Monday, August 31, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thinking of someone named Ingrid and someone named Linda

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on the title to see the film’s trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

Between now and then just let me dream

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

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trumbo? Yes. Douglas? No

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

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Black Mass

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'll drink to that

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

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


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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the movie’s trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The anti-BBC: My 100 favorite American movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 24, 2015


This could have been pure sap, but I'm betting it isn't going to be because (1) the screenplay is Ron Nyswaner, who also wrote Philadelphia; (2) it's cast is top of the line: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, and Michael Shannon; and (3) it's based on a film that won the 2008 Best Documentary Short Oscar.

Monday, July 20, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Jauja *** Directed by Lisandro Alonso. In the late 1800s, Danish military engineer Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) travels to the South American desert with his daughter, Ingeborg (Villbørk Malling Agger), after being dispatched to map the region for European settlers. When Ingeborg steals away, Dinesen sets out after her. There are more enigmas than answers in Jauja, an artsy South American Western from Alonso, an Argentine filmmaker who delights in undermining movie conventions.

What We Do in the Shadows *** Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Clement) are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts. A bracing reminder of how the right burst of energy and style breathes fresh ideas into a genre threatened with creative exhaustion.

Tangerines *** Directed by Zaza Urushadze. During the vicious Georgian-Abkhazian conflict of the 1990s, two Estonian tangerine farmers refuse to leave their homes as the fighting grows ever closer. After each one rescues a wounded soldier from the opposite side, a very personal battle ensues. A simple tale, sharply drawn and smartly told, a portrait of a people, a place and a centuries-old conflict that one wise yet myopic citrus farmer cannot get his mind around any more than I can.

Kung Fu Killer *** Directed by Teddy Chan. A vicious killer stalks the streets of Hong Kong, methodically executing top martial arts competitors. Xia (Donnie Yen), a convicted killer and kung fu expert, offers to help police find the killer and put him behind bars in return for his own freedom. Like a greatest-hits album, it’s not as deeply satisfying as an artist’s best work (try Yen’s Ip Man). But it will keep you entertained.

5 Flights Up ** Directed by Richard Loncraine. A long-time married couple (Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman) who’ve spent their lives together in the same New York apartment become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away. What starts as a somewhat charming — if prosaic — story of love in the time of gentrification inexplicably spends most of its third act mired in the finer points of apartment hunting, like a tastefully lit HGTV show.

Set Fire to the Stars ** Directed by Andy Goddard. When he invites Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones) to America for a series of poetry readings, hidebound academic John M. Brinnin (Elijah Wood) is well aware of the Welshman’s reputation as a hell-raiser. But Brinnin is unprepared for the lengths he’ll have to go to keep Thomas sober. It’s a nice enough, pleasant enough film with a couple solid performances. But when you’re making a movie about a man as unique, profound, and complex as Dylan Thomas, and you have nothing to say about him, you don’t have much of a movie.

Wild Horses Directed by Robert Duvall. A detective opens up a fifteen-year-old missing persons case and begins to suspect that the boy it belongs to was murdered — and that a local rancher was involved. What a shambles. Duvall, eminent character actor of the Hackman-Caan generation of difficult big-screen guys, returns to the director’s chair with this dawdling and sometimes damn near unintelligible ensemble piece set in a Texas border town.

The Pact 2 Directed by. Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath. A woman (Camilla Luddington) who is plagued by nightmares involving a serial killer learns her dreams have a horrifying connection to the real world. Writer-directors Hallam and Horvath, picking up the baton from first film creator Nicholas McCarthy, do a serviceable job aping the original’s clean, mostly lo-fi atmospherics and nervy framing. The story’s a wash, though.

Survivor * Directed by James McTeigue. After surviving a terrorist bombing in London, a U.S. embassy employee (Milla Jovovich) ends up on the run when she’s framed for crimes. Learning a New Year’s Eve attack is planned for Times Square, she must foil the plot while eluding authorities and an assassin. Fans of Jovovich’s Resident Evil series know the pleasures inherent in watching her sprint hither and yon. That’s about the only thrill provided by Survivor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I have a hunch this movie is going to be a whopping success

American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook were among my favorite films of the last five years and this reunites many of the principle talents responsible for the success, both critically and financially, of those two films. I was doubly pleased to see Virginia Madsen, one of my favorite under-utilized actresses, listed among the credits. She was magnificent in Sideways, a role that I was hoping would resurrect her career. But that was more than a decade ago and since then she has disappeared yet again. Here's hoping Joy gives her the boost she really deserves.

By the way, if you're wondering who this Joy person is that Jennifer Lawrence plays, she's Joy Mangano, the inventor of the self-wringing Miracle Mop, Huggable Hangers and a number of other gadgets. If you ever watch the Home Shopping Network, you've probably seen her.

Monday, July 13, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

It Follows ***½ Directed by David Robert Mitchell. A young woman (Maika Monroe) is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter. The film has an impressively sustained sense of dread, less explicit gore than measured tension. Mitchell slyly inverts the conventions of dead-meat teenager flicks, although not with wink-wink comedy like the Scream series. This movie is serious about creeping out viewers, and Mitchell is just artistic enough about it to create a minor masterpiece.

The Salt of the Earth ***½ Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders. A documentary about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has created a spectacular body of work during his long career, capturing both the planet’s stunning beauty and humankind’s heartbreaking atrocities. A celebration of the power of art to change the world, as well as an exploration of the considerable toll gifted artists sometimes pay for their talents, and their courage to push forward regardless.

Ex Machina ***½ Directed by Alex Garland. A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander). Stylish, elegant, tense, cerebral, satirical and creepy. Garland’s directorial debut is his best work yet, while Vikander’s bold performance will short your circuits.

Clouds of Sils Maria ***½ Directed by Olivier Assayas. Twenty years after her breakthrough role as a young woman who beguiles and ultimately destroys her mentor, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is invited to play the part of the older woman in a stage production of the same drama. A complex, bewitching and melancholy drama, another fearlessly intelligent film from Assayas.

Goodbye to All That **½ Directed by Angus MacLachlan. Blindsided by his wife’s (Melanie Lynskey) desire for a divorce, Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) must try to refashion his life in a confusing new world of dating that includes social media. But while the sex comes easily for Otto, meaningful relationships don’t. A heartfelt, bittersweet and often amusing portrait of early middle-age.

Red Knot **½ Directed by Scott Cohen. Opting to take their honeymoon cruise to Antarctica aboard a research ship, Chloe (Olivia Thirlby) and Peter (Vincent KarlHeiser) find the going rough in more ways than one. Cohen’s insights into relationships are sharp and this film is an auspicious start for the budding filmmaker, one rife with good instincts, smart direction, and crisp writing. Kartheiser and Thirlby are the main attraction, however, and when these two ships pass on their own icy seas, the result is more than worth the plunge.

24 Days **½ Directed by Alexandre Arcady. The shocking abduction and torture in 2006 of young Jewish man (Syrus Shahidi) in Paris set emotions aflame on the issue of anti-Semitism and the alleged inability of police investigators to comprehend the true motivations behind the abduction. As a suspenseful true crime story, 24 Days succeeds. As a warning against the ever present dangers of anti-Semitism, it is eloquent and disturbing. It’s in combining the two that Arcady mishandles the case.

Maggie ** Directed by Henry Hobson. When a zombie infestation ravages her Midwest town, young Maggie (Abigail Breslin) soon begins turning into one of the flesh-eating creatures. But her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to give up her on and insists on caring for Maggie at home. The plot is lean, the dialogue is spare and there are some intriguing stabs at intellectual and emotional terrain. But the pacing is deadly, so slow there might be time for a catnap or two without missing anything important.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ** Directed by John Madden. Hotel owner Sonny (Dev Patel) is overwhelmed with the task of finding a second property to accommodate the influx of new residents, while his upcoming wedding plans may be too much for the hotel’s staff to handle. The film has only the sheer charm of its cast to get it by, and it says a lot about the actors that they nearly pull it off.

The Longest Ride * Directed by George Tillman Jr. After an automobile crash, the lives of a young couple intertwine with a much older man, as he reflects back on a past love. The two-plus hours is mostly marked by an emptiness born of scene after scene designed to blatantly manipulate emotions rather than trigger them.

Freedom * Directed by Peter Coursens. Pursued by a relentless tracker, Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his family escape servitude on a Virginia plantation through a network of safe houses. We get too little character development to be invested in the story and barely a glimpse at the horrific plight of enslaved people.

Dawn Patrol * Directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. After his brother is murdered in their sleepy California coastal town, John (Scott Eastwood) suspects that members of a rival surfing group are responsible. When his hunger for revenge leads him to kill the wrong man, John joins the Marines to avoid apprehension. The film has a lot on its plate and manages to drop it all. The movie deals with themes of xenophobia, murder, revenge and forgiveness, and not one aspect is handled with anything approaching competence. What a dud.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 ½* Directed by Andy Fickman. Ffumbling rent-a-cop Paul Blart (Kevin James) travels to Las Vegas for a grand security guard expo, where he faces broad contempt from his peers before stumbling across a gang of professional thieves planning a major art heist. Think of the worst movie you’ve ever seen — a movie that didn’t make you laugh, didn’t make you cry, didn’t move you or change you in any way besides giving you the desperate urge to smash your DVD player. Think of a movie that was a massive waste of your time and money. Hold that title in your mind. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is worse than that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

These week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

‘71 ***½ Directed by Yann Demange. The setting may be Belfast ‘71, but Demange’s sensibility — first-rate suspense coupled with black-and-white politics — is much more James Cameron ‘86.

Slow West *** Directed by John Maclean. Maclean and his cast create a sound, tone and feel that makes even a moldy tale like this lean, mean and fresh, even if it never quite transcends the gun smoke of its genre.

Merchants of Doubt *** Directed by Robert Kenner. There isn’t a tremendous amount of new information in this generally well-crafted documentary. But it makes a potent, urgent case against the merchants of doubt who play games with the planet’s future.

Uncertain Terms *** Directed by Nathan Silver. Silver offers up a generally assured and compelling film here.

Human Capital **½ Directed by Paolo Virzi. Melding a morality play with a glossy soap, Italy’s Human Capital is a fairly successful balance of entertainment and ideas.

Deli Man **½ Directed by Erik Anjou. Much to its credit, this documentary wisely chooses not to bemoan the decline but to celebrate the robust survivors that remain as well as the culture they preserve.

Danny Collins **½ Directed by Dan Fogelmqn. Starring  Beneath the sitcom cutesiness and boldfaced sentimentality, the film manages to keep just enough reality coursing through to stay grounded.

Alex of Venice **½ Directed by Chris Messina. As she flails through a few dubious choices, the character may be on the kind of self-discovery path we’ve seen in countless other films; but Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes the outcome seem far from preordained.

Woman in Gold ** Directed by Simon Curtis. The production design is swank, the score impassioned. We should be riveted. Instead, you may feel you’ve seen this movie before, and, in a sense, you have: Woman in Gold plays remarkably like 2013's Philomena with a change of cast and a different historical outrage.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown ** Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. An initially promising genre reboot ends up feeling like a major failure of nerve.

Echoes of War Directed by Kane Senes. I could not see this as anything more than a giant bore that presents viewers with the most familiar plot devices imaginable but fails to present them in a way that makes them worth sitting through.

Dark Summer * Directed by Paul Solet. While competently made, Dark Summer makes no effort to lend its characters any psychological complexity, or even much distinguishing personality. Nor are the proceedings very scary.

The Road Within * Directed by Gren Wells. This is a movie about affliction, and it ultimately succumbs to the bland, sentimental uplift we’ve come to expect from such outings.

Kill Me Three Times * Directed by Kriv Stenders. This neo-noir crime comedy works overtime to seem unique and clever. The result, however, is a derivative, gimmicky, at times dizzying puzzle that fails to engage.

Alien Outpost * Directed by Jabbar Raisani. A sci-fi action film with the production values of your average porno, Alien Outpost spews clichés like a machine gun set on maximum triteness.

The Lovers ½* Directed by Roland Joffé.  A shamelessly derivative and preposterous would-be blockbuster that goofily fashions itself as a sweeping romance, time-travel sci-fi tale, and gallant period piece all at once.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.