Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Best Movies: 1947

The 10 Best Movies of 1947

1. The Bicycle Thieves. Directed by Vittorio de Sica. Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola. The greatest of all the Italian neo-realist films that is about so many things — a man’s determined search for dignity in the eyes of his son, the manner in which poverty can ravage the young — that this film attains the status of a Shakespearean tragedy. A magnificent, heartbreaking achievement.

2. Miracle on 34th Street. Directed by George Seaton. Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood. I don’t know how he does it, but Gwenn’s performance as Kris Kringle gets though all my defense mechanisms every time. Plus I must admit the idea that a court trial is needed to determine whether there really is a Santa Claus is, when you think about, is the most clever commercialization of Christmas ever.

3. Black Narcissus. Directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Sabu, Jean Simmons. One of the most beautiful films ever made and by that I mean beautiful to look at. But within that beauty is an electrifying story on the dangerous effects that restraining your emotions and keeping your passions submerged can have on the human psyche. Another in the chain of Powell/Pressburger masterpieces from this decade.

4. Out of the Past. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming. While Double Indemnity created film noir, this is the movie that defined the genre and the one that made Mitchum a star. Superbly directed and photographed,this film really shows how love can be used as a weapon to entrap the gullible into a world of greed and deceit. Along with Orson Welles’s in The Third Man, Greer has one of the great entrances in the history of movies — a shadow entering a Mexican bar.

5. Odd Man Out. Directed by Carol Reed. James Mason, Robert Newton. Mason’s greatest film performance and the film that established Reed’s mastery as a director. This highly suspenseful film is simply about dying in an uncaring world and about the tragedy of a decent man who succumbs to altruism. A work of art.

6. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders. How can a movie about a woman who falls in love with a ghost ever seem remotely believable? By finding a couple of actors — Tierney and Harrison (in his second American film) — who work so perfectly together they can make anything plausible.

7. Gentleman’s Agreement. Directed by Elia Kazan. Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, June Havoc. This movie seems dated to me today, but it earns a place on this list not because it won the major Oscars this year but because it was Hollywood’s first major attack on anti-Semitism and remains one of the best of the so-called “crusade” films. Interestingly, it came from Darrell Zanuck, one of the few Hollywood producers at the time who wasn’t Jewish.

8. Nightmare Alley. Directed by Edmund Goulding. Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray. Those who think of Power simply as a matinee idol should see this film just to discover what a fine actor he was, portraying here a man evil to his very core in this excellent character study of life in a seedy carnival. A lot of the more terrifying aspects of the source novel have been omitted, but enough shocking revelations of a spiritual con artist remain for this film to earn its title.

9. Brighton Rock. Directed by John Boulting. Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley. This is often referred to a Britain’s Scarface and in many regards, especially Attenborough’s haunting performance as the leader of a criminal gang, the comparison is apt. The film doesn’t quite pack the sensational emotional punch today it had when it was released, but is still worth watching.

10. Body and Soul. Directed by Robert Rossen. John Garfield, Lili Palmer. This is the greatest of all boxing movies (I don’t count Raging Bull as a boxing movie; it’s biographic study of a demented man who happened to gain fame as a boxer) featuring Garfield’s greatest film performance and photography from James Wong Howe that set the standard for boxing films (he filmed the fight scenes while wearing skates around the ring and shooting with a handheld camera).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Recalling Inger Stevens

I just this moment finished watching a 1957 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents featuring actress Inger Stevens and was struck once again by her beauty and her unexplained death. It was ruled a suicide, but the reason why she took her own life has never been fully explained to my satisfaction. All that has been said was that she was found by her housekeeper lying face down on her kitchen floor on the morning of April 30, 1970. A medical examiner said she overdosed on alcohol mixed with something called Tedral, commonly prescribed to those suffering from asthma, emphysema and bronchitis to help with their breathing.

She was only 23 when she made the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode I watched and only 35 when she died. Her biggest claim to fame would come in the mid-60s when in the television series, The Farmers Daughter, a show for which she won a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination, but one which escaped my attention because I was living in various spots in Europe at that time. Upon my return to the United States, I was captivated by her as Richard Widmark’s wife in the gritty police film Madigan which also starred Henry Fonda.

I have always believed the medical examiner rushed to judgment simply because Stevens tried to commit suicide once before, in 1959, following a failed romance with Bing Crosby. However, according to one source, she came out of that episode “a stronger, wiser person,” who characterized that suicide attempt as one of “the stupidest things I have ever done.”

Consider the fact that not one member of her family nor any of her friends believe she killed herself. Of course, that alone could be labeled “denial” by those closest to her. But also consider she had just signed a contract to star in another television series produced by Aaron Spelling, that she had just purchased clothes she wanted to wear on the program and that she had committed to appearing at an MGM auction three days after her body was discovered.

Anyway, just some thoughts on Inger Stevens, a beautiful, talented and tragic actress.

The Best Movies: 1946

The 10 Best Movies of 1946

1. It’s a Wonderful Life. Directed by Frank Capra. James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore. While not the best movie ever made, this could well be the most popular film of all time. Few people could make movies as sentimental as Capra and this one is as sentimental as it gets. Capra is aided immensely by the performances of Reed and Barrymore, but, make no mistake about it, this movie works because of Capra’s direction and the magnificent, completely believable, performance from Stewart. A Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

2. The Best Years of Our Lives. Directed by William Wyler. Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo. Producer Sam Goldwyn got the idea for this movie by reading an article in Life magazine about the difficulties World War II servicemen had assimilating back into civilian life. The script, direction, acting and photography are all superb and have contributed into making this an American classic. Goldwyn, who became known for his malapropisms, reportedly said of this film, “I don't care if it doesn't make a nickel, I just want every man, woman and child in America to see it.”

3. Great Expectations. Directed by David Lean. John Mills, Valerie Hobson. This is my personal favorite translation of Charles Dickens into film. I know, Dickens purists often argue that the film left out too many characters from the novel, but I challenge them to come up with a film any more reverential to Dickens’s tone and sense of time and place.

4. A Matter of Life and Death. Directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. David Niven, Kim Hunter, Raymond Massey. The British Ministry of Information asked Powell and Pressuburger to make a film promoting British-U.S. relations and this masterful blending of reality (the scenes in color) and fantasy (those shot in black and white) is the result. Interestingly, the British rejected it as anti-British. U.S. audiences, however, embraced it. Also known as Stairway to Heaven and, indeed, one of the highlights of this wonderful film is a stairway that seems to go on forever.

5. The Seventh Veil. Directed by Compton Bennett. James Mason, Ann Todd. Judging from this film, a rather simplistic yet effective examination of mental illness, Todd never received the recognition as an accomplished actress that she deserved. She is absolutely mesmerizing here. The film was shot quickly on a small budget and an incomplete version was shown to preview audiences so they could decide how the movie should end. Then the ending the audiences preferred was shot. This is another film that needs to be released on a Region 1 DVD.

6. The Big Sleep. Directed by Howard Hawks. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall. My favorite detective film of all time, one of the great examples of film noir and one of the films I always cite when people want to argue plot is critical to a film’s success. The plot of this film is so convoluted even its author refuses to explain it. When Hawks tried to figure out who committed one of the murders in the story, he called author Raymond Chandler, who told Hawks “How should I know? You figure it out.” The screen chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is heightened by some of the most sexually charged dialogue of any film of this era.

7. The Postman Always Rings Twice. Directed by Tay Garnett. Lana Turner, John Garfield. Turner’s femme is this film is almost as fatale as was Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity, another great film adapted from a James M. Cain novel, two years before. What puts Turner is second place is the fact that her seductress is too vulnerable, never completely selling out the man she seduces into doing her dirty work. Notice the fact that in all but two scenes, a funeral and a scene in which she thinks about suicide, Turner is completely clad in white.

8. My Darling Clementine. Directed by John Ford. Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature. My favorite film dealing with the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday/Gunfight at the OK Corral legend, a brilliantly orchestrated movie from the master Ford. There are a slew of wonderful scenes in this film but my favorite is the one in which Wyatt and Clementine walk to a church dance as though they were walking down a wedding aisle. Some wonder why the film refers to a character who seems to have comparatively little screen time. I have always felt Clementine was Ford’s representation of big city eastern mores encroaching on his beloved western frontier.

9. Green for Danger. Directed by Sidney Gilliat. Alastair Sim, Sally Gray, Trevor Howard. An overlooked and under-appreciated British masterpiece with Sim perfectly cast as a detective investigating a double murder in a World War II hospital. If you want to know what is meant by the term, “droll British humor,” this is the film to see. It’s also pretty suspenseful.

10. Notorious. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains. How Hitchcock ever got away with this movie I’ll never know. Think about it: Grant, an untrustworthy and unsympathetic government agent, bribes the woman he loves, a sexually agressive alcoholic Bergman, to prostitute herself for the sake of the red, white and blue. Here’s another film where the plot is of absolutely no importance — it has something to do with uranium — and style is everything. There has never — ever — been a better kissing scene than the one in this film. But Hitchcock’s finest moment comes in the magnificent “key” scene.

There's going to be a fun football game in a couple of weeks but I have no idea where

A good friend and I stopped by the Starbucks today in the West Village for our regular post-lunch libation (it's so "regular" for him, the barista doesn't even ask him for his order, simply asks if he wants his "regular"). Anyway, I like the check out the community bulletin board while I'm there and today I saw a poster that fascinated me, a charity event designed to raise money for Alzheimer's research. Since my mother succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer's and I live with the constant fear that I probably inherited the trait that results in the disease, I examined this poster more closely than all the others.

The charity event in question seemed to be promoting a fun, harmless affair -- a "blondes versus brunettes" football game on Saturday, Aug. 14. It said a $25 donation provided access to the game and an "after-game party." The problem was the poster never said where this event was going to take place. Thinking I was perhaps overlooking the obvious, I asked several other patrons also waiting for their drinks to see if they could see what I was missing. None of them could.

The poster did mention a Web site where a donation could be made online. I didn't have a pen or paper with me, so I couldn't write it down. I guess they figured that everyone who walks into Starbucks these days does so armed with a wireless laptop computer and, in fact, it seems that 99 percent of them do. Those folks can access the Web site right there on the spot. As for the rest of us, we have to commit the URL to memory. Mine failed me. Must be the Alzheimer's.

It's getting to be that time of year when City Hall pretends it listens to you and me

The Dallas City Council takes the month of July off and the city staff uses that time to assemble and refine the City Manager's proposed budget that it will present as soon as the council gets back together in August. Right after that presentation, the various city council members schedule meetings during which an assistant city manager presents an unimaginative slide show (copies of which are handed out to everyone who attends the meetings in another example of a terrible waste of paper and taxpayer money) that says "here's the way it's going to be." Then attendees are given the opportunity to say, "No it shouldn't be that way, you can't cut that service." And the assistant city manager has to say "Yes we can, because we don't have enough money to fund it." Meanwhile, the city council person pretends to side with complaining constituents knowing all the while there is nothing that can be done to satisfy them.

I've been attending this meetings all over the city for about 10 years and I always see the same faces there. I like going to ones in different parts of the city because it's always fascinating to see attendees in the southern sector saying "Yes, go ahead and raise property taxes if that means keeping my rec center open on its current schedule" while those in the northern sector don't care a whit about rec centers -- those are for poor folks -- but pay lip service to libraries and cultural affairs, as long as supporting them doesn't involve raising taxes.

For those wishing to participate in one or more of these charades and are interested in when (between Aug. 9 and Sept. 7) and where these parties are being held, you can find out here. Last year, as I recall, Council member Vonciel Jones Hill scheduled the most meetings. Not this year. Our favorite demagogue, D-Wayne, has scheduled six meetings to Hill's five (and one of those is a joint meeting with Tennell Atkins, whose meetings are usually my favorites). Atkins, along with Carolyn Davis and Dave Neumann have scheduled four meetings; Ron Natinsky and Steve Salazar, three each; Pauline Medrano, Angela Hunt, Sheffie Kadane, Linda Koop and Delia Jasso, two apiece (some of them joint meetings with one other council member); and Ann Margolin figures just one meeting is all that's needed to convince her to vote against the budget again this year,

A convincing argument for ending the Bush tax cuts for his rich friends

Not my argument, mind you, but one from political strategist Robert Creamer:

The Republicans charge that eliminating these tax breaks on the rich -- and returning them to Clinton-era levels -- would be a "job-killing tax hike in the midst of a recession." Let's recall that while the Clinton-era tax rates applied to the rich in the 1990's, the economy created more than 22.5 million jobs in less than eight years -- the most jobs ever created under a single administration. Moreover, the Federal deficit had turned into a surplus for as long as the eye could see. The number of private sector jobs created during the Bush years: zero. The Republican position amounts to nothing more than baseless pandering to the greed of their many wealthy donors.

To create more jobs, our economy needs more economic demand. We need people who are willing to go out and buy products and services. Our economic problem is not that we lack enough people who will go out and work to create the products and services we need to have better lives. Our problem is that there is not enough demand to entice businesses to increase their work forces or buy new plants and equipment.

The Bush tax cuts didn't just produce fewer jobs than advertised. They didn't produce any private sector jobs at all. The whole experiment in handing over money to the wealthiest people in America so they could use it to benefit the rest of us was a colossal -- empirically verifiable -- failure. The rich used the Bush Tax Cuts to create the gigantic economic "bubble" that ultimately burst and caused immeasurable hardship and suffering to millions of average Americans and everyday people across the globe.

Eliminating the Bush tax breaks for the very rich would save the taxpayers more than two thirds of a trillion dollars over the next decade. That money would make a substantial dent into the long-term budget deficit. And it could be used to make the desperately needed public sector investments we need to assure long term economic success -- investments in education, infrastructure, health care and new sources of energy.

Think about this during the upcoming Congressional elections. Republicans advocate policies that allow Paris Hilton to escape paying her fair share of taxes, that allows Wall Street executives to fly around in their private jobs, and pays for this by denying our children the opportunity to get the education they need or by trying to slash Social Security benefits for elderly citizens.

Food violations at Jonestown

I don't know of anyone who, when considering an evening of haute cuisine, decides to dine at a sports facility. So the news that 72 percent of the food vendors at Jonestown had some kind of health inspection violations did not come as a major shock to me. What did surprise me was the reaction from Jonestown spokesman Brett Daniels, who obviously follows the David Marguiles (see following post below) theory of crisis response. Daniels said the ESPN report was misleading and only a handful of the 185 concession stands at the stadium had serious problems. I don't know how he defines "handful," but one concession stand seems one too many in my book. Especially if that's the one that gives me food poisoning.

A strange sense of balance in the world

For every piece of news that makes me advocate and actively pariticipate in vigilante justice, along comes something that makes me feel good about the world we live in, although someone needs to tell David Marguiles he needs to come up with better arguments on behalf of his clients.

If you ain't got that do-re-mi

Woody Guthrie's words are as true today as when he wrote them 60 years ago. If you are poor and live in a conservative state like Texas, the government is not going to do much to help you out. And, if you are a minority, you are completely out of luck. That's one of the reasons more than 6.1 million Texas residents -- a number greater than the population of 33 other states -- don't have health insurance. They simply can't afford it.

So, you would think, that Texas government officials would welcome federal laws making insurance possible for these people. And, if you did think this way, you would be wrong. Here's why:

Most of those poor Texans who can't afford health insurance would be eligible for Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, and the new health law will vastly expand eligibility by offering coverage to childless adults. The problem is Texas, because of its damn-the-poor conservative politics, traditionally has set among the country’s most restrictive Medicaid eligibility thresholds. This has limited its Medicaid rolls, as have burdensome application requirements, outmoded computers, inadequate staffing and difficulties in signing up children born to illegal immigrants. Among the reasons the law could be expensive for Texas is the state’s past failure to enroll many of those already eligible for Medicaid. Going forward, Washington will pay a much smaller share of the cost for those recipients than for those who gain coverage because of expanded eligibility. But, of course, Gov. Hair and the rest of the state's Republican leadership are now blaming Washington for Texas' failures.

Of course, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's numbers are inflated, but he has to lie to make it sound more alarming. His estimate, for instance, doesn't include the first four years of the new health care law when the state's contribution to Medicaid expenses will be negligible. But Texas political leaders have never let the truth stand in the way of their demagoguery. For example, Gov. Hair said last April that Texas would not establish the temporary high-risk insurance pool required by the law, leaving that task to the federal government. “You can’t run around saying the federal government wants to take over Texas, but then when we have an opportunity to do it ourselves leave it to the federal government,” said State Representative Garnet F. Coleman, just one Democrat pointing out the inconsistencies in Hair's philosophies.

So when you read about folks like the lieutenant governor going before his rich Republican backers crying that the new health care law will bankrupt the state, just remember none of this would have happened if Texas had just done the right thing in the first place.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

James Bond and the Dragon Tattoo

It appears that Daniel Craig has been signed to play journalist Mikael Blomkvist in the English-language versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. I like the choice although I am ambivalent about the five contenders for the pivotal role of Lisbeth Salander: Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska (too wimpy for my tastes in Alice in Wonderland), along with four actresses I'm not that familiar with, Emily Browning (Sucker Punch), Sara Snook (Sleeping Beauty), Rooney Mara (The Social Network) and Sophie Lowe (Blame). The movie is scheduled to be released Dec. 21, 2011. It will be shot primarily in Sweden.

On Doris Day and other old bags

Ever have strange thoughts while driving down the highway late at night -- thoughts other than "I need to wash my hands so badly I'm about to burst" or "I hope I have enough gas to make it home"? As for me I often think about off-the-wall, disconnected things.

Take tonight, for instance. Driving south on U.S. 75, out there where the speed limit is 65 miles an hour, I started wondering "Whaddya think Doris Day is doing right now?". Probably not much, I reckoned, especially since she's 88 years old right now. Truthfully, I was never a big Doris Day fan, although I will admit to liking her two big comedies with Rock Hudson, Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. I would have liked Alfred Hitchcock's remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much a lot better without her song Whatever Will Be, Will Be, but I know I'm in the minority because that single sold a gazillion copies back in 1956. The one thing I am really grateful to Doris Day for was her turning down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Can you really see her parading nude in front of Dustin Hoffman?

But, still, Doris Day is the all-time female box-office champ. That's right. No woman -- not even Angelina Jolie -- has drawn more people into movie theaters than Doris Day. Yet, given that fact, no one ever -- ever -- talks about Doris Day anymore. So, I was thinking:  What's become of Doris Day? I was wondering what she was doing that very minute I was driving south on 75 and sincerely hoping, by golly, she was doing OK.

Another thing I thought about was anyone who thinks they don't build American cars better today than they used to has forgotten all about the car water bag (pictured here, for those either to young to remember them or those who never drove between Phoenix and Los Angeles/San Diego back in the day). Before you dared to cross the Southern California desert back then, you would stop to get one of those contraptions filled with water and drape it over the hood ornament of the car. Those who didn't ran the risk of an overheated radiator hundreds of miles from the nearest gas station and no AAA rescue service. These days, superior engineering has eliminated the need for the car water bag. How do I know? Because cars don't come with hood ornaments any longer.

Oh, great! Transportation Department depending on junk mail to make intersection work

We can all sleep a little easier tonight, except for those thousands of you that flow through the intersection of Preston Road and Legacy Drive. And, according to this story, that's about 80,000 vehicles a day.

The Transportation Department has spent some $2.5 million of your tax money to reconfigure that intersection so that drivers cannot make a left turn. So, if you're driving west on Legacy and want to go south on Preston, you're going to have to go north on Preston instead. But only for a little while. Then you get to make a 180 to start traveling in your intended direction. It's called a Michigan left turn and I'm told it works magnificently up there where they have to make these U-turns in snow and ice a lot more often that you will. (I say "you," because I see absolutely no reason for me ever to be at that intersection.)

There are going to be signs up there telling people what to do, which will be absolutely worthless -- Texas drivers don't read road signs (i.e., "keep right except to pass," "do not cross double white line," any speed limit sign), or, if they do, they simply ignore them. But the Transportation folks had a backup notification plan: they notified drivers through the mail (how they identified the proper addresses is beyond me). So here, according to Mark Pettit, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman, is the determining factor on how successful this Michigan left turn gambit will be:

"It really boils down to whether people threw away their junk mail," he said. "I hope they read it."

Yessiree, we can all sleep a lot easier tonight.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To be released tomorrow on DVD

Those who fail to learn from history should repeatedly watch films like Vincere. The untold story of how fascist strongman Benito Mussolini rose to power by trampling on the woman who loved him is a bracingly cinematic lesson in how all politics is personal.

Fascism is an extreme right-wing philosophy, an alliance between government force and corporate power. That’s why the Italian socialists shun the brash young Mussolini (Filippo Timi), who repudiates Catholicism, advocates racial purity and agitates for his nation’s entry into World War I. Director Marco Bellocchio dramatizes the right-left divide in a scene in which fascists and socialists snipe at each other across a movie theater aisle while watching a war newsreel.

The propaganda value of images is a recurring motif. It’s straight out of a silent melodrama that Mussolini marches into a battle as an adoring woman named Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) ties his shoes. Dalser was an Austro-Italian who financed Mussolini’s newspaper and bore him a son. For years, she proclaimed that she and the Italian dictator had been secretly married. Vincere is as much the story of this long-forgotten woman as it is Mussolini’s.

While convalescing from battle wounds, Mussolini marries a peasant woman named Rachel Guidi. As Mussolini consolidates his power with speeches about resurrecting the Roman Empire, Rachel becomes the model of the silent fascist wife, while the volatile Dalser is erased from Il Duce’s dossier. Dalser is separated from her infant son and sent to a series of mental institutions, yet she refuses to renounce her claims. Through barred windows and over asylum walls, she continually flings letters to the authorities, including the Pope and the king of Italy.

Mezzogiorno is almost fascistically focused as the undeterred Dalser, while Timi is remarkably protean, playing both the magnetic Mussolini and the grown son who goes mad in the shadow of his estranged father.

Vincere, which translates as the battle cry “Win!,” is like invisible ink on the ledger of war, a secret record of love and loss. Grade: A

Other recent movies to be released on DVD tomorrow:

Clash of the Titans (2010) If he is to save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), the valiant Perseus (Sam Worthington) — born to a god but raised as a man — must lead a team of intrepid warriors on a quest to battle a host of powerful, beastly enemies. Clanging swords, thundering gods, shrieking monsters — about all that’s missing from the self-consciously kitsch retread of Clash of the Titans is Laurence Olivier pitching a fit in a toga. If you don’t remember the original 1981 film or the myth, not to worry: there are titans, they clash. Along the way Perseus triumphs, and a villainess loses her head, though by the time that happens, you might wish the reverse were true. The remake doesn’t as much improve on the original as match it goofily amusing moment for moment. The director Louis Leterrier, who started out working for the French producer Luc Besson (Unleashed) before graduating to bigger-budgeted junk (The Incredible Hulk), brings nothing new or noteworthy to Clash of the Titans. The characters, including the inevitably valiant warriors who aide Perseus during his computer-assisted adventures, are as predictable as the action scenes, which is what some companies want when they manufacture global products of this type. But enough of the myth remains to keep your eyes open, as do some of the performances — Ralph Fiennes earns his pay — even when the frenetic editing at times pitches the movie into near visual incoherence. The finale, which lurches among locations, destroys all notion of time, space and sense. Grade: D-plus

Repo Men (2010) In the futuristic world of this film, humans have extended and improved lives through highly sophisticated and expensive mechanical organs created by a company called The Union. The dark side of these medical breakthroughs is that if you don’t pay your bill, The Union sends its highly skilled repo men to take back its property with no concern for the recipient’s comfort or survival. The first third or so of Repo Men is good-natured, albeit in a sick way, and the movie works so hard at having a style that you might be momentarily distracted from the fact that there’s no real story here -- at least not one worth following. The script, by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner (adapted from Garcia’s novel The Repossession Mambo), devolves into a ho-hum narrative of deception and betrayal, with a handy surprise twist at the end. If you squint hard enough, Repo Men might be read as a treatise on the ruthlessness of the American healthcare system — but that’s a stretch. Mostly, newcomer director Miguel Sapochnik borrows gimmicky editing techniques from movies like Trainspotting (he was, incidentally, a member of that movie’s art department) and in general betrays a fanboyish enthusiasm for pictures like Fight Club and anything made by Guy Ritchie. But Repo Men isn’t even flashy enough to be engaging: Its action sequences are disjointed and dimly lit. There’s no passion in them — they clank but never dazzle. Sapochnik tosses in some camp touches for fun, scoring one of the ruthlessly efficient organ-harvesting forays to Rosemary Clooney’s Sway, for example. But he doesn’t have the light touch this kind of grisly-funny violence requires. Everything in Repo Men feels belabored and overworked, except, perhaps, the performances. Those have been pretty much tossed off: Jude Law squints, scowls and flexes his exceedingly obvious muscles, but he barely seems connected to the story Sapochnik is trying to tell, much less committed to it. And while Liev Schreiber might have made a devilishly slick bad guy, he has so little to do here that his presence barely registers. Repo Men could have been a sick little number laced with disreputable thrills. Instead, it’s a self-conscious exercise that keeps advertising its stylishness without actually having any. All of its vital organs are missing in action. Grade: D

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Best Movies: 1945

The 10 Best Movies of 1945

1. Henry V. Directed by Laurence Olivier. Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton. This was made at the height of the German blitz and was designed to strengthen the resolve of the British against the Nazis. It didn’t make it to our shores for another year. Olivier pulled off a neat directorial trick here: As the film opens, it appears he’s simply filming a version of Shakespeare’s tragedy at the Old Globe Theater. But gradually he draws us in as the film moves to more realistic sets and then, finally, returns to the stage of the Old Globe.

2. The Lost Weekend. Directed by Billy Wilder. Ray Milland, Jane Wyman. I have been told that this harrowing portrait of an alcoholic actually scared many into giving up the hard stuff when it was released. A brilliant piece of work that alternates between realism and expressionism, and features a virtuoso portrayal of a drunk by Milland, who justly won an Oscar.

3. Brief Encounter. Directed by David Lean. Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway. A near-perfect love story whose restraint puts off a lot of viewers, but, for me, makes it even more passionate than it otherwise might have been. Johnson and Howard as the two ordinary married people who fall in love with each other are touching in their scenes together.

4. The Way to the Stars. Directed by Anthony Asquith. John Mills, Michael Redgrave. Another magnificent film designed to foster British patriotism during the war, it’s a fascinating war film in that it contains no battle scenes. Instead, it concentrates on the effect war has on romance. Asquith does a fine job of making sure the film never slips into sentimentality. Also known as Johnny in the Clouds.

5. Mildred Pierce. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth. After Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan turned down the role, the “has been” Crawford took it and turned it into one of the greatest “comeback” stories in the history of film. Simply put, this is one of film noir’s greatest soap operas. Everything about the film — the direction, the photography, the score, and especially the acting (Blyth has never been better) — is first rate.

6. Scarlet Street. Directed by Fritz Lang. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea. Another classic film noir containing all the basic ingredients: a city at night, the femme fatale (Bennett) and the honest man (Robinson) she seduces into engaging in criminal mischief, all wrapped up in that German expressionism by the master himself (Lang).

7. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Directed by Elia Kazan. Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, James Dunn, Lloyd Nolan, Peggy Ann Garner. Kazan’s first film is a grand portrait of urban poor at the beginning of the 20th Century. Kazan wisely avoids most of the pitfalls of many first-time directors (unnecessary cinematic tricks) and instead focuses on the grand performances of his fine cast, the best of which is turned in by Dunn. An honest, timeless drama.

8. I Know Where I’m Going! Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Finlay Currie. Hiller is absolutely brilliant in one of the more low-key Powell/Pressburger collaborations that combines romance, fantasy, mysticism and folklore. There are some incredible shots in this film (the small boat in the whirlpool, the black mist wafting over the sea). There’s also the interesting tidbit that a double was used for Livesey in all the exterior scenes because he was not available to travel to Scotland.

9. A Walk in the Sun. Directed by Lewis Milestone. Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Sterling Holloway. One of the more interesting World War II films in that it’s a character study of a single platoon and all the action takes place one morning as the members of the group question their role in the big picture even though they seem willing to risk their lives for a cause they don’t quite understand. A couple of Milestone’s devices — the voice-overs, the folk song — don’t work all that well, though.

10. Leave Her to Heaven. Directed by John M. Stahl. Gene Tierney, Cornell Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price. Tierney is searing in her portrait of one of the most beautiful and one of the most evil women ever to appear on film. In fact, she’s so fiery, that Wilde and Crain seem way too tame by comparison. I kept wondering what the Tierney character saw in the Wilde character and for the film to really work you have to believe that she is totally consumed by him.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cornyn's position on Supreme Court nominees

Now that the Senate Judiciary Committee has sent Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate (with one Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, placing statesmanship over partisanship by voting to approve), it's time to revisit my chastising the position of Texas's embarrassing senator John Cornyn on this subject. One commenter suggested I was lambasting Cornyn for doing the same thing Democrats did when Republican President's nominated individuals to the court.

That's not true. I criticized Cornyn because his reasons for opposing Kagan were exactly the same reasons he gave for supporting President Bush's nominees; i.e., expressing fealty to the U.S. Constitution. It turns out Cornyn is not a supporter of the entire constitution. There are parts he likes and there are parts he doesn't. If a Supreme Court nominee wants to put limits on the sections he doesn't like, that's not judicial activism in his book. However, if a nominee wants to uphold those sections he doesn't like, that is "a liberal judge."

One part of the Constitution Cornyn hates is the Commerce Clause, the one that gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce. At her confirmation hearings, Kagan said she supported the Commerce Clause, even agreeing with Chief Justice John Roberts (a Bush nominee) when he said the clause gave Congress the ability to confine sex offenders even after they have served their judicially-imposed sentences. The Commerce Clause has been the tool Congress has used to pass legislation that has had a tremendously positive effect on our society - the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Endangered Species Act; the Fair Labor Standards Act, setting a minimum wage and limiting child labor; and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing segregation in the workplace and in public accommodations - all legislation that Cornyn wishes had never passed.

Now that is the definition of being duplicitous, opposing one person for advancing the same legal positions as one Cornyn supported. That's why I criticize Cornyn: He's two-faced.

The solution to Dallas' budget problems: Fire everyone (or at least outsource more)

It's really not fair to compare Dallas with Maywood, Calif. After all, Maywood's population of (estimated) 50,000 is densely packed into a total area of only one square mile. And its entire government, including police, was comprised of 60 employees (compared to around 1,300 for Dallas).

But Maywood was facing the same budget problems as Dallas, declining sales tax revenues and depressed property values. So the city fired everyone and simply outsourced ALL city services.

Although Maywood may be much smaller than Dallas, some of its problems seemed much larger. Four years ago a deputy city clerk was arrested and charged with hiring a hit man to whack a city councilman who was arguing for job reductions. The clerk, who was afraid his job was among those to be reduced, was sentenced to a year in jail and (I loved this part) six months of anger management counseling.

And while the only thing bothering the Dallas Police Department seems to be unnecessary concern over a police escort at a funeral for the son of the police chief, the California attorney general described the Maywood Police Department as "one permeated with sexual innuendo, harassment, vulgarity, discourtesy to members of the public as well as among officers, and a lack of cultural, racial and ethnic sensitivity and respect.”

Now the city is patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The budget for the police last year was $8 million. Outsourcing has cut that by 50 percent.

Like I said, this option probably couldn't work for Dallas and shouldn't even be tried. But outsourcing more services - perhaps starting with libraries, streets, and, of course, my old department, Public Information  - might not be such a bad idea. I'm betting a small elite team at a crackerjack PR company could do a great job for the city at a fraction of the cost of staffing PIO now. I would also explore outsourcing all payroll functions; just the cost savings in new software platforms alone would make this worthwhile.

The Best Movies: A Mulligan

I’m giving myself a do-over for the year 1943. First of all, after I posted my original list, the great Philip Wuntch suggested that I might have overlooked The Song of Bernadette and that it might — just might, mind you — be a tad superior to one or more of the films on that list. Well, since Mr. Wuntch is the finest film critic in the history of Texas journalism, I figured it would be prudent to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So I re-watched The Song of Bernadette, and, sure enough, true to his legacy and knowledge of all things related to film, Mr. Wuntch was correct. Thus, I thought it equally prudent to review, re-study and generally re-examine the entire film year of 1943.

As a result, I’m declaring my original list a mulligan and so here is the real, true, genuine list of

The 10 Best Movies of 1943

1. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook. This is a comparatively long film (2 hours, 43 minutes, although it was mangled to an hour, 33 minutes for its American release — the original version just became available here in 1986), but a brilliant one and it served as my introduction to the Powell/Pressburger team. Livesey is absolutely brilliant as the stuffy Clive Candy, as his life is traced from 1902 to 1943, and so is Kerr playing three different women from three different periods of Candy’s life. Incidentally, the title comes from a satiric cartoon character that appeared in the London Evening Standard that resulted in the Englisd referring to the stiff upper-crust military elite as “Colonel Blimps.”

2. The Ox-Bow Incident. Directed by William A. Wellman. Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews. One of the best Westerns ever made and a powerful indictment of mob violence. Wellman did something interesting with this film. Although he shot the beginning of the film with realistic looking Western exteriors, the bulk was shot on a set giving it an eerily claustrophobic feel that adds to the sense of tragedy inherent in the story.

3. The Song of Bernadette. Directed by Henry King. Jennifer Jones, William Eythe, Charles Bickford, Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb. This is the film for which Jones won her Oscar portraying the reason why to this day millions of the devoutly religious flock to bathe in the holy waters at Lourdes. In addition to suggesting I might want to re-assess this film, Mr. Wuntch told me that movie audiences laughed at the opening credits featuring the following card: “And Linda Darnell as the Virgin Mary.” I realize my description of this film may make it seem much less stirring than it actually is, but there you have it.

4. Heaven Can Wait. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main. This was Lutitsch’s first color film and succeeds in spite of the fact that Ameche was wrong for the part of the dying cad. the film's success is largely due to a magnificent supporting cast and the fact that this satire, disguised as a disposal comedy, still has that “Lubitsch touch."

5. Madame Curie. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon. You wouldn’t think a movie in which a man and his wife study the odd behavior of pitchblende would be all that exciting, but this film makes scientific research seem absolutely gripping, albeit in a somewhat low-key form. Perhaps it’s because it never surrenders its dignity. This is a Garson-Pidgeon pairing I liked far more than the more-celebrated Mrs. Miniver from the year before.

6. The More the Merrier. Directed by George Stevens. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn. A wonderful comedy with terrific performances. Stevens was the perfect choice to direct this film, which mostly takes place in the small confines a single apartment. The more tension he builds in that tiny space, the funnier the film gets. All three leads are superb, but Coburn steals every scene he’s in.

7. Lassie Come Home. Directed by Fred M. Wilcox. Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp, Dame May Witty, Edmund Gwenn, Nigel Bruce, Elsa Lanchester, Elizabeth Taylor. This low-budget sleeper is the movie that started the entire Lassie phenomenon. The sentiment is laid on pretty thick but it’s fun to watch two kids (McDowall and Taylor) along with a dog upstage some of the most accomplished actors of the era. This was Taylor’s second film, but the first that really began attracting attention to her.

8. Cabin in the Sky. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong. I’m betting there’s a lot of people out there who, even if they have heard of her, have no idea what a great talent Waters was. See this film, the first Hollywood movie directed by Minnelli and the first all-black movie in seven years, to find out. Marvel at the way she sings Taking a Chance on Love and Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe, plus at how she glides through the entire film with absolute sincerity. The film does perpetuate racial stereotypes, which is unfortunate, but, my, what a great cast of performers.

9. Shadow of a Doubt. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey. This is said to be Hitchcock’s personal favorite among all the films he directed. Not as creepy as most of his works, but it is still a fascinating character study of a mass murderer, portrayed brilliantly by Cotten. Hitch’s greatest achievement was to convince Thornton Wilder to write the screenplay, correctly thinking that the author of Our Town would perfectly capture the Americana ambience Hitchcock wanted.

10. Watch on the Rhine. Directed by Herman Shumlin. Bette Davis, Paul Lukas. I’m told this worked better on stage than it does on film. The problem here is Shumlin’s direction. He directed the stage version and directs this as though he were still in the theater. It’s often way too static. But Lukas is fine form as is George Coulouris as a Russian count. A toned-down Davis got top billing for a role that’s actually comparatively small.

Monday, July 19, 2010

For those who communicate the old fashioned way

The Postal Service is seeking to raise the price of a first-class stamp 2 cents by next Jan. 2. So here's a tip for those who still correspond by U.S. mail. Between now and the first of the year, buy yourself a bunch of those Forever Stamps -- you know the ones with the Liberty Bell on them (see picture) -- before the price goes up. Those stamps are so named because you can use them for ... well ... however much longer we still have a functioning Postal Service, no matter how much the price of postage increases. These stamps might even make nice holiday presents for all your letter-writing/paying-bills-by-mail friends and family members. Plus, for all you big spenders they could make a nice investment: If you purchased $100,000 of them this year and sold them at face value next year, you make an immediate profit of $4,500. Not bad. Of course the problem is going to be finding that many people who still use stamps.

To be released tomorrow on DVD

When he’s really cooking, the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho seems to reinvent movie storytelling itself. The word “Hitchcockian’’ keeps coming up in discussions of his latest sublime outrage, Mother, not because there are elements of violence, obsession, and wrong-man suspense in the movie — oh, there are, there are — but because Bong has us so completely in his grip. You never know where Mother’ is going to go next. All you know is that you’re in the hands of a master with an appreciably bent sense of humor.

Remember, this is the director who in The Host (2006) used the timeworn Godzilla genre as a vehicle for slaphappy social satire. Bong’s latest is, on the face of it, a melodrama with classic bones and a novel conceit: a loving mother (Kim Hye-ja) turns detective to free her imprisoned son (Bin Won) from a murder rap. Yet a playful, deadpan surrealism transforms each scene into a nail-biter in miniature, and Bong delights in showing how South Korea’s rigid social structure can’t help devolving into murder, madness, and all-around bad behavior.

It’s clear from the beginning that this mother, a neighborhood herbalist and unlicensed acupuncturist, takes maternal devotion too far and that the object of her affection, a 20-something son named Do-joon, is a barely functioning idiot. As is typical for Bong, that opening scene involves an extremely sharp paper cutter and a speeding Mercedes, your guess as to which will draw first blood.

With the help of his putative best friend, a strutting neighborhood bad boy named Jin-tae (Goo Jin), the son wreaks revenge on the owner of the Mercedes in a very funny donnybrook at a golf course. What’s shaping up as a comedy of errors, though, takes a dark turn when a local schoolgirl is found dead on a balcony in view of the entire town. The police immediately arrest Do-joon, who was seen drunk and grabby at a bar the night before.

The path by which the mother turns snoop is similarly roundabout. Poor thing, she’s not the sharpest needle in the acupuncture kit, but she’s unshakable when she gets a notion in her head. Convinced (for a while, anyway) that the friend did it, she sneaks into his house and is forced to hide in the closet when he returns home with a girlfriend. Old idea, but Bong gives it stylistic bounce and dread and something harder to pin down — a sense that the mother is sailing into an unknown world where she may as well make her own rules.

The plot keeps cranking forward, turning up daft surprises as it goes. Mother eventually involves recovered memory, cellphone hacking, police detectives who karate-chop apples from suspects’ mouths, and the proper insecticides to use in a suicide. All this is delivered in high cinematic style. Hong Kyung-Pyo’s camera swoops and dives, sometimes pulling back until the mother is a tiny figure in a vast landscape, at other times rushing in to register the many shades of consternation on an old lady’s face. Mother is smooth work — on a formal level, the Hitchcock comparisons aren’t far off — but Bong is going for a deeper disorientation.

He’s aided immeasurably by his leading lady. Kim, 68, is a longtime fixture of Korean TV dramas (in which she often plays mothers), and her unnamed character here has the dazed, determined look of the put-upon soap opera heroine she doubtless is in her own mind. The mother’s impassioned love for her son is a hint she hears music no one else does, and in a few eerie scenes, when things are going particularly wrong, she breaks into a demented private rumba. Kim neither ennobles this woman nor makes fun of her — an elegant balancing act.

Bong, meanwhile, does his level best to keep us off balance. He favors gorgeously constructed scenes that bristle with random elements. Why does the dead girl’s friend send the mother off to buy Kotex when she wants to get rid of her? Is it another reminder of the blood that has spilled and will continue to spill? Is it a coincidence that, for the most part, only women bleed in this movie?

If there’s a flaw in Mother it’s that you sense, far below the genre games and dada slapstick, an exhaustion, an anger, with Korean society that Bong will probably need to address more directly someday. For now, he’s an inspired craftsman with an appealingly fiendish sensibility — the more apt comparison may be to Polanski rather than Hitchcock — but he could be much more. He has a mother of a movie in him, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see it. Grade: A

Other new movies to be released tomorrow on DVD:

A Town Called Panic (2009) Plastic toys Cowboy (voiced by St├ęphane Aubier), Indian (Bruce Ellison) and Horse (Vincent Patar) buy 50 million bricks, setting into motion a crazy chain of events at their rambling rural home. Belgian animators St├ęphane Aubier’s and Vincent Patar’s A Town Called Panic has the most in common with the old Nickelodeon series Action League Now!!, in that it’s a little too rough-and-tumble for young kids, but it isn’t exactly subversive or smart-ass, either. It’s more like what a preteen with an overactive imagination might come up with if left alone with a farm playset for an afternoon. It’s more clever than funny, but it’s very clever. The film is equal parts cute and frenetic, and may disappoint those expecting something more scabrous. It may also exhaust some viewers once they realize that there isn’t much more to the movie than one nutty incident after another. But those who stick with it may be surprised by how involving those nutty incidents become, and by the amount of thought put into every scale model and every surreal plot twist. Just know this: A Town Called Panic is the kind of movie in which you will see a horse in a Santa Claus suit, riding on a manta ray in order to dupe a race of wall-stealing fish people. Adjust expectations accordingly. Grade: A-minus

Prodigal Sons (2010) In high school, Kimberly Reed was male, a straight-A student and captain of the football team. But since leaving his rural Montana hometown, he's become a woman — and a filmmaker whose documents her return for her 20th high school reunion. At the heart of the film, a family drama in the form of a succinct, eloquent personal journal, is a sibling rivalry whose reverberations touch upon the very essence of human identity: what we inherit, what we learn, how we move forward and to what degree we look back. Reed’s on eggshells with one of her classmates, Marc, her adopted brother. Since he was left back in preschool, Marc has been the struggler to her high achiever, his behavior problems exacerbated by a brain injury. He's on multiple meds and given to hair-trigger explosions that he says aren't the real him — even as Kim looks at pictures of herself as a boy and says with certainty, “That wasn't me.” Marc's research into his biological roots leads to the revelation, 30 minutes into the film, that he's the grandchild of two of the biggest names of 1940s Hollywood. This tantalizing twist may provide answers, but it doesn't prevent Marc's deepening mental illness or quell his conflict with Kim, who comes to understand that “we were both haunted by the same ghost.” Reed insists on pursuing difficult questions, and this is a film not easily forgotten. Grade: B-plus

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009) A documentary that chronicles Pentagon insider Daniel Ellsberg's daring endeavor to leak top-secret government papers that disclosed shocking truths about the Vietnam War and Nixon's presidency. How rare it is for anyone, working at any level in the public or private sector, to “give priority to conscience over career.” Or over a paycheck. But Daniel Ellsberg did just that, and in the highest echelons, engaging in an act of civil disobedience that, during a conflicted time, earned him conflicting labels. To some, he was an unalloyed hero; to others, including Henry Kissinger, he was “the most dangerous man in America.” Those like me who lived through the Vietnam War era, and paid attention, will find this documentary short on revelation but long on poignant reminders. Those who didn’t, and haven’t studied up, will not only be edified but flat-out impressed. The film argues that the seeds of Watergate are traceable directly to Daniel Ellsberg. No doubt, but it’s partial truth. Actually, the Pentagon Papers, although widely disseminated in the summer of 1971, went largely unread by an American public who, in the fall of 1972, returned Nixon so resoundingly to office. In the later endgame, Ellsberg was a factor, but only one of many. No, the fascination of Richard Nixon is that he was the leading, and by far the best, architect of his own demise. Grade: B

The Runaways (2010) Dakota Fanning stars in this musical biopic as Cherie Currie, lead singer of the 1970s all-girl rock group the Runaways, whose meteoric rise up the charts was saturated with drugs and other excesses of the era. Kristen Stewart, who plays Currie's bandmate Joan Jett, is surprisingly good; the head-down non-responsive attitude that is so annoying in the Twilight films is much more at home here. Jett is lost, after all, until she cranks up her guitar, at which point Stewart comes alive, as well. And Fanning, famous as a child star, is all grown up as Currie — or at least as grown up as Currie was allowed to be. What's lacking are surprises or any sort of different take on the traditional rags-to-rock-riches story. The performances help make up for that — Michael Shannon is an absolute scream (who is often screaming) as the band’s manager. Even better, the songs hold up particularly well. Jett would go on to a massively successful career with more of a pop-rock sound. The Runaways were more raw, more primal. The Runaways broke new ground. And if The Runaways doesn't, it's still a movie worth watching — and listening to. Grade: B

The Losers (2010) After learning that their handler, Max (Jason Patric), has set them up, a group of disavowed CIA operatives led by Clay — aka the Colonel (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — bands together to bring down their betrayers. The movie is a stupid, over-the-top comic-booky action picture with the occasional cheesy effect, oddball casting and an utterly predictable get-that-guy-before-he-gets-us plot, but Chris Evans and a couple of his mates make it passable entertainment. It is a PG-13 action film — so the blood, profanity and sex are discreet. Director Sylvain White (he did Stomp the Yard with Columbus Short, who’s also in this one) keeps it loose and jokey, referencing the comic books and skipping by the silly plot. He also has to battle Morgan’s lack of charisma (Idris Elba chews him up in their scenes together). Morgan’s expected easy journey from Grey’s Anatomy to the movies has been filled with flops, unreleased films and Watchmen. He seems downhearted. But Evans fills in some of that void with a cat-got-the-canary performance. Grade: B-minus

Cop Out (2010) Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and off-kilter Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) are two suspended cops trying to track down a stolen and very valuable 1950s baseball card. Take these two cops who love each other and drive each other crazy. Construct a rickety story involving a Mexican drug cartel (in New York?), the disappearance of Jimmy’s invaluable 1952 Andy Pafko trading card, a stolen Mercedes, a kidnapped hooker (Ana de la Reguera), and two smug rival officers (Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody). Make Paul unbearably obnoxious, and then make him look better by adding an even more obnoxious thief (Seann William Scott). Have director Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma) throw it on the screen. The result is a quintessential buddy-cop film ... and I don’t mean that in a good way. Smith is a very funny guy, but plot has never been his specialty, and this is nearly all plot. There are a few hilarious bits, but even those are drowned out by constant gunfire and Morgan’s motormouthing. Willis is going through the motions; Scott is funny, if irritating; Morgan is irritating and not so funny. Grade: D

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Once again Cornyn sacrifices statesmanship for partisanship

Texas's disgrace for a U.S. senator, John Cornyn, says he will vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan strictly because she was nominated by a Democratic president and Cornyn, of course, is one of the Senate's most partisan Republican. Cornyn didn't actually say that in so many words but it doesn't mean much t see what he's doing when Cornyn's used that same words as reasons why he supported every nomination from President Bush, including the failed one of Harriet Meiers that Cornyn championed personally.