Monday, December 29, 2008

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

An American Carol (2008) ½* Astonishingly inept alleged satire.

Surfer Dude (2008) *½ The film is awash in doobies and breasts, clichéd cinematic language and clumsy exposition. It's reminiscent of the stoner-culture movies of the late '60s and early '70s but without the naive fun.

Towelhead (2008) **½ The third-act redemption raises this film several notches, but it still ends up feeling like a well-acted and well-intentioned after-school special, a long way from the vividness and texture of director Alan Ball's television work.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The idea of a fluctuating gasoline tax

Given the choice between purchasing a fuel efficient Prius or a gas guzzling Hummer, I'm convinced most Americans would pick the Hummer. Americans just love big cars, pickup trucks and SUVs. The only thing that drove a lot of consumers to seek more fuel-efficient automobiles was the spike in gasoline prices this year drove them to around $4 a gallon. Now that the price of gas is back around $1.50, the idea of the smaller car is not all that appealing to most Americans.

Call me paranoid, but I'm convinced the price of gas is being artificially manipulated by those who really are afraid that President-elect Barack Obama is going to do whatever he can to fulfill his promise of a reduced reliance on oil imports. I can see this plan working, too. Critics of Obama's plan can proclaim "Hey, gas is cheap. Let's worry about more important things like easing the credit crunch so I can negotiate a loan to buy the family a Cadillac or a big Benz."

Me, I still think fuel efficiency is the way to go. But how do you accomplish this when gas prices are at the levels they are today? One interesting idea floating around is that of a fluctuating gasoline tax. Here's the way it would work. Gas prices would be established permanently at, say, $4 or even $5 a gallon. At those prices, Americans will go back to wanting more fuel efficient cars and will be demanding once again auto manufacturers develop vehicles that run on other types of fuel -- exactly the atmosphere needed to make Obama's energy plan work. When the actual price of gas is $1.50, the difference between that price and the established price would be the amount of the gasoline tax that would flow into the U.S. Treasury. Should the price of gas begin to climb, the amount of the tax falls correspondingly. So, if gas prices rise back up to $3.50 a gallon, the gasoline tax is 50 cents a gallon versus $2.50 a gallon when the per-gallon price of gas is $1.50.

It's an idea worth further discussions.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Texas-OU in the recruiting game

In today's editions of The New York Times, reporter/writer Thayer Evans spins a fascinating tale involving the recruiting of Jamarkus McFarland, a standout high school football prospect from Lufkin. My only question after reading it is how does one wrangle an invitation to that "wild party hosted by Longhorns fans at an upscale hotel in Dallas after the Oklahoma-Texas game on Oct. 11."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Josh Howard has to go

After spending an absolutely magnificent Christmas evening making dinner for and just hanging out with My Hero, I returned home to see most of the second half of the Dallas Mavericks-Portland Trailblazers and discovered when I turned on the TV, much to my astonishment, the Mavericks ahead on the road against a very good team. But then Dirk Nowitzki picked up his fourth foul and had to sit and it fell on Josh Howard to carry the Mavericks' luggage.

So what does Howard do? He commits a flagrant foul. No biggie. Sometimes they are called for. But then immediately after Howard picks up a technical. And while Portland is shooting that foul shot, Howard, totally disregarding what's in the best interests of the team, gets his second technical foul, an automatic ejection. Now Nowitzki has to return with four fouls.

Howard's off-the-court antics last season didn't bother me as much as it riled a lot of people. But actions like tonight's are unconscionable. The sooner the Mavericks get rid of this jerk the better off the team will be.

What a sad irony

Eartha Kitt, a singer I will always remember for the way she seductively purred the lyrics to the song "Santa Baby," died this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tom Leppert and KBH's Senate seat

D Magazine publisher Wick Allison apparently heard rumors that Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is considering running for the U.S. Senate seat that will become vacant when Kay Bailey Hutchison decides to challenge Rick Perry for Texas governor. So Wick called Da Mayor to ask him about it and Da Mayor give Wick the typical political answer. (In other words, he didn't say flat out, "Hell, no, I'm not running for anything else except another term as mayor.") Wick then opined that Da Mayor would be committing political suicide if he did decide to run (His exact words were "If he were to abandon his post now to seek a higher office, I doubt he would even carry Dallas.") words that were seconded later by Jim Schultze of the Dallas Observer.

As for me, I'm not so sure they are correct. Writing about the whole thing in the Dallas Morning News, Rudolph Bush lists some of the others interested in the Republican nomination, folks Bush referred to as "big name challengers." They are, according to Bush, Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones, both state railroad commissioners; state Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano; and former Secretary of State Roger Williams. I don't know how you feel about it, but they don't come across as "big name challengers" to me, except, perhaps, for Williams, but that's only because a bunch of old farts might confuse him with the pianist who recorded the hit song "Autumn Leaves" more than a half century ago. I think with the well oiled machine like Leppert put together in his mayoral run, he could defeat that pack.

I think Leppert is refusing to say "yes" for the reasons Schultze points out: the City Charter would require him to step down as mayor as soon as he said he was running for another office. But there is no question in my mind Leppert is dreaming of a more expansive political future and Senate seats don't become available that often, especially for a Republican like Leppert who wouldn't have to face an incumbent in the primary.

For those wanting to keep their dates straight, a special Senate election would take place in 2010, if KBH resigns to run for governor. The next Dallas mayor's election occurs in 2011.

An early Christmas present

This is a must read -- Rick Reilly's story about "the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas."

Dustin Hoffman didn't do Dallas theater, but Dorothy Michaels told Jose Ferrer SHE did

It's worth a look.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Dallas Convention Center Hotel

Here's an issue that's at the top of a lot of agendas, but, frankly, I can't get too excited about it one way or another. If I had to come down on one side or the other, I'm going to say "Build the sucker," but I'm not about to go to the barricades over this one.

I do think the people who are against it are motivated by their own self interests (the Trammell Crow group, owners of the Anatole which stands to lose significant business when the Convention Center Hotel opens) and those whose vision is rather short-sighted. Opponents can drag out all the numbers they want to about the current state of the economy, the hotel business and the convention business, but 25 years from now I'm convinced everyone will be saying "Man, that convention center hotel was sure one swell idea that someone had."

What a lot of people (except Trammell Crow, of course) fail to realize is that a hotel of this nature is not just about booking rooms for those attending conventions at the adjacent convention center. Many, many conventions are too small to book a facility like the convention center -- they want a facility where they can go from their individual rooms to a large ballroom type facility without ever leaving the building. They also want decent food service and, oh, yes, television monitors, wireless Internet connectivity, blue ray DVD players, a Starbucks kiosk and all kinds of other goodies for their meetings. These types of conventions, which almost exclusively went to the Anatole, are now more likely to come to the downtown hotel because it's ... well ... downtown where there are far more transportation and entertainment options than exist at I-35E and Wycliff.

I have also noticed that all the other hotel operators in the downtown area favor the construction of the convention center hotel. I'm figuring they know more about this business than I and 99 percent of the hotel's critics. So when the stupid waste-of-time vote comes around next May, I'll be on the side that says "Let the dirt fly," but don't ask me to go to the mat on this one.

How about dem Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys, if they can find a way to defeat the Eagles in Philadelphia next Sunday, can still have the opportunity to lose another first round playoff game. For some reason, the possibility doesn't excite me all that much.

I guess it's because that everything about Saturday night's game against Baltimore was so dreadful, from the play of the overrated Tony Romo to the embarrasing telecast offered up by the NFL Network and finally the post-game "Goodbye to Texas Stadium" that came across like a poor junior high school play.

Will I watch the Cowboys-Eagles game next Sunday afternoon? Dunno yet. Depends on the possible alternatives. Yesterday afternoon I went to see "Slumdog Millionaire" and I would definitely rank that movie ahead of the majority of Cowboy games I've seen this season. Then last night I watched the second half of the Giants-Panthers game and kept wondering why the Cowboys can't play up to that level.

Besides I think the Eagles, who chances at making the playoffs are smaller than the Cowboys', will want to take great delight in making sure Terrell Owens and the rest of the team Philly loves to hate don't make the playoffs. What's more, the jobs of two head coaches may be on the line in this game, as well they should be.

Which makes me wonder -- what does anyone else think about the idea of trying to attract Mike Holmgren as the Cowboys' head coach?

New movies to be released this week on DVD

Baghead (2008) *** Though its scares are scarce, "Baghead" provides what nine out of 10 dead-teenagers movies lack: specifically, a realistic sense of character that gives moviegoers a reason to identify with the would-be victims.

The Duchess (2008) **½ Fans of period drama will find things to like about this movie; it’s not as ludicrous as "The Other Boleyn Girl," for instance, and it’s not overly long or ponderous.

Eagle Eye (2008) *½ Idiotic, if reasonably kinetic, this movie — in which Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan spend the better part of two hours urgently answering phone calls and dodging hurtling machinery — is every bit as over-edited as it is under-thunk.

Ghost Town (2008) *** Once Tea Leoni’s character comes on the scene, the movie starts to bubble along nicely. Not just because Leoni is a screwball heroine worth, er, screwballing — at 42, she’s more attractive than ever — but because her character is given a weight and texture that’s rare in a movie of this type.

Savage Grace (2008) ** The film includes graphic omnisexual and incestuous couplings and has an air of free-floating dread but, especially given its subject matter, it’s oddly vacuous — it rarely takes hold emotionally even when its people hit bottom with a resounding thud.

Friday, December 19, 2008

In reality, it's a miserable life

Writing in today's editions of The New York Times, Wendell Jamieson had this take on the movie that always rears its head around this time of year, "It's a Wonderful Life," the 1946 piece of Capracorn starring James Stewart:

"“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation."

OK, there's that and the fact that Jamieson thinks Pottersville, the town that would have existed in place of Bedford Falls had Stewart's character never been born, would have been a far more interesting place to live than Bedford Falls. He also believes it would have been economically more viable today than Bedford Falls would have been.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SAG nominees

If you want to enter the Oscar nominations office pool, the nominations from the Screen Actors Guild give a pretty good indication on who will be the final five in the four acting categories (after all, only other actors can vote in these four categories) as well as for best picture (SAG members make up the majority of the Motion Picture Academy's voters).

So here are the SAG nominees announced this morning, the big surprise for me being that Kristin Scott Thomas did not receive a best actress nomination. Melissa Leo, who has received a number of the critics year end awards, filled the spot I thought might go to Ms. Scott-Thomas. I was delighted to see Richard Jenkins get a nomination, but a little bit surprised that Brad Pitt received one over Leonardo DiCaprio. By the same token I was stunned to see Michael Shannon's name omitted from the supporting actor list. I have not seen "Revolutionary Road" yet but have heard nothing but absolute raves about Shannon's performance (although I'm told it's brief.) The fact that neither Shannon nor DiCaprio received a nomination and that "Road" didn't make the final five in SAG's equivalent to best picture makes me question just how good the film turned out to be. Of course it could also be that, because of its late release date, not enough SAG members have had an opportunity to see it.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
"Doubt"
"Milk"
"Frost/Nixon"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You, too, can throw a shoe at the Prez

I've never been good a whack-a-mole games like this one, probably something to do with hand-eye coordination or lack of same. So I'm impressed when I see that someone has scored a 92 when all I could get was ... well, I'm not going to embarrass myself by telling you my score. Let it be known, however, that I only played it once. With practice and a little rest ... well, let's just say "Yuri, I could be coming for ya." (And, Yuri, if y0u happen to read this, don't take it seriously.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hugh Jackman and the Oscar telecast

I have always hated those big song-and-dance production numbers that seemed bog down the Oscars television show. Thankfully, however, they seemed to be fading into obscurity. We still have to put up with the presentation of the five nominated songs for reasons I will never understand, but it's better than it was.

Because of the show's steadily declining ratings, this year we are being promised a whole new format for the Oscar telecast. And, as part of this radicalization of the Oscars telecast, the host for the show is not going to be a well-known comedian, but, instead, actor Hugh Jackman, arguably best known for playing Wolverine in the X-Men series of films. He might have liked to have become best known for playing opposite Nicole Kidman in "Australia," but that film bombed so badly he might become the butt of jokes because of it.

Putting "Australia" and even the X-Men aside, I have always thought Jackman to be a marvelous entertainer. However, based on this evidence along with this demonstration as well as this segment," I just hope the Oscar producers aren't trying to take us back to the days of big production numbers.

New movies to be released this week on DVD

TUESDAY

Mamma Mia (2008) **
Meryl Streep can do anything: sing, dance, do splits, act her heart out. She (almost) saves this clumsy, overwrought film version of the Abba musical that’s been running on stages from Broadway to Barcelona since 1999.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) * The kindest thing to be said for this frantic, cluttered mess of cheesy computer-generated action-adventure clichés is that at least you can see how the estimated $175 million budget was spent.

FRIDAY

The House Bunny (2008) **½ It’s funny. Dumb, yes, but funny.

Traitor (2008) **½ Brandishes physical verisimilitude and intelligent seriousness but proves unable to really get inside its chameleon-like central character.

SUNDAY

American Teen (2008) *** Even when it’s ripping off "Juno" and "The Hills," this film is fascinating in the way of every good documentary — the more time you spend with anyone, the more they surprise you.

Burn After Reading (2008) **½ The film has enough funny lines and weird situations — some comedy business with a sex chair lovingly constructed by the George Clooney character is the highlight — that it could age into a cult film like "The Big Lebowski."

Death Race (2008) *½ The best you can say about the movie is that it isn’t boring. It’s fast-paced, but it isn’t really well made.

Hamlet 2 (2008) **½ Attaining somewhat of a bad parody of a comedy, screenwriters Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady have slapped together a string of gags in a hit-and-miss dither. Some of it is quite brainy.

The Women (2008) * So consistently, outrageously wrongheaded in every way it’s hard to know where to start.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NY Film Critics honor my three best films

To date, my picks for the best three films of 2008, in order, are "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," "WALL-E" and "Man on Wire." Today the New York Film Critics Circle named "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" the best foreign film of the year, "Wall-E" the best animated film and "Man on Wire" the best documentary.
Other awards announced this morning by the New York Film Critics Circle:
Best Picture: "Milk"
Best Actor: Sean Penn, "Milk"
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Best Director: Mike Leigh, :Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Screenplay, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best First Film: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"

Cruz cruising to Oscar

This is the time of year when the major film critic groups get together and announce their year-end awards. And tomorrow, of course, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will announce the nominations for its much over-hyped Golden Globe awards. So far, many of the recipients of these awards have been all over the place. "Slumdog Millionaire" has won a pair of best picture nominations and the Los Angeles Film Critics, in somewhat of a surprise, named "WALL-E" the year's best.

The major surprise, to me, is the absence of "Revolutionary Road" and its co-stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in any of the critics' discussions because both received considerable support in polls I have conducted of Oscar voters.

One thing seems certain, however. There is a consensus on Penelope Cruz as the best supporting actress for Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." She was the leading vote getter in my poll and, as I recall, she has won every single honor in this category handed out so far this year. Thus, she has to be considered the first front-runner for an Oscar.

Update at 11:20 a.m. The New York Film Critics Association has named Sean Penn as best actor for "Milk." Combine that with his other wins in that category and the fact that he was the leading vote-getter in my poll makes him the Oscar favorite in this category.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The husband of a murder victim looks at O.J.

Andy Ostroy, whose own wife, actor/writer/director Adrienne Shelly, "the love of my life," was murdered writes eloquently on his feelings about O.J. Simpson, his murder trial, that trial's verdict, the emotional aftermath of that verdict and the subsequent events that have led to Simpson's incarceration. Here is the wonderful last paragraph:

"Sadly, I know the heartache of losing a loved one at the brutal hands of a violent animal. I get to live each day with a young child who was tragically robbed of her loving mother. And I know what it's like to witness the inequitable trade of a beautiful soul's precious life for a relatively small prison sentence. But though it's certainly no consolation, as it will never bring back Nicole and Ron, the Goldmans and the Browns can at least breathe and sleep a little easier now that justice has finally, on some level, been served for them as well. The Butcher of Bundy will likely and hopefully die in jail a broken man. Payback for 1995, some say? Who cares. A cold-blooded murderer is off the streets and behind bars, where he belongs, and that's all that matters."

It's worth reading the entire article.

Monday, December 8, 2008

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Anamorph (2008) *½ The long shadow of David Fincher’s "Se7en" falls on this movie, a moody, ultimately unexciting thriller.

The Dark Knight (2008) ***½ Make no mistake: This film is many things, some of them deliriously fun, some of them deeply impressive, and some of them puzzling and frustrating. But most of all it is dark.

Horton Hears a Who! (2008) *** Frequently charming, beautifully drawn and far more faithful in spirit to the source material than those dreadful Ron Howard-Brian Grazer productions.

Man on Wire (2008) **** A film perfectly poised between artistry and audacity. It’s beautiful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wells picks "Che" as year's best

Respected industry blogger Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere has picked Steven Soderberg's epic "Che" as the best film of 2008. The rest of his year's best films are: 2. Man on Wire; 3. Revolutionary Road; 4. The Visitor; 5. WALL-E; 6. Doubt; 7. Three Monkeys; 8. Slumdog Millionaire; 9. Nothing But the Truth; 10. The Dark Knight; 11. Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains; 12. Milk; 13. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; 14. Frost/Nixon' 15. The Wrestler; 16. W. Wells said he has still not seen all of this year's worthwhile films, including "Gran Torino," which he admitted could slip into his year's best list.

I have yet to see many of the films on Wells' list but two of my top 3 for this year so far are "Man on Wire" and "WALL-E," so I am pleased he has those two high on his list. I liked "The Visitor" a lot, but I think Wells has let Richard Jenkins' incredible performance in that film overshadow his opinion of the movie as a whole and I firmly believe he has grossly overrated "W."

My selections for the best films of the year should be coming in about a month.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Could Fort Worth be left without a daily newspaper?

Here's the first paragraph of a story from yesterday's Editor and Publisher:

"Newspaper and newspaper groups are likely to default on their debt and go out of business next year -- leaving "several cities" with no daily newspaper at all, Fitch Ratings says in a report on media released Wednesday."

Further down in the story is this paragraph:

"Fitch rates the debt of two newspaper companies, The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. as junk, with serious possibilities of default. It also assigns a negative outlook to both the companies and the newspaper sector, meaning their credit ratings are likely to deteriorate further."

The McClatchy Co. is the parent of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. You can draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

There's no such thing as "Freedom of Television"

Every Dallas City Council meeting, whether it's an agenda meeting or a briefing meeting, ends with time being handed over for citizens, each of whom is given three minutes, to say whatever is on their minds. There's a band of regulars who attend these meetings, just so they can rant at the end of them, usually about perceived racial injustices, kids in West Dallas dying from lead poisonings or just about how evil those sitting on the council really are. Sometimes these rants can be funny, but more often than not they have no foundation in fact, they are disrespectful, they are bigoted, and they are on topics the city council has absolutely no control over.

About a month or so ago I noticed while watching a city council meeting on television, the feed ended before the speakers were allowed to speak. No great loss, I thought to myself, someone had just flipped the switch too quickly by accident. But then it happened again the following week and soon newspaper stories started appearing about this new policy that no one at the city was claiming responsibility for.

At today's meeting, however, Mayor Leppert came forth and said he's the person responsible for ordering the television blackout on these speakers. I kinda wish the person responsible had been the city manager so it wouldn't have become such a political issue, but there you have it and it did. But it quickly became the wrong kind of political issue -- people like city council person Angela Hunt, whose rapidly becoming known as someone on the wrong side of every debatable issue, tried to turn it into a Freedom of Speech issue.

This has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech. No one's speech is being limited. These lunatics still have the same opportunity to stand up at the end of every city council meeting and spout their messages of hate and stupidity. No one is stopping them from doing that.

Here is a quote from Angela Hunt today: "We work for these folks, and I think it's inappropriate to limit their time. I will not be supportive of any measures to limit or otherwise curtail our bosses' ability to tell us what they want us to hear."

Well, Angela, no one is talking about "any measures to limit or otherwise curtail our bosses' ability to tell us what they want us to hear." They are just saying that we at home don't have to listen to that tripe.

Television executives make these types of decisions every day. It is now common, when televising sporting events, not to show some jerk rushing out on the field or somehow making some untoward commotion. Any psychologist will tell you that people will alter their standard behavior if they know that behavior might be captured on television. Television, in this case, is not a fly-on-the-wall chronicler of history in the making, but is complicit and an accessory in abysmal behavior.

So, Angela, and fellow council members Carolyn Davis and Vonciel Hill, please wake up and recognize this issue has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech but only with restricting broadcasting bad behavior on television. If these folks want to get their time on television, tell them to go to whatever Dallas Community Television is calling itself these days (you know, the clowns that keep coming back to you folks on the city council every year begging for more money and you keep making the mistake of giving it to them) and get their own television show. But they have no right to demand their remarks have to be telecast at the end of city council meetings.

Where's my hammer?

I need it to beat the demons out of Blaine Milam and Jessica Carson.

And I want to beat those demons out slowly, inflicting a great deal of pain and suffering with each blow.

There are some folks for whom mercy is simply not an option.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Odetta

Harry Belafonte introduced me to Odetta. Well, not personally. It was not Harry coming up to me and saying "Pete, I've got someone I want you to meet." Nothing like that.

It was in the 1950s and as Dick Clark was doing everything he could possibly do to kill rock 'n' roll, I found myself venturing into the realms of folk music. Nothing heavy at first, kinda like my experiments with controlled substances. Harry Belafonte's album "Calypso" was a big influence so I went to see him in concert when he played Carnegie Hall. He had two other performers singing with him during his show, Miriam Makeba and Odetta.

I vividly remember sitting there utterly transfixed as Odetta sang "Water Boy." Spellbinding. I would have followed that voice anywhere. I had a lot of satisfaction learning later that Bob Dylan ventured into folk music upon hearing Odetta sing.

Odetta died earlier today. She was was 77. In this tribute for the New York Times, writer Tim Weiner concentrates on Odetta's contributions to the civil rights movement. I'll always remember her, however, for one song sung one night 50 years ago in Carnegie Hall. That she left such an indelible memory says more than any other words possibly could.

I wish I could have said "I told you so.."

As faithful readers -- both of you -- know, I was highly critical of the Devin Harris-Jason Kidd trade the Mavericks made last year. But I had absolutely no idea -- none, whatsover -- that Harris would emerge as a genuine superstar this season. He recently took Steve Nash, whose mantle Harris could have assumed in Dallas, to the woodshed in this game. The trade is looking worse by the day even though Kidd is probably playing better this year than last. But he's definitely not performing at Harris' level.

Monday, December 1, 2008

December's Oscar Poll

Beginning with this month's poll, I am simply listing the likely nominees in each category based on the votes they received in the poll. The listings are alphabetical, not by vote totals.

Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Director
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Actress
Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Kristin Scott-Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Original Screenplay
Happy Go Lucky
Milk
Rachel Getting Married
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Wall-E

Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Film Editing
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire

Cinematography
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Defiance
Revolutionary Road

Art Direction
Australia
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

Sound Mixing
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Wall-E

Sound Editing
The Dark Knight
Defiance
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Wall-E

Costume Design
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
The Reader
Revolutionary Road

Original Score
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Defiance
Revolutionary Road
Wall-E

Make-Up
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight

Visual Effects
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Iron Man

Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E
Waltz With Bashir

Foreign Language Film
Captain Abu Raed
The Class
Everlasting Moments
Gomorra
Waltz With Bashir

Documentary Feature
Bigger Stronger Faster
Man on Wire
Standard Operating Procedure
They Killed Sister Dorothy
Trouble the Water

The Big 12 and the BCS

There's something wrong with a system that allows two teams, neither of which had a better record than the Texas Longhorns and both of which were beaten by the Horns, to play for the Big 12 Championship.

Yes, I am a Texas fanatic. But even if I weren't, this system smells. And it's not the fault of the BCS, although it adds another reason to my list of why we should get rid of it, but of the Big 12. This would not happen in the Southeastern or the Atlantic Coast Conference, two other college football leagues with championship games, because they have more sensible playoff procedures. This year's Big 12 screw-up will undoubtedly result in changes made to the league's method of choosing playoff teams, making that method more like the SEC and the ACC, but that can't undue the damage done this year.

And don't think I'm about to change my mind and start advocating for an eight-team playoff to determine college football's championship. I have even more reasons after this season to be against a playoff than I was earlier. For one thing, an eight-team playoff this year, according to the current BCS standings, would eliminate Boise State and watching the Broncos crush a credible Fresno State team, 61-10 (48-0 in the second half), last week convinced me they can play with anybody. A playoff would deny them that chance, however. For another thing, leagues with playoffs are all about the playoffs and not about the regular season. College football has the best, most exciting, regular season of any sport and it would be a disaster to ruin that.

But this isn't about determining the national championship -- I'll save repeating that argument for another day. Besides, if Missouri upsets Oklahoma (which is likelier than, say, Alabama defeating Florida in the SEC title game), Texas is sitting pretty for the BCS championship game. Hey, remember the last time Oklahoma played for the national championship? It didn't play in the Big 12 title game that year either. Then there's always the possibility OU wins the title game, but looks miserable doing it, and the voters in the Harris and Coaches polls decide to rank Texas ahead of Oklahoma again. And there's always the AP championship. The Associated Press doesn't participate in the BCS. Texas is No. 3 in the AP poll, behind Alabama and Florida. It stands to reason the winner of the SEC title game will be No. 1 in the next AP poll and Texas will take the loser's place at No. 2. Then, if the SEC winner loses the BCS title game, Texas could easily ascend to No. 1 after it demolishes Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Hey, it happened in 2003 when the AP named Southern California the national champion even though the Trojans didn't play in the BCS title game.

But my main argument here is about determining the Big 12 champion, not the national champion. This year, the Big 12 got it wrong. By adapting the same procedures next year as the ACC and the SEC, they can make sure a travesty like this doesn't happen again.

Of course, there's a lot of people in Berkeley right now saying "What goes around comes around." They remember 2004 when it appeared Cal was a lock for the Rose Bowl. But then in Cal's final game of the season, a 26-16 victory over Southern Mississippi, Cal coach Jeff Tedford ordered his quarterback Aaron Rodgers to take a knee at the end of the game rather than try for another score (as Texas Tech coach Mike Leach would have done). Some say that unimpressive final score over a less-than-mediocre team, combined with with some extensive lobbying by Texas coach Mack Brown pushed Texas ahead of Cal in the final regular season polls and put the Horns in the Rose Bowl in Cal's place. California wound up in the Holiday Bowl, where it was destroyed by Texas Tech, no less, and still hasn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1959.

Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security

The Dallas Observer, in its most recent edition, published this overly long, almost unreadable story on why Arizona governor Janet Napolitano is a "terrible choice" by President-elect Obama as Secretary for Homeland Security. I disagree.

The Observer's objection to Gov. Napolitano largely comes because a sheriff in her state, Joe Arpaio, has terrorized immigrants in Phoenix. The problem here, however, is that, as governor, she is handcuffed when it comes to restraining Sheriff Arpaio. It's the Bush administration, under its 287(g) program, which delegates immigration enforcement to local police, that's responsible for Arpaio's rampages, not Gov. Napolitano. In fact, as Homeland Security Secretary she could probably do more to end Arpaio's reign of terror than she can as governor.

As governor of a border state, Gov. Napolitano has a solid understanding of the complexities of immigration, its policies and possbilities for reform. She seems to understand the problems must be attacked at its causes instead of employing harsh tactics that only give an illusion of reform.

But the real reason I am a supporter of Gov. Napolitano is because she has been an opponent of President Bush's idiotic pursuit of a 700-mile long speed bump known as the border fence, a financial and environmental disaster in the making. She knows that a better policy is reforming visa policies and giving the Border Patrol the resources it needs to put the hammer on drug smugglers.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

(click on title to see trailer)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) **½ The movie is more somber and less wondrous in tone than the first film, especially since the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), who would have been instrumental in leading the Narnians to victory, has disappeared.

Fly Me to the Moon (2008) *½ The little heroes and their families are surprisingly ugly, with faces resembling skulls, and the colors are so faded and muddy the movie feels tired and bungled.

The Longshots (2008) ** What makes this one different? Absolutely nothing. (Sure, it’s based on a true story, but I mean come on, whatever.)

Step Brothers (2008) ** The Will Ferrell comedy engine is running on empty in this one.

Wanted (2008) *** Before this film reaches the end of its wild course, the violence that’s been nothing but oppressive becomes genuinely if perversely impressive; the ritual carnage becomes balletic carnage (railroad cars included); the Walter Mitty-esque hero, Wesley, played by James McAvoy becomes a formidable enforcer of summary justice, and Mr. McAvoy, most memorably the young doctor in "The Last King of Scotland," becomes a certified star.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) **An exercise in mediocrity. It’s curious how little of the TV series’ charm and appeal can be found in this uneven, plodding excuse for a reunion.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The leading contender for this year's Best Picture Oscar

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Fred Claus (2007) *½ The movie is less ho-ho-ho than uh-oh, or oh-no. Emitting a stale odor from the first reel, it never engaged the audience of kids and adults that I saw it with.

Hancock (2008) ** More intelligent than most summer blockbusters and features at its center a thought-out and committed performance by Will Smith. But in the end it’s merely ALMOST good.

Meet Dave (2008) *½ The kind of bland, generic, high-concept midsummer comedy that drives a critic to the thesaurus in search of new ways to say "vapid."

Space Chimps (2008) *½ Sucks a whole lot of talented people into a wormhole of lousy. The film either needed to be a lot wittier to make up for the way it looks, or a lot better-looking to compensate for the funny it isn’t.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A peak at Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler"

It was the great Philip Wuntch, the former film critic at the Dallas Morning News back in the days when that newspaper was serious about film criticism, who first alerted me about Mickey Rourke and his performance in the film "The Wrestler." I had just published the results of my first Oscar poll -- I guess it was right around Labor Day -- and Mr. Wuntch, proving he probably has forgotten more about film than the rest of us will ever know, sent me a note saying something to the effect of "What? No Mickey Rourke mentions for best actor?"

I was clueless, of course. He was correct that not one Oscar voter responding to my monthly survey mentioned Rourke's name in the best actor poll. And because I obviously don't have my ear as close to the ground as Mr. Wuntch, I had to admit I was not in any way familiar with the film in question.

Then came the poll I published around the first of October and Rourke finished third in the best actor race, which, in my mind, made his nomination a sure thing. I silent marveled at Mr. Wuntch's foresight. In last month's poll, Rourke finished at the head of the pack, replacing Frank Langella, the leading vote getter the first two times around.

"The Wrestler" has yet to open in Dallas so I have not seen it and, thus, can't personally attest to Rourke's performance. But if this trailer is any indication, the film could be a metaphor for Rourke's own career -- redemption.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

R.I.P. Jim Mattox, Clive Barnes

"Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, the colorful one-time Dallas congressman who was part of a team of Democratic progressives that dominated Texas politics in the 1980s and early 1990s, has died. He was 65."

"Clive Barnes, who as an influential critic in Britain and later for The New York Times helped bring dance to a broad audience with an exuberant, highly personal style and who for many years was a theater critic for The Times and then The New York Post, died early Wednesday. He was 81 ... "

Obama's first failure -- college football playoff

Last week on "60 Minutes," President-elect Barack Obama said he would throw his weight around to secure a college football playoff system. Mark my words: Obama will solve the financial mess, end global warning, and bring a manacled Osama Bin Laden to justice long before he will have a college footbal playoff. It's not going to happen.

Sure, the media wants it -- they are a playoff's most vocal supporters. And the media has stirred up many fans that don't know any better. But the most important people of all -- college and university presidents -- oppose a playoff system and thus it ain't going to happen. Not in my lifetime, anyway. Not in my son's lifetime. Not in my granddaughter's lifetime.

And why should it? College football already has the best, most exciting regular season of any sport. But the main thing the media and that part of the public can't seem to grasp is the financial picture. Colleges and universities make much more money under the current system than they have any chance of making under a playoff system. Look, the only ones who profit financially from the college basketball playoffs are CBS and the NCAA, and certainly not the participating schools which use the income they now receive from college football to fund participation in such things as the NCAA basketball tournament.

During "60 Minutes," Obama said the number of games in the regular college football season could be reduced to accommodate a playoff. Can you imagine the President-elect going to Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds and telling him "Listen, we want to deny you the income you'll receive from another sellout at your 94,000-seat Royal Memorial Stadium so we can have a football playoff"?

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

"Slumdog Millionaire" appears best financial bet among "prestige" films

The Los Angeles Times Times conducted what I thought to be a fascinating survey by polling 12 prominent film studio executives, producers and marketers, asking them to pick from a list of "prestige" movies coming out at the end of this year that they would like to own a piece of. In other words, which prestige films had the best chance of turning the highest profit (which, of course, is not the same thing as which film will have the biggest box office). The panelists were not allowed to vote for a movie they helped make or distribute. The list of films they had to chose from was "Australia," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Defiance," "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon," "Gran Torino," "Milk," "The Reader," "Revolutionary Road," "Seven Pounds," "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Wrestler." Nine of the 12 panelists picked "Slumdog Millionaire."

Many on the panel said "Slumdog" will be this year's "Juno," another film that received across-the-board rave reviews, attention from those that give out awards and crossed over from an "art-house flick" to a mainstream movie. Others were impressed by its early ticket sales -- it averaged a phenomenal $36,002 per screen its opening weekend (compared to "Quantum of Solace," the weekend's top grosser, which averaged $19,568 per screen).

No other film received more than one vote. The other three votes were spread among "Gran Torino" (Clint Eastwood comes up with another end-of-the-year winner), "Milk" and "Seven Pounds" (because of Will Smith's box office appeal).

The panel was also asked which film they would completely shy away from. "Benjamin Button" (because of its $175 million cost and a 2.5-hour running time) and "Australia" (poor marketing) led with three votes each. The executives also felt that both of these films need heavy support from older female filmgoers to make any money and the fear is that audience might opt this year for non-prestige films. "Revolutionary Road" (even though it reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) and "Doubt" each received two votes. The other two votes were split between "Seven Pounds" (even Will Smith can't sell the character he plays in this film, the executive said) and "Defiance" (who wants to see a Holocaust film around Christmas?).

Why I'll be rooting for Texas Tech Saturday

I know. I bleed burnt orange and an Oklahoma victory would give my beloved Horns a better shot at the Big 12 title game and perhaps a BCS championship invite. But all that is beyond Texas' control -- it's in the hands of the BCS gods and frankly I don't trust those pagan deities. You see, if Oklahoma beats Tech and Oklahoma State, and Texas defeats A&M, then there's a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 South. In that case, the team with the highest BCS ranking plays Missouri for the Big 12 championship. See what I mean? Only Texas Tech controls its own destiny.

You may also think it's strange for me to be rooting for Tech because of my absolute dislike for Red Raiders coach Mike Leach. In fact, there hasn't been a coach I have despised as much since Barry Switzer ran a haven for football gangsterism in Norman.

But here's my logic. Tech defeats OU and there is no doubt who wins the Big 12 South. Tech then goes on to play Missouri in the Big 12 title game, which Tech wins 148-96 only because it has a slightly better defense. That sets up a BCS Championship game between Tech and Florida, which romps over Alabama by four touchdowns in the SEC title game. Florida vs. Texas Tech. Now that's a game I would love to see. It could be the most entertaining BCS championship since Texas/USC. It won't be a game for the ages like that Rose Bowl was simply because there will be no one on the field with the talent of a Matt Leinert, a Reggie Bush and especially the incomparable Vince Young. But then I don't expect to see another college football game to measure up to Texas/USC in my lifetime. All I'm saying is Texas Tech-Florida could be a the second best BCS championship game ever.

But my motivation is deeper than that. Suppose Tech beats Florida in that game. Now I'm convinced this is Leach's last year at Tech anyway, but if the Raiders beat Florida I can imagine the University of Tennessee offering Leach the eastern half of the state, his likeness sculptured on a pedestal placed atop Lookout Mountain, a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame -- anything and everything to convince him to come to Knoxville. If he can beat Florida with the limited talent available to him at Tech, the thinking at Tennessee will be, imagine what he could do with the resources available to him at Tennessee. I'm pretty sure that even if Florida beat Texas Tech, which is more than likely, Leach would be offered the Tennessee head coaching job, but a victory over the Gators would guarantee it.

And, thus, with one victory, we in the Big 12 are rid of Mike Leach and his lack of sportsmanship. I'm looking at the big picture here and that's why I'll be rooting for Tech this Saturday. And, if Oklahoma does manage to win, I hope the Sooners do it by at least seven touchdowns. It's time someone rubbed Leach with his own dirt. Of course, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is too much of a class act to leave his starters in for the whole game (Other than the Texas game, has OU quarterback Sam Bradford played in a fourth quarter this year?) like Leach does, even when his team is up by a zillion points.

Finally, Leach should feel more at home in the SEC, which is the most crooked conference in college football to begin with. Why do you think assistant coaches at SEC schools never become head coaches at schools in other conferences? Because schools in those other conferences don't want to risk the probationary problems an SEC violator could bring. So think about it. Leach is happy. The rest of the Big 12 is ecstatic. Tennessee gets its man. Texas Tech enjoys its 15 minutes. What more could anyone wish for.

Go Red Raiders!

I wish my vote for President counted

I imagine it will come to no surprise to readers of this journal that I voted for Barack Obama for president. I say that now only because I am feeling one of those periods where I wish that vote had actually meant something -- that it had counted. But, then, I went into the voting booth knowing that my vote was meaningless.

We're taught that, in our American form of democracy, voting is important -- that every vote counts. I guess it does except when it comes to voting for President. My vote, along with the vote of everyone else in Texas who voted for the president-elect was, for all practical purposes, thrown into the garbage.

Why? It's because we vote in Texas and because there still exists this antiquated institution known as the Electoral College. On Dec. 15, the members of the electoral college will meet and the Texas electors will all cast their votes for Republican John McCain. Texas is a "red state," meaning it votes for the Republican candidate and as long as that is the case, no votes for a Democratic candidate will count.

In fact, this whole "red state/blue state" division is strictly the result of the Electoral College and not an accurate reflection of the way Americans vote. Look at California, for example. A solid "blue state." No argument there, it went for Obama 61 percent to 37 percent. Yet John McCain received more votes in California (4,554,643) than he did right here in "red state" Texas (4,467,748).

But the real shame of the Electoral College is that in 2000 and twice before that, the Electoral College awarded the presidency to a candidate who did not win the popular vote. That's not the way democracy is supposed to work.

It also means that voters in states with small populations have far more impact than those in states with large populations. California, for example, has 70 times the population of Wyoming, but only 18 times as many votes in the Electoral College.

A constitutional amendment is needed to abolish the Electoral College. It is outdated (The institution is a by-product of slavery: Although slaves were not allowed to vote, each slave counted as three-fifths of a white person when it came to apportioning electoral college votes) and irrelevant (It was thought before the days of mass communications that voters scattered around the country would not be that informed on national candidates but would be familiar with local "electors" who could be trusted to vote "reasonably"). Perhaps the end is already in sight. New Jersey and Illinois have already enacted popular vote laws, which requires their electors to cast their ballots to the winner of the national election, not the winner of their respective states. I can't ever see Texas being this sensible so I doubt such a law will pass here, but if a majority of states join this movement, the Electoral College dies without a constitutional amendment.

However, I would still like to see work on an amendment begin immediately. Why now? Because the closer it gets to the next presidential election, the more such an amendment will be viewed on partisan terms (which party will be hurt or helped the most by it) instead of on its own merits.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was re-elected pledging to end partisan bickering. If he really means it, he can start here, by introducing legislation to abolish the Electoral College. C'mon, John. Let's see if you can act like a statesman and not a party hack of the worst kind.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Nothing But the Truth" trailer

There's no movie genre I enjoy more than an adult thriller and, if this trailer is any indication, "Nothing But the Truth" delivers the goods. I also like the cast composed of Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga, Alan Alda, and Angela Bassett. The film's writer-director, Rod Lurie, is the filmmaker who's also responsible for "The Contender," with Joan Allen, a similar-styled thriller I liked a lot more than a lot of people. Besides, being a veteran newspaperman, I'm going to look forward to any film that deals with that medium. The film is scheduled to open Dec. 19 in New York to qualify for this year's awards, but won't be going into wide release until January.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Encounters at the End of the World (2008) ***½ An engaging and generous profile of the fascinating folks who have chosen to live at the end of the world.

Garden Party (2008) * The leaden performances (Erik Scott Smith is the worst offender), the unlistenable musical interludes, the amateurish caricatures, and the short stories’ lack of overall cohesion make this a garden party you should take a rain check on.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008) *** The film is thorough and entertaining. It’s enthusiastic about his contributions, but it’s no hagiography, and it serves as both a celebration and a cautionary tale.

Priceless (2008) *** Stop laughing long enough, and you’ll see that it’s a picture about compromised lives and love for sale. But no one who watches this film will stop laughing for that long.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008) *** Actress America Ferrera walks this fine line between the real and the fairy tale – she’s the only one in the film who doesn’t seem to equate a good performance with a lot of blinking – and it’s fun to watch her outside the confines of her TV character.

Tropic Thunder (2008) *** All over the map, but it’s worth enduring the botched gags, formula plotting, and even the racism to marvel at the genius of Robert Downey Jr.

Up the Yangtze (2008) ***½ May be the best film to date about the humanitarian and environmental impact of China’s enormous Three Gorges Dam project.

Wall-E (2008) **** The idea that a company in the business of mainstream entertainment would make something as creative, substantial and cautionary as this movie has to raise your hopes for humanity.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why Texas educators should be worried

Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond, Texas, doesn't believe President-elect Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen. "Yes, I’ve seen the birth certificate posted online. I’ve read all the articles," Dunbar told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "What concerns me is the time he spent in Indonesia. His time in Indonesia would be a substantive issue, and I really don’t know why it hasn’t been examined more closely."

But this isn't just any typical Texas crackpot talking. Cynthia Dunbar is a member of the State Board of Education, the folks that, among other things, decide which civics textbooks should be used in the state's public schools.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dallas City Council has some beachfront property in Pleasant Grove it would like to sell you

Following an impassioned speech by District 13 Dallas City Council member Mitchell (I'm counting the days until May when he's gone) Rasansky to protect the rights of wealthy business owners ("They deserve a voice too," he said, seemingly with a straight face -- it was difficult to tell watching him on television) and an only semi-coherent rant from Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwayne Carraway in which he still denied City Council involvement in an on-line poll, the City Council once again denied the will of the people and the recommendations of its own Planning Commission and voted 12-3 to rename Industrial Boulevard. From henceforth and forever more it will be known as Riverfront Boulevard as though (1) there was a river out there someplace and (2) this street was fronting it.

And, in one of the most blatantly patronizing acts ever committed by a public official, Mayor Tom Leppert then asked council member Steve Salazar, who moments earlier had introduced a perfectly sensible motion to but the brakes on this whole re-naming business for 60-90 days, to head an ad-hoc committee designed to throw the Mescans a bone that will keep them happy and in their place. I'm trying to remember a time when I was more ashamed of the majority of our elected municipal officials but one doesn't come immediately to mind.

Council member and chief Leppert puppet Dave Neumann has called the renaming a branding exercise. That's a kind way of saying it's a deceptive advertising exercise. But now all those businesses that are located on what was once Industrial can peddle to their properties to unsuspecting buyers: "The city is doing this once-in-a-lifetime park project on the Trinity River and here's your chance to purchase sure-to-appreciate land right smack dab on Riverfront Blvd." I doubt if anyone will ever mention that at absolutely no place on Riverfront Boulevard will anyone have a view of a river, unless you're in a building several stories tall. And even then ....

Listen, folks, whether you like it or not, the Trinity is not a river. It's a stream at best. To qualify as a river, you must have to swim across it and not be assured you'll make to the other side when you start out. And even if you want to argue Trinity's status as a river, soon there will be high-speed tollroad between Industrial and the Trinity. How can you name a street "Riverfront" when it's separated from the river it's supposed to front by a high-speed tollroad? If anything, the tollroad should be renamed Riverfront.

I admired the speeches given during this debate by Mr. Salazar and Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia. Other than Salazar, Dr. Garcia, Rasasnky and Carraway, the other members of the council were sheepishly silent to the point of coming across as ashamed of the way they voted. And well they should be.

Note to Mr. Salazar: A lot of people are going to coming to you in the next couple of weeks with suggestions on what to rename for Cesar Chavez. Let me be one of the first in line. I've got a street for you to rename after Mr. Chavez. It's not a major thoroughfare like Industrial or Ross Avenue; in fact, I would be hard pressed to find the western end of the street, where it dead ends into Young Street just west of Field in downtown Dallas. It's only about seven blocks long and it's not named, as far as I can tell, for anyone at all, let alone anyone of historical significance. The street I have in mind now bears the name Marilla. For all practical purposes, the western fourth of Marilla Ave. was sacrificed to build Dallas City Hall, yet the structure stills bears an address on that street. So I think it's only fitting that the permanent address of Dallas City Hall becomes 1500 Cesar Chavez Ave.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) *** The endlessly inventive filmmaker Guillermo del Toro creates visual fantasies unlike any other, and the creatures on display here are truly extraordinary. But amid all the costumes, all the action, and all the special effects, it’s the humanity that makes his work so memorable. Yes, the monsters are amazing. But the moment when a heartsick Hellboy discovers Barry Manilow? Priceless.

Love Songs (2008) *** Writer/director Christophe Honoré has proved you can make a movie musical in which style doesn’t upstage content — a movie musical that blossoms from the inside out.

Mister Foe (2008) **½ The emotions are as gritty as the Edinburgh locales, and the sex is dark, urgent, and deeply selfish.

The Perfect Holiday (2007) *½ It’s a measure of the film’s lack of imagination that Morris Chestnut, as an aspiring songwriter logging time as a mall Santa, can’t even think of a good fake occupation.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) *½ The whole thing feels like a continuation of George Lucas’ experiments to see how much junk his dwindling supporters will take before finally saying "enough" and moving on to adult pursuits.

Sukiyaki Western Django (2008) **½ In the world of pulp movies, where horror, westerns and Asian exploitation borrow and blend with each other, there’s a point where the cross-genre mishmash begins to feel like gobbledegook. That’s definitely the case with this film.

This Christmas (2007) **½ No matter how silly the situation, each member of the uniformly strong cast creates a nice balance between sentimental and sweet — which is just how every holiday gathering should feel.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Should the Mavs have taken a Chauncey at Kidd's expense

As the Dallas Mavericks prepare to play the Denver Nuggets tonight in what will be Chauncey Billups' debut as a Nugget, Dallas Morning News NBA writer David Moore posed the question of whether the Mavericks should have been involved in trade talks with Detroit Pistons, offering Jason Kidd for Billups (the Nuggets swapped Allan Iverson for Billups earlier this week). Right now Moore's responses are running 57.9 percent in favor of the idea.

On a related subject, it appears Mavs owner Mark Cuban has as much chance of purchasing the Chicago Cubs as he does of winning an NBA championship anytime soon.

This doesn't look good

I remember a popular saying during the 1960s that went "As General Motors goes, so goes the nation." I really hope that's not true any longer after hearing General Motors Corp. announce Friday that it had lost $2.5 billion in the third quarter and warn that it could run out of cash in 2009 if the U.S. economic slump continues and it doesn't get government aid.

The New Stooges


Ever since he learned the Farrelly Brothers planned on making a movie biography of the Three Stooges, influential film journalist Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere has been lobbying for Oscar-winner Russell Crowe to play the part of Moe. Then he decided that Philip Seymour Hoffman should be cast as Curly and Robert Downey Jr. as Larry. In response, someone named Brad Jones of Nashville, who obviously can do neat things on Photoshop, submitted this photo with (from left to right) Hoffman as Curly, Crowe as Moe, and Paul Giamatti as Larry. Works for me, but then I was never a huge Stooges fan to begin with.

Goodbye to beauty


One of my favorite vacation trips I ever took was a driving excursion through southern Utah, which I maintained is the most beautiful part of the U.S.A. that no one knows about. I drove from Dallas to Cedar City, Utah. I woke up early my first morning in Cedar City to see Cedar Breaks National Monument. From there I went to Bryce Canyon National Park and then made one of the most spectacular drives of my life along a highway that took me to Capitol Reef National Park. Right before I arrived at Capitol Reefs I stopped at a gas station/general store and among the items for sale in that store was a video of that drive. To this day, I regret I didn't purchase that video.


From there, I circled back around to the southwest toward St. George, before heading back east to Zion National Park. From Zion I drove along the Utah-Colorado border until I came to the highway that would take me south to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. I had been to the Canyon, one of my favorite domestic destinations, many times, but usually on the south side. I hiked down the canyon to spend the night at Phantom Ranch once. I took three rafting trips through the canyon, a 5-, 10- and 15-day rafting trip. But I had never been to the northern rim. It was out of season so the Park's lodge was closed and I had the place practically all to myself, which was unusual for a Canyon visit, at least one of my Canyon visits. The views, frankly, were not nearly as spectacular as those from the South Rim, especially those from the southeast area of the Canyon at sunset, but at least I could now say I had visited the North Rim.


From there I headed back northeast to Monument Valley, a place I love to revisit because it's almost like a religious experience to spend time in the place where John Ford shot so many of his great western films. From there it was due north up to the majestic Canyonlands National Park and I completed my tour of the great southern Utah beauty spots with a day at awe-inspiring Arches National Park. From there, it was a quick jaunt north up Highway 191 to Interstate 70, which led me on a quick three-day trip home.


I took many pictures of that trip and I'm really glad I did so I can show my granddaughter "This is how it used to look before President Bush ruined it."


This past Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management announced it would soon be selling oil and gas drilling rights in these areas of southern Utah. Without even consulting the National Parks Service, the bureau plans to auction two dozen leases adjacent to Arches National Park and close to Canyonlands, risking the air and the water at those parks and destroying the beauty of the lands around them.


This is a despicable act. According to the Energy Information Administration, Utah has only 2.5 percent of this country's known gas reserves and less than 1 percent of its known oil reserves. Why destroy the scenic and recreational value of these lands for such a paltry return?


It's as if President Bush wanted to leave one more scar on the environment before he left office. Hopefully, one of the first acts President Obama take when he assumes office, is to reverse this decision. I want my son and granddaughter to see these lands in all the majesty I did only 10 years or so ago.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Jeb Hensarling doesn't get it

The theme of the last three Republican presidential campaigns has been "fear." Instead of outlining their own vision for the American voters, they have told them all the evils that would descend about the Earth if the Democrats won.

Yesterday, that theme of fear was repudiated and replaced by one of hope. John McCain understood this and said so in his eloquent concession speech last night. Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of these parts doesn't understand it, at least if he was quoted correctly by the fine folks over at the Frontburner:

“Right now, realism seems to say that [Obama] will govern from the hard left,” the Frontburner quoted Hensarling as predicting. “And if he won’t, I know Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will, particularly if they get anywhere close to 60 votes in the Senate. So we’ll see probably a wave of taxation on small business, we’ll see a wave of taxation on moderate-income Americans, we’ll see an explosion of lawsuit abuse that’ll send jobs overseas. For those that believe in freedom and opportunity, it’s not a pretty picture.”

Wake up, Hensarling. It's a new day in America. The time when fear-mongering worked has passed you by.

What I was thinking about when the election results became official

Now every single parent in this country can look their child in the eye and say: "You can become anything you want to be" and be telling the truth.

I remembered back a little more than 40 years ago when my little brother and I battled racist officials (one of whom, a deputy sheriff in Mississippi, threatened the life of my 2-year-old niece) just to secure African-Americans the right to register to vote and then get them to the polls. Oh, how I wished my brother could have lived to see this day! "Jim, my brother, your sacrifices, your hard work, your dedication, was not in vain." This nation has come such a long way just in my adult life.

In his elegant concession speech last night, John McCain once again seemed to be the American I had long admired and not the nasty politician who fashioned a campaign built on fear and anger. He will become the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee so it won't be long before we know whether McCain's pledge of cooperation was more than just words.

Sarah Palin's impact on the history of national politics will fall right below that of Dan Quayle or Sargent Shriver.

Barack Obama's quest was long and difficult. Now, however, comes the really hard part. He must find a way to end the folly in Iraq so the country can focus on the real war on terror in Afghanistan. He must make sure the Bush administration's bailout plan is administered fairly and with complete transparency. After years of denial, America must accept a leadership role in finding ways to control climate change by focusing on efforts to develop clean energy technologies.

All in all, it was a great day for America and the world. It wasn't perfect by any means (i.e., Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who said judges have only themselves to blame for the violent acts committed against them, who likes to headline events for leading anti-Semites and Holocaust revisionists, and who, as attorney general, lost 2,200 jobs and $60 million in payroll in the El Paso area as a favor for lobbyist and contributor Jack Abramoff, was re-elected), but it was a great start. With an increased Democratic majority, words of cooperation from Republicans like Mr. McCain (with whom Cornyn has constantly battled) and since Cornyn is disliked by members of his own party in the Senate, I don't think he will cast much of a shadow on the public arena.

The last presidential candidate I worked to elect was Robert Kennedy who, 40 years ago, said:
"People are selfish. But they can also be compassionate and generous, and they care about the country. But not when they feel threatened. That's why this is such a crucial time. We can go in either direction. But if we don't make a choice soon, it will be too late to turn things around. I think people are willing to make the right choice. But they need leadership. They're hungry for leadership."

I think Americans have often dreamed they lived in a country that was optimistic, that looked forward to a brighter future, that was not afraid to take great risks. Today we find ourselves living in such a land.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

American Tune

My personal favorite political commerical from the seconds-from-ending 2008 Presidential campaign.

Ten Best Films

Ten Best Films Released in October
1. Rachel Getting Married ***½
2. Ballast ***½
3. I've Loved You So Long ***
4. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father ***
5. Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist ***
6. Frontrunners **½
7. Changeling **½
8. The Express **½
9. Splinter **½
10. Synecdoche, New York **½

Ten Best Films Released This Year
1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days ****
2. WALL-E ****
3. Man on Wire ***½
4. Up the Yangtze ***½
5. The Edge of Heaven ***½
6. The Flight of the Red Balloon ***½
7. U2 3D ***½
8. Paranoid Park ***½
9. Taxi to the Dark Side ***½
10. Rachel Getting Married ***½

Monday, November 3, 2008

New movies to be released this week on DVD

All these films will be released tomorrow on DVD with the exception of "Kung Fu Panda," which comes out Saturday. Click on the title to see a trailer.

Get Smart (2008) **½ For the most part it’s dull, bland and unsatisfying: a food-court version of home cooking.

Kung Fu Panda (2008) *** It’s the overriding spirit of the movie that forms its greatest appeal: Here’s a movie that isn’t intent on conquering the world but simply entertaining you for a breezy 90 minutes.

Transsiberian (2008) *** Unlike so many Hollywood thrillers, which too often rely on implausible or telegraphed twists, this film is carefully structured and designed to make sense when you replay the events in your head.

What We Do Is Secret (2008) **½ The movie is exciting at times, moving at times, and watchable throughout, but fans of The Germs and L.A. punk may start to pine for what’s missing around the time Michele Hicks shows up.

When Did You Last See Your Father? (2008) **½ The film winds up with some meaningful things to say about balancing the desire to clear the familial air and the need to let some things be, but never gets deep enough into its character’s psyches to dig up anything more revelatory than that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An election between 'the hot lady and the Tiger Woods guy'

This combination of Will Ferrell, who will also be playing President Bush on Broadway next year, and Tina Fey is also priceless.

A true Maverick: A Republican Without Money

Last night I was watching the thrilling, but, for me, heartbreaking, end to a certain college football game and missed this dynamic duo on another network. Here it is in case you missed it as well.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November's Oscar Poll

The results of my most recent polling of Oscar voters. The number in parenthesis is the entry's position in the October poll.

NOTE: You will see Kate Winslet's name all over the place. She is hoping to be in the lead actress category for "Revolutionary Road" (out of deference to her director husband Sam Mendes) and in the supporting category for "The Reader." However, after having seen the trailer for "The Reader," that looks like (1) a lead role and (2) more Oscar worthy than "Road." But, then, that's just my opinion.

Picture
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1)
2. Milk (2)
3. Slumdog Millionaire (6)
4. Australia (3)
5. Revolutionary Road (5)
6. Frost/Nixon (4)
7. (tie) Gran Torino (--)
The Dark Knight (7)
9. Doubt (8)
10. Defiance (--)

Director
1. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1)
2. Gus Van Sant, Milk (3)
3. Bazz Luhrmnann, Australia (2)
4. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (5)
5. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon (4)
6. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Night (6)
7. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (--)
8. Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road (--)
9. John Patrick Stanley, Doubt (--)
10. (tie) Edward Zwick, Defiance (8)
Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married (--)

Actor
1. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (3)
2. Sean Penn, Milk (2)
3. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon (1)
4. Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road (4)
5. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (5)
6. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (10)
7. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor (7)
8. Benico Del Toro, Che (6)
9. Josh Brolin, W (9)
10. Hugh Jackman, Australia (--)

Actress
1. Meryl Streep, Doubt (1)
2. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road (3)
3. Kristin Scott-Thomas, I've Loved You So Long (5)
4. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (4)
5. Angelina Jolie, Changeling (2)
6. Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (7)
7. Nicole Kidman, Australia (8)
8. Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (--)
9. Melissa Leo, Frozen River (6)
10. Kate Winslet, The Reader (10)

Supporting Actor
1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (1)
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt (2)
3. Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road (9)
4. James Franco, Milk (5)
5. Liev Schreiber, Defiance (10)
6. Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon (6)
7. Josh Brolin, Milk (--)
8. Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder (7)
9. Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky (--)
10. John Malkovich, Changeling (4)

Supporting Actress
1. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (1)
2. Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2)
3. (tie) Rosemary DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married (5)
Viola Davis, Doubt (3)
5. Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler (4)
6. Amy Adams, Doubt (6)
7. Kate Winslet, The Reader (--)
8. Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married (8)
9. Vera Farmiga, Nothing But the Truth (7)
10. (tie) Elsa Zylberstein, I’ve Loved You So Long (--)
Hiam Abbas, The Visitor (--)

A plea for transportation sanity

While Dallas and the rest of the state insist of relying on outdated and wrongheaded transportation alternatives such as tollroads through parks and toll-supported statewide transportation corridors, Californians will go to the polls next week on something called Proposition 1A, a statewide initiative seeking to raise $10 billion as a down payment for a bullet-train route that could ultimately stretch from Sacramento to San Diego.

It is envisioned that the train, which could reach speeds of 220 miles an hour, could carry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in three hours at a cost of $55 a ticket. Advocates of the bullet train estimate that total state ridership could be as high 117 million passengers annually.

Think about something like that beginning in Texas' so-called population triangle: Dallas to Houston to San Antonio back to Dallas through Austin. Later on additional high-speed spur lines to connect to other cities, the lower Gulf Coast and the Mexican border.

But I wish Mayor Leppert and others would not only look at this notion as a transportation alternative but as another economic stimulus for downtown Dallas. Think about what such rail service would mean for a more active downtown, especially in conjunction with a new convention center hotel. It could mean a lot more business development around Union Station and the West side of downtown. Imagine the people who would rely on DART light rail and the TRE to take them to Union Station to catch the bullet trains to or from Austin, Houston or San Antonio. And then imagine all the visitors from those cities walking through downtown Dallas after getting off the train at Union Station. Thousands and thousands of individuals could come from Austin, Houston and San Antonio to, say for example, Fair Park entirely by rail.

Not only that, the construction and implementation of such a system would create a significant number of much needed jobs.

The City of Dallas prepares its legislative agenda that it takes to Austin before each regular session of the legislature. I hope there's someone within the city's administration with the vision to include this transportation proposal and then push for legislative and eventually voter approval. It makes transportation sense. It makes environmental sense. It makes economic sense. It makes common sense.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On this date in

1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Palace church, marking the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

1861 Winfield Scott resigned as as Commander of the U.S. Army.

1864 Nevada became the 36th state.

1892 Arthur Conan Doyle published "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."

1913 The Lincoln Highway, the first highway across America, was dedicated.

1926 Magician Harry Houdini died of complications from a ruptured appendix.

1941 The Reuben James was torpedoed by a German submarine, becoming the first U.S. Navy ship sunk by enemy action during World War II.

1959 Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to renounce his U.S. citizenship at the American Embassy in Moscow.

1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a halt to all U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, saying he hoped for fruitful peace negotiations.

1984 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated near her residence by two Sikh security guards.

1991 Theatrical producer Joseph Papp died at age 70.

1992 It was announced that five American nuns in Liberia had been shot to death near the capital Monrovia; the killings were blamed on rebels loyal to Charles Taylor.

1993 Italian movie director Federico Fellini died at age 73.

1999 EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed off the Massachusetts coast, killing all 217 people aboard.

2005 President George W. Bush nominated Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

2006 P.W. Botha, South Africa's apartheid-era president, died at age 90.

2007 Three lead defendants in the 2004 Madrid train bombings were found guilty of mass murder and other charges, but four other top suspects were convicted on lesser charges and an accused ringleader was completely acquitted in the attacks that killed 191 people.

Born on this date:
Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)
Clement XIV (1705-1774)
William Paca (1740-1799)
John Keats (1795-1821)
Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914)
Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927)
Andrew Volstead (1860-1947)
Eugene Meyer (1875-1959)
Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975)
Sir George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958)
Ethel Waters (1896-1977)
Wilbur Shaw (1902-1954)
Dale Evans (1912-2001)
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005)
Michael Landon (1936-1991)
Brian Piccolo (1943-1970)
John Candy (1950-1994)

Trick or Treat from the Boss

Bruce Springsteen may not be staging his usual Halloween light show at his New Jersey abode, but he still has a Muddy Waters-inspired Halloween present: a song about the New Jersey Devil. (Isn't that a hockey team or something?)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mavericks open season tonight

The Mavs will be playing the Houston Rockets in their opener tonight and hopefully we will discover if coach Rick Carlisle's faster offense can counter Houston's plodding defense and whether Charles Barkley's mother might score 45 against the Mavs D. Houston did not look that great in its opener against Memphis yet it still won by 11, 82-71. Yao Ming had 21 points and newcomer Ron Artest added 10. I'm really anxious to see this version of the Mavs under Carlisle. Hopefully they will do as well as the Knicks did in their first game with new coach Mike D'Antoni. I know I'll be watching.

Esquire makes endorsements in Texas Congressional Races

Esquire magazine has released its endorsements in Texas' Congressional races, endorsing Democrat Rick Noreiga over incumbent Republican John Cronyn, who the Esquire called one of the "10 worst members of Congress."

In House races involving Dallas area representatives, Esquire endorsed:

Democrat Tom Daley over Republican Sam Johnson in District 3: "Sam Johnson once offered the president to hop in his F-15 and personally nuke Syria. His opponent, not nearly so insane, is a successful entrepreneur and lawyer who promises to focus on small-business development, sensible environmental protections, and education. He's the most impressive newcomer of the year. "

Republican Ralph Hall over Democrat Glenn Melancon: "One of the Hill's patriarchs, Hall has defended Texas's oil, livestock, and aerospace interests for nearly 30 years, first as a Democrat, now as a Republican. But party labels don't matter much to him, because ol' Ralph hasn't changed a whit."

Republican Jeb Hensarling (no major opponent): "Hensarling, the GOP's leading foe of deficit spending, was also one of the first in his party to note that its recent profligate ways have hurt its image--and the nation."

Democrat Ludwig Otto over Republican Joe Barton: "Not merely unconvinced that humans contribute to global warming, Barton has used his position to threaten scientists who argue that we do. It is a terrible shame that his opponent is hapless."

Republican Kay Granger over Democrat Tracey Smith: "Kay Granger is a Cowtown moderate, and her general support of Roe and its descendants--including RU-486, the so-called morning-after pill--earns her broad cross-party appeal."

Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson over Republican Fred Wood: "It's not hard to see why Eddie Bernice Johnson has been Dallas's representative for 16 years: Liberal but broad-minded on social issues, she's also a big promoter of area business and infrastructure development."

Democrat Eric Roberson over Republican Pete Sessions: "Pete Sessions stinks--of Abramoff-linked corruption, of tired ultraconservative partisanship, of self-serving redistricting. Goodbye. And hello to Navy veteran Eric Roberson."

End of daylight savings time good for the heart

According to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have found a 5 percent decline in heart attack deaths and hospitalization the day after clocks are reset ending daylight savings time. One could argue that the possibility of extra sleep is always good on the heart, but ... still ... 5 percent seems pretty significant.

Customized license plates

I really think this idea of creating your own license plates is a neat idea, a wonderful opportunity for some self expression. Unfortunately, someone has already appropriated what I would like on my plate, but I'll keep working on it.

Greg Oden's future

I've just got this feeling that Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers is going to be another Sam Bowie, the now almost-forgotten player that was also drafted by the Trail Blazers back in 1984. Incidentally, the next player taken in that draft, in case you've forgotten, was this shooting guard out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan. Bowie, at least, played some, which is more than can be said of Oden.

Imagine the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger

Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones told the BBC in an interview broadcast earlier this week that the band would consider reuniting for a tour without lead singer Robert Plant. The band reunited for a one-time concert -- their first since 1980 -- in London last December that was a huge success, both financially and critically. Since then, fans have been clamoring for a reunion tour. Plant, however, embarked on a tour with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss to promote their joint album and said he had no further plans to tour for at least two years. I gotta tell ya, Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant is not going to be Led Zeppelin and, frankly, I can't see guitarist Jimmy Plant agreeing to such a foolish notion.

On this date in

1831 Escaped slave Nat Turner was captured after leading the bloodiest slave rebellion in U.S. history.

1922 Benito Mussolini became prime minister of Italy.

1938 The radio play "The War of the Worlds," starring Orson Welles, aired on CBS. The live drama, which employed fake news reports, panicked some listeners who thought its portrayal of a Martian invasion was true.

1945 Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball's color barrier.

1953 George C. Marshall, who, as secretary of state following World War II, engineered a massive economic aid program for Europe, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1961 The Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb.

1973 The Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul was completed, connecting the continents of Europe and Asia.

1974 Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round of a 15-round bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, to regain his world heavyweight title.

1997 A jury in Cambridge, Mass., convicted British au pair Louise Woodward of second-degree murder in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen. The judge later reduced the verdict to manslaughter and set Woodward free.

1998 A mudslide caused by Hurricane Mitch killed at least 2,000 people in Nicaragua.

2000 Comedian, TV host, author and composer Steve Allen died at age 78.

2002 Rapper Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC was killed in a shooting in New York at age 37.

2005 The body of Rosa Parks arrived at the U.S. Capitol, where the civil rights pioneer became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda.

Born on this date:
John Adams (1735-1826)
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1857-1904)
Louis Winslow Austin (1867-1932)
William F. Halsey Jr. (1882-1959)
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
Charles Atlas (1892-1972)
Dickinson Woodruff Richards (1895-1973)
Ruth Gordon (1896-1985)
Bill Terry (1898-1989)
Patsy Montana (1908-1996)
Ruth Hussey (1911-2005)
Fred Friendly (1915-1998)
Joe Adcock (1927-1999)
Daniel Nathans (1928-1999)
Nestor Almendros (1930-1992)
Louis Malle (1932-1995)