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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Mad Max: Fury Road **** Directed by George Miller. When Max (Tom Hardy) encounters a group of refugees fleeing for their lives, he joins them and their fiery leader (Charlize Theron). Wild and unrelenting, but also possessed of the outlandish poetry, laced with hints of humor, that rises to the surface when the world is all churned up.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me ***½ Directed by James Keach. As he struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, singer Glen Campbell embarks on his farewell tour in the United States, Australia, and Europe. Valedictory and elegiac, Keach’s film captures a performer who only truly seems to inhabit himself during the performances.

Five Star *** Directed by Keith Miller. With his father dead from a gunshot, John (John Diaz), a teen tempted by thug life, looks to street veteran Primo (James "Primo"Grant), an ex-con trying to escape it. for life lessons. An intimate portrait, a slice-of-life that goes just far enough beyond the cliches to be fascinating.

I’ll See You in My Dreams *** Directed by Brett Haley. With her well-ordered life thrown out of balance by the death of her beloved canine companion, an aging widow (Blythe Danner) — who hasn’t dated in 20 years — unexpectedly finds herself involved with two very different men. Delicate and nuanced, with writing that rejects, or at least reshapes, the cliches of movies about people facing the glare of their sunset years.

Dior and I *** Directed by Frédéric Tcheng. Asked to fill the shoes of iconic designer John Galliano, Raf Simons is given two months to prepare his inaugural fashion collection for Christian Dior in this behind-the-scenes look at the high-pressure world of haute couture. For people already interested in fashion, the film’s appeal will be obvious, but this documentary deserves to go beyond a small target audience.

The Harvest *** Directed by John McNaughton. A couple (Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon) who keeps their sick son (Charlie Tahan) in a secluded environment find their controlled lives challenged by a young girl (Natasha Calis) who moves in next door. McNaughton’s return after too many years of absence is a dark look at the nature of overprotective parenthood, and how volatile it can become under particularly difficult circumstances. With that said, you’d do well not to take The Harvest too seriously but more, like its deliciously simple and 70s B-movie horror title suggests, as a wickedly fun time.

Good Kill **½ Directed by Andrew Niccol. A family man (Ethan Hawke) begins to question the ethics of his job as a drone pilot. Niccol’s film won’t likely achieve the high-flying box-office success of Top Gun, but it is similar to that 1986 film in that it will likely get people talking after the closing credits roll.

Backcountry **½ Directed by Adam MacDonald. An urban couple (Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop) go camping in the woods and find themselves lost in the territory of a predatory black bear. Just when you thought it was safe to stand up to a bear in the woods, this jarring indie horror drama will make you scurry back indoors.

Gemma Bovery **½ Directed by Anne Fontaine. Living in a Norman village when British couple Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Charlie Bovery (Jason Flemyng) settle nearby, urban exile Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) — a fan of the novel Madame Bovary — soon discovers that the pair’s name isn’t all they share with Gustave Flaubert’s novel. After a while, the film feels more like a cute conceit that hasn’t really been developed further. It’s intriguing, and very well-acted, but empty.

That Sugar Film **½ Directed by Damon Gameau. An experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body. Suffers from some of the usual stunt-documentary laziness. But Gameau builds his case well.

The D Train ** Directed by Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul. The head of a high school reunion committee (Jack Black) travels to Los Angeles to track down the most popular guy from his graduating class (James Marsden) and convince him to go to the reunion. A modestly funny, little bit dark, occasionally knowing, not entirely cynical comedy that, to the extent that it succeeds at all, does so thanks to Marsden.

The Decent One ** Directed by Vanessa Lapa. A documentary that uses a cache of letters, diaries and documents to reveal the life of SS-leader Heinrich Himmler. It’s perhaps too focused on Himmler’s personal life, while Lapa’s decision to add sound effects to silent images sometimes feels uncalled for.

Felt ** Directed by Jason Banker. A woman (Amy Everson) creates an alter ego in hopes of overcoming the trauma inflicted by men in her life. With predominantly improvised dialogue and performances, Felt gains scant narrative complexity from an over-reliance on a no-frills documentary style.

Boulevard ** Directed by Dito Montiel. A devoted husband (Robin Williams) in a marriage of convenience is forced to confront his secret life. Well-intentioned, but predictable and instantly dated.

The Suicide Theory ** Directed by Michael J. Kopiah. A suicidal man (Leon Cain) hires a demented killer to assist him in suicide, but for some reason, miraculously survives each attempt on his life. Although Kospiah’s script isn’t exactly predictable or didactic, it does feel contrived and improbable on occasion.

Extinction ** Directed by Miguel Angel Vivas. Visualizing a distant and hideous human future, this zombie-infested tale of horror follows three survivors of a viral holocaust who’ve managed to stay hidden for nearly a decade as everyone else on Earth turned into a monstrous mutant. Vivas tries to add a family-drama twist to an otherwise standard survival story, but the characters aren’t complex enough (and the secrets aren’t explosive enough) to elevate this beyond a basic zombie flick.

Dark Was the NightDirected by Jack Heller. An evil is unleashed in a small town when a logging company sets up shop in the neighboring woods. While its emphasis on character dynamics and a slow burn atmosphere is to be commended, the film is too derivative and familiar to make much of an impact.

The Face of an Angel Directed by Michael Winterbottom. A journalist and a documentary filmmaker chase the story of a murder and its prime suspect. The film does occasionally show a pulse when it tries to reimagine the life of the victim — it turns the tables on the mystery and tries to become a film about love and life instead of doom and death. But it’s too little, too late, and too lame.

7 Minutes Directed by Jay Martin. Three high school friends (Zane Holz, Luke Mitchell, Jason Ritter) are forced to commit a brazen robbery which quickly goes horribly wrong. An uninspired tale that abounds in clichés.

The Curse of Downers Grove * Directed by Derick Martini. Teen angst at a high school gripped by an apparent curse that claims the life of a senior every year. Although it’s being marketed as a horror film, it turns out to be something else — a messy hash of teen soap opera, stalker thriller and whatnot whose titular, possibly supernatural aspect is basically irrelevant.

Safelight * Directed by Tony Aloupis. A teenage boy (Evan Peters) and girl (Juno Temple) discover a renewed sense of possibility as they go on a road trip to photograph lighthouses along the California coast. First-time filmmaker Aloupis, formerly frontman of the New Jersey rock band Shadows of Dreams, serves up Americana like a stale slice of apple pie.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thinking of someone named Ingrid and someone named Linda

This being about the time of what would be Ingrid Bergman's 100th birthday got me to thinking of a time more than 30 years ago. I had been divorced for a little more than a year and friends kept telling me it was time to try to get back into some sort of social scene. My problem was and always has been that I am extremely awkward and shy when it comes to activities like that.

I had absolutely no intention of hanging out in bars trying to pick someone up -- my awkwardness and shyness also gave me a keen fear of rejection. But then I remembered this single parent who lived a couple of houses away from us while I was still married and how much I had enjoyed her company when she had visited our household. Not only that, but she was the spitting image of Ingrid Bergman, particularly the Ingrid Bergman character in Casablanca, which was then, as it is today, my all-time favorite movie.

The neighbor's name was Linda and I worked up the courage to call her. I asked her if she wanted to join me at a concert I was covering for the Dallas Morning News and I told her directly, for some reason, that I wasn't asking her as a friend, I was asking her as a date. To my great surprise, she said yes.

I don't recall how long we dated, but I definitely recall it was an intense, physical and emotional relationship that made me extremely happy. But it ended, at least for me, on a sad note. Just as we were about to go out on a Friday night date, she called me and said she had heard from my ex-wife (she was very close friends with her) who had discovered we were dating and very much objected to that. She told me that friendship was too valuable for her to lose and, although I could tell she was crying when she said it, she was not going to be able to see me any more. I was crushed.

It still makes me a tad melancholy whenever I think back on that brief, intense and wonderful relationship with Linda. I still think of her and our brief relationship quite fondly. But it also makes me a tad melancholy when I think that Hollywood bluebloods also ostracized the marvelous Ingrid Bergman for several years because of her personal relationships.

So, Linda (wherever you might be) and Ingrid, I'm drinking a Manhattan today and thinking of you.

Monday, August 24, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on the title to see the film’s trailer

Two Days, One Night **** Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal.

Citizenfour ***½ Directed by Laura Poitras. A documentary that follows Poitras’s 2013 journey to Hong Kong to meet with whistleblower Edward Snowden as he was preparing to release a wealth of classified government documents. Finds its strength in both the story and the telling: The information about government spying is chilling, of course, but the movie also gives us the opportunity to get to know the elusive Snowden.

Iris ***½ Directed by Albert Maysles. A documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel. Maysles endearingly reveals Apfel’s blend of blind passion and keen practicality, her unflagging enthusiasm for transmitting her knowledge to young people, and her synoptic view of fashion as living history.

Animals *** Directed by Collin Schiffli. While living near a Chicago zoo in their wreck of an auto, a drug-addicted young couple (David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw) supports their habit through petty theft and hustling. There are a couple of things that make this movie effective, the main one being the performances of the two leads and the symbiotic relationship they create.

Big Game ** Directed by Jalmari Helander. A teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite. There are parts of Escape From New York, Air Force One, Cliffhanger and countless Luc Besson movies strewn about. Big Game doesn’t stomp on their memory, but like an overenthusiastic fan, it does smother them with amateurish zeal.

Boychoir ** Directed by François Girard. A troubled and angry 11-year-old orphan (Garrett Wareing) from a small Texas town ends up at a Boy Choir school back East after the death of his single mom. It's a wonderful idea with good crowd-pleasing potential and, had the story-telling been more credible, this could have been a major coup for all concerned.

October Gale ** Directed by Ruba Nadda. A doctor (Patricia Clarkson) takes in a mysterious man (Scott Speedman) who washes ashore at her remote cottage with a gunshot wound. The action unwinds with the mechanical artifice of a creaky play, though Nadda creates a few strikingly cinematic moments.

Lila & Eve ** Directed by Charles Stone III. Two distraught mothers (Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez), whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action. Davis (who was an executive producer on the film) gives a strong performance, as if she were acting in one of those many prestige projects lighting up her resume. It’s a noble try, but this dreck is beyond saving.

Where Hope GrowsDirected by Chris Dowling. A baseball player (Kristoffer Polaha) whose professional career was cut short due to his personal problems is suddenly awakened and invigorated by a young-man with Down syndrome who works at the local grocery store. Once the proselytizing takes over, so does the predictability.

AlohaDirected by Cameron Crowe. A celebrated military contractor (Bradley Cooper) returns to the site of his greatest career triumphs and reconnects with a long-ago love (Rachel McAdams) while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watch-dog (Emma Stone) assigned to him. The movie isn’t horrible, but it does have a pitiable odor about it, like a dog that’s sat too long on the beach. Crowe aspires to Golden Age of Hollywood repartee, but something feels off, just as it did in Elizabethtown (2005) and We Bought a Zoo (2011). Everyone just seems to be trying too hard.

The RunnerDirected by Austin Stark. In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, an idealistic but flawed politician (Nicolas Cage) is forced to confront his dysfunctional life after his career is destroyed in a sex scandal. New Orleans makes for a distinctive backdrop, but that's really all just window dressing, and it goes only so far in covering the fact that this film — from its moody, electric-guitar-driven score to its faintly 1990s, Grisham-flavored sensibilities — runs out of narrative inspiration before it crosses the finish line.

Skin TradeDirected by Ekachai Uekrongtham. When his quest to bring down a gangster (Ron Perlman) costs a New York City cop (Dolph Lundgren) the lives of his family, all that matters to him is revenge. For a film so seemingly interested in educating audiences about the evils of sex trafficking that it provides horrific statistics at the conclusion, it has no compunction about including copious doses of female nudity.

After the Ball Directed by Sean Garrity. After a young fashion designer (Portia Doubleday) runs afoul of her corrupt stepmother and stepsisters, she dons a disguise to help save the family business for her father. This basic-cable-quality farce is as unobjectionable as it is unmemorable.

Monday, August 17, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Lambert & Stamp *** Directed by James D. Cooper. Documentary follows aspiring filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert as they search London's youth scene in the early 1960s for a subject for their new movie and wind up discovering and managing the rock band The Who. Gives the duo their due and in so doing opens up a singular view on an era, its energy, and its excesses. For fans, it’s a must-see; for others, a slightly overlong tour of a seminal pop explosion and the men who made it.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared **½ Directed by Felix Herngren. A man (Robert Gustafsson) caps off his long and colorful life by escaping from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. Despite the heavy themes, the film keeps the tone light. It is a comedy, after all. The laugh-o-meter needle hovers fairly consistently on "amused grin."

The Riot Club ** Directed by Lone Scherfig. When Miles Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Clafin) begin their studies at Oxford University, the notorious Riot Club wastes no time in recruiting them. But the night the pair attends the secret society's annual dinner, the group's rowdy antics take a vile turn. It’s a film that seems to have no further point than to remind us that some powerful jerks were once powerful jerk kids. Point taken, but it’s not cinematically satisfying.

5 to 7 ** Directed by Victor Levin. An aspiring young novelist (Anton Yelchin) finds his conservative beliefs about love and relationships tested when a chance encounter outside a New York City hotel leads to an intense affair with a French diplomat's beautiful wife (Bérénice Marlohe). The city doesn’t need to be real in a romantic movie, but the feelings must be. Although Levin tends to embrace clichés and overstatement (the novelist’s parents, Arlene and Sam, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, are straight out of Yiddish vaudeville), he can also surprise you with delicate touches, a pained look, a wince of recognition.

Strangerland Directed by Kim Farrant. A couple (Nicole Kidman, Josephj Fiennes) finds their dull life in a rural outback town rocked after their two teenage children disappear into the desert. Starts off promisingly enough, but it just can't decide where it wants to go, or even how to get there.

10 Cent PistolDirected by Michael C. Martin. After a series of successful and profitable robberies in Los Angeles, two brothers in crime suddenly run out of luck as they end up on the wrong side of a shady mob attorney and under surveillance by the police. The narration, about how you can either "finesse" your way out of a jam, or "Bogart your way through it," is drab. As are the performances. Especially the leads.

Little Boy * Directed by Alejandro Monteverde. An 8-year-old boy with developmental challenges is devastated when his devoted father — and lone friend — is drafted during World War II. It's all simplistic sermonizing, devoid of any thoughtful messiness about wartime mind-sets or family despair, and quick to sand any edges with postcard-pretty coastal town vistas and cutesy music cues.

The Seventh Dwarf Directed by Boris Aljinovic, Harald Sipermann. An animated adventure that follows young dwarf Bobo (Joshua Graham) and his pint-size pals as they aim to save the kingdom by searching for a way to awaken lovely Princess Rose (Peyton List) from a long slumber. At half the length or twice the budget, this CG-animated musical mash-up of fairy tales would still be a pretty pathetic excuse for children’s entertainment, short on charm and utterly devoid of magic.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Between now and then just let me dream

Come next November, I'm going to hold my nose and vote for a right-of-center woman for President of the United States only because she will be preferable to anyone the Republicans are offering. But in the meantime, let me have my fun, let me support this guy, and let me dream about how much better this world would be if he could be elected.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trumbo? Yes. Douglas? No

I'm a big fan of Dalton Trumbo, a writer who fought the good fight when that was difficult to do. And, judging from this trailer, it seems Bryan Cranston has nailed the part. But see if, like me, you feel something jarringly wrong here.

From the small snippet I saw in this trailer, the actor, Dean O'Gorman, who is supposed to be playing Kirk Douglas neither looks nor sounds anything like Douglas. I'm just hoping it's not too late to fix this. The look can be fixed cosmetically: correcting the hair style and color and finding a way to put a hole in O'Gorman's chin. Then, perhaps, you can recruit someone like Frank Caliendo to dub the audio. Where's Frank Gorshin when we need him?

Monday, August 10, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story *** Directed by Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker. For more than four decades, Caroll Spinney has been the man inside the Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Spinney shares the highlights of his unique career in this documentary. This film reminds us that even the most omnipresent cultural phenomena were created by someone, usually through a combination of hard work and happenstance.

Welcome to New York *** Directed by Abel Ferrara. Modeled on the scandal involving French statesman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, this cautionary drama of politics and lust tracks the fate of a powerful public figure (Gerard Depardieu) whose reputation begins to crumble after he’s accused of raping a hotel maid. With Depardieu’s intensely physical performance at its core, Welcome to New York achieves a level of intimacy that’s rare for films about public figures — and, in this case, exposes Strauss-Kahn for all to see.

I Am Chris Farley **½ Directed by Brent Hodge, Derik Murray. A documentary on the life of the comedian. The movie is never able to get to the bottom of why the man so loved by his friends was unable to be comfortable out of the spotlight. But it is a warm, nostalgic reminder of a talent who died before his time.

Match **½ Directed by Stephen Belber. As a Juilliard professor (Patrick Stewart) is interviewed by a woman (Carla Gugino) and her husband (Matthew Lillard) for her dissertation on the history of dance in 1960s New York, it becomes increasingly clear that there are ulterior motives to the couple’s visit. While it offers some provocative moral quandries, it serves mostly as a showcase for Stewart.

Unfriended **½ Directed by Levan Gabriadze. A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend. Even though it begins to cheat, springing loud noises and gory cutaways that can’t be explained, there’s a rigor to its dopey, blood-simple conception that you might smile at.

Soaked in Bleach ** Directed by Benjamin Statler. Tom Grant, a private investigator once hired by Courtney Love, reveals his take on the death of Kurt Cobain. It’s easy to accuse this of many things, being a typical conspiracy documentary that makes many leaps in credibility in order to support its narrative being one of them, but lack of focus is not among its faults.

Hunting Elephants ** Directed by Reshef Levi. To avenge his son’s death and keep the family afloat, shady retirement home resident Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai) plans a daring bank heist with his socially awkward 12-year-old grandson, his former partner-in-crime and their penniless actor pal (Patrick Stewart). Though it contains some nice twists, the story is largely predictable and old-fashioned in ways both good (the characters’ unlikely come-what-may camaraderie) and bad (misogyny and machismo abound).

Preggoland ** Directed by Jacob Tierney. Ruth, 35, (Sonja Bennett) fakes being pregnant to fit in with her friends. The movie’s flaw is that it mixes tones. Ruth, her relatives and her fellow workers are realistically played, but her gal-pal buddies are caricatures.

Police Story: LockdownDirected by Sheng Ding. A man looking for the release of a long-time prisoner takes a police officer, his daughter, and a group of strangers hostage. Mostly a humorless bore until the obligatory bloopers and outtakes in the end credits — and even those are drawing from a flat vein, since there’s so little play in the movie.

Hot Pursuit * Directed by Anne Fletcher. An uptight and by-the-book cop (Reese Witherspoon) tries to protect the outgoing widow (Sofia Vergara) of a drug boss as they race through Texas pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen. A relentlessly unfunny comedy, it wastes the talents of Witherspoon and Vergara as egregiously as one could possibly imagine, resorting to lame jokes, cliches and incompetent storytelling to pass the time.

Patch Town * Directed by Craig Goodwill. Once a beloved toy, humanoid Jon (Rob Ramsay) now spends his days at a factory that produces babies from cabbages and turns them into dolls for sale. This dark fantasy manages to be grindingly dull despite its many quirks.

Monday, August 3, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Far From the Madding Crowd *** Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. Between the sheer on-screen beauty and the finely wrought performances of Mulligan and Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd has its appeal. Yet like unrequited love, one can’t help but lament what might have been.

Faults *** Directed by Riley Stearns. Desperate to free their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult, her parents hire deprogramming expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), despite his checkered reputation. Stearns directs with a slow-burning intensity that becomes more unsettling the deeper Ansel goes into his task, and the more it becomes apparent he doesn’t have an easy way out.

The Salvation **½ Directed by Kristian Levring. After emigrating to America’s wide-open west, a Danish homesteader (Mads Mikkelsen) brings over his wife and son seven years later, only to see them promptly murdered. To avenge their deaths, he kills the culprits, unaware that one is related to a brutal gang leader. Nothing quite competes with the blistering opening scene, but The Salvation’s cast of characters mean it’s never less than a fun watch.

Antarctic Edge: 70 South **½ Directed by Dena Seidel. A documentary about an elite group of scientists that sets out to investigate the rapid melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It appears afraid of alienating viewers by overloading on scientific jargon, and in the process becomes too attracted to ultimately superfluous anecdotes.

Adult Beginners **½ Directed by Ross Katz. When what was to be a major business coup turns into a financial disaster, penniless entrepreneur Jake (Nic Kroll) decamps from Manhattan and lands on his sister’s doorstep in suburbia where he ends up as nanny to his 3-year-old nephew. This film is mostly just nice. Neither dramatic enough to qualify as drama nor amusing enough to completely succeed as comedy, it’s the kind of movie that coasts on pleasantness, content to elicit a few smiles before disappearing from memory banks.

Jackie & Ryan ** Directed by Ami Canaan Mann. A modern day train hopper (Ben Barnes) fighting to become a successful musician, and a single mom (Katherine Heigl) battling to maintain custody of her daughter, defy their circumstances by coming together in a relationship. The movie is supposedly all about learning how to get where you gotta go, but none of the characters start or end in particularly interesting places.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead ** Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner. After a comet rains mysterious germs on Earth, auto mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher) finds his world overrun by zombies. When his sister (Bianca Bradey) ends up in the hands of a doctor conducting hideous experiments on plague survivors, Barry begins a bloody crusade to rescue her. Although distinguished by some wildly staged vehicular chase sequences and genuinely witty deadpan dialogue, the film inevitably feels like a footnote to the plethora of similarly themed movies and television shows that seem to arrive on a weekly basis.

Madame Bovary ** Directed by Sophie Barthes. Young Emma Bovary’s (Mia Wasikowska) passions overwhelm her solemn vows of marriage when the dashing Marquis d’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green) captivates her heart, ultimately leading her down the path to ruin. An uninspired narrative and disengaged performances ultimately keep persuasive deep feeling and captivation at a far distance.

A Little Chaos ** Directed by Alan Rickman. When headstrong landscape designer Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is chosen to work on the gardens of King Louis XIV’s (Rickman) opulent new palace at Versailles, she finds herself at odds with the project’s chief architect (Matthias Schoenaerts). This overwatered trifle is doomed to wilt and fade quickly from memory.

True Story ** Directed by Rupert Goold. Follows the complex relationship between accused murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) and disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), whose identity Longo had usurped until he was captured by the FBI. Unfortunately this Story never finds its footing as either a creepy morality play or a performance-driven two-hander.

Ride ** Directed by Helen Hunt. A mother (Hunt) travels cross-country to California to be with her son after he decides to drop out of school and become a surfer. By turns deft and clumsy, inspired and insipid, this is a deeply sincere mess of a comedy.

Every Secret Thing ** Directed by Amy Berg. Convicted of killing an infant when they were 11-year-old girls, Alice (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) — now 18 and just out of jail — find themselves suspects again when a 3-year-old goes missing. This is a small, well-crafted film with a few chilling moments and some fine performances, but it’s a muddled, pedestrian crime thriller.

Barely Lethal Directed by Kyle Newman. A professional teen assassin (Hailee Steinfeld) pines for a more normal existence, so she fakes her own death and enrolls in high school. The premise, that high school is more perilous than a life of espionage, is witty and full of potential. But Newman makes that case by staging his car chases and fight scenes with as much sense of drama as eighth-period trig.

The Divergent Series: InsurgentDirected by Robert Schwentke. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) must confront her inner demons and continue her fight against a powerful alliance which threatens to tear her society apart. Tighter, tougher and every bit as witless as its predecessor, the second segment in the cycle arrives with a yawn and ends with a bang.

Child 44Directed by Daniel Espinosa. A disgraced member of the military police (Tom Hardy) investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Gloomy, dishwater gray, and often framed through dusty glass, this film wastes no time announcing itself as a capital-S Serious movie that doesn’t have a clue what it’s supposed to be about. Stalinist paranoia, marital anxiety, and a serial killer figure in the murky plot, done no favors by Espinosa’s inert direction.

Burying the ExDirected by Joe Dante. A guy’s (Anton Yelchin) regrets over moving in with his girlfriend (Ashley Greene) are compounded when she dies and comes back as a zombie. There aren’t any scares to speak of, though there is some gore. The cast is game to try anything, but there’s just not much here for them to work with. Like most zombies, this is an idea that should have stayed dead.

Phantom HaloDirected by Antonia Bogdanovich. Forced to support their drunken dad (Sebastian Roché), Emerson brothers Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Beckett (Luke Kleintank) resort to thievery, with Samuel diverting the public as Beckett picks their pockets. Messy and confused, the film is a mishmash of tropes from Shakespeare, heist movies, family melodrama, and romance novels hastily thrown together.

Inner DemonsDirected by Seth Grossman. When straight-A student Carson Morris (Lara Vosburgh) veers into a life of drugs and self-destruction, her parents turn to a reality show for an intervention. The film makes one damning if unoriginal observation — the "reality" presented on reality TV is manufactured — and then does nothing to expand on it.

Blackbird * Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. A young singer (Julian Walker) struggles with his sexuality and the treatment of others while coming of age in a small Southern Baptist community. The film is, like its main character, too naïve to understand or, at least, to deploy the reparative powers of camp.

Do You Believe? ½* Directed by Jon Gunn. When a pastor is shaken by the visible faith of a street-corner preacher, he is reminded that true belief always requires action. A deranged melodrama where any sense of soapy, campy fun is undercut by the preachy, self-serious tone.

Any Day ½* Directed by Rustam Branaman. A recovering alcoholic, former boxer and convicted murderer (Sean Bean) is desperately trying to put his past behind him, when he finds redemption in a relationship with his adoring nephew and a romantic entanglement with a beautiful mortgage broker (Eva Longoria). To say this is a bad movie doesn’t go far enough, because it’s not just bad. It’s frustrating, it’s a slap in the face of filmmakers still struggling to get a project greenlit, and it makes me wonder how so many recognizable actors came to be involved in such drivel.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Black Mass

"Mystic River" meets "The Departed" with a cast as good as these two aforementioned films. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'll drink to that

I don't know if my readers are familiar with Jeffrey Wells, but he's a Hollywood columnist who often ventures into topics apart from the entertainment industry. Here is what he wrote about Walter James Palmer, the demented dentist who paid $55,000 for the opportunity to kill Cecil the Lion: Palmer, Wells wrote, should "be stripped naked, forced to drop a tab of ecstasy, set out on the plains of Kenya and be hunted down by animal conservationists? Not with bullets, mind, but with paintballs. Just so he could savor the experience. And then they could tie him to a tree and paint his dick blue. Something like that."

Anyone who has a problem with that doesn't speak the same language that I do.


As a former newspaperman and a lover of thrillers, this looks right up my alley:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cell phone just the excuse, race is the reason Brady’s suspension upheld

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today upheld the four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady, claiming some claptrap about Brady destroying his cell phone proved beyond all doubt the quarterback was involved in deflating footballs before this year’s AFC championship game. This is bogus. The cell phone was nothing more than the hook Goodell needed to hang his hat on. This is a racially based decision.

Look at the list of all the NFL players suspended at least two games for issues other than using recreational drugs since the hammer came down on Dallas nose tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for 10 games in September, 2014, for being convicted of manslaughter. Think about that for a moment. Brent suspended for a manslaughter conviction, Brady for possibly letting the air out of footballs. Give me a break. But, I digress. Here’s the list of NFL players suspended at least two games since Brent: Baltimore running back Ray Rice, Miami defensive end Derrick Shelby, Detroit defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, New Orleans wide receiver Joe Morgan, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, Indianapolis running back Trent Richardson, Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy. What do they all have in common? They are all African-Americans.

Goodell was under a lot of pressure to inflict severe punishment on a prominent white player and Tom Brady fit the bill.

So Brady gets the same punishment as abuser Hardy. Absurd.

Here’s my problem with this whole deflating the football mess. The footballs allegedly deflated were used during the first half of the New England-Indianapolis title game. On offense, the Patriots played with the footballs it provided and the Colts with the ones it provided. The on-field officials handled those balls after every play and not one of them came forward during the game claiming there was a noticeable difference in the feel between the balls the Patriots used and the ones from the Colts.

But even if they were at different inflation levels, the evidence proves it offered no advantage to the Patriots. New England won the first half — the one allegedly played with deflated footballs — 17-7, but then came back and won the second half — the one played by both sides with regulation footballs — 28-0. This entire issue is bogus. If Brady is guilty of anything, he deserves to be hit with a hefty fine. But a suspension? And suspended the same amount of time as someone guilty of domestic abuse?

But Goodell needs to make an example of a white guy, to appease the growing uproar among black football players in the NFL who were claiming, with justification, that only black players were being punished by the league office, and Brady became the poster boy.

That, however, doesn’t make what Goodell did today right. It wasn’t.

Monday, July 27, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the movie’s trailer

White God ***½ Directed by Kornél Mundruczó. When a cruel father dumps his daughter’s beloved dog, Hagen, out on the highway to fend for himself, Hagen not only survives the horrors of abandonment, dog fights and starvation, but rouses an angry army of mongrels out to exact vengeance. Superbly acted allegorical drama with a climax that is not only breathtakingly exciting but flawlessly handled.

Revenge of the Mekons *** Directed by Joe Angio. Formed during the punk-rock era of the late 1970s, the Mekons established themselves as one of the most creative and adventurous bands of the day. This documentary chronicles the still-going group’s more-than-30-year run. A contagious enthusiasm runs through the heart of this documentary that celebrates and explores the evolving ethos of a seminal British punk band while also proving that some of rock’s most interesting stories come not from success but survival.

52 Tuesdays *** Directed by Sophie Hyde. Sixteen-year-old Billie’s (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans to gender transition and their time together becomes limited to Tuesday afternoons. Full of touching moments even if its emotional rewards remain somewhat muted, 52 Tuesdays feels highly personal and is never less than absorbing or sincere in its depiction of a non-traditional family navigating difficult changes.

Runoff *** Directed by Kimberly Levin. With her husband’s health and business failing, Betty Freeman (Joanne Kelly) is forced to take on a host of burdens — including preventing foreclosure of the family’s rural Kentucky home. This is the kind of film that finds power and pleasure in silence; many of its best scenes come in careful, long, quiet scenes of revelation or desperation.

Glass Chin **½ Directed by Noah Buschel. A down-on-his-luck former boxing champ (Corey Stoll) is forced to make a choice between friendship and ambition when he is framed for murder. It’s a good thing the film has a good cast in general and Stoll in particular. He’s the main reason to watch Glass Chin. And not coincidentally, he’s often quiet.

3 Hearts **½ Directed by Benoit Jacquot. A tax inspector (Benoît Poelvoorde), his new bride and her sister become entwined in a love triangle. While the controlling deities might have found some amusement in this narrative, in Jacquot’s hands the tale is more bland than tragic.

Home ** Directed by Tim Johnson. On the run from cosmic enemies, a band of aliens arrives on Earth looking for a safe haven, but one of them inadvertently gives away his location. Though it opens with the studio’s seemingly mandatory voice-over setup, the story itself, adapted from the children’s book The True Meaning Of Smekday, shows immediate conceptual audacity.

Comet ** Directed by Sam Esmail. Set in a parallel universe, the story bounces back and forth over the course of an unlikely but perfectly paired couple’s (Justin Long, Emmy Rossum) six-year relationship. Give credit to Esmail for coming up with an inventive way to tell the story, even if the execution doesn’t live up to the idea. He shows great confidence as a director, and the film has a unique look, with heightened reality providing clues that this really is a different world, or worlds, even.

The Water Diviner ** Directed by Russell Crowe. An Australian man (Crowe) travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons. Crowe’s movie is a male weepie, slickly lit, but clearly the work of an amateur. Its emotional thrust — the search — is made limp by indiscriminate direction and the kind of quantity-over-quality mindset that invites tacked-on romances and dream sequences that play like dream-sequence parodies.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The anti-BBC: My 100 favorite American movies

Perhaps you saw the BBC's poll that was made public earlier this week of the 100 Greatest American Films. First, there's the audacity of the British ranking American films and, second, to prove they had no idea what they were talking about, the poll had Marnie, arguably Alfred Hitchcock's worst film of the sound period, ranked No. 47 on the list and his Rear Window was nowhere to be found, Neither was such classic westerns as High Noon and Shane.

So, I went ahead and tried to correct the BBC's mistakes, but, try as I might I could not come up with a list of the "best" films because I could not help but put Citizen Kane at the top and, I going to come out of the closet on this one, I really don't like Kane as much today as I used to. Orson Welles's masterpiece was hailed for all its innovations, but all those breakthroughs now seem everyday, routine. Yes, the woman on the pier speech is still one of the greatest in film history, but does it really surpass the taxicab scene in On the Waterfront or the "Let's Go" moment in The Wild Bunch?

So I abandoned the idea of trying to do a best films list and settled instead of a list of my 100 favorite films. But even with this list, perhaps only the first dozen are set in stone and the others I could juggle a couple of spots either way depending on the day of the week or the mood I'm in at any given moment. As a matter of fact, after those first 12, I could just as easily list the movies in alphabetical order and say "Here are my all-time favorite American films." But, be that as it may, I will put this list up against the BBC's.

My top choice was easy, automatic. Obviously, the first 100 or so times I saw Casablanca was on the television screen, but the old Glen Lakes theater in Dallas brought it back to the big screen for one night in the mid-1990s and seeing the film as movie goers had the opportunity to do so in the early 1940s was an emotionally fulfulling experience for me.

I can still watch Casablanca today and get the same laughs, the same thrills, the same longings that I did the first time I saw it. In fact, as the late, great film critic Roger Ebert so correctly pointed out, Casablanca is a movie you'll get more out of the second, third and fourth times you see it than the first time, because that first time you have no idea what prompted Humphrey Bogart's outburst at Sam in this scene.

To quote Ebert directly: "This scene is not as strong on a first viewing as on subsequent viewings, because the first time you see the movie you don't yet know the story of Rick and Ilsa in Paris; indeed, the more you see it the more the whole film gains resonance." Amen.

But that may give you a hint why my No. 1 choice was so easy. Here's the complete list: My 100 favorite American movies

1. Casablanca
2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
3. The Wild Bunch
4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
5. Double Indemnity
6. The Godfather
7. The Graduate
8. Pulp Fiction
9. Some Like It Hot
10. The Big Sleep
11. Goodfellas
12. The Maltese Falcon
13. Out Of The Past
14. North By Northwest
15 Notorious
16. On The Waterfront,
17. Paths of Glory
18. Psycho
19. Fargo
20. The Last Picture Show
21. Raging Bull
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
23 Annie Hall
24. Strangers on a Train
25. Rebel Without a Cause
26. Bringing Up Baby
27. The African Queen
28. All About Eve
29. The Wizard of Oz
30. Zero Dark Thirty
31. Only Angels Have Wings
32. Red River
33. Shane.
34. Rear Window
35. Bonnie And Clyde
36. The Bridge On The River Kwai
37. Chinatown
38. Citizen Kane
39. Duck Soup,
40. King Kong (1933)
41. 12 Angry Men
42. East of Eden
43. Gunga Din
44. The Social Network
45. Schindler’s List
46. Being John Malkovich
47. The Grapes of Wrath
48. The Public Enemy
49. The Train
50. High Noon
51. The Lady Eve
52. Silver Linings Playbook
53. United 93
54. A Letter to Three Wives
55. Lawrence of Arabia
56. Jaws
57. Traffic
58. The Empire Strikes Back
59. E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial
60. Easy Rider
61. Singin’ In The Rain
62. A Streetcar Named Desire
63. Sunset Boulevard
64. Taxi Driver
65. Touch Of Evil
66. Vertigo
67. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
68. Network
69. Rosemary’s Baby
70. The Apartment
71. White Heat
72. Days of Heaven
73. The Silence of the Lambs
74. Unforgiven
75. The Manchurian Candidate
76. Manhattan,
77. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
78. The Bad and the Beautiful
79. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
80. Mean Streets
81. The Ox-Bow Incident
82. A Place in the Sun
83. Hannah and Her Sisters
84. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
85. The Conversation
86. Five Easy Pieces
87. No Country For Old Men
88. The Hurt Locker
89. Frankenstein
90. The French Connection
91. From Here to Eternity
92. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
93. The Killers (1946 )
94. Brokeback Mountain
95. Shadow of a Doubt
96. Apocalypse Now
97. Ben-Hur
98. The Best Years of Our Lives
99. It’s A Wonderful Life
100.Sullivan’s Travels