Thursday, January 30, 2014

1952 Vincent Black Lightning

In case you're wondering what one looks like. (See next video)

The Waybacks' Richard Thompson Jam

If justice prevailed in the world of music, this band would be one of the world's most popular.

Here's a good car commercial

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An early Oscar look

Yes, I was disappointed that some of my favorites didn’t make the cut — I will go to my grave maintaining Before Midnight and Inside Llewyn Davis, neither which were nominated for best picture, are superior to Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club, both of which were. And I still can’t believe neither Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks, nor Oprah Winfrey for The Butler weren’t nominated, but I really can’t quibble with those who did make the cut. The same is true for Robert Redford for All Is Lost. I can’t convince myself Redford was overlooked because the role called for him not to speak through most of the film since just a couple of years ago Jean Dujardin won the Oscar while remaining mostly mum.

But instead of spending a lot of time looking back, I want to look ahead to what is going to happen on Oscar night March 2, when most everyone I know is predicting a split vote with 12 Years a Slave winning best picture and Alfonso Cuarón taking the director’s prize for Gravity.

Personally, I don’t think it’s going to work out that way.

I work in a video store and I’m constantly overhearing customers and co-workers pointing to a certain video and proclaiming it a "great picture." 99.9 per cent of the time the movie they’re referring to comes nowhere close to being a great picture. What they are actually saying is "I really like that movie." Which is OK. Millions upon millions of people really like McDonald’s, but no one will ever consider what they serve there as great cuisine. And it works both ways: I will freely admit to the fact that there are films I know to be "great movies" that I don’t particularly like all that much.

Oscar voters think along the same lines. The winner of the top Oscar is rarely the best picture of the year. It’s more often or not the movie the Oscar voters like the most. This year, Gravity is a far more likeable film than 12 Years a Slave and that’s why I think it will pull off the upset and win the top award.

Look at this way: Suppose you had heard a lot about both films but had seen neither and then one day the postman delivers DVDs of both films to your home. Which one would you decide to watch first? I’m betting most of you would watch Gravity ahead of 12 Years a Slave because from what you’ve already heard Gravity is the more uplifting film while 12 Years could be a real downer. And because the best picture Oscar is chosen through a preferential ballot, I’m betting the majority of voters are going to list Gravity No. 1 or No. 2 on their lists. There’s a slight possibility 12 Years might receive more first place votes than Gravity, but I also think there will be more that list it fourth, fifth or sixth. The bottom line is Gravity is the more likeable film and that’s why I’m picking it to win both picture and directing prizes.

Of course, Gravity has a lot going against it. It’s special-effects driven and a special-effects driven movie has never won the top prize. It’s dominated by a lone female character and a lone female-character-driven film has never won the top prize. And it wasn’t nominated in the screenplay category. The last picture not nominated in either screenplay category to win the top prize was 1997's Titanic.

But even those negatives don’t bode well for 12 Years. If any film comes from the field to take the top prize away from Gravity, I think it will be American Hustle. It, too, is a very likeable movie and what’s more, it’s the overwhelming favorite of the Academy’s largest voting bloc, the Actors Branch. The Actors Branch has 1,183 of the Academy’s 5,755 voting members. The second largest branch is the Sound Branch with 407 voting members. How much do actors love American Hustle? It placed a nominee in all four acting categories and it walked away with the Screen Actors Guild’s awards.

I’ll have all my Oscar predictions around the end of February.


Monday, January 27, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Rush ****½ Directed by Ron Howard. The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). Howard, whose first job as a director was the 1977 Roger Corman-produced Grand Theft Auto, has captured what is surely the greatest racing footage ever shot. But he doesn’t just want you to crawl inside a Formula One racecar, he also wants you to crawl inside its driver’s head.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 *** Directed by Cody Cameron. Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) now works at The Live Corp Company for his idol Chester V (voice of Will Forte). But he’s forced to leave his post when he learns that his most infamous machine is still operational and is churning out menacing food-animal hybrids. Unlike so many sequels, this fun-filled adventure is sure to entertain younger kids but also charm the adults who could be on the couch watching it with them.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa **½ Directed by Jeff Tremaine. 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8 year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), back to his real father. True to the Jackass formula, some gags come off better than others, but there’s some doozies in its midst.

Last Vegas **½ Directed by John Turteltaub. Three sixty-something friends (Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline) take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal (Michael Douglas). A smattering of funny gags and the nostalgia value of the cast — none of whom, curiously, have ever shared the screen before — keeps the whole thing more watchable than it has any right to be.

Ass Backwards **½ Directed by Chris Nelson. Two best friends, Kate (June Diane Raphael) and Chloe (Casey Wilson) embark on a cross country trip back to their hometown to attempt to win a pageant that eluded them as children. Co-writers and stars Raphael (Whitney, New Girl) and Wilson (Happy Endings) are genuine and true comic performers. Even though the story stinks, the set pieces are uninspired and the direction is downright wretched, when these two are "on" and doing schtick, they are absolutely fresh and hilarious.

The Fifth Estate **½ Directed by Bill Condon. A dramatic thriller based on real events that reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization. The film gives us an obsessive-compulsive messiah with a taste for martyrdom, and full-screen cascades of computer code in place of a coherent plot. Exhausting in a new way, the movie is a data dump devoid of drama.

Concussion **½ Directed by Stacie Passon. When a blow to the head with a baseball prompts lesbian housewife Abby (Robin Weigert) to shake up her suburban life — and her dull marriage — she buys a fixer-upper in Manhattan and seeks excitement by becoming a prostitute. Acquitting herself capably in a lead role that strips her bare in more ways than one, Weigert (HBO’s Deadwood) proves worthy of a future in features, whereas first-time writer-director Passon mainly exposes her background in commercials.

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1.  Arizona 20-0 (1)
2.  Michigan State 18-2 (2)
3.  Kansas 15-4 (5)
4.  Syracuse 19-0 (4)
5.  Villanova 17-2 (3)
6.  Wichita State 21-0 (8)
7.  Creighton 17-3 (11)
8.  Wisconsin 17-3 (6)
9.  Florida 17-2 (10)
10. Oklahoma State 16-3 (7)
11. Pittsburgh 18-2 (15)
12. Iowa 16-4 (9)
13. Louisville 17-3 (12)
14. Duke 16-4 (16)
15. Michigan 15-4 (19)
16. Iowa State 15-3 (13)
17. San Diego State 18-1 (17)
18. Kentucky 15-4 (18)
19. Ohio State 16-4 (14)
20. Cincinnati 19-2 (21)
21. Massachusetts 17-2 (20)
22. UCLA 16-4 (23)
23. Gonzaga 18-3 (22)
24. Virginia 15-5 (25)
25. St. Louis 18-2 (24)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shadow dancing

A beautiful, touching, emotional, original piece of art. A must watch.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A quick Oscar thought

Although I will learn more after this weekend, if you asked me right now I would argue we’re going to have another split in Oscar voting with 12 Years a Slave taking home the trophy for best picture and Alfonso Cuaron winning the directing Oscar for Gravity. I will have all my predictions at the beginning of February.

Meet the new boss, not as strong as the old boss

Newly appointed City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, Dallas' answer to Howdy Doody
A couple months ago I thought the "Uber Affair," in which interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez tried to railroad past City Council an ordinance governing transportation companies that would have forced one of them, Uber, a smartphone car service, out of business, was going to cost Gonzalez a shot at becoming the fulltime city manager.

Turns out I was wrong. Way wrong. 180 degrees wrong.

The City Council severely chastised Gonzalez for his actions in the Uber Affair and afterwards realized "Hey, this guy now knows his place. We can keep our collective feet on his throat and he will scream ‘Thank you!’."

According to the outlines of the City Council-Manager form of government, the role of the council is set policy and it’s the role of the City Manager to run the city. And publicly, all the parties involved express fealty to that concept.

However, in reality, this council, one of this most incompetent in memory, has decided that it is going to run the city and the last thing they want in the City Manager’s office is a strong leader like immediate past City Manager Mary Suhm. When council members talk about "change" at City Hall and keeping Gonzalez "on a short leash," this is what they are talking about: "From now on, we’re running things here and neither you nor anybody else better get in the way."

That’s why Gonzalez, who, because of Uber, has become the council’s whipping boy, was named City Manager today instead of the much stronger candidate, David Cooke, a former county manager in North Carolina, who would have run the city as he saw fit, much in the same way Suhm did. (Cooke was also "cooked" as a candidate because he is a white male. Hate to admit it, but that’s an accurate statement.)

I also think Cooke wouldn’t have lasted much more than a year in the job. Much sooner than later, he would have thrown up his hands in disgust at the incompetence of this council and walked away.

Let me tell you just how incompetent this City Council is. If any one of these council members (outside of Mayor Mike Rawlings) really cared about the city as a whole, having a marionette as city manager might not be that bad, at least for a while. But, as was feared by the critics of 14-1 (I most definitely was not one of them) when it was instituted more than 20 years ago, these council members have decided they are the mayors, the bosses, the ward healers of their individual districts, nothing more.

This was abundantly clear recently during the debate over a possible plastic bag ban in Dallas. Every single council member began their individual remarks on this topic with "In my district …," or "What I’m hearing from people in my district …," etc. During a conversation about renovating the dog park at White Rock Lake, the topic became "How come there are no dog parks in my district?" Earlier this week Sandy Greyson became incensed that a study of Dallas County did not include a significant portion of her Far North Dallas District. When she was told that the part of her district that was not included was in either Collin or Denton County, she didn’t care. She wanted all of her district included whether it was a legitimate part of the study or not.

So what I’m seeing is Dallas evolving from a city into 14 individual fiefdoms and today the City Council appointed someone as City Manager who will not stand in the way of that transition. And that’s a tragedy.

Monday, January 20, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

In a World ****½ Lake Bell. Directed by Lake Bell. An underachieving voice coach finds herself competing in the movie trailer voice-over profession against her arrogant father and his protégé. While the film is hysterical, its real strength lies in the way it is able to deal with an issue like sexism in the industry and work it out in a funny, honest and very real way.

Captain Phillips **** Tom Hanks. Directed by Paul Greengrass. The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the U.S.-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years. Greengrass pulls off the same remarkable feat he accomplished with United 93: He takes a true story in which the outcome is already known and transforms it into a gripping, wrenching, devastating thriller. Hanks, in yet another in a long line of diverse character studies, does a beautiful job as the voice of reason and logic, trying to inspire bravery and maintain order amid the noise and panic. In the big emotional scenes, as well as the small, nerve-jangling scenes, he is an artist at the top of his skill.

Blue Jasmine **½ Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Woody Allen. A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister. One of Allen’s strongest and most pointed films in over a decade despite mildly falling victim to his recent propensity for clunky narrative development, cynicism, and stereotypical characterizations. The main reason to rent this film is to see Blanchett’s cagey, broken performance.

Sunlight Jr. **½ Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon. Directed by Laurie Collyer. A Florida couple deals with an unexpected pregnancy while holding minimum wage jobs. The actors are so good that you wish Collyer offered them a richer arc to play, rather than just a topic.

Machete Kills **½ Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space. This sequel dulls more than anything. It’s not that Rodriguez’s film lacks any of the camp or exploitative violence of the 2010 original. The mayhem has just become boring.

Charlie Countryman ½* Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Rupert Grint, Vincent D’Onofrio, Melissa Leo. Directed by Fredrik Bond. Led to Romania by haunting visions, young American Charlie Countryman falls hard for an alluring cellist whose father has recently died and whose violent past could bring about his own demise. Pulpy dross of surpassing dumbness, this movie takes the blender approach to mixing dark adventure, doofus comedy and pie-eyed romance, but forgets to put the lid on when pulsed.

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Arizona 18-0 (1)
2.  Michigan State 17-1 (3)
3.  Villanova 16-1 (4)
4.  Syracuse 18-0 (5)
5.  Kansas 13-4 (9)
6.  Wisconsin 16-2 (2)
7.  Oklahoma State 15-3 (7)
8.  Wichita State 19-0 (10)
9.  Iowa 15-3 (11)
10. Ohio State 15-3 (8)
11. Florida 15-2 (12)
12. Iowa State 14-3 (6)
13. Louisville 16-3 (17)
14. Pittsburgh 16-2 (14)
15. Creighton 15-3 (13)
16. Duke 14-4 (21)
17. San Diego State 16-1 (15)
18. Kentucky 13-4 (16)
19. Massachusetts 16-1 (18)
20. Cincinnati 17-2 (19)
21. Michigan 13-4 (NR)
22. Gonzaga 16-3 (22)
23. UCLA 14-4 (24)
24. St. Louis 17-2 (NR)
25. Virginia 13-5 (NR)
Dropped out: Baylor (20), Memphis (23), Oregon (25)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Predictions

If my predictions are correct, 12 Years a Slave will garner the most nominations (13) when the Motion Picture Academy announces their choices this morning.

The Academy Award nominations will be announced in a couple of hours so I’d better hustle to get my final predictions out there.

I have some caveats: Although I’ve listed the maximum number of pictures that can be nominated for the top award, I doubt the Academy will go with that many. This was an excellent year for movies, however, so there might be as many as nine nominees and, if that’s the case, The Butler will probably get bumped from the list. I’m also afraid the superb Inside Llewyn Davis, based on the guild nominations so far, may not make the final cut. And, although I don’t have it listed, nothing would make me happier than to see the magnificent Before Midnight make the cut.

I’m also nervous about including Tom Hanks in the supporting actor category. I would not be shocked to see him bumped by either the late James Gandolfini for Enough Said or Daniel Bruhl for Rush.

With that in mind, here are my picks:

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
The Butler
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Inside Llewyn Davis

12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Grandmaster
The Great Beauty
The Hunt

20 Feet From Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Square
Stories We Tell

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
Oz The Great and Powerful
Saving Mr. Banks

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Great Gatsby

12 Years a Slave
All Is Lost
The Book Thief
Saving Mr. Banks

12 Years a Slave
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips

12 Years a Slave
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
World War Z


Monday, January 13, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Enough Said ****½ Julia Louis-Drefus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone. Directed by Nicole Holofcener. A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she's interested in learns he's her new friend's ex-husband. Line for line, scene for scene, it is one of the best-written American film comedies in recent memory and an implicit rebuke to the raunchy, sloppy spectacles of immaturity that have dominated the genre in recent years. It shows us how rare love is — and how we need to grab it and not let it go. Gandolfini deserves an Oscar for Enough Said not because it's the culmination of everything that came before it but rather because it goes in a completely different direction. And his least characteristic achievement is also one of his best.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler ****½ Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams, Clarence Williams III. Directed by Lee Daniels. As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect his life, family, and American society. An important film presented as mainstream entertainment. It’s a great American story. With this film, Daniels quietly pushes his talent for hashing out visceral, violent emotions into unexpected dramatic terrain.

The Spectacular Now **** Directed by James Ponsoldt. A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl." Anchored by a funny and especially credible performance by newcomer Miles Teller, Ponsoldt's follow up to his alcoholism portrait Smashed has all the hallmarks of a bittersweet teen drama with flashes of realistic comedy on par with Say Anything and The Breakfast Club.

Short Term 12 **** Directed by Destin Cretton. Grace (Brie Larson), a compassionate young supervisor at a foster care facility, works with her boyfriend and colleague, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), to help at-risk teens. But when a new charge dredges up memories of her own troubled past, Grace's tough exterior begins eroding. Cretton shows as much care and kindness with the minutiae of the daily routine as he does with the larger issues that plague these lives in flux. He also infuses his story with unexpected humor as the kids hassle each other — and their supervisors — on the road to healing.

Blue Caprice **** Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams. Directed by Alexandre Moors. An abandoned boy is lured to America and drawn into the shadow of a dangerous father figure. Inspired by the real life events that led to the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks. What makes this film special is the fact that the filmmakers are more interested in questioning what brings people to commit senseless and merciless acts than they are preoccupied with the historical record.

Fruitvale Station ***½ Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer. Directed by Ryan Coogler. The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. Coogler, with a ground-level, hand-held shooting style that sometimes evokes the spiritually alert naturalism of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, has enough faith in his actors and in the intrinsic interest of the characters’ lives to keep overt sentimentality and message-mongering to a minimum.

20 Feet From Stardom ***½ Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler. Directed by Morgan Neville. A behind-the-scenes look at the world of backup vocalists in a documentary that weaves interviews with legendary singers like Springsteen and Midler with the comments of those whose voices support them. This generous, fascinating documentary about the careers of backup singers, most of them African-American women, seeks to rewrite the history of pop music by focusing attention on voices at once marginal and vital.

You’re Next ***½ Directed by Adam Wingard. When shy Erin (Sharni Vinson) joins her new boyfriend at a family reunion to commemorate his parents' anniversary, the tense gathering is horrifically interrupted by a gang of masked invaders who brutalize the celebrants ... until someone starts fighting back. Funny and tense, rather than hilarious and terrifying, You’re Next doesn’t rip up the rulebook but it’s definitely read it. If all horror comedies were this good we’d be laughing — and squirming.

Carrie *** Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore. Directed by Kimberly Peirce. A re-imagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom. Peirce plays up the story’s religious themes and Carrie’s burgeoning power as she discovers her telekinetic gifts, even as the dread of the female body that deepens De Palma’s version somehow goes missing. If you're going to take another stab at this tale of a taunted, traumatized teen who exacts fiery revenge on, well, everyone, then Peirce is the director to do it.

A Single Shot **½ Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly, Jason Isaacs, Joe Anderson, Ophelia Levisond, Ted Levine, William H. Macy. Directed by David M. Rosenthal. The tragic death of a beautiful young girl starts a tense and atmospheric game of cat and mouse between hunter John Moon (Rockwell) and the hardened backwater criminals out for his blood. Rockwell’s performance is impressively flinty, as is the rest of the cast (including Macy delivering some twitchy character work), and the dialogue sparkles with brilliantly colorful mountain-man slang. Despite its byzantine narrative, the film remains never less than absorbing, as the walls slowly close in on this good-hearted but ultimately flawed protagonist.

Riddick **½ Vin Diesel. Directed by David Twohy. Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick's past. An alternately kick-ass and clumsy piece of sci-fi claptrap that puts its empty head down and gets the job done.

A.C.O.D. **½ Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Clark Duke, Jessica Alba, Jane Lynch. Directed by Stu Zicherman. After enduring decades of conflict between his divorced parents, Carter (Scott) tries to end the hostilities on the eve of his brother's marriage. Instead, he ends up making surprising discoveries about his past that only increase the tumult. It’s neither consistently funny nor poignant enough to make the most of its impressive cast, all of whom are capable of delivering better than what this film asks of them.

My Final Top 25 College Football Teams for 2013

Sorry I'm so late posting this. Previous ranking in parenthesis.
1.  Florida State 14-0 (1)
2.  Auburn 12-2 (4)
3.  Alabama 12-2 (2)
4.  Missouri 12-2 (8)
5.  Michigan State 13-1 (7)
6.  Stanford 11-3 (3)
7.  Oregon 11-2 (9)
8.  South Carolina 11-2 (11)
9.  Baylor 11-2 (5)
10. Oklahoma 11-2 (14)
11. Clemson 11-2 (13)
12. Ohio State 12-2 (6)
13. UCLA 10-3 (17)
14. Oklahoma State 10-3 (12)
15. LSU 10-3 (15)
16. Arizona State 10-4 (10)
17. Central Florida 12-1 (23)
18. Louisville 12-1 (19)
19. Washington 9-4 (21)
20. Texas A&M 9-4 (20)
21. Southern California 10-4 (22)
22. Wisconsin 9-4 (16)
23. Georgia 8-5 (18)
24. Notre Dame 9-4 (24)
25. Mississippi 8-5 (NR)
Dropped out: Iowa (25)

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Arizona 18-0 (1)
2.  Wisconsin 18-1 (3)
3.  Villanova 15-1 (6)
4.  Michigan State 15-1 (5)
5.  Syracuse 20-0 (7)
6.  Iowa State 15-1 (4)
7.  Ohio State 15-2 (2)
8.  Oklahoma State 14-2 (8)
9.  Wichita State 17-0 (9)
10. Kansas 11-4 (11)
11. Iowa 14-3 (15)
12. Florida 14-2 (18)
13. Pittsburgh 15-1 (14)
14. Creighton 14-2 (17)
15. Kentucky 12-3 (20)
16. San Diego State 14-1 (16)
17. Massachusetts 14-1 (22)
18. Louisville 14-3 (12)
19. Cincinnati 17-2 (24)
20. Duke 13-4 (19)
21. Baylor 13-2 (23)
22. Gonzaga 14-3 (13)
23. Memphis 12-3 (NR)
24. Oregon 14-3 (10)
25. Colorado 14-3 (21)
Dropped out: UCLA (25)

Monday, January 6, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Act of Killing ***** Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. One of the most extraordinary films you’ll ever encounter, not to mention one of the craziest filmmaking concepts anywhere. It’s a mind-bending film, devastating and disorienting, that disturbs us in ways we’re not used to being disturbed, raising questions about the nature of documentary, the persistence of evil, and the intertwined ways movies function in our culture and in our minds.

Inequality for All *** Directed by Jacob Kornbluth. A documentary that follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap. Reich ties together his talking points with a reasonable-sounding analysis and an unassuming warmth sometimes absent from documentaries charting America’s economic woes.

Thanks for Sharing *** Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Alecia Moore. Directed by Stuart Blumberg. While making his way through a support group for sex addicts, Adam (Ruffalo) dips his toe in the dating pool to embrace a meaningful relationship. But the woman he’s attracted to has sworn off addicts altogether. The film is never quite crazy or funny enough to transcend its "disease-of-month" template. The title turns out to not be ironic — a mixed blessing.

We Are What We Are **½ Directed by Jim Mickle. The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family. While ultimately gory — and a little dopey — this is no rowdy, exploitation-y, gross-out picture. This is a film where ambience, glossy imagery and performance are more effective than the splatter.

Closed Circuit **½ Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, Jim Broadbent. Directed by John Crowley. Two top-flight lawyers who happen to be former lovers become targets when they’re teamed to defend a notorious terrorist. As the trial unfolds, the danger causes the pair to reevaluate their allegiance to justice. Old-school intrigue, informants and assassins, life-or-death pursuits in crowded places, characters who are adults and do not wear capes or pilot robots: This is pretty much what any home viewer over the age of 13 pines for, so this courtroom melodrama/surveillance thriller should be manna.

Tiger Eyes **½ Willa Holland, Amy Jo Johnson, Cynthia Stevenson, Tatanka Means, Russell Means. Directed by Lawrence Blume. Following her dad’s murder, 17-year-old Davey (Holland) goes to stay with relatives in New Mexico, while her mother tries to come to terms with her grief. While hiking a local canyon, Davey meets a young man who’s destined to change her view of life. Davey’s tortuous emotional distress, while generically relatable, seems more appropriate to a younger teen rather than a young woman who’s practically a college freshman. This curious disjunction impacts the performances as well, which are adequate but rarely persuasive.

I’m So Excited **½ Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. When a flight bound for Mexico City runs into trouble, the frightened passengers aboard start sharing their deepest secrets to distract themselves from impending doom with hilarious results. A trip recommended strictly for Almodóvar’s hard-core fans. Throughout the movie, I wished not so much for the plane to land, as for the movie to finally take off. While the plot strives to be a raunchy-clever sex farce, it feels more like a leaden repurposing of Airplane with drunken pilots, mile-high dalliances and dancing flight attendants.

Runner Runner * Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Ben Affleck. Directed by Brad Furman. When a poor college student who cracks an online poker game goes bust, he arranges a face-to-face with the man he thinks cheated him, a sly offshore entrepreneur. What’s actually up onscreen in this vaguely ambitious but tawdry melodrama falls into an in-between no-man’s-land that endows it with no distinction whatsoever, a work lacking both style and insight into the netherworld it seeks to reveal.

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

Last week's ratings in parenthesis
1.  Arizona 16-0 (1)
2.  Ohio State 15-0 (3)
3.  Wisconsin 17-1 (4)
4.  Iowa State 14-0 (6)
5.  Michigan State 13-1 (8)
6.  Syracuse 18-0 (5)
7.  Oklahoma State 12-2 (2)
8.  Villanova 13-1 (7)
9.  Oregon 14-1 (9)
10. Kansas 9-4 (10)
11. Wichita State 15-0 (11)
12. Louisville 13-2 (15)
13. Iowa 12-3 (13)
14. Gonzaga 14-2 (22)
15. Pittsburgh 13-1 (18)
16. Duke 11-3 (16)
17. Florida 12-2 (14)
18. Massachusetts 12-1 (12)
19. Creighton 12-2 (23)
20. Kentucky 10-3 (17)
21. Colorado 13-2 (20)
22. Baylor 12-1 (19)
23. San Diego State 12-1 (24)
24. Cincinnati 15-2 (NR)
25. Memphis 10-3 (21)
Dropped out: Missouri (25)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Glimpse at the Acting Oscar Races

I see the same five nominees in the lead actor race that I predicted earlier in the year, but I do see support slipping for Robert Redford and Tom Hanks and increasing for Matthew McConaughey and Bruce Dern. Lurking outside the Top 5 is Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street and if Hanks’ support keeps dropping, DiCaprio could claim his spot.

Four of the five nominees in the lead actress category appear locked in and the fifth spot could go either to Meryl Streep, whom I still picking at this time but who is losing support, or Amy Adams for American Hustle. It also appears four of the five nominees are there just to fill out the field in a category that Cate Blanchett is a solid pick to win.

The supporting actor category is one of the most fluid. Three nominees — Abdi, Fassbinder, and Leto, — seem like sure bets with Leto the current favorite to win. The last two spots could go to any one of four contenders: Daniel Bruhl (Rush) Cooper, James Gandolfini (Enough Said) or Hanks. Also lurking in the periphery is Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street).

Right now I can’t see anyone else cracking the five nominees I’ve listed in the supporting actress category.

Lead Actor
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

Lead Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philhomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbinder, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler