Thursday, June 30, 2011

The one to beat

This looks like the top Academy Award contender to me right now.

Available on DVD “The Concert”

Conductor Aleksei Guskov watches violinist Melanie Laurent
 in The Concert
The Concert moves from rowdy, broad comedy to shameless heart-tugging, but Romanian writer-director Radu Mihaileanu keeps this French production flowing buoyantly, skittering past all manner of improbabilities.

Aleksei Guskov stars as Andrei Filipov, celebrated conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra, who in 1980 defies an order to dismiss all his Jewish musicians and as a result is demoted to janitor. Three decades later, he's still working as a custodian when he intercepts an e-mail to the Bolshoi director inviting the orchestra to perform at Paris' Theatre du Châtelet. Sensing an opportunity for a comeback, Filipov gathers former colleagues and other musicians — and heads for Paris with his makeshift symphony.

Mihaileanu contrasts the indulgent lives of the nouveau riche with the hard-scrabble existence of ordinary Muscovites and plays affectionately with ethnic stereotypes, while also driving home the virulence of Brezhnev-era anti-Semitism.

Once at the Châtelet, Filipov insists that the director (François Berléand) engage top young French violinist Anne-Marie Jacques (Inglourious BasterdsMélanie Laurent). More shenanigans in Paris give way to an unexpected and highly emotional subplot.

The film's stars rise to the occasion admirably, and among the supporting players, Dmitri Nazarov as Filipov's big, beefy sidekick is especially endearing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Burying the garbage, burying the lead

Last night a meeting was held at Paul Quinn College to talk about an idea that could not only bring many new jobs to South Dallas, but also completely eliminate the McCommas Bluff Landfill.

In journalism circles, “the lead,” or the opening of any news story, is supposed to contain the main news element. However, in this Channel 11 report, we didn’t learn about the potential for new jobs or converting the outdoor landfill into an indoor fuel-producing facility until the end and even then it seemed like an afterthought. DeWitt Riddick and C. Richard King, two of my old journalism professors at the University of Texas at Austin, would cringe watching this.

Bringing higher-tech jobs to South Dallas has always seemed to be a priority of many of our locally elected officials. It’s a shame that went an idea comes along to do just that it is treated this way by the media.

Michelle’s mistakes

What exactly is that thing
  Michele Bachmann is holding?
Looks like a crack pipe to me.
It wasn’t the first time she was wrong by any stretch of the imagination, but it was my favorite. Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann flew to the place where she was born, Waterloo, Iowa. this past weekend to announce her candidacy for President of the United States. In her announcement the Minnesota representative compared herself to movie hero John Wayne, who, she said, was also from Waterloo.

Not so, Michelle. John Wayne was from Winterset, Iowa, but left there as soon as possible to get to California. It was John Wayne Gacy, the noted serial killer, who helped put Waterloo on the road to notoriety.

But that’s just the tip of the Bachmann Mistake Iceberg. took a look at some of her other boo-boos.

Wait! There’s more. According to a recent Rolling Stone profile, "Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy — crazy in the sense that she’s living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she’s built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies."

Horrible Bosses (2011) - Red Band Trailer

I’ve been seeing trailers for this film for weeks and it came across as a Strangers on a Train rip-off. But this trailer makes this film look a lot more appealing to me. There seems to be some genuine humor at work here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Who should play Liz and Dick redux?

Last week I mentioned a poll that was taking place asking people to select the actors they would like to see play Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Martin Scorsese’s planned film about one of filmdom’s great love affairs. Well, the results are in and you can see the winners right here. Hint: It wasn’t Rachel and Colin, although I like them better than the winning pair. It’s also worthy of noting that none of this is going to influence the actors Scorsese will have in these parts.

Trailer for the 2011 version of “Straw Dogs”

This, of course, is a remake of the great Sam Peckinpah film of the same title. That one starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. Unlike most remakes, this one looks like it has possiblities.

Coens to do Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk
I first met Dave Van Ronk sometime in late 1961, perhaps early in 1962 when I saw him perform at a Greenwich Village club called Gerdie’s. He was the titular head of the Village folk music scene at the time and any struggling entertainer who need a place to stay at the time could crash at his Village apartment. Bob Dylan, who was then performing under the name Blind Roy Gunt, was a frequent guest at Van Ronk’s.

Van Ronk was no great shakes as a writer, but he could play the acoustic blues guitar with the best of them and his gravely voice made him sound like he was living the songs he sang, not just playing them. If you can find it, listen to his version of Cocaine. Listen to how much more desperate he sounds as the song progresses. That’s how a person who needs another line but can’t find one feels. He nailed it.

I spent a lot of time at Van Ronk’s apartment, although I never crashed there. I pretty much stayed on the periphery, mostly listening to his great record collection. Perhaps a grand total of 50 words passed between the two of us during all that time. We did correspond extremely sporadically after that.

During the late 1970s, Van Ronk was invited perform at the Kerrville Folk Festival. He knew through our correspondence that I was involved with the Festival, so he called me and asked if there was any way I could pick him up at the San Antonio airport and drive him to Kerrville and then back to the airport after his festival gig. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with greatness.

My favorite moment of that Kerrville experience came when we prepared to drive back to the San Antonio Airport. He had a couple of hours to kill before his flight so he asked me if there was anything to do around Kerrville that was “distinctly Texan.” I drove him to nearby Ingram where there’s a joint that makes the world’s greatest beef jerky. It’s not put in plastic bags like those you see on the Interstate wanna-be beef jerky joints, but it hangs by string from racks in the store. Van Ronk and I each bought a string of jerky and a beer and sat outside like two old fogeys around the cracker barrel in a cheap western. He took one bite of the jerky and was hooked, He walked back inside the store, bought out the store’s entire supply to take back for the folks in New York City so they could discover what real beef jerky tastes like. (I was at the Ingram store on a different occasion when a producer from NBC News in Los Angeles ordered 10 pounds of the jerky. His colleages at KNBC learned he was going to be vacationing in the Texas Hill Country and asked him to go this store and bring back its beef jerky.)

All these thoughts about the late great Dave Van Ronk (he died in 2002) came back to me when I read that the Coen Brothers are planning on making Van Ronk the center of a film they are contemplating making on the Village folk music scene of the early 1960s. The question becomes who could play Van Ronk and, unless he’s really “retired,” especially from playing iconic singers, I think Joaquin Phoenix would be a good choice.

And I too would like to know about whatever happened to the Coens’ treatment of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I was really looking forward to that one.

Miami Steve eulogizes the Big Man, says E-Street will go on

Miami Steve Van Zandt
In an eloquent send off to the late Clarence “The Big Man” Clemmons, the saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt said the band will continue to tour and perform because “that’s really all we know how to do.” Clemmons died during the past weekend of complications from a stroke he suffered the week before.

Here’s what Miami Steve had to say:

“Rock ‘n’ roll has lost an irreplaceable performer. The E Street Band has lost its second member. And, personally, I have lost a lifelong friend and brother. Rock ‘n’ roll historians will discuss in great detail and lengthy discourse the profound racial implications and effect of a white rock band in the early ‘70s having a black man with such a strong featured presence as well as the unmistakeable and dangerously unfashionable … more than just a nod, but marriage to tradition, by the inclusion of, to many, the embarrassingly and hopelessly anachronistic saxophone. It was a time of reaching for the future. Glam had started. And yet Bruce Springsteen decided to keep a firm grasp of the past, as he looked ahead. Commercial suicide for anyone less talented than he.

Band members have a special bond. A great band is more than just some people working together. It’s like a highly specialized army unit, or a winning sports team. A unique combination of elements that becomes stronger together than apart. We become a part of each other and experience marvelous, miraculous moments in life that only we truly share. We will continue to make music and perform. Let’s face it, that’s all we really know how to do. But it will be very different without him. Just as it’s been different without Danny (Federici), our first lost comrade.

The quality of our lives is diminished every time we lose a great artist. It’s a different world without Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Curtis Mayfield, Brian Jones and the rest. But like all of them, Clarence leaves us his work, which will continue to inspire us and motivate us, and future generations, forever. Rock ‘n’ roll is our religion, and we will continue to lose disciples as we go, but we pick up the fallen flag and keep moving forward, bringing forth the good news that our heroes have helped create, their bodies lost, but their spirits and their good work everlasting.

And for the E Street Band, the heart of us, Clarence and Danny, will always be there, stage right. So thank you, Clarence. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. But I’ll see you again, soon enough. Thank you for blowing life-changing energy and hope into this miserable world with your big, beautiful lungs. And thank you for sharing a piece of that big heart nightly with the world. It needs it. You and that magnificent saxophone, celebrating, confessing, seeking redemption and providing salvation all at once. Speaking wordlessly, but so eloquently, with that pure sound you made. The sound of life itself.”
Now, of course, Bruce Springsteen is never coming to me for advice, but if he did I would tell him not to try to replace The Big Man. He was irreplaceable. But I could see him adding a three-piece horn section: sax, trumpet, trombone. And although it was always one of the highlights of any Springsteen concert, he’s got to retire Jungleland. It might be played as well by another saxophonist, but it just wouldn’t be the same song without Clarence. That song is just as much his as it is Bruce’s.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Available on DVD: “Ip Man 2"

Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen in IP Man 2
Ip Man told the fact-based origins of how a man named, yes, Ip Man learned the ways of Wing Chun kung fu, and the sequel Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster moves forward to 1950s Hong Kong under British colonial occupation.

With director Wilson Yip, screenwriter Edmond Wong and star Donnie Yen all returning, the film's fight choreography is again handled by the legendary Sammo Hung — he also now has a supporting role and incredibly shot his own fight scenes while recuperating from heart surgery — and that alone makes the film worth checking out.

The fights are not over-edited the way a Hollywood-style action sequence would be, but rather much of the action happens within the frame itself, feet and hands flying about with strong, decisive camera movements often giving the scenes an unexpectedly graceful quality. A sequence in which Ip must fight a series of martial arts masters, each with a different fighting style, ending with Yen and Hung in a dazzling series of moves atop a small round table, is rather breathtaking.

A long, long climactic sequence in which Ip fights a British boxer causes the film's story to lose much of its forward momentum before an epilogue in which Ip is introduced to the boy who would become his most famous pupil, Bruce Lee.

More slick mainland melodrama than rough-and-ready chop-socky picture, Ip Man 2 often finds itself struggling to reconcile those conflicting impulses between drizzly emotional moments and slap-happy frenzy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Available on DVD: “The Company Men”

Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck in The Company Men
The Company Men recalls 1946's great post-World War II drama The Best Years of Our Lives, and the reason isn’t simply its trio of protagonists. The stresses and fears afflicting these office workers also stems from battle — one with joblessness and identity.

Beginning in the fall of 2008, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is in crisis mode. One of the first casualties of downsizing at his Boston-based transportation firm, Bobby is initially in a state of denial, though his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) has the end of Bobby’s layoff checks in sight when she starts reorganizing family expenses. Bobby’s former co-worker Phil (Chris Cooper) is in a different boat when his pink slip comes, being two decades older and not as savvy about the modern workforce.

Meanwhile, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), a co-founder of the company, is summarily fired by his best friend, the bottom-line driven CEO (Craig T. Nelson). As Gene reluctantly rearranges his life to start a new firm, Bobby builds houses with an in-law (Kevin Costner) to make ends meet and Phil slides closer to despair.

Writer-director John Wells — a driving force of TV’s ER — instills all of these men with dignity and humanity. The familiarity they also spark in us is due to the real-life stories they echo, although Gene’s push from his high perch requires a greater leap of imagination, despite Jones’ gruff-perfect performance.

Cooper, too, hits the right tone, as does Costner in his genial turn as a sharp-witted average guy. Affleck finishes up a period that started big for him, thanks to The Town, with a solid mixture of anger, confusion and confidence. As Bobby slumps down into a cubicle in the temporary workplace his ex-company sets up for laid-off employees, his look of disbelief and disgust counters the sympathetic ones from all the veterans in the room. The strength of The Company Men is how it gives voice to every one of those emotions.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Available on DVD: “The Housemaid”

Jeon D-yeon and Lee Jung-jae in The Housemaid
Sex, power, class and money — these are the forces swirling around an opulent but hauntingly austere South Korean household in The Housemaid, a lurid cocktail of titillation and betrayal that never quite lives up to its intoxicating potential. An admiring, clever remake of Kim Ki-young’s legendary film of the same title from 1960, this version, directed by Im Sang-soo, is at once more explicit than the original and less kinky. Rather than sweep, with Buñuelian mischief, from melodrama to black comedy to surrealist pastiche, it hesitates among those possibilities, as if unable to calculate the proper ratio of sincerity to camp.

The story, in any case, is ripe with both, and Im’s voluptuous visual palette combined with the dexterity of his cast is enough to hold your interest and, at times, to make you hold your breath. The opening scene, which takes place in a workaday urban world, strikes a deceptive note of realism and introduces the main character, Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), who quickly leaves behind her job at a noodle shop to go to work for a wealthy family.

Jeon, recently seen in the role of a devastated mother in Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, is a virtuoso of suffering. With her wide eyes, tiny frame and delicate features, she projects both naïve vulnerability and a reserve of stubborn, wily toughness. The innocent maid at the mercy of corrupt masters is an old theme in literature and movies, pornographic and otherwise, and Im nods both at the sentimental Jane Eyre side of the tradition and at its more Gothic, even Sadean, manifestations.

Eun-yi’s friendly smile brings some sunshine into the shadowed world of her rich employers. The husband, Hoon (Lee Jung-jae), a powerful business executive and gifted amateur pianist, is the only man (apart from a few silent flunkies) in a universe managed, though not exactly ruled, by women. He is the celestial body around which various female satellites orbit: his young, all-seeing, scarily articulate daughter; his wife, Hae-ra (Seo Woo), pregnant with twins; his socially ambitious mother-in-law (Park Ji-young); and Mrs. Cho (Youn Yuh-jung), the senior servant whose guile, bitterness and temperamental instability almost make her, rather than Eun-yi, the title character.

What happens is shocking without being entirely unpredictable. To use an archaic, not-quite-appropriate term, Hoon seduces Eun-yi, and she welcomes his advances, even though their predatory nature puts them in the neighborhood of rape.

Eun-yi pursues their affair with a determination that seems both simple-minded — can she really believe that this entitled, cynical man, however dashing he might seem, is in love with her? — and ruthlessly cunning. Eventually she is exposed to the furious jealousy of the other women, each of whom has a reason to be threatened by the eager-to-please new servant and to want her out of the picture.

Im uses low-angled shots and rich, saturated tones that recall the glories of ’50s Technicolor and create an atmosphere tinged with suspense and heavy with eroticism, both implicit and literal. Sex and violence hover constantly in the air even when not much seems to be happening, and the psychological center of gravity shifts from one character to another in a way that is both pleasurably disorienting and a bit distancing. We are sometimes plunged, with Eun-yi, into a world of hidden agendas and covert feelings, but at other times we observe its workings through he director’s amused, objective eye.

Im works in a style that is at once restrained and outrageous. An earlier film, The President’s Last Bang, based on the final days of President Park Chung-hee of South Korea, who was assassinated in 1979, managed to be both a sober procedural and a bloody, hilarious farce. The Housemaid saves most of its craziness for the end — two final scenes that seem to come out of nowhere, even as they make glaringly overt the dramatic extremity and phantasmagorical invention that had previously seemed to lurk just outside the frame.

Until those moments The Housemaid generates intrigue partly by making you guess which movie it is going to become: the cruel psychological thriller, the comedy of upper-crust manners, the feminist fable, the erotic romp. That it manages to be each of these in turn testifies to Im’s skill but also turns out to be a limitation, since the film is, in the end, an exercise in thwarted and confused desire.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Good night, Peter

Why you never want to be the woman left holding the bag

The 10 most powerful people in Dallas

The powerful one
As you can tell by now, I’m a sucker for lists. This one comes courtesy of former Dallas County Election Judge Victor Medina, giving us his choices of the 10 most powerful people in Dallas:

1. Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm (a no-brainer choice)
2. Dallas County Commissioner John Wylie Price
3. Dallas Mayor-elect Mike Rawlins
4. DISD interim superintendent Alan King (can an interim be all that powerful?)
5. State senators John Carona and Royce West
6. Dallas Police Chief David Brown
7. Former President George W. Bush
8. Dallas County GOP Chairman Wade Emmert
9. Channel 8 reporter Brett Shipp
10. Dallas Observer writer/reporter Robert Wilonsky

I can argue the merits of 7-10. How is Bush all that powerful in Dallas right now? He’s a tourist attraction but so is NorthPark. Since Dallas and Dallas County are no resoundingly blue, how can we have a red party chairman up there? What makes Brett Shipp all that powerful? And while I have all the respect in the world for the great Robert (Does he ever take a day off?) Wilonsky, I’m not sure he could organize a parade attracting 250,000 spectators and then whip out his checkbook to cover te $340,947 cost, saying “I got off cheap.” As usual, however, Wilsonky does a damn fine job of writing about it.

Are you ready to rumble?

Sure, I’ve had some complaints about writers, but often it’s more fun to have a ringside seat watching others pummel each other. Today’s featured match began with this one-two by Jim Schutze on the Dallas Observer’s blog. It was counterpunched a half hour later by this uppercut from Tim Rogers on D magazine’s journal. OK, let’s each of you go to your corners as we prepare for Round 2. Do I need a cut man?

Top 25 animated films according to Time

The best animated film of all time? I think not
Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss has assembled his list of the 25 best animated films of all time:

1. Pinocchio (1940)
2. WALL-E (2008)
3. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979)
4. Dumbo (1941)
5. Spirited Away (2001)
6. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
7. Up (2009)
8. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
9. Finding Nemo (2003)
10. The Little Mermaid (1989)
11. Toy Story 3 (2010)
12. Toy Story (1995)
13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
14. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
15. Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
16. Happy Feet (2006)
17. Akira (1988)
18. The Lion King (1994)
19. Tangled (2010)
20. Paprika (2007)
21. Kung Fu Panda (2008)
22. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
23. Yellow Submarine (1968)
24. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
25. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

As you might expect, I have some quibbles. First off: Where the Sam Hill is Ratatouille, Pixar’s masterpiece. I mean pulling off the shear audacity of making a film about rats in the kitchen of a French restaurant puts it any list of this type. In fact, I would have it No. 1. And why is Snow White, the film the great French auteur Jean-Luc Goddard calls the greatest American film of all time, rated so low? I have problems with the racism in Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp, and the South Park film is an unmitigated disaster. And what’s with putting Tangled on the list and leaving Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film nominated for a best picture Oscar, off? I’m also betting few people outside the Corliss household are remotely familiar with The Adventures of Prince Achmed. He’s just showing off with that one. And how can you put Finding Nemo that high and leave Shrek completely off? Finally, the only way anyone can enjoy Yellow Submarine is to be utterly and completely stoned.

Available on DVD: “Another Year”

Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent in Another Year
Extracting big drama out of small events is Mike Leigh’s forte, and with his latest little masterpiece, Another Year, the English director pushes himself to the extreme.

Leigh’s 19th film is about a married, late middle-aged couple, improbably named Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), who enjoy working in their garden allotment. He’s a geologist, she’s a counsellor in a medical clinic, and they have an unmarried son, Joe, who’s about 30. The film follows them over the course of four seasons, through various get-togethers with a few of their less well-off friends.

Now comes the truly shocking part: Another Year dives into a very scary subject — happiness. Is the capacity for happiness unequally distributed? Is it a learned skill, a delusion or dumb luck? Does one person’s good luck exacerbate the misery of their friends? Leigh is a dramatist, not a guru, so his film is not about drawing conclusions but rather about presenting the theme through exemplary moments. The effect of his exploration feels like a bracing spiritual and mental tonic.

A brief opening scene sees Imelda Staunton (star of Leigh’s Vera Drake) as Janet, a mousy, depressed patient who’s in a lousy marriage and has been sent to see Gerri. Gerri asks her to rate her happiness on a scale of one to 10. One, Janet answers. What would improve her life? “Another life,” says Janet.

Downbeat, no doubt, but as a character in Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame notes, “there’s nothing funnier than unhappiness.” That’s an oxymoron that Leigh understands profoundly. Misery makes us absurd.

Take Mary (Lesley Manville) for example, one of Gerri’s co-workers, and the cringe-making, fascinating mess at the centre of Another Year: “I’m a glass-full sort of girl,” says Mary, trying to express her unsinkable spirit rather than her unquenchable thirst. Her full glass is well on its way to emptying another bottle.

For a certain percentage of viewers, she may be too much: Her vain plans, her coquettish affectations, mutton-dressed-as-lamb attire and bottomless need for approval, can make her seem like a cruel caricature of the middle-aged single life. Yet she grows on you in the film, as much as you'd avoid her in real life. An exceptional actress in a stand-out cast, Manville can switch from girlishly eager affectation to stone-cold fury in a blink. The way she assumes and casts off layers of affectation is mesmerizing in this bravura performance, and ultimately, there’s something heroic about her humiliating self-exposure. Anyone who wants acceptance this badly deserves it.

Tom and Gerri, meanwhile, enjoy the improbable miracle of contentment.

The movie divides into titled seasonal segments. In spring, Mary comes over and gets loaded and self-pitying at a dinner party, which seems to be her modus operandi. In summer, an old mate of Tom’s, Ken (Peter Wight), comes to visit. He's another late-middle-aged mess who dwells on the past and stuffs food and drink into his mouth at a terrifying rate. Later, he makes a rough attempt at coming on to Mary, who rejects him in disgust — at least she’s better than him. Gradually, as her behaviour grows more extreme, we feel the shift in Tom and Gerri’s attitude from tolerance to exasperation.

Finally, autumn brings some bounty, a girlfriend for son Joe, the buoyant Katie (Karina Fernandez). Like Sally Hawkins’ character Poppy from Leigh’s last film, Happy-Go-Lucky, Katie’s one of those compulsive jokers you know are close to Leigh’s heart.

Winter brings a family crisis and a trip to Derby to visit Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley), a man who drinks, stares and rarely speaks. Ronnie also has a son (Martin Savage), one of those Leigh characters who’s in such a constant rage that it becomes grotesquely comical. What wounds lie beneath his behaviour? We don’t know. The closest of relatives can be separated by light years.

For a film about happiness, Another Year offers nothing encouraging beyond sympathy and an insistence on clarity, no matter how pitiless. The most hair-raising scene takes place back in London between Mary and Ronnie, when she arrives unannounced at Tom and Gerri’s home. As she babbles on and on, Ronnie stands there, staring and not responding. The scene feels both specific to the characters yet cosmic in its scope — as she recites her litany of needs, alibis and justifications, they are met with a response of overwhelming silence.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Who should play Dick and Liz?

Rachel Weisz (Liz?)

Colin Firth (Dick?)
I mentioned earlier than Martin Scorsese is set to direct a film based on the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton love story. But who would play the duo? In one on-going poll, the three top choices for the Liz part are 1. Rachel Weisz; 2. Catherine Zeta-Jones; and 3. Mia Kirshner. The top choices to portray Sir Richard are 1. Colin Firth; 2. Clive Owen; and 3. Russell Crowe.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Biology, physiology, psychology and all those other “ologies” are fine, I guess, up to a point … or “Happy Father’s Day”

I’m a night person. I obviously wasn’t born a night person but I became one professionally upon my relocation to Dallas 43 years ago and now because of one, two or more of those “ologies” my body is conditioned to that fact of nature.

Helen Thomas with What's-His-Name
I came to Dallas in 1968 to go to work at the Southwestern Division headquarters of United Press International which, at that time, was the Associated Press’ chief competition. Walter Cronkite, among other great newsmen, cut his chops at UPI, which was also the home for many years of the legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas. I was what was known as a desk man for UPI, which meant simply I was a writer. The other half of the UPI news team were the reporters, people like Thomas, who would cover news events, get to the nearest telephone (no cell phones back then) and call their notes in to the nearest UPI office. The desk men like me would then take these notes and transform them into a coherent news story. The reporter always got the byline and I used to joke (although it was an accurate statement even though I meant it in a humorous, certainly non-malicious, manner) that I wrote far more stories under Helen Thomas’s byline than I did my own. The normal working shift for a desk man at UPI was 3 p.m. until midnight, with an hour off for dinner. Basically, hours that will turn you into a night person.

Six months after I arrived, I was appointed the Southwest Division’s Overnight News Editor. That meant I was working Sunday nights from 10 p.m. until 6 a..m., and Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. That’s when I learned about a phenomenon that existed then called “T.I. parties.” State government strictly regulated the hours commercial adult beverage watering holes could operate, but a loophole allowed saloons to operate outside of these hours for private parties. Many workers at T.I. assembly facilities worked the same wacky hours as newsmen and women, cops, short order cooks, etc., and, so the story goes, these T.I. personnel would secure many of these bars for after-hours private parties exclusively for their workers. Actually, this was the story concocted by the bars to stay open late. The late night grapevine always knew where the “T.I. parties” were being held, so even though I got off work at 3 a.m., I, like any worker, knew exactly where to go to get the dust out of my mouth, if I cared to do so, after work. Those hours will definitely turn you into a night person.

After I left UPI, during which time I was also doing a lot of freelance writing for Rolling Stone and Circus magazines, I took a full time rock ‘n’ roll gig with the Dallas Morning News. Now, as anyone who’s in the business will tell you, rock ‘n’ roll lives at night. The only people who could make a living in the rock ‘n’ roll business when the sun was up were disc jockeys and record company executives. The rest of us lived for the nighttime. It was also around this time that I met the great Joe Miller. Joe, at the time, was the bartender at The Den in the Stoneleigh Hotel. Greatest bartender I ever knew. He could make a Manhattan that went down more smoothly than water on a typical Texas summer day (I won’t bore you here with the story about the night I drank around a dozen, more or less, of those smooth Manhattans than I really should have). Joe eventually opened his own bar on Lemmon Avenue between Cole and McKinney. Often, after covering a rock concert, I would venture over to Joe’s to “wind down” before going home. Now you would think I would become suspicious when I asked Joe for a drink and he would reply “Get it yourself,” but we were usually too engrossed in conversations aimed at solving all the really most important problems of the world for me to pay that much attention to the slight inconvenience. That’s why it was often a shock when I left Joe’s windowless bar and the sun was shining. Yes, I was definitely a night person to stay. To me, getting out of bed early meant waking up at what I called “the crack of noon.”

I bring all this up because I am convinced all the “ologies” condition your body at an early age and there is nothing that can be done to combat it. Take tonight, for instance. My work schedule was recently, although thankfully only temporarily, altered in such a manner that it required me to rise on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays right around the same time the sun peeped over the horizon. I quickly discovered that the combination of the “ologies” conditioning with the ravages of old age rendered me close to exhaustion on Saturday evenings and falling over the brink on Sunday nights. But today (OK, technically it was yesterday now) was Father’s Day, of course. So after my post-work romping around with my puppy, I quickly showered, and my son and I headed out to our favorite Tex-Mex joint for a Father’s Day dinner and much-desired Father’s Day margaritas. I figured I could put off the exhaustion until I got home. Which I did. But by 9:30 p.m., much to the bewilderment of the puppy who had never seen me hit the sheets that early, I was between the covers and off to dreamland. That’s where the “ologies” took over. The “ologies” dictate to any night person attempting to go to sleep at 9:30 p.m., that this is only a nap. It’s not like you’re going to sleep for the night, even though that was really — I mean really — my intention. So, as a result, the “ologies” woke me at 11:30 and here I am, writing the night away.

I don’t suppose anyone knows a good “ology adjustment bureau”?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Good Night, Big Man

The single greatest saxophone solo in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. You will be missed, Clarence.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Available on DVD: “Carancho”

Martina Gusman and Ricardo Darin in Carancho
Set in a featureless corner of Buenos Aires called La Matanza, Carancho dives into a nocturnal world of crooked lawyers and broken people.

After informing us that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for Argentines under 35, Pablo Trapero’s insinuating thriller introduces the bottom feeders who profit from vehicular tragedy. Among them is Sosa (Ricardo Darín), a personal-injury lawyer waiting out the temporary loss of his license by working for thugs who scam victims out of the bulk of their insurance settlements. But when one of the ambulances he’s chasing opens to reveal Luján (Martina Gusman), a harried young doctor chasing demons of her own, Sosa begins to reassess his priorities.

Giving vivid life to a satellite industry that preys on the vulnerable, Carancho (the title means “vulture”) unfolds among the corrupt and the desperate, on damp nighttime streets and in bouncing ambulances. At heart an unlovely love story illuminated by sudden flares of violence, the film reeks of hopelessness and moral destitution, offering its lovers few means of escape.

Luckily Darín has some experience playing a character trapped by his past, and as Sosa trawls for cases in morgues and emergency rooms, his gray face hovering over sheet-shrouded gurneys, he looks less like the scavenger of the film’s title than like a weary prisoner of his own mistakes.

Tell no one, but Affleck will remake “Tell No One”

I love a good mystery novel. In fact, I’m in the middle of one now, The Last Child, by John Hart. One of my big favorites of recent vintage not written by Michael Connelly was Harlam Coben’s Tell No One. I didn’t come upon the book until a couple of years after its original publication and when I finished it I wondered why no one had optioned it as a movie. Then I learned someone had, but that someone was a French outfit. There goes the neighborhood, I thought. How are the French going to do justice to a story set in the Northeastern United States?

Turns out they treated it fairly well. Guillaume Canet’s 2006 film was one of the best of the year. But now I hear there’s finally going to be an American version. Usually, I don’t like American remakes of foreign films although I did think Let Me In was excellent and I’m hearing good advance word on David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But the notion of a Tell No One remake doesn’t fill me with dread because it’s going to be directed by Ben Affleck, who I think did a wonderful job with Gone Baby Gone (somewhat less so with The Town, but, still, it was OK). I think Affleck can bring just the right touch to Coben’s book, although I still have not received definitive word on whether he will be re-adapting the novel or re-imagining Canet’s film.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Aademy says only 5 pictures may be nominated for best picture, or perhaps 6, maybe 8

The Motion Picture Academy, two years after doubling the number of best picture nominees from five, is changing the way the game is played again. Beginning this year, only those films collecting at least 5 percent of all the first place votes will be nominated, although the number will be capped at 10. That means anywhere between 5 and 10 films will be nominated for best picture in 2012.

The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse says if this plan had been in place between 2001 and 2008, there would have years in which five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees would have made the cut.

“A best picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit,” said retiring Academy executive director Bruce Davis. “If there are only eight pictures that earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out that number.”

I agree. I think this is a far better plan than the one passed two years ago just because some were upset when The Dark Knight did not get a best picture nod.

When is a grocery store more important than a first-class college education?

Obviously it’s when you attend Paul Quinn College. For some reason that completely baffles my mind, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell brought a bunch of students, staff members and faculty to Dallas City Hall today to say we don’t want an upgraded science program on our campus but we want the government to provide us with a grocery store in the neighborhood.

Didn’t PQC have some problems with its accreditation recently? With people like Sorrell in charge, it’s easy to see why.

The City of Dallas has a marvelous plan to convert the McCommas Bluff Landfill into a fully enclosed environmental recycling center similar to the one pictured here about to be built in East London. It will take garbage and convert it into all kinds of heating and motor fuels. What’s more, it will take no public money to build. A number of high-tech private companies that possess techniques to make this conversion process work are chomping at the bit to build such a facility. The only catch is that it will take about twice as much garbage as the city now collects at the landfill to make this an economically viable undertaking for these private companies. The good news is, however, that amount of garbage is already being collected in Dallas — but it’s currently being taken to landfills outside the city. So the city is proposing something called “Resource Flow Control” that will require that all garbage collected within the city limits of Dallas be deposited at sites within the city limits of Dallas. (As an aside here, the city collects all residential garbage and deposits it at the landfill or the Bachman Transfer Station. The trash at apartments and businesses are collected by private haulers, who are currently free to dump the junk anywhere they want to, even if it means traveling further to do so.)

I’ll get back to that Resource Flow Control, which assuredly will be included in the upcoming budget passed by the City Council in September, in a minute. But first I want to address some issues surrounding the proposed recycling center. One City Council member, District 5's Vonciel Jones Hill, is going to go to her grave fighting this issue because she doesn’t like all that “garbage going south.” She can say that all she wants to but I don’t believe it. Not for a second. Here’s why. I’m willing to bet if you told Councilwoman Hill that Texas Instruments wanted to locate a wafer fab facility in her district, she would be ecstatic. That’s TI. That’s the kind of company we want in South Dallas. She would completely overlook/ignore all the well-founded environmental dangers involved with such a facility, dangers that have led many neighborhoods say “Hell, no!” to TI plans to construct wafer fabs. No, Councilwoman Hill has her own hidden agenda and I am not going to try to guess what it is.

But back to the Paul Quinn situation. Included as part of this proposal is a plan to “expand educational opportunities for ‘green energy’-related curricula” at Paul Quinn College. But for some reason Sorrell doesn’t want to expand his science curricula; he told the council he wants them to provide the neighborhood with a grocery store. I did not have the opportunity to corner him to ask him “(1) Why don’t you want to expand your educational offerings and (2) what makes you think it’s the government’s responsibility to provide you with a grocery store?” so I have no idea what was running through his mind, but my suspicions are he is motivated by the same things Hill is.

But now let’s get back to the ordinance. This item was briefed to council just two weeks ago. To return to council in this short of time is virtually unprecedented. Here’s what I think (although I have absolutely nothing whatsoever to back this up with except my own experiences working on the inside of City Hall): City Manager May Suhm counted noses and realized she had the votes to pass Flow Control. Problem is, there is only one more meeting of the current City Council and she didn’t know how she would stand when the new council convened. So she wanted this ordinance on the agenda of the final meeting of this council which takes place a week from today.

In the last few days, however, several of those originally thought to be “no” votes, including District 7's Carolyn Davis, have switched to be in favor and those on the fence have switched to yes for reasons that are not directly attributable to Resource Flow Control. Davis was concerned about the effect the ordinance would have on the immediate neighborhoods surrounding the McCommas Bluff. That was solved when she made her very first visit to the facility Tuesday and saw for herself there were no “immediate neighborhoods” surrounding the landfill. This removed the necessity to get this on the next council agenda. She knows she will have the votes she needs in September when the budget is adopted.

So here’s what’s going to happen. The City Council is going to take its regular vacation for the month of July, during which time City Manager Mary Suhm and her Merry Men and Women will be burning the midnight oil (believe me — I burned a lot of it around this time each year when I was there) in order to complete, print, bind and present to the council a balanced budget on Aug. 8. In fact, much of the details will probably be leaked around that Friday, Aug. 5. It will be evident when council members get the details of the budget because their screams will be heard probably as far away as the Panhandle. They simply will not permit all the cuts to services that Suhm will propose, nor should they. So they will grab for all the quick fixes that they can and one quick fix that will provide an additional $13 million is Resource Flow Control. They will simply have no other alternative but to adopt it.

Councilwoman Hill will still vote against it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she is the only one. District 8's Tennell Atkins has said he could not support it until an “independent consultant” verified the city’s income projections and until meetings could be held with his constituents. It would not surprise me in the least it Atkins and the rest of that council didn’t receive that verification from an independent consultant within the next week — surely before the July vacation — and the budget townhall process offers ample opportunities to talk to his constituents about this and to let them know it’s either Resource Flow Control or the rec centers in his neighborhoods will be closed. Their choice. What do they want him to do?

About-to-be-ex-mayor D-Wayne Carriedaway is still fuming over what he believes was Hill sabotaging his efforts to shutter a scrap metal yard and I wouldn’t be surprised if he voted in favor of Resource Flow Control just to spite her, because she is so adamantly opposed. He hinted at that very possibility during today’s briefing, although his stated reason for supporting it will be simply because the city needs this additional revenue to provide the city services his constituents will demand in order to vote for him again.

Of the two candidates vying to replace Carriedaway as mayor, Rawlins supports the plan, Kunkle doesn’t, but I would be shocked if Rawlins didn’t win Saturday’s election going away. Both candidates running in the District 12 say they oppose, but either will change their minds when faced the realities of the budget Suhm will propose. At least Sandy Greyson is intelligent enough to change her mind. Her opponent, Donna Starnes, is a former Tea Party organizer and those idiots never let reality interfere with ideology. But I think Sandy will pull this one out.

So that’s a lot of information on something most Dallas residents really don’t care one bit about, except when they learn Flow Control will be needed to fund the police protection required to keep their neighborhoods safe and then they’ll be saying “Whatever it is, pass it.”

The only question that remains is what is really driving Michael Sorrell and Vonciel Jones Hill because the stories they are telling publicly make no sense at all and are, on the face of it, completely unpersuasive and unbelievable.

The single most vile, sexist and racist political ad ever produced

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No offense, “King’s Speech,” but this is the best movie of the year

Jeff Siegel needs to ease up on the wine he keeps reviewing

Street reconstruction like this is paid for with capital spending
I’m thinking that’s the reason this Advocate reporter keeps jumping at wrong headed conclusions. Yesterday he wrote about City Manager Mary Suhm’s upcoming budget briefing, which admittedly I have not read (I was more interested in the “From Trash to Treasure” briefing also on Wednesday’s agenda), and he talked about how dire it sounds — how the number of cops will be cut, the number of rec centers that will be shuttered, etc. But then he wrote:

“But, because this is Dallas, we will ‘continue investment in infrastructure through capital spending’ — which is money for a toll road that isn’t going to be built and bridges that we don’t need.”

No, it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is that extensive repairs — such as the complete reconstruction of many of our roads — will be handled through the sale of bonds. These types of projects were the emphasis of the bond proposal that immediately preceded the last one. Money for filling potholes comes out of the General Fund; money for completely replacing a street’s pavement comes from capital spending.

Random thoughts on one of the momentous events of my life

  • I haven’t written until now about the Dallas Mavericks’ playoff run because (1) I didn’t want to jinx them like I usually do when I open my yap too early and (2) immediately after Sunday night’s finals-clinching game I was too overwhelmed by the emotion winning the title stirred in me. Translated: I wept unabashedly for about 10 minutes after the game was over and my stomach was still churning until around midday Monday.
  • I can now also say I unashamedly wept. The great Chuck Cooperstein said Monday that with about a minute left to play in Sunday’s game, Dirk (the greatest Maverick ever) Nowitzki looked at Tyson Chandler and, in realization of what they had accomplished, their eyes watered up. That’s all I’ll ever have in common with Nowitzki and Chandler, but now I do have that.
  • Before the finals began, my son, his best friend and I were having a discussion in my kitchen about (1) whether Labron James is as great as Michael Jordan (My answer: “Absolutely not. Not even close. In fact, the subject should not even be broached until Labron has led a team to seven NBA titles.”) and (2) whether the Mavs had a chance against the Heat and, if so, what miracles must they perform to win it all. I finally said: “Look. The Mavericks, like it or not — and I don’t — have conditioned us with years and years of disappointments. Now we are programed that they will disappoint us again. Because of this, we may not truly realize just how super this team is. The Mavs swept the defending champions. They beat really good Portland and Oklahoma City teams in five games. Any one of those three teams could give the Heat a run for their money. I say the Mavericks in 6, if, for no other reason, they beat us in six last time. It’s revenge time.”
  • Chuck Carlisle was the best coach in the entire NBA playoffs.
  • Labron didn’t fade away in the finals — to be honest, he had a couple of fairly good games. But, overall, the Mavericks simply shut him down.
  • Think of all the other teams in these playoffs and then think of them playing without their second best player — the Lakers without Gasol or Bynum, the Thunder without Westbrook, the Celtics without Allen or Garnett, the Heat without Bosh (sorry, couldn’t help myself), etc. — and imagine how they might have fared without those players. Then remember the Mavs played the entire NBA playoffs without Caron Butler.
  • Was the Mavericks coming back from 15 points down in Game 2 the turning point of the finals? Perhaps. But I just think that comeback proved once and for all — especially to the Heat — who was the superior team in this series.
  • Another shout-out to the aforementioned Cooperstein. He also revealed Monday that after a particularly Heat-centered interview Sports Center had with him on Friday, he called the show’s producer and basically had a word or two or three or four to say about how ESPN has been drinking at the Heat’s trough all season long. Why, he wondered to this executive, couldn’t he have been asked some questions about the Mavericks. I have found ESPN’s coverage of this NBA season embarrassing and a major blemish on this once-respected network. Of course, that’s easy for me to say. Not so easy for Cooperstein because he works for ESPN. He was honestly and deservingly criticizing the very folks who sign his paychecks. Perhaps the only person showing more courage in this series was Jason Terry when he shot that three over the outstretched arms of Labron in the closing moments of Game 5.
  • Coop also said the reality of the Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA title hit him in the locker room after the game when he saw what he described as the happiest group of men he had ever seen. That comment filled me with unadulterated joy.
  • People can say all they want about the Heat’s stifling D, but it was the Mavs’ zone that totally confused the Heat and was a major contributing factor to the victory.
  • Wear this with pride MFFLs: For the next year (perhaps longer, depending on the upcoming labor negotiations) the words “Dallas Mavericks” should be preceded by “defending NBA Champions.”
  • Owner Mark Cuban handled the trophy presentation with the utmost in class. Having Donald Carter be the first person to place his hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy was a masterstroke.
  • Can anyone, in their wildest imagination, ever conceive of Jerry Jones saying on national television immediately after his team won a world title: “Don’t interview me. Interview the coach.”? This Manhattan’s for you, Mark.
  • The only sports events in my lifetime that rivals this one are three football victories by my Texas Longhorns: 15-13 over Texas A&M in 1963, 15-14 over Arkansas in 1969 and 41-28 over USC in 2006.
  • I have a son, of whom I am immensely proud, about to become a doctor; a beautiful, talented, smart and creative granddaughter who lights up my life; an extremely loyal and loveable 8-month-old Golden Retriever puppy that has filled my household with joy; and a girlfriend of almost nine years who is My Hero, my muse, my partner, my best friend, my inspiration and simply so much fun to spend time with, as well as being the most intelligent and the most gorgeous creature on this planet. Now, add to all that, the Dallas Mavericks are the Champions of the National Basketball Association. Life doesn’t get any better than this.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Available on DVD: “Kaboom”

Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett and Roxanne Mesquida (L-R) in Kaboom
“To clear my head, I went to a nude beach,” says Smith (Thomas Dekker), a cinema studies major struggling with his sexual urges — gay? ambisexual? — and offering a noirish voice-over in Gregg Araki’s crisp, goofy Kaboom.  Of course, clearing his head is the last thing this diversion accomplishes, and before long, Smith is tumbling into bizarre scenarios involving a headless body and creepy dudes in animal masks.

Luckily, there’s his best friend, art student Stella (Haley Bennett), who brings Smith back to reality with pithy observations like “college is just intermission between high school and the rest of your life.”

Stella, who speaks in total deadpan, is a lesbian, and she soon falls swooningly for Lorelei (Roxanne Mesquida), who seems the ideal lover until she starts making these obsessive, stalker-esque Fatal Attraction moves. Suddenly, Stella isn’t deadpanning anymore.

Araki has been making movies for more than 20 years now, and his ideas haven’t evolved all that much. Rocking with energy (and usually with a rocking soundtrack), his pop meditations on the vicissitudes and vagaries of sexual identity are full of handsome women and men with hot bods and arch deliveries. He’s explored all manner of genre — road movies (The Living End), black comedies (The Doom Generation), soaps (Nowhere) — but disaffected youth, clocking in at every point of the Kinsey Scale, are always at the fore. And popular culture and popping violence aren’t far behind.

The meaning — and irony — of Kaboom’s title doesn’t become clear until a beat or two before the end credits roll, and even then it’s hard to say what exactly Araki is getting at.

Lots of sex — straight, gay, group — has preceded this jolting finale, as have a car chase, a shootout, a viral mystery, a serious vomit or two, and some sharp observations about fashion, ‘80s new wave, and Mel Gibson.

Is there anything left to explore?

Friday, June 10, 2011

This should keep the intruders out

Herman Cain
I don’t know how familiar you are with Herman Cain, but a lot of people who don’t have their heads screwed on straight are becoming enamored of this guy who is running for the Republican nomination for President. When he officially announced his candidacy last month, he declared:
“We don't need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America; we need to reread the Constitution, and enforce the Constitution... I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don't want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”
No there isn’t.

Now you would think that the former head of Godfather’s Pizza, or at least one of his handlers, would have been able to tell him the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is found in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

But that’s nothing compared to his latest plan. He wants to build a Great Wall of China along the U.S./Mexico border and on the U.S. side, dig a moat and fill it with alligators. Don’t believe me. Then watch this. And, if you don’t want to watch it, you can read the transcript:
“I just got back from China. Ever heard of the Great Wall of China? It looks pretty sturdy. And that sucker is real high. I think we can build one if we want to! We have put a man on the moon, we can build a fence! Now, my fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology...It will be a twenty foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top, and on this side of the fence, I’ll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat!”

Don’t show this picture to anyone in Tennessee

I say that because, according to this, Tennessee has passed a law that makes it illegal to “transmit or display and image” online that is likely to “frighten, intimidate or cause emotioal distress” to someone who sees it. Look, if someone in Tennessee sees this picture, the next time I’m in that state (which really should be never, thank G-d), I could get busted and wind up in the hoosegow for a year and be slapped with $2,500 in fines.

The cold, hard truth about health care costs

Canada has a single-payer health care system in which the government foots the bill for all medical costs. Great Britain has socialized medicine. That means the government is not only the only insurer, but it also employs all the doctors and nurses and runs all the hospitals. Yet, in spite of that, as measured against our overall economy, the U.S. government pays more in health care costs than either of those two nations. Not only that, the private sector costs are even greater. We spend 16 percent of our gross domestic product in health care. No other country in the world spends more than 12 percent. But there might be a way to remedy this, although it’s definitely not the Republican’s way — they would only make an untenable situation worse.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A brief salute to Ms Abedin

Huma Abedin
There are those silent heroes to whom, when they are caught in a media whirlwind not of their own making, my heart immediately goes out to. One of those who has my sympathies at this moment is Huma Abedin. Keep on keepin’ on, gal.

Apparently she has the support of a group of close, personal friends that include no less than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom she will be traveling to Africa in about a week. And you would be hard-pressed to find a better confidante to get advice from on how to act during times like this than the former First Lady.

Palin conjures up those box-of-rocks comparisons again

Palin, Paul and mangled history
 I wouldn’t have mind it if Sarah (the joke who would be President) Palin had simply mangled the historical accuracy surrounding Paul Revere. Afterall, most Americans’ images of Revere are based not on history books but on a work of fiction — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s popular poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere that was written in 1861, 86 years after Revere, at the behest of physician Joseph Warren, attempted to ride from Boston to Concord to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the regular army, as it was called then, was after them. Revere was one of several riders who made the trip and many of them traveled all the way. Not Revere, however. He never made it past Lexington.

But even Wadsworth never suggested that Revere was “defending the nation” with his ride, as Palin tried to claim. It should have been obvious to this half-term governor that at this time there was no nation to defend — the Declaration of Independence didn’t come into being until a year later. And where Palin got the idea that Revere’s warnings had anything to do with a colonial form of gun control is beyond any logical explanation.

Fortunately we have writers like Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg who know enough about history to put it all in a proper perspective.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Available on DVD: “Anton Chekov’s The Duel”

Fiona Glascott and Andrew Scott in Anton Chekov's The Duel
Probably no one reading this, or next to no one, is looking forward to running out to the closest Movie Trading Company to buy or rent Anton Chekhov’s The Duel. It’s a nice, unobtrusive entry of a kind bound to slip into and out of circulation with little fanfare, an adaptation of a Chekhov novella with a cast of unknowns and a director that few people have heard of. And yet, if you see this movie, it will give you more pleasure and more to think about than any of the more popular entries currently out there.

Of course, a duel is fought in it. We know that going in. Equally obvious, from the movie’s first minutes, is who will fight the duel, though the specific path by which these two men come into conflict is the story of the film. That won’t be revealed here, except to note that the men are opposites bound to clash, who see life, the world and themselves in completely opposed ways.

At the center of the movie is an illicit sexual relationship. In a remote corner of Russia, Laevsky (Andrew Scott) lives with Nadia (Fiona Glascott), who is married to another man. But as the story begins, something is making him crazy — something is burning a hole in his pocket and in his mind. He has received a letter telling him Nadia’s husband is dead. That means he’s going to be expected to marry her, and he wants that about as much as Amy Winehouse wants to go to rehab: He says no, no, no.

Director Dover Koshashvili, screenwriter Mary Bing and not least of all Chekhov himself present Laevsky and Nadia’s interaction with a fascinating precision of observation. She is superficial, flighty and amoral. He is self-absorbed, self-hating and angry. They have a recipe between them for lifelong misery, and yet, buried underneath the accumulating rubble of their relationship, there seems to be something there, a shred of possibility that they might still be happy.

Meanwhile, as Laevsky heads steadily toward some kind of crackup, the young zoologist Von Koren (Tobias Menzies) is confident, sober and self-satisfied. He has purpose. He has money. He is socially at ease, and he’s quite appealing, both to his colleagues and to the viewer. He can express himself without going into neurotic fits, and he lives his life according to a philosophy partly derived from his observations of the natural order. Rightly, he considers himself a superior person. Not inaccurately, he considers Laevsky a pathetic, useless waste.

In fact, everyone in Anton Chekhov’s The Duel, whether he or she realizes it or not, is in a state of crisis. The genius of the story and the pleasure of the film is in observing the ways in which desperation reveals itself and resolves or doesn’t resolve. This is smart, inspired, no-fuss entertainment.

This guy must have attended a Texas public school

I’d be willing to be every last penny I’d ever see in my lifetime on the fact that William Wyler’s version of Ben-Hur opened in 1959. Like right before Thanksgiving of 1959, if memory servces. I’m also willing to wager the national debt that the movie won the Oscar for the best picture of 1959. Not 1961. 1959. Anyone want to argue with that?

A Blue-Ray version of Ben-Hur will be released this September and pictured here you see the cover for this package. Notice anything? What’s with this “Fiftieth Anniversary” business? Look, math has never been my strong suit, but 50 + 1959 doesn’t = 2011. Well, it might if you’re serving in the Texas Legislature, but out in the real world …

The future’s so dark I gotta wear headlights

Politics around here gets more depressing by the day. On the national level, Barach Obama has been an abysmal failure as President. I actually had hopes for him when he got elected, but the man just didn’t get it. His predecessor single-handedly ruined our economy and I had all the hope in the world he would turn it around. He hasn’t. And his failure to turn it around is the single reason all those idiot Tea Party right wingnuts got elected all around the country. Health care reform is a requirement in a civilized society but on the priority scale it falls below jobs. Here’s an idea: Why not send a bunch of folks who are spending their days trying to figure out that to do at the Commerce Department over to the U.S. Patent Office. Go over all the recent patent filings that have been approved for those that might turn into a startup businesses. Then shop matching grant proposals to cities for the rights to locate these companies in their burgs. And what have you got? New jobs. Which translates into new dollars spurring the economy.

Of course, no city in Texas would be eligible for these matching grants. That’s because under the iron fist of Gov. Hair, Texas is systematically dismantling and ultimately destroying the state’s public school system so that there will never be enough people in the state with enough education to compete for the types of jobs these grants will create. Hair’s on his way to doing to the state’s economy what his predecessor did to the country’s. When they are not doing that, the state’s lawmakers are calculatingly disenfranchising the elderly and minorities and anyone else who tend to vote for real leaders instead of partisan political hacks. And these dirty old men spend an inordinate amount of time intefering in the privacy of pregnant women and make it impossible for injured consumers to ever seek justice from the businesses that victimize them.

On the local level, we have two completely out-of-touch candidates running for mayor, one who won’t give a straight answer on building a toll road out where it floods and another who doesn’t understand flow control or how to grow a local economy. And one of these clowns is going to be sitting at the head of the Dallas City Council for the next four years. Thank heavens for the council-manager form of government.

It all reminds me of an Animals song and, no, I’m not referring to The House of the Rising Sun.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Watson speaks out about legislature's education failures

Sen. Kirk Watson
State Senator Kirk Watson writes passionately about the failure of the Texas Legislature and Texas leaders as a whole in the area of education and the broken promises to millions of school children who now must deal with the consequences.

“So who's on the hook for the $4 billion broken promise?” Watson writes “You are. Your kids may be packed into bigger classes, their teachers may be laid off, or your property taxes may go up. Unlike the Legislature, districts can't just push their obligations onto others. They have to be accountable.”

It’s criminal that the leadership of this state simply doesn’t give a damn about the future of children living in Texas.

Now THIS is a community effort: Here's looking at you, Grand Rapids

Miss you, Bo

Bo Diddley
Today (OK, technically it was yesterday now) is the third anniversary of the death of the great Bo Diddley. I remember being in high school when I first heard his recording of Say Man which includes one of my favorite insult lines of all time: “You look like you’ve been whupped with an ugly stick.”

My favorite little known fact about Bo Diddley was that he wrote the Mickey & Sylvia hit Love Is Strange.

My favorite story about Bo Diddley — although I’ve never confirmed its veracity — involved his Nov. 20, 1955, appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Now Sullivan was a pretty conservative guy and was worried about what this colored rock ‘n’ roll singer might do on his show. As he strolled past Diddley’s dressing room, he heard him strumming Tennessee Ernie Ford’s big hit. Sixteen Tons. “That’s it,” Sullivan allegedly told Diddley. “Sing that one.”

Here is the video of Diddley’s appearance on the Sullivan show. Sullivan barred him from ever appearing again.

The 100 Greatest Movie Threats of All Time

Cavs for Mavs

What a great game tonight! One of the greatest if not the gratest in Mavs history to date. Mavs 95-Miami 93. And what made it even better was that I got to watch it and celebrate with My Hero. I mention this because after the game I ran across the above variation on the Mavs logo which proves those folks in Cleveland don't forget all that easily. Thanks to the bloggers at D magazine for leading me to the logo.

Scorsese to direct Liz-Dick film

For some reason it’s difficult for me to imagine that Elizabeth Taylor was only 29 years old when she met and fell in love with Richard Burton the set of Cleopatra. It seems that she had led a couple of lifetimes by then.

I mention this because word came out today that Paramount pictures and director Martin Scorsese are teaming to make a movie about the Taylor-Burton love affair. The film will be based on the book Furious Love that came out last year.

The story made no mention of who might star in the film. I can see Daniel Craig as Burton and Charlize Theron as Liz, although others are talking about Russell Crowe and Angelina Jolie.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I may be somewhat stocky, but folks in Philly still call be Rocky

Trust me, I’m not making this up. Sylvester Stallone is negotiating with the production team responsible for the current Broadway musical production of Sister Act about turning his 1976 Oscar-winning film Rocky into a musical. The plans right now are to have it ready to open in Germany (I have no idea why) in the fall of 2012 and then on Broadway by spring 2013. Stallone would not be a member of the cast.

I could’ve fallen for the lovely Maid Marion
But instead I’ll just have to yell “Yo, Adrian”

I’ve got to find a way to win the title somehow
Because, as every knows, I’m gonna fly now

A whole lot of reasons (as if I needed any more) to pull for the Mavs to beat the Heat

Rick Reilly
I have always admired Rick Reilly. It used to be, when my weekly copy of Sports Illustrated came in the mail, I immediately flipped to the end of the mag to red Rick’s weekly column. He no longer writes for SI. Now he’s a scribe for That just means he’s more difficult find, but still a pleasure to read.

Especially when he lists all these wonderfully valid reasons America should be pulling for the Mavericks to win this NBA title.

I’ve got a bigger bet on the Mavs than the guv

What’s this? Gov. Hair is betting a case of barbecue sauce on the Mavs? (Of course, the cheapskate governor of Florida Rick Scott is only putting up a measly key lime pie.) C’mon, guys? What kind of chicken-hearted bet is this? At least I’m wagering a steak dinner with my South Florida correspondent. Well, not exactly. You see, we wagered a steak dinner in 2006 and I have yet to pay up — I’m using the excuse that he refuses to come back to Texas where one can get a much better steak than in Florida (which considers Outback as the top of the class). As I understand our bet this time around (I was heavily sedated because of my excitement over the Oklahoma City series when I made the bet) we’re still having the steak dinner, but we’ll be going dutch. Or something like that.

But, the devil with the details, at least there’s a steak involved and we’re talking about a 3 Forks or a Bob’s or a Al Biernat’s-level steak here and not some rinky-dink barbecue sauce.

Of course, even our steak bet doesn’t measure up to this one.