Monday, December 29, 2008

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The idea of a fluctuating gasoline tax

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

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

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

It's an idea worth further discussions.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Texas-OU in the recruiting game

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Josh Howard has to go

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

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

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

What a sad irony

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tom Leppert and KBH's Senate seat

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

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

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

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

An early Christmas present

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

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

It's worth a look.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Dallas Convention Center Hotel

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

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

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

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

How about dem Cowboys

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

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

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

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

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

New movies to be released this week on DVD

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

In reality, it's a miserable life

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SAG nominees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You, too, can throw a shoe at the Prez

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hugh Jackman and the Oscar telecast

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

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

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

New movies to be released this week on DVD

TUESDAY

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NY Film Critics honor my three best films

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

Cruz cruising to Oscar

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

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

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

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

It's worth reading the entire article.

Monday, December 8, 2008

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wells picks "Che" as year's best

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

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

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

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Could Fort Worth be left without a daily newspaper?

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

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

Further down in the story is this paragraph:

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where's my hammer?

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Odetta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2008

December's Oscar Poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E
Waltz With Bashir

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

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

The Big 12 and the BCS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security

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

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

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

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

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

(click on title to see trailer)

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

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

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

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

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

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