Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy July 4th Everyone

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Monday, June 29, 2015

This week's DVD Releases


Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Hard to Be a God ***½ Directed by Aleksey German. The vividly realized squalor, cruelty, and ugliness engulf everything, including the narrative.

While We’re Young *** Directed by Noah Baumbach. Comedy really is hard. So it's a kick when a filmmaker gets it right, as Baumbach does in this stingingly funny take on aging.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter *** Directed by David Zellner. Rinko Kikuchi manages to make Kumiko interesting company no matter how far the character recedes into herself, using subtly expressive body language that would have been at home in silent movies to create a very strange self-imposed social outcast.

The Gunman Directed by Pierre Morel. With no fun to be had, The Gunman also lacks essential thrills. If Sean Penn is winging for an action-hero renaissance like Liam Neeson's, he'll be in need of material a lot more compelling than this.

Get HardDirected by Etan Cohen. It's not easy hanging talents like Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart out to dry. But Get Hard gets the job done. It's one limp noodle.

Last Knights * Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya. This ponderous drama quickly gets weighed down by its own blood-drenched armor.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The 10 most overrated things in sports


I cannot claim ownership of what follows. I discovered it, of all places, on Time-Warner Cable’s web site. But, for the most part, I agree with the thoughts. The items are not listed in any particular order, so regard them as all equally overrated.

The Olympic Games: Without even bothering to mention the festering cesspool that has been FIFA and international soccer for the last few decades, it's important to bear in mind that the International Olympic Committee bears all the same hallmarks of corruption and ludicrous overspending on facilities that will never be used again. The Winter Olympics are a more egregious culprit in this, as the events require a remote location with snowy mountains for skiing and alpine tracks for bobsledding and such. The shocking $51 billion price tag on the 2014 Sochi Olympics led to a dearth of bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympiad. Sweden and Norway, which already have all the necessary facilities, both dropped out of the gambit, leaving only China and -- wait for it -- Kazakhstan, land of superior potassium. The Olympics are fun to watch on a non-annual basis, but they're also outrageously wasteful.

Sliding Head-First into First Base: If it was quicker to slide into first base, then you would see Olympic sprinters diving across the finish line. They don't, because it slows you down. Yes, head-first slides look cool (bonus points if you're batting helmet comes tumbling off), but it's a stupid tactic unless you're trying to avoid a tag.

Floyd Mayweather Boxing Matches: Never, ever pay to watch Floyd Mayweather box. You're buying a ticket to 12 of the most boring rounds in existence. The prime minister of Cambodia was so convinced Manny Pacquiao beat him, he refused to pay up on a large bet he had placed on the long-awaited bout. Also, Mayweather is a human slug, as proven by googling the term "mayweather domestic abuse."

Mock Drafts: Mock drafts are among the most pointless, tedious, speculative, and unjournalistic exercises in sportswriting, and yet, the NBA and NFL drafts launch repeated mocks beginning months before draft night and culminating in crescendo of rumor and misinformation. Sports fans devour these and bicker over the merits of each imagined selection. Immediately after the draft is done, all mocks are useless. Here's the secret: No one knows! It's really just a vehicle for Mel Kiper and Todd McShay to argue over how high to draft a quarterback.

Televising the NBA Draft Lottery Selection: The NBA lottery selection program is televised (because money), but it's a silly, contrived exercise in staging. This year, it seemed to exist solely as a showcase for New York Knicks general manager Steve Mills' devastation at landing the No. 4 pick. The entire lottery selection has already been picked earlier in day under watch of an independent auditor, so the league could simply have a press release about the draft order.

MLB Draft: The first-year player draft lasts for an exhausting 40 rounds, plus compensation picks. Compare that to drafts in the NBA (two rounds), NFL and NHL (seven rounds each). Baseball's lengthy amateur draft is also known as the "rule 4 draft," and of course there is a separate rule 5 draft as well, though this is a brief affair during the winter meetings aimed at preventing teams from hording too much young talent. Moreover, if you ever see any of the players from the draft in the MLB, it'll be several years later.

Silence: When you watch tennis and golf, you have to be silent most of the time, and we have only decorum to blame. If a baseball player can hit a round ball traveling 90-plus miles per hour using a round bat as tens of thousands of fans roar with anticipation, then Novak Djokovic should be able to get his racquet on a tennis ball regardless of noise. Smart fans know when to be quiet, like when the home football team's offense is operating, so they can keep a lid on it during a golfer's backswing. Other than that, go nuts! The Big 12 already encourages cheering during their conference's college tennis matches, partly due to youth tennis' plummeting popularity.

Men's College Football and Basketball: Yes, college football and basketball are very exciting, and that will only increase once the agonizing 35-second shot clock drops to 30 seconds. But the NCAA is one of the most hypocritical, exploitative, money-grubbing organizations in all of sports. Between heavy time requirements each week for the "student-athletes," their miniscule chance of going pro, and the deplorable graduation rates across the board, major college sports are very hard to root for with pangs of guilt. It's no wonder that Northwestern football players voted last year to unionize. While football and basketball do fund many smaller college sports in certain aspects, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran pointed out last year that a head coach of a sports team was the highest paid public employee in 40 different states -- 27 football coaches and 13 basketball coaches, as noted by Deadspin. Those are your taxes at "work."

All-Star Games and the Pro Bowl: From the non-contact farce that is the Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star Game to the excruciatingly long and cripplingly boring Home Run Derby and Slam Dunk Contest, every single All-Star affair is simply terrible and a waste of everyone's time. And the fan voting could be the worst part of all, because we're responsible. Aside from hoops fans voting an injured Kobe Bryant an NBA All-Star starter, Kansas City Royals fans have Omar Infante currently leading the balloting at second base. (He's hitting .227 with only three walks in 62 games, so literally every other AL second baseman is a worthier choice.) Either way, the winning league will have home-field advantage in the World Series -- for no logical reason whatsoever.

NASCAR: As Forbes reported in 2012, NASCAR "has become the No. 1 spectator sport, and 17 of the top 20 most attended sporting events in the United States are NASCAR events." Formula One fans around the world think that's hilarious, because instead of the myriad intricacies of road racing, each event simply involves a few dozen cars turning left and occasionally getting a tire change.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A couple of things I’d like to get off my chest

Listening and reading about their wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, I’m wondering how Texas’ Republican leadership can, in good conscience, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, when they know they don’t believe in the pledge’s last lines. This is especially true of that real nut job, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who was quoted as saying "I would rather be on the wrong side of history than on the wrong side of my faith and my beliefs." That must mean his faith and his beliefs to do not include tolerance since so many other religious leaders supported the ruling. Just one example: "This is a day of celebration for my church community," said Kim Rogers, pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin. "The God I hold dear to me doesn’t push people away." But I guess to Patrick the faith and beliefs of others are just not worthy of consideration. That, my friends, is a textbook example of bigotry.

Speaking of wailing and gnashing of teeth, I noticed none of those spewing invectives at the New York Knicks for chosing Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in Thursday’s NBA draft suggested someone the Knicks should have selected instead. Hey, there were no turnaround players in this draft, no Anthony Davis, no LaBron James, no Kevin Durant, no Tim Duncan, no Shaquille O’Neal, no Hakeem Olajuwon, no Michael Jordan, no Larry Bird, no Magic Johnson, certainly no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This draft was comparatively deep in good players, but not really that many very good players. The first pick in the draft, Kari-Anthony Towns, had the lowest points-per-game average of any player ever picked No. 1 in the 68-year history of the draft. And if Porzingis can put some muscle on his skinny frame, he could turn out to be as good a pick as anyone else in this draft. Yes, he could also be a major bust, but so could Towns and Jahill Okafor, two players selected ahead of Porzingis. And there have only been a handful of players chosen at the four spot that have really turned out to be major stars in the league — Russell Westbrook in 2008, Chris Paul in 2005, Chris Bosh in 2003, Stephon Marbury in 1996, Dikembe Mutombo in 1991 — but plenty of good journeymen. If Porzingis turns out to be the latter, that wouldn’t be all that bad.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The 10 best films of the first half of 2015

Click on the title to see the film's trailer

1. Inside Out **** Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. This isn't just a movie. It's a doctoral dissertation on human psychology, with a bit of therapy on the side. Miraculously, it's fun, to boot.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road **** Directed by George Miller. 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.

3. The Duke of Burgundy ***½ Directed by Peter Stickland. There’s voyeurism, fetishism, bondage, lingerie and high-flown naughtiness galore, but that’s hardly the movie’s most conspicuous achievement. Also at work in this transfixing account of a sado-masochistic relationship on the ropes (so to speak) are a probing intelligence, a catalogue of inspirational cinematic references and — perhaps most impressive — a big, sad, beating heart.

4. It Follows ***½ Directed by David Robert Mitchell. The film doesn't try to get viewers to jump out of their seats. Instead, employing the time-honored technique of the "slow build", it pressures fingernails to dig into arm rests.

5. Seymour: An Introduction ***½ Directed by Ethan Hawke. The remarkable if unorthodox life and art of the classically trained pianist is explored with acute feeling and quiet tenderness in Hawke’s terrific biographical portrait.

6. Red Army ***½ Directed by Gabe Polsky.  In this swift, smart, often very funny film, Polsky takes an unprecedented look at the legendary Soviet-era hockey program and its life after glasnost, exposing an athletic system that became a crucial symbol of Communist history and politics, but also discipline, grace and brooding, melancholy soul.

7. Love & Mercy ***½ Directed by Bill Pohlad. Rarely have two actors (Paul Dano and John Cusack) been so effective playing the same character while taking totally different approaches.

8. Iris ***½ Directed by Albert Maysles. There's a fine line between bag lady and belle of the ball, and Apfel instinctively knows it. Her sense of style is uncanny.

9. A Most Violent Year ***½ Directed by J.C. Chandor. Has its share of wham-bam moments — a car-truck-foot chase into the city's bowels is superb — but the action never speaks louder than Chandor's hard-boiled words.

10. Clouds of Sils Maria ***½ Directed by Olivier Assayas. A meditation on fame, acting, aging, and acceptance, Clouds is a multilayered rapture on the subject of woman, performing. Not only does the film demand repeat viewings, it rewards them.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's opinion on same sex marriage

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.

I

These cases come from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, States that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The petitioners are 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased. The respondents are state officials responsible for enforcing the laws in question. The petitioners claim the respondents violate the Fourteenth Amendment by denying them the right to marry or to have their marriages, lawfully performed in another State, given full recognition. Petitioners filed these suits in United States District Courts in their home States. Each District Court ruled in their favor. Citations to those cases are in Appendix A, infra. The respondents appealed the decisions against them to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. It consolidated the cases and reversed the judgments of the District Courts. The Court of Appeals held that a State has no constitutional obligation to license same-sex marriages or to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of State. The petitioners sought certiorari. This Court granted review, limited to two questions. The first, presented by the cases from Michigan and Kentucky, is whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. The second, presented by the cases from Ohio, Tennessee, and, again, Kentucky, is whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in a State which does grant that right.

II

Before addressing the principles and precedents that govern these cases, it is appropriate to note the history of the subject now before the Court.

A

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriagei s sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations. The centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations. Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together. Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government. This wisdom was echoed centuries later and half a world away by Cicero, who wrote, "The first bond of society is marriage; next, children; and then the family." There are untold references to the beauty of marriage in religious and philosophical texts spanning time, cultures, and faiths, as well as in art and literature in all their forms. It is fair and necessary to say these references were based on the understanding that marriage is a union between two persons of the opposite sex.

That history is the beginning of these cases. The respondents say it should be the end as well. To them, it would demean a timeless institution if the concept and lawful status of marriage were extended to two persons of the same sex. Marriage, in their view, is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman. This view long has been held — and continues to be held — in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.

The petitioners acknowledge this history but contend that these cases cannot end there. Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect — and need — for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Recounting the circumstances of three of these cases illustrates the urgency of the petitioners’ cause from their perspective. Petitioner James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur over two decades ago. They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In 2011, however, Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. This debilitating disease is progressive, with no known cure. Two years ago, Obergefell and Arthur decided to commit to one another, resolving to marry before Arthur died. To fulfill their mutual promise, they traveled from Ohio to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. It was difficult for Arthur to move, and so the couple were wed inside a medical transport plane as it remained on the tarmac in Baltimore. Three months later, Arthur died. Ohio law does not permit Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. By statute, they must remain strangers even in death, a state-imposed separation Obergefell deems "hurtful for the rest of time." He brought suit to be shown as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are co-plaintiffs in the case from Michigan. They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in 2007. They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit. In 2009, DeBoer and Rowse fostered and then adopted a baby boy. Later that same year ,they welcomed another son into their family. The new baby, born prematurely and abandoned by his biological mother, required around-the-clock care. The next year, a baby girl with special needs joined their family. Michigan, however, permits only opposite-sex married couples or single individuals to adopt, so each child can have only one woman as his or her legal parent. If an emergency were to arise, schools and hospitals may treat the three children as if they had only one parent. And, were tragedy to befall either DeBoer or Rowse, the other would have no legal rights over the children she had not been permitted to adopt. This couple seeks relief from the continuing uncertainty their unmarried status creates in their lives.

Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura, co-plaintiffs in the Tennessee case, fell in love. In 2011, DeKoe received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Before leaving, he and Kostura married in New York. A week later, DeKoe began his deployment,which lasted for almost a year. When he returned, the two settled in Tennessee, where DeKoe works full-time for the Army Reserve. Their lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Tennessee, returning and disappearing as they travel across state lines. DeKoe, who served this Nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, must endure a substantial burden.

The cases now before the Court involve other petitioners as well, each with their own experiences. Their stories reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.

B

The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution — even as confined to opposite-sex relations — has evolved over time. For example, marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns; but by the time of the Nation’s founding it was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman. As the role and status of women changed, the institution further evolved. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity. As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned. These and other developments in the institution of marriage ove rthe past centuries were not mere superficial changes.

Rather, they worked deep transformations in its structure, affecting aspects of marriage long viewed by many as essential.

These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.

This dynamic can be seen in the Nation’s experiences with the rights of gays and lesbians. Until the mid-20th century, same-sex intimacy long had been condemned as immoral by the state itself in most Western nations, a belief often embodied in the criminal law. For this reason, among others, many persons did not deem homosexuals to have dignity in their own distinct identity. A truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken. Even when a greater awareness of the humanity and integrity of homosexual persons came in the period after World War II, the argument that gays and lesbians had a just claim to dignity was in conflict with both law and widespread social conventions. Same-sex intimacy remained a crime in many States. Gays and lesbians were prohibited from most government employment, barred from military service, excluded under immigration laws, targeted by police, and burdened in their rights to associate.

For much of the 20th century, moreover, homosexuality was treated as an illness. When the American Psychiatric Association published the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1952, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, a position adhered to until1973. Only in more recent years have psychiatrists and others recognized that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.

In the late 20th century, following substantial cultural and political developments, same-sex couples began to lead more open and public lives and to establish families. This development was followed by a quite extensive discussion of the issue in both governmental and private sectors and by a shift in public attitudes toward greater tolerance. As a result, questions about the rights of gays and lesbians soon reached the courts, where the issue could be discussed in the formal discourse of the law.

This Court first gave detailed consideration to the legal status of homosexuals in Bowers v. Hardwick. There it upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law deemed to criminalize certain homosexual acts. Ten years later, in Romer v. Evans, the Court invalidated an amendment to Colorado’s Constitution that sought to foreclose any branch or political subdivision of the State from protecting persons against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Then, in 2003, the Court overruled Bowers, holding that laws making same-sex intimacy a crime "demea[n] the lives of homosexual persons."

Against this background, the legal question of same-sex marriage arose. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court held Hawaii’s law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples constituted a classification on the basis of sex and was therefore subject to strict scrutiny under the Hawaii Constitution.Although this decision did not mandate that same-sex marriage be allowed, some States were concerned by its implications and reaffirmed in their laws that marriage is defined as a union between opposite-sex partners. So too in 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage for all federal-law purposes as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

The new and widespread discussion of the subject led other States to a different conclusion. In 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held the State’s Constitution guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry. After that ruling, some additional States granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, either through judicial or legislative processes.

In 2013 this Court invalidated DOMA to the extent it barred the Federal Government from treating same-sex marriages as valid even when they were lawful in the State where they were licensed. DOMA, the Court held, impermissibly disparaged those same-sex couples"who wanted to affirm their commitment to one another before their children, their family, their friends, and their community."

Numerous cases about same-sex marriage have reached the United States Courts of Appeals in recent years. In accordance with the judicial duty to base their decisions on principled reasons and neutral discussions, without scornful or disparaging commentary, courts have written a substantial body of law considering all sides of these issues. That case law helps to explain and formulate the underlying principles this Court now must consider. With the exception of the opinion here under review and one other, the Courts of Appeals have held that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the Constitution. There also have been many thoughtful District Court decisions addressing same-sex marriage — and most of them, too, have concluded same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. In addition the highest courts of many States have contributed to this ongoing dialogue in decisions interpreting their own State Constitutions.

After years of litigation, legislation, referenda, and the discussions that attended these public acts, the States are now divided on the issue of same-sex marriage.

III

Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, no State shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The fundamental liberties protected by this Clause include most of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. In addition these liberties extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs. The identification and protection of fundamental rights is an enduring part of the judicial duty to interpret the Constitution. That responsibility, however, "has not been reduced to any formula." Rather, it requires courts to exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect. That process is guided by many of the same considerations relevant to analysis of other constitutional provisions that set forth broad principles rather than specific requirements. History and tradition guide and discipline this inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries. That method respects our history and learns from it without allowing the past alone to rule the present.

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.

Applying these established tenets, the Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution. In Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men." The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, which held the right to marry was burdened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying. The Court again applied this principle in Turner v. Safley, which held the right to marry was abridged by regulations limiting the privilege of prison inmates to marry. Over time and in other contexts, the Court has reiterated that the right to marry is fundamental under the Due Process Clause.

It cannot be denied that this Court’s cases describing the right to marry presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners. The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part. This was evident in Baker v. Nelson, a one-line summary decision issued in 1972, holding the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage did not present a substantial federal question.

Still, there are other, more instructive precedents. This Court’s cases have expressed constitutional principles of broader reach. In defining the right to marry these cases have identified essential attributes of that right based in history, tradition, and other constitutional liberties inherent in this intimate bond. And in assessing whether the force and rationale of its cases apply to same-sex couples, the Court must respect the basic reasons why the right to marry has been long protected.

This analysis compels the conclusion that same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry. The four principles and traditions to be discussed demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.

A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. This abiding connection between marriage and liberty is why Loving invalidated interracial marriage bans under the Due Process Clause. Loving held "the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals". Like choices concerning contraception, family relationships, procreation, and child rearing, all of which are protected by the Constitution, decisions concerning marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make. Indeed, the Court has noted it would be contradictory "to recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society."

Choices about marriage shape an individual’s destiny. As the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has explained, because "it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition."

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.

A second principle in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. This point was central to Griswold v Connecticut, which held the Constitution protects the rights of married couples to use contraception. Suggesting that marriage is a right "older than the Bill of Rights," Griswold described marriage this way: "Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions."

And in Turner, the Court again acknowledged the intimate association protected by this right, holding prisoners could not be denied the right to marry because their committed relationships satisfied the basic reasons why marriage is a fundamental right. The right to marry thus dignifies couples who "wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other." Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.

As this Court held in Lawrence, same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association. Lawrence invalidated laws that made same-sex intimacy a criminal act. And it acknowledged that "[w]hen sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring."

But while Lawrence confirmed a dimension of freedom that allows individuals to engage in intimate association without criminal liability, it does not follow that freedom stops there. Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.

A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of child rearing, procreation, and education. The Court has recognized these connections by describing the varied rights as a unified whole: "[T]he right to ‘marry, establish a home and bring up children’ is a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause."

Under the laws of the several States, some of marriage’s protections for children and families are material. But marriage also confers more profound benefits. By giving recognition and legal structure to their parents’ relationship, marriage allows children "to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives." Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children’s best interests.

As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such couples. Most States have allowed gays and lesbians to adopt, either as individuals or as couples, and many adopted and foster children have same-sex parents. This provides powerful confirmation from the law itself that gays and lesbians can create loving, supportive families.

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.

That is not to say the right to marry is less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children. An ability, desire, or promise to procreate is not and has not been a prerequisite for a valid marriage in any State. In light of precedent protecting the right of a married couple not to procreate, it cannot be said the Court or the States have conditioned the right to marry on the capacity or commitment to procreate. The constitutional marriage right has many aspects, of which childbearing is only one.

Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this truth on his travels through the United States almost two centuries ago:

"There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America . . . [W]hen the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace . . . . [H]e afterwards carries [that image] with him into public affairs."

In Maynard v. Hill, the Court echoed de Tocqueville, explaining that marriage is "the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress." Marriage, the Maynard Court said, has long been "‘a great public institution, giving character to our whole civil polity.’" This idea has been reiterated even as the institution has evolved in substantial ways over time, superseding rules related to parental consent, gender, and race once thought by many to be essential. Marriage remains a building block of our national community.

For that reason, just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union. Indeed, while the States are in general free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, they have throughout our history made marriage the basis for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities. These aspects of marital status include: taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decision making authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules. The States have contributed to the fundamental character of the marriage right by placing that institution at the center of so many facets of the legal and social order.

There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.

The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.

Objecting that this does not reflect an appropriate framing of the issue, the respondents refer to Washington v. Glucksberg, which called for a "‘careful description’" of fundamental rights. They assert the petitioners do not seek to exercise the right to marry but rather a new and nonexistent "right to same-sex marriage." Glucksberg did insist that liberty under the Due Process Clause must be defined in a most circumscribed manner, with central reference to specific historical practices. Yet while that approach may have been appropriate for the asserted right there involved (physician-assisted suicide), it is inconsistent with the approach this Court has used in discussing other fundamental rights, including marriage and intimacy. Loving did not ask about a "right to interracial marriage"; Turner did not ask about a "right of inmates to marry"; and Zablocki did not ask about a "right of fathers with unpaid child support duties to marry." Rather, each case inquired about the right to marry in its comprehensive sense, asking if there was a sufficient justification for excluding the relevant class from the right.

That principle applies here. If rights were defined by who exercised them in the past, then received practices could serve as their own continued justification and new groups could not invoke rights once denied. This Court has rejected that approach, both with respect to the right to marry and the rights of gays and lesbians.

The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes en-acted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.

The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived, too, from that Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws. The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way, though they set forth independent principles. Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always coextensive, yet in some instances each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. In any particular case one Clause may be thought to capture the essence of the right in a more accurate and comprehensive way, even as the two Clauses may converge in the identification and definition of the right. This interrelation of the two principles furthers our understanding of what freedom is and must become.

The Court’s cases touching upon the right to marry reflect this dynamic. In Loving the Court invalidated a prohibition on interracial marriage under both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. The Court first declared the prohibition invalid because of its unequal treatment of interracial couples. It stated: "There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause." With this link to equal protection the Court proceeded to hold the prohibition offended central precepts of liberty: "To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law." The reasons why marriage is a fundamental right became more clear and compelling from a full awareness and understanding of the hurt that resulted from laws barring interracial unions.

The synergy between the two protections is illustrated further in Zablocki. There the Court invoked the Equal Protection Clause as its basis for invalidating the challenged law, which, as already noted, barred fathers who were behind on child-support payments from marrying without judicial approval. The equal protection analysis depended in central part on the Court’s holding that the law burdened a right "of fundamental importance." It was the essential nature of the marriage right, discussed at length in Zablocki, that made apparent the law’s incompatibility with requirements of equality. Each concept — liberty and equal protection — leads to a stronger understanding of the other.

Indeed, in interpreting the Equal Protection Clause, the Court has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged. To take but one period, this occurred with respect to marriage in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Notwithstanding the gradual erosion of the doctrine of coverture, invidious sex-based classifications in marriage remained common through the mid-20th century. These classifications denied the equal dignity of men and women. One State’s law, for example, provided in 1971 that "the husband is the head of the family and the wife is subject to him; her legal civil existence is merged in the husband, except so far as the law recognizes her separately, either for her own protection, or for her benefit." Responding to a new awareness, the Court invoked equal protection principles to invalidate laws imposing sex-based inequality on marriage. Like Loving and Zablocki, these precedents show the Equal Protection Clause can help to identify and correct inequalities in the institution of marriage, vindicating precepts of liberty and equality under the Constitution.

Other cases confirm this relation between liberty and equality. In M. L. B. v. S. L. J., the Court invalidated under due process and equal protection principles a statute requiring indigent mothers to pay a fee in order to appeal the termination of their parental rights. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court invoked both principles to invalidate a prohibition on the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons but not married persons. And in Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, the Court invalidated under both principles a law that allowed sterilization of habitual criminals.

In Lawrence the Court acknowledged the interlocking nature of these constitutional safeguards in the context of the legal treatment of gays and lesbians. Although Lawrence elaborated its holding under the Due Process Clause, it acknowledged, and sought to remedy, the continuing inequality that resulted from laws making intimacy in the lives of gays and lesbians a crime against the State. Lawrence therefore drew upon principles of liberty and equality to define and protect the rights of gays and lesbians, holding the State"cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

This dynamic also applies to same-sex marriage. It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality. Here the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.

IV

There may be an initial inclination in these cases to proceed with caution — to await further legislation, litigation, and debate. The respondents warn there has been insufficient democratic discourse before deciding an issue so basic as the definition of marriage. In its ruling on the cases now before this Court, the majority opinion for the Court of Appeals made a cogent argument that it would be appropriate for the respondents’ States to await further public discussion and political measures before licensing same-sex marriages. Yet there has been far more deliberation than this argument acknowledges. There have been referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns, as well as countless studies, papers, books, and other popular and scholarly writings. There has been extensive litigation instate and federal courts. Judicial opinions addressing the issue have been informed by the contentions of parties and counsel, which, in turn, reflect the more general, societal discussion of same-sex marriage and its meaning that has occurred over the past decades. As more than 100 amici make clear in their filings, many of the central institutions in American life — state and local governments, the military, large and small businesses, labor unions, religious organizations, law enforcement, civic groups, professional organizations, and universities — have devoted substantial attention to the question. This has led to an enhanced understanding of the issue — an understanding reflected in the arguments now presented for resolution as a matter of constitutional law.

Of course, the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights. Last Term, a plurality of this Court reaffirmed the importance of the democratic principle in Schuette v. BAMN noting the "right of citizens to debate so they can learn and decide and then, through the political process, act in concert to try to shape the course of their own times." Indeed, it is most often through democracy that liberty is preserved and protected in our lives. But as Schuette also said, "[t]he freedom secured by the Constitution consists, in one of its essential dimensions, of the right of the individual not to be injured by the unlawful exercise of governmental power. Thus, when the rights of persons are violated, "the Constitution requires redress by the courts," notwithstanding the more general value of democratic decision making. This holds true even when protecting individual rights affects issues of the utmost importance and sensitivity.

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution "was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts." This is why "fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections."

It is of no moment whether advocates of same-sex marriage now enjoy or lack momentum in the democratic process. The issue before the Court here is the legal question whether the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry.

This is not the first time the Court has been asked to adopt a cautious approach to recognizing and protecting fundamental rights. In Bowers, a bare majority upheld a law criminalizing same-sex intimacy. That approach might have been viewed as a cautious endorsement of the democratic process, which had only just begun to consider the rights of gays and lesbians. Yet, in effect, Bowers upheld state action that denied gays and lesbians a fundamental right and caused them pain and humiliation. As evidenced by the dissents in that case, the facts and principles necessary to a correct holding were known to the Bowers Court. That is why Lawrence held Bowers was "not correct when it was decided." Although Bowers was eventually repudiated in Lawrence, men and women were harmed in the interim, and the substantial effects of these injuries no doubt lingered long after Bowers was overruled. Dignitary wounds cannot always be healed with the stroke of a pen.

A ruling against same-sex couples would have the same effect — and, like Bowers, would be unjustified under the Fourteenth Amendment. The petitioners’ stories make clear the urgency of the issue they present to the Court. James Obergefell now asks whether Ohio can erase his marriage to John Arthur for all time. April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse now ask whether Michigan may continue to deny them the certainty and stability all mothers desire to protect their children, and for them and their children the childhood years will pass all too soon.

Thomas Kostura now ask whether Tennessee can deny to one who has served this Nation the basic dignity of recognizing his New York marriage. Properly presented with the petitioners’ cases, the Court has a duty to address these claims and answer these questions.

Indeed, faced with a disagreement among the Courts of Appeals — a disagreement that caused impermissible geographic variation in the meaning of federal law — theCourt granted review to determine whether same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry. Were the Court to uphold the challenged laws as constitutional, it would teach the Nation that these laws are in accord with our society’s most basic compact. Were the Court to stay its hand to allow slower, case-by-case determination of the required availability of specific public benefits to same-sex couples, it still would deny gays and lesbians many rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.

The respondents also argue allowing same-sex couples to wed will harm marriage as an institution by leading to fewer opposite-sex marriages. This may occur, the respondents contend, because licensing same-sex marriage severs the connection between natural procreation and marriage. That argument, however, rests on a counterintuitive view of opposite-sex couple’s decision making processes regarding marriage and parenthood. Decisions about whether to marry and raise children are based on many personal, romantic, and practical considerations; and it is unrealistic to conclude that an opposite-sex couple would choose not to marry simply because same-sex couples may do so. ("It is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of the love and commitment between same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples"). The respondents have not shown a foundation for the conclusion that allowing same-sex marriage will cause the harmful outcomes they describe. Indeed, with respect to this asserted basis for excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry, it is appropriate to observe these cases involve only the rights of two consenting adults whose marriages would pose no risk of harm to themselves or third parties.

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.

V

These cases also present the question whether the Constitution requires States to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed out of State. As made clear by the case of Obergefell and Arthur, and by that of DeKoe and Kostura, the recognition bans inflict substantial and continuing harm on same-sex couples. Being married in one State but having that valid marriage denied in another is one of "the most perplexing and distressing complication[s]" in the law of domestic relations. Leaving the current state of affairs in place would maintain and promote instability and uncertainty. For some couples, even an ordinary drive into a neighboring State to visit family or friends risks causing severe hardship in the event of a spouse’s hospitalization while across state lines. In light of the fact that many States already allow same-sex marriage — and hundreds of thousands of these marriages already have occurred — the disruption caused by the recognition bans is significant and ever-growing.

As counsel for the respondents acknowledged at argument, if States are required by the Constitution to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the justifications for refusing to recognize those marriages performed elsewhere are undermined. The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold — and it now does hold — that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

* * *

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Happy 66th, Meryl

Today is Meryl Streep's birthday, but as this proves, it's lovers of good film and triumphant acting that should be celebrating.

A change of heart on Rose

Not that I necessarily thought the lifetime ban that prohibited former Cincinnati Reds player/manager Pete Rose from having anything to do with Major League Baseball should be lifted, but I always thought Rose deserved a plaque in baseball’s Hall of Fame. It didn’t make sense, I felt, to deny a spot to the player who had more base hits than any other player in the history of the game. But I felt that plaque should clearly state that, in addition to his accomplishments on the baseball diamond, Rose was banished from the game of baseball for betting on the game while he was manager of the Reds.

Not now, however, not after today’s revelations that Rose was, in effect, in hock to the New York mob because of bets he made while he was a player. This reinforces my belief his banishment is justified and robs me of any argument I might have had about in his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

And this revelation comes less than two months after Rose appeared on an ESPN radio talk show in New York and said he "never bet as a player. That’s a fact." Reminds me of the words attributed to Buddha, "Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth."

Rose maintains he has a meeting with baseball commissioner Rob Manfred scheduled for sometime after the break for the All-Star game to discuss Rose’s possible reinstatement. If this is true, Manfred should cancel the meeting and state unequivocally there will be no further discussions between MLB and Rose and/or his representatives for at least as long as he is commissioner.

And if there was a suitable deserted island somewhere …

This week's DVD releases

Stop the Pounding Heart *** Directed by Roberto Minervini. Sara (Sara Carlson), a girl being home-schooled on a goat farm alongside her 11 siblings, finds her devout values challenged after she meets Colby (Colby Trichell), an amateur bull rider. A modest film made with an authenticity that commands respect.

The Other Man: F.W. de Klerk and the End of Apartheid **½ Directed by Nicolas Rossier. A documentary about one of modern political history's most enigmatic figures, President F.W. de Klerk of South Africa, who presided over the end of the nation's apartheid era and the release of his successor, Nelson Mandela. It’s an opportunity only half seized: Haphazard both as biography and historical survey, the film asks more salient questions than it can answer in a rushed 76 minutes.

Pound of Flesh Directed by Ernie Barbarash. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. A man's heroic attempt to help a woman in distress ends up with him waking up the next day without a kidney and plotting his revenge. A solid if occasionally silly B-picture of the sort that JCVD used to make, before "JCVD" suggested there might be more to him than mere "Muscles from Brussels."

Marfa Girl Directed by Larry Clark. A story centered on a directionless 16-year-old (Adam Mediano) living in Marfa, Texas and his relationships with his girlfriend, his neighbor, his teacher, a newly arrived local artist, and a local Border Patrol officer. As shallow as its characters' oversexed conversations.

Ghoul * Directed by Petr Jákl. Three American filmmakers become the targets of the evil spirit of the most violent cannibal in recorded history. As low-budget horror filmmaking goes, this is derivative, uninspired material.

The Forger * Directed by Philip Martin. With his son dying from cancer, art forger and prison inmate Ray Cutter (John Travolta) is desperate to share some time with him. A local mobster offers to arrange Ray's early release — but only if he copies a priceless painting and switches it with the original. Nicolas Cage at least manages to bring the occasional jolt of electricity to disposable genre tripe like this. Travolta is practically comatose.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Big dinosaurs? Big deal!

Everyone seems to be marveling at the fact that Jurassic World collected an estimated $204.6 million at the box office last weekend making it the second highest grossing domestic opening in history. Even the most liberal guesstimates figured the film at $150 million.

Here's the deal. This was the first or second school's-out-for-summer weekend and what else was out there for people to see? I would imagine anyone who has wanted to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron has had that opportunity at least twice since it opened May 1. The only real competition out there is Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road and San Andreas and none of those three are really attracting blockbuster-type audiences. In fact, none of those three has accumulated in total what Jurassic World netted this past weekend.

However, I'm predicting a huge dinosaur drop off this coming weekend. Not to the point of extinction, mind you, but it will be a steep fall-off. That's because the best movie to be released so far this year is coming out on Friday.

Just saying.

She loves me, she loves me not; she kills me, she kills me not

Joyce Mitchell is telling New York state prosecutors she supplied the tools that allowed Richard Matt and David Sweat to escape from Dennemora 10 days ago. She also said she agreed to provide the getaway car and drive the pair out of the country if they agreed to pause for a moment in their getaway to kill her husband. But, she is claiming, she backed out of the getaway car part "because she still loved her husband."

I, for one, am not buying it. You don't bargain with two cutthroats with whom you've been intimate to kill your husband one minute and then claim you love him the next. Are you kidding? Who does she think she's fooling? I sure hope her husband is in negotiations with a top flight divorce lawyer even as I write this.

Monday, June 15, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Wild Tales *** Directed by Damián Szifrón. Six short stories involving distressed people. This infectious dark comedy argues that payback is more satisfying when it’s doled out in fiery, bloody and outrageous doses.

Welcome to Me *** Directed by Shira Piven. Starring Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Allan Dudyk. When Alice Klieg (Wiig) wins the Mega-Millions lottery, she immediately quits her psychiatric meds and buys her own talk show. This spiky, pushy, sometimes upsetting comedy finds Wiig creating something whole and alive out of her apparent contradictions.

The Wrecking Crew **½ Directed by Danny Tedesco. A celebration of the musical work of a group of session musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew," a band that provided back-up instrumentals to such recording artists as Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys and Bing Crosby. There are a thousand stories to be told in the studios where these session players cut some of the greatest records of all time, which makes it disappointing that there isn’t more to be found in this documentary.

Run All Night **½ Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Though hard-drinking Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) left behind his career as a mob enforcer years ago, he’s forced to revive his lethal skills to protect his family when his son (Joel Kinnamon) runs afoul of Jimmy’s former boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Neeson gives us more of the same, although with Collet-Serra’s assistance, it’s dressed up in a more interesting package.

Time Lapse ** Directed by Bradley King. After finding their scientist neighbor dead in a storage room, friends Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary) and Jasper (George Finn) come across a strange machine in the man’s apartment and soon discover that the device can produce pictures of events 24 hours before they happen. Provokes thought, but mostly in spite of itself.

Chappie Directed by Neill Blomkamp. Chappie, an advanced humanoid robot, is kidnapped shortly after his creation and ends up incorporated into an already offbeat family. It never winds up with anything particularly interesting or effective to say about life, intelligence, religion, the nature of consciousness, or any of the other big themes it deliberately evokes. It does, however, blow up a lot of stuff.

Bravetown Directed by Daniel Duran. After his accidental drug overdose, a court orders New York City DJ and party animal Josh Harvest (Lucas Till) to live with his estranged father in a tiny North Dakota town. There is nothing brave about Bravetown, a film so paint-by-the-numbers bland that its efforts to piggyback the sacrifice of American servicemen and women for emotional depth is downright craven.

Beyond the Reach * Directed by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti. After hiring Ben (Jeremy Irvine) as a hunting guide, a wealthy tycoon (Michael Douglas) looking to bag a bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert accidentally shoots a prospector. When Ben refuses to help cover up the crime, he becomes the hunter’s prey. A grueling, unsatisfying thriller that fails the logic test in spectacular ways.

Unfinished Business * Directed by Ken Scott. Starring Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco. To close the biggest deal of their lives, an industrious small-business owner and his two colleagues fly to Europe. But what starts as a routine trip soon turns into a fiasco. A sluggishly paced collection of go-nowhere sight gags, flat-footed set pieces and incoherent business chatter that offers few laughs and little real payoff.

Old Fashioned * Directed by Rik Swartzwelder. A former frat boy and a free-spirited woman together attempt an "old-fashioned" courtship in contemporary America. The line between priggishness and creepiness is repeatedly smudged by Swartzwelder in this faith-based drama that looks as lovely as an expensive greeting card, but moves as slowly as a somnolent turtle.

Playing It Cool * Directed by Justin Reardon. Under pressure to produce a romantic comedy rather than action tales, a young screenwriter (Chris Evans) is hindered by his disdain for the very concept of love until he meets a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who’s engaged and unavailable. A strained romantic comedy that seems to exist only to show how many talented, successful actors — first and foremost Captain America star Evans — can be featured in one unworthy movie.

Monday, June 8, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Timbuktu **** Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. Fear grips Timbuktu in 2012 after the Malian city is seized by Islamic rebels determined to impose their extreme beliefs on the moderate Muslim populace. Sissako, whose previous film, 2006's Bamako, also tackled political issues with aplomb and complexity, doesn’t need to craft an overwrought denunciation of ignorant fanaticism. The humanism with which he approaches both the perpetrators and the victims of the violence inherent in this petty, small-minded tyranny makes the strongest argument possible against the Boko Harams of the world.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem **** Directed by Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. A woman faces an uphill five-year battle as she seeks a divorce from her intractable spouse, who opposes the dissolution of the marriage -- and holds all the cards under Israeli law. The tragedy here is not a single story but that a process so inequitable and so inane continues in a place that is considered to be enlightened. Gett, in moving and infuriating ways, exposes a very bleak corner of that world.

Red Army ***½ Directed by Gabe Polsky. The story of the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team through the eyes of its players. Polsky has made a smart and incisive film about an important moment in the history of a now-fallen empire, and he happened to make it wildly entertaining as well. No easy feat.

Rich Hill *** Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos. Chronicles the turbulent lives of three boys living in an impoverished Midwestern town. The confluence of poverty, dysfunctional parenting and poor educational prospects makes the oft-idealized small-town life look like an incubator for failure, no matter how high and spectacular the Fourth of July fireworks fly.

Cupcakes **½ Directed by Eytan Fox. In Tel Aviv, six friends who are appalled by the Israeli entry in the UniverSong competition record their own song on a mobile phone, then are shocked to learn their recording is selected as Israel’s entry for next year’s competition. Though the comic confection’s clunky moments keep it from achieving soufflé delicacy, its bright zingers and seamless fantasy sequences amp the playfulness, and the mostly unforced performances complement the production’s cartoonish exuberance.

Kingsman: The Secret Service **½ Directed by Matthew Vaughan. Seeing untapped potential in a wayward teenager, a veteran secret agent (Colin Firth) recruits the young delinquent and schools him in the skills that will ultimately transform him into a superspy. The film never entirely figures out what it wants to do with the myth of the superspy, but at least it has fun along the way.

The DUFF **½ Directed by Ari Sandal. A smart high schooler’s world comes crashing down when she discovers that she’s considered the Designated Ugly Fat Friend among her clique of more attractive chums. More a middle-of-the-road romantic-comedy than a teen-spirit sendup, the picture weaves its lighthearted mix of silly and serious with increasingly heavy-handed spiels on self-esteem.

Project Almanac ** Directed by Dean Israelite. When teenage boy (Jonny Weston) finds his late father’s technique for time travel, he and his buddies head to the past to place some surefire sports bets. Begins as a marginally fun diversion before proving to have nearly no interest in the possibilities of its premise.

Serena Directed by Susanne Bier. As most of America is mired in the Depression, George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), build a booming timber business together. It must have looked great on paper. On screen, it’s a soapy mess that even Joan Crawford in her delusional late-period prime couldn’t save.

Free the Nipple * Directed by Lina Esco. Chronicles a campaign launched by a legion of impassioned young women who take to the New York City streets in a crusade to legalize to public nudity in America. A shallow and frustratingly misguided drama.

Cas & Dylan * Directed by Jason Priestley. A dying doctor (Richard Dreyfuss), who plans to check out on his own terms, takes a reluctant detour when he inadvertently winds up on the lam with an "anything-but-normal" 22-year-old girl (Tatiana Maslany). Dreyfuss is so irrepressibly charming that he almost saves Priestley’s dismal buddy comedy from its awkward humor and trite sentimentality.

The Squeeze * Directed by Terry Jastrow. A small-town golf phenom (Jeremy Sumpter) abandons his dream of playing in the U.S. Open in favor of high-stakes matches for an unscrupulous gambler. There are definitely 18 holes between plot and character.

All Relative * Directed by J.C. Khoury. What begins as natural attraction turns into love after graduate student Harry (Jonathan Sadowski) meets fellow New Yorker Grace (Sara Paxton). But their romantic voyage takes an unexpected turn for the absurd when Harry is introduced to Grace’s mother (Connie Nielsen). Does Hollywood have so little to offer women that well-regarded actresses feel obliged to accept demeaning indies like this flatly unfunny, morally vacant comedy?

Monday, June 1, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

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 Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water **½ Directed by Paul Tibbit. When Bikini Bottom’s livelihood is threatened after a pirate steals the secret Krabby Patty recipe, SpongeBob and his pals head to shore to get it back. The gags, puns mostly, skew quite young. And those things Spongebob does that drive his onscreen castmates nuts — the shrieks and giggles and songs — are pitched to be a lot more irritating to adults than to small fry.

McFarland, USA **½ Directed by Niki Caro. A cross country coach (Kevin Costner) in a small California town transforms a team of athletes into championship contenders. Aims to be rousing rather than revelatory, and it mostly succeeds.

Focus **½ Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie. After falling for his pretty young protégé, expert con man Nicky Spurgeon ends their romance when he realizes it will only complicate matters. This is the kind of movie where we’re not supposed to know at any time who is playing whom, but since the characterizations are glossy and paper-thin, it’s difficult to get worked up about who gets fleeced.

Camp X-Ray ** Directed by Peter Sattler. Starring Kristen Stewart, Payman Maddi. A soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay befriends a man who has been imprisoned there. First-time writer-director Sattler keeps things glum and unsentimental, then tosses it all up in the air with a syrupy ending that derails everything. On another movie, the high-corn finale might have worked; here, it just feels patently false.

Jupiter Ascending Directed by The Wachowskis. Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne. A young woman discovers her destiny as an heiress of intergalactic nobility and must fight to protect the inhabitants of Earth from an ancient and destructive industry. Like too much filmed space opera, this is wonderfully imaginative when it comes to costume, art direction, special effects, spaceships and incidental alien creatures but stuck with old-hat character types and a resolutely unspecial storyline. It’s frequently entertaining, but as much for its terrible moments as its inspired touches.

The Lazurus Effect * Directed by David Gelb. Starring Mark Duplass, Oliver Wilde. A group of medical students discover a way to bring dead patients back to life. Sort of a Flatliners for the sensitive indie-actor set, The Lazarus Effect is a grimy, dopey, confused thriller that wastes a very likable cast.

Monday, May 25, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Ballet 422 *** Directed by Jody Lee Lipes. A documentary chronicling the intense artistic effort behind the 422nd new work staged by the New York City Ballet. A delightfully immersive look at how a ballet is created, Lipes’ documentary is a stark contrast to the psycho theatrics of something like Black Swan.

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles *** Directed by Chuck Workman. Cinema icon Welles’ talent and checkered career are memorialized in this documentary featuring clips from nearly all of his directorial efforts and interviews with filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and George Lucas. Sturdy and rudimentary, Magician may be Welles 101, but it’s dotted liberally with TV and radio clips of the famously loquacious auteur talking, talking, and doing more talking — and how could anybody with ears and a brain resist that buttery voice, spinning out clause-laden sentences that take more twists and turns than the streets of Venice but always end, somehow, in a place that’s ravishingly articulate?

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus ** Directed by Spike Lee. While researching the history of a little-known empire, anthropologist Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) comes across an ancient dagger that is shortly used to murder him. When he wakes up unharmed, Greene discovers that he’s developed an acute appetite for human blood. While this return to indie roots frees up Lee’s often gifted image making, his usual pace issues and penchant for jagged flourish over sustained feeling keep it from achieving a rich, strange, sexy and sad whole.

Cut Bank Directed by Matt Shakman. Starring Liam Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Dern, Michael Stuhlbarg, Oliver Platt, John Malkovich, A young man’s life is unraveled after witnessing a murder that he filmed in his rural town of Cut Bank. Clever enough to provoke a few abrupt laughs along the way, this big screen debut for two television stalwarts, Shakman (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and writer Robert Patino (Sons of Anarchy, Prime Suspect), is sabotaged by some frightfully on-the-nose expository dialogue and an adamantly prosaic visual style.

Seventh Son * Directed by Sergei Bodrov. In the 18th century, apprentice exorcist Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) is the lynchpin in a battle between good and evil when imprisoned witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) escapes. Not only offers no new spin on its bland, by-the-numbers story, it also fails to deliver any generic pleasures; I’m not sure this movie could even keep a young child engaged.

See You In Valhalla * Directed by Jarret Tarnol. Starring Sarah Hyland, Steve Howey, Odeya Rush, Bret Harrison, Emma Bell, Jake McDorman, Beau Mirchoff, Michael Weston, Conor O’Farrell. A young woman returns home to reunite with her estranged family after the bizarre death of her brother. Featuring stereotypical characterizations and painfully awkward dialogue, the film treats its dramatic themes with a wince-inducing shallowness. Virtually nothing in the drawn-out proceedings works on any level, and the characters are so inherently unlikeable that being in their company is as painful for viewers as it is for them.

Nightlight * Directed by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods. Making a night journey into Covington Forest — a place long associated with teen suicides — five friends plan to play flashlight games. It’s all very familiar in that Blair Witch kind of way, with neither the characters nor situations proving remotely interesting.

The Loft * Directed by Erik Van Looy. Five married co-owners of an upscale loft enjoy their investment as a discreet hideaway for their adulterous pursuits. But when a murdered woman is discovered in the apartment, each suspects the others of committing the grisly killing. This silly chamber piece about sex and murder elicits only yawns, interrupted by the occasional unintentional giggle.

Monday, May 18, 2015

This wee's DVD releases

Leviathan **** Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. In a Russian coastal town, Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits a lawyer friend to help, but the man's arrival brings further misfortune for Kolya and his family. If there was ever any doubt as to Zvyagintsev's position as one of world cinema's foremost auteurs, it's put to rest here. His filmmaking has always been superb, but he's never taken on the state of his nation in the way he does here. And that makes Leviathan not just masterful but also hugely important.

Girlhood ***½ Directed by Céline Sciamma. A girl with few real prospects joins a gang, reinventing herself and gaining a sense of self confidence in the process. A powerful and entertaining film about a gang of girls, and what friendship means, the protection it provides.

American Sniper *** Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle's pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. Cooper, to his credit, rarely flinches, never chest-thumps and never loses his cool, even when Kyle is starting to lose his. It’s a masterful interpretation of a man with a lot more on his mind and blood on his hands than he was ever inclined to let on. And it’s a performance worthy of Eastwood himself — 50 years ago.

The Blue Room *** Directed by Mathieu Amalric. In the intimate confines of a hotel room, married Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric) and his paramour, Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau), meet regularly for erotic encounters until he's arrested for an unstipulated crime connected to their intense affair. A deceptively low-key riff on a Hitchcock whodunit. It’s both sexy and inscrutable, a cold-blooded puzzler to the very end.

Last Hijack **½ Directed by Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting. A partially animated documentary that focuses on Mohamed Nura of Somalia, who — despite his family's opposition — has become an expert in piracy. The filmmakers have gotten extraordinary access to Mohamed and ravaged Somalia. But it's disappointing that they did not capture more scenes of Mohamed's wife and her family, who in the end are the ones who make the most momentous decision.

All the Wilderness ** Directed by Michael Johnson. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Virginia Madsen, Isabelle Fuhrman, Evan Ross, Danny DeVito. A restless teenager explores the wilderness of his city while struggling with the absence of his father. Writer-director Johnson covers a lot of familiarly morbid teen ground in All the Wilderness, a film with touches of "Ordinary People" and a hint of "Harold & Maude." But touches and a hint aren’t enough to lift this morose movie into anything any of us need to see or hear to deepen our understanding of teen depression, grief and love.

Cymbelline ** Directed by Michael Almereyda. Starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jobovich, John Leguizamo, Dakota Johnson. Biker-gang leader Cymbeline and his second wife scheme to have her son wed Cymbeline's daughter to get her out of the picture. One of the most uncinematic pieces crafted by an otherwise fine stylist, Cymbeline befuddles with its ineffective blocking and lack of art direction.

Maya the Bee Movie ** Directed by Alexs Stadermann. Starring Jacki Weaver, Richard Roxburgh, Noah Taylor, Justine Clarke, Jodi Smit-McPhee. Banished from the hive by the queen's evil adviser after discovering her dastardly scheme to steal the royal jelly and frame the hornets, young Maya the bee must make her way alone across the perilous meadow to save the day. More harmless than entertaining, a limp exercise in cinematic baby-sitting for the 6-and-under set.

Before I Disappear ** Directed by Shawn Christensen. Starring Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Paul Wesley, Emmy Rossum, Ron Perlman. At the lowest point of his life, Richie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his 11-year old niece for a few hours. There's a surface elegance that might play as depth in smaller doses, but at feature length, the stylistic flourishes seem to be covering for deficiencies rather than servicing the material.

ZombeaversDirected by Jordan Rubin. Enjoying a relaxed and romantic lakeside holiday, a gang of college students suddenly find themselves hunted by a pack of murderous un-dead beavers (I’m not making this stuff up). It’s not a total wash, and seen at night, under the right combination of low expectations and controlled substances, it may even seem better than it really is.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 * Directed by Steve Pink. When Lou (Rob Corddry) finds himself in trouble, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Jacob (Clark Duke) fire up the hot tub time machine in an attempt to get back to the past. But they inadvertently land in the future. It’s a comedy that’s so witless and unfunny and shoddily made it makes The Hangover 2 look like The Godfather 2.

Lovesick * Directed by Luke Matheny. Starring Matt LeBlanc, Ali Larter, Adam Rodriguez, Chevy Chase. A school principal is successful in life but for one glaring exception: Every time he begins a relationship, his excessive jealousy and paranoia ruin things. Both LeBlanc and Larter glide through the synthetic setup like pros, but they have no connection because their characters barely resemble human beings.

Strange Magic * Directed by Gary Rydstrom. Starring Alan Cumming, Evan Rachal Wood, Kristin Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph, Alfred Molina, Peter Stormare. Goblins, elves, fairies and imps battle over a powerful potion. It’s like watching a cartoon version of American Idol on an endless karaoke loop.

Monday, May 11, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Still Alice *** Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart. A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Moore makes the movie worthwhile, elevating it from disease-of-the-week fare to the role of a lifetime.

Beloved Sisters **½ Directed by Dominik Graf. In the late 18th century, sisters Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) and Caroline (Hannah Herzsprung) begin an unconventional romance with poet Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter), who cares deeply for them both. Might scratch your costume drama itch, but it’s not among the genre’s best.

Tip Top **½ Directed by Serge Bozon. Two lady detectives (Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Marinelli) are sent to investigate a rash of crimes in a provincial town, much to the annoyance of the locals. Shot in precisely composed frames, with recurring visual motifs and an eye-pleasing color palette that accentuates blue hues, Tip Top is commendably ambitious in its Godardian attempts to deconstruct the police thriller format, but it’s only partially successful.

The Sleepwalker **½ Directed by Mona Fastvold. As Kaia (Gitte Witt) and her boyfriend (Christoper Abbott) work to restore her childhood home, they get an unexpected visit from her estranged sister, Christine (Stephanie Ellis), and her fiancé (Brady Corbett). The setup has mysterious promise, but the film cheaps out on a satisfying payoff.

These Final Hours **½ Directed by Zak Hilditch. A self-obsessed young man makes his way to the party-to-end-all-parties on the last day on Earth, but ends up saving the life of a little girl searching for her father. Incoherent and pointless as it is, These Final Hours moves with commendable swiftness.

Two Men in Town **½ Directed by Rachid Bouchareb. Starring Forest Whitaker, Harvey Keitel, Elen Burstyn, Brenda Blethyn, Luis Guzman. A Muslim ex-con forms a friendship with his parole officer. The setting is striking, the cast impressive. But Two Men in Town, a drama that’s built on dread and circles the question of redemption for a newly released prisoner, falls short of the mythic territory it aspires to.

The Girl Is in Trouble ** Directed by Julius Onah. Starring Columbus Short, Wilmer Walderrama, Alicia Bachleda, Jesse Spencer. A Lower East Side bartender becomes entangled in a murder mystery involving a desperate woman, a missing drug dealer and the scion of a powerful investment firm. The story has plenty of possibilities, though Onah rarely manages to put his own stamp on things.

Blackhat ** Directed by Michael Mann. Convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) receives a "get out of jail free" card to join a team of American and Chinese technical experts tasked with tracking down a Balkan cyberterrorist operating from somewhere in Southeast Asia. A moody cyber-noir with not much on its mind but looking good, Blackhat is a must-see if you like your dialogue (romantic, dramatic, subtitled Cantonese) peppered with techspeak.

Tracers ** Directed by Daniel Benmayor. After New York bike messenger Cam (Taylor Lautner) falls into debt with the wrong people, he ends up bumping into the sexy Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos), who offers him sanctuary and the chance to join her crew of thieves, who use their parkour skills to pull off their heists. The lusterless camerawork keys itself almost empathetically to the drab reality of the film’s spaces, settled and unsettled alike, but it can’t enliven the hackneyed plot.

White RabbitDirected by Tim McCann. A bullied high school student starts having visions of a rabbit that he killed when he was a kid, soon putting him in a state where his imagination threatens to cause him to carry out violent acts. While White Rabbit is not a lost cause, its difficult story of mistreatment and lashing out proves too much of a challenge to tell well.

Extraterrestrial Directed by Colin Minihan. A group of friends on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods find themselves terrorized by alien visitors. Doesn’t amount to much beyond a mish-mash of movies we’ve seen before.

Just Before I Go * Directed by Courteney Cox. On the verge of giving up on life, a guy (Seann William Scott) travels to his hometown to make amends. A Garden State retread in which filthy jokes gradually cede ground to sentimental slush.

Mortdecai * Directed by David Koepp. Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn, Oliver Platt, Jeff Goldblum. With the Russian Mafia on his trail, an urbane but unscrupulous art dealer sets off on a quest to recover a purloined painting that’s allegedly connected to a bank account chock-full of Nazi treasure. Charmless, mirthless and witless, this waste of time is another black mark on Depp’s card, while his co-stars fare little better. Even low expectations won’t help you here.

The Cobbler ½* Directed by Thomas McCarthy. Starring Adam Sandler, Method Man, Ellen Barkin, Steve Buscemi. New York shoe repairman Max Simkin has become weary of his drab existence when he discovers that an old stitching machine in his shop has magical properties, enabling Max to fully inhabit the lives of his customers simply by trying on their shoes. A slow-motion zeppelin crash that starts as a dull-edged fable, and then spirals further and further out of control without ever growing more exciting or interesting.