Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wish I could be there for this one



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next Ron Howard epic

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

The words on the shirt say it all


My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

This Week’s DVD Releases


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

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

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Unbroken to open Christmas Day

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Fearless Baseball Playoff Predictions

AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD
Oakland over Kansas City

NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD
Pittsburgh over San Francisco

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

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

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Los Angeles Angels over Baltimore

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Washington over Los Angeles Dodgers

WORLD SERIES
Los Angeles Angels over Washington

This Week’s DVD Releases


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases


We Are the Best! **** Directed by Lukas Moodysson. Three girls in 1980s Stockholm decide to form a punk band, despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead. A messy, congenial empowerment story that knows how aggravating adolescence can be when you refuse to fit in.

The Last of the Unjust ***½ Directed by Claude Lanzmann. This dark documentary examines the history of Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ model ghetto created to counter rumors about mistreatment of interned. Rewards those willing to invest in Lanzmann’s pensive technique with a complex tale that’s alternately sad, enlightening, unexpectedly witty and ultimately exhausting, but carried along throughout by Lanzmann’s commitment.

Neighbors *** Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lisa Kudrow. A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.It’s not the classic raunchy comedy it wants to be, but it certainly isn’t for lack of trying. And when it’s funny, it’s really funny. Just not as often as one might hope.

The Rover *** Directed by David Michod. Guy Pearce, Robert Pattison. Ten years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner pursues the men who stole his only possession, his car. What makes The Rover more watchable than the average self-conscious genre exercise is Pearce, who exudes such weary authority and palpable vulnerability that he’s sympathetic even in the film’s most brutalizing moments.

The Signal **½ Directed by William Eubank. Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke. During their drive across the country, college pals Nick (Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) — accompanied by Nick’s girlfriend (Cooke) — run into major trouble in the Nevada desert. You spend a lot of the movie confused, but the great big reveals of its finale don’t feel very shocking at all. Yet it’s not a complete wash and, given the circumstances, that feels like an accomplishment.

Postman Pat: The Movie ** Directed by Mike Disa. Voices of Stephen Mangan, David Tennant, Rupert Grint, Jim Broadbent. A veteran postman finds his beliefs challenged after he enters a TV talent show competition. A mostly charmless and dark affair.

Very Good Girls Directed by Naomi Foner. Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Ellen Barkin, Richard Dreyfuss, Demi Moore, Clark Gregg, Peter Sarsgaard. In their last summer before they start college, best friends Lilly (Fanning) and Gerry (Olsen) make a pact to have sex and lose their virginity. But their bond is put to the test when they both fall for the same boy. This is a very bad excuse to subject those of us who have enjoyed Fanning ever since 2001's I Am Sam to see her flash her bare fanny, fondle herself provocatively and cavort in her underwear for no dramatic purpose. Yes, she should be allowed to grow up onscreen. But without a story that justifies it, it just feels sad and desperate.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Wash Situation Redux

 

So the reason Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington resigned was because "I was not true to my wife." I’ll go along with everyone else who takes that as a euphemism for "I had a sexual dalliance with someone other than the one to whom I had pledged my troth."

But I don’t see where you toss your entire career out the window because you wandered into places where you didn’t belong. That, alone, isn’t enough. Do you have any idea how many baseball groupies exist out there? They know the hotels where the visiting teams will be staying and they know how to "meet and greet" at those establishments. I suspect that many ballplayers are on a first-name basis with many of these charming lassies. If all the ballplayers who ever had sex with someone other than their wives during the season were forced to resign, no franchise could field a nine-player team.

There’s still more — much more — to this story than Washington is letting on.

I can think of only five reasons why marriage infidelity forced Washington away from baseball. (1) He contracted some life-threatening sexually transmitted disease; (2) His sexual partner of question is pregnant with his child and has decided to keep it (3, the most likely scenario) the person Washington dillied with is also a Texas Ranger employee or who is either in a high-ranking or sensitive position or who has threatened some form of sexual harassment proceedings against the team; (4, the second most likely reason) some form of violence was involved leading the possibility of sexual assault charges being filed; or (5) the person involved with Washington is the significant other of a Ranger employee.

At the other end of the this story is the fact that the Rangers, the team with the worse record in baseball, won their sixth — that’s right, sixth! — game in a row today under interim manager Tim Bogar. As far as I’m concerned, I’m thinking team General Manager Jon Daniels should remove that "interim" tag from Bogar’s title. Heaven knows the team could do a lot worse.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sports radio: Excusing the inexcusable


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A passing worth noting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Goodell’s Goofs




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hang your head in shame, NFL, then fire it



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wash Situation

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

So here’s my theory.

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

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

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

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

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