Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Available on DVD: “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”

Morgan Spurlock pitching The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Morgan Spurlock could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. After watching his documentary Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold I could imagine this charming red-headed 40-year-old filmmaker raking in money as a door-to-door salesman of crummy encyclopedias in the slums of Philadelphia or as a pitchman in an infomercial peddling a flimsy abdominal toner. He could probably earn millions as a motivational speaker.

For what Spurlock says matters less than the way he says it. Cocky with an undertone of ironic self-deprecation that forestalls accusations of insincerity, he is a superb promoter of himself as a brand. In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold he may look ridiculous wearing clothes plastered with corporate logos, but he lets us in on the joke.

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is even more amusing than Super Size Me, the documentary that put Spurlock on the moviemaking map in 2004. In that film he jeopardized his own health by restricting himself for a month to an all-McDonald’s diet. By the end of his experiment his numbers (weight, cholesterol and blood pressure) had shot up to potentially dangerous levels.

Like Super Size Me his new film is a documentary comedy in the Michael Moore mode but without a political or moral agenda. Spurlock has Moore’s prankster’s instincts, though not his sense of outrage. Exploring product placement in movies and on television, the documentary is as much celebration as it is a critique of what is called co-promotion, in which movies like Spider-Man 2 are infiltrated with images of brand-name products that pay for the exposure. If The Greatest Movie Ever Sold affects the attitude of an exposé, Spurlock is really a gleeful participant in the corruption (if that’s what you want to call it) that his movie purports to criticize.

The conceptual joke is that the entire project was financed by conspicuously placed products in a film that is little more than a string of ads for its sponsors, stitched together with scenes of Spurlock hustling like crazy to line them up. Brief appearances by Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader lend it a frisson of cultural and intellectual weight.

Spurlock hits the jackpot with Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice that markets itself as an antioxidant and that is supposed to have a Viagra effect if you drink enough of it. For $1 million, Pom Wonderful earned the privilege of having its name on the marquee in front of the title of this $1.5 million film.

For Spurlock to get his million his contract with Pom Wonderful stipulated that the movie must gross $10 million at the box office (it didn't, but that's high for a documentary anyway), sell 500,000 DVDs and downloads, and generate 600 million “media impressions.”

Other products prominently featured include Merrell shoes, JetBlue, Hyatt, Sheetz convenience stores, and (mostly bizarrely) Mane ’n Tail, a shampoo marketed to equestrians for use by both humans and horses. Of all the film’s comedic ads the funniest finds Spurlock sharing a bathtub with a tiny pony.

His idea for a “doc-buster” supported by corporate sponsors, he says, was a tough sell. Telephone calls to several hundred companies are met with indifference and sometimes suspicion, which is not surprising because Super Size Me, for all its humor, attacked McDonald’s.

Finally Ban deodorant invites Spurlock to a meeting where he works his fast-talking magic. More than once the movie shows Spurlock, armed with clever storyboards, selling his ideas with an enthusiasm and skill that would put Don Draper of Mad Men to shame.

The actual product placements in which Spurlock is shown plugging the sponsors who eventually sign on to the project are so outrageous that you want to laugh. Here the insidious “hidden persuaders” of Vance Packard’s book on subliminal advertising are gaudily on display.

The movie takes two tangents: one productive, the other mystifying. A visit to São Paulo, Brazil, where outdoor advertising has been banned, is almost shocking for the absence of Times Square-style signs. If the city looks pure without such visual stimulation, it also seems naked and poor.

The movie, which keeps a sprinting momentum, suddenly reaches a dead halt in a section that debates putting advertising in budget-strapped Florida public schools and on school buses to raise money. If the sequence belongs anywhere, it would be in a movie about paying for public education, not advertising.

What would The Greatest Movie Ever Sold be with a different narrator-guide?

It is hard to imagine. Spurlock has the gift of gab along with an undeniable star quality. In fact I’ve already ordered the ab toner and am saving up for a down payment on the Brooklyn Bridge should he offer it up for sale.

I really hate it when the trailer appears to give away the punch line

Another piece in the “Les Miz” puzzle

Anne Hathaway
It finally looks like my all-time favorite stage musical, Les Miserables, may actually be coming to the screen the way it should. First I heard that Tom Hooper, who just won the Oscar for The King’s Speech, was going to direct and that Hugh Jackman would play Jean Valjean, Now comes word that that Anne Hathaway is going to portray Fantine, the woman who, on her deathbed, pleads with Valjean to take care of her daughter Cosette. So far, so good.

Learning about this bit of casting today also gives me the excuse to once again post one of my favorite pictures.

Obama to go up against GOP presidential debate

President Obama sent a letter today to both houses of Congress saying he wants to address a joint session at 7 p.m. one week from today on his plans to create jobs and boost the economy. What makes that time and date interesting is that it coincides exactly with the time and date of the next planned Republican Presidential debate.

I haven’t decided whether this is a brilliant move or a major blunder, but I’m leaning to the former because, except for the morally and politically corrupt FOX News, the President, regardless of a party affiliation, always has the bully pulpit where the media is concerned. And, of course, the GOP will have the opportunity to present its response immediately after the President’s address, even though these responses are largely meaningless — they are prepared before anyone knows what the President is actually going to say so they are less of a response and more of a reiteration of a political party’s tired ideology.

In his letter to Congress, the President said it is his “intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses, helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks of the middle class and working Americans.”

I’m thinking the GOP Presidential hopefuls should reschedule their debate, which could be even more informative once they hear what the President has to say.

Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on the rich, but they do on the poor

From the editorial page of today’s New York Times:

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.

Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the “injustice” that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.

Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”

This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.

Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — which would be required if everyone paid income taxes — makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.

The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.
©2011 The New York Times

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ramshaw in The Times

Emily Ramshaw
Emily Ramshaw, one of the many excellent reporters to escape from the ever-confining clutches of the Dallas Morning News, had a co-bylined story today in The New York Times about Gov. Hair and his embracing of states rights as a political theme, but not necessarily a reality. It makes for good reading. Ramshaw, by the way, has not joined other great ex-News reporters such as Peter Applebome at The Times, as far as I can tell. It appears she is still in the employ of the Texas Tribune.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gov. Hair signs pledge to make sure government interferes in private lives

Gov. Hair, who talks poorly out of both sides of his mouth, has signed a pledge saying if elected president he would push for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriages. Da Guv, who, in announcing his candidacy in Columbia, S.C., just 15 days ago, said he wanted “to make Washington, D.C., as insignificant in our lives as possible,” has gone back on that promise by vowing to only appoint judges who oppose gay marriages and to appoint a presidential commission to investigate alleged harassment of those who oppose gay marriages.

The man has absolutely no conscience. Yeah, Washington, D.C., will stay out of your lives as long as you live you life exactly the way Hair wants you to.

From the folks about to bring you "Drive" ....

... now comes "Drive Wars"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Disney plans on ruining “The Lion King”

The money-grubbing corporate-fellators at the Disney Corporation are getting ready to free The Lion King from its vaults, but not before ruining the memories of many who saw it when it was first released in 1994.

But before it comes out in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on Oct. 4, Disney will be releasing in theaters Sept. 16 a re-jiggered version of the film in 3D. The home version of the 3D mistake will also be released simultaneously with the combo pack.

Why do these cockroaches have to mess with perfection?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The future is in the past

Can a silent, black and white film be successful in the age of super special effects? The Weinstein Company is betting the answer is “yes” and judging from the overwhelmingly positive response I’m hearing about The Artist, it may be right. In fact, it is currently regarded as a front runner for a best picture Oscar nomination.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Proposed redistricing map: 5 white districts, 5 Hispanic districts, 3 black districts, one tossup (not really)

Proposed map of Dallas City Council districts
Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill cannot be a happy camper right about now. In the redistricting map that is being sent to the City Council by the Redistricting Commission, her District 5 has a 69 percent Hispanic population and a 22.5 percent black population. That does not bode well for a black seeking re-election to that district.

Newly election Anglo council member Scott Griggs will, if this map is approved, represent a district that is 58.8 percent Hispanic.

Only two districts, D-Wayne Carriedaway’s 4, and Tennell Atkins’s 8 can be considered absolutely safe districts for African-American representation. Caroline Davis’s District 7 has populatation that is 48 percent black, which should be good for a black candidate for now.

Other than 3 and 5, the predominantly Hispanic districts are the same as before: 1 (Delia Jasso), 2 (Pauline Medrano), and 6 (Monica Alonzo).

Angela Hunt’s District 14 (she is term limited so couldn’t run under any new map) which now stretches to Love Field on the west side of Highland Park, now only borders its ritzy neighbor on the south and the east. It is the whitest district in the city with an Anglo population of 69.3 percent.

Interestingly enough, the only district that does not have over 50 percent of either black, Hispanic or white citizens is mine, District 10. Hooray. I now live in the most diverse section of the city. I imagine however white candidates will still be elected to represent 10, although with a voting age population that is 42 percent white, 31 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic, that candidate might gave to be more liberal than those who represented this area in the past.

Of course, the City Council hasn’t gotten its grimy hands on this thing yet. The steam you see coming from the council’s chambers is probably emanating from Hill’s offices and she seeks ways to sabotage what the Redistricting Commission took great pains to accomplish.

Incidentally, if you want a comparison, here’s how the council districts are currently gerrymandered configured.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gurus of Gold’s first Oscar predictions

The Gurus of Gold, a panel of movie “experts,” who vote on which pictures, actors, etc., have the best chance of winning Oscars, has released its first poll. This panel is usually fairly accurate. Last year, while I was tooting my horn for The Social Network and all the early precursors said that movie was a lock for best picture, the Gurus never wavered from The King’s Speech. In its rankings that come out this time last year, nine of its top 10 choices were nominated and its 11th pick was the 10th nominee.

This year is going to be a little more difficult because under the current rules, we won’t know how many best picture nominees there will be until the day the nominations are announced. All we know is that it’s going to be a minimum of five and a maximum of 10.

In the Gurus’ tabulation, strong support for any one film falls off after seven, so I’m going to assume for right now that there will be seven nominees and according to the Gurus, they will be (in the order the Gurus ranked them) War Horse, The Ides of March, The Artist, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris and J. Edgar. If the list does stretch to 10, the Gurus say the final three will be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; and Tree of Life.

Mayor Mike’s Committee Appointments

Mayor Mike
There are some head scratchers to be sure (Vonciel Jones Hill as chair of the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee?), but overall they are free of the political bias that shamed his predecessor’s appointments. Not only has Mayor Mike made Angela Hunt a committee chair (Quality of Life), he had the courage to appoint her to the Trinity River Committee, where she has belonged ever since she joined the council. No one on the City Council has studied the project, no one on the council knows more about the ins and outs of the project’s process than Hunt. Former Mayor Tom Leppert unfairly, unjustly, punished Hunt for her opposition to the Trinity Parkway, but now she is back where she can bring the most value to the project and the city overall.

I also like Mayor Mike’s directive to the Trinity Committee, put “safety” (i.e., the integrity of the river’s levees) as “our top priority,” but also saying “the short term question is how do we get some recreational projects moving as soon as possible?” That, and not a tollway that will never be constructed anyway, should be the emphasis.

Mayor Mike also created a new committee, Arts, Culture and Library, appointed Ann Margolin as its chair and said its directive would be to “develop alternative funding plans” for them, exactly the correct move in these days when tax funds for the arts and libraries are being reduced and will continue to be reduced.

I did wonder why he told the Economic Development Committee “Southern Dallas needs to be turned into a growth engine for Dallas and the region. Let’s push the right initiatives to accomplish this goal.” But he named only one South Dallas council member, albeit its chair (Tennell Atkins), to the committee. The other members are Ann Margolin (vice chair), Sheffie Kadane and Jerry Allen (all considered North Dallas reps); and Monica Alonzo (West Dallas). That one puzzles me.

It will be interesting to see how Carolyn Davis measures up as a committe chair (Housing), particularly when the vice chair is Scott Griggs who is emerging as the most innovative thinker on the current council. If that boils down to a battle of intellects, it won’t be a fair fight.

Overall, I would give Mayor Mike’s committee assignments a B+.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Let’s play: “Guess Who’s Talking”

Here are the rules: You have to guess who is talking in each of the following clips. It will be one of these four individuals: Josh Brolin, George W. Bush, Will Ferrell or Rick Perry. The answers are below:

Clip #1: Josh Brolin
Clip #2: Rick Perry
Clip #3: George W. Bush
Clip #4: Rick Perry
Clip #5: Will Ferrell
Clip #6: Rock Perry

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Available on DVD: “Queen to Play”

Kevin Kline and Sandrine Bonnaire in Queen to Play
Caroline Bottaro’s tangy comic bonbon, Queen to Play, plucks the game of chess out of the metaphorical realm of spy thrillers and re-imagines it as a fable about relationships and upward mobility. Adapted from Bertina Henrichs’s novel The Chess Player, this slight but captivating movie (Bottaro’s directorial debut) compares the strategies of chess to the erotic maneuvers in a flirtatious pas de deux that may be more satisfying than actual sex. At the same time, a woman’s winning the game symbolizes female empowerment in a man’s world and ascent from working-class drudgery to the bourgeoisie.

Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire), the movie’s sly, middle-aged Cinderella, is an attractive chambermaid at a luxury hotel in Corsica. While going about her chores, she observes a chess game being played by a sexy American couple (Jennifer Beals and Dominic Gould) on the balcony of their suite. Stealthy moves accompanied by insinuating eye contact culminate with the woman’s defeating the man and flashing Hélène a smile of conspiratorial glee.

Hélène takes the hint, and at a birthday party for her husband, a handsome dockworker named Ange (Francis Renaud), she presents him with an electronic chess set in the hopes of re-igniting the spark in their marriage. Ange is mystified and vaguely annoyed by the gift. When he expresses no interest in learning the game, Hélène begins teaching herself to play and quickly becomes obsessed.

Queen to Play is a lighthearted, grown-up fairy tale in which chess consumes Hélène’s imagination and transforms her life. As she mops a black-and-white checkered floor, it becomes a surreal dreamscape. At a restaurant she makes chess pieces out of crumbled bread and pushes them around the squares of the red-and-white tablecloth.

The intimate looks exchanged by the characters as they compete for advantage in a game in which the queen is the most powerful piece tell us as much about them as anything they say. Sometimes chess even suggests a mental striptease in which the players shed their defenses as they exchange glances and dare each other to go forward. At other times it conjures a war between the sexes, with Hélène the feminist upstart challenging male dominance.

Avid to learn more, she discovers a chess set in the house of Dr. Kröger (Kevin Kline, in his first entirely French-speaking role), a widowed American professor for whom she works as a part-time housecleaner. She volunteers to clean his place in exchange for weekly chess lessons. A mysterious figure suffering from an unidentified lung ailment, Kröger agrees. When, after only a few lessons, she is regularly beating him, he urges her to enter a local tournament.

In small but significant ways, Queen to Play defies expectations. It dangles the possibility of an affair between Hélène and Kröger in games that the film likens to courtship rituals in a classic screwball comedy. But their flirtation is never physically consummated.

Hélène’s relationships with her husband and rebellious teenage daughter, Lisa (Alexandra Gentil), undergo surprising transformations. Ange, initially threatened by Hélène’s passion, which keeps her out late and distracts her from housework, is initially so suspicious that he follows her to a lesson and spies on her. But once he realizes that she has a gift, his jealousy turns to admiration, and the flame of desire is rekindled. Lisa, who is so ashamed and contemptuous of her parents for being “poor” that she refuses to invite boyfriends to the house, becomes her mother’s fervent champion.

Bonnaire’s Hélène subtly evolves from a harried, resentful domestic wearing a perpetually hurt expression into a woman who discovers her power. Kline, as the haughty, secretive professor with a kind heart under a prickly exterior gives one of his finest screen performances, executed with minute fluctuations in his body language.

In their most delicious scene Hélène and Kröger play an imaginary game of chess away from the board. Gazing into each other’s eyes, they engage in what has the ring of intellectual pillow talk. Although the conversation is entirely chaste, in the intensity with which they study each other’s signals, they might as well be newlyweds.

Before They Were Famous

Texas Killing Fields

This film, adapted from a book by the same name, is based on accounts of women who were picked up along I-45 north of Houston. They were murdered and their bodies were dumped in a nearby oil field. It will be in competition at next month’s Venice Film Festival.

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) was originally supposed to direct the film, but he bowed out saying the subject matter was simply” too dark and the film could never be made.” Amy Mann, the daughter of director Michael Mann (who also produced the film), took over.

Its domestic opening in scheduled for Oct. 17.

Incidentally, filming took place in Louisiana.

A preview of Polanski's latest

This Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Broadway play, God of Carnage, that starred Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Jeff Daniels. While that was an outstanding cast, this one looks pretty top-notch as well.

Paying college athletes

The mess at Miami, where a jailed university athletic booster has claimed he provided illegal benefits to school athletes, has raised the question once again whether college athletes should be paid in some form.

I’m convinced they should be and I’m also convinced there’s a sensible way of paying them that would allow university compliance officials to track how athletes spend the money they receive and prevent athletes from abusing the system.

Here’s the reality of the situation. Colleges will recruit athletes, many, if not most of them, from backgrounds that would not afford them a college education if they had to pay it for it themselves. Their tuition is provided, and, in most cases, their schoolbooks are paid for, they are given room and board in a dormitory and that’s it. If they want to go to a movie, if they want to treat a date to a dinner at Chili’s, if they want to purchase a new polo shirt, they must do that with their own coin. Yet NCAA is so restrictive on how athletes can earn extra money, it’s no wonder some of them are attracted to outside, often illegal, benefactors.

Here’s all that needs to happen. Have the NCAA contract with either Mastercard or VISA to design a special all-college “smart card.” The compliance officials at individual universities will then decide which business establishments at their respective locales will accept the cards. The first one should be the university’s book store. Then it should be casual-dining restaurants (the cards would be good for anything at the restaurants except alcoholic beverages), movie theaters and casual clothing stores, perhaps some convenience/grocery stores (maintaining the alcoholic beverage prohibition), barbers/beauticians, dry cleaners/laundries, even auto service stations. Each month additional cash would be loaded into the cards and the athletes would be given secure account login and password information to be used to determine at any time how much money was in their account, The statements of expenditures would go to the compliance officials so they could track the expenses of each athlete to detect any abnormalities.

I’m not going to speculate on how much money should be loaded on the cards each month, only to argue it should be tied to a cost-of-living index of the school’s locale. But the member NCAA universities should be the final arbiter of that. I would also argue that a female athlete on a volleyball scholarship should receive the same monthly allotment as the school’s starting quarterback.

I’m convinced this is a sensible solution and a workable plan. Which means the NCAA will never adopt it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nancy Pelosi/Newt Gingrich Commercial on Climate Change

This is an interesting artifact.

Redistricting success

I was thinking of heading down to City Hall Saturday to voice my opinions on the city’s redistricting process, particularly to argue that my neighborhood had more in common with the Lake Highlands area of District 10 than District 11, where the hood is situated now. But then I took a close look at the three maps that will be presented for public comment at Saturday’s meeting, and, whaadyaknow, all three have me moved to District 10. Yeah! Gives me more time to spend with the blonde pictured here Saturday.

This one looks interesting

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a good thriller and a well acted courtroom drama. Obviously you can’t judge that much by one trailer but this one looks like it might be both. We’ll know more when it’s scheduled to open Sept. 19, but I have a good feeling about this one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Available on DVD “Stake Land”

Nick Damici and Connor Paolo in Stake Land
Jim Mickle and Nick Damici’s latest collaboration is filled with fanged bloodsuckers, but the vampire movie label doesn’t fit. The filmmakers seemed to choose their antagonist just to spend the rest of the film being contrary to expectations.

Stake Land bursts with action, ideas and interesting characters. If you have to pick a category, the movie should be filed with zombie movies or post-apocalyptic Westerns. But there’s a spare intimacy and slow-building tension that makes the movie a closer cousin to Winter’s Bone than Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Damici is Mister, a vampire killer who rescues teen Martin (Connor Paolo) in Pennsylvania, and they travel north toward Canada visiting the remaining pockets of humanity. The first scene features Martin’s baby brother getting eaten and discarded like a chicken wing, and that’s nowhere near the peak of grim imagery. There are bad people out there, including the Brotherhood, a pseudo-Christian group that seems to be siding with the vampires.

There’s also a strong foundation of humanity, as the jaded warriors meet a very functional new family played almost exclusively by actors you used to love and haven’t seen in a while — including Witness star Kelly McGillis as a nun, and Fresh protagonist Sean Nelson all grown up as a military vet.

Director/writer Mickle and co-writer Damici are guilty of too-convenient plot turns. And the last 20 minutes jarringly turns into a Joss Whedon TV pilot. But there are so many wonderful details packed in between that any flaws are easily forgiven. The Brotherhood’s method of using aircraft filled with vampires to attack cities is a particularly genius Sept. 11 allusion.

The cinematography has a distinct Terrence Malick vibe, and the production design and location scouting are outstanding — taking advantage of several real-life post-industrial wastelands in rural America. Fans of low budget survival horror will be thrilled. This is a bold and memorable step forward in the genre.

Schutze hijacked by trucking interests

It was interesting to read Dallas Observer columnist George Schutze’s article about Flow Control, which is nothing more than the ridiculous rehashing of the off-the-subject rantings espoused by the commercial garbage haulers who, for their own selfish reasons, naturally oppose the plan.

I, for one, can’t understand why anyone would be opposed to converting this into this, which, in short, is exactly what the result of Flow Control will be. When City Councilman Tennell Atkins recently visited such a recyling facility already up and operating in northern California a couple of weeks ago he returned extremely impressed by the possibilities. And Mayor Mike Rawlings is sold completely on the benefits Flow Control will bring to South Dallas. But Schutze seems to be against plans that will provide low cost energy to power thousands of homes and enough fuel to drive the City of Dallas’ entire sanitation fleet.

And I really can’t be believe Schutze couldn’t read between the lines of Mike Sorrell’s recent op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News. He called it “very persuasive.” The only person I’ve heard it persuaded was Schutze. All that op-ed piece was about was positioning Sorrell as some self-appointed savior for South Dallas.

He also needs to talk to City Council member Carolyn Davis. She, too, was worried about the effect Flow Control would have on the landfill’s residential neighbors. So she took a trip to the landfill and discovered what eveyone else who has actually been to the place already knows — the landfill doesn’t have any residential neighbors.

Schutze wrote Flow control “does not include a single element of community consciousness.” I guess his complete ignorance of the situation may be forgivable here because it is obvious he only considered one side of this argument and relied completely on the city’s briefing materials for the other side. That means he is completely unaware of the entire Flow Control proposal which includes a lot of benefits to a wider area including new academic programs and incentives for Paul Quinn College, of which the aforementioned Sorrell is the president. Which makes Sorrell's actions doubly painful. Here is a school that has lost a lot of its accreditation, but is Sorrell interested in promoting the academic interests at his school? Obviously not. He is only interested in promoting himself and it’s a shame Schutze and others can’t see through this charade. The details of this “community consciousness” will be revealed during upcoming council briefings, but would have been available to Schutze before he wrote his piece had he only had the journalistic ethic to ask instead of being hijacked by the truckers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

OMG: Austin is back from the dead

I’m not talking about the state’s capital city, although I have come to realize that if I wanted to return to the city I knew and loved in the 1960s, I would have to move to San Marcos.

No, the Austin I’m referring to here is Austin Powers. In news that positively excites some folks (although not I), Mike Meyers has agreed to star in the fourth installment of the series and the first since 2002.

I must admit I did like the first Austin Powers movie. However, the concept that made the first film work — a 1960s character thrust into the 1990s — was almost completely ignored in the second two films.

We’ll just have to wait and see if the script writers botch this one, too, or return to the format that made the first film a success.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Run, Bourne, run

As most faithful readers know by now, I’m thoroughly disgusted by President Obama’s performance. It turns out he is a wishy-washy right-of-center appeaser who doesn’t have the courage to draw any sort of line in the sand.

To make matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of alternative on the horizon. Obama will undoubtedly win renomination from the Democrats and the Republicans seem intent on finishing the job No. 43 started —destroying our economy and creating a society where only the uber rich have any political voice.

One thing I find terribly interesting. For the most part, the Hollywood community is regarded as “liberal,” yet the Republicans have had far more success with actors running for political office than Democrats have. However, as this video proves, there is a Hollywood candidate-in-waiting that I know I could support wholeheartedly. He’s got youth, he’s got the intellectual capacity and I, for one, think he would be the best candidate available right now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Available on DVD: “Cold Weather”

Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn in Cold Weather
Low-key and lovely, the independent movie Cold Weather opens with a shot of raindrops clinging to a pane of glass, a fitting introduction for a movie about characters who are revealed gradually, as if through a glass — not darkly, but obliquely. With brooding, expressive digital photography, a rooted sense of place and characters that seem as real as the people next door, the director Aaron Katz has created a lived-in world that’s so intimate and familiar that even with the story’s unexpected turns, you might not initially see its art for its everydayness.

The lead characters are a brother and sister, Doug (Cris Lankenau) and Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), who, when the movie opens, have recently moved together into a small apartment in Portland, Ore. Although they have an easy, comfortable way with each other, they don’t seem especially close. A glimmer of tension flashes during a dinner they have early on with their parents when Gail raises and then quickly drops some issue between her and Doug. But because she refuses to get into it, quickly moving on with a wave of her hand and a short laugh, you never learn what if anything happened, which wasn’t the point of the scene anyway. What matters is her refusal to engage as well as the searching look Doug gives her.

As a filmmaker, Katz, who wrote as well as edited the movie (from a story by him and two of his producers, Brendan McFadden and Ben Stambler), approaches his themes in a roundabout fashion. Yet while many of the first scenes don’t seem to be overtly advancing any specific idea or even much of the story, each adds a subtle new note, a bit of texture, a thin layer of meaning. Here, meaning doesn’t come hurtling at you in great expository chunks, as it often does in movies, but through an accretion of true-to-life details, notably in the hesitant gestures, offhand exchanges and sidelong glances (Katz is an adept choreographer of looks not quite met), the sighs and visible longings of people groping toward one another.

Things happen: Doug, who has dropped out of college, where he was, somewhat surprisingly, studying forensic science and criminal justice — he seems far too laid back and self-preoccupied to be interested in exterior pursuits — gets a job in an ice factory. There, he meets Carlos (Raúl Castillo), a part-time D.J. who quickly becomes a friend. A former girlfriend of Doug’s, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), also materializes and soon the four settle into intimate rhythms. They talk, drink, go clubbing. Doug lends Carlos a Sherlock Holmes book, and you think nothing of it. But when Rachel, after failing to meet Carlos one night, seems to disappear, the plot suddenly thickens or really just very gently shifts focus.

That shift modestly quickens the pulse of the story, but also turns out to be something of a sly red herring. Embracing the role of detective (at last, all that schooling pays off!), Doug leads an investigation, with Gail and Carlos eagerly in tow, that takes the tale from one secret to another in quiet, sometimes off-kilter comic scenes that are often more Abbott and Costello (with a touch of the Hardy boys) than Holmes and Watson. The no-tech nature of the sleuthing (Doug ferrets out one clue by scribbling a pencil on a blank motel notepad, revealing the indentations left underneath by another hand) keeps the story in the realm of the plausible, even as the minor twists add slow-moving ripples of restrained excitement.

In time, the case is solved, though it’s satisfying that Katz is more interested in exploring the mysteries of other people than in playing around with genre. (He does like to play, too, as is evident in the joyful, goofy, almost-no-action climax that comes complete with disguises, running engines and slashed car tires.) As in his previous features, Dance Party, USA and Quiet City (also available for rental and also highly recommended), Cold Weather concerns young people moving from a preoccupying sense of self to an embracing understanding of another human being. With only the most natural of conversations and an exacting relay of close-ups, intimate two shots and meditative landscapes, Katz reveals how the self-knowing individual becomes known to others, and me turns into we.

That possibly sounds heavier than Cold Weather plays out onscreen, and one of the pleasures of this unassuming yet expansive movie is how it shoulders its weighty human subject so lightly. With no grand speeches or oversized gestures, Katz creates a specific world that gracefully enlarges with universal meaning. It’s a world in which a simple coffee table (carried home by Doug in the beginning) becomes the literal centerpiece for newfound friendship, as the four characters meet for the first time one night, hanging out while Keegan DeWitt’s tinkling percussive music keeps them company. As the camera (the cinematographer is the gifted Andrew Reed) moves around the table from one to the other, the warm light brightens their faces, pulling them out of the dark and toward shared discovery.

Line of the week

Unfortunately, I don’t know who deserves the credit for this gem, but I’m passing it along just the same:

S&P just downgraded the Tea Party to KK+.

Good EVEning

This one speaks for itself. Priceless.

Leppert: Demand Hair resign

Tom Leppert
Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison, a race he doesn’t have a chance of winning,. But at least he might be able to grab a few headlines in his quest.

Gov. Hair is going to fly to South Carolina Saturday to announce he’s running for the GOP Presidential nomination. Leppert should start a campaign demanding Hair resign as governor on the grounds (baseless as it is because the governor of Texas really has nothing much to do when the legislature not in session) that he can’t devote his full attention to the job while running for president. After all, didn’t Leppert resign as mayor for the same reason.

Now Hair is way too greedy to give in to such demands, but the more Leppert presses the more he keeps his name out in front of the body politic. And just think about what may happen in the highly unlikely scenario in which Hair, for the first time in his political career, actually acts in the best interest of Texas and does resign. Then Leppert’s chief foe for the Senate nomination, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, becomes governor. And what happens if Dave decides he likes living in the governor’s mansion more than he does a Georgetown townhouse?

Hey, Tom, are you listening to me here?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ever been attacked by an owl ... in slow motion?

Anyone remember the Cowboy Twinkies? Sure you do. That was the band that backed up Ray Wylie Hubbard just a scant 40 years or so ago. Anyway, the lead guitarist for the Cowboy Twinkies was a chap named Terry Ware (as I recall, Hubbard had the nickname “Buffalo” in there somewhere — I have no idea why). I mention this only because it is Ware who led me in the direction of this amazing clip.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Available on DVD: “The Music Never Stopped”

Lou Taylor Pucci and J.K. Simmons in The Music Never Stopped
You know those dads who are such music freaks that they teach their children everything about Dylan, say, or Springsteen, and then flip out when the kids go over to A Tribe Called Quest? Sure you do. (Me, I just look in the mirror.) The Music Never Stopped is about how one of those dads gets his comeuppance and realizes how lucky he is.

Fictionalized from an actual medical case written about by neurologist Oliver Sacks in his early-’90s essay The Last Hippie, the movie is a drably directed yet terrifically affecting drama about family bonds, classic rock, and the human brain.

The reliable character actor J.K. Simmons (Juno) tamps his energy down for a rare lead role as Henry Sawyer, a mechanical engineer who, when the film opens in 1986, is nearing retirement and stuck in a rut. Henry is a fusspot and a fanatic for the music of the pre-rock era — the big bands, the show tunes — and he has never forgiven his only child, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), for rebelling with Jimi and the Stones and Gabriel’s beloved Grateful Dead.

Gone for 20 years, the prodigal son turns up in the hospital, his brain gutted by an enormous tumor. It’s removed and the prognosis is good, except that Gabriel can no longer form short-term memories. For him, the year is still 1970, that rat Nixon is still in office, and Dad remains the Man.

Initially catatonic, Gabriel comes to life whenever music is played. To the delight of his therapist, Dianne (Julia Ormond), and the chagrin of his father, he responds tepidly to Bing Crosby yet ecstatically to the Beatles, to Cream, to the Dead’s Uncle John’s Band. It’s here that The Music Never Stopped ceases to be a curiously glum tale of intergenerational strife and turns into something strange and new. The only way for Henry to help Gabriel find himself — the only way he can be with his son — is to become a classic-rock junkie.

This is a sight to see, warming and often hilarious, and I’m betting that Simmons read the script and thought of Richard Jenkins’s character in The Visitor, another frozen soul thawed by polyrhythms. The four corners of The Music Never Stopped are exquisitely acted, with Simmons gradually letting Henry’s freak flag fly, Pucci conveying the encyclopedic rock junkie inside the lost boy, Ormond showing the joy in professionalism, and Cara Seymour as Henry’s wife, Helen, gathering strength as her character finally becomes her own person.

A really good director might have created a classic out of this. Jim Kohlberg, a producer (Two Family House) making his behind-the-camera debut, moves the narrative along effectively but with zero visual style, and the hair and makeup in the flashback scenes are a disaster. He knows enough to get out of the story’s way, at least, and he’s very lucky to have a music supervisor, Susan Jacobs, who gets the right songs for the right scenes. (The bit where Gabriel explains Desolation Row to his father is a giddy highlight.)

Not surprisingly, the prevailing vibe of The Music Never Stopped is set by Ripple, Truckin’, and other mellow, forgiving Grateful Dead warhorses. (The band’s Mickey Hart has been involved with this story from the very beginning.) That may draw you in or send you running for the hills. Whatever your musical tastes, though, the film’s a charmer with unexpected things to say about fathers and sons, the back roads of the brain, and the peculiar music fanaticism of so many otherwise mature men. It’s one to remember.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Available on DVD: “My Dog Tulip”

“Dogs read the world through their noses and write their history in urine,” wrote the British author J.R. Ackerley in his 1956 memoir My Dog Tulip, in which he examined the most fulfilling relationship of his adult life.

The book has been turned into a marvelous animated feature, full of quiet joy, honest sorrow, wisdom and a wealth of clinical detail both excremental and reproductive, all rendered in a charming style approximating the dog drawings of James Thurber. It’s not for kids, at least preteens. It is, however, for anyone over the age of 12 who has ever loved a rather difficult personality.

The book was new to me, and as the faithful adaptation proves, it is full of pearls. For example: “Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs.” Or this, spoken by Christopher Plummer, who provides the voice (and what a voice!) of Ackerley, describing why his Alsatian (or German Shepherd), Tulip, insists on waking him at least once nightly: “She wishes to reassure herself that I am not dead.”

The story emerging from the film is told chronologically but with witty, imaginative visual freedom. Adopted by the confirmed bachelor at age 18 months, Tulip had a rough start with her previous owners, who beat her and turned her into a paranoid biter. Slowly, she improves. Man and dog embark on outings together, usually fractious. Ackerley’s bossy sister (voiced by Lynn Redgrave, in her final performance) comes to live with them, with divisive results. Always we come back to Ackerley’s point of view. Tulip, he says, “offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: Constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion.”

Directors and animators Paul Fierlinger and Sandra Fierlinger are no less devoted to Ackerley. Their computer-generated but recognizably hand-made drawings (more than 58,000 in all) roam stylistically from black-and-white backgrounds, with lots of white space and room for fantasy, to fuller, more detailed full-color landscapes of London, Ackerley’s Putney flat, or a seaside vacation.

The whole thing’s wrapped up in a choice musical score, ranging from jazz to classical, by John Avarese. Your tear ducts will not be subjected to the sort of pummeling a dog movie such as Marley & Me or My Dog Skip favors. Nonetheless My Dog Tulip is extremely moving, exceedingly droll, flawlessly voice-acted and the nicest possible way to spend an evening at home, especially if you have a devoted dog, like a golden retriever named Ginger, by your side.

Available on DVD: “Even the Rain”

Luis Tosar and Gael Garcia Bernal in Even the Rain
Icíar Bollaín’s bluntly political film Even the Rain makes pertinent, if heavy-handed, comparisons between European imperialism five centuries ago and modern globalization. In particular it portrays high-end filming on location in poor countries as an offshoot of colonial exploitation.

The movie is set in and around Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third-largest city, which the movie’s fictional penny-pinching film producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), has chosen as a cheap stand-in for Hispaniola in a movie he is making about Christopher Columbus. The year is 2000, and Costa is unprepared to deal with the real-life populist uprising in Bolivia after its government has sold the country’s water rights to a private multinational consortium.

Local wells from which the people have drawn their water for centuries are abruptly sealed. Riots erupt when the rates charged by the water company prove ruinous. The rebellion ends only after the protests have brought Bolivia to a standstill and the company has withdrawn. The title, Even the Rain, refers to the notion that catching rainwater would be illegal.

Just as Costa and the film crew arrive to make a high-minded, myth-shattering exposé of Columbus’s exploitation and suppression of native populations, hostilities between Bolivian peasants and the government are about to explode. For Sebastian (Gael García Bernal), the project’s idealistic director, the movie-to-be is a chance to subvert the myth of Columbus as a heroic New World explorer by portraying him as a rapacious, greedy perpetrator of atrocities and a despoiler of nature.

Costa has no interest in the people of Bolivia and is overheard boasting on the telephone to a financier that the clueless extras are thrilled to be paid as little as $2 a day.

During the casting process a rebellion flares up when Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), a fiery young Indian who traveled a long distance with his daughter to try out for the film, insists on an audition even though the roles have been filled. He makes such a fuss that hundreds of others who had lined up for hours without being tested are given a chance.

Daniel, a charismatic firebrand, wins the role of Hatuey, a Taino Indian chief who spearheads the rebellion against Columbus’s forces. When Daniel is not being filmed in the movie, he leads the protests against the new government-protected water company. Arrested and beaten up, he is temporarily freed only after the filmmakers intervene.

At its best Even the Rain, directed by Bollaí from a screenplay by Paul Laverty (The Wind That Shakes the Barley), suggests a politically loaded answer to Truffaut’s Day for Night. The scenes of Columbus’s arrival and subjugation of the indigenous people, whom he coerces to convert to Roman Catholicism, are milked for inflammatory outrage. Having persuaded the Indians to collect gold dust in a river, Columbus makes them slaves. Brutal punishment is meted out for malingering. In the most horrifying scene — the money shot, if you will — Hatuey and 12 other prisoners are tied to crosses and burned alive.

Although the movie punches hard, its impact is diminished by an overly schematic screenplay and excess conceptual baggage. An unnecessary layer involves the filming of a documentary about of the making of the film. The story brings in two heroic 16th-century missionaries, Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos, who defend the Indians but they are given minimal screen time.

A more serious problem is the moral seesawing of Costa and Sebastian. While Costa suddenly and mysteriously acquires a social conscience that leads him to risk his life by driving a girl wounded in protests to the hospital, Sebastian, alarmed that his pet project is in jeopardy, callously begs him to stay and finish the movie. A film is forever, he argues, while the social turmoil around them will be resolved and quickly forgotten.

Even the Rain is splendidly panoramic. The scenes of Columbus’s arrival and of his imperialist and religious sloganeering, and of the carnage he wreaks, have a grandeur and a force reminiscent of Terrence Malick films. The segments about the chaotic water riots have a documentary immediacy.

In his weighty portrayal of Costa, Tosar goes as far as he can to make the character’s change of heart believable, but he can’t accomplish the impossible. And as Anton, the cynical, hard-drinking actor playing Columbus, Karra Elejalde lends the film a welcome note of antic unpredictability.

Consciously or not, Even the Rain risks subverting its own good will. You can’t help but wonder to what degree its makers exploited the extras recruited to play 16th-century Indians. Inevitably Even the Rain is trapped inside its own hall of mirrors.

Even the brat is losing in this economy

Thanks to C.P. Henry for pointing me in the direction of this jewel.

I hope Mary Suhm is right and I’m wrong, but …

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm unveiled her recommended budget for fiscal year 2011/12 this week and most agree it was not as austere as originally predicted. The reason given is that the state did not cut as much funds to municipalities as was expected.

The city’s budget, as most budgets are, is not predicated on how much money the city has on hand, but on how much it expects to earn during the 12 months in question. The city gets money from many sources — the aformentioned tax dollars returned to it by the state, grants and other funds from the federal government, but mostly from fees it charges to businesses and individuals, property taxes and sales taxes. It’s that last source of income that has me concerned.

According to this item from Rudolph Bush, who covers City Hall for the Dallas Morning News, Suhm said in releasing her proposed budget: “Our budget situation this year, with the economic situation improving a bit, has enabled us to do some things we weren’t sure we’d be able to do.”

Frankly, I don’t see “the economic situation improving a bit.” Suhm is basing this on better than average sales tax receipts over the past couple of months. I fear that might be a temporary silver lining before the big black storm hits.

Look at the typical economic measuring tools — growth, consumer spending, manufacturing, housing prices, stock prices — and the news is not good. They all indicate a struggling economy. The only way an economy can prosper is through the exchange of money. But today consumers aren’t really spending and neither are businesses. That leaves only one leg of the triangle — government — but, as we all witnessed last week, Congress decided to move drastically in the opposite direction.

President Obama is saying, now that the argument over the debt ceiling is over, he wants to concentrate on job creation, which is the only remedy for our ailing economy. But like just about everything else from this administration, he will be all talk and no action on job creation. Fulfilling this pledge which would require a major investment from government and we all know that’s impossible giving the opposition by Congressional Republicans to any new spending or revenue enhancing measures.

According to figures released last week by the Labor Department, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.2 percent to 9.1. percent. That statistic is terribly misleading because it does not include the long-term unemployed who have simply given up looking for jobs. If you count those as well as individuals who can only find part-time jobs, the actual unemployment rate is an astounding 16.1 percent.

Unless you have working people, the city won’t get revenue from sales taxes. When spending is cut, more jobs are eliminated and the city gets even less revenue. Every dollar spent creates jobs.

The last time the federal government cut spending this drastically was in 1937, a move that led to what was called the Second Great Depression — the unemployment rate jumped to 19 percent, industrial production declined by 30 percent, manufacturing output fell by 37 percent, producers reduced expenditures on durable goods, and inventories and consumer spending declined. Only World War II snapped us out of that and I don’t wish for potential global annihilation as an antidote to our current economic woes.

I have a feeling Suhm did not factor the Congressional budget cuts into her revenue projections for the next fiscal year. Our economy won’t feel the ramifications of those cuts for perhaps another couple of months. But too many economists are predicting a double digit recession looming, predictions that resulted in Thursday’s Wall Street disaster. If those predictions are true, Suhm’s optimistic predictions are going to result in a major budget gap come next calendar year.

But, again, I hope I’m wrong about that. I really do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Advice to the health conscious: skip the movie popcorn

What I took away from this article is that it’s OK to snack on some air-popped corn at home while watching a DVD, but buying a tub at the local theater is a heart attack waiting to happen.

Available on DVD: “Heartbeats”

Xavier Dolan, Niels Schneider and Monia Chokri in Heartbeats
The provocative young Canadian indie filmmaker Xavier Dolan seems fascinated by relationships, starting with his 2009 debut, I Killed My Mother. The semiautobiographical film about a 16-year-old gay teen battling it out with his bourgeois mom was something of a sensation at Cannes that year, picking up directors’ fortnight and youth prizes.

He’s back provoking emotions and being intriguing in Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), with best friends — a girl and a guy, straight and gay, respectively — both falling for the same enigmatic young poet. Our troika of possible young lovers comprises Marie (Monia Chokri), Francis (Dolan) and Nico (Niels Schneider), the handsome blond hunk making bedroom eyes at both — or so they think.

Dolan, who wrote, directed, edited, art directed and costume designed the film, in addition to his star turn, has a great feel for hip Montreal sophisticates, bright twentysomethings whose dinner parties reek of vintage chic and deep conversations. He also has a great eye. With cinematographer Stephanie-Anne Weber Biron, they’ve made Heartbeats into a stylish affair on nearly no budget. There is a cleverness in the film’s many tight shots that do double duty — playing to the intimacy of the piece as well as eliminating the need for elaborate sets.

The film begins with video clips of a handful of strangers, essentially individual confessionals about all the ways their past romances have gone wrong. These are spliced throughout the film to add context to the ups and downs of the evolving, then unraveling, ties that bind Nico, Marie and Francis. Dolan is proving to be adept at and unafraid of teasing out the flaws of his characters, seemingly more concerned with whether they are interesting than whether an audience will like them.

Marie is both insecure and a bit of a snot, nearly everything in her world falling slightly below her standards, particularly the men she beds when she feels the need. She favors a mod look and combs thrift stores to achieve it. Even her hair is a modern twist on a ‘50s poof. In Francis she’s got the perfect companion, an arty-looking elitist with a perpetual sexy pout and someone who enjoys the sniping as much as she.

The story begins to unfold with the two of them making dinner for their circle of friends and sizing up the newcomer, someone’s country cousin, who’s tagging along. Despite their apparent lack of interest, telegraphed in raised eyebrows and uninterested shrugs, they are clearly both intrigued.

Soon enough the two fast friends become three, and the complications begin. What makes these too-precious characters appealing, in spite of themselves, is the web Dolan spins around the evolving intimacy among them. The miscues and missteps are universal in that mating ritual between those who want (that would be Marie and Francis) and those who probably really care (that would be Nico).

There are risky plot choices all along the way, but the risks are what keeps the pot boiling as the complexities of the relationship triangle heat up and cool down.

It all serves to make Heartbeats a delightful romance of surprising depth, and Dolan, only 22, someone you expect will be prodding and poking us to rethink things for years to come.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Parsnips: A new weapon to restore our post-industrial cities

If you recall documentarian Roger Moore’s first hit film, Roger & Me, he complained that his hometown of Flint, Mich., was turned into a veritable ghost town when GM abandoned all its facilities and left the city and its residents to wither. We’ve all heard about what’s happening to other cities in the so-called rust belt Midwest.

But wait, salvation may be around the corner. In the form of lettuce. And cabbages. And radishes. Turnips, too.

It turns that the common everyday vegetable may be the salvation for our Midwestern post-industrial wastelands.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What do all these quotes have in common?

“Watching All the King’s Men downward tumble makes for perverse fun, with the emphasis on perverse."

Philip Wuntch
“Some comedies appeal to our inner child, while some horror movies appeal to our inner masochist. Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center poignantly appeals to our inner patriot.”

“The story, effective in print, doesn’t survive onscreen scrutiny. You’ll feel detached and, even with its brief 82-minute running time, you’ll get impatient.”

You, Me and Dupree features three first-rate actors in need of a first-rate movie.”

“Everyone connected with this gangsta opus was probably trying to make a crowd-pleaser. However, you wind up wondering what kind of crowds they were trying to please.”

Unknown White Male has moments you won’t forget, appropriate praise for a documentary about amnesia.”

The answer is they are all lines from movie reviews written by Philip Wuntch, the greatest film critic in Dallas history, while he reigned at the Dallas Morning News.

And I going to stick my chest out here and claim a very small slice of credit for that reign. I met Mr. Wuntch 36 years ago this month when I joined the News as the paper’s pop music critic. About two years later, some force elevated me to the role of the paper’s entertainment editor. It was the tradition, up to that point, that the entertainment editor was also the newspaper’s chief film critic. Well it didn’t take a genius (which was good for me) to realize that Philip Wuntch had forgotten more about films than I would ever know so one of my first official acts as entertainment editor was to hand Philip the title of “Film Critic of the News.” He was the first person in the history of the paper, as far as I know, to hold that title and it should have been retired with him when he left the paper way to soon.

I bring all this up at this time because today is the great Mr. Wuntch’s birthday. I’m not going to say how old he is because, frankly, compared to me, he’s still a youngster. And I’m still trying to figure out what to give someone who’s forgotten more about film than I’ll ever know. Suggestions are welcomed.

What’s wrong with Texas, Part 873,143

So I guy walks into the store this evening and wants to pay for his purchase with a credit card. Store policy requires to see a photo ID with all credit card purchases. Most people show a driver’s license. He says he doesn’t have his because he got in trouble drinking, was arrested a number of times and his driver’s license was suspended. So all he has with a photo on it is his concealed gun permit.

Let’s see, that means we have this drunken law breaker out there who can’t drive, but he can still shoot people. That’s Texas, for you.

Now before all you gun nuts start peppering me with comments, I know the guy is full of crap. Neither the state nor any other government entity physically takes a person’s driver’s license away from him; it is simply invalidated. But that makes it even worse. We live in a state where people feel the need to flash their concealed weapons permits to prove their manhood.

That monkey movie

Perhaps it’s this great shot, repeated every minute or so on television of the ape leaping from the building to the helicopter — I never tire of seeing that bit — that has enticed me, but that monkey movie, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is going to be the first one to lure me into a movie theater since Midnight in Paris. I even talked to my son about it and he, too, wants to see it. I’m expecting it will have a blockbuster opening weekend, but we may just brave the throngs Saturday to catch it.

Now, if this indeed is the prequel to Planet of the Apes, the monkeys have to win. Right?

"We go wherever we want to, do what we like to do. We don’t have time to get restless, there’s always something new. Hey, hey, we’re the monkeys, and people say we monkey around. But we’re too busy singing, to put anybody down."

I don't know why, but I've always loved this bit

This skit didn’t originate with Abbott and Costello, but I enjoy their version the best. Its origins go back to Vaudeville and the likes of Harry Steppe, Joey Faye and Samuel Goldman. Later on, Abbott and Costello did a neat variation on the skit, called Bagel Street or the Sasquehanna Hat Company, for their 1950s television show.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Available on DVD: “Winter in Wartime”

Melody Klaver and Jamie Campbell Bower in Winter in Wartime
The most compelling thing about Winter in Wartime, the Netherlands’ official entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2010 Oscars, is not the story. And the story is pretty darn compelling.

Based on a novel by Jan Terlouw, and set in Nazi-occupied Holland in 1945, the film concerns the efforts of 13-year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) to smuggle Jack, a wounded British airman (Jamie Campbell Bower), to safety after Jack’s plane is shot down near Michiel’s hometown, which is now crawling with Germans. It’s a gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller, involving romance — between Jack and Michiel’s older sister (Melody Klaver), who is a nurse — and enough suspense, secrets and betrayal for two war films.

Despite all that’s going on, the story, directed by Martin Koolhoven, is impeccably paced and lean, with a visually gorgeous, icy blue pallor that underscores the cold, hard choices that its characters must make. But what makes Winter really special is its complex exploration of the theme of heroism.

Michiel, you see, is caught between a rock and hard place, and another hard place. On the one hand, there’s Michiel’s father, Johan (Raymond Thiry), the town’s mayor and a man whom Michiel sees as just this side of a collaborator for the way he sucks up to the occupying Germans. On the other hand, there’s Michiel’s Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen). Ben seems to be everything that Johan is not: a member of the resistance willing to put himself on the line for his countrymen. Ben is brave and willing to break the rules. To a 13-year-old boy, that’s nothing short of cool.

But Michiel can’t entirely forget that his father is his father, despite what appears to be a politician’s infuriating tendency to accommodate his Nazi oppressors. Consequently, the boy’s loyalties are buffeted this way and that way and this again by his hatred of the Nazis, his sense of filial duty and a rash longing for adventure instilled in him by a role model who may or may not deserve that honor.

What’s more, he’s 13 and scared. By helping Jack, Michiel is not just putting himself at risk, but his entire family. Jack knows that all too acutely, and he is torn between his own survival mechanism and a reluctance to endanger his civilian protectors.

Michiel will soon learn, all too harshly, that these competing interests cannot all be satisfied and that the definition of honor sometimes involves a quieter — and more tragic — form of heroism than his uncle’s blustering heroics.

How Koolhoven plays this cold lesson out is the chief pleasure of this tale, whose moral ground is as crystalline, as multifaceted and as slippery as the ice covering the frozen streams and canals that crisscross Michiel’s once simple world.