentary that nevertheless proves effective at getting the message out about America’s addiction to unhealthy food.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ***½ Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). For sheer plotting and audience involvement, this is a notch above any of the other Avengers-feeding Marvel entries, the one that feels most like a real movie rather than a production line of ooh-and-ahh moments for fanboys.

Palo Alto *** Directed by Gia Coppola. Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff. Follows a group of disaffected teens in a wealthy California town who have money to burn but little parental supervision and even less direction. The story has something of a flow, but the film feels more like someone dropping in on the characters’ lives. It’s more about observation than connecting dots. This isn’t a detriment, particularly with strong performances to carry things along.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden *** Directed by Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine. Reading from letters, journals and memoirs, Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger and others help narrate this little-known tale of a handful of European dreamers whose relocation to the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s took a tragic turn. Unfortunately, while there’s enough fascinating material here for an hour-long documentary, this one runs two hours, with most of the present-day talking-head footage (interspersed throughout, to momentum-halting effect) feeling irrelevant.

Korengal *** Directed by Sebastian Junger. Picks up where the Academy Award nominated documentary Restrepo left off. Korengal goes a step further and explains how war works, what it feels like and what it does to the young men who fight it. This new film adds slices to our understanding of life in this war but not so much so that it feels essential.

Last Passenger *** Directed by Omid Nooshin. Weary single dad Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott) boards a train from London with his son and begins an unexpected flirtation with a stranger, but his interesting evening turns tragic when a madman seizes control of the train, forcing Lewis to take dramatic action. A sturdy runaway-train thriller that flaunts its influences but chugs up a decent amount of suspense.

Borgman *** Directed by Alex van Warmerdam. A vagrant enters the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare in the process. Van Warmerdam keeps things engrossingly ominous throughout, and Jan Bijvoet has a lot of fun with his passive-aggressive creepazoid, but Borgman is both too self-consciously odd and too bluntly punitive to draw real blood.

Willow Creek *** Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Determined to track down and film the Bigfoot creature that he’s convinced lurks in Northern California’s wilderness, Jim Kessel (Bryce Johnson) heads into the forest with his girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore). They soon discover, however, that they’re the ones being hunted. Goldthwait is just having too much fun with his bantering couple and the eccentric, guitar-playing Bigfoot fanatics they encounter; the climax feels like an afterthought, the obligatory mayhem he had to provide as justification for making a shaggy romantic comedy about the cult of Sasquatch.

The Hornet’s Nest *** Directed by David Salzberg, Christian Tureaud. Armed only with their cameras, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning conflict journalist Mike Boettcher, and his son, Carlos, provide unprecedented access into the longest war in U.S. history. An important film despite some baffling presentational choices.

God’s Pocket **½ Directed by John Slattery. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro. Blue collar worker (Hoffman) tries to cover things up when his stepson is killed in a suspicious construction accident, but a local reporter senses that something’s amiss. As he’s backed into a corner by the truth, Mickey struggles to find a way out. The film only intermittently displays the snap, precision and stylistic smarts a mixed-tone project like this requires; a half-good effort is not enough where buoyancy and a sly-to-mean spiritedness are required at all times.

Words and Pictures ** Directed by Fred Schepsi. Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche. An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important. Owen and Binoche both are quite good, rising above the material for the most part. But even they can’t save the film from itself, or from an ending that’s downright bizarre.

Brick Mansions ** Directed by Camille Delamarre. Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA. A Detroit undercover cop (Walker) fights a constant battle to stem a tide of crime and corruption. As a ruthless drug lord makes apocalyptic plans for the city, he teams with an ex-con to foil the plot. It’s essentially a collection of shoddily edited action sequences, underpinned by a monotonous narrative that has no purpose, let alone moral heart to reward viewers’ waning attention.

A Long Way Down Directed by Pascal Chaumeil. Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots. When a faded TV personality (Brosnan) decides to end his life on New Year’s Eve by jumping off a London skyscraper, he meets three strangers who had the exact same plan. There are moments of tenderness and honest human emotion buried in this frustrating movie, but the viewer one has to work far too hard and give far too much credit to the over-qualified cast to grab at them.

Louder Than Words * Directed by Anthony Fabian. David Duchovny, Hope Davis, Timothy Hutton. After the unexpected death of their daughter, a couple works to build a state of the art children’s hospital where families are welcomed into the healing process. At every turn, the movie is less moving than the real-life events that inspired it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Pre-season rank in parenthesis

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Night Moves ***½ Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard. With their collective eye fixed on blowing up a hydroelectric dam, a pair of young environmentalists enlist the help of an ex-military explosives expert to carry out a dangerous act of eco-terrorism. Don’t expect Hitchcock or De Palma here — Reichardt is much too low-key and modest for such crowd-pleasing pyrotechnics — but one long, sustained shot near the end seems to suggest that people who are convinced they are doing the right thing are capable of great evil.

They Came Together *** Directed by David Wain. Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler. Candy company executive Joel falls for Molly, who owns a corner candy store he’s tasked with closing. This rough-edged parody feels both distinctive and handmade, and for those reasons alone it’s a hard movie to hate, even when it temporarily loses its comic footing. Anyway, as romantic comedies down the ages have taught us, hatred is just a latent form of love.

For No Good Reason **½ Directed by Charlie Paul. Ralph Steadman, Johnny Depp, Richard E. Grant, Terry Gilliam, Jann Wenner. Depp pays a visit to Steadman, the artist and the last of the original Gonzo visionaries who worked alongside Hunter S. Thompson. Early on, Steadman talks about his humor needing to have a "slightly maniacal" edge. For No Good Reason has no such thing; it’s gently informative and amusing the whole way through.

Draft Day **½ Directed by Ivan Reitman. Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner. On the day of the NFL player draft, Cleveland general manager Sonny Weaver trades up to get the first pick. While his decision may save football in his city, it just might cost him his girlfriend and his team. These interesting performers can’t save a dull script. To work, Draft Day needs the kind of witty dialogue and snappy energy that Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin brought to Moneyball but the screenwriters mistake constant activity for actual screenwriting.

Citizen Koch **½ Directed by Carl Deal, Tia Lessin. A documentary that follows the money behind the rise of the Tea Party. For those who don’t know how flawed and manipulated the act of casting a ballot has become, Citizen Koch is a decent enough primer, but for everyone else long past the tipping point, this is just more evidence for a problem that currently has no solution.

Cabin Feature: Patient Zero * Directed by Kaare Andrews. A group of friends planned the perfect vacation in the Caribbean, but when they head ashore to explore a remote island, they unleash a deadly virus. Less methodical and witty than its predecessors, Patient Zero often turns its infected characters into mindless, lurching zombies.

Moms’ Night Out * Directed by Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin. Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton, Trace Adkins. Yearning for an evening of dinner and conversation that does not involve their children, Allyson (Drew) and her friends plan a night on the town. To be able to do this, however, their husbands need to watch the kids for a few hours. You have to wonder why Allyson doesn’t just hire a nanny, find a job and get out of the house. Ah, but this is a Christian movie, and once it stops pelting an audience with comic incident, it begins preaching.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Preseason Top 25 College Football Teams

1.  Florida State
2.  Alabama
3.  Oregon
4.  Stanford
5.  South Carolina
6.  Auburn
7.  Michigan State
8.  Oklahoma
9.  Baylor
10. UCLA
11. Ohio State
12. Clemson
13. LSU
14. Southern California
15. Missouri
16. Wisconsin
17. Oklahoma State
18. Georgia
19. Arizona State
20. Washington
21. Texas A&M
22. Louisville
23. Kansas State
24. Mississippi
25. Notre Dame

Richard Attenborough (Aug. 29, 1923-Aug. 24, 2014)

My most memorable Richard Attenborough moment came not from Gandi or The Great Escape or even Jurassic Park. It occurred on a drizzly afternoon in New York City. I had left work at the World Journal Tribune and was racing across Times Square. Because it was drizzling I decided to seek shelter in a place that always beckoned me -- a movie theater. I don't think I even noticed precisely what film was playing.

The movie I saw that afternoon was called Oh What a Lovely War, the first film Attenborough directed. I sat in the theater stunned at the film's audacity and was absolutely mesmerized by the helicopter shot Attenborough used to end the film. After it was all over, I just sat in my seat, completely overwhelmed. Not so the rest of the audience, however. In something I had never seen before (or since), the audience rose in unison and applauded the now blank screen for more than 10 minutes. The standing ovation was well deserved.

Attenborough, who died Sunday after a long illness which caused him to move into a nursing home in March 2013, went on, of course to direct other films: Young Winston (1972) A Bridge Too Far (1977), and, of course, Gandhi (1982) a project he started in 1964 and for which he won an Oscar. I didn't care for most the films he directed after 1982: A Chorus Line (1985 [although I loved the original Broadway musical]), the preachy Cry Freedom, and Chaplin (1992). Then he came back superbly with Shadowlands (1993).

My favorite moment from Attenborough the actor came with one of my all-time favorite, little-seen (at least by today's audiences) films, 1964's Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Kim Stanley had the more scene-chewing role as the unstable medium who convinces her brow-beaten husband (Attenborough) to kidnap a child so that she can convince the world that she used her psychic abilities to solve the crime. Watch this scene in which Stanley tells Attenborough it's time to their make move. Every note he plays here is exactly the right one.

One of my favorite little known facts about Attenborough was that he was a huge football fan and his favorite team was Chelsea. He was a director of the club from 1962 until 1982 and between 1993 and 2008 he was Chelsea's Life Vice President, an honorary position. On Nov. 30, 2008 Chelsea named Attenborough the team's Life President. One of his greatest personal disappointments was that he never could get the funding to make the movie he so desperately wanted to make, a film based on the life of Thomas Paine, whom Attenborough called "one of the finest men that ever lived."

Attenborough's life had its share of tragedy -- on Dec. 26, 2004, his oldest daughter, her mother-in-law and his 15-year-old granddaughter were killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Thailand that day.

But I'll always remember Attenborough for that closing scene in Oh What a Lovely War and his acting in Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and that's more than enough.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Double ***½ Directed by Richard Ayoade. Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska. A clerk (Eisenberg) in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite — confident, charismatic and seductive with women. Judicious editing helps to maintain the illusion of two actors, though the quick-speaking Wasikowska, as the twins’ flighty, mercurial object of desire, in some ways has the subtlest task — and often steals scenes from her co-star(s).

Belle *** Directed by Amma Asante. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson,Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson. The mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle in 18th century England. It feels a little like a lesson you’re supposed to learn before you can enjoy anything truly satisfying.

Young & Beautiful *** Directed by François Ozob. Marine Vacth, Geraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling, Johan Leysen. After losing her virginity, Isabelle (Vacth) takes up a secret life as a call girl, meeting her clients for hotel-room trysts. Throughout, she remains curiously aloof, showing little interest in the encounters themselves or the money she makes. Never amounts to anything more than its title’s shallow descriptors.

Trust Me **½ Directed by Clark Gregg. Clark Gregg, Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, William H. Macy, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, Molly Shannon, Saxon Sharbino, Paul Sparks. In an attempt to sign a Hollywood starlet, struggling talent agent and former child star Howard Holloway (Gregg) must contend with her volatile father, a scheming long-time rival, and a producer and casting director who despise him. Mixing comedy, drama, satire and noir, the Marvel actor’s second outing behind the camera plays for the same kind of uncomfortable laughs that his 2008 dramedy Choke did, but this one gazes so deeply into Hollywood’s navel that, with the affable Gregg in practically every scene, it ultimately can’t escape the whiff of a vanity project.

Blended Directed by Frank Corachi. Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore. After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship. It’s a good family movie the way Hooters is a good family restaurant.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return * Directed by Will Finn, Daniel St. Pierre. Voices of Lea Michele, Dan Akroyd, Kelsey Grammer, James Belushi, Megan Hilty, Hugh Dancer, Oliver Platt, Patrick Stewart. Dorothy (Michele) wakes up in post-tornado Kansas, only to be whisked back to Oz to try to save her old friends the Scarecrow (Aykroyd) , the Lion (Belushi), the Tin Man (Grammer) and Glinda (Bernadette Peters) from a devious new villain, the Jester (Martin Short). This is one of those movies that parents will have to ask themselves if they love their child enough to watch it with them. At least The Nut Job is off the hook as the worst indie-made animated feature of the year.

Monday, August 18, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Manakamana ****½ Directed by Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez. A documentary about a group of pilgrims who travel to Nepal to worship at the legendary Manakamana temple. A haunting experience, one that requires patience (and then some) but that offers spiritual, philosophical, and aesthetic rewards beyond the immediate power of words to describe.

The Empty Hours **** Directed by Aarón Fernández Lesur. On the desolated coast of Veracruz, 17 year-old Sebastián (Kristyan Ferrer) takes over running his uncle’s small and cozy rent-by-the hour motel. There he meets Miranda (Adriana Paz), a regular customer who comes to the motel to meet a lover who always keeps her waiting. Full of long takes and matter-of-fact performances, melancholy low-contrast cinematography and desolate vistas suffused with acute loneliness, The Empty Hours captures the feeling of idling away the time, waiting for something to arrive.

Only Lovers Left Alive **** Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Depressed over the state of the human world, underground musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) — a vampire — hooks up again with Eve (Tilda Swinton), his mysterious lover of many centuries. Jarmusch has made a vampire movie, but, as you might expect, not just any old vampire movie. Twilight fans will not be amused, but Jarmusch’s usual coterie of art-film followers will likely find the movie his best in years. With Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt.

The Dance of Reality ***½ Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Chilean filmmaker Jodorowsky weaves the story of his early years with mythical themes, recounting his unhappy childhood and how he was molded by a tyrannical communist father and free-spirited mother amid a landscape of political turmoil. This film, which deserves a place alongside Amarcord as a fantastical take on coming of age, is the work of a wise and experienced old soul with the heart and curiosity of a young man in love with life.

Go For Sisters *** Directed by John Sayles. Just out of prison, Fontayne (Yolanda Ross) is enlisted by Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton), her estranged old friend and current parole officer, along with a disgraced cop (Edward James Olmos) to search for Bernice’s son, who went missing on the Mexican border. Like too many of Sayles’ films, this one seems bound to slip through the cracks, not quite memorable enough to make a lasting impression.

Fading Gigolo *** Directed by John Turturro. Middle-aged Fioravante (Turturro) and Murray (Woody Allen) are an unlikely gigolo and pimp in this farce about two cash-strapped friends who turn to the sex trade to make ends meet. A low-energy drama, but the kind that has a way of holding your attention — and keeping you smiling — for the entire time you’re watching it, lifting your mood in the process. With Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 **½ Directed by Marc Webb. Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) squares off against the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and the powerful Electro (Jamie Foxx) while struggling to keep his promise to leave Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) out of his dangerous life. There are too many explosions, too many blaring sonic effects, too many break-ups-and-make-ups, too many villains. And not enough heart.

The Sacrament **½ Directed by Ti West. Another one of those "found footage" films that recounts the story of an exiled Christian cult and the grisly events that transpire after three journalists — one looking for his missing sister — arrive at the commune. Because the film is meant to resemble documentary footage, West is forced to effectively "play dumb," disguising his craftsmanship behind a lot of intentionally cruddy handheld camerawork. Still, that’d be less of a problem if the material he was gracelessly filming weren’t such run-of-the-mill claptrap.

The Quiet Ones ** Directed by John Pogue. Charismatic Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) and a few of his brightest students set out to summon a poltergeist. There are a couple of decent jumps and a few giggles, but nothing armrest-clenchingly scary about this movie.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Plastic Bag Ban? What Plastic Bag Ban?

Born-again environmentalist D-Wayne Carriedaway, that District 4 Dallas city councilman who desperately wants to become mayor and hopes to achieve his goal through sheer bombast, came up with this idea that has become very popular among green cities: banning the use of plastic shopping bags.

Dallas wants you to believe it’s a "green city" and, in a moment of kindness, I’m willing to admit the city is lima bean green, at best. I also firmly believe a majority of Dallas citizens, when it is made clear to them all the harmful environmental effects as well as the detrimental financial effects resulting from the use of plastic bags, would support an all-out ban of plastic bags by a significant majority. Bans like those in already in effect in Austin; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Wasington, D.C.; Portland, Ore., and others. However, those who donate big bucks to the election coffers of those running for the Dallas City Council oppose an all-out ban by an even more significant majority. So, of course, Carriedaway’s Crusade had as much a chance of success as his hopes for higher office.

What he wound up settling for was an ordinance that allows store customers to continue to take their goods home in plastic bags, but they must pay 25 cents for each bag they use. (I still haven’t heard how this is going to be enforced at the self-checkout lanes, but that’s another story.) I guess Carriedaway figured (1) merchants would get weary of maintaining a separate product category for plastic bags, complete with their own scannable bar codes and/or (2) customers would quickly tire of shelling out 25 cents for a plastic bag and start using reusable shopping bags. Either one of those options would mean the end of plastic bags as we know them in Dallas. I don’t think either of those possible outcomes is realistic. Why?

Last night, in CFO Jeanne Chipperfield’s slide presentation during council member Adam Medrano’s budget town hall meeting, Ms. Chipperfield displayed a slide titled "Clean, Healthy Environment." The second bullet on that slide was: "Initiate enforcement of City’s new single-use bag ordinance." During the Q&A session following her presentation, one audience member asked Ms. Chipperfield what that bullet meant. Ms. Chipperfield replied "So (that’s the word she uses to begin the answer to every question directed her way) then went on to explain, from the city’s point of view, the purpose of the audience without ever once saying the "b" word, which led me to believe that word has been (pardon me for this) banned for use by city officials. She told the audience that the city nets 5 cents for every bag sold, money she suggested, would be used to pay for enforcing the ordinance. So, great news, folks, this ordinance pays for itself.

But the fact that the ordinance pays for itself was not what I was thinking when Ms. Chipperfield forecast the city would collect some $2 million in the 10 months of the fiscal year during which the ordinance will be law. What I was thinking was that amounts to 40 million new plastic bags introduced to the Dallas environment, 40 million additional plastic bags that will clog our water systems, strangle endangered wildlife and bringing a quicker demise to our landfill.

And Dallas has the gall to want to call itself a "green city."