Friday, September 30, 2011

Redistricting map better than current one, but ...

It appears this is the map redrawing Dallas' City Council districts that is going to be approved by the council (possibly over the vehement opposition of District 5's Vonciel Hill who gets redistricted off the council).

I will say, for the most part, the districts are far more compact and logically drawn than the current one, but, still, in my mind Districts 2 and 14 are heavily gerrymandered and District 7 leaves me scratching my head as well.

Go and see for yourself.

Banks getting ready to screw customers again

Have you been worried about the interest rates on your credit cards so much that you've been using your debit cards more to make purchases? Well, the nation's banks have been noticing this trend so they are about to put the screws to you for doing this.

Bank of America has already instituted a $5 a month fee for making purchases with debit cards and Chase has followed suit with a $3 a month fee plus it is about to institute additional fees for using its online banking services.

The banks' defense is that they used to be able to charge merchants 44 cents for each debit card transaction they processed. But the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law limited that amount to 24 cents. So the banks are getting even by getting that money back from their depositors.

Remember thost Frank Captra-styled movies of the 1930s and '40s in which the town banker was always the villain? I guess things don't change that much, do they?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tear-jerker could be award winning for Sydow

Word on the street is Max Von Sydow is a strong contender for a best supporting actor Oscar (if Christopher Plummer hasn't already wrapped it up) for this film, which looks to be a real tearjerker.

Angela Hunt defends her flow control vote

Angela Hunt
District 14 Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt has a reputation as an anti-establishment maverick. After all, she stood up against the powers-that-be on such issues as the Trinity River Tollroad boondoggle and the construction of the convention center hotel. So, naturally, many thought she would be on the opposite side of the city's desire to institute a plan to send all the city's trash to the city's own landfill.

Instead, she was among the majority who supported the measure.

In an eloquent response to criticism of her vote on the Dallas Observer's website, Hunt explained why:

"Boy. Weight of the world, man. 
"First off, this is what happens when the Observer gives somebody else the "Best of" award. People who have been hurt are known to lash out. Just sayin. 
"Aside from that... Here's my take on flow control. I never had a problem with the idea of flow control. Trash is a commodity, and the city can either control and benefit from that commodity or not. The components that result from a comprehensive recycling and reclamation process will become more and more valuable. So yeah, I think if the city has the legal authority to call dibs on a lucrative and appreciating commodity, we should. 
"What was bothering me was, there was no business plan for partnering with a private company. What will the recycling facility cost? Who will pay for it? How? What are the terms of the partnership? The profit split? Who operates the facility? What experience does the proposed partner have in building or operating this type of facility? 
"But those weren't the questions we had to answer today. That will be addressed when the city puts out a request for proposal for a company to build and perhaps operate a recycling facility based on the trash collected from flow control. And if at that point the city doesn't have a partner to work with in building and operating a recycling facility, the worst case scenario is, we could do away with flow control. 
"The other question I had was, will flow control damage the surrounding area in Southern Dallas? I don't think so. If truck traffic is the concern, preliminary projections show that even with flow control, there will still be fewer trucks going to the landfill than 10 years ago (today we have about half the trucks going to the landfill than a decade ago). The facility itself is clean and produces less waste than a landfill. Much less. Visiting a similar facility in Lubeck, Germany three years ago, I was struck by how clean the operation was and how little landfill waste was produced after they recaptured bio-waste, metals, and everything else they could sell. 
"Depending on which side you're listening to, flow control will either destroy that part of Southern Dallas, compounding Dallas' historic and horrible racial divide, or it will be the panacea for all that ails the area. I think it'll be neither. But I do like the idea of creating a fund from flow control moneys to improve the surrounding area. It won't be a cure-all, but I think a set-aside fund can help improve the area. 
"Overall, though, I do think it's a smart move to stake the city's claim to a commodity that will only increase in value."

Well said, Angela.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A first for the City Council in this century

Rasanky and Margolin
The Dallas City Council passed the budget for fiscal year 2011-12 today and for the first time this century the council person representing District 13 voted in favor of the budget.

This was District 13's Ann Margolin's third budget vote. She voted against it last year because of the tax increase and voted against it the year before because of fee increases she felt were tax increases. In the eight years prior to Margolin's election, the district was represented by Mitchell Rasansky who never met a budget that met his approval.

Before Rasansky, Donna Blumer, another extreme right wing conservative, represented District 13. Maybe someone can refresh my memory on her votes on the budget. Margolin's "yes" vote today may be breaking an even longer record of obstinance than I recall.

Mayor Mike and Greg: Welcome to my Hall of Fame

Back as a kid growing up in New York City I remember being glued to the radio for such suspense classics as The Shadow, The Naked City and others that have escaped my memory these many decades later.

Mayor Mike
I was reminded of some of those suspense shows while driving to Austin today to celebrate my granddaughter's sixth birthday because I was listening to the broadcast of the City Council, paying particular interest to its debate on Resource Flow Control. As an avid, passionate environmentalist, I wholeheartedy, enthusically support Resource Flow Control. (I also support it as someone who sees the added benefits the additional monetary income will allow the city to make.) But I also know the history of the Dallas city Council: When faced with a decision that is deemed controversial it will find a way to dig its heels in wet cement, let it dry and then blame the cement for not allowing it to take any action at all.

And that's exactly what was in the works in a move headed, it seemed, by Sheffie Kadane, the poster boy of non-action. This time he was asking the council to delay the project indefinitely (but then 90 days when he agreed to a friendly amendment from Monica Alonzo) while a task force was assembled to look into the entire matter. His motion was gaining incredible traction with a council whose history I have described in the paragraph above.

But then Mayor Mike stepped in with a display of leadership not seen in this city since ... well, it just may have been an unprecedented display of leadership. In a speech to the council, he sliced through the matter immediately saying Yes, there will be a task force -- he'll make sure of that. But right now this ordinance needs to be passed because it's in the best interest of the citizens of Dallas. And, as mayor of the city of Dallas, he cares more about the welfare of its citizens than he does some rich fat-cat waste haulers who claim they will lose some income by this deal.

I salute you Mayor Mike. That was quite a speech you made this morning. It didn't turn everyone around but I know it turned around the one vote needed to end Kadane's crusade and then the main ordinance passed 9-6, still a closer vote than it should have been. But with at least two and possibly three Tea Party members on the council right now, you can rest assured issues in which the city tries to be innovative will be opposed.

So you, Mayor Mike, are one of the two new invidividuals inducted into my personal hall of fame. That means I may not have harsh words for you down the line, but your place on my honor roll is assured.

The second person honored is a fellow named Greg. I don't know his last name and I'm just presuming he lives in Austin. It used to be a tradition when my son and granddaughter lived with me that she and I would try to find at least one day at week to have dinner at Luby's. Most of the time it was Wednesday nights, especially those Wednesday nights when we had Special Olympics basketball practice. So tonight being Wednesday and the fact that I hadn't seen my granddaughter in way too long a time, we agreed we would have her birthday eve dinner tonight at Luby's.

So around 6:30 this evening there's five of us going down the line at the Luby's at I35 and Oltorff in Austin -- in order of appearance they were my grandaughter Grace, the evervescent Mimi West Wuntch, me, my son and the world's greatest retired film critic, Philip Wuntch. Grace comes to the desert section and is having trouble deciding between two different slices of chocolate cake. The man in front of her suggests that she ought to just take both of them. Of course Grace loves this suggestion and strikes up a conversation with this individual, who moments later told me his name was Greg. But between that revelation and the cake choice, Grace volunteers to this gentleman that tomorrow was her birthday. Greg, of course, immediately asks the natural followup question: "How old will you be." Without missing a beat, Grace holds up six fingers and proudly says "Six." With that, the man reached into his pocket, pulled out a five- and a one-dollar bill, handed them to Grace and said "Happy birthday, one day early."

What an act of genuine kindness that's unheard of in this day and age! Grace just stood there, her eyes as wide as can be, and told Greg "Thank you."

So, Greg, because you demonstrated to my beloved granddaughter how two human beings, separated in age by at least 50 years, who have just met and probably will never see each other again, should act toward one another, because you gave Grace a valuable lesson in humanity, you, too, are inducted into my personal hall of fame.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week’s rank in parenthesis. AP's rank in brackets
1. Alabama 4-0 (3) [3]
2. LSU 4-0 (2) [1]
3. Oklahoma 3-0 (1) [2]
4. Oklahoma State 4-0 (5) [5]
5. Boise State 3-0 (4) [4]
6. Stanford 3-0 (6) [6]
7. South Carolina 4-0 (11) [10]
8. Nebraska 4-0 (12) [8]
9. Florida 4-0 (14) [12]
10. Wisconsin 4-0 (7) [7]
11. Virginia Tech 4-0 (10) [11]
12. Michigan 4-0 (23) [19]
13. Oregon 3-1 (9) [9]
14. South Florida 4-0 (21) [16]
15. Texas A&M 2-1 (8) [14]
16. Clemson 4-0 (21) [13]
17. Texas 3-0 (20) [17]
18. Illinois 4-0 (22) [24]
19. Georgia Tech 4-0 (New) [21]
20. Arizona State 3-1 (New) [25]
21. Baylor 3-0 (New) [15]
22. TCU 3-1 (18) [20]
23. Notre Dame 2-2 (New) [NR]
24. Penn State 3-1 (New) [NR]
25. Arkansas 3-1 (13) [18]
Dropped out: Southern California, Florida State, West Virginia, Auburn, Utah

Another two-film Oscar race

Two years ago it was The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar. Last year it was The King’s Speech vs The Social Network. It appears this year’s Oscar race is going to be a two picture contest as well: The Descendants vs. War Horse. Right now I’m giving The Descendants a slight edge because Alexander Payne has been overlooked in the past whereas Steven Spielberg has two directing and one picture Oscar to his credit. Here, in order, are the Top 10 candidates for Best Picture for 2011, as of today:
The Descendants
War Horse
The Artist
J. Edgar
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life

Here, in order, are the Top 5 candidates for Best Director for 2011, as of today:
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Michel Hazanabvicius, The Artist
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar

As you can see, the director choices mirror the top five picture choices, which usually doesn’t happen. I do see support for Eastwood’s J. Edgar fading and while The Help has an excellent chance for a best picture nomination, support for its director, Tate Taylor, is extremely weak. The director with the best chance of cracking the top five right now appears to be David Fincher for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.



Sunday, September 25, 2011

Steve Blow wins today’s Bad Taste in Print award

Dallas Morning News Columnist Steve Blow chimed in with an opinion today that echoed one I had a couple of days ago — namely the state of Texas was wrong in doing away with the "last meal" of a prisoner about to be executed.

Blow wins my Bad Taste award because the first paragraph of his column read:

"If we’re going to execute so many people in Texas, we ought to at least have a little fun with it."

A sentiment only a governor of Texas could love.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Republican can get in trouble for being compassionate

Back when No. 43 announced he was running for president, he described himself as a "compassionate conservative." As we all know, of course, that didn’t turn out to be the case because in this illogical world we live in, it’s dangerous for a Republican to be compassionate, to actually care about the constituents they are elected to lead.

Just look at the most recent Republican presidential debate. The issue on which Gov. Hair took the most heat, especially from No. 1 rival Mitt Romney, was his decision to give college tuition breaks for the children of "illegal aliens." (What was never mentioned during the debate was the fact that 13 other states, realizing the importance of having a well educated population, have done exactly the same thing.) Hair, of course, has never concerned himself with the importance of education — he made this a policy purely for political reasons: Texas has a large Hispanic population. Still, it was the right thing to do. Yet Romney had the gall to say "That shouldn’t be allowed. It makes no sense at all." Hair countered with "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart."

Of course, I could argue you don’t have a heart when more than one out of very four Texans does not have health insurance. That’s the largest percentage of any state in the country. What’s the state with the lowest rate? Massachusetts where only one of 20 residents is without insurance. Why? Because, as governor, Romney created a program to cover his state’s uninsured. And that’s the issue on which Hair attacked Romney, calling Romney’s program "misguided."

What a sorry state of affairs we have when compassion is a political liability.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another glance at the dragon-tattooed girl

This trailer for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo makes it appear it is a truer adaptation of the book than the original Swedish film was. As a major fan of the first entry in the Millennium Trilogy, I’m anxious to see how this one turns out. I have my hopes up high. Very high.

Once again, a state government official over-reacts

Big friggin’ deal. A white supremacist about to be executed by lethal injection orders a "last meal"containing more calories than the population of many African nations see in a lifetime and what happens? Texas prison officials cancel the policy of a "last meal."

So what if Lawrence Brewster ordered a last meal of two chicken fried steaks, a triple meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet, a larger bowl of fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat-lovers pizza, three root beers, a pint of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge?

So what if State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the committee that oversees the state prison system, fired off an angry letter to Department of Criminal Justice executive director Brad Livingston condemning the order demanding "last meals" must come to an end.

The sensible solution, the rational solution would have been for Livingston to limit what condemned prisoners may order for their last meal to (1) one entre (2) one veggie, (3) one non-alcoholic beverage and (4) one desert.

But then when have you ever heard of a state government official ever being sensible or rational?

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week’s rank in parenthesis. AP rank in brackets
1  Oklahoma 2-0 (1) [1]
2. LSU 3-0 (3) [2]
3. Alabama 3-0 (2) [3]
4. Boise State 2-0 (4) [4]
5. Oklahoma State 3-0 (6) [7]
6. Stanford 3-0 (5) [5]
7. Wisconsin 3-0 (9) [6]
8. Texas A&M 3-0 (8) [8]
9. Oregon 2-1 (7) [10]
10. Virginia Tech 3-0 (12) [13]
11. South Carolina 3-0 (15) [12]
12. Nebraska 3-0 (17) [9]
13. Arkansas 3-0 (11) [14]
14. Florida 3-0 (16) [15]
15. Southern California 3-0 (23) [23]
16. Florida State 2-1 (10) [11]
17. West Virginia 3-0 (20) [16]
18. TCU 2-1 (18) [20]
19. South Fkrida 3-0 (22) [18]
20. Texas 3-0 (24) [19]
21. Clemson 3-0 (New) [21]
22. Illinois 3-0 (New) [24]
23. Michigan 3-0 (New) [22]
24. Auburn 2-1 (14) [UR]
25. Utah 2-1 (new) [UR]
Dropped Out: Arizona State, Michigan State, Missouri, Ohio State

How many films will be Oscar nominated for best picture?

According to the new rules announced earlier this year, as few as five and as many as 10 pictures will be nominated for a best picture Oscar for 2011. So it’s as much fun to guess how many will be nominated along with who and what will be nominated. Right now I’m putting the over/under at seven and here’s the ones I think will make the cut (listed alphabetically):
The Artist
The Descendants (a shoo-in)
J. Edgar
The Help (a shoo-in)
Midnight in Paris
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse (a shoo-in)

If the max of 10 are nominated, I would add: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Moneyball and The Tree of Life.

Right now the directing nominees appear to be:
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
Michael Hazanavicus, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Steven Spielberg, War Hose

George Clooney, The Descendants (a shoo in)
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help (a shoo-in)
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

The supporting contests are still too close to call. On the male side, Christopher Plummer will definitely be nominated (and is the current favorite to win) for The Beginniers and you can also rest assured Kenneth Branagh will be nominated for My Week with Marilyn. The other three spots could be filled by Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady), Albert Brooks (Drive), George Clooney (The Ides of March), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), or David Thewlis (War Horse).

Octavia Spencer from The Help is the only sure thing in the supporting actress category. Any of these actresses could claim the other four nods: Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life or The Help), Judi Dench (J. Edgar), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Vanessa Redgrave (Corolanus), Emily Watson (War Hose) and Sahailene Wooley (The Descendants).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waste Haulers trying to scare City with idle threat

Private waste haulers are losing the battle to prevent Resource Flow Control from becoming a reality in Dallas and now, like something out of a scene from The Sopranos, are resorting to nasty, if idle, threats in an effort to stop the inevitable.

Arguably the world's most
 famous trash hauler
Petending they didn’t already know the U.S. Supreme Court has already weighed in on this issue, the waste haulers (basically Waste Management, the biggest bully on the block and the one with the deepest pockets, although cowardly hiding behind the smokescreen of the National Solid Waste Management Association) fired off this threat:

"A vote by the City Council to adopt a flow control ordinance will not be simple, straightforward, or free of legal risk and liability as you have been led to believe. Instead, it invites legal challenges and consequences that will be needlessly detrimental for the City and will prohibit the City from realizing the increase in revenue that it seeks. The purpose of this letter is to make sure that you are fully informed before making a decision that will have severe and unwanted consequences."

First, if I were on the Dallas City Council this would make me more me more determined than ever to vote for Resource Flow Control. "Think you can threaten me, you little pipsqueak? Well I’ll show you who runs things around these parts."

Second, anyone with even a passing knowledge of this issue knows it has already gone to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought by the bullying waste haulers and the Federal Supremes ruled in favor of the municipalities.

The first time the issue went to the Supreme Court was in 1994. In that situation Clarkstown, N.Y., passed a flow control ordinance to finance a new transfer station. However, the facility where all the trash was directed to be deposited was built by a private contractor. The judges said that violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause which prohibits states and cities from passing laws that discriminate against or greatly burden interstate commerce.

However, the issue came before the high court again in 2007 in a case titled United Haulers Association, Inc. et al vs. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority et al. This time the court said flow control was perfectly legal if the trash was directed to a municipally owned and operated reception area. Both McCommas Bluff Landfill and the Bachman Transfer Station are municipally owned and operated.

Even the NSWMA’s own legal counsel, David Biderman said: "In that case, it was a local governmental entity that owned and operated the waste disposal facilities that were the beneficiaries of the flow control law. The Supreme Court in its decision specifically says in the very first paragraph that what is different is that the fact that the facilities at issue here are owned and operated by a local government. That is a critical distinction in understanding the flow control case law and where we might go in the future in this area."

So why is are these big bad bullies threatening the City of Dallas with legal action their own legal counsel knows they will lose? That’s like asking why Tony Soprano was in the waste hauling business. It’s the way these gangsters operate.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Available on DVD: “Everything Must Go”

Will Ferell and Christopher Jordan Wallace in Everything Must Go
Everything Must Go is the story of a middle-class man hitting bottom, for reasons that are both as obvious as the empty beer cans that pile up around him and as elusive as the never-seen wife who has just walked out of his life. In a single day the man, a mid-level Arizona sales executive named Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell), loses his job and returns home to find that the locks on his house have been changed, his bank account frozen and all his stuff piled in the front yard.

This sad, surreal spectacle of domesticity turned literally inside out — lamps sitting in the sunlight, a recliner where a lawn chair should be — is what links Everything Must Go to its source, a short story by Raymond Carver called Why Don’t You Dance? The story, like so many of Carver’s, is a jagged shard of painful absurdity, a glimpse of the human condition that the film, written and directed by Dan Rush, expands into a picture window. From a few pages of oblique dialogue and terse prose, Rush extrapolates a narrative that is less jarring and more familiar than anything in Carver, but nonetheless true to the writer’s tough, compassionate and intimately knowing apprehension of masculine defeat.

Ferrell turns out to be an almost perfect embodiment of this theme. He is large, a little ungainly and charismatic without quite being handsome, and somehow able to seem at once exquisitely self-conscious and utterly obtuse. There is no shortage of overgrown man-boys in American movies right now, but none that so aptly embody John Updike’s definition of a grown man as "a failed boy."

And a failed man has to choose between wounded, stoical dignity and regressive self-pity. Nick, settling into his uneasy chair and trying to sustain an illusion of normalcy in full view of the neighbors, tries to split the difference. His spiritual crisis presents itself as a series of practical problems: how to disable the sprinklers that douse him awake every morning; where to shower; what to do with his life.

In Why Don’t You Dance? the nameless Nick Halsey figure is visited by a young couple. The encounter’s unsettling effect on them is what turns the story into something more than an anecdote, and it lodges in the reader’s memory because so much is left out. Rush’s decision to fill in the blanks is perfectly reasonable — otherwise he would have made a three-minute movie instead of a feature — and also risky. The more you know about Nick, the less haunting his situation is likely to be, and as Rush traces his life forward and back, Everything Must Go tiptoes toward obviousness and sentimentality.

Happily, though, it never quite reaches those destinations and thus avoids the fate of Jindabyne, Ray Lawrence’s frustratingly uneven adaptation of So Much Water So Close to Home, one of Carver’s best stories. Carver’s characters are islands, and their kind of isolation is precisely what the sociable medium of narrative cinema tends to resist. Robert Altman elegantly solved this problem by stringing together a small Carver anthology in Short Cuts. Rush employs the more conventional method of supplying Nick with a past and some company.

He strikes up an acquaintance with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who has just moved in across the street, and with a boy named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), whose mother works in the neighborhood. Nick also spends some time with a local detective (Michael Peña) who is also his A.A. sponsor, and with a high school classmate (Laura Dern) whom he looks up after perusing one of his old yearbooks.

Their encounter provides a slightly too explicit reminder that, for all his wretchedness and misbehavior, Nick is, deep down, a decent guy. The tricky task facing Rush and Ferrell is to make that notion credible without blundering into clichés of easy redemption. Unlike its beer-soaked protagonist, Everything Must Go remains dry, serving up its catharsis in wry, moderate doses and making the most of its modest, careful virtues. It is a sober movie, but also sad and satisfying.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One of those moments that makes you so proud you want to shout about it from the mountaintops

I called my son the other day and the call went right to voice mail which began: "This is Dr. Chance Oppel ..." I didn’t need to hear anything more.

Not bad

The movie Game Change, taken from the well-written book of the same title, is a detailed examination of the 2008 presidential election process, beginning with when all the potential candidates first decided to seek the highest elective office in the land. The still above from the film shows Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain. I’m liking what I see here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Available on DVD: “Wrecked”

Adrien Brody in Wrecked
In these tough economic days, not only are our wallets getting squeezed, but — up on the big screen — so are our leading men. Lately they’ve really been feeling the pinch. Three times in the past few months, the movies have dirtied up a pretty boy and pinned him down in the tightest of spots: Ryan Reynolds literally boxed up in Buried, James Franco trapped beneath that boulder in 127 Hours. Here, in Wrecked, it’s Adrien Brody’s turn to find himself the lone and immobilized star of an emerging new genre: Call it the anti-action flick.

Of course, entrapment scenarios have a long history in literature and film. Freedom is always battling with confinement, whether in an actual jail cell, or a locked room, or a storm-tossed lifeboat, or merely behind the existential bars of an imprisoned mind. But these recent pictures are especially claustrophobic, their frames narrowed to the point of near-suffocation. Check out the opening sequence in this one: darkness, silence, then the sound of whimpering punctuated by an extreme close-up of an eye, bloodied and badly swollen.

From there, Canadian director Michael Greenspan pulls back the camera only in small and gradual degrees, shining just the tiniest shards of light into the predicament, letting it unfold in intriguing increments. The eye belongs to a battered face that we see, with a shock, only when its owner does — when Brody’s unnamed Man examines himself in the rear-view mirror. Yes, he’s trapped in the passenger seat of a wrecked car, an early-model sedan that’s lying in a woody thicket at the bottom of a steep cliff. His right leg is broken, the door by his side is jammed, rain is falling, and night too.

Morning brings no greater clarity because a concussion has apparently robbed him of his memory. The Man doesn’t know who he is, or how he got there, or the identity of the clearly dead person in the back seat, or of the other male body flung from the car and lying nearby, the one attracting the attention of a hungry mountain lion.

In short, the guy’s in an extreme pickle and doesn’t have a clue. But we do. Doling out the info in steady drips, the script is efficiently filling us in on the dimensions, physical and psychological, of this messy situation.

But how to dramatize inertia? Flashbacks and hallucinations are helpful. That was Danny Boyle’s preferred method in 127 Hours, and there are samples of both here. However, since an audience soon gets wise to these tricks, the plot is smart to add a nifty twist. Under the front seat, the Man finds a loaded revolver, and over the fading radio hears a news report that three men are wanted for armed robbery. So, à la Buried, a mystery thriller gets embedded in the entrapment narrative, and fluidly the two genres begin to blend.

The problem starts when a third genre is added. Eventually, the Man extricates himself from the car, fashions a crude splint for his leg and crawls into the deep, dark woods. At that point, the movie becomes a survival adventure complete with piercing hunger and numbing cold and faulty navigation and lethal rapids on a raging river, not to mention the return of that predatory lion. All this seems excessive, gilding the predicament’s lily, and for us no less than the protagonist, fatigue and tedium set in. Ironically, when non-action gives way to action, stasis to movement, the film gets stuck, marking time until the climax.

Happily, there are a couple of consolations. One is certain: Brody’s performance. Obviously his experience in The Pianist taught him to negotiate long sequences without dialogue in a confined setting, and he’s applied those lessons here — his face alone is a chameleon that commands our attention, shifting quixotically from fear to anger to despair. The second consolation is debatable: the merits of the ending. I’ll leave you to decide whether the surprise resolution, which comes fast, gives the picture back its momentum or simply continues the stall.

Sorry to hedge, but to me both conclusions are possible and defensible. Indeed, ambivalence is something of a watchword in the recent entrapment yarns, which share more than their cramped quarters. Somehow, they all seem simultaneously compelling yet vaguely unsatisfying, clever but with a slight residue of disappointment, like a parlour game played a little too long.

Still, I’m not complaining. In all those empty blockbusters, the big screen swells pointlessly; at least in these narrow spaces it shrinks with a real purpose. Far better the tight squeeze than the big bloat.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Available on DVD: “In a Better World”

Markus Rygaard and William Johnk Juels Nielsen in In a Better World
In a Better World, which won this year’s Oscar for best foreign language film, is Danish director Susanne Bier’s latest meditation on grief and the boundaries of family.

The film, about violence and retribution, is a tough piece of work, subtle in some ways, obvious in others, viscerally affecting throughout.

Its central premise is clear from the start, drawing out parallels between a Swedish doctor’s (Mikael Persbrandt) work in Africa, where he treats the victims of a monstrous thug (Odiege Matthew), and his complicated home life in Denmark, where his young son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), copes with bullies at school.

Although the film spends very little time at the African clinic, it provides a baseline for evil that informs the rest of the plot. Everything that unfolds in Africa has a parallel, for good or for ill, among the Danes back home.

As a literary device, this is groaningly transparent. But the movie’s grasp on character overcomes the more self-evident mechanics of its storytelling and lays out, in scenes of carefully gauged emotion, the twisted psychic fallout of pain and loss.

Besides Elias and those traumatized African villagers, the main victim of tragedy is Christian (the eerily composed William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen), a brooding, buttoned-down boy who returns to Denmark with his father (Ulrich Thomsen) after his mother’s death from breast cancer. Befriending Elias, Christian becomes a mark for bullies, too. But Christian is different. He fights back — viciously.

Not surprisingly, parents and schoolteachers take a negative view of his vengeance, prompting a few conversations on the fruitlessness of violence and the genesis of war. This debate turns heavy-handed as story lines escalate on both continents — and the screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen maxes out on the devil-child turmoil.

Bier’s fascination with loss and its consequences is much documented in her previous work, notably 2007's English-language Things We Lost in the Fire, which looked at wounded people reeling from the violent death of a husband, father, friend. She’s a big one for catharsis; nothing truly awful ever happens without some healing resolution later on, some larger meaning teased out in time for the climax.

In a Better World nudges right up to the edge of a gaping abyss, but it pulls back — barely — for a moment of reflection.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mayor Mike makes me mad

I was sitting in the drive-through deposit lane at the bank this morning, listening on the car radio to the Dallas City Council’s morning speakers, when Mayor Mike decided to chime in after one presenter spoke on the topic of redistricting. MM said he was planning on calling a special council session on redistricting for 10 a.m. Saturday September 24.

Mayor Mike
As the smoke began coming out of my ears, my first thought was "This jerk doesn’t have the cajones to call a meeting for 10 a.m. on a Sunday. Wouldn’t want to offend all those who attend Gov. Hair’s Houston pep rallies. But it’s certainly OK to offend every Jew in the city and most of the Seventh Day Adventists. They don’t count anyway."

My second thought was if this guy or this lady or even this one were still on the council, the matzo would have really hit the fan. MM would have had to scramble to get out of council chambers with, to paraphrase Robert Johnson, the hellhounds on his tail.

Then, after making sure he offended all the Jews in the city, he took on the Fourth Estate. "Meeting on a Saturday means the media will have to work on a weekend." What does this idiot think: that little elves produce his Sunday and Monday newspapers?

I guess I should have seen this lunacy coming; it’s one the many reasons I didn’t vote for the man (but then I thought all the mayoral candidates this time around were seriously flawed and didn’t vote for any of them). But I was hoping I could maintain a modicum of respect for the man for more than just a couple of weeks into his four-year term. So much for hope. I just wonder what the Jewish media thinks of the guy.

As it turns out, more tolerant heads prevailed and, as of this moment, I don’t think an actual date or time has been set for the council’s redistricting meeting.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Perry’s real vulnerabilities exposed

According to this report, Gov. Hair’s radical views on Social Security actually might play well with the wacko right-winguts who control the Republican Party, but his real problems might be with his order in 2007 that mandated every girl in Texas receive an HPV vaccine (the legislature later overturned him) and his support of legislation that was essentially a Texas version of the Dream Act.

It also appears that Hair, who seems to go out of his way to offend Jews, isn't that much of a bibilical scholar either.

Good night, Cliff

Cliff Robertson in The Best Man
Piper Laurie and Cliff Robertson in Days of Wine and Roses
I have been waiting a while to offer any kind of tribute to Cliff Robertson for a number of reasons. I have always held it against him (unfairly, perhaps, because it was not really his fault) that he won the best actor Oscar for Charly in 1968 when the award should have gone to Peter O’Toole for A Lion in Winter. For another, I have spent the last couple of days searching for a clip of what is really Robertson’s finest performance on film, but now I have given up.

Most of the tributes to Robertson in the last couple of days have focused on Charly, because he won the Oscar for it; P.T. 109, because it was his first starring film role and because, as legend has it, he was personally picked for the part by President Kennedy; and the Spider-Man films, because they were his final screen appearances after an extended absence from films.

But, to me, Robertson’s finest big screen performance was as Joe Cantrell, the opportunist presidential candidate — a combination of Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, with a Kennedy veneer — in the 1964 film The Best Man.

His second best performance came on television, in Playhouse 90's version of Days and Wine and Roses (1958). I know some may consider this heresy, but Robertson actually did a better job of portraying Joe Clay than Jack Lemmon did in the later screen adaptation. Unfortunately I could not find a clip of that one either.

So I guess I'll just have to go with the above photos.

What’s going on with Dairy Queen

It seems I have seen more Dairy Queen television commercials in the last couple of months than I have in the last 40 or 50 years combined. And I really like the spots — they have a sense of anarchy to them that really appeals to me. I especially like the bit about the piñatas filled with Mary Lou Rettons. Completely off the wall.

However, even before these commercials began airing I began noticing the disappearance of Dairy Queens. It seemed that every small town in Texas used to have a DQ on the main highway through town. Now it seems that they have all been replaced by Sonics.

I will admit it’s been five years or so since I have taken an extended road trip outside of Texas and perhaps the Queen is expanding rapidly elsewhere. But from my viewpoint here, the entire ad campaign — as clever as it is — seems like a waste of time, money and creativity.

It’s official: I’m an old fogey

I will admit: As a teenager I was emotionally moved by the lyrics of Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti. "A whop bop-a-lu whop, a wop bam boo." It doesn’t get much better than that and I never could understand why my father insisted that wasn’t "real" music. I promised myself, I would never criticize the younger generation’s music when I got older. I would never become an old fogey.

All that changed yesterday when I ran across a CD called Leprosy by a band called Death that contained such songs as Born Dead, Left to Die, Pull the Plug, Open Casket, Choke On It and, of course, the title tune, all "sung" by someone who sounds like he’s trying to clear his congested throat against the backdrop of a guitarist who knows probably two or three chords and a drummer who seems to be thinking "If I can do this junk as fast as I can, maybe I can get out of here and escape this madness."

I guess this makes me an official member of the Old Fogey Society. If so, I welcome the membership.

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week’s ranking in parenthesis.
1. Oklahoma 1-0 (1)
2. Alabama 2-0 (3)
3. LSU 2-0 (4)
4. Boise State 1-0 (2)
5. Stanford 2-0 (5)
6. Oklahoma State 2-0 (7)
7. Oregon 1-1 (13)
8. Texas A&M 1-0 (11)
9. Wisconsin 2-0 (8)
10. Florida State 2-0 (9)
11. Arkansas 2-0 (10)
12. Virginia Tech 2-0 (12)
13. Ohio State 2-0 (6)
14. Auburn 2-0 (17)
15. South Carolina 2-0 (16)
16. Florida 2-0 (19)
17. Nebraska 2-0 (14)
18. TCU 1-1 (21)
19. Arizona State 2-0 (NR)
20. West Virginia 2-0 (20)
21. Michigan State 2-0 (23)
22. South Florida 2-0 (NR)
23. Southern California 2-0 (24)
24. Texas 2-0 (NR)
25. Missouri 1-1 (15)
Dropped Out: Mississippi State, Nevada, Maryland

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hitting the trail

Ginger at the park

Golden Moss Park

Sunset at Moss Park

Caraway vs Johnson?

D magazine has uncovered information suggesting Barbara Mallory Caraway, a Texas legislator and the wife of a current Dallas City Council member of some renown, will challenge U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in next year’s Democratic primary. Will she actually follow through with this plan? I doubt it. She seems too smart to think for one instant she can unseat an entrenched incumbent. The only way Johnson leaves Congress is through (a) retirement or (2) she’s redistricted out of her seat.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Available on DVD: “I Will Follow”

Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Beverly Todd in I Will Follow
I Will Follow, Ava DuVernay’s triumphant feature debut, is a life-affirming portrait of a woman, Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), juggling all kinds of loss.

Maye’s beloved aunt has died, her romance (with Blair Underwood) is on the critical list, and her career (as a makeup artist) is in limbo. Over the course of 12 hours, she moves from suspended animation to emotional action, packing up a house while unpacking her own emotional baggage.

Aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd, seen in numerous flashbacks) was a life force warm and golden as sunshine, a flamboyant recording-session drummer who was to rock and jazz what Maya Angelou is to poetry.

At its best, the movie dances to Amanda’s upbeat music, but it takes some time for Maye to get in the groove.

DuVernay has confidence in her actors that is reciprocated in kind. Richardson-Whitfield gives a remarkably empathetic performance. Rather than impose Maye’s drama on the audience, she brings the audience to Maye’s perspective.

The film is structured as Maye’s series of encounters with relatives, friends, and strangers who in turn complicate and clarify her bereavement. What can she say to her cousin Fran (Michole White), raw with grief and jealous that Maye was her mother’s favorite? How should she handle her nephew Raven (Dijon Talton), who’s there to help but only gets in the way?

The most important question is the film’s most implicit: Do we better honor the deceased by building a shrine of their possessions or by paying tribute to their spirit?

For a relatively untested filmmaker (she is a veteran movie publicist and has made one documentary), DuVernay tells her story with economy and restraint. She shows the characters, does not explain them for us.

Only at the film’s end do we understand the title as a double-entendre, referring both to a U2 track that Amanda played on and also to Maye. Though she loses her aunt, she finds a way to follow Amanda’s path..

Photo of the day

I’m afraid of the repercussions I might get if I actually put this photo of Gov. Hair on this journal, but it is simply too good to pass on without at least providing a link.

Cooperstein, Followill don’t understand Baylor’s actions

Chuck Cooperstein

Mark Followill

I really admire Chuck Cooperstein and Mark Followill as Dallas Mavericks play-by-play announcers on radio and television respectively and I really enjoy Coop’s radio program on ESPN (although I think he surrenders too much to co-host Nate Newton). But I have been reviewing some of their tweets today about Baylor’s threatened legal actions and, boy, have they both thrown air balls!

The issue concerns Baylor’s threat of a lawsuit to prevent Texas A&M from running away to the Southeast Conference. Followill tweeted:

“Tweeted umpteen times I wish A&M would stay in B12 but suing isn't the answer. Shotgun weddings don't work. Time 2 wish em best & move on.”

And Cooperstein has been insistent with tweets such as this one:

“Why Baylor and the others would be doing nothing more than wasting their time. And Money.”

What these two “experts” don’t understand is that Baylor’s actions have nothing to do with keeping Texas A&M in the Big 12. It’s all about keeping Oklahoma in.

A little more than a year ago, the Big 12 signed a lucrative television contract and a number of Big 12 schools, Baylor and Iowa State in particular, launched major athletic capital construction projects they planned to finance with this television revenue.

A&M leaving the conference is no big deal. But now Oklahoma is threatening to go and, if it does, it will take Oklahoma State with it. That means the end of the Big 12 and that fat TV contract. IF OU, OSU, Texas and Texas Tech leave for the PAC 12 as rumored, that leaves Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor as the only teams left. The SEC would want to grab Missouri to make it a balanced 14-team league and the Big East is ready to pounce on Kansas, particularly for its basketball program. That leaves Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor as the only ones homeless and without TV revenue. Do you see a connection with that and the fact that the legal action has been filed by Baylor with Iowa State and Kansas State showing strong support for Baylor’s actions?

What these three schools want is not for Texas A&M to remain in the Big 12. I think everyone connected with the Big 12 are glad to be rid of the Aggies. But they don’t want any other defections. They are demanding Oklahoma, at least, sign a binding, long-term agreement to remain in the conference. The thinking is “If we can get Oklahoma to stay, none of the others will leave either.”

You see, Baylor’s suit is not about forcing Texas A&M to stay; it’s about forcing Oklahoma to stay.

Recommended slogan for Obama’s re-election campaign

At least he’s not Rick Perry

I see dead people

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Instead of spewing negative racial arguments, here’s something councilwoman Hill can do that’s positive for South Dallas

During her briefing today on Resource Flow Control, Sanitation Services Director Mary Nix spoke about a Resource Recovery Facility that was constructed on a site that was a landfill in Roseville, Calif. When it was a landfill, there was not much else in the neighborhood. However, since the landfill has been replaced by this “materials recovery facility,” as it is called there, a subdivision featuring homes in the $300,000-$500,000 range have been constructed there. A university campus is now another neighbor. And currently under construction less than a mile away is a Thunder Valley Casino.

Ka-ching! So instead of blatantly and embarrassingly using irrelevant racial arguments to try to stymie Resource Flow Control, what Dallas City Councilwoman Vonciel Hill and the rest of her South Dallas colleagues (hell, recruit the entire council for this effort) should be doing is scheduling meetings with the pro-gambling interests in Texas — and, trust me on this, there are many of them and they have deep pockets — to plan a presentation to the next legislative session on why, in these crumbling economic times when the state needs all the money it can steal, gambling should finally be legalized in Texas.

Then they should be preparing a site, perhaps near the soon-to-be South Dallas Resource Recovery Center, for a Harrah’s, a WinStar, a Bally’s, a Bellagio, even a Thunder Valley Casino. Now wouldn’t that be a shot in the economic arm for the area!

Shame on you, councilwoman Hill

In her increasingly desperate attempts to stop Resource Flow Control, which looks more and more like a dead solid certainty, Dallas City Councilwoman Vonciel Hill embarrassingly tried to play the race card during today’s council briefing.

In an argument that was as irrelevant as perhaps any ever presented to the council, she said comparisons between resource recovery facilities in Europe and Japan and one proposed for Southeast Dallas were invalid because there were no blacks living in Europe or Japan.

“Would it surprise you,” she scolded Sanitation Services Director Mary Nix, “if I told you that the majority of people living in Japan are Japanese? Would it surprise you if I told you the majority of people living in France are French?”

Would it surprise you, Hill, if I told you that the majority of people living in the Unitedf States are Americans?

To try and claim there is no diversity in the populations of France and Japan is an insult to her intelligence and a major insult to the people of France and Japan.

Did the City of Dallas locate McCommas Bluff where it did simply because it was the middle of a black neighborhood, as Hill so crassly insinuated today? No, the landfill is located where it is because, as fellow black councilwoman Carolyn Davis so correctly noted during the briefing, no one lives around it.

Hill is the only black council member to adamantly oppose Resource Flow Control and her last second attempt to block it by playing the race card should be repudiated by everyone, especially her council colleagues.

It is obvious to me that she has been promised big bucks by the waste hauling lobby if Resource Flow Control is defeated, an offer which may be superfluous anyway because the city’s redistricting map, also presented to the council today (and which, of course, she also promised to fight) would, if approved, drive her from the council.

With embarrassing stunts like she pulled today, she wouldn’t be missed.

Australian for nose job

Is it Leonardo’s turn?

The members of the Motion Picture Academy have as many different reasons for voting their Oscar choices as there are members. One of them, I suspect, is “It’s just this person’s turn to win an Oscar.” That was an overriding reason for Martin Scorsese winning a directing Oscar in 2007 after having being nominated six other times. It contributed to Jeff Bridges acting Oscar in 2010 following four other nominations. The only one who has not had his turn is the great Peter O’Toole, who I thought had a shot in 2007 because, with seven previous Oscar nominations to his credit, it seemed to be his turn.

I’m sensing there is a feeling this year that it may be Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn. Although comparatively younger than others whose turn it was (he will be 37 when the awards are handed out next year) he’s been in the business professionally for 21 years now and does have three other nominations to his credit (and he’s earned even more). He is also well liked and respected among his peers. And if his role as the legendary titular F.B.I. chief in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar turns out to be as meaty as many are predicting, he could be a significant contender.

Right now I’m installing him as an early favorite for the best actor Oscar, although I reserve the right to change my mind between now and February.

My Top 25 Collge Football Teams

The number in parenthesis is my foolish preseason ranking:
1. Oklahoma 1-0 (3)
2. Boise State 1-0 (4)
3. Alabama 1-0 (2)
4. LSU 1-0 (6)
5. Stanford 1-0 (5)
6. Ohio State 1-0 (9)
7. Oklahoma State 1-0 (7)
8. Wisconsin 1-0 (13)
9. Florida State 1-0 (11)
10. Arkansas 1-0 (10)
11. Texas A&M 1-0 (16)
12. Virginia Tech 1-0 (12)
13. Oregon 0-1 (1)
14. Nebraska 1-0 (15)
15. Missouri 1-0 (18)
16. South Carolina 1-0 (17)
17. Auburn 1-0 (14)
18. Mississippi State 1-0 (21)
19. Florida 1-0 (20)
20. West Virginia 1-0 (24)
21. TCU 0-1 (8)
22. Nevada 0-0 (NR)
23. Michigan State 1-0 (23)
24. USC 1-0 (22)
25. Maryland 1-0 (NR)
Dropped Out: Notre Dame, Utah

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

For your listening and viewing pleasure

Available on DVD “Trollhunter”

Written and directed by André Ovredal, Trollhunter is a deft little mockumentary in the vein of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activities, purportedly real exercises in which dummies with video cameras come up against the supernatural. Here we get three naive communications students at Volda University — cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), sound-girl Johanna (Johanna Morck), and on-air talent Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) — who follow a grizzled Great White Hunter type named Hans (Otto Jespersen) into the wilds of upper Norway.

They think he’s a poacher. In fact, he’s the Norwegian government’s one-man Troll Control squad, and he’s getting awfully burned out. The hours are terrible and the benefits stink worse than the trolls. The students don’t believe a word of this until they flick on the night vision while Hans flushes his quarry and — well, let’s just say the movie’s special effects are as goofily impressive as the camerawork is cheap.

Trollhunter works on a number of levels, the most immediately satisfying of which is the office-place comedy (one that just happens to take place miles from civilization). Hans has an officious bureaucratic boss named Finn (Hans Morten Hansen), who tries to blame all those half-eaten sheep on bear attacks. This leads to a blissfully funny sequence in which the Polish day laborers hired to plant a dead bear deliver the wrong kind by mistake, leading Finn to improvise desperately in front of the press. To quote one of the Poles, “Why problem make when you know problem have you don’t want to make?’’ This turns out to be useful advice when dealing with inept government conspiracies.

Ovredal’s script also codifies for the movies centuries of troll lore, which means an HBO dramatic series can’t be far behind. Hans asks if the three students are atheists, since it turns out trolls actually can smell Christian blood. (It doesn’t help to lie about this.) Trolls also turn to stone when exposed to sunlight or its ultraviolet equivalent, a process explained by a helpful lady veterinarian in spurious biological detail.

The bit about hiding under bridges? True. We’re also introduced to various subspecies: the Tosserlad, the Ringlefinch, the Jotnar. All are ugly, huge — the Jotnar especially so — and not terribly bright. In fact they’re rather sweet, or would be if they weren’t given to stomping on things.

The momentum stalls in the last half, and the movie doesn’t end so much as roll slowly to a halt. Once again, material for a great short film has been expanded to feature length at its peril and ours. Still, this is clever stuff and surprisingly engrossing on its own terms. What Trollhunter isn’t is particularly scary, but in its defense, it’s not trying to be. After a certain point you realize it’s simply another monster movie in which the monster is us.

“You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it”

Bush-Perry kill more than wars do

383: The total number of U.S. soldiers killed in the First Gulf War, Somalia, Panama and Grenada.

387: The total number of U.S. civilians killed by lethal injection by governors Bush and Perry.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Eddie Murphy to host Oscars?

The word is out in force that Oscars producer Brett Ratner is in serious discussions with actor/comedian Eddie Murphy to host the next Academy Award telecast. I have absolutely no problem with that. I think it’s better than trotting out a heavily botoxed Billy Crystal. Been there, done that. Murphy was the star of Ratner’s movie Tower Heist.

Conference re-alignments

The more I think about it, the more I really like the idea of a PAC-16 Athletic Conference with the additions of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the league, especially now that the Aggies have scampered off to the SEC. It’s an ideal solution that maintains rivalries that are still meaningful and relevant.

Of course, it means the end of a nine-team league mislabeled the Big 12, but so be it. A PAC 16 could be divided into east and west divisions with the west consisting of the original PAC Eight teams and the east comprised of the four new additions plus Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah.

Each team would play the other seven in their division plus two from the other division on a home-and-home basis, so that you changed inter-division opponents every two years.

So what happens to the rest of the teams in the Big 12? I could see Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State settling comfortably into the Big 10, making that a 16-team conference as well.

That leaves only Baylor, the one private school in the conference. Conference USA would be a perfect fit, but I’m not sure the Bears alumni would settle for a non-BCS conference situation. However, the end of the Big 12 Conference probably spells the end of the BCS anyway.

Of course, not really having any ties to Baylor (the school got accepted into the Big 12 only because former Gov. Ann Richards, a Baylor grad, threatened to veto the Texas’ schools invitations unless Baylor got one too), I could really care less about the future conference affiliation of the Waco school.

But I do care about the possibility of a PAC 16 structured the way I have just outlined.

The dire predicament of our mail service

According to this, things are looking bad for the U.S. Postal Service — so bad that, unless emergency action is taken, the mail service we’ve taken for granted all our lives, will cease to exist by the end of the year.

The above cited story states all the reasons for the collapse — higher costs, decreased revenues (mainly due to the Internet).

And now we have a Congress that is not going to approve increased spending for anything — especially something it feels would make government “bigger” — and a President too timid to stand up and take matters into his own hands.

I could do without Saturday mail service, but others, including powerful Congressional leaders oppose that. And I understand that would only cut expenses by 2 percent. But if it’s a question of only receiving and being able to send mail, say, three days a week or not to be able to do either at all, I’ll take the first option.

I also like the idea of closing a lot of postal facilities and incorporating them (like banks already do) in supermarkets or places like Target, Wal-Mart, etc.

Whatever, something must be done. I will admit I mail about 10 percent of the volume I used to mail a decade ago, but I depend on the mail to bring needed information (particularly magazine subscriptions) to me. We simply cannot get along without the mail.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Available on DVD: “The Beaver”

Mel Gibson and friend in The Beaver
Whatever you think of The Beaver — and it’s both problematic and intriguing enough to elicit at least three contradictory responses from most home viewers — director Jodie Foster’s film reasserts the feverish, defiant, often gripping talent of actor Mel Gibson. Though these things cannot be compartmentalized, not entirely, the actor Mel Gibson stands apart from the off-screen nightmare Mel Gibson as well as the sadistic Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto director Mel Gibson. I prefer this Mel Gibson by a pretty fair margin.

In The Beaver, he looks as if he’s on the verge of a panic attack, or an early exit from the filming of the movie itself. He plays Walter, the successful head of a toy company who has spiraled into a deep depression, to the horror of his wife (played by a dead-serious, deeply invested Foster), the skepticism of his valued colleague (Cherry Jones) and the confusion of his two sons. After a failed suicide attempt, alcoholic Walter happens upon a furry hand puppet in a large trash bin outside his usual liquor store. The beaver speaks to him in a cockney growl halfway between Ray Winstone’s and Michael Caine’s (Gibson’s vocal characterization is pretty terrific). "I’m here to save your goddamn life," it tells him.

And it does, for a while. Letting the beaver take control of business meetings, domestic matters, most everything in his formerly sorry life, Walter frees himself to be a new and better man, albeit a man who speaks in two voices and goes everywhere with a buck-toothed sock on his hand. Walter is but one of several characters in Kyle Killen’s screenplay struggling to locate an authentic sense of self. The older son, played by Anton Yelchin, ghost-writes his high school classmates’ papers and speeches for money. The boy’s awkwardly developing relationship with the class valedictorian (the excellent Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone) takes up fully half the screen time. Yelchin lacks an animating spark and is merely adequate. Gibson does not lack an animating spark; if anything, he’s shooting off sparks in too many directions. Losing himself in a role rife with discomfiting real-life Gibson parallels, in The Beaver he acts like someone who means it, every moment.

He’s the reason this strange, uncertain picture can’t be dismissed. Somewhere in the rewrites, The Beaver apparently veered from black comedy of an accidentally therapeutic sort to a therapy-first drama with accidental bits of black comedy. Watching Gibson and Foster on screen together again, you’re struck at the unexpected similarities in their borderline-feral intensity. These are performers who do a lot from the neck up, busy every second, rarely in any sort of repose. Their itchy drive sets the tone for the best of the picture, which has been directed with considerable and, I think, misjudged tact by Foster.

She was right to take the central character’s despair seriously. There’s no movie if the viewer can’t do the same. On the other hand, the somber nature of the pacing and atmosphere periodically solemnizes The Beaver into passivity. On the other other hand, the one with the beaver puppet on it: If Foster’s collegial guidance encouraged Gibson to come up with this movie-saving performance, it was probably worth it.