Sunday, November 29, 2015

No explanations necessary

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 10-1 (2)
2.  Clemson 11-0 (1)
3.  Oklahoma 10-1 (4)
4.  Ohio State 10-1 (3)
5.  Notre Dame 10-1 (5)
6.  Baylor 9-1 (9)
7.  Michigan State 10-1 (11)
8.  Iowa 11-0 (7)
9.  Oklahoma State 10-1 (6)
10. Stanford 9-2 (12)
11. Michigan 9-2 (14)
12. Florida 10-1 (8)
13. Navy 9-1 (15)
14. North Carolina 10-1 (16)
15. TCU 9-2 (10)
16. Mississippi 8-3 (21)
17. Florida State 9-2 (19)
18. Oregon 8-3 (NR)(
19. Mississippi State 8-3 (24)
20. LSU 7-3 (17)
21. Utah 8-3 (18)
22. Toledo 9-1 (NR)
23. Northwestern 9-2 (NR)
24. UCLA 8-3 (NR)
25. Houston 10-1 (13)
Dropped out: USC, Memphis, Wisconsin, Arkansas

Monday, November 23, 2015

Something to think about

Muslims have died defending the freedom of millions of Americans to say hateful things about them.

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Square ***½ Directed by Jehane Noujaim. A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience. An electrifying, at times heartbreaking documentary from the Egyptian-born, Harvard-educated documentarian Noujaim.

Shaun the Sheep Movie ***½ Directed by Mark Burton, Richard Starzak. Animated tale that follows roguish alpha-sheep Shaun, who schemes to take a day off by lulling the Farmer to sleep. Delivers exactly what it promises: The cutest, most innocuous entertainment this side of internet panda videos.

Twinsters ***½ Directed by Samantha Futerman, Ryan Miyamoto. Alerted to a You Tube video featuring a woman who bears an eerie resemblance to her, adoptee Anaïs Bordier makes contact with her lookalike via social media and the two discover they’re twins who were separated at birth. An enjoyable ride, made with vigorous love and creativity, which is more than enough reason to recommend it. Especially to siblings.

Sand Dollars ***½ Directed by Israel Cardenas, Laura Amelia Guzman. At a seaside Dominican resort, the long relationship between aging French lesbian Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) and her 21-year-old lover, Noelí (Yanet Mojica) — who’s paid for her services — begins to disintegrate when Noelí gets pregnant. Guzmán and Cárdenas present this tropical island as both Anne’s romantic refuge and Noelí’s exploitative landscape, a beautiful, enchanting — and realistic — Eden where snakes are merely snakes.

A Hard Day *** Directed by Seong-hoon Kim. After trying to cover up a car accident that left a man dead, a crooked homicide detective is stalked by a mysterious man claiming to have witnessed the event. Has a breakneck pace that allows one to easily dismiss the more ridiculous, downright nonsensical aspects of its plot. Only occasionally will the eyes roll. For the most part, it works.

1971 *** Directed by Johanna Hamilton. Eight antiwar activists broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office in 1971 and made off with a treasure trove of documents revealing a massive illegal surveillance program. Now, in Hamilton’s fiery truth-to-power documentary, those gray-haired agitators finally step out of the shadows to explain what they did and why they did it (with the help of some slightly hokey dramatic reenactments). Their message — namely, Who will watch the watchmen? — remains as important today as it was 44 years ago.

Ricki and the Flash ** Directed by Jonathan Demme. A musician (Meryl Streep) who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. This is a sour movie masquerading as something more cheerful. In that attempted deception the film is both helped and hindered by an indispensable performance by Streep.

Cut Snake ** Directed by Tony Ayres. A pair of ex-cons hatch a scheme to burn down a nightclub in Brisbane. It’s in the accelerating spiral of crime that the weaknesses of the script and direction become hard to ignore.

American Ultra ** Directed by Nima Nourizadeh. Mike Howell’s (Jesse Eisenberg) indolent life as a small-town stoner is abruptly upended when he comes to realize that he’s a trained sleeper agent for a foreign foe and that U.S. government operatives have marked him for death. The movie is replete with bloody encounters, sly asides, and one-liners, but the tone is awkward and uneven. There are also some serious structural problems that we’re supposed to brush aside.

A Christmas Horror Story ** Directed by Grant Harvey, Steve Hoban, Brett Sullivan. Interweaves four horror-styled yuletide yarns including one where Santa Claus finds himself pitted against a horde of zombie elves, and another where a family inadvertently conjures a primordial Christmas demon. As horror movies go, this one’s not especially tense or scary. Instead, it’s eerie, provocative and at times ridiculously violent. The ending feels like a cop-out after so much creative mayhem.

No EscapeDirected by John Erick Dowdle. In their new overseas home, an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape from an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed. I won’t make a case for No Escape being a good film; the first half is pretty good and the second half ranges from pretty bad to truly awful. Nor will I deny having enjoyed quite a bit of it as a zombie film, never mind that it’s supposed to be an international thriller with contemporary political significance.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Excluding refugees makes us less safe

Imagine for a second you’re a high school senior getting ready to embark on your collegiate adventures. And you have decided that becoming a member of a fraternity or a sorority will greatly enhance that college experience. You are being courted quite actively by one particular Greek house, but that’s not one you have any interest in joining. However, the one you really desire to join wants no part of you. So the second house steps up its recruiting efforts, telling you they will give you plenty of opportunities to "get even" with those that slammed the door in your face. Makes that house a lot more appealing, doesn’t it.

That, in a nutshell, is ISIS’s recruiting strategy. It offers a refuge for the disaffected, the disenfranchised and tells them it will teach them how to get even with those who disaffected and disenfranchised them.

Remember, last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris were not carried out by Syrian refugees, but individuals of the Muslim faith born and raised in France or Belgium, Muslims ISIS managed to recruit because they were somehow alienated by their government. (The Syrian passport found on one terrorist turned out to be a forgery.)

According to figures I came across, there are some 140,000 Muslims in Texas, comprising about .7 percent of the state’s total population. Now these 140,000 are hearing from our state’s highest elected officials "We don’t want you and your kind here and we’re going to do everything we can to keep the doors closed to you and your kind." All ISIS needs to do is isolate three or four of those 140,000 to wreak havoc in some major metropolitan area of Texas and the actions by Gov. Greg Abbott will go along way to making it easier for ISIS to find those three or four or more.

His actions are stupid, irresponsible and make us far less safe.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Two REALLY bad movie ideas

According to the trade bible Variety, AMBI pictures plans to produce a remake of the classic Memento. Are you freaking kidding me??? This is a cult classic and the members of its cult can recite every line, re-enact every scene, at the drop of a hat. What could possibly be gained from remaking this picture?

Then I heard that Ridley Scott apparently wants to redeem himself for having unleashed the comparatively awful Prometheus upon the world, so he's going to make yet another Alien film, this one apparently called Alien: Covenant. Doesn't he know when it's time to leave well enough alone?

My Top 25 College Football Teams

The College Football Playoff Committee has actually agreed with my top four the last two weeks. However, I would be shocked to discover the committee is knowledgeable enough to see it my way three weeks in a row. As usual, the number in parenthesis is that team's rank last week.

1.  Alabama 9-1 (2)
2.  Clemson 10-0 (1)
3.  Ohio State 10-0 (3)
4.  Oklahoma 9-1 (10)
5.  Notre Dame 9-1 (4)
6.  Oklahoma State 10-0 (5)
7.  Florida 9-1 (11)
8.  Iowa 10-0 (9)
9.  Baylor 8-1 (7)
10. TCU 9-1 (12)
11. Michigan State 9-1 (15)
12. Stanford 8-2 (6)
13. Michigan 8-2 (14)
14. North Carolina 9-1 (19)
15. Navy 8-1 (16)
16. Houston 10-0 (18)
17. LSU 7-2 (8)
18. Utah 8-2 (13)
19. Florida State 8-2 (24)
20. USC 7-3 (17)
21. Mississippi 7-3 (22)
22. Wisconsin 8-2 (23)
23. Memphis 8-2 (21)
24. Mississippi State 7-3 (20)
25. Arkansas 6-4 (NR)
Dropped out: UCLA

This Week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Meru *** Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Three elite climbers set out to scale the imposing Shark’s Fin on India’s Mount Meru. Blindingly beautiful and meticulously assembled by the award-winning editor Bob Eisenhardt, Meru easily makes you forget that what you are watching is completely bananas.

The Stanford Prison Experiment *** Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. Conducting a study on the psychology of incarceration, a Stanford professor assigns prisoner and guard roles to 24 male test subjects in a mock jail. Even with some familiar faces, this film feels like an honest-to-goodness documentary — a high compliment for a movie based on an infamous college project.

Jimmy’s Hall **½ Directed by Ken Loach. After being deported from Ireland to the United States, political firebrand Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to his hometown a decade later and reopens the dance hall he once ran as a gathering place for youngsters, much to the dismay of community leaders. Loach’s staging is so calm and sober that it turns his story into an expertly photographed yet weirdly remote rebellion tale.

The Wanted 18 **½ Directed by Paul Cowan, Amer Shomali. A small Palestinian village buys 18 cows and stops buying Israeli milk. Imaginatively interspersing testimonials with re-enactments, comic panels and Claymation, the film plays out like an entertaining absurdist satire.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ** Directed by Guy Ritchie. In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Ritchie manages a promising first act. But at the whim of the action movie formula, and ostensibly nothing else, priorities shift as the story carries forward. When we’re asked later on to attend to escalating stakes and a dimming tone, we’re simply left wondering what happened to all the fun.

Trash ** Directed by Stephen Daldry, Christian Duurvoort. Three kids who make a discovery in a Brazilian garbage dump soon find themselves running from the cops and trying to right a terrible wrong. While once upon a time Daldry made a very good movie (Billy Elliot), here he lets what should’ve been an efficient little thriller get stymied by an excess of style, and the weight of self-importance.

We Are Your Friends ** Directed by Max Joseph. While trying to break through as a DJ in Hollywood’s competitive club scene, ambitious Cole Carter (Zac Efron) finds a mentor in James (Wes Bentley), a charismatic older DJ. But complications arise when Cole makes the mistake of falling for James’ young girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski). Besides Bentley’s performance, the only thing this has going for it is the occasional directorial flourish, with words on screen or characters addressing the camera or that painterly drug trip. These jolts are few and far between, but they’re most welcome when they arise.

Monday, November 9, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Tangerine ***½ Directed by Sean Baker. A working girl (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) tears through Los Angeles on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp (James Ransone) who broke her heart. A groundbreaking film that leaves you in stitches while quietly breaking your heart.

Trainwreck *** Directed by Judd Apatow. Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman (Amy Schumer) may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy (Bill Hader). There’s a lot thrown in here for two hours, and Apatow could easily have lost about 30 minutes of high jinks and gotten the point across that everybody has their somebody. Yet with Schumer driving the action, Trainwreck may be his most impactful film yet.

Mala Mala *** Directed by Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles. A documentary about the transgender culture told through the eyes of nine trans-identifying individuals in Puerto Rico. After spending time with all nine of these sometimes-gutsy, sometimes-conflicted women and men, it’s impossible not to feel a deeper appreciation for their struggle to feel like the skin they live in is genuinely their home.

Far From Men *** Directed by David Oelhoffen. In 1954 rural Algeria, French teacher Daru (Viggo Mortensen) is given the task of escorting an Arab man accused of murder to the town where the trial is to take place. The film often suggests a less defiant cover of The Defiant Ones, yet it should be seen for Mortensen’s characteristically wonderful performance.

Mr. Holmes *** Directed by Bill Condon. An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), deals with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. This is a ruminative film of minor-key rewards, driven by an impeccably nuanced performance from McKellen as a solitary 93-year-old man enfeebled by age, yet still canny and even compassionate in ways that surprise and comfort him.

Zarafa **½ Directed by Rémi Bezançon, Jean-Christophe Lie. A 10-year-old boy journeys from Africa to France to save an orphaned baby giraffe from a life in captivity. May not be the most groundbreaking feat of storytelling, but it does have a giraffe in a balloon.

Advantageous **½ Directed by Jennifer Phang. When age threatens her job as spokesperson for a radical procedure that offers lasting youth, a single mom (Jacqueline Kim) decides to undergo the treatment. It’s a kick to see how effectively Phang has created the future on a shoestring even if she hasn’t yet figured out how to turn all her smart ideas into a fully realized feature.

Terminator GenisysDirected by Alan Taylor. A prequel to the original Terminator story. Feels like being trapped in a conversation with a child breathlessly recounting the highlights of all the preceding Terminator movies.

We’ll Never Have Paris Directed by Simon Helberg, Jocelyn Towne. After unintentionally breaking up with his longtime girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey) while trying to propose, a neurotic, vacillating man-child (Helberg) pursues her to Paris. This film requires so many leaps of faith and suspensions of disbelief that you might develop acrophobia.

Self/less Directed by Tarsem Singh. A dying real estate mogul (Ben Kingsley) transfers his consciousness into a healthy young body (Ryan Reynolds). Eventually, you start to wonder if the movie forgot to take its own pills: What starts out as an interesting exploration of identity soon gives way to the uninspired, generic action flick I had feared it always was.

Pay the Ghost * Directed by Uli Edel. A professor (Nicolas Cage) searches for his son who was abducted during a Halloween parade. This somnolent supernatural thriller is a low-energy wash from start to finish.

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Got it all figured out a little earlier than usual this week. Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1.  Clemson 9-0 (1)
2.  Alabama 8-1 (4)
3.  Ohio State 9-0 (2)
4.  Notre Dame 8-1 (6)
5.  Oklahoma State 9-0 (13)
6.  Stanford 8-1 (11)
7.  LSU 7-1 (3)
8.  Baylor 8-0 (10)
9.  Iowa 9-0 (9)
10. Oklahoma 8-1 (12)
11. Florida 8-1 (8)
12. TCU 8-1 (5)
13. Utah 8-1 (14)
14. Michigan 7-2 (16)
15. Michigan State 8-1 (7)
16. Navy 7-1 (NR)
17. North Carolina 8-1 (24)
18. USC 6-3 (18)
19. Houston 9-0 (19)
20. Mississippi State 7-2 (21)
21. Mississippi 7-3 (17)
22. Memphis 8-1 (15)
23. Wisconsin 8-2 (25)
24. Florida State 7-2 (20)
25. UCLA 7-2 (NR)
Dropped out: Texas A&M, Toleo

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Incidentally, the committee got the top four teams right. Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1.  Clemson 8-0 (1)
2.  Ohio State 8-0 (2)
3.  LSU 7-0 (3)
4.  Alabama 7-1 (4)
5.  TCU 8-0 (6)
6.  Notre Dame 7-1 (5)
7.  Florida 7-1 (12)
8.  Michigan State 8-0 (9)
9.  Iowa 8-0 (8)
10. Baylor 7-0 (7)
11, Stanford 7-1 (10)
12. Oklahoma 7-1 (11)
13. Oklahoma State 8-0 (16)
14. Utah 7-1 (13)
15. Memphis 8-0 (14)
16. Michigan 6-2 (15)
17. Mississippi 7-2 (17)
18. USC 5-3 (20)
19. Houston 8-0 (22)
20. Florida State 7-1 (18)
21. Mississippi State 6-2 (19)
22. Texas A&M 6-2 (24)
23. Toledo 7-0 (25)
24. North Carolina 7-1 (NR)
25. Wisconsin 7-2 (NR)
Dropped out: UCLA, Temple

Monday, November 2, 2015

This week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Inside Out **** Directed by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen. After young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling)and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) — conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. Pixar’s 15th feature proves to be the greatest idea the toon studio has ever had: a stunningly original concept that will not only delight and entertain the company’s massive worldwide audience, but also promises to forever change the way people think about the way people think, delivering creative fireworks grounded by a wonderfully relatable family story.

Seymour: An Introduction ***½ Directed by Ethan Hawke. A documentary that examines the life and times of piano teacher Seymour Bernstein, who chose teaching and composition over the chance to pursue a career as a concert pianist. The 81 minutes spent in Bernstein’s funny, touching and vital presence is something you don’t want to miss.

The End of the Tour ***½ Directed by James Ponsoldt. The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, Infinite Jest. Intimate, soul-baring, and winning, this is a special, lovely little gem.

Best of Enemies *** Directed by Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville. A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. An outstanding account of a pivotal moment in television history.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine *** Directed by Michael Josue. A documentary that recounts Shepard’s brief life and his grisly murder in 1998 that had a stunning effect on the American public and brought the legacy of hostility toward gays into focus. Josue’s film is not consistently effective in bridging her personal story with Shepard’s well-known legacy, but there are striking moments that explore the limits of forgiveness.

Digging for Fire *** Directed by Joe Swanberg. The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband (Jake Johnson) and wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) on separate adventures over the course of a weekend. More lightweight than its ample talk of weighty subjects suggests, the film is nevertheless enjoyable.

Do I Sound Gay? **½ Directed by David Thorpe. A documentary about the stereotype of the gay voice. Gets into the mysteries of homosexual attraction and eroticism, and suggests that if Thorpe wants the kind of long-term relationship that Takei, Sedaris, and Savage have, he’ll have to get over his fetishization of the macho and learn to accept himself. That’s a poignant, powerful conclusion, all from asking one question.

Roar **½ Directed by Noel Marshall. Jungle beasts assemble in flocks to invade an otherwise quiet home where they chase humans up and down stairways and from one room to another. Something this bad can’t help but be good.

Tap World **½ Directed by Dean Hargrove. A documentary detailing a renaissance in tap dancing. It would be better if it had a bit less proclaiming and a bit more nuts-and-bolts information, but still, it’s refreshing to see people bubbling over with enthusiasm for an art that is somewhat out of the mainstream.

The Final Girls **½ Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Not every joke lands and it’s not as consistently funny as it could have been, but at its best, The Final Girls evokes the offbeat silliness of David Wain’s parody films like Wet Hot American Summer and They Came Together.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ** Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. A 10-year-old cartographer secretly leaves his family’s ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute. For all it boasts in ingenious style, this genial American yarn lacks the delicious bile of Jenuet’s early days.

A LEGO Brickumentary ** Directed by Kief Davidson, Daniel Junge. A look at the global culture and appeal of the LEGO building-block toys. Even the interesting parts of this documentary aren’t that interesting, but are rather more like the best thing you might hear while being cornered by the most boring person at a party.

She’s Funny That Way ** Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. On the set of a playwright’s new project, a love triangle forms between his wife, her ex-lover, and the call girl-turned-actress cast in the production. Posted as a love letter to the classic screwball comedies of Hollywood’s golden age, but delivers ersatz Woody Allen instead; it’s like Bullets Over Broadway minus the mob plot and 90 percent of the charm.

VacationDirected by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein. Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes his own family on a road trip to Walley World in order to spice things up with his wife (Christina Applegate) and reconnect with his sons. One of the most repellent, mean-spirited gross-out comedies it’s ever been my squirmy displeasure to sit through.

Before We Go * Directed by Chris Evans. Two strangers stuck in Manhattan for the night grow into each other’s most trusted confidants when an evening of unexpected adventure forces them to confront their fears and take control of their lives. A talky, contrived and ultimately tedious actors’ exercise.

Some Kind of Hate * Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. A bullied teenager is sent to a reform school where he accidentally summons the spirit of a girl, herself a victim of bullying, who takes vengeance on his tormentors. The film fails to deliver a thrill — not even a shiver, except of revulsion — rendering all that slasher gore downright anemic.

The Diabolical * Directed by Alistair Legrand. A single mother (Ali Lasrter), and her children, are awoken nightly by an intense presence. It might be asking too much for this movie to fully live up to its cheesy-ominous title, but the sheer unadulterated inanity of these proceedings suggests that it’ll soon be teleported to the far corners of the B-movie streaming-video abyss.

Some Kind of Beautiful no stars Directed by Tom Vaughan. A Cambridge poetry professor (Pierce Brosnan) begins to re-evaluate his life of excess. From first frame to last, this movie is some kind of hideous, a perfect storm of romantic-comedy awfulness that seems to set the ailing genre back decades with the sheer force of its ineptitude.

Some brief thoughts on UT football and the DH

  • University of Texas football coach Charlie Strong needs to fire his entire coaching staff at the end of the season, whether every single member of that staff deserves it or not. He has to demonstrate to the Longhorn faithful he's willing to take the most drastic steps that can be taken to turn the football program around. And then he should do whatever it takes to hire former UT quarterback and highly successful high school coach Todd Dodge as his offensive coordinator. Dodge coached Southlake Carroll High School to four state championships in seven years and a 98-11 record. He is currently doing well as the head coach at Austin's Westlake High School. Dodge, I am convinced, would also be a valuable aid in recruiting.

  • This just completed baseball season was, to me, the Season of the Starting Pitcher -- Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Jake Arrieta, Matt Harvey, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez and, of course, Clayton Kershaw. I really enjoyed watching their magic on the mound. I have never really been for or against the 42-year-old American League Designated Hitter rule until this season,. But now, because I have become such a fan of starting pitching, I am a major advocate of spreading the DH to the National League as well. If a starting pitcher is on the mound throwing a really good game, I don't want to see him pulled for a pinch hitter because the game is tied or his team is a run or two down late in the game. That has nothing to do with pitching and takes the game away from the players and puts it into the hands of the managers. The Kansas City Royals just finished proving what can be accomplished if you just let the players play the game.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November Oscar Predictions

It's Nov. 1, which, I guess, is as good a time as any to kick off my regular round of Oscar predictions. Here's how I see the nominations going in the principle categories, with all the nominees listed alphabetically. Once again, for best picture, I'm working under the assumption there will be the maximum 10 nominees, I'll tell you right now the three pictures I have the least confidence in are Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight and Brooklyn.

Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
The Martian
The Revenant
Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
David O. Russell, Joy

Matt Damon, The Martian
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbinder, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Supporting Actor
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
(Personally, I think it's criminal that Paul Dano is not on this list for his portrayal of the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy. I have heard Hardy is actively seeking not to be considered, and if the Academy takes his actions seriously, hopefully Dano can make the final five.)

Supporting Actress
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out

Adapted Screenplay
Steve Jobs
The Revenant

Animated Feature
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Clemson 7-0 (3)
2.  Ohio State 8-0 (2)
3.  LSU 7-0 (5)
4.  Alabama 7-1 (4)
5.  Notre Dame 6-1 (9)
6.  TCU 7-0 (6)
7.  Baylor 7-0 (7)
8.  Iowa 7-0 (8)
9.  Michigan State 8-0 (10)
10. Stanford 6-1 (15)
11. Oklahoma 6-1 (14)
12. Florida 6-1 (11)
13. Utah 6-1 (1)
14. Memphis 7-0 (18)
15. Michigan 5-2 (13)
16. Oklahoma State 7-0 (16)
17. Mississippi 6-2 (21)
18. Florida State 6-1 (12)
19. Mississippi State 6-2 (23)
20. USC 4-3 (NR)
21. UCLA 5-2 (25)
22. Houston 7-0 (22)
23. Temple 7-0 (NR)
24. Texas A&M 5-2 (17)
25. Toledo 7-0 (20)
Dropped out: California, BYU

Monday, October 26, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Gift *** Directed by Joel Edgerton. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance (Edgerton) from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. This film, a psychological roller coaster on a doomed track, is one of the best directorial debuts in ages, hands down.

A Borrowed Identity *** Directed by Eran Riklis. A Palestinian-Israeli boy (Tawfeek Barhom) is sent to a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem, where he struggles with issues of language, culture, and identity. Commendably avoids polemics in order to provide a textured portrait of a young man going through a set of personal transitions against the background of ongoing cultural flux that reflects a larger, collective identity crisis. Its evocation of the historical period feels carefully honed and resonant.

Southpaw **½ Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) turns to trainer Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker) to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife (Rachel McAdams) in a tragic accident and his daughter (Oona Lawrence) to child protection services. Gyllenhaal’s performance is great, but for reasons unrelated to his physique. He’s thrilling to watch and the only unpredictable thing in a two-hours-plus movie where you can count on one hand the number of moments that aren’t hand-me-downs from better boxing films like Rocky, Raging Bull, and Fat City.

7 Chinese Brothers **½ Directed by Bob Byington. Lazily treading water on the sea of life, sad sack Larry (Jason Schwartzman) drifts from job to job and bottle to bottle. But his apathetic attitude toward his latest place of employment — a Quick Lube station — changes when he starts to fall in love with the boss (Eleanore Pienta). This is no Listen Up Philip, but it’s an amiable enough slacker comedy, boosted by its star.

Sunset Edge ** Directed by Daniel Peddle. As four rudderless teens spend their days skateboarding and scavenging in the dilapidated remnants of a rural North Carolina trailer park, they cross paths with a young stranger who’s come looking for clues about his father’s death. The film uses nonprofessional actors and has a good eye, but more story development and fewer lingering shots of the trash-strewn trailer park would have been an improvement.

Max ** Directed by Boaz Yakin. A dog that helped US Marines in Afghanistan returns to the U.S. and is adopted by his handler’s family after suffering a traumatic experience. A genial if somewhat old-fashioned tale that’s too clunky to transcend its genre(s) but effective enough within its own limited emotional range.

Pixels * Directed by Chris Columbus. After aliens attack Earth using 1980s arcade games as models for their onslaught, President Will Cooper (Kevin James) calls in longtime friend and former gaming ace Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) to take on the extraterrestrial invaders. The "characters" vary from slightly annoying to unbearable — this is a film in which a viewer can be forgiven for rooting for the old video game icons to annihilate humanity. God help us if the best savior we can muster is Sandler.

The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) no stars Directed by Tom Six. The warden (Dieter Laser) of a notorious and troubled prison looks to create a 500-person human centipede as a solution to his problems. A cynical, and consistently unpleasant film with creators who try very, very hard to push as many of your buttons as they can.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Really looking forward to these

Hits theaters around Christmas time.

Word is the best picture Oscar race right now is between this film and Spotlight.

Just say ‘no’

The Texas Constitution is a mess — a statement that is probably as revelatory as saying rain is wet. In my view, a constitution should outline basic government principles. The Texas Constitution consists of whatever dumbass ideas legislators had at any given moment.

For that reason I have always voted against any new amendment to the Texas Constitution and will continue to do so until (1) a constitutional convention agrees on a completely new document that achieves what a constitution is supposed to accomplish, or (2) I die. I have a feeling I know which will come first.

But I actually have specific reasons to vote against these proposed amendments and since early voting on these issues have already started, it’s time to state my case.

Prop. 1: The last thing Texas government needs to be doing is taking money away from school districts. I know, legislators are promising they will reimburse the districts, some how, some way, but where have I heard those kind of empty promises before?

Prop. 2. This is worthwhile, but it simply should not be a part of a state constitution. Simple enabling legislation will accomplish the same kind of housekeeping.

Prop 3. This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make it more difficult to prosecute crooked politicians like Attorney General Ken Paxton. It’s the legislators protecting their own and it’s shameful.

Prop. 4: Why this should be a part of a state constitution boggles the mind. The only reason I can think of is that some of our lawmakers are deeply in debt or extremely beholden to owners of professional sports teams,

Prop 5: Nothing particularly wrong with it except it is not a constitutional principle.

Prop 6: The only reason I see for this proposal is that animal rights activists have these right wing nuts who run our state government paranoid. Come on. Get serious. Does anyone really believe this groups will have any affect on hunting and fishing regulations in Texas?

Prop 7: This is another plan for the legislature to take money out of one fund in put it into another instead of simply doing the right thing which is providing for more funding. This type of legislation should be the subject of legislative debate during regular sessions and not locked into the constitution.

I know that most Texas voters don’t pay any attention to these amendments and just hit the "yes" key because they think it’s the proper thing to do, even if it isn’t the right thing to do. What I’m saying is that all these propositions will undoubtably pass by large margins. But that doesn’t mean they should.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Utah 6-0 (2)
2.  Ohio State 7-0 (6)
3.  Clemson 6-0 (4)
4.  Alabama 6-1 (9)
5.  LSU 6-0 (11)
6.  TCU 7-0 (1)
7.  Baylor 6-0 (8)
8.  Iowa 7-0 (15)
9.  Notre Dame 6-1 (10)
10. Michigan State 7-0 (22)
11. Florida 6-1 (3)
12. Florida State 7-0 (14)
13. Michigan 5-2 (5)
14. Oklahoma 5-1 (17)
15. Stanford 5-1 (13)
16. Oklahoma State 6-0 (12)
17. Texas A&M 5-1 (7)
18. Memphis 6-0 (NR)
19. California 5-1 (21)
20. Toledo 6-0 (23)
21. Mississippi 5-2 (16)
22. Houston 6-0 (NR)
23. Mississippi State 5-2 (NR)
24. BYU 5-2 (NR)
25. UCLA 4-2 (19)
Dropped out: Northwestern, Boise State, Temple, USC

Monday, October 19, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Güeros *** Directed by Alonso Ruiz Palacios. During a student strike at Mexico’s National University, flatmates Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) and Santos (Leonardo (Ortizgrls) settle into a different routine until the arrival of Sombra’s brother, Tomás Sebastián Aguirre), sends the trio on a quest to find a long-forgotten musical star. A good story, full of life and related with intelligence and a sense of humor.

The Wolfpack *** Directed by Crystal Moselle. In the heart of Manhattan, Baghavan and Susanne have raised their seven kids with virtually no exposure to the outside world. This documentary captures their offspring’s unique views of society molded largely by films they’ve watched. Despite its considerable faults, this bizarre, fascinating story is impossible to shake off, like the expression on the face of one of the brothers as he’s talking about his father and begins getting choked up (instead of crying, he smiles convincingly, evidence of a life led having to learn to hide his emotions for fear of reprisal).

Z for Zachariah **½ Directed by Craig Zobel. In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors. Its craft can be impressive: Zobel’s film possesses a searing, slow burn tone that’s beautifully controlled. The movie is admirably patient and gives breathing room and space for these relationships to bloom believably and organically. But the build to a climax is far too slow and with little emotional payoff.

Jurassic World **½ Directed by Colin Trevarrow. A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park’s newest attraction — a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine — escapes containment and goes on a killing spree. The movie unquestionably "delivers." It feels like a hit; it offers a professionally crafted blend of blandness, predictability, watered-down cultural commentary and manufactured excitement.

Seeds of Time **½ Directed by Sandy McLeod. A documentary that follows agricultural scientist Cary Fowler as he traverses the globe on a mission to preserve and stockpile seeds that may someday avert a worldwide famine. Fowler is not a terribly charismatic subject, but the matter-of-fact manner in which he delivers important information and the stunning depth of his knowledge compensates, as does the steady way in which McLeod reveals pertinent personal details about his life and work.

Paper Towns **½ Directed by Jake Schreier. When Quentin Jacobsen’s (Nat Wolff) longtime crush — fabulously cool high school senior Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) — vanishes soon after drafting him for a revenge-fueled mission, he sets off on a cross-country road trip to find her. While Schreier (Robot & Frank) doesn’t do a whole lot with the camera besides make sure that there are people in the frame, he does manage to provoke strong performances from Wolff — who looks kind of like a young Dustin Hoffman, but stretched out like a piece of taffy — and the young supporting cast.

Meet Me in Montenegro ** Directed by Alex Holdridge. Linnea Saasen. A failed American writer enters into an affair after a chance encounter with a European dancer. While this tale of a couple experiencing myriad romantic ups and downs has its occasional amusing and insightful moments, it doesn’t quite render its characters’ foibles endearing.

Hungry Hearts ** Directed by Saverio Costanzo. When Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) and Jude (Adam Driver) get stuck in the bathroom of a New York City restaurant, romance, marriage and a child soon follow. But before long, the couple finds themselves clashing over the care of their infant, who’s not developing. Beginning as an adorable romcom, the film morphs into a disturbing but not particularly illuminating story of mental illness.

The Vatican Tapes Directed by Mark Neveldine. When an infection from a cut lands 27-year-old Angela Holmes (Olivia Dudley) in the emergency room, everyone around her begins to suffer, thanks to a Satanic force that’s taken possession of the young woman. Another day, another exorcism. Ho-hum.

Chloe & Theo * Directed by Ezna Sands. Determined to save his Arctic Inuit homeland from environmental ruin, Theo (Theo Ikummaq) sets off for New York City, where he finds an unexpected ally in a homeless young woman named Chloe (Dakota Johnson). This should have been a film about Theo: a complex man taking on an unfamiliar world he is not particularly fond of, with little more than conviction and principle to help him along. Instead, we get another film where a hapless foreigner teaches white people how to better themselves.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

In loving memory

August 2, 1945 - October 12, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.

Dope *** Directed by Rick Famuyiwa. In the tough neighborhood of the Bottoms, high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) sports his own funky style while working hard to gain admission to a top college. But his clean-cut perspective take an unexpected turn when a local drug dealer befriends him. Thanks to a witty, fast-moving script (also by Famuyiwa) and a sensitive performance from the newcomer Moore, Dope helps us see how a young black man coming of age in America faces complications unforeseen by the smugly entitled high schooler played by Tom Cruise all those years ago in Risky Business.

Above and Beyond *** Directed by Roberta Grossman. A documentary that looks at a diverse group of veteran World War II pilots who defied the U.S. Neutrality Act and volunteered to fly for Israel at a critical moment in its battle for independence. Pays well-deserved homage to these men who helped create the Israeli Air Force and ensured the survival of the burgeoning nation. It’s a wonder that it took nearly seven decades for the story to be recounted in feature documentary form.

Call Me Lucky **½ Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. A documentary about flame-throwing comic and social critic Barry Crimmins who shocked and delighted audiences for decades with his caustic view of America and its leaders. Over time, his rage would give way to a calmer but committed life as a peace activist. Goldthwait’s hand too nervously tempers Crimmins’s outré tactics as kooky showmanship bred from unimaginable trauma.

Tomorrowland **½ Directed by Brad Bird. Bound by a shared destiny, a teen (Britt Robertson) bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor (George Clooney) embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory. Tentpoles are rarely guilty of overreaching, but Tomorrowland has a tendency to feel out of control, a film that is finally more ambitious than accomplished.

The Little Death ** Directed by Josh Lawson. The secret lives of five suburban couples living in Sydney reveal both the fetishes and the repercussions that come with sharing them. The actors are all game and well paired, but flashes of chemistry and an appreciable level of production finesse (courtesy of director of photography Simon Chapman and composer Michael Yezerski) aren’t enough to bring the requisite charge to this flimsy, pseudo-provocative material.

San AndreasDirected by Brad Peyton. In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot (Dwayne Johnson) makes a dangerous journey with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) across the state in order to rescue his daughter (Alexandra Daddario). Even by the non-Olympian standards of the disaster genre, San Andreas is chock-full of cliché characters, staggering coincidences and wild improbabilities.

After WordsDirected by Juan Feldman. A librarian (Marcia Gay Harden) facing a mid-life crisis travels to Costa Rica. The good news about After Words is that it offers Harden a rare film lead. The bad news: Harden’s role in this groan-worthy dramedy is so dreary and ill-conceived that even her formidable talents can’t bring it to life.

The Gallows * Directed by Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff. To observe the 20th anniversary of a pupil’s tragic accidental death during a high school play, the current crop of students decides to restage the failed production with more disastrous consequences. The movie isn’t without a certain amount of atmosphere, it simply feels borrowed wholesale. That would matter less with a better script, but the four main characters are paper-thin even by genre norms.

Faith of Our Fathers ½* Directed by Carey Scott. Two men (David A.R. White, Kevin Downes) embark on a trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial guided by the letters their fathers wrote while serving in the war. A clumsily told story of friendship and wartime remembrance that has a tough time serving up a halfway believable moment, let alone a moving and powerful testimony about Jesus.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My off-the-wall baseball playoff predictions

American League Division Series
Toronto over Texas
Kansas City over Houston

National League Division Series
St. Louis over Chicago
Los Angeles over New York

American League Championship Series
Kansas City over Toronto

National League Championship Series
Los Angeles over St. Louis

World Series
Kansas City over Los Angeles

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Whew! A heavier than normal amount of releases this week. Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief ***½ Directed by Alex Gibney. An in-depth look at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology. Gibney’s a bit like a kid in an exposé-candy store here, and you can sense him trying to cram as much as he can into the film. Good for him: Going Clear is jaw-dropping. You wouldn’t really want it any other way.

Little Hope Was Arson ***½ Directed by Theo Love. After arson fires destroy 10 East Texas churches in the space of a few weeks, the resulting police investigation fails to turn up any leads. Eventually, a citizen’s tip points detectives in the direction of two young locals. Love’s mesmerizing documentary is as evenhanded as it is unsettling.

Creep *** Directed by Patrick Brice. When a videographer answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job in a remote mountain town, he finds his client is not at all what he initially seems. Knowing and funny without straining to be clever, the found-footage-style film works better than the Duplass Brothers’ 2008 Baghead, with which it has some elements in common.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl *** Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. High schooler Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl (RJ Cyler), finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate (Oliva Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Treats a serious subject with wackadoodle humor that is endearingly contagious. It’s tender, clever, wise and highly recommended.

When Marnie Was There *** Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. A lonely city girl (Sara Takatsuki) with chronic asthma is sent to spend the summer with relatives in a seaside town where the air is clean. Before long, she makes friends with a mysterious girl (Kasumi Arimura) living in a deserted villa. The film may start off a bit awkwardly, but it’ll have you bathing in your own tears by the time it’s over.

Fresh Dressed *** Directed by Sacha Jenkins. A documentary that takes a look at a generation of fashion designers who turned the hip-hop youth culture into a billion-dollar business. Although it treads water for the final 15 or so minutes, the movie is brisk and engaging enough that it still doesn’t feel overlong.

People Places Things *** Directed by James C. Strouse. Will Henry (Jermaine Clement) is a newly single graphic novelist balancing parenting his young twin daughters and a classroom full of students while exploring and navigating the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman (Stephanie Allynne) who left him. Filled with arch wit, the film is sweet and sorrowful at the same time. Like many indies, it lacks much of a conclusion, though writer-director Strouse shows that simple ideas, ably executed, can make an endearing film.

We Are Still Here **½ Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Hoping to leave behind the trauma of their teenage son’s death, Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) relocate to a rustic house in a small New England town. But soon after they move in, Anne begins to sense her dead child’s ghostly presence in their new home. Has its pacing problems, and the special effects are strictly of the cheesy variety, but it provides enough genuine scares to make it thoroughly enjoyable, especially if seen with your main squeeze late at night.

Batkid Begins **½ Directed by Dana Nachman. On Nov.15, 2013, young leukemia patient Miles Scott got his wish to become Batman when San Francisco transformed itself into Gotham City to become Miles’s playground, a singular act of charity that became an Internet sensation. This film would be easier to swallow if it focused less on self-congratulation than on the epidemic of unselfishness that inspired the magic in the first place.

10,000 Saints **½ Directed by Shari Springer Bergman, Robert Pulcini. Set in the 1980s, a teenager (Asa Butterfield) from Vermont moves to New York City to live with his father (Ethan Hawke). Part teen romance, part awkward love triangle, part generational-clash portrait, and almost all powered by nostalgia, this warmly conceived dramedy will likely resonate strongest with audiences who have a direct connection to the story’s place and time.

Harmontown **½ Directed by Neil Berkeley. A documentary that follows Dan Harmon on tour for his podcast series after he was fired in 2012. The best elements of the film capture Harmon’s unique raw energy.

Magic Mike XXL **½ Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Three years after Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance. To the film’s credit, it knows it’s ridiculous. It’s aiming for ridiculous, and it hits the mark as precisely as the strippers groove half-naked to their beats.

Mateo **½ Directed by Aaron I. Naar. Follows America’s most notorious gringo mariachi on his misadventures to Cuba. First-timer Naar fails to convince us of his subject’s musical genius and gives the impression he’s leaving out important details.

In the Courtyard **½ Directed by Pierre Salvadori. After abruptly ending his musical career, 40-year-old Antoine Le Gerrec (Gustave Kervern) has little idea of what to do with his life. But when he takes a job as caretaker of a rundown Parisian apartment block, he’s soon drawn into the lives of his eccentric tenants. A wry, oh-so-gentle dual character study saved from sleepiness by the unexpected star pairing of Catherine Deneuve and Kervern.

Manglehorn **½ Directed by David Gordon Greene. Living only with his cat, a brooding locksmith (Al Pacino) remains in a rut, penning endless letters to his idealized lost love. Pacino has finally started acting again, which is cause for celebration. It’ll be real cause for celebration if/when he also starts picking projects worthier than The Humbling, Danny Collins, and now Manglehorn, all of which see him struggling to find moments of truth within a contrived, borderline ludicrous scenario.

Escobar: Paradise Lost **½ Directed by Andrea Di Stefano. While visiting his brother on Colombia’s idyllic Pacific coast, a young surfer (Josh Hutcherson) falls in love with a woman (Claudia Traisac) only to discover that she’s the niece of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benecio Del Toro). An entertaining and suitably gruesome gangster thriller which nevertheless feels like a missed opportunity.

Awake: The Life of Yogananda ** Directed by Paola di Florio, Lisa Leeman. A documentary that chronicles the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, who played a key role in changing Western attitudes toward Asian spiritual traditions and expanding the popularity of yoga and meditation around the world. Those looking for further enlightenment might want to pass on this feel-good cinematic hagiography.

What We Did On Our Holiday ** Directed by Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin. During a visit to celebrate the 75th birthday of the family patriarch, who’s terminally ill, soon-to-be-divorced Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) try to maintain the pretense that they’re happy together. For a while the film broaches genuinely unexpected comedic and emotional territory, and while matters eventually return to the safe haven of pat formula, at least there’s been some vim and vigor added to the amiable observational humor and likeable performances.

Insidious: Chapter 3 ** Directed by Leigh Whannell. This prequel follows a psychic (Lin Shaye) who uses her skills to help a teen (Stefanie Scott) tormented by a threatening paranormal entity. You have a horror movie with two strong female leads – no small thing. The movie, however, has little else going for it.

Road Hard ** Directed by Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench. Following an expensive divorce and the cancellation of his TV show, a stand-up comic (Carolla) is forced to go back on the road to provide for his daughter. Though Carolla and co-filmmaker Hench devise some funny situations — particularly, the one in which a newly divorced woman insists on coming back to his room — the overall feeling that comes across is one of sadness, and that seems intentional.

Missionary ** Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. A struggling mother (Dawn Oliviera) trying to create a better life for her and her son meets a handsome Mormon missionary (Mitch Ryan) with a troubled past and they begin an incendiary love affair. There’s no reason the missionary-recruiter turned stalker idea couldn’t work. But this one doesn’t.

Tio PapiDirected by Fro Rojas. Wild bachelor Ray Ray Dominguez (Joey Dedio) dreams of nothing more than a carefree life of indulgence in Miami, but his plans are abruptly changed when he becomes the legal guardian of his sister’s six children. If it weren’t for the well-intentioned moments of pathos — a tear or two, here and there — this would be a complete waste of time.

Dark PlacesDirected by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. A quarter-century after Libby Day’s (Charlize Theron) mother and sisters were brutally murdered in a crime she believes her brother (Tye Sheridan) committed, a group of amateur sleuths begins casting doubt on his guilt. Inexpert execution, lazy attention to detail and a lackluster lead performance conspire to render a juicy mystery rather boring.

Air * Directed by Christian Cantamessa. When Earth’s air ceases to be breathable, two engineers (Norman Reedus, Djimon Hounsou) become caretakers of an underground bunker housing cryogenically preserved humans. Boredom has long since settled in by the time gunplay is involved.

Amnesiac * Directed by Michael Polish. A man (Wes Bentley) awakes in bed unable to recall who he is, the victim of a car accident and resulting coma, only to begin to suspect that his wife (Kate Bosworth) may not be his real wife. The plot develops confidently (if unsurprisingly), abetted by coincidence and shoddy police work, but it’s the tone that grates.

Lucky Stiff * Directed by Christopher Ashley. A bachelor (Dominic Marsh) travels to Monte Carlo to claim an inheritance from his late rich uncle. Bad movies are bad. Bad theater is worse. But bad movies resembling bad theater are perhaps worst of all.

The Stranger * Directed by Guillermo Amoedo. A mysterious man arrives in a small Canadian town seeking his wife, though his presence plunges the community into a bloodbath. While the movie is bad, the fact that it makes you wait and wait for its excessively dismal perspective to be justified by a measly little twist is even worse.

The Anomaly * Directed by Noel Clarke. Traumatised ex-soldier Ryan Reeve (Clarke) wakes up in the back of a moving van next to a young boy who is being held prisoner. He frees the boy and must work out what is happening in bursts of less than ten minutes, while his mind is switched repeatedly between two parallel existences. There’s infinitely more than one anomaly to be found in this film, a thoroughly nonsensical futuristic sci-fi thriller that makes a case for the perils of vanity projects.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

This week's DVD releases

Slightly delayed posting this week because I was on vacation. Yippee. Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Spy *** Directed by Paul Feig. A desk-bound CIA analyst (Melissa McCarthy) volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster. Feig’s commitment to the genre, and some truly wonderful set pieces, make this film as lovable as its main character.

Famous Nathan *** Directed by Lloyd Handwerker. A documentary that charts the intriguing history of the director’s family who created and built Nathan’s hot-dog empire. Handwerker treats the project as genealogy rather than corporate image-making. And with home movies and private interviews at his disposal, no one is better equipped to tell this story.

The Connection *** Directed by Cédric Jimenez. A French police magistrate (Jean Dujardin) spends years trying to take down one of the country’s most powerful drug rings. The film is long and occasionally long-winded and determinedly old-fashioned in its approach. That’s why I liked it.

Avengers: Age of Ultron **½ Directed by Joss Whedon. When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron (James Spader) from enacting his terrible plans. There’s so much ground to cover here — so many introductions to make, so much story to churn through, so many gargantuan set pieces to mount — that the movie never really finds room to breathe.

Cop Car **½ Directed by Jon Watts. A small town sheriff (Kevin Bacon) sets out to find the two kids (James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Welford) who have taken his car on a joy ride. Watts demonstrates masterful control, pushing right up against the limits of what we can take (even non-parents will be rattled watching the boys mishandling loaded weapons), and yet, at every turn, the screenplay falls short of the picture’s full potential, missing opportunities that could have made this a classic.

Unexpected **½ Directed by Kris Swanberg. An inner-city high school teacher (Cobie Smulders) discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students (Gail Bean) and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies. The nuanced performances of Smulders and Bean are flawless. Yet the movie’s calm levelheadedness is a subtle detriment. Everything is a little too easy.

When Animals Dream ** Directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby. Teenager Marie (Sonia Suhl) and her parents live a reclusive life in a small coastal town, where they frighten the townspeople and Marie doesn’t know why. Stylish but slight, Arnby’s debut feature ultimately sticks within werewolf movie conventions, adding little fresh to the form.

Poltergeist ** Directed by Gil Kenan. A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter (Kennedi Clements) after the apparitions take her captive. A disappointingly tame and unimaginative effort, which throws away much of what was best-loved about the original and fails to find worthy replacements.

ZipperDirected by Mora Stephens. A family man (Patrick Wilson) has it all until he risks losing everything due to his inability to fight off his obsessive temptation for other women. This might be entertaining enough in a campy way for you to watch it at home as long as you’ve got a really big bowl of popcorn and an even bigger glass of wine to get you through. Might. be.

Entourage Directed by Doug Ellin. Taking their reckless Hollywood ways to the big screen, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his posse (Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon) find new and creative ways to get in trouble and Vince’s starring role in a big-budget Dracula film provides plenty of opportunities. That the bonds of friendship between Vince and his pals are predicated so strongly on excluding others feels regressive and drags the movie away from harmless high jinks into something needlessly more spiteful and ugly.

Aloft Directed by Claudia Llosa. A struggling mother (Jennifer Connelly) encounters the son (Cillian Murphy) she abandoned 20 years earlier. There are reasons why everyone on screen looks as unhappy as they do, but Llosa puts viewers in a place where they can’t understand precisely why, so the only choice is to sit there marinating in misery and boredom.

Return to Sender * Directed by Fouad Mikati. A nurse (Rosamund Pike) living in small town goes on a blind date with a man who is not the person he says he is. Proves to be nothing but dead air, an entirely too predictable, slow-paced, and misguided genre effort.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Results *** Directed by Andrew Bujalski. Two mismatched personal trainers’ (Guy Pierce, Cobie Smulders) lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client (Kevin Corrigan). While the polish of good-looking Hollywood types shot in clean, well-lit spaces doesn’t quite connect with Bujalski’s writing style, the film’s tone is honestly unorthodox, a quality missing from most mid-budget comedies.

Alléluia *** Directed by Fabrice Du Welz. Follows a lonely morgue worker (Lola Dueñas) who meets a man (Laurent Lucas) she hopes will return her love but instead inspires murderous jealousy. Religious allusions aside, Alléluia is like Psycho combined with Bonnie and Clyde, with Norman and Norma Bates as the conjoined criminal couple on the run.

The Heart Machine *** Directed by Zachary Wigon. A man (John Gallagher Jr.) begins to suspect that his long-distance girlfriend (Kate Lyn Shiel) whom he met on the Internet has been living in the same city as him, and he sets out looking for her. Except for its ending, which deflates the tension and makes a brief gesture toward profundity, it’s an unblinking look at one man’s total unraveling.

The Farewell Party *** Directed by Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon. Residents of a retirement home build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend, though they are faced with a series of dilemmas when rumors of the machine begin to spread. The film’s deft, improbable balance of tone makes its success feel well-deserved. Not many directors could have pulled off the blend of somber reflection and gallows humor that Granit and Maymon manage here.

The Great Museum **½ Directed by Johannes Holzhausen. This documentary reveals the day-to-day operations at a prominent Vienna museum, from curating and restoration to budgets and marketing. In avoiding narration, interviews, music or any traditional method to draw the audience in, the film has a cold, unengaging feel, leaving it mostly for art buffs who like seeing taxidermied bears having their hair fastidiously cleaned with a tiny toothbrush.

Pitch Perfect 2 **½ Directed by Elizabeth Banks. After a humiliating command performance at Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform. If you loved Pitch Perfect you’ll find plenty to enjoy here because it’s pretty much exactly the same film, but there’s enough wit and warmth that it feels like a worthwhile sequel.

In the Name of My Daughter **½ Directed by André Téchiné. A young independent woman (Adèle Haenel), returns to Nice in 1976 to have a new start in her life after a failed marriage. None of it is quite satisfying, especially when old-age makeup takes center stage. But striking moments develop along the way, jolts of weird joy and melancholy as menace gathers under the Mediterranean sun.

Saint Laurent ** Directed by Bertrand Bonello. Yves Saint Laurent’s (Gaspard Ulliel) life from 1967 to 1976, during which time the fashion designer was at the peak of his career. The screenplay seems to generally lack a throughline or focus, coasting from party scenes full of drugs and alcohol to work-related drama but rarely managing to get inside the head of the self-destructive character the designer had become by the 1970s.

Big SkyDirected by Jorge Michel Grau. A teen (Bella Thorne) traveling with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to a treatment center for her agoraphobia has to fight for their lives against two gunmen (Frank Grillo, Aaron Tveit) who attack them. The film rests on the attractive but opaque Thorne, who is not ready for such weight. Commendably, she stretches her acting muscles, but her character’s internal struggle remains elusive. Viewers need more to connect with.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Love & Mercy ***½ Directed by Bill Pohlad. In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he (John Cusack) is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of a shady therapist (Paul Giammati). In telling the story of one damaged suburban genius and his unlikely rebirth, Love & Mercy captures the vanished possibilities of 1960s pop music, the fecklessness of the California dream and its decay into tragedy and madness, and other things less easy to describe or define.

Buzzard *** Directed by Joel Potrykus. After ripping off his employer, paranoid flimflam man Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge) decides to lay low in Detroit. But as his growing fear of capture makes Marty ever-more desperate, a truly monstrous side of him begins to emerge. Under Potrykus’ clever direction and with a striking performance from Burge, Marty goes from quirky to desperate to dangerous gradually and effectively. He’s not a character to be taken lightly, or quickly forgotten.

Heaven Knows What *** Directed by Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie. Follows a 19-year-old heroin addict (Arielle Holmes) and her mercurial, obsessive relationship with an abusive junkie boyfriend (Caleb Landry Jones). A strange film, at once distancing and transfixing. If it’s not as impactful as it might have been considering the experiences portrayed, it has potent atmosphere and an admirable refusal to put any kind of gloss on the bleak reality of its limbo world.

Monkey Kingdom *** Directed by Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill. A documentary that follows the perilous lives of a monkey and her newborn daughter in the jungles of southern Asia. As part of a larger group, mom and baby risk starvation if they fail to abide by the stringent social rules. Everything the movie lacks in scientific rigor, it makes up for in pure entertainment value — and then some.

The Seven Five *** Directed by Tiller Russell. In the 1980s and ‘90s, cop Michael Dowd terrorized New York City’s drug dealers, shaking them down at gunpoint for cash and cocaine. This documentary looks at his fall from grace and the biggest police corruption scandal in the city’s history. It would be hard to imagine a more entertaining corrupt-cop documentary than this, a slick and fascinating portrait of a disgraced New York policeman.

Cinderella *** Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Young Ella (Lily James) finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters. Never one to give up hope, Ella’s fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger (Richard Madden). Though this Cinderella could never replace Disney’s animated classic, it’s no ugly stepsister either, but a deserving companion.

Furious 7 *** Directed by James Wan. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family for his comatose brother. It’s joyous, it’s crazy — cars skydive out of aircraft in Azerbaijan, no less — it’s exhaustively long, and, still, it’s clunkily lovable.

The Overnight **½ Directed by Patrick Brice. Transplants from Seattle, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) feel like fish out of water in Los Angeles until a meeting at a park leads to a play date for their son (R.J. Hermes) and a dinner date for them. But they soon discover that their hosts (Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche) have more in mind than friendship. Promises more than it can deliver: Some of the supposedly provocative material ends up being juvenile, and the movie ends just as the situation gets truly, weirdly interesting. It’s too tame a resolution to a film that suggested the capacity for more.

Closer to the Moon ** Directed by Nae Caranfil. A Romanian police officer teams up with a small crew of old friends from the World War II Jewish Resistance to pull off a heist by convincing everyone at the scene of the crime that they are only filming a movie. Caranfil, who’s made several previous features in Romanian, struggles throughout to find the right tone, mostly in vain. There’s no way to know whether he was hampered by the need to go international, but the film’s general lack of authenticity certainly doesn’t do it any favors.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

No explanations necessary

Love the win, but …

I graduated from the University of Texas. While there I was a sportswriter for the student newspaper. I had the privilege of getting to know head football coach Darrell Royal more than most folks and we became even closer associates when I left school and went to work at UPI, which, back then, operated the coaches college football poll. Coach Royal would call me every Sunday evening to tell me his top 25 teams and we would chat for some 10 to 20 minutes about what was happening on campus. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s and there was plenty to talk about. Much, much later I became good friends with and a confidante of Texas coach John Mackovic and we planned to co-author a book, a plan that was scuttled when he was dismissed as the Longhorns coach. I’ve always maintained if you slit my wrist, the blood would come out burnt orange. I proudly wear a t-shirt the says "I graduated from Texas. To save time, let’s just assume I’m always right." I defend the brand.

I can stomach a Texas loss, even though they leave me with a bitter aftertaste. But it drives me absolutely nuts to see the brand embarrassed, and embarrassments have been too frequent of late. I’m not even going to mention all the lopsided losses of last season, but that 38-3 manhandling by Notre Dame a week ago was horrendous, a total beat-down. Texas was completely and utterly dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It was like seeing a professional football team playing a high school squad. It was painful to watch, even more painful when I saw how close Virginia came to defeating Notre Dame yesterday.

Today, a lot of Texas supporters are celebrating a 42-28 victory over Rice. You’ll have to pardon me if I’m not one of them. Again, Texas was dominated at the line of scrimmage, especially by Rice’s offensive line. Rice amassed 462 total yards against the Texas defense last night (compared to only 277 for the Horns). Rice had 30 first downs, Texas 11. Rice ran 96 plays against the Texas defense. The Horns only had 38 snaps. Out of the total 60 minutes playing time, Rice was on offense for almost three-quarters of the game, 44:02 minutes. If Rice can do that, I hate to see what the Baylors, the Oklahomas, the TCUs, the Oklahoma States and the West Virginias of the world can do. Heck, I’m concerned about California next week.

Texas won last night because Rice turned the ball over four times (including one interception in the end zone and one close to the goal line), because the Owls gave up too many big plays (seven of more than 25 yards), and because Texas’s Daje Johnson had three punt returns totaling 118 yards and one touchdown.

But what Notre Dame and Rice showed the football world is that you can successfully run the ball right at Texas all game long. And that has me worried.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Sorry for being so late posting this list this week. Time got away from me.
1.  Ohio State 1-0
2.  Alabama 1-0
3.  TCU 1-0
4.  Oregon 1-0
5.  Georgia 1-0
6.  Baylor 1-0
7.  Michigan State 1-0
8.  Florida State 1-0
9.  USC 1-0
10. Mississippi 1-0
11. Georgia Tech 1-0
12. UCLA 1-0
13. Texas A&M 1-0
14. Auburn 1-0
15. Clemson 1-0
16. Arkansas 1-0
17. Notre Dame 1-0
18. Oklahoma 1-0
19. Missouri 1-0
20. Boise State 1-0
21. Mississippi State 1-0
22. Tennessee 1-0
23. Wisconsin 0-1
24. Utah 1-0
25. West Virginia 1-0

Monday, September 7, 2015

This week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show *** Directed by Des Doyle. A documentary that explores the world of U.S. television showrunners and the creative forces aligned around them. Unstudied to the point of utilitarianism, the film nonetheless has wide scope, and Doyle effectively gets his arms around this huge, nebulous, weird job.

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker **½ Directed by William Gazecki. A documentary focusing on the tumultuous early days of this iconic vaudeville superstar who ruled the 1920's Flapper Era in the United States. The movie isn’t especially well made, yet because Tucker is such a gloriously rich figure — immigrant turned runaway mother turned vaudevillian turned superstar — she renders its formal and aesthetic shortcomings (mostly) irrelevant.

The Age of Adaline ** Directed by Lee Toland Krieger. After 29-year-old Adaline (Blake Lively) recovers from a nearly lethal accident, she inexplicably stops growing older. Sadly, director Krieger’s offering, a weak wanna-be Jean Cocteau-esque fable with magical realist pretensions, does great disservice to Lively and her remarkably accomplished costars.

Misery Loves Comedy ** Directed by Kevin Pollak. More than 50 famous American and Canadian funny people (filmmakers, writers, actors and comedians) share life, professional journeys and insights, in an effort to shed light on the thesis: Do you have to be miserable to be funny? This documentary does not need to exist. The niche it aims to fill has already been occupied by people willing to go much deeper than Pollak.

American Heist * Directed by Sarik Andreasyan. James (Hayden Christensen) owes his life to his older brother, Frankie (Adrien Brody), after taking the rap for a crime they committed together. While Frankie served time, James worked to turn his life around, got a steady job and began courting his former girlfriend (Jordana Brewster). Now, Frankie is released and back on the streets with no money and no place to go. Slick but derivative and forgettable on all levels.

United Passions (no stars) Directed by Frédéric Auburtin. Follows the passing of the FIFA baton through three association presidents: Jules Rimet (Gérard Depardieu), Joao Havelange (Sam Neill), and Sepp Blatter (Tim Roth). This is one of the most unwatchable films in recent memory, a dishonest bit of corporate-suite sanitizing that’s no good even for laughs.