Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The proposed names for Industrial Boulevard

Sometimes I wonder why we just can't leave well enough alone. I was looking over the 10 finalists being considered as the new names for Industrial Boulevard and, I gotta tell ya, nothing on that list really lit my fire. If I had my way, we'd just keep the current name.

For one thing, I have some great memories about Industrial Boulevard. The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen live it was at the old Texas Electric Ballroom on Industrial. But my favorite night on that street came back in the early 1970s when I went to see Bonnie Raitt perform in that old building. Jimmy Buffett, who had exactly one album to his credit at the time, was the opening act and he played his set sitting on a barstool without any backup band. It was a marvelous evening of music with Ms. Raitt doing a wonderful job of channeling most of her blues influences, like Sippie Wallace, and playing slide guitar with the virtuosity of a Duane Allman.

But what made the evening special was what happened when the show was over. We left the building to a city completely in white. Unbeknownst to any of us inside, a thick blanket of snow had fallen during the hours we were inside. We walked out into the powder and for a few moments the entire crowd just stood around in awe at the beauty of it all. Then someone scooped up a handful of snow, shaped it into a ball and hurled it. That started a snowball fight that slowly migrated from the ballroom's parking lot, along Cadiz Street and eventually into the southern borders of downtown. Jimmy Buffet, Bonnie Raitt and her band were out there throwing with everyone else.

When I think of Industrial Boulevard, I always think of that night.

But I also think about names like Wahoo McDaniel and Thunderbolt Patterson and the wrestling matches at the Sportatorium, where I also saw Willie Nelson and Ray Wylie Hubbard & the Cowboy Twinkies play their hearts out.

So the names on the list that will be submitted to the Dallas City Council's Trinity River Committee don't do much for me. As much as I love music, I can't help but wonder if Stevie Ray Vaughan Boulevard would be there if that magnificent guitarist was still alive. The city needs to do something to pay homage to the legacy of Stanley Marcus but renaming Industrial Boulevard, the site of bars, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and the county lockup isn't the way to do it. Given the climate of the times, I'm concerned about the tenor of the debate that may result when deciding between Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Eddie Bernice Johnson Parkway (plus calling this road a "parkway" seems disingenuous to me, much like referring to anything that borders the Corridor as "waterfront.")

Ascension Drive has too many religious connotations to make me comfortable with it, Riverfront Boulevard could give visitors the false idea that there really is a "river" out there someplace and not the stream that this thing actually is. The Mississippi is a river. The Hudson is a river. The Trinity is something a lot less, at least where it flows through Dallas. So that leaves Trinity Lakes Boulevard or Post Industrial Boulevard. I guess I could live with either one of those, but neither will make me forget that great snowball fight that, no matter what happens during this process, started on Industrial Boulevard.

But then I grew up in New York City and, to me, that street the civlized world calls Avenue of the Americas still is and always will be 6th Avenue.

Not so fast there, you crazy Dallas Morning News headline writers

The front sports page headline on the stories about the Mavericks' elimination from the playoffs says "Hitting bottom" in huge bold black letters. The accompanying 0h-how-the-mighty-have-fallen stories talk about how the team's fortunes have sunk since they were up two games to nil in the finals against the Heat two years ago. Well, folks, if you want to talk about hitting bottom, lets talk about the team that won that series. This year the Miami Heat had the second worst record in the entire NBA and they were playing in the weaker conference. Now that comes closer to hitting bottom. At least the Mavericks were among the 10 best teams in the league as far as winning percentage goes and made the playoffs. Anybody who has been reading this blog knows I have been critical of the Mavericks, especially since the Kidd-Harris trade. But hitting bottom? Not yet, anyway. Not by a long shot.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Good night, and ... well ... Good night

CBS News, the venerated home of such luminaries as Edward R. Morrow and Walter Cronkite. sunk to an all-time historic ratings low last week when its evening news recorded only 5.39 million viewers for the week before. What's worse, this week's ratings were even worse, 5.34 million. That compares to 8.01 million for NBC and 7.79 for ABC.

So, OK, American is charging for a second checked bag

It is just joining the club. According to this story in the New York Times, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airlines are already charging for extra checked baggage. Even economy airline AirTran charges $10 for a second checked bag. So what's the big deal?

It probably is a big deal, however, if you're a sales person traveling with an extra sample case or two or someone taking a display to a convention of some sort. I remember when I did a lot of traveling to do training courses and checked in all the AV equipment needed to present the course. So these rules don't affect just these folks.

Here's a scoop ... for 31 cents

Tomorrow night, Baskin & Robbins will be selling ice cream for 31 cents a scoop between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. It's all part of a program to honor firefighters and, in some cases, to raise money for firefighting charities. To find the store nearest you, go here.

For those who care: Mel Gibson will try acting again

Mel Gibson has signed to appear in his first film as an actor since 2002 when he did "Signs" and 'We Were Soldiers."

He will star in "Edge of Darkness," adapted from a 1985 six-hour BBC miniseries. It will be directed by Martin Campbell, who also directed the original miniseries as well as "Casino Royale."

New York Times assesses the Mavericks

The New York Times had an interesting article today about the Dallas Mavericks in which it said the Mavs arrived in New Orleans yesterday for the fifth game of its playoff series with the Hornets with "a former All-Star who has lost his way, a future Hall of Famer who has lost his touch and a coach who may soon lose his job."

About the "former all-star who has lost his way," the Times said:

"Josh Howard, an All-Star in 2007 and the Mavericks’ No. 2 scorer this season, has been an unmitigated mess in the playoffs. He is shooting 26 percent from the field and averaging 12.8 points. He has been alternately tentative and overeager with his jump shot and has failed to attack the basket consistently."

On the "future Hall of Famer (Jason Kidd) who has lost his touch," the Times said:

"Kidd was supposed to be the missing piece of a championship team but instead has been a disappointment. He is averaging 7.3 points and 6.3 assists, and he has hardly made an imprint in the last three games. He has also failed to do the one thing he did best in Phoenix and New Jersey — make his teammates better."

The story also said:

"The Mavericks are 3-11 in their last 14 playoff games under Johnson, including 0-8 on the road.
These are not the marks of a contender, which is why speculation is growing daily that the owner Mark Cuban will fire Johnson when the season ends. If Cuban’s anger runs deep enough, he might just jettison everyone but Dirk Nowitzki, last season’s most valuable player."

Like I said yesterday, however, the trade value for the rest of this team has really sunk this year. It could be a fire sale.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dirk figures it's over

Dirk Nowitzky was quoted in this Dallas Morning News story as saying: "We just didn't have a great offensive series." Now that sounds like a man who considers this season over, but he's probably correct. In order for the Mavs to pull this Round One playoff series out, they must win three games in a row, two of them in New Orleans where they haven't won all year (and, yes, I've heard the argument that the Hornets had not won in Dallas in a decade until last night). But let's face it, the Mavericks have lost eight straight road playoff games and Hornets are simply a better team than the Mavericks.

Still, the Mavs could have, should have, looked better than they did last night and I'm still going to lay the blame at the feet of coach Avery Johnson. What was he thinking when he inserted J.J. Barea (playing for the first time in this series) and a barely mobile Jerry Stackhouse into the game in the second quarter when the Mavs were ahead by nine points. Two minutes later, the game was tied and the slide was in full tilt.

Is there anyone on this team that is "untouchable" after this disappointing season? Yes, unfortunately, Jason Kidd is because no other team is going to be foolish enough to absorb the $20 million he's due on the final year of his current contract. But right now the trade value on the rest of the players on this team, except for Dirk, has sunk so low that I don't know how we can get anything in return to bolster our hopes immediately.

So here are my suggestions. Fire Avery and get Larry Brown in here quickly. Then start trade negotiations with anyone who will listen. Tell other teams that everyone on this team is available for trades and then see what deals can be worked out for journeymen and high future draft choices. Yes, it will mean a few years of not appearing in the playoffs but it's time to get rid of these old guys and build with new young acquisitions through the draft and plan for a contender five, six years from now.

Dallas plans to get tougher with pet owners

If you don't beieve it, just take a gander (pun intended) at this briefing being presented today to the Quality of Life and and Government Services Committee of the Dallas City Council. The city is expecting such a large contingent of pet owners to show up that it is moving this presentation from the regular briefing room into the main council chambers.

New plan proposed for Love Field leaves one questioned unanswered

The city's Aviation Department is going before the city council's Transportation and Environment Committeethis afternoon to present ideas about how to modernize Love Field so that it complies with the full expiration of the Wright Amendment in 2014. That will require 20 operating gates, 16 for Southwest Airlines and two each for American and Continental. The committee is looking at three options, but the department is obviously pushing one of them, called Option C, which involves demolishing all three of the current concourses and gates and constructing a new 20-gate one that will extend in a T from the rear of the main terminal. The question I have that I don't see answered in the briefing is what the airlines will use for gates while the construction is in progress. I am assuming that at least one concourse won't be demolished until the new one is built, but it's going to be awfully crowded there if that is the case.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cowboys screw up in the draft yet again

Perhaps it was just too delicious for Jerry Jones to pass up, to draft someone else named Jones from Jerry's alma mater, Arkansas. But most pro scouts believe Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois was the best pure running back in the draft. Rick Gosselin, the Morning News NFL writer who has forgotten more about pro football than most people, including me, know, ranked Mendhenhall the 10th best player in the entire draft. And there he was, available when the Cowboys picked at the 22nd spot. Yet they selected Felix Jones of Arkansas who arguably rushed for as many yards as he did last year because defenses were keying on his teammate, Darren McFadden.

It is interesting to note that the Pittsburgh Steelers, picking right after the Cowboys, was the first team not to use their allotted time in making their pick which was Mendenhall, of course. Dallas Morning News sportswriter Tim MacMahon writes: "Rashard Mendenhall might be even better for the Steelers than Steven Jackson has been for the Rams."

MacMahon also argues that Jones might be a great fit for Dallas because he provides a speedy change of pace for Marion Barber. According to MacMahon, Jones gives the Cowboys "a breakaway threat in the running game" and a "major boost to the special teams as a kick returner."

Possibly that's true, but I still think picking Mendenhall, who would have become the No. 1 back with Barber in the "change-of-pace" role, was the obvious choice.

I will give the Cowboys credit for this, however. They did trade up to No. 25 in the first round to pick up cornerback Mike Jenkins of South Florida. Now this was a good move. He is superb in man-to-man coverages, but may have some troubles with zone defenses. He also doesn't have great hands, so while he may break up a lot of passes and make some good tackles, don't count on him to intercept a lot of passes. But he will shut down anyone he's assigned to cover and that's what the Cowboys desperately need at cornerback. I also think Dave Campo will coach him up to the next level.

Was Brett Favre really serious about all this retirement talk?

Apparently so. The Green Bay Packers announced yesterday (in a move that was virtually ignored by most of the media) that they had officially placed Favre on the reserve/retired list and plan to retire his number during their season opening game Sept. 8 against the Minnesota Vikings. Of course, this not does preclude him from playing for another team but, c'mon folks, that would be like seeing Joe Montana in a uniform other than the 49ers or Emmit Smith playing for someone other than the Cowboys. Well, err ....

This came yesterday from Packers General Manager Ted Thompson: "Both (coach) Mike McCarthy and I have have spoken to Brett over the last several days. Brett knew this change in his roster status was coming, and he fully understood our need to make a move in advance of (today's) NFL draft."

Nice words for George Karl

Steven A. Smith, the bombastic NBA analyst for ESPN really tore into Denver Nuggets coach George Karl during one of the breaks last night in the network's coverage of the NBA playoffs. Smith said if the Nuggets continue playing like they are against the Lakers, Karl should be toast. "The Nuggets will be looking for a new coach if they get annihilated in Denver," Smith said.

I have always been Karl admirer, especially during his tenure with the Seattle Supersonics, a team he coached to the playoffs all seven seasons he was there, won three division titles and won 50 games all seven seasons. He made it to the league finals once, losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, a team coached by Phil Jackson, who is also his coaching opponent in this current series with the Lakers. In 1998, he went to the Milwaukee Bucks and steadily made that team better.

So it was nice to see this story today in the Los Angeles Times, of all places, that had some very nice things to say about Karl.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie "Casablanca"

Annina: Monsieur Rick?
Rick: Yes.
Annina: Could I speak to you for just a moment, please?
Rick: How did you get in here? You're under age.
Annina: I came with Captain Renault.
Rick: I should have known.
Annina: My husband is with me, too.
Rick: He is? Well, Captain Renault's getting broadminded. Sit down. Will you have a drink?
(Annina shakes her head)
Rick: No, of course not. Do you mind if I do?
Annina: No.
(Rick pours himself a drink)
Annina: What kind of man is Captain Renault?
Rick: Oh, he's just like any other man, only more so.
Annina: No, I mean is he trustworthy. Is his word ...
Rick: Now just a minute. Who told you to ask me that?
Annina: He did. Captain Renault did.
Rick: I thought so. Where is your husband?
Annina: He's at the roulette table, trying to win enough for our exit visa. Well, of course, he's losing.
Rick: How long have you been married?
Annina: Eight weeks. We came from Bulgaria. Oh, things are very bad there, monsieur. A devil has the people by the throat. So, Jan and I, we, we do not want our children to grow up in such a country.
Rick: So you decided to go to America.
Annina: Yes, but we don't have much money, and travelling is so expensive and difficult. It was much more than we thought to get here. And then Captain Renault sees us and he is so kind. He wants to help us.
Rick: Yes, I'll bet.
Annina: He tells us he can give us an exit visa, but we have no money.
Rick: Does he know that?
Annina: Oh, yes.
Rick: And he's still willing to give you an exit visa?
Annina: Yes, monsieur.
Rick: And you want to know ...
Annina: Will he keep his word?
Rick: He always has.
Annina: Oh, monsieur, you are a man. If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the whole world, but she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?
Rick: Nobody ever loved me that much.

The Rick in that scene was played, of course, by Humphrey Bogart. The actress who played Annina was Joy Page, a 17-year-old high school senior when she got the part of the woman who faces having to sleep with the corrupt police Captain Renault (Claude Rains) in order to obtain the exit visas needed to escape from Casablanca to America. Rick winds up letting her husband win at roulette so he can buy the visas.

Although studio head Jack Warner liked her in the film, he never signed her to a studio contract nor did he cast her in any other Warner Brothers films. In 1945, she married actor William T. Orr, who later headed Warner's television department and was responsible for developing such series as "Maverick," "77 Sunset Strip" and the pioneering "Cheyenne," television's first hour-long western.

I only learned this morning that Ms. Page died last week, apparently from the complications of a stroke and pneumonia. She was 83.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's getting a little less lonely over here

Other than my interview with Dallas City Council member Sheffie Kadane over a controversial zoning case, no blog I have posted received as many comments, most of them saying I was nuts, than the one I wrote suggesting the DPS acted hastily in polygamist compound case in West Texas. But now it appears more are recognizing what a terrible travesty of justice is being done out near San Angelo. The Grits for Breakfast blog has posted some especially good articles about the incident. But I was especially gratified to see this today over on Unfair Park.

Dale Hansen on the Pacman Jones Trade

Let me spare you the suspense: He's not a fan of the deal as you can see for youself here. Dale is gotting a lot of heat over this commentary. Somebody named Michael David Smith posting on a blog called Fanhouse really goes after Hansen. After admitting he knows nothing about Channel 8's sportscaster, he then goes on to say "based on this video clip, I'd have to conclude that he's unhinged." No he's not. He's an informed commentator who doesn't hedge his bets when he speaks. And speaking of "unhinged," Smith's headline on his blog says Hansen "Compares Pacman Jones to Osama bin Laden." That's not true. If Smith had been paying attention he would have heard Hansen say something to the effect that as long as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has signed Pacman he might as well try to get bin Laden to play wide receiver because he "obviously can't be caught." I thought it was a funny line and typical Hansen. I remember one time he was he was the master of ceremonies at a Dallas Press Club roast when the night's honoree received the obligatory congratulations from the governor, who at the time, happened to be one Bill Clements. The message was contained in one of those 8-by-10 manila envelopes. Hansen tore open the top, looked inside and quipped "Hey, it's the keys to a new car." That line also struck a lot of nerves, but it was also a very funny quip.

As for Hansen's opinion on Pacman, I gotta say "Dale, buddy, you nailed it!"

The Avery Countdown, Chapter 2

Hey, Mark, did you see this? Don't waste a second. Go for him! Now! It's the only way your aging Mavericks can hope to regain any respectability going into the 2008-09 season.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Keith tells it like he sees it

"Most of us in news are not smart enough to figure out what's going on. We may pretend that we're good enough to do that. But in fact, when we look you in the eye, in the camera, we're really just making it up."
--Keith Olbermann last night on the David Letterman show

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I really like this guy

On the day before the Pennsylvania primary I predicted right here on this blog that Hillary Clinton had absolutely no chance of winning the Democratic Party's presidential nomination -- that Barach Obama had it locked.

Now, somebody who has been following this whole political battle a close more closely than I, Robert Creamer (who I'm guessing is the same Robert Creamer as this guy), has even more impressive facts and figures to say today exactly the same thing I said Monday.

I'm thinking this Creamer guy is absolutely brilliant.

"Doing the right thing" comes with a price

The Dallas City Council this morning saddled up its high moral horse and rode off in favor of the economically downtrodden. Invoking the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was working on behalf of better wages for sanitation workers in Memphis when he was assassinated, the council, especially Mitchell Rasansky, assailed the City of Dallas in general and the Sanitation Department in particular, because of wages over which the City really doesn't have any direct control.

For the most part, only the driver of the truck that picks up garbage in our neighborhoods is a city employee. The rest of the crew -- the guys that actually toss the bags into trucks where automated carts can't be used -- are contract workers. The city takes bids from firms that supply this kind of labor and the winning low bidder is the one responsible for paying those workers. Of course, the company has to include in its bid money that will help it pay for supporting staff, overhead, profit etc. and still be the low bidder. It's understandable that the workers themselves aren't going to be paid that much.

Is there something the City can do about it? Sure there is. The Council can specify in the next bid requirements that any company willing to supply this labor force pay their workers a minimum wage established by the Council. That means, of course, the city will be paying a lot more for this contract the next time it is awarded. That, in turn, means sanitation rates will increase.

I can guarantee you -- absolutely guarantee you -- that Mitchell Rasansky, the city councilman who railed the most about the wages these workers are being paid, will also be the loudest critic when sanitation rates are raised to pay for these increased wages.

Mavericks need to make radical changes

Everybody realizes the Mavericks have looked horrible, old and tired in their first two playoff games against the Hornets. I'm convinced the Mavs lost this series many months ago when they traded Devon Harris, the only person on this team with the speed and the defensive capabilities to guard Hornets superstar Chris Paul. I was a fervent critic of the trade when it was first talked about and my mind has never wavered on this subject.

But this is not "I told you so," it's about what the Mavs must do before Game 3 Friday night. Now, there's nothing they can do to win this series. All hope of that is gone. But at least they can make the Hornets work a little harder for their wins. But, in order to do this, Mavs coach Avery Johnson must make two changes in his starting lineup. First, he needs to start Jason Terry in place of Jerry Stackhouse. The Hornets are speeding around and through the Mavericks. Terry has the quickness to nullify some of that, at least some of it on the perimeter. He didn't earn the the nickname "Jet" because he makes loud noises.

Starting Terry probably can't be described as "radical," but my next suggestion will be viewed that way in many circles: start Brandon Bass in place of Josh Howard. That noise you might have just heard is the sound of me leaping off the Howard bandwagon. Howard has been described for too long as a player with a huge upside, a lot of potential. However, it is long past time that he lived up to that potential. Besides, Bass knows a lot of the players on the Hornets, knows their tendencies, knows how to guard them and knows how to get around them for good shots. The bottom line is Brass scored 19 points in last night's loss, Howard scored 10.

The playoff axiom is that a series really doesn't begin until one team beats another on the losing team's home court. By starting Terry and Bass, perhaps we can wait at least one more game before this series starts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Think we can get Catherine Zeta-Jones to sing this?

Come on Deron, why don't we knock the Rockets down
With all that Jazz
We're gonna make McGrady disappear and roll through Houston town
With all that Jazz
Start the car, I know a friendlier spot
Where the hometown advantage makes us really hot
It's just a noisy hall where we'll take 'em in four
With all ... that ... Jazz

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Avery Countdown

This means Larry Brown is still available. Are you listening, Mark?

What Tiger does is impressive, but ...

... one should not overlook this accomplishment, winning four tour championships in as many weeks. Only Mickey Wright accomplished this 45 years ago. Kathy Whitworth and my favorite golf pro Annika Sorenstam won four tournaments in a row, but they took off a week during their streaks.

Was the Stars series win over Anaheim a surprise?

Not really since the series pitted a four-seed against a five-seed and seedings in the NHL don't really mean anything anyway. Unlike the NBA, an eight-seed beating a one-seed in the NHL doesn't really surprise too many people.

Not only that, the Mighty Ducks were the defending NHL champs, and the holders of the Stanley Cup have lost in the first round of the subsequent playoffs the last five years.

Do you love Dallas enough to splice 3,134 photos into a time lapse film?

Guy Montag does. If you don't believe it, take two minutes and 10 seconds out of your life to watch this.

A prediction on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary

It's going to be a choice between Barach Obama and John McCain in November. I can't see any scenario in which Hillary Clinton can wrest the nomination from the Illinois senator. He is ahead in the delegate count (1,645 to 1,504, according to a count by the Associated Press), although neither Obama nor Clinton will have enough pledged delegates to have the 2,025 needed to win the nomination by the time the Democratic National Convention rolls around. So both candidates must make appeals to the so-called "super delegates" or party leaders to get over the magic number.

Obama, of course, is arguing that he has more pledged delegates than Clinton so, therefore, should be declared the nominee. Clinton wants to argue that because of her wins in heavily populated states, she stands a stronger chance of defeating McCain. Here's where her argument collapses, however. If you take the popular vote for both candidates cast in all the primaries, Obama leads Clinton by 800,000 votes. In order to erase that lead, Clinton would have to hope that 2 million voters cast ballots in tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary and that she receive at least 25 percent more of those votes than Obama. That simply isn't going to happen. Of all the polls I've seen, the one that has Clinton winning by the largest margin has her ahead by 10 percentage points. Most experts are predicting a Clinton victory with a margin of 6 percent. That 2 million voter turnout seems somewhat of a fantasy as well; 800,000 voted in the primary in 2004.

But even if she got her 25 percent margin in Pennsylvania and two million votes, that would only slice 500,000 votes from Obama's 800,000-vote lead. That means she would still need 20-point victories in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico -- all places where she is strong, but not that strong -- and win three of these five primaries: Indiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon, all states where Obama appears comfortably in the lead.

So Clinton can't even argue that super-delegates should side with her because she received the most votes. Chances are she won't, unless, of course, by some miracle the Democrats do a 180 and decide to count the votes in Michigan and Florida, but that's highly unlikely.

The other thorn in Clinton's side are recent polls showing her trailing McCain in a head-to-head matchup, albeit by a single percentage point, while Obama is running even with the Republican nominee.

I'd welcome anyone who wants to argue this, but, from where I sit, Obama has best argument for the super-delegates and therefore also has the nomination locked.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Questions that need to be answered after Hornets whip Mavs

After Jason Terry lit up the Hornets by scoring 31 points against them in the last game of the season, why did Mavs coach Avery Johnson start Jerry Stackhouse, who has been out with injury for much the latter half of the season and has relatively little experience playing with Jason Kidd, ahead of Terry?

When Johnson sat Stackhouse, why did he put Brandon Bass in his place instead of Terry?

Hornets coach Byron Scott obviously made some adjustments at halftime, holding the Mavs to only nine field goals in the entire second half, just a little over half the number (17) they scored in the first half. Why didn't Johnson make any adjustments, especially since the Hornets actually scored more field goals (18) in the first half than the Mavericks? The Mavs 12-point first half lead came from a 16-2 advantage at the free throw line.

Why is it that Johnson seems determined to let Chris Paul be the Dwyane Wade of this playoff series? Paul scored 14 points more than his season average in Game 1.

What I wouldn't give to see Larry Brown coaching this team right now.

This has nothing to do with Johnson, at least directly, but why did Dirk Nowitzki let David West treat him like a sissy late in the game? Get tough, Dirk! Don't let him pat you on the face like that.

Grades for this week's new movies on DVD

Charlie Wilson's War C+
Cloverfield C
One Missed Call F
The Orphanage B-
The Savages B+
Starting Out in the Evening B
Trailer Park Boys: The Movie F

Friday, April 18, 2008

It appears the DPS did jump too fast, too soon in Eldorado

Colorado Springs, Colo., police arrested a 33-year-old woman named Rozita Swinton in her home today and charged her with making crank calls. What's interesting about all this is that Texas Rangers were present when the arrest was made.

Did Swinton pretend to be a pregnant 16-year-old member of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who claimed to have been repeatedly raped by her 50-year-old husband who also was the father of another one of her children. Don't know yet. But here's what is known:

1. After the caller first telephoned a hotline in San Angelo, someone claiming to be the same 16-year-old called former church member Flora Jessop, who operates a rescue mission for girls leaving the Eldorado compound the DPS recently raided. Texas Rangers have traced the calls to Jessop to Colorado Springs.

2. Colorado Springs police say Ms. Swinton has been arrested for local calls in which she falsely claimed to be an abused child imprisoned in a basement.

3. No other complainant has been located.

4. No pregnant girls under the age of 16 were found at the church's YFZ compound outside Eldorado.

5. More than 400 children have been removed from their home at the expense of Texas taxpayers.

6. The AP reports that the resulting court case has "descended into farce."

This whole thing has had a rotten smell right from the very beginning.

There will be blood amidst the lights in the wide open spaces

Marfa, situated way the hell out there in the high desert of Far West Texas, is arguably best known for its lights.

I saw the lights.

One night, during my excursions around the Davis Mountains and into Big Bend, I drove about nine miles east of Marfa on U.S. 67 -- the very same U.S. 67 that splits off from I-35E south of Dallas toward Midlothian., Cleburne, San Angelo and, eventually Marfa -- pulled over to the side of the road, cast my eyes toward the Chinati Mountains and there they were, dancing in the distance.

But my real affinity for Marfa is because James Dean hung out there while making his final motion picture, "Giant." Then, a half century after Dean as Jett Rink struck oil thereabouts, Marfa became the location for what turned out to be the two best movies of 2007, "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men."

I don't know if this new-found interest in Marfa as a filming location spurred this idea in some creative soul, but, for whatever the reason, Marfa is staging its own film festival next month. And the undeniable highlight of the festival will be the May 1 screening of "There Will Be Blood" on a giant outdoor screen that will be erected on the site of what's left of the set used for the town of New Boston in the film. Now that seems worth making the trip to Marfa.

The other highlight of the festival, at least in my estimation, will be the screening of the magnificent "Night of the Hunter," also known as the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, that will also be screened outdoors, on the Marfa Golf Course, which has the distinction of being the golf course located at an elevation higher than any other course in Texas.

The entire affair has a certain appeal, at least to me.

A sad day on E Street

Danny Federici, the organist who was one of the original members of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, died Thursday night at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York where he was being treated for melanoma. He was 58.

Federici hooked up with Bruce in the late 1960s, playing with him in such bands as Child, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, before the formation of the very first Bruce Springsteen Band, which later became the E-Street Band.

Although Federici will be associated with playing the organ in E-Street, especially on the hit single "Hungry Heart," my personal favorite moment featuring Federici is when he played the accordion on the recording of "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."

Grades for this week's new movies on DVD

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem F
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead B+
The Final Season D-
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale F
Juno B+
Lars and the Real Girl C+

Thursday, April 17, 2008

For those who missed it Sunday at the ACC

The sound is pretty dismal but this will give you some idea of what it was like when Jon Bon Jovi joined Bruce Springsteen for a fun version of "Glory Days." Party time!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Music Within"

I have been told that this movie won the Audience Award at the 2007 AFI Dallas International Film Festival. I hated to hear that because it is either an indictment on Dallas film audiences or the quality of films at last year’s festival. The movie tells the story of Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) who lost his hearing in Vietnam and returned to the United States where he eventually took up the cause of other disabled veterans. He soon broadens his scope to include non-vets as well and his efforts lead to the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the acting throughout the film is first rate (I defy anyone seeing this to immediately recognize the actor playing Art, physically handicapped by cerebral palsy who becomes Richard’s best friend, as the same actor, Michael Sheen, who gave an equally magnificent performance as British Prime Minister Tony Blair in "The Queen"), the problems with the film are those of first time director Steven Sawalich and his trio of screenwriters. The movie’s opening scenes play like a quirky comedy, with Richard’s mother (Rebecca De Mornay), shipping him off to an orphanage because she refuses to accept that he’s really alive (don’t bother to ask why, it’s too complicated and absolutely irrelevant to explain) and his Chinese father (Clint Jung) perishing when a large jar of soy sauce falls on top of him. Then in the last third of the movie there’s an undercurrent of a dark side to Richard’s personality that drives his wife (Melissa George) away from him and Richard away from many of his friends. But it is just an undercurrent, the film doesn’t have the courage to actually let us see it for ourselves. What were left with is an unsentimental, superficial look at a man who made a difference, kind of like something you would see on A&E’s "Biography," only with actors. Grade: D+

City Council obviously composed of quick learners

The Dallas City Council has unanimously voted in favor an ordinance that apparently prohibits minors from entering or working in a strip club (what took them so long to come up with this prohibition?) even though less than two hours before the vote, Dallas Morning News City Hall reporter Dave Levinthal wrote: "only top city officials know what these proposed changes entail – and they're refusing to discuss them publicly."

Protecting us against second-hand voices

Right now, cell phone use is not allowed while an airplane is in flight. Something about it screwing up navigational tools or somesuch. I don't know exactly, but it's supposed to be a safety hazard to use them in flight, much like using them in school zones or on North Central Expressway. But the airlines are working on a scheme to make cell phone use possible in flight and, of course, make the airlines a little extra dough on the side. Somehow they would use broadband networks that would funnel voice and text messages through an airplane's receiver which would relay it to a satellite and then on to the intended recipient. The airlines would charge a fee to use the receiver while making sure it didn't interfere with any other electronic systems aboard the aircraft. But, before you can even say "Sorry, honey, the plane's being diverted to San Antonio," Oregon U.S. Representative Peter DaFazio, a senior member of the House Transportation Committee, has introduced something he calls "The Hang Up Act of 2008" which would prohibit the use of voice communications onboard an aircraft during flight.

"I think many Americans understand the potential for problems on aircraft if 100 or more people start talking on cell phones," DeFazio said at a news conference to announce the bill. "People are in very, very close quarters and this is a circumstance where you would have a cacophony of people on cell phones that would amount to a great potential for trouble."

His bill would permit text messaging and the use of those oh-so-popular phones many planes place on the backs of seats.

DeFazio, by the way, is the congressman who led the fight to ban smoking on aircraft.

The truth is out there, but will we ever find it?

The next "X-Files" movie to be released July 25 will be called "I Want to Believe." Diehard fans of the television series know that those words were contained on the poster Fox Mulder displayed in his subterranean FBI office. The words appear on the poster along with the image of a flying saucer.

I mention this only because X-Files creator Chris Carter has said the new movie will not deal with the extra-terrestrial mythology that ran through much of the original series, that the movie will stand completely on its own. "It's a story that involves the difficulties in mediating faith and science," Carter told the Associated Press. "It really does suggest Mulder's struggle with his faith."

Carter has touched on faith-based issues during the run of the television series but most of those themes dwelled on Mulder's partner, Dana Scully. They were also some of the dullest programs in the series.

For the most part, I have been a X-Files fan. I have the complete 9-season series on DVD, but I don't own the original movie. I wasn't that happy with the film. I want to believe this one will be better.

"He's got the heart, he's got the soul, he needs control right now"

Want to know who The Boss is endorsing for President? Bruce announced his decision today on his Web site and you can read it right here.

Scorsese lights Stones, Renee bangs heads, saluting "Angels," huggable "Moon"


By PHILIP WUNTCH
Film Critic Emeritus

Some (moderately) short takes on current movies:

RISE AND "SHINE": Martin Scorsese's films, with their editing, camera movements and emotional crescendos, often seem like cinematic equivalents of rock music. Besides, Marty (as all us Scorsese buffs call him) was one of the editors of 1970's seminal "Woodstock" and directed 1978's masterful Band documentary "The Last Waltz."

And now, to no one's surprise, Marty and the Rolling Stones prove to be a rich, rapturous movie marriage. "Shine a Light," best seen in IMAX at Cinemark 17, depicts the Stones' two-day concert at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre. Part of the group's 2006 "Bigger Bang Tour," the concert was in honor of Bill Clinton's birthday. As a cultural landmark, that may not be as epochal as Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to JFK, but it still ranks as An Event.

And the movie itself is an event. Aided by 18 cameramen, Marty exquisitely captures the adrenalin rush of a Stones concert. Unlike the recent U2 IMAX movie, "Shine a Light" is not in 3-D. It doesn't need to be. The film's you-are-there urgency allows the intimacy of a one-on-one serenade without losing the excitement of a large concert hall.

"Shine a Light" demonstrates expert use of one of moviemaking's most impactful weapons, the close-up. We get piercing looks at the weatherbeaten faces of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (looking worse than anyone else, but playing great guitar), Ron Wood and Charlie Watts. These craggy close-ups remind us of how the Stones have aged. And, more significantly, how we have aged too.

Jagger and youthful Christina Aguilera perform "Live With Me." Other memorable segments feature "Sympathy for the Devil," "Satisfaction," "Honky Tonk Women," "Faraway Eyes" and "Start Me Up."

"Shine a Light" emerges as a dynamic yet thought-provoking film. It may not generate the legendary legacy of Marty's "The Last Waltz." But it's a great concert movie.

LYNCHING ZELLWEGER: George Clooney is the apparent fall guy for "Leatherheads," his lame attempt to resurrect 1930s-style screwball comedy against a backdrop of 1920s football.

Actually, Clooney is the lesser culprit. He's clearly enamored of 1930s comedies (many of which, incidentally, his father Nick used to introduce in the halcyon days of the American Movie Classics cable network). But as a director, he trades too heavily on nostalgia, hoping that 80-year-old artifacts automatically bring forth a chorus of "ah-h-h-h-h's".

He's also generous as actor/director. Don't get me wrong. Gorgeous George gets plenty of close-ups, and even when covered with mud, his suave composure never wavers. But he realizes the importance of supporting players, and everyone gets the chance to strut.

In the sad case of Renee Zellweger, she gets too many chances to strut, and she abuses all of them. She plays that staple of Hollywood Golden Age comedies, the scrappy, ambitious newspaperwoman. When Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell and Jean Arthur played wise-cracking dames, they often had the good judgment to toss off their lines in an understated manner, allowing the audience to digest them for a few seconds and then laugh even more loudly.

Zellweger doesn't toss off anything. She mugs, grimaces and poses as if auditioning for a reprise of Helen Hayes' stowaway role in "Airport." She bludgeons every line of dialog to the point of agony. At first I wanted to throw something at the screen. By the end of the movie, I wanted to yank her image off the screen and do some bludgeoning myself. Hers is arguably the most annoying performance in any of the current century's A-list movies.

Once upon a time, say a dozen years ago, Zellweger knew the meaning of subtlety. In 1996's virtually forgotten "The Whole Wide World," she played a prim schoolteacher who inspires Robert Howard, tormented author of "Conan the Barbarian." That was, of course, an entirely different role, and as Howard, brooding Vincent D'Onofrio was an entirely different acting partner than cheeky Clooney. But her performance was filled with delightful small touches.

A few of those small touches could have elevated "Leatherheads." Instead, she helps sink the entire enterprise. I found myself whispering, "Go away, Renee, go away." Again and again and again.

SERIOUS "ANGELS": I look back on "Snow Angels" with considerable fondness and even admiration. Yet I walked out of the theater almost totally depressed. The film ends with a glimmer of hope, but what precedes the finale is an unflinching look at human unhappiness.

Small-town high-schooler Michael Angarano has more than his share of teen angst. His parents are splitting up, and he works at a Chinese restaurant, where he harbors a longtime crush on co-worker Kate Beckinsale, who once was his babysitter. She's now in the midst of a bitter estrangement from irresponsible husband Sam Rockwell, her high-school sweetheart. Sam's now a recovering alcoholic and a born-again Christian, and his desperate attempts to win Kate back are heartbreaking.

The movie is beautifully acted, with Rockwell and Angarano hitting all the right, pungent notes. Beckinsale gives a courageous performance, unafraid to reveal her character's less likable qualities. Amy Sedaris, as Kate's weary, sarcastic co-worker, and Olivia Thirlby, as an outspoken geek with designs on Angarano, are delightful.

Onetime Richardson resident David Gordon Green, who adapted the screenplay from Stewart O'Nan's lauded novel, obviously cares deeply for his characters and his actors. He also allows moments of genuine wit to lighten the film's heavy emotional load.

All of us have problems. So do we really need a movie that burdens us with other people's emotional crises? Judging from my own reactions, I say we do. As I said, I left the Angelika feeling depressed. Yet the more I thought about the movie, the more I liked it. Not every movie has to be huggable, and you won't want to hug "Snow Angels." But after you think about it, you'll feel like saluting it. And I'm not referring to the middle-finger salute, which so many other contemporary movies provoke.

FULL "MOON": "Under the Same Moon" is filled with traps, and it escapes almost all of them.

It's the story of 9-year-old Carlitos' clandestine journey from Mexico to Los Angeles, where his illegal-alien mother works. They haven't seen each other in four years, and he wonders if she still loves him.

Of course, she does. She toils rigorously to save enough money to pay for him to join her, all the while trying to hide her illegal status from omnipresent prying eyes. Carlitos, for his part, proves enormously enterprising as he escapes a child prostitution ring and sidesteps other, more humorous, situations.

Along the way, he meets Enrique, an avuncular illegal alien who at first detests having to look after a child but soon becomes Carlitos' biggest champion.

See what I mean about traps? Most of the situations border on cliches, and the characters could easily dwindle into stereotypes. Moreover, the plot's contrivances often stretch credibility.

But director Patricia Riggens, in her feature debut, softens the screenplay's potential blows by understating each emotion-filled vignette. And a trio of triumphant lead performances offer immeasurable aid.

Adrian Alonso, who was 12 when the movie was shot, pushes all the right buttons without making the button-pushing obvious. He's cute without being too cute, and his responses are natural and endearing. Kate del Castillo registers the mother's weariness and hopefulness in equal measure.

As Enrique, Eugenio Derbies has the biggest challenge. His role could have disintegrated so rapidly into the lovable-grouch stereotype. But his comic and dramatic facilities vanquish the cliche.

"Under the Same Moon" is a huggable movie, one you can embrace without feeling guilty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Reservation Road"

"Reservation Road" has the makings of a great movie, but midway through it takes a terribly wrong step and never recovers. Ethan Learner (Joaquin Phoenix), his wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly) their daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) and their son Josh (Sean Curley) are leaving a recital which featured Josh on cello. At the same time, Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) and his son Lucas (Eddie Alderson) are leaving Fenway Park after seeing their beloved Boston Red Sox play. Dwight’s ex-wife Ruth (Mira Sorvino) is calling Dwight constantly because Lucas should have been back home hours earlier, but the game went into extra innings. So he’s rushing his son back to the ex-wife’s house in Connecticut. Meanwhile, the Learner family stops at a gas station so Emma can use the bathroom and Josh dashes out of the car to free fireflies Emma has collected in a Mason jar. Just at that moment, Dwight speeds by, his concentration is interrupted by another call from Ruth, he begins to veer into the wrong lane, swerves to miss an oncoming car and then hits and kills Josh. Lucas, who’s been sleeping in the front seat, bangs his head on the dashboard as a result of the collision. For reasons we can’t fathom and later become even more unexplainable, Dwight speeds off instead of stopping to render aid. The rest of the film’s first act focuses on the psychological effect this tragedy has on the Learner family and on Dwight and if the film had the courage to stick with this and deal with it—to really explore it—it might have achieved greatness. Instead, it goes for the far-fetched.

Ethan is determined to find the man responsible for killing his son and keeps pressing the police to do more. When the authorities don’t give him the satisfaction he demands, he decides to take matters into his own hands. First he hires a law firm to maintain pressure on the police (what a law firm could do in this regard is really not explained, but never mind). The law firm he hires just happens to be the one Dwight works for and, of course, Dwight is assigned to the case. Now we discover that Dwight is an attorney which brings me back to the unanserable question of why he left the scene of the accident in the first place. He was not drunk. It clearly was an accident. And, as an attorney, he should know better. But wait, there’s more. As a tribute to her brother, Emma decides to take up where he left off and begins studying music, specifically the piano. Who is her teacher? Why, it’s Ruth, of course. All this is explored in the film’s second act and just when you think there can not be any more implausible coincidences, the screenwriters throw us one more bizarre one, which I won’t go into, that convinces Ethan that Dwight was responsible for his son’s death.

Phoenix and Ruffalo are two of the finest actors working in films today. And they turn in terrific performances in this film. However, their performances can’t avoid the traps set for them by the screenplay. As a result, all we get to do is witness Ethan and Dwight’s separate sorrows, but we never have the opportunity to truly understand them. Grade: D

It would take something really really important to disrupt our Oscar schedule, something like, say, a Presidential inauguration or something like that

The way it works is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sets the date when the Oscars will be handed out and works backwards from there to develop its schedule. Next year's Oscar presentation is scheduled for Feb. 22, which, from what I understand, is the earliest date ever for the presentation of the Academy Awards.

The announcement of the nominees is always scheduled for the first Tuesday four weeks before the telecast. Next year that Tuesday falls on Jan. 20.

Whoops!

That also happens to be the day a new President of the United States is being inaugurated. Now, for some reason, neither the major presidential candidates nor the Motion Picture Academy liked my simple solution to this conundrum which was to have the president put aside his/her normal inauguration address and, instead, announce the Oscar nominees. Talk about coverage. Instead, the Academy, which, like many of its members, prefers to have a spotlight shining on it exclusively, decided to move the nomination announcement date to the following Thursday.

So now here is the updated major dates for the 81st edition of the Academy Awards:
Dec. 26: Nomination ballots mailed
Jan. 12: Deadline for nomination ballots to be returned
Jan. 22: Nominations announced
Jan. 28: Oscar selection ballots mailed
Feb. 17: Deadline for Oscar selection ballots to be returned
Feb. 22: Presentation of the gold statuettes

$igns of the Times

The New York Times today ran a story that contained some disturbing economic news and puts a lot of the problems we're facing in terms those like me, who are not versed in all the nuances of how an economy works, into perspective. The story involved all the well known stores that have filed for bankruptcy, chiefly because they are selling items consumers can no longer afford because a larger share of their income is going to pay for gasoline and food. Some of the names on the list shocked me--Sharper Image and Levitz. The story forecast that Linens 'n' Things will file for bankruptcy before this week is out.

Other stores are drastically curtailing operations. Foot Locker plans to close 140 stores, Ann Taylor 117 and Zales jewelers 100.

What's worse, the changes in the bankruptcy laws enacted in 2005 will make it more difficult for many of these companies to survive. The Times quoted Sally Henry, a lawyer with a firm specializing in bankruptcy and the author of several books on the subject as saying “It’s no longer reorganization or even liquidation for these companies. In many cases, it’s evaporation.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Sharkwater"

"Sharkwater" is a somewhat devious documentary. First writer-director Rob Stewart attempts to debunk all our preconceived thoughts of sharks as dangerous to human existence, insisting, among other things, that soft drink dispensing machines kill more humans each year than sharks. Sharks are, Stewart claims, warm cuddly creatures that you could have as pets in your home and take for walks in the park if they didn’t need to remain underwater constantly in order to stay alive. This section of the film features stunning underwater photography and some "Oh, wow!" moments Stewart’s photographic crew has managed to capture on film. Then, after domesticating the shark—gettng us to abandon our fears and embrace the shark—Stewart describes how the shark population is being decimated by uncaring Asians demanding shark fin soup, that how the shark fin industry is a multi-billion dollar business that has created its own mafia to help with the production and distribution. This annihilation of the shark population is not only consequential on moral grounds, Stewart posits, but also because sharks eat those fish that feeds on the plankton that absorbs carbon dioxide. Thus, drastic reductions in the number of sharks could, according to Stewart, be another factor leading to accelerated global warming. But it’s here that the film begins a downward spiral, not because Stewart’s arguments can’t stick, but because he (1) ceases to be reportorial documentarian and becomes the leading man in his own "Save the Sharks" campaign and (2) he directly inserts himself into the film so that this crusade becomes all about him and not about the endangered shark. He joins the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society led by activist Paul Watson who has the reputation of ramming and sinking ships he believes are poaching illegally in international waters. Together Stewart and Watson begin patrolling the waters off Costa Rica to catch those involved in shark finning—the hooking of sharks, cutting off and saving their fins and dumping the rest of the carcass back in the water—but run into trouble from what Stewart claims is the Taiwanese Mafia that controls the shark fin industry. This Mafia is able to go so far as to have Stewart, Watson and their crew arrested on charges of attempted murder. We also get plenty of shots of Stewart in a Speedo, Stewart caressing sharks in the water and a rather long, boring interlude in which Stewart is hospitalized with an infection in his leg. There is no way he can defend that this segment has any relevance whatsoever to the subject of saving sharks. I’m surprised he didn’t call his film "Stewartwater." Grade: C-

Sharing a cell with Bruce

Perhaps it's my advancing age. Perhaps it's Bruce's. Perhaps it was the fact that this was the first Bruce Springsteen concert I ever attended in which I went by myself and thus did not get to share the experience.

But, in the end, I'm going to blame the fact that it took longer than usual for Bruce to engage me Sunday night in his concert at American Airlines Center on my iPod.

Rock artists usually always go on tour to promote their most recently released CD and Bruce is no exception. So it should not come as a surprise that 8 of his 19 songs in his pre-encore set came from his latest, "Magic." This is the first Bruce release I did not purchase as an object to hold in my hand, something to play on my home or auto stereo system. "Magic" came out immediately after I had joined the iPod generation and, thus, I simply downloaded the entire album into my slim black box, where the songs became part of the 6,260 other tunes programmed to play randomly. As a result, the songs on "Magic" are not as familiar to me as those on CDS or on vinyl that I played repeatedly upon their release. (At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I am also going to suggest that perhaps "Magic" may be overrated. It's a pleasant enough pop album, but I want rock from Bruce.)

Of Springsteen's first five songs, three were from "Magic." So it wasn't until Springsteen tore into the sixth number on his set list, a rendition of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped," that the music began to envelop me the way his concerts normally do from the very beginning. (I still remember the first time I saw Bruce and the E-Street Band live at the old Texas Electric Ballroom on Industrial Boulevard: Five seconds into the show I knew I was about to experience one of the most memorable and rewarding nights of my rock 'n' roll life.) Then, after "Trapped," Springsteen played even more familiar material -- "Reason to Believe," "Prove It All Night," "Because the Night" and a song I have loved to hear live since I first saw him perform it at the Dallas Convention Theater, "She's the One."

What came after that, however, were three "Magic" tunes in a row before he announced he was performing a song for the first time in this tour, the wonderful "Independence Day," a rendition that I must admit made my eyes water.

The 40-minute encore was pure Springsteen however, as he used "Meeting Across the River" as a prelude to "Jungleland" just as he does on the "Born to Run" album (although the Dallas audience didn't seem as enthused by Clarence Clemmons' sax solo as audiences usually are.) Following "Born to Run" (which made me wonder whether Bruce and the E-Street Band have ever appeared on a full concert without performing that song), he brought out Jon Bon Jovi to join him in "Glory Days." Bon Jovi's appearance was not a surprise. He and his band are performing at the arena tonight, Sunday was an off-day for him and he has always recognized Bruce as his hero. I have never been much of a Bon Jovi fan, but their duet was the rock highlight of the evening. I only wish it had segued into "Ramrod" or "Cadillac Ranch" instead of "Dancing in the Dark," but you can't have anything. He ended, of course, with "American Land" (I say "of course" because that has been the last song on every stop of the 2007-2008 "Magic" tour, except for a couple of European stops at the end of last year when he ended with "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town").

Of all the Springsteen concerts I have seen, this one ranks at or near the bottom of the list, which still places it ahead of just about every other rock concert I have seen. I tried unsuccessfully to convince a dear friend to accompany me to the show (as well the much superior one during "The Rising Tour"), but she declined. I really wanted her to experience the joyous exhilaration of a Springsteen concert. But it was somewhere during the middle of the show that I was glad she turned me down. Back in the mid-1970s, Bruce used to end his concerts with the cry "I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll." The first time I heard him say it, I knew exactly how he felt. I grew up with rock and roll, was fortunate enough to be a teenager when Elvis Presley recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" and completely reshaped modern American music, an experience that Bruce and I discussed often in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But I realized that you have to share the prison cell with Bruce -- or at least make regular visits to the inmates -- to really appreciate the context of Springsteen live. And that's not the type of person this friend is. So I also thought during the show that I was glad she didn't come, because not having someone appreciate and enjoy the experience as much as I, even this slightly-below-average experience, would have been crushing.

I also realized that I was being somewhat selfish, trying to project my passions of Springsteen live on her. It was during one particular Nils Lofgren guitar solo that I realized that this friend is not a prisoner of rock 'n' roll, nor is she a prisoner of anything, to be honest, and that I needed to respect that. A Bruce Springsteen concert, even one that wasn't up to my admittedly incredibly high standards, has that kind of effect.

I am, however, keeping the iPod.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The 11th Hour"

"The 11th Hour" is a documentary that expands on the themes of "An Inconvenient Truth," warning that not only is global warming bringing us to the brink of disaster but that the notion that the human race no longer chooses to live in harmony with nature will all too soon spell the end of life on this planet as we know it. It gathers an expert array of talking heads to spell out these dire consequences and there’s some impressive photographic montages to accompany the lecture. The movie’s title comes from the notion that in a 12-hour cycle of human existence, we still have an hour left to correct all our past mistakes. The problem I found in this argument is that the movie argues that a lot of what has led us to the brink is human greed. I will agree that humanity can change its actions, but I find it a lot more difficult to believe that we can alter the basic human nature that lies at the root of those actions. Therefore, the movie left me feeling hopelessly pessimistic about our future even if I wasn’t already pessimistic about the ability of our leaders to reshape this future. Grade: C

"Resurrecting the Champ"

Probably the most honest review I’ve read of "Resurrecting the Champ" comes from J.R. Moehringer who wrote that Samuel L. Jackson did a wonderful job of resurrecting an old boxer "and it was surreal to see him do it." He also said "I loved seeing Champ come to life." Of Josh Hartnett, as Erik Kernan, a Denver Times reporter, Moehringer wasn’t so kind. I mention this only because Moehringer is the Pulitzer Prize winning Los Angeles Times journalist who wrote the original story, "Resurrecting the Champ," on which this movie is loosely based. I also mention it because, as a newspaperman and someone who really knew the character Jackson plays in this movie, he should be able to separate truth from fiction better than anyone, especially when it comes to a movie that deals with separating truth from fiction. The movie portrays Erik as a third-rate sportswriter (his editor, Metz [Alan Alda] says he forgets Erik’s stories as he’s reading them) who sees his chance for a big time story when he stumbles across a homeless man being beaten by some young hotshots in an alley. He learns the victim is actually Bob Satterfield, a heavyweight boxer of the 1940s and 1950s. He decides to write a story for the newspaper’s magazine supplement of how this boxer who once fought such notables as Ezzard Charles and Jake LaMotta, could wind up with all his belongings in a shopping cart in the alleys of Denver. Moehringer is correct when he wrote "Hartnett wasn’t playing me." It isn’t Hartnett’s fault so much as it is the lingering idea that films screenwriters never set foot in a newsroom in their lives. We see Erik getting information from Polly (Rachel Nichols), a researcher at the paper, and spending a lot of time with the Champ and then, seemingly out of nowhere, there’s this story on the cover of the magazine. We never see him anguishing over the writing of it. The other problem is that Kernan’s motives here never seem to hinge on journalism but on seeking the redemption of his wife Joyce (Kathryn Morris), from whom he’s separated and his 6-year-old son Teddy (Dakota Goyo), who idolizes him. The most interesting character in this movie is the Champ, but for some reason, director Rod Lurie doesn’t see this and focuses his story on Kernan, neglecting the Champ as much as the rest of humanity did. Grade: D+

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Lions for Lambs"

Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Pena, Andrew Garfield, Derek Luke. Directed by Redford. Who’s to blame for our poorly planned, poorly executed military operations in the Middle East? Well, according to this film, we can blame hawkish politicians (of course), a media that regurgitated what they were told by the hawkish politicians, and an academia that has failed to create awareness among the emerging generation of adults. And because of all this ineptness we continue to sacrifice our best and our brightest on the mountaintops of Afghanistan (although here it looks like they were sacrificed in a darkened Hollywood sound studio). This topic might have been daring had it been told two, three years ago. Today it comes across as polemic viewed through Vietnam-tinted glasses. This is a movie that doesn’t say anything we haven’t already heard many times, and says it as boringly as can be imagined. Grade: D

Friday, April 11, 2008

"The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep"

Fantasy adventure starring Emily Watson, Alex Etel, David Morrissey, Ben Chaplin. Directed by Jay Russell. About five years ago, my son and I took a car ride around England and Scotland. One of my most favorite memories of this trip was the morning we spent on the banks of Loch Ness. The loch is many things but one thing for sure it isn’t. It isn’t separated from the ocean by a narrow channel. Other than that geographical misstep, I found this film about how the Loch Ness Monster came to be rather charming and a wonderful example of the term "family film," providing the children in your family are at least close to double digits in age. It tells the story of Angus MacMarrow (Etel), a young lad during World War II who finds an egg on the shore of Loch Ness, takes it home, discovers that a strange little creature has hatched from it and then watches it grow quite rapidly which becomes a major problem since his mother (Watson) has refused to allow young Angus to have pets. "E.T." is a major influence in this film, although the climax of "The Water Horse" is far more in the rousing adventure tradition and is the reason the film might be a little too intense for younger children. The monster is wonderfully created and realized, from infancy to full beasthood. The movie borders on over-sentimentality at times, but never fully crosses the line. Grade: B-

A prophecy fulfilled

Here are the first two paragraphs of an AP story today about what's going on in Eldorado.

"All their lives, the girls in the polygamist sect in the West Texas desert were told that the outside world was hostile and immoral, and that venturing beyond the brilliant white limestone walls of their compound would consign them to eternal damnation.

"Now, if the state gets its way, hundreds of the girls could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling."

From what I've read about the state of foster care in Texas, all the worst nightmares of these girls could become a reality. I'm not a defender of polygamy, forced marriages or of 15-year-old mothers, but I am a staunch believer in freedom of religion, if I don't agree with a single thing a particular religion practices or preaches. I am also a firm advocate of the concept of separation of church and state.

This is supposed to be the land of the free, and freedom is difficult to pursue and practice. That's why so few other countries even attempt to let their citizens have the freedoms we enjoy here. But with those freedoms must come the realization that it grants people the right to say things and do things a majority of the citizenship may find abhorrent.

"There Will Be Blood"

Drama starring Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Dillon Freasier. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This story of how greed corrupts both business and religion, especially when business and religious leaders abandon their own humanity, is an excellent one that misses greatness only because of its contrived finale. What does achieve greatness, however, is Day Lewis’s performance as turn-of-the-20th-century oil baron Daniel Plainview, a performance that ranks among the best in movie history. In fact, I have to go all the way back to DeNiro as Jake LaMotta to find one to equal it (Day Lewis seems to go even further back. His inspiration here seems to be John Huston in “Chinatown.” And Anderson has said that his inspiration was “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which was directed by Huston.) Plainview is a dark character. He is mean when the movie opens and a maniac when it ends, and the film is the story of how his greed got him from Point A to Point B and sucked out the life of just about everyone he came in contact with. In a tour de force opening 15-minute segment without any dialogue, we see Plainview has a silver miner who is not going to let something like a shattered leg keep him from getting what we wants. He soon becomes an oilman, posing as a family man with his adopted son H.W. (Freasier) to con poor ranchers out of their oil rights. But in order to stand up with the big guys (i.e., Standard Oil), Plainview needs an oil bearing parcel of land he can call his own and he finds it one day courtesy of Paul Sunday (Dano) who tells him about the California town of New Boston where oil is so plentiful it is seeping to the surface. With his son, Plainview travels to New Boston where he confronts Paul’s twin brother Eli (also Dano), who is the minister of the charismatic Church of the Third Revelation. Plainview immediately recognizes Eli as a fellow con artist and the rest of the film involves their duel as each reaches for more power and what each chooses to surrender in their personal lives in order to gain that power. Grade: A

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We're sorry you're that stupid

You get your water bill in the mail. You pay it. Two days later you receive an identical bill in the mail. Do you pay that one as well or do you, somewhat more logically, scratch your head and consider the possibility that something might be amiss here? Well, apparently some from the Stepford set paid the second one as well without questioning it, so now the City of Dallas gets to send out apology letters to these dolts.

Mazel Tov

I'll sleep a lot better tonight knowing this.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"

Comedy starring John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Raymond J. Barry, Margo Martindale. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Written by Kasdan and Judd Apatow. This uneven parody of "Walk the Line" with a little bit of "Ray" thrown in contains as many strikeouts as homeruns, but when the title character (Reilly) is singing the songs composed by the likes of Marshall Crenshaw and Van Dyke Parks, this film hits all the bases. His duet with soon-to-be wife (although he’s already married) Darlene (Fischer), aptly called "Let’s Duet" could be said to be filled with double entendres if they weren’t all so singularly intended. And his spin on a Bob Dylan "Highway 61 Revisited"-era song, "Royal Jelly," is dead-on perfect. Reilly is absolutely electrifying as Cox, especially when he’s on stage performing in concert. He’s earns his laughs by playing the role completely straight—he never telegraphs the punch lines which is the mark of a superb comic actor, a breed all too rare these days. Some of the bits where Cox encounters famous rock stars -- Buddy Holly, Elvis, the Beatles -- fall flat, although there’s a classic bit near the end involving The Temptations. The movie’s second half doesn’t seem to measure up to the first, but then that could be because the very idea of a Johnny Cash parody has worn thin by that time. The songs are so delicious, however, and Reilly is so wonderful performing them, it makes me think "Walk Hard" makes a better soundtrack album than it does a movie. Grade: C

Minor disagreements with fellow bloggers

Jim Schutze over at the Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog apparently doesn't understand how TIFs are financed and Jeff Siegel at the Advocate's Back Talk Lakewood blog apparently hasn't been paying attention.

Mr. Schutze wrote another one of his mountains-from-molehills rants today about a parking garage planned for the Deep Ellum TIF, suggesting that the TIF is robbing the City of Dallas' General Fund of money that could be used to pay for more police officers. Don't believe a word of it. The money used to fund projects for TIFs comes from the additional taxes paid by owners of property within the TIF because their property increased in value based on the TIF. Here's an example. You have property worth $100,000 and you are paying property taxes on that valuation. Now that property becomes part of a TIF. Because of the improvements made on property within the TIF, the value of your property increases to $175,000 and your property taxes increase proportionately. Only the difference between the taxes you paid on the property when it was valued at $100,000 and the taxes you pay now go into the TIF. In other words, without the TIF, those revenues would not be available to the city for additional police officers or anything else.

Mr. Siegel is commenting on yesterday's runoff election in which Lowell Cannaday trounced Jim Bowles in the runoff for the Republican nomination for Dallas County sheriff. He writes: "Cannaday should go into the November election against incumbent (Democrat) Lupe Valdez as the favorite." Where has Mr. Siegel been? Has he failed to notice that Dallas County is now solidly Democratic and that the November elections will be, above all, a referendum on a widely unpopular Republican president, widely unpopular even here in the county where his library is going to be built. For a more accurate look at how this election is shaping up, I would refer you to Gromer Jeffers' column in today's Dallas Morning News in which he writes "Ms. Valdez looks as stable as ever."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"August Rush"

Drama starring Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, William Sadler. Directed by Kirsten Sheridan. One magical night in early 1997 Louis Connelly (Meyers), the lead vocalist and bassist in an Irish rock band comprised of his brothers, meets classical cellist Lyla Novacek at a New York City party. They make love under the stars on the rooftop of an apartment building overlooking Washington Square and fall asleep in each other’s arms. They awake the next morning, each vowing to meet that evening under the Washington Square arch (despite the fact that there’s absolutely no chemistry between them.). For reasons too idiotic to go into here, that meeting never takes place. Lyla soon realizes she is pregnant as a result of her tryst and decides to keep the baby. However, following an argument with her domineering father Thomas (Sadler) near her due date. Lyla storms out of a building, onto a Manhattan street where she is struck by an unseen vehicle. When she regains consciousness in a hospital, Thomas tells her she has lost the baby. In reality, the child was saved, but Thomas has given the child up for adoption. Flash forward 13 years. Lyla has become a music teacher in Chicago, Louis is some kind of businessman in San Francisco and their son, Evan, has run away from the upstate New York orphanage convinced that if only his parents can hear the music swirling around in his head, they will come and find him. Does that happen? Are there stars in the sky?

Evan (who, while born and raised in New York, manages to have an English accent, I assume in tribute to the father he’s never met) escapes to New York and (where else?) Washington Square where he becomes Oliver to a Fagin that wants people to refer to him as Wizard (Williams). By this time any sensible viewer has put away all concepts of logic and reality with one unbelievable coincidence piling on top of another all the way to the sappy finale which finds Evan — now renamed August Rush by Wizard — conducting the New York Philharmonic in a symphony he composed himself while studying at Julliard. Now, I’ve always believed in the redemptive power of music; in fact, some will argue my entire life has been guided by this concept. I do know that the Rolling Stones’s "Brown Sugar" can and has pulled me out of many a serious depressive state. But this film takes that concept to patently absurd lengths. Grade: F

Note to Self

Coaching questions remain to be answered following last night's Kansas victory over Memphis in what has to be one of the best and most thrilling NCAA basketball championship games I've ever seen:

Kansas coach Bill Self now makes $1.3 million. T. Boone Pickens is willing to pay him $6 million, easily making him the highest paid coach in the business, to come to Oklahoma State. Will Kansas try to keep Self and, if so, what are they willing to part with to make sure he remains in Lawrence? Or will Kansas let Self go and try to get back Roy Williams, who was courtside last night sporting a Jayhawks emblem (thus angering many Tarheels), and whose North Carolina team lost to Kansas (and many of the players Williams recruited there) in the semifinals?

Did DPS jump too fast, too soon in Eldorado?

I have had a limited experience with religious cults including one founded by the woman who claimed to know the exact date California was going to slide into the ocean. When that date came and went, she took her flock and moved to Montana where they took up residence in a series of underground bunkers about the size of a American Airlines hangar, causing the locals to say these activities were causing major disruptions of the geysers in nearby Yellowstone National Park.

In early 1982, a DOA motion picture about religious cults, "Split Image," was shot here and because I was dating someone in the movie I spent a lot of time at the filming locations, soaking up as much knowledge as I could about its subject matter.

Other than that, my experience includes nothing more than observations on the Branch Davidians and others. I'm not even sure, to be honest, that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually qualifies as a cult, whatever the qualifications for a cult may be. It has been called that in various newspaper accounts, but it might be more accurate just to call it the largest polygamist offshoot of the Mormon church.

Whatever you want to call it, it has been much in the news the last couple of weeks. Here's the story as well as I can put it together. It seems a 16-year-old girl telephoned Texas authorities last week, telling them she had been sexually abused by a 50-year-old man who fathered a child with the girl when she was 15. All this apparently happened at the FLDS compound near Eldorado in West Texas. As a result, Texas authorities, led by the Department of Public Safety, came onto the Yearning for Zion ranch (I don't want to use words like "stormed," although others have) and, so far have removed 401 children and are now trying to place them in foster homes.

Here are the problems as I see them. Problem No. 1: No one has found the 16-year-old girl who made the initial complaint. Does she even exist or was this entire affair triggered by someone who had something to settle against this religious sect? Problem No. 2: Dale Barlow, the alleged abuser in question, has been living in Arizona where he was sentenced last year in another abuse case involving a 15-year-old. According to Barlow's probation officer, Barlow has been a model probationer, calling in every day and checking in personally once a week and has not left the state since 1977. Problem No. 3: 401 children who presumably were living with one or more of their parents are being taken from those parents and sent into the Texas foster care system.

I have heard DPS spokespersons say they wanted to avoid another Waco in Eldorado so they moved swiftly. I'm thinking they may have moved too swiftly.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

Musical/Thriller starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Sacha Baren Cohen, Timothy Spaall. Directed by Tim Burton. What a marvelous combination this is: Burton, a director I’ve always considered very overrated, his alter ego Depp and his wife Bonham Carter all coming together via composer Stephen Sondheim — and just when I was giving up on the notion that a decent movie would ever be made from a Sondheim score. Benjamin Barker returns to London seeking revenge on the judge (Rickman) who sentenced Barker to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, raped Barker’s wife and took Barker’s infant daughter as his own ward. Changing his name to Sweeney Todd, Barker sets up shop above a restaurant run by Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter), with whom he forms a grisly professional partnership, although Mrs. Lovett craves one far more personal. Burton’s prior films have been, to me, all approach with no substance. But here he combines his flair for superb visuals with his unique approach to the horror genre and applies them to a plot that always knows its destination and arrives there without one false step or one missing beat. Purists may quibble about the fact that Burton dropped the show’s title song from the movie’s score, but that song was far more a theatrical device than a cinematic one to begin with. Plus, I much admire Burton’s leaner, cleaner ending. Grade B+

"The Good Night"

Drama/Fantasy starring Penelope Cruz, Martin Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Simon Pegg, Danny DeVito. Written and directed by Jake Paltrow. The depressingly unfunny tale of the mid-life crisis of an uncaring one-hit-wonder rock star (Freeman) now living in a drab New York City apartment, stuck in a dying relationship with his drab girlfriend (Paltrow and, yes, she is drab) and reduced to writing commercial jingles. The only place this self-absorbed jerk can find happiness is in his dreams where he fantasizes every night about one particular woman (Cruz). A combination of the worst elements of "10" and the superficiality of "The Seven Year Itch." Grade: D