Friday, February 28, 2014

Well, I woke up this morning ...

…And there was more on my mind than just my son, my granddaughter and My Hero.

1. Experienced that wrenching Mavericks loss this evening up close and personal. All through the fourth quarter I kept thinking if the Mavericks could play defense like Chicago, they would be unbeatable. Unfortunately, they can’t play defense as well as most of the teams I saw this past weekend at the Special Olympics tournament in Grand Prairie. Giving up 100 points at home to the Bulls, a team that averages 93.1 points a game, is abysmal. It also means Dallas is tied with Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot (as I write this, however, Phoenix’s home game with New Orleans is still in progress), and the Mavs are only one game ahead of Memphis in the all-important loss column from being shut out of the playoffs. To make matters worse, Dallas begins a grueling seven-game stretch beginning Sunday at San Antonio. The six games following the Spurs are: at Denver (I know Denver is not that good, but playing them in the Mile High City can be problematic), at home against Portland and Indiana, at Golden State, at Utah (another lottery team but a tough out at their place), and at Oklahoma City. That’s brutal, but at the end of that stretch we should know if the Mavericks are a playoff or a lottery team.

2. Pete Sessions is a disgrace. In his latest television campaign ads, he is promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Doesn’t he remember that Republicans tried and failed 47 times to repeal the ACA before it went into effect? And now that it is working legislation and helping hundreds of thousands of Americans to purchase health insurance they couldn’t afford before the ACA, even the most conservative of Republicans willingly admit the have given up on any repeal effort. So either Sessions is a demagogue of the rankest order or completely delusional. However, neither of those aforementioned attributes are ones someone representing us in Congress should possess. But then most Texas voters don’t think for themselves anyway. They are Stepford voters – acting the way Fox News tells them to. However, that’s slowly changing for the better. I just hope I’m still alive when Texas finally enters the Political 19th Century.

3. So there’s cracks in Eagle Stadium. The pride and joy of the City of Allen has fissures. And they’re getting bigger. These crevices, however, apparently were noticed right after the joint was completed. But I guess back then the powers-that-be said "That’s OK. The walls need room to breathe and stretch out, especially during the Texas summer." I guess no one seemed to pay any attention to the fact that the stadium — the only building that gives Allen a skyline — was finished during the summer. Personally speaking, I thought the fine folks in Allen had their priorities way out of whack when they approved spending $60 million to construct this 18,000-seat behemoth at a time when public school spending was being slashed by the State of Texas. So now, while I imagine there is much moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth going on among my neighbors to the north, I kinda have to just sit back and chuckle at this turn of events.

Now, here’s some sweet, soul music to help you into the weekend. I’ll be pack tomorrow with my Oscar predictions.

Monday, February 24, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Blue Is the Warmest Color ***** Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulas) life is changed when she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. Kechiche’s style is dizzy, obsessive, inspired and relentless, words that also describe Adèle and Emma and the fearless women who embody them. Many more words can — and will — be spent on this film, but for now I’ll settle for just one: glorious.

Gravity ****½ Directed by Alfonso Cuarón A medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) and an astronaut (George Clooney) work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space. You must see this film in theaters, because on television something will be lost. Cuarón has made a rare film whose mood, soul and profundity is bound up with its images. To see such images diminished would be to see a lesser film, which is why I knocked a half star off the rating of what is the best film of the year.

Nebraska ****½ Directed by Alexander Payne. An aging, booze-addled father (Bruce Dern) makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son (Will Forte) in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. This is one of Payne’s best films, a near-perfect amalgam of the acrid humor, great local color, and stirring resonances that run through his work. It features a career-capping performance by Dern, who is so convincing as an addled, drunken, embittered and probably dying man that he doesn’t appear to be acting, but Forte is just as good playing a preoccupied, emotionally constricted man-child.

Narco Cultura **½ Directed by Shaul Schwarz. Exploring the lives of a Mexican crime scene investigator and a Mexican American narcocorrido singer, this documentary examines how the culture of narcotics trafficking has become a twisted new version of the American Dream. Interesting as it is, this documentary aims to tell the story of what’s happened in Juarez and in Mexico (and, by virtue of its immense appetite for drugs, the United States). Instead, it feels more like a couple of intriguing chapters.

Thor: The Dark World Directed by Alan Taylor. When Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is possessed by a great power, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must protect her from the Dark Elves. Low-stakes, low-emotion, lowbrow. The battle scenes are as lacking in heat and coherence as the central love story. This action-adventure sequel from Marvel soon turns so dumb and murky that it hurts.

Twice Born * Directed by Sergio Castellitto. A single mother (Penélope Cruz) brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father (Emile Hirsch) died in the Bosnian conflict years ago. Dripping with floridly phony dialogue that no actor should be forced to speak, this paternity mystery uses the Bosnian conflict as the manipulative backdrop to a preposterously overwrought and overlong melodrama.

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1.  Arizona 25-2 (1)
2.  Florida 25-2 (2)
3.  Kansas 21-6 (4)
4.  Villanova 24-3 (5)
5.  Creighton 23-4 (7)
6.  Duke 22-6 (6)
7.  Syracuse 25-2 (3)
8.  Wichita State 29-0 (8)
9.  Wisconsin 22-5 (9)
10. Louisville 23-4 (12)
11. Michigan State 22-6 (10)
12. Virginia 23-5 (14)
13. Ohio State 22-6 (16)
14. Iowa 19-7 (11)
15. Iowa State 21-5 (17)
16. St. Louis 25-2 (18)
17. UCLA 21-6 (13)
18. Michigan 19-7 (15)
19. Kentucky 21-6 (19)
20. Cincinnati 24-4 (20)
21. San Diego State 23-3 (21)
22. Connecticut 21-6 (22)
23. North Carolina 20-7 (NR)
24. Pittsburgh 20-7 (23)
25. Texas 20-7 (25)
Dropped out: Gonzaga (24)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Friday music to see you into the weekend

It's difficult to believe I've known her for about 45 years. A great song upon to which reflect on 45 years.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

BOOM-er Sooner

Oklahoma has experienced more than 100 earthquakes since last Friday. None of them have caused epic damages on the scale of, say, comparatively recent earthquakes in California, but many residents have reported new cracks in their ceilings and walls and even one county jail has sustained minor structural damage.

Far be it from me to tell Oklahoma how to manage its state's geology, but it's worth noting that the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport experienced the same earthquake phenomena in October of 2012. Those earthquakes were linked to the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations taking place on airport grounds. In response, the DFW Airport Board ordered to end to "fracking" operations at the airport. The result? No more earthquakes.

Just sayin'.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology *** Directed by Sophie Fiennes. Fiennes and philosopher Slavoj Zizek team for this documentary that uses their interpretations of a potpourri of movies to create a journey into the epicenter of ideology. In a series of mini-rants with insights that range from the ho-hum to the profound, the sixtysomething Žižek, paunchy, bearded and bobbing his hands like a squirrel’s paws, rummages through what he calls the trash can of ideology.

On the Job *** Directed by Erik Matti. Filipino crime thriller inspired by a real-life scandal in which prison inmates are temporarily released from prison to work as contract killers on behalf of politicians and high ranking military officials. A sturdy and sophisticated crime drama that takes a pretty gruesome situation and enriches its presentation with lots of human detail.

Hellbenders **½ Directed by J.T. Petty. The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints, a team of blasphemous ministers who live in a constant state of debauchery, work to drag the worst of demons back to Hell. Mostly feels like a doodle, an amiable lark that will amuse genrephiles and anyone else with their sights set appropriately low.
Afternoon Delight **½ Directed by Jill Soloway. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a quick-witted and lovable stay-at-home mom. Frustrated with the realities of preschool auctions, a lackluster sex life and career that’s gone kaput, Rachel visits a strip club to spice up her marriage and meets McKenna (Juno Temple), a stripper she adopts as her live-in nanny. The film, which had at worst seemed unfocused (not a cardinal sin for a comedy), takes a bizarrely reactionary turn in the homestretch, undermining all of the goodwill Hahn had accumulated up to that point and turning her character into detestable yuppie scum.

Zaytoun * Directed by Eran Riklis. In 1982 Beirut, a young Palestinian refugee (Abdallah El Akal) helps an Israeli fighter pilot (Stephen Dorff) escape from PLO captivity because he wants to visit his ancestral family home. En route through war-torn Lebanon their relationship develops into a close bond. Alternating abruptly between road-trip comedy and war-through-a-child’s-eyes melodrama, the film’s tonal inconsistency prevents the story from gelling.

My Top 25 Basketball Teams

Last weeks' rank in parenthesis
1.  Arizona 23-2 (1)
2.  Florida 23-2 (6)
3.  Kansas 19-6 (4)
4.  Villanova 22-3 (3)
5.  Syracuse 25-0 (2)
6.  Duke 20-5 (5)
7.  Creighton 21-4 (9)
8.  Wichita State 27-0 (8)
9.  Wisconsin 21-5 (12)
10. Michigan State 21-5 (7)
11. Louisville 21-4 (11)
12. Iowa 19-6 (10)
13. Virginia 21-5 (18)
14. Michigan 18-7 (15)
15. Ohio State 20-6 (16)
16. UCLA 20-5 (22)
17. Kentucky 19-6 (17)
18. Iowa State 19-5 (13)
19. St. Louis 23-2 (21)
20. Cincinnati 23-3 (19)
21. San Diego State 22-2 (14)
22. Pittsburgh 20-6 (20)
23. Connecticut 20-5 (24)
24. Gonzaga 23-4 (23)
25. Texas 20-5 (NR)
Dropped out: Oklahoma State (25)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Good night, Sid

In my pre-teen years, I found nothing funnier on television than Sid Caesar's 90-minute Your Show of Shows, which I looked forward to every Saturday night. That was a great TV night, kicking off with Jackie Gleason's original one-hour program, followed by the 30-minute Your Hit Parade, featuring a singer who lived in the apartment next to ours. Dorothy Collins, and capping off with Caesar's own particular brand of hilarity.

Perhaps you had to be familiar with another show that was popular during this time, This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards to really get to the core of the humor in the bit contained in the video that follows. All I know is that I laughed hysterically when I saw it the first time, live on television, and I laughed again when I re-watched it for at least the 20th time this evening.

And no one performed mime better than Caesar and his troupe.

No one could deliver a movie satire better either

Woody Allen and Mel Brooks were among the writers Caesar hired to come up with the material for his weekly program. The movie My Favorite Year was created by another one of Caesar's writers to illustrate what it was like working on Your Show of Shows.

Sid Caesar died in his California home Wednesday. He was 91 and largely unknown to today's television viewers. You can read all about him here. I know we'll never see his equal.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Problems with my favorite basketball teams

My two favorite basketball teams are the Texas Longhorns, because I’m a UT graduate and I bleed burnt orange, and the Dallas Mavericks, because I live in Dallas and I really quit caring for my hometown New York Knicks after the Willis Reed era.

Both of my favorites, however, have problems and they’re not easily solvable.

For the Horns, the problem is not how they are playing; in fact, they are performing a lot better than I expected this season — almost well enough for me to silence my pleas to replace coach Rick Barnes. I’m watching them right now and they are demolishing Oklahoma State, 78-55. OK, I know it’s early in the game and the Cowboys are playing without Marcus Smart, suspended for three games, but Texas is also without its leading scorer, Hollis Williams, in this game.

My problem with the Texas basketball program is simply this: Texas vs. Oklahoma State is a game between two top-25 teams and, from what I can gather from watching the game on television, the Erwin Center, Texas’s home court, is, at best, 10 percent full. That’s criminal, especially when the University is known to be sports-obsessed, and there is really no other competition for the sports dollar within 80 miles.

The Erwin Center is that big round building
So why are Texas home basketball games so poorly attended? I’m betting it’s because of the location of the Erwin Center, bounded on the north by Martin Luther King Boulevard., on the south by 15th Street, on the west by Red River Street and on the East by Interstate 35. That is on property owned by UT obviously, but the reality is Texas students consider MLK the southern border of the campus. But the main problem is traffic. I saw a study yesterday of the 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic problems and Austin was No. 8, the only Texas city to make the list. And having spent a lot of time in Austin (my son and granddaughter — my only living blood relatives — live there) and I know firsthand driving around Austin, especially on I-35 between 7 and 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 and 8 p.m. is living hell. To make matters worse, no convenient parking is located near the center.

Austin’s mass transit system is a hit-or-miss situation although it is improving. There is one rail line that runs from Leander along the high tech corridor of Highway 183 to the Austin Convention Center downtown. You could take the bus from three-tenths of a mile from my son’s house in Southwest Austin to within six-tenths of a mile from the Erwin Center in 27 minutes, according to Capital Metro’s website. That’s not all that bad.

Relocating the Erwin Center (hopefully, a new coliseum would bear a different name) is problematic in the already dense area on or near the campus. One possible location would be immediately north of East Dean Keeton between San Jacinto and Red River. There could be room there for a nice arena and surrounding parking and Deen Keeton would make for a convenient access and egress (although accessibility from any direction except to the south would appear to be nearly impossible). And there would still be the problem of the traffic snarls on I35 to get to the site by auto. The only other solution would be to move it way off campus, perhaps east across Manor Road from the recently renovated Morris Williams Golf Course, which once served as the home course for the University of Texas' golf team. But I hate to think of a university team playing way off campus — to me, the current location is already off campus.

The other major solution would be a major reconstruction of I35 through Austin, similar to what transformed Dallas’s North Central Expressway from downtown to McKinney. But, oh, the headaches Austinites would suffer while that reconstruction was taking place.

Now to the Mavericks. There the problem is the way the team is playing. As currently constituted, the Mavericks have absolutely no shot at an NBA title now or at any time in the foreseeable future. Major changes are needed on that roster. (Leave the coaching staff intact. Can’t do much better than Rick Carlisle.)

One thing the Mavericks have proved over the last couple of seasons: They are not going to attract premium free agents. Look at all the players Dallas has talked about going after — from Darren Williams to Dwight Howard — and look how many of them are currently on the Dallas roster. Plus, being mediocre, like the Mavericks are, means you’re not going to sink low enough to nail a good draft pick.

Is it time to trade this guy?
So the only way the Mavs stand a chance to improve is through a trade and it’s now time to think the unthinkable: The only asset the Mavs have to trade is Dirk Nowitzki. It’s time to let the Big German go, the way former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson began fashioning his Super Bowl run in 1989 by trading arguably the team’s No. 1 asset, running back Herschel Walker, to the Minnesota Vikings for players and draft picks that were used to draft such standouts as Emmitt Smith, Alvin Harper and Darren Woodson, among others.

I wouldn’t want to deal Nowitzki to a non-contender in return for multi draft picks. I would rather send him to a good team who, with the addition of Nowitzki could make a title run and have enough young players who could become outstanding members of future Maverick teams, especially on defense. I was looking at two teams in particular: the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.

I would definitely consider a trade with the Warriors that would send small forward Harrison Barnes, power forward David Lee (who would become expendable with the addition of Nowitzki) and a draft choice to the Mavericks. But the trade I would really like to make is to send Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and a first-round draft pick to the Clippers in return for Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes and a No. 1 pick (or J.J. Riddick, in lieu of that pick, but Riddick may be too much for the Clippers to surrender).

Don’t know if either deal would work, but I would like to explore the possibilities.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

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

This Week’s DVD Releases

All Is Lost ***** Directed by J.C. Chandor. After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor (Robert Redford) finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. Chandor’s attention to detail, and the expressiveness and utter believability with which Redford goes about the anything-but-mundane business of surviving, make All Is Lost a technically dazzling, emotionally absorbing, often unexpectedly beautiful experience. A genuine nail-biter, scrupulously made and fully involving, elemental in its simplicity.

Wadjda **** Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school’s Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest. Not only is this a deftly crafted and superbly acted film, but Wadjda sheds a powerful light on what women face, starting in childhood, in an oppressive regime.

The Armstrong Lie ***½ Directed by Alex Gibney. A documentary chronicling sports legend Lance Armstrong’s improbable rise and ultimate fall from grace. To call Armstrong’s story a tragedy is probably an overblown notion. But it does involve sadness, not just with its depiction of a fallen idol, but with the necessary acknowledgment that some of our own hopes and dreams fell alongside him. What will take your breath away, however, is how viciously Armstrong crushed and humiliated anyone who dared to make allegations against him, and that includes former teammates he’d doped with.

The Counselor *** Directed by Ridley Scott. A lawyer (Michael Fassbinder) finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking. This one has a lot in common with Scott’s Thelma & Louise in the memorable way it escalates, inevitably but also unexpectedly, into a spin through wilder country, and a meditation on bigger themes.

How I Live Now *** Directed by Kevin Macdonald. While on vacation in rural England, American teen Daisy (Saiorse Ronan) slowly comes to appreciate the people around her and soon falls in love with local boy Eddie (George MacKay). But her summer idyll comes to an abrupt end when rumors of World War III become a reality. Macdonald’s unique direction and Ronan’s jittery performance makes the DVD a worthy rental.

The Best Man Holiday *** Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. When college friends reunite after 15 years over the Christmas holidays, they discover just how easy it is for long-forgotten rivalries and romances to be reignited. This is an inelegant movie, but its cast is so damn likable that I’m still willing to follow them — even when they’re not going anywhere.

The Summit *** Directed by Nick Ryan. The story of the deadliest day on the world’s most dangerous mountain, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished on K2. The proceedings somewhat sidestep the issues of risk and responsibility — including the raised, but never fully tackled, question of whether others should have gone back to try to save their fellow, trapped compatriots — that seem most in need of investigation.

Austenland **½ Directed by Jerusha Hess. Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is so taken with Jane Austen’s novels that she decides to splurge on a trip to an English resort that caters to Austen fans. But when the authentic period romance Jane was promised proves unacceptable, she acts to alter her fate. Russell remains one of our most adorable, underused actors, although this role lacks the emotional and comedic breadth of her turn in 2007's Waitress.

Diana **½ Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. During the last two years of her life, Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) embarks on a final rite of passage: a secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). Flawed yet intimate, Diana respects its subject’s hopes, strengths, weaknesses and legacy and, in the extraordinary Watts, boasts a formidably empathetic advocate.

Life of a King **½ Directed by Jake Goldberger. Ex-felon, Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding Jr.) establishes a Chess Club for inner city teenagers in Washington, D.C. Brown’s story is a good one and solid performances — especially from Gooding — elevate the film slightly above the familiar trappings of its genre.

Ender’s Game ** Directed by Gavin Hood. Young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion. Most Ender’s fans will consider the film adaptation a long-awaited victory in itself. Those fresh to the tale — or at least expecting something fresh from it — may wonder what the fuss is about.

Haunter Directed by Vincenzo Natali. The ghost of a teenager who died years ago (Abigail Breslin) reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate. This awful, badly directed rehash reeks of stale, recycled ideas.

Monday, February 3, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Cutie and the Boxer ****½ Directed by Heinzerling. A candid New York love story that explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own. Heinzerling's beautifully shot, painfully intimate documentary look at this aging couple's struggle to survive amid personal and financial strain is heartbreaking. This is a story about creative desire so strong it hurts. It gathers force slowly, but with such wisdom and calm mastery that I found myself stunned, toward the end, by the beautiful vastness of it all.

Mother of George ****½ Directed by Andrew Dosunmu. Nigerian-Americans Ayodele (Isaach de Bankolé) and Adenike (Danai Gurira) marry and perform a traditional ceremony in which Adenike confirms the name of the son she will one day bear. But the stress of adjusting to life in America and the pressure to conceive soon take their toll. This is not a fable of assimilation or alienation, but rather the keenly observed story of two people seeking guidance in painful and complicated circumstances. Gurira is wonderful: Her face is equally radiant whether she's channeling anguish or joy, and she captures the ways in which this woman, so old-country dutiful, also longs to join the modern world.

Dallas Buyers Club **** Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease. Thanks to the superb screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and the brilliant, brave performances by the cast, Dallas Buyers Club gets just about everything right, save for a few over-the-top scenes that hammer home points that have already been made. McConaughey's performance isn't just about weight loss. It's about gaining compassion, even wisdom, and it's awesome.

The Inevitable Defeat of Pete and Mister *** Directed by George Tillman Jr. A coming-of-age story about two inner city boys who are left to fend for themselves over the summer after their mothers are taken away by the authorities. Tillman is clumsy in his handling of a few scenes, and considering what these kids are up against — junkie moms, drug-dealing pimp neighbors — the ending might be a little too implausibly upbeat. But Tillman seems to know that we need to turn off the DVD player feeling hope for Mister and Pete, who, it turns out, aren't so easily defeated.

Escape Plan **½ Directed by Mikael Håfström. Framed and thrown into an escape-proof prison that he designed himself, structural security expert Ray (Sylvester Stallone) must use all his know-how to break out. Ray and a fellow inmate (Arnold Schwazenegger) dodge the jail's corrupt warden (Jim Caviezel) and guard (Vinnie Jones) to track down who's behind the setup. A display of old-school muscle-buddy connivance that’s as flatly preposterous as it is shamelessly entertaining. Stupid, but fun.

Romeo and Juliet ** Directed by Carlo Carlei. Romeo (Douglas Booth) and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) secretly wed despite the sworn contempt their families hold for each another. It has a sort of soapy reliability, but compare it to the blazing passion of Baz Luhrmann's modern-day version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in gangland Los Angeles and it looks pretty feeble. Plus, the liberties taken with the text mean that it might not even be all that suitable for school showings.

Free Birds ** Directed by Jimmy Hayward. Two turkeys — Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson) and Jake (voice of Woody Harrelson) — from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history and get turkey off the holiday menu for good. The folks behind this film are trying to entertain us, but they rarely succeed.

Baggage Claim Directed by David E. Talbert. Pledging to keep herself from being the oldest and the only woman in her entire family never to wed, Montana (Paula Patton) embarks on a 30-day, 30,000-mile expedition to charm a potential suitor (Boris Kodjoe) into becoming her fiancé. "You don’t need a man to define you!" Very true, and so much for feminism. The rest of the film takes a long, convoluted, predictable, and mostly unfunny route to prove that the opposite is the case.

A Case of You Directed by Kat Coiro. A young writer (Justin Long) tries to impress a girl (Evan Rachel Wood) he meets online with an embellished profile, but he finds himself in a real mess when she falls for him and he has to keep up the act. There’s some interesting ideas floating around about identity, manhood, and what it means to connect with someone in an over-connected world, but this movie (named for a Joni Mitchell song that’s not actually in the film) never actively explores them. Instead, it delves into generic rom-com and ropey cliché to little comic effect.

About Time * Directed by Richard Curtis. At the age of 21, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) turns out not to be as easy he thought it would be. What McAdams is doing in this nonsense is anyone's guess, but she must realize that the long journey from Mean Girls to the character she plays in this movie, with her mousy bangs and her timid pleas counts as a serious descent.

My Top 25 College Basketball Teams

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