Tuesday, March 31, 2009
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
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
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.
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.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
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.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
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
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.
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
"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
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
"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.
Monday, March 16, 2009
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.
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.
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).
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
"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.
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
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.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
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).
Monday, March 9, 2009
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.