Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I have to give thanks for on Thanksgiving 2008


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 HonorĂ© 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.

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 (--)

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 (--)

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 (--)

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.