Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Doncha just love representative government? It's the best money can buy

Students across all college campuses in Texas oppose it. So do school faculties and staff. So do law enforcement officials

But the NRA is behind it and that makes it OK with our Texas Senate which is getting ready to pass legislation allowing students to carry concealed handguns on college campuses. Here's hoping House members display a little more common sense, not to mention being more representative of those that elected them.

The bill is being heard by the House Committee on Public Safety. Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, the wife of Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwayne Caraway, is a member of that committee. It is somewhat ironic that Mr. Caraway, who led a courageous effort to get handguns out of the hands of youths in Dallas, now sees his wife considering legislation that would place guns back in their possessions. You can go here to send Ms. Caraway an e-mail, pleading with her to do everything in her power to stop this heinous legislation.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bolton vs. the Supremes

At least former Dallas Police Chief Terrell Bolton can say he made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Thankfully, he didn't prevail there, but at least he can say he had his day. Now I guess he can turn his attention on the folks in Dekalb, Ga., and claim those officials wrongfully fired him as well.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Cthulhu (2008) *½ The death of his mother prompts a gay professor’s return to his hometown.

Marley & Me (2008) **½ Jennifer and John Grogan (Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson), who, as newlyweds about to start a family, learn many of life’s important lessons from Marley, their lovable yet trouble-seeking dog. An imperfect, messy and sometimes trying film that has moments of genuine sweetness and humor sprinkled in between the saccharine and the sadness.

The Other End of the Line (2008) *½ Though she works half a world away in Mumbai, India, a credit card company operator passes herself off as American to callers. When she falls in love with a New York man over the phone, she agrees to meet him in person. Now, it’s not fair to ask that a romantic comedy be entirely realistic, but some level of plausibility would make the jokes go down easier, as would a touch of delicacy in the writing.

Seven Pounds (2008) *½ Distraught over his wife’s death — and convinced that his own actions had something to do with it — a depressed IRS agent (Will Smith) begins plotting his suicide, vowing to improve the lives of seven strangers in the process. Preposterous romantic melodrama, which uses a fractured narrative to cloud an absurd plot that would probably be laughed off the screen if it were presented in a straightforward manner.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ***½ Coming within one question of winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" 18-year-old Mumbai "slumdog" Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is arrested on suspicion of cheating. While in custody, Jamal regales a jaded police inspector (Irfan Khan) with remarkable tales of his life on the streets, as well as the story of Latika (Freida Pinto), the woman he loved and lost. A great movie is something more than the sum total of all its parts, and here, the elements all come together to form a feature that speaks a universal form of optimism that isn’t likely to get lost in translation, no matter where it screens, or who is watching.

Special (2008) **½ Enrolling in a drug study to spice up his humdrum life as a low-paid meter reader, Les Franken (Michael Rapaport) begins taking an experimental antidepressant, which proves to have a few unexpected side effects. Convinced that he’s actually developing special powers that can be used to fight evil, Les decides to quit his day job and focus on being a superhero despite his doctor’s professional opinion that his abilities are all in his mind. Thanks to Rapaport’s brio in embracing the hero’s drug-induced delusions, the movie is less a failure than a noble experiment gone awry.

Tell No One (2008) ***½ Eight years ago, pediatrician Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) was the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. He’s put all that behind him, but now, two dead bodies have been found near his home — and once again, he’s the suspect. The case takes an unexpected turn when he receives an anonymous email showing his wife alive — and instructing him to "tell no one." The movie brims over with action — check out Alex’s run through traffic on the Paris beltway — but director Guillaume Canet scores a triumph by plumbing the violence of the mind.

Timecrimes (2008) *** After accidentally traveling to the past, Héctor (Karra Elejalde) meets himself and triggers a series of mysterious events that lead to a shocking crime. There’s a dark and demented little psychodrama of self-inflicted madness beneath the narrative contrivances. Nacho Vigalondo’s direction makes it work more like a waking nightmare than a genuine experience, and he gives it the quality of madness.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Go figure

30 The number of points the Mavericks scored in the first quarter Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers when Dallas led the NBA's best team 30-20.

15 The number of points by which the Mavericks led the Cavaliers early in the second quarter.

11 The number of points the Mavericks scored in third period -- their lowest one-quarter output of the season -- after which they trailed 77-60.

25 The number of points the Mavericks scored in the entire second half as they lost 102-74.

3 The number of times the Mavericks have won in their last eight games.

0 The chances the Mavericks have of making it past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

A must-read for anyone who cares about the future of Dallas

Nicolai Ouroussoff, who writes about urban planning and urban affairs for the New York Times, has a passionate essay on the front page of today's Times Art section today on the need for more advanced urban planning that should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of Dallas.

I was particularly struck with the section about Los Angeles in which Mr. Ouroussoff discusses that city's version of the Trinity River Corridor Project along the Los Angeles River, which, if planners have their way, would eventually become a 51-mile long chain of lakes and parks (with no mention of a high-speed roadway). This section also discusses the brilliant idea of coordinating activities between the school and transportation systems so that new school construction would take place along bus and rail routes.

Good feelings surround hiring of Alabama's new basketball coach

Alabama's hiring of Anthony Grant as its new basketball coach is surrounded by all kinds of ironies. He becomes the first black coach of a major sports program at Alabama, the school where on June 11, 1963, I saw Alabama Gov. George Wallace stand in the doorway to prevent black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling at the school.

Then there's this wonderful sentence in the AP's story of the hiring: "(Athletic director Mal) Moore and executive athletic director Dave Hart interviewed Grant in Richmond last weekend."

Gotta love it.

Minds like steel traps

Here's my nominee for the "Duh!" headline of the week. Next thing you know, someone will come up with a report that claims food will go a long way to solving hunger problems.

The most exciting spot in Greenville? Probably not the Whataburger

Maybe this guy was protesting the fact that he couldn't get it his way.

I'm sure this will do a lot of good

DART has scheduled a series of community meetings to "educate" the public about proposed fare changes and hear comments on the plan. And I'm sure if an overwhelming majority of those attending object to the new fares, DART will bow to the pressure and not implement them. Yeah. That's what the "educate the public" part of this is all about. By "educate," DART means they will be explaining why the fares will go into effect at the beginning of next year and even higher fares will be implemented the following October regardless of what anyone who depends on DART for transportation in these troubled economic times thinks about the increase.

Here you can find a chart of the proposed new fares plus a schedule of the DART undemocratic propaganda sessions.

Randomly bragging about your unexceptional lives

I'm really tired of all this twittering business.

Owens says Stephen, not Jerry Jones, fired him

According to this story in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Terrell Owens believes Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reneged on a personal commitment to keep him on contract, and suggested that the owner's son, Stephen Jones, the executive vice-president of the NFL team, was behind his release this month.

"I know whole-heartedly he [Jerry Jones] wanted me there," Owens is quoted as saying. "There were some people I know who got in his ear that pressured him to make that decision. For that, it's sad. You let two or three people conspire to get me out of the situation."

I'll do all the yada yada

Nothing But the Truth deserved a much wider audience than it ever gained. As I understand it, the film was one of the first victims of the current economic crisis and, as a result, couldn't get a wide release. But it features some amazing performances from the likes of Kate Beckinsale and Matt Dillon (featured in this clip) as well as Alan Alda and Vera Farmiga. In my earliest Oscar polls last year, Ms. Beckinsale received a lot of votes for best actress and Ms. Farmiga for supporting actress. It will be released on DVD next month and is worthy of a rental. Reserve your copies now.

Upcoming Scorcese film

Pictured here is the first poster for Martin Scorcese's film Shutter Island scheduled for release Oct. 2. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel, the movie, set in 1954, tells the story of a U.S. marshall (DiCaprio) investigating the escape of a murderess from a hospital for the criminally insane who is presumed hiding on the remote island from which the movie gets its name. Lahane is the author of the books that resulted in the films Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.

Here is the verbiage taken directly from the book jacket of Shutter Island:

In summer 1954, two U.S. marshals, protagonist Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, arrive on Shutter Island, not far from Boston, to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando from the prison/hospital for the criminally insane that dominates the island. The marshals’ digging gets them nowhere fast as they learn of Rachel’s apparently miraculous escape past locked doors and myriad guards, and as they encounter roadblocks and lies strewn across their path-most notably by the hospital’s chief physician, the enigmatic J. Cawley-and pick up hints of illegal brain surgery performed at the hospital. Then, as a major hurricane bears down on the island, inciting a riot among the insane and cutting off all access to the mainland, they begin to fear for their lives. All of the characters-particularly Teddy, haunted by the tragic death of his wife-are wonderful creations, but no more wonderful than the spot-on dialogue with which Lehane brings them to life and the marvelous prose that enriches the narrative. There are mysteries within mysteries in this novel, some as obvious as the numerical codes that the missing patient leaves behind and which Teddy, a code breaker in WWII, must solve; some as deep as the most profound fears of the human heart.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Perhaps there's Hope in Hollywood when it comes to casting women

Actress Hope Davis made some news recently when she turned down the role of a mother to a son that would be played by Johnny Depp. In fact, she not only turned it down, she said she was furious she was even offered the role. Why? Because she's a year younger than Depp.

This is obviously not the first time there has been this kind of discrepancy when it comes to casting men and women in films today. It wasn't that long ago that a 29-year-old Angelina Jolie played the mother of Alexander the Great, played by 28-year-old Colin Farrell. Six years after she played Tom Hanks' love interest in Punchline, Sally Field was relegated to playing his mother in Forrest Gump. Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox were both 24 when they were cast together in Back to the Future. She played his mother in the film. Elizabeth Taylor was four years older than Dennis Hopper when she played his mother in Giant.

I guess in Hollywood, women age faster than men. But something needs to be done about this casting discrepancy (Jack Nicholson was 26 years older than Helen Hunt when they made As Good As It Gets.) Perhaps Ms. Davis' adamant refusal will give other actresses hope.

I'm all for preserving our environment, but ...

I have front row tickets to tomorrow night's performance of Agatha Christie's mystery Death on the Nile tomorrow night at Theater 3 and I am really looking for it. Attending Theater 3 is always a welcomed respite and one that I have neglected to engage in of late for many reasons. But what I am praying for is that Jac Alder and his folks at Theater 3 won't ruin the entire experience by participating in this stunt. Naww, they wouldn't do that.

Our new digs

We can make this work. I'm talking about the best time-share plan available. This place has, from what I understand, more than 100 rooms (even the owner doesn't know for sure), but you take away the media room (with the theater screen that rises from the floor), the beauty parlor, the barber shop, the gift-wrapping room (Trust me. I'm not making this up. The house has a gift-wrapping room.), the wine cellar and the wine-tasting room -- take away all the extraneous stuff and I'm betting you still have at least 60 rooms that can be made available as luxurious sleeping places.

Now you have 52 weeks in a year so 60 times 52 is 3,120. Now divide 150,000,000 by 3,120 and you get 48,077 (rounded off). That's right, for a measly $48,000 plus change you have the right to spend a week a year for the rest of your life in the largest and, I'm sure, the more luxurious home in Los Angeles County. Then, for the pittance of $5,000 for the week you choose, you can be a privileged guest (the price includes all meals, providing you come to the dining room at the prescribed meal times) at this palace located just as bunny's throw away from the Playboy Mansion. We're talking annual vacations you and your family will always cherish and look forward to.

(By the way, I sign the management contract to handle the deal, and live on the estate rent free and, if there are any problems, you can find me out by the pool over there on the right. I'll be the one with a Manhattan in my hand.)

It's all about expectations

If Texas A&M makes the NCAA basketball tournament, it's something to celebrate in College Station. Making the field of 64 is something that is not a given at the beginning of every Aggie season. So when the Aggies do well, as they have the last four seasons or so, accolades are accorded to the Aggies basketball coach.

It's an entirely different situation at Kentucky, where the question is not whether the Wildcats will make the tourney, but will they win it. There are seven national championship banners hanging from the rafters at Kentucky's Rupp Arena.

I really don't think Billy Gillespie knew what he was getting into two years ago when he left A&M to succeed Tubby Smith to assume the position of being the most prominent state official in the state of Kentucky. That's right -- I'm convinced twice as many people in Kentucky can name the state school's basketball coach as can name the state's governor and four times as many people have an opinion on the coach's performance than they do on the job the governor is doing.

When it was announced today that Kentucky had fired Gillespie after two seasons, Kentucky's athletic director Mitch Barnhart was quoted as saying Gillespie "spoke to things that were not in his job description, just about winning and losing and improving. This program is bigger than that. There's much more to it than that."

Get the picture? I'm betting that at A&M and most other schools in the nation, all the head basketball coach needs to worry about is "winning and losing and improving." I'm also betting that Gillespie thought that was all he needed to worry about at Kentucky. That, more than anything else, proved his undoing. He was doomed before he arrived on campus.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who wrote this about Gene Hackman

"As we moved into the main course, it was as if a cosmic wind enveloped us. Some giant space magnet was pulling us together. We didn't finish the meal. We went upstairs, flew into bed and made love. It was epic. And the next morning, Gene went back to his film and I went back to mine. I haven't seen Gene since that night, but I remember well the feisty lad he was."

Angela's prediction and remedy

Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, who has led the fight against the idea of placing a toll road between the Trinity River levees, is predicting that in the year 2014 the Dallas City Manager will finally announce the toll road project dead. But, by that time, she claims:

Trinity levee improvements have not been completed. Not a shovel of dirt has been turned to bring the Trinity Park to life, and no lakes exist within the floodway. Now that plans for the park have been all but scrapped, the residential and mixed-use developments once planned along Industrial Boulevard have been abandoned.

But it doesn't have to be that way, she writes in today's Dallas Morning News. She has a Plan B "premised on eliminating the toll road from the Trinity River floodway." You can read all about it here.

"We can no longer allow the toll road's delay and uncertainty to prevent Dallas from moving forward in addressing our transportation and flood control needs and in fulfilling the promise of a great park," she writes. "Plan B will allow us to finally realize the dream of the Trinity River project ... I hope our city leadership will recognize the need to chart a new course, one that fulfills promises rather than defers them. "

I have had my philosophical differences with Ms. Hunt, but on this matter I agree with her completely.

A film I'm really looking forward to seeing

It seems difficult for me to believe right now that it was 40 years ago that my little brother and I each grabbed a backpack and a bedroll and hitchiked our way from Austin to Bethel, New York, for what became known simply as Woodstock. Luckily we arrived three days before the festival's start, avoiding the logjam that prevented thousands of people from getting there. However, it did mean it was two days after the festival's conclusion that we managed to slog our way out.

Unlike many who have memories of Woodstock, mine were not all that pleasant. They are chiefly comprised of the facts that (1) the one place that prepared and served food on the site burned to the ground the first night of the festival; (2) later that it rained, turning the entire festival grounds into a muddy quagmire; and (3) the government officially declared the site a disaster area and food and emergency medical supplies had to be airlifted to the area and dropped from helicopters by parachutes. Seeing the much heralded 1970 documentary on the event (seeing it several times, in fact) has not altered my remembrances.

But after watching this trailer I must admit I am anxious to see "Taking Woodstock." Not that I feel it will change my opinion of the week I spent in Bethel -- not by any stretch of the imagination -- but because I am a big fan of director Ang Lee, his casting in this looks inspired and, well, from what I've glimpsed in this trailer, he seems to have captured the flavor of the Catskills.

Henry Hill pleads guilty to public intoxication

Henry Hill (pictured right) received two years' probation, credit for four days served in jail and a $220 fine in a San Bernardino, California, court for two misdemeanor counts of public intoxication. For those scratching their heads, going "Henry Hill ... Henry Hill ... Why do I know that name" it's probably because you are, like me, a big fan of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in which Ray Liotta played the mobster-turned-FBI-informant. Hill is now 65 and testified against the mob in 1980. In return, he was placed in the federal witness protection program, but removed from it in the early 1990s after repeated drug arrests.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Calendars? What calendars? And what about those water bill envelopes?

The Dallas Mornings News' City Hall blog contained an item today about the City's latest calendars including a whole bunch of holidays but not Easter. OK, that's not my issue. My issue is two fold:

1. Are these calendars just coming out? Isn't the last part of March somewhat late in the year to be publishing a calendar? But that question pales in comparison to

2. The blog's entry begins: "Each year, Dallas City Hall publishes a handsome, glossy calendar distributed free to residents." WHAT????? I have been a Dallas resident for 40 years now and not once -- NOT ONCE -- has a handsome, glossy calendar been distributed by Dallas City Hall to me.

Has anyone else been slighted in the distribution of these calendars?

And while I'm on the subject of the City's distribution policies, what the hell happened to the notion of including envelopes with which to return the monthly payments to Dallas Water Utilities? Used to be the monthly water bill included such envelopes, but since the city switched to bills that fit in a No. 10 envelope, no return envelopes have been included. What gives?

I want my calendar and I want my envelopes and I want them now!!!!

A kickoff for Orange Line rail route

I received an invitation today to attend something called a Rail Stacking, which, I am told, is to railroads what ribbon cuttings are to storefronts. According to the invitation, the occasion is to "celebrate the start of the DFW Orange Line. The DFW Orange Line marks a major accomplishment for regional rail to connect downtown Dallas with the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport."

In Journalism school it was hammered into me that "A good journalist never assumes anything," but, what the hell, I'm going to make a couple of assumptions here. The first is that this occasion is to mark the beginning of construction, not the beginning of operations. If this isn't true, then the Orange Line is one of the great stealth projects in rail history. The second assumption I'm going to make is that, since the rail line has a color as its designation, like all the DART rail lines, this has something to do with DART, although the invitation never uses the acronym "DART" except in very small letters under a picture that claims said picture is "Courtesy of DART."

Anyway, the Rail Stacking is supposed to take place at 1 p.m., Monday, April 13, at 3215 Spur 482 (see the map above), near the soon-to-be-demolished Texas Stadium. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, will be a featured speaker.

The Orange Line is going to be special. It will mean that, if (1) I'm still alive in four-plus years and (2) I can still afford an occasional journey by air, I will be able to travel from my home to DFW by rail. The line is supposed to be running between Dallas and Las Colinas by December 2011 and to terminals A and B by December 2013. Now that's something to celebrate.

KBH sees roadblocks on way to governor's mansion

I have not heard anything concrete -- just rumors -- but the word is floating around out there that Kay Bailey Hutchison has decided not to resign her U.S. Senate seat to run for governor of Texas next year. Not that she won't run -- she probably will -- but she now sees her chances of defeating incumbent Rick Perry in the primary more remote and she doesn't want to gamble her seat in the Senate on it.

Not only that, fellow Republicans are telling her not to resign either, fearing Texas just might elect a Democrat to replace her.

Perry is going to make the issue of the race as one between a real Texan (himself, of course) against a Washington insider meddling in the affairs of Texas (Hutchison). This will play well to the ideologues that vote in the Republican primary. That is why he rejected the federal stimulus unemployment funds.

I also think this is good news for Democrats, who would have had a tough time defeating KBH in a general election but stand a far better shot against Perry, who stands squarely on the side of the wealthy. That is a vulnerable place to be in these economic times.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Don't see "Duplicity" with high expectations

Those who go to see the movie Duplicity with high expectations are going to be terribly disappointed. My Hero and I went to see it Sunday morning. I walked into the film with absolutely no expectations and found it to be a nice bit of harmless froth. My Hero went in after reading where The Dallas Morning News had wrongheadedly given the movie a grade of A-. At most, the movie deserves a B. She was terribly disappointed by it.

The film has a lot going for it and I will mention most of those in a minute. But first let me tell what's wrong with it. It's a narrative mess. Unfortunately, I can't explain why in great detail without spoiling many of the film's surprises, but let me mention just one bit so you can see what I mean.

The film begins with what appears to be a chance encounter between stars Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, which quickly leads to a sexual liaison in Owen's hotel room. But Roberts drugs Owen and steals papers he's carrying on nefarious Egyptian activities or somesuch (It doesn't matters what the subject of the papers are.) It turns out that Owen was part of British intelligence and Roberts was CIA. Jump to five years later and now both are working in corporate intelligence. They meet again in a New York City bar (it doesn't matter why or how) and Owen has this "How-could-you-have-done-this-to-me" speech while Roberts claims she has no idea who he is. A few minutes later, the film jumps back a couple of years in time to Rome where Owen is sitting with a comely lass at a sidewalk cafe when he spots Roberts. He chases her down and the two have exactly the same conversation they will have two years later in the New York bar. Clever, I thought. I can't wait to see writer-director Tony Gilroy's explanation for this. But, then, there is no explanation. He leaves it hanging out there.

There are more examples of these logic gaps in the picture that winds up being too clever for its own good.

But now that I mentioned the word "good," I guess I should fulfill the promise I made earlier and tell what you I liked about this film. It is beautifully shot and wonderfully scored. It is a romance thriller that falls way short on the thrills but delivers big time on the romance. Owen and Roberts are movie stars of the first order and they play off each other spectacularly. Watching this film made me even more certain that Owen should have been Pierce Brosnan's replacement to play James Bond. And while no couple I will ever know will find themselves in the situations Owen and Roberts experience in this film, the movie does pose the universal question every couple asks: "How completely can I really trust my mate?"

Who does Perry think he's kidding?

Gov. Rick Perry went on an Austin television program yesterday and announced, to the surprise of absolutely no one, that there will be a projected $800 million deficit by the end of the year in the fund used to pay unemployment benefits. What Perry conveniently neglected to say is why this deficit will occur so it's up to others to remind the world that the deficit is the result of Perry last year suspending the collection of the unemployment tax that feeds the fund. Maybe he thought we would all have short memories and forget this bonehead move of his.

Of course, Texas could receive $555 million as part of the federal stimulus package, but Perry, placing partisan politics above statesmanship and doing the right thing, has, of course, rejected that money. So what is he going to do? He's decided to raise taxes on businesses. Glenn Smith put it quite accurately when wrote in the Burnt Orange report:

So Perry is going to charge businesses hundreds of millions of dollars now to avoid a possible (and greatly reduced) tax increase a decade from now. Perry wanted to say 'no' to something, and he picked this. It doesn't get much more ridiculous than this. ... Now he's compounding the problem with his schoolyard, partisan posturing. Hardworking Texans and small business will pay the price for Perry's theatrics.

Hathaway leading Garland contender

Although nothing is official, as of yet, it is looking more and more like Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway is going to be the answer to this question I posed last month.

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Bolt (2008) *** This animated adventure centers on a dashing German shepherd named Bolt, a canine action-hero actor, forced into making an action-filled cross-country trek when he’s accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York. As the voice of Bolt, John Travolta does a fine job and Disney star Miley Cyrus is fine as well, but neither one can overcome the lack of personality in their scripted characters.

The Cake Eaters (2009) **½ The return of aspiring musician Guy Kimbrough (Jayce Bartok) to his family home in rural upstate New York shakes up his father, Easy (Bruce Dern), and brother Beagle (Aaron Stanford), both still devastated by the recent death of the family matriarch. Superior acting elevates a small, overcrowded ensemble piece into something a little deeper and truer than the mawkish disease-of-the-week movie it threatens to become.

Gardens of the Night (2008) *½ Kidnapped as children and raised in captivity by an older man (Tom Arnold) and his accomplice (Kevin Zegers), Leslie (Gillian Jacobs) and Donnie (Evan Ross) grew up to be as close as real siblings. But now that they’re young adults, they’re haunted by their traumatic upbringing. Pitched at the risible level of Marco Kreuzpaintner’s Trade, the film never quite recovers from writer-director Damian Harris’s dithering way of shooting things.

Quantum of Solace (2008) **½ Picking up an hour after the events of 2006's Casino Royale, this James Bond adventure finds 007 (Daniel Craig) tracking a traitor who’s infiltrated Britain’s MI6. Stripped of Royale’s humor, elegance and reinvented old-school stylishness, Quantum has little left except its plot, which is rudimentary and slightly barmy, in the line of the Roger Moore pictures of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Morning News outs Mayor Leppert

This Morning News story, about what Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert knew or did not know, said but did not say, back during the city's battle with council member Angela Hunt during the campaign over her toll road referendum, doesn't exactly call Da Mayor a liar. Oh, wait a minute! Yes it does.

Dylan-Nelson-Mellencamp tour a possibility

John Mellencamp's Web page contains the following announcement:

A special tour is in the works, slated to start in early July and run through the end of August. It will play at minor league baseball fields, with John sharing top billing with two other major artists.

From what I'm hearing, the "two other major artists" are Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.

New York Times, speaking on behalf of all unemployed Texans, says: Damn you to hell, Rick Perry

Echoing what I said a couple of days ago, albeit in words that were far less emotional and far mote literate, the New York Times contained an editorial in its Saturday editions essentially damning Rick Perry for playing partisan politics in a situation that called for compassion, statesmanship and leadership, characteristics Perry is obviously lacking. The Times' editorial said:

Republican governors who have been threatening to refuse federal aid rather than sensibly expand state unemployment insurance programs are putting ideology ahead of the needs of their constituents.

The two most prominent grandstanders — Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — should listen to lawmakers and taxpayers in their own states who are demanding that they do what’s best for their most vulnerable citizens.

Or if that’s not enough, they should look at what other sensible governors — both Democrat and Republican — are doing throughout the rest of the country: accepting the aid as a lifeline for pulling their states and the country out of desperation.

The unemployment portion of the federal stimulus package offers generous support to the states. To accept it, these states must make two reasonable changes in their unemployment insurance law. They must expand eligibility requirements that bar too many low-income workers from receiving compensation. And they must choose from a menu of options that include extending benefits to part-time workers and those who leave jobs because of family emergencies.

The claim by some governors that the unemployment aid would lead directly to tax increases has also been discredited. New taxes are triggered automatically when unemployment trust funds fall below specified levels. In many cases, filling their coffers with stimulus aid would actually postpone tax increases. When the stimulus money is spent, states would also be free to revert to the old unemployment insurance laws.

In Texas, Governor Perry’s decision to reject the money has sown considerable anger in the State Legislature. A House committee urged the full Legislature to overturn the governor’s decision. Lawmakers acted after seeing projections that the state unemployment fund was on track to run out of money in the fall, which would drive up taxes. ...

The time has clearly passed for posturing. With large numbers of people losing their jobs, Mr. Jindal and Mr. Perry need to do what is best for their states and their struggling workers.

Nice words. Of course, Perry is more interested in pandering to that segment of the Republican party he feels will vote for him over Kay Bailey Hutchinson in next year's GOP gubernatorial primary than in doing what is best for Texas and its struggling workers. But then Perry has never cared about struggling workers. I guess I shouldn't be surprised or shocked that he continues to act without compassion, statesmanship or leadership.

Friday, March 20, 2009


This fake movie -- "Saw" meets "Willy Wonka" -- not only has this trailer featuring Christopher Lloyd, but its own Web site. The trailer premiered this week during the South By Southwest Film festival.

Who is this guy?

Perhaps the swastika gives it away, but, if you haven't guessed, this was a picture taken two days ago at the California State Prison at Cocoran of the now 74-year-old Charles Manson. Manson is serving a life sentence there and the picture is the result of periodic updates of inmates pictures by prison officials.

This August will mark the 40th anniversary of what has become known as the Manson killings. Manson and other members of his cult were convicted of killing actress Sharon Tate, then the wife of director Roman Polansky, and six other persons. As for the swastika, Manson carved it in his forehead during his trial. At first, it was an "X," but he altered it until it took its current shape. Once they saw what Manson had done, the young women who were also defendants in the trial, carved x's in their foreheads as well.
(Thanks to Jeff Siegel at the Advocate for directing me to this photo.)

In praise of O'Hare

Roger Ebert once said that any film featuring M. Emmet Walsh or Harry Dean Stanton can't be all bad. Now I want to add the name of Denis O'Hare to that list. Mr. O'Hare first came to my attention about 15 years ago when I first saw him in an episode of Law & Order. He made three other appearances on that television series over the years, playing three distinctly different characters. I have also seem him in brief screen appearances in 21 Grams, Garden State, Derailed and Half Nelson. He had a small but amazingly poignant appearance as the father of the hero in Rocket Science, and that same year (2007) he also appeared in A Mighty Heart, Charlie Wilson's War and Michael Clayton.

But last year he really seemed to come to the head of the character actor's class, first as the head doctor in the asylum where Angelina Jolie's character is sent in Clint Eastwood's Changeling. Then last night, while re-watching the excellent Milk with My Hero, I marveled at his take on the homophobic State Senator John Briggs. (He also had a nice turn playing a doctor in Baby Mama last year.)

I bring this up because O'Hare's appearance in a film, Duplicity, is one reason I will be looking forward to seeing this movie. Another reason is the first paragraph of A.O. Scott's review of the film that appeared in today's New York Times:

"Duplicity: the title suggests something with two sides, but the film itself, the second (after Michael Clayton) written and directed by Tony Gilroy, has many more layers and facets. Its densely coiled plot and splintered chronology reveal a cascade of familiar genres and styles. It’s a caper movie, a love story — with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, no less — an extra-dry corporate satire. However you describe it, Duplicity is superior entertainment, the most elegantly pleasurable movie of its kind to come around in a very long time."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Insert your favorite lawyer joke here

The Austin Lounge Lizards have a song about alcoholics that go on the wagon called "When Drunks Go Bad." I'm not sure this is on the same level, but a former colleague of mine from back in the days when I worked for one of the city's more prominent public relations firms tipped me off to the saga of artist known only as Donray.

He wasn't always known only as Donray. He was born Donald Arvin Ray in Houston, served with the Marines in Vietnam and then went on to Baylor Law School after which he came a practicing attorney, mainly in East Texas, from what I gather from his official biography. But he had this hankering to make art and in 1989 he moved here, living in Deep Ellum (the painting I have displayed here is his vision of Deep Ellum which is remarkably similar to the chemically induced visions I had of this city in the late 1960s and early 1970s), and then in 1993 to New York City. He moved back to Texas in 1999 and currently lives in Arlington.

What makes Donray's story even more compelling, besides the fact that actor Johnny Depp is a Donray collector, is that two weeks ago Allegiance Capital Corporation, an investment banking firm, said to hell with the economy and announced the purchase of "a number" of Donray's works. “People are looking for alternative investment vehicles, especially given the recent volatility of the stock market and financial institutions,” said David Mahmood, founder and chairman of Allegiance Capital. “Art is a unique investment that has proven over time to have unusual growth potential and strong staying power. We believe an artist like Donray is on the cusp of big things, and with our proven track record, we feel comfortable supporting what many other firms might consider a non-traditional investment.”

Now, I'm no art critic, although I worked with a fine one, Janet Kutner, back when I was with the Dallas Morning News. But British writer, poet and art critic John Edward McKenzie Lucie-Smith said of Donway his "paintings demonstrate an inverted approach; gentle and focused at the same time being super-macho and withdrawn. Viewers are invited to draw near but not to intrude on the artist’s thoughts…" And Donald Kuspit, art critic and professor of art history at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, said "There is a verve, an energy, a dynamic surging gesture, violent movement, an overall vividness and vitality – that places Donray’s paintings among the most interesting of what might be called post-modern expressionist painting."

He's had a number of exhibitions at London's Rivington Gallery, including a 10-year anniversary exhibition there two years ago. His last exhibition in this area was also in 2007 at the Arlington Museum of Art. Allegiance Capital says it will make "some of the works" it purchased available for public exhibition later this year at its offices in Dallas (5429 LBJ Freeway, Suite 750, near the Galleria) and in New York.

Upon Further Review

Everybody who follows March Madness has more than one bracket, so why should I be any exception. Here are my followup picks for this year's tourney:

Sweet Sixteen
Arizona State
Michigan State
North Carolina
Wake Forest
West Virginia

Final Four
North Carolina

National Champion

Good night, Nat

Fox to offer renters stripped DVDs

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, in a move designed to bolster DVD sales, is going to be releasing two different versions of its movies on DVD beginning this month. The regular DVDs -- the ones with all the extras -- will only be available to purchasers. Renters will have to settle for DVDs with just the film and probably a few trailers.

I'm not sure this policy is going to have the effect that Fox hopes, but I do think it might move rentals away from outfits like Netflix to establishments like Movie Trading Company. Here's why: Netflix only rents movies so it and obviously its customers will only receive the stripped down versions. MTC , on the other hand, is primarily a place where consumers can purchase or sell new and used movies (as well as video games and CDs). It will receive the versions meant for over-the-counter sales. However, all the movies in an MTC outlet are available for rent as well as purchase, so those consumers wanting to rent films with commentaries et all -- even the bonus discs -- just need to visit their nearest MTC outlet.

Here are the 12 Dallas area locations for Movie Trading Company:
4115 S. Cooper St., Suite 201, Arlington
5809 Greenville Ave., Dallas
5907 Belt Line Road, Dallas
3420 W. Camp Wisdom, Dallas
4604 SW Loop 820, Fort Worth
2595 Preston Road, Suite 400, Frisco
4280 Lavon Drive, Suite 210, Garland
2305 W I-20, Suite 120, Grand Prairie
1327 W. Pipeline Road, Hurst
2620 N. Beltline Road, Irving
2397 S. Stemmons, Suite C, Lewisville
1017 N. Central, Suite 100, Plano

(Truth in advertising: I work part time at the Garland location. Come by and say hello sometime. Plus, you can go next door and have a fine burger or an excellent grilled chicken Caesar salad at Scotty P's, where you can also treat the family to two burgers, fries, rings and a bottle of Dom Perignon for $300)

Incidentally, Fox's policy will begin March 31 with Fox's releases of the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire and the popular Marley & Me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who will win the NCAA basketball championship?

I have absolutely no idea except to say that I would not be surprised in the least if this year's men's and the women's champions came from the same university. But, then again, while I think UConn will win the women's title (with all their victories being by a 10+-point margin), I think the men's team will lose the title game. Here's some rough picks:

Sweet 16
Boston College
North Carolina
Wake Forest

North Carolina
Wake Forest


My latest nominee for a band that deserves a wider audience

These cooks have balls

So, where do you want to eat tonight. Chinese? Italian? I've heard our favorite Souper-Salad has gone down hill. How about the heading up to the International Comstock Mountain Oyster Fry? There's always steak. I know what. I've got some chicken breasts in the fridge. I'll just grill some of those suckers and we'll slice 'em up and mix 'em in a Caesar salad.

Blinded by the lights

Hey, Angela, if you think travel is a problem on the Dallas City Council, have you checked out what's happening in Mesquite?

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose

Texas Republicans commit stupid mistakes like ramming a voter-ID bill through the state Senate and then scratch their heads and wonder why they can't get any support from minorities. I guess their strategy is to make sure minorities can't vote anyway so there's no problem.

An editorial disguised as a news story

Ran across this story concerning election vs appointment of judges in Texas on the Dallas Morning News Web site this morning under the heading of local news. I don't know about you, but it reads far more like an editorial comment than a straight news story to me.

A coincidence? I think not

The same day I heard that Victory Park is now seeking "less pricey restaurants and bars" came word that the Hard Rock Cafe is returning to Dallas and will be located in Victory. I can't decide whether that's a commentary on Victory or the Hard Rock. I also wonder whether the Hard Rock had to sign a non-compete clause with American Airlines Center.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ron Silver apparently voted for Obama

The crow dinner you see being placed before me comes after reading the Ron Silver obit in the New York Times, the final paragraph of which quoted Silver's brother:

"Ron’s politics, as far as I know, were not shared by anyone he knew, except for the people he knew because of his politics,” Mitchell Silver said. He paused and added, “He told me that he did vote for Barack Obama in the end."

So I humbly take back those words I wrote in the last paragraph of this.

The news about Natasha Richardson is either bad or absolutely terrible

The Associated Press is reporting that actress Natasha Richardson, the wife of actor Liam Neeson, was critically injured in a Canadian skiing accident and is on her way by airplane to a destination in the United States that has yet to be announced.

However, there are other reports, mostly coming from family members, who have said they have been given "the bad news" by doctors that Ms. Richardson is brain dead and is being flown to her New York home where she will be taken off life support and "allowed to die." According to the New York Post: "Actress Natasha Richardson is brain dead, after falling in a ski accident in Canada, friends told The Post today."

I have been trying to piece together the entire series of events and it all seems strange. She apparently suffered the injury yesterday during a private lesson on a beginner's trail at the Mont Tremblant ski resort, 80 miles northwest of Montreal. She did not display any signs of distress immediately after the fall, according to reports, and returned to her hotel room. An hour later, she complained of a headache and the hotel sent her to the Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Ste-Agathe from where she was transferred to the Hospital du Sacre-Coeur in Montreal. It was that hospital that put her on the private jet, reportedly to New York.

I have always had, as one of my life's philosophies, that I never want to participate in any activity where there's an ambulance waiting for me at the end of it. Thus, snow skiing was out of the question. But lately My Hero has slowly, steadily got me interested in at least trying something, say, on a beginner's course. This tragedy, however, sets that possibility back light years.
UPDATE: Irishcentral.com is reporting that Ms. Richardson is being flown to a hospital in New York, not her home, although it is also saying she is "fighting for her life." The Web site also had the following statement from the hotel where the 45-year-old actress was staying:
"Ms Richardson fell during a ski lesson but she didn't show any signs of injury. The ski patrol looked at her and reported that she was laughing and joking. They told her to see someone but she insisted that she was fine and just wanted to go back to her room. The instructor and two members of the patrol accompanied her to her hotel room. She refused to see anyone and signed a paper saying she didn't want to see a doctor. After an hour or so she said she had a headache, then they called 911. She was not wearing a helmet. The law in Quebec does not require it but we always suggest it but cannot impose it."

It could get ugly tonight

Let's see: the last time the Mavericks played San Antonio, the Spurs played without two of their mainstays, Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan. The result? Mavs lost. The last time the Mavericks played Oklahoma City, the Thunder were without their two leading scorers, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. The result? Mavs lost. Last week, when the Mavericks played Golden State, the Warriors were without Corey Magette and, for most of the game, Andris Biedrins. The result? Do I really have to remind you?

Tonight the Mavericks play Detroit and the Pistons are without Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. I'm feeling very uncomfortable with this, even if the Mavs will be wearing their St. Patrick's Day green uniforms.

Angela Hunt is gumming us again

Angela Hunt never misses an opportunity to take a symbolic, if not a realistic, high road. This time she has announced she will no longer use city funds to travel on city business. Sure. Fine. Whatever.

Dave Levinthal of the Dallas Morning News nailed it when he said Ms Hunt's latest stunt is "a move that's perhaps more symbolic than anything." Levinthal's report also said the council members with the highest travel budgets last year were Ron Natinsky who spent $14,925.75, Carolyn Davis who spent $13,388.75 (much of it on a trip to Belize to study, I guess, the habits of people visiting beach resorts for when Dallas gets a beach and a beach resort), Tennell Atkins who spent $12,790.60 and Pauline Medrano, $7,941.95.

Look, here's the deal. Each City Council member is allotted $4,000 annually for "any city related travel purposes." Hey, that seems like a good deal to me. If Ms. Hunt is really serious saving tax payer money, I suggest she introduce a resolution for a full vote of the City Council that restricts all council members from using any other funds, especially their office expense fund, for travel, so that all members will be limited to the $4,000 a year set aside for them for city related travel purposes.

Oh, if she really wants to get tough, then she should go this route. According to my rough calculations, city council members spent an average $2,310.45 each on travel. Now, Ms. Hunt, here's what I would like you to do: Introduce a resolution for a council vote that puts an absolute cap on all taxpayer-funded city travel at $2,500 per council member. Any amount over that must come from the council member's own pocket (campaign funds are permissible to use). If a council member uses less than that, the council person in question gets to pocket the change.

Now that would put some teeth in her message.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Lions, or whichever team drafts Matthew Stafford, gotta love this

The following quote comes from Highland Park-U of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, courtesy of NFL guru Rich Gosselin:

"It's really about football. When it comes down to it, my marketing guy, my agent, my financial people all work for me. If I want to get (the contract) done, we can get it done. It's important for me to get into camp because I want to play football as soon as I possibly can. That's what it's always been about for me -- and that's what it will always be about. It's important for me to get into camp, working with the guys and trying to get as ready as possible."
And frankly, I don't care what Don Banks of SI.com thinks, I still think the Lions will (and should) take Stafford with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

The real weekend box office champ

If you read the conventional news stories, you will be told that Escape to Witch Mountain was the biggest box office winner this past weekend. I'm not so sure that's true. A little independent film called Sunshine Cleaning played in only four theaters this past weekend, but collected an astounding $54,000-per-theater average (Witch had a $7,657-per-theater average). The film stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters who try to turn their lives around by starting a crime scene cleaning business. It opens this Friday at the Angelika.

I gotta admit: I have yet to see an Amy Adams performance that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed. I first noticed her about six years ago in Catch Me If You Can, but it was in Junebug that she really captured my attention and my fancy. Since then I have relished her performances in Enchanted (any other actress possibly destroys that film) and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. She was also one of the few things I liked about Charlie Wilson's War. To see her in those four films shows her excellent range (I have yet to see her Oscar-nominated performance in Doubt, but am looking forward to it).

I am less familiar with Emily Blunt, although she was also in the aforementioned Charlie Wilson's War. Her role as a sex foil for Wilson didn't do much for me, but I thought she was marvelous in The Devil Wears Prada. I know she appeared in Dan in Real Life and The Jane Austen Book Club, but since I quickly forgot both films soon after seeing them, her performances obviously didn't register either.

Ben Stiller remembers Ron Silver

When someone mentions the name Ron Silver, who died Sunday at 62 following a two-year battle with esophagel cancer, I always think of Reversal of Fortune, that marvelous film in which Silver played attorney Alan Dershowitz, who, among other notable achievements, defended Claus von Bulow, accused of trying to murder his heiress wife, Sunny. Although Jeremy Irons deservedly won an Oscar for playing Claus in that film, I thought Silver stood toe-to-toe with Irons.

I must also admit that I enjoyed Silver in a film, Enemies: A Love Story, that came the year before Fortune. He appeared in many other films and a lot of episodic television, but those are the roles for which I admire Silver. I never saw him in his Emmy-Award winning performance in David Mamet's Speed the Plow.

When Ben Stiller remembers Silver, on the other hand, he recalls someone who "lovingly" contributed to the deliquency of a minor.
Of course, there's always Silver's political transgressions that began on 9/11, but right now I'm in a charitable mood, so I'm trying to remember the pre-9/11 Silver (much like a try to remember the pre-O.J. defender Dershowitz).

What willl folks in Seattle read with their morning lattes

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer prints its final edition tomorrow and, beginning Wednesday, may become a Web only newspaper. So Seattle joins the list of one newspaper towns, a list which Tucson, Ariz., will join by the end of the week and San Francisco may join before too long. But now comes word that the larger paper in Seattle, the family owned Seattle Times, may be in even worst financial shape than the Hearst-owned P-I. According to the report: "Of all the big cities that have lost or are in danger of losing newspapers -- Denver and San Francisco, among others -- none is as likely as Seattle to find itself without a printed daily newspaper."

What happened in Seattle? "Rowland Thompson, a newspaper industry lobbyist here, traces the city's journalistic woes to a strike staged by workers at both newspapers in 2000," the report says. "The seven-week strike cost the newspapers dearly -- just when the Internet bubble had burst. The Times and Hearst also spent much of this decade in an expensive legal fight as the Times sought to end the joint operating agreement. Finally, in a 2007 settlement, the Times paid Hearst a net $24 million to perpetuate the agreement, even though the Times had described it as financially untenable. Between the strike and the legal fight, the papers weren't able to regain their footing before the current recession set in, Thompson said."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post, which owns a daily newspaper in Everett, just north of Seattle, announced today that it will no longer feature a separate business news section Monday through Saturday, folding that content into the main news section. The Post joins the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other papers that have decided it's too costly to have separate business news sections of the paper during the week.

Sometimes depth can be overrated

The big thing I noticed about yesterday's Dallas Mavericks-Los Angeles Lakers basketball game, which was far more exciting than I thought it would be, is that the Mavs have more depth than the Lakers, but the Lakers have a far superior starting five. I say that because, when Jason Terry led the Mavericks on a 21-2 run that brought Dallas from a 15-point deficit to a 95-89 lead with 7:13 left, both teams had their reserves on the floor. But then Kobe Bryant and the other Lakers starters returned, Los Angeles outscored Dallas 12-0 and that was that.

New movies to be released this week on DVD

Elegy (2008) *** Cultural critic David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) sits comfortably in his ivory tower, divorced from any romantic or familial entanglements, that is, until a striking 24-year-old daughter (Penélope Cruz) of Cuban exiles reawakens his sense of sexual excitement. Sparse, low-budget drama,directed by Spaniard Isabel Coixet, intelligently translates novelist Philip Roth's meditation on lust and mortality without soft-pedaling its narrator's brutally honest, unabashedly sexist views.

Punisher: War Zone (2008) * Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson), a one-man force of vengeance known as "the Punisher," battles mob boss Billy Russoti (Dominic West). Left disfigured by the encounter, Russoti reemerges as Jigsaw, a psychotic villain with a small army at his command. So unrelentingly violent that all but teen boys might as well stay away from the rental counter.

Twilight (2008) **½ Based on Stephenie Meyer's best-selling novel, the film follows the saga of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who moves to a small town to live with her father. At school, she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a mysterious classmate who reveals himself to be a 108-year-old vampire. Bummer. The vampires have no fangs. The humans are humdrum. The special effects and makeup define cheeseball. And the movie crowds in so many characters from Meyer’s book that Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) is less a director than a traffic cop. But there’s a reason that Twilight has already become the movie equivalent of a bestseller: The love story has teeth. (Will be released Saturday).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Can the G-O-P become H-I-P?

It will undoubtedly depend on what the party does with that Spongerush Fatpants guy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Care to guess who wrote this?

"I’m not one of those film people who can tell you who the cinematographer was on On The Waterfront or who most influenced Truffaut. When it comes to knowledge of film history, I’m semi-rubbish (a friend of mine once left the dinner table when I admitted I had never seen one of the most famous and most well-regarded films of all time). I can do the whole rap at the end of The Revenge of the Nerds and all of Jeff Spicoli's dialogue, but sadly, my expertise ends there. I do, however, love film and whether it is an exceptional documentary, a classic or a Seth Rogen vehicle, I am always excited about seeing something that my friends love. The films I love best usually contain a breathtaking female performance (The Reader, Sophie’s Choice, Klute), as the genius of a creative woman inspires me in all areas of my life. "


Today is Friday the 13th. Should you be afraid? Very afraid? Not so much, at least according to Ben Sherwood, who says "you might want to exercise a little extra caution" but "you don't need to be afraid or stay home." Ultimately, he says, "it's not the day or date that will get you. It's the fear."

SI writer picks Sanchez over Stafford

According to Don Banks of SI.com, Highland Park's Matthew Stafford not only will not be the No. 1 pick in the draft, he won't even be the first quarterback drafted. Banks is predicting the Jacksonville Jaguars will take USC's Mark Sanchez with the N0. 8 pick:

"Filling their need at offensive tackle at least on a short-term basis with Tra Thomas in free agency only leads me to believe all the more that the Jaguars might be tempted to go quarterback here. And while Matthew Stafford is practically the home-state star in northern Florida, I'm told Jacksonville has Sanchez rated higher than the ex-Bulldog."

He predicts Stafford will wind up being picked tenth by the San Francisco 49ers:

"With Alex Smith sticking around to challenge starter Shaun Hill, the 49ers could feasibly address their need at offensive tackle in the first round. But getting Stafford this low in the round will have its own appeal, and the fact he wouldn't have to play right away means San Francisco could avoid repeating the mistake it made in rushing Smith in there."

Now a lot of folks may say this is a blow to Stafford and, financially, it would be. But if I'm presented with the choice between living in Detroit or living in San Francisco, it would take me less than a second to decide on the California city. A real no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned.

Banks is saying the Lions will pick Baylor offensive tackle with the No. 1 pick. He has only two others who played their college ball in Texas going in the first round and both of those are in the Top 10, ahead of Stafford: Texas defensive end/linebackacker Brian Orakpo, No. 6 to Cincinnati; and Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, No. 7 to Oakland. He has two Missouri players being tabbed in the first round: wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to San Diego at No. 16 and defensive tackle Evander Hood to Tampa Bay with the 19th pick. But that's it for Big 12 players. Not one from league champ Oklahoma taken in the first round, according to Banks.

30 years ago Dallas was ahead of its time

I remember back in the late 1970s when I was working for the Dallas Morning News, the paper's executives were concerned about circulation, as they the paper's executives are today. Back then there were two daily newspapers in Dallas and the population was booming -- folks were migrating in droves, especially from the so-called Rust Belt in the Midwest. The problem was that the paper's circulation, while increasing, was not in any way, shape or form keeping pace with the population increase -- not by a long shot. So the Morning News contracted with this highly respected polling outfit -- Yankelovich, Skelly, and White -- to find out why. What the pollsters uncovered staggered all of us: it turned out that more than two-thirds of the Dallas population got all their news from television. Even the pollsters were surprised: At the time, YS&W called Dallas "the most wired city in America."

I mention this only because another highly respected polling outfit -- the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press -- released the results of a survey yesterday that said the majority of residents of an American city would not miss their daily newspaper if it went out of business. Why? Because, the survey noted, 66 percent of those polled regularly get their news from television. What surprised me the most about this latest survey is that more people (34 percent) said they get their news regularly from radio than the Internet (31 percent). I'm willing to bet those numbers will be reversed before long. (For those that added those three just mentioned figures and found they exceeded 100 percent, the respondents were asked to name all their sources for news, not just the one used the most.)

In the new survey, more than one out of every four persons polled (26 percent) said they would not miss their local newspaper at all if it folded. For some reason, I think that figure might be higher if just Dallas residents were surveyed. Which leads me to the obvious conclusion: In this area, Dallas may still be ahead of its time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On behalf of all the unemployed in Texas: Damn you to hell, Rick Perry

Gov. Hair decides it's better to play petty partisan politics than to act in the best interests of those who are probably not in his political party to begin with.

Is this all an act?

Joaquin Phoenix took his hip-hop act to a Miami club last night, angering those who were foolish enough to come see him by not taking the stage until almost 2 a.m. Then this ensued -- he jumped into the audience to go after someone who was heckling him. What I find interesting is that brother-in-law Casey Affleck was there filming the entire thing. Hmm. Makes you wonder, doesn't it.

Purim at the J

Scenes from this week's Purim Shabbat at the Jewish Community Center's pre-school:

Director Laura Seymour (right with the mult-colored hair) presented a child's version of the Megillah featuring Esther (in the cow's costume), Haman (holding the staff), Vashti (in white) and King Ahasuerus (wearing the crown, of course)

A sampling of the kids in their costumes

My favorite princess, my granddaughter Grace, relished the festivities

Grace back in the classroom enjoying the traditional (or not) hamantaschen

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's up?

The state of Mary Suhm's city

Went to hear City Manager Mary Suhm deliver her "current" state of the city presentation today at a luncheon at the Lakewood Country Club and it sounded like business as usual. She did say the economy was causing a downtown in sales taxes -- she is estimating it as a 4 percent per month drop in what was forecast -- and that building permits were way down. But she didn't come across as an alarmist -- just the steady hand on the tiller guiding the ship of state through the shoals.

She mentioned the Corps of Engineers' rating the Trinity River levees as unacceptable, but nothing that city wasn't prepared to address in its normal course of readying the Trinity River Corridor Project. "All along this has been a flood control project," she said of the largest public works project in the history of Dallas. She also gave the back of her hand to those critics saying it's taking too long for the Trinity River Corridor Project to be completed, reminding those in attendance that work on the downtown Arts District began more than 20 years ago and is just now coming together with the construction of the Winspear Opera House and the performing arts center. Once completed, she said, the Dallas Arts District will be the largest of its kind in the country. "We haven't seen anything like this since the opening of the Lincoln Center in New York City," she said.

But, back to those dang levees. Ms. Suhm said Dallas was not the only city to have its levees graded unacceptable under the Corps recently revised standards. Fortunately for us, she said, Dallas is one of the few, if the only, city eligible for federal funds to help alleviate the problem. Following the presentation, Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez, who's been shepherding this whole levee business, told me the biggest holdup right now is that the Corps still hasn't defined exactly the standard it wants the Dallas levees brought up to.

Ms. Suhm also promoted the construction of the convention center hotel, saying without it, the city's convention business would disappear, costing the city some $50 million annually. I'm not sure I would agree with the word "disappear," but I'm convinced that business would take a crippling hit without the hotel, a hit that could be devastating to our future economic development. She also cited a number of public/private partnerships that are helping Dallas develop, developments she said would never have happened if the proposed ordinance requiring voting approval of such projects had been in place. Thus, she subtly politicked for "no" votes against both proposed city charter changes on the May ballot.

She was bullish about the results of the latest Dallas Citizen's Survey, which said:

  • More than two-thirds of residents rate the quality of life in Dallas was "excellent" or "good."

  • 78 per cent said Dallas was an "excellent" or "good" place to live;

  • City services that received a rating of at least 73 percent good or excellent were fire (86%), EMS (81%), library (78%), arts and cultural programs (76%) and solid waste services (73%--78% for garbage collection and 71% for recycling).
She said she had slowed the pace of hiring at the city, fearing some jobs might be lost in the next budget cycle. But she vowed that the scheduled new police officers would be added and that work on the bond projects, which she called "Dallas' own stimulus package," would continue regardless of what might have to be cut elsewhere in the 2009-2010 budget, which she will unveil at the beginning of August.

Good night, Jimmy

Mention the name Jimmie Boyd and you'll probably be met with quizzical looks or responses of "who's he." But most of us remember, perhaps not all that fondly, the song "I Saw Mommie Kissing Santa Claus." Jimmie Boyd was the 12-year-old who recorded that song.

Call me a curmudgeon, or call me Jewish, but the fact is that I have never cared that much for Christmas music. It comes from being introduced to rock 'n' roll in the mid-1950s and during the weeks immediately preceding Christmas, the radio stations would suspend playing Fats, Ivory Joe, Lavern and the rest to play schmaltzy holiday music. "I Saw Mommie Kissing Santa Claus" was just one of the worst of the bunch. It was Boyd's only hit song and he parlayed it for all it was worth -- even landing a bit part as a biology student in the film "Inherit the Wind." (He also parlayed it into some controversy: The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston condemned the song for mixing sex with Christmas.)

True, Jimmie Boyd was not major star in the musical constellation, even at the time of his hit single. Still, it seems to me like more attention should have been paid to the fact that Jimmie Boyd died this past weekend. He was living on a sailboat moored in Santa Monica Bay (gotta love that) and apparently died of cancer. He was 70.

So here's to you, Jimmie. At least you came out and told us what happened "under the mistletoe last night," whether we wanted to know or not.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kinky mulling over another run for governor

Kinky Friedman, who ran as an independent for governor three years ago, finishing fourth, is considering running again, this time as a Democrat, according to this article by W. Gardner Selby, found on an Austin American-Statesman political blog. Friedman told Selby he'll decide by the end of the month whether he'll form an expoloratory committee, which would allow him to begin fund raising for a Democratic primary battle that, so far, features one other announced candidate, former ambassador and George W. Bush cronie Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth.

Selby wrote this about the platform Friedman would run on:

"He envisions a “no-kill” Texas with executions banned. He vows to give every schoolteacher a $3,000 raise the day he takes office. He said he’d seek to repeal the revamped business franchise tax, perhaps replacing it with a state personal income tax or the legalization of casino gaming."

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Battle in Seattle (2008) ** With the World Trade Organization about to convene in his city, Seattle’s Mayor Jim Tobin (Ray Liotta) tries to make sure all events go smoothly. As tensions between protestors and authorities rise out of control, activists and bystanders get caught in the crossfire. The picture’s ambition, cogency and decent performances make up for its uneven aspects. Woody Harrelson has some especially good moments as a cop.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) **½ When his family moves from their home in Berlin to a strange new house in Poland, young Bruno (Asa Butterfield) befriends Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy who lives on the other side of the fence where everyone wears striped pajamas, unaware of the fate of those Jewish prisoners or the role his own Nazi father plays in it. The movie should be heartbreaking, but it isn’t. The muted quality of its impact is the result of narrative shortcuts and a desire to keep the images from being too startling.

Cadillac Records (2008) *** The true story of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), a bar owner turned record mogul who signs a lineup of future legends to his fledgling label, Chess Records. The movie may be a mess dramatically, but it’s a wonderful mess, and not just because of the great music. The people who made it must have harbored the notion, almost subversive in a season of so many depressing films, that watching movies should be fun.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) ***½ Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a perpetually cheerful 30-year-old London teacher. When her beloved bike is stolen, she decides to take up driving, and is paired with Scott (Eddie Marsan), an instructor who’s her polar opposite. For all of its laughs and a star-making performance by Hawkins, this film represents a serious philosophical inquiry by writer-director Mike Leigh, who has illustrated a consistently pessimistic view of humankind in his semi-improvised movies.

Let the Right One In (2008) ***½ Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), the constant target of bullies, spends his time plotting revenge and collecting news items about the grisly murders plaguing his town. This is a sweetly queasy film that suggests the spirit that sustains us, the demons we hide from the world, and the monsters that prey upon us in the dark might all be variations on the same beast.

Milk (2008) ***½ Sean Penn stars in this fact-based drama about Harvey Milk, the openly gay activist and San Francisco politician who was murdered along with mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) by disgruntled city employee Dan White (Josh Brolin) in 1978. The film is superbly crafted, covering huge amounts of time, people and the zeitgeist without a moment of lapsed energy or inattention to detail.

Nobel Son (2008) * On the verge of receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry, Professor Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) learns that kidnappers have snatched his son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), a promising graduate student. A dreary little thriller that irritates more than it thrills.

Rachel Getting Married (2008) ***½ When drama queen Kym (Anne Hathaway), a former model who’s been in and out of rehab for 10 years, returns to her parents’ home just before the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), long-standing family conflicts begin to resurface. The longer it goes on, the more you’re swept up into the jet stream of good feeling.

Role Models (2008) **½ Slackers Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) have coasted their way through jobs at an energy drink company. When their goofing off catches up with them, they’re sentenced to community service with the Sturdy Wings mentoring program.The movie has a tart surface, a heart of goo and grows more obvious as it goes along.

Synecdoche, New York (2008) *** After his painter wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him and takes their daughter to Berlin, theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) stages a new autobiographical play in a massive warehouse amid a life-size replica of Manhattan. It is a sprawling, ambitious and very long look at so many things, it’s almost a miracle writer-director Charlie Kaufman was able to wrap it up in just two hours. And yet, for a film that is principally about death, the conclusion is surprisingly life-affirming, especially coming from Kaufman.

Transporter 3 (2008) ** Follows the adventures of Frank Martin (Jason Statham), a mercenary driver who makes his living by delivering important cargo, no questions asked. This film is so far over the top that it more than once spills into outright cartoonishness.