Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Project Trio plays The Bodega with the Amarillo Symphony

Take the time to see and hear this.

Monday, April 28, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Gloria **** Directed by Sebastián Lelio. A middle-aged divorcée looking to fill the void in her life sees an opportunity for a permanent relationship when she meets a charming former naval officer. But baggage from the past may derail their romance. Though it’s most successful as a character study, the movie also works as an unusually honest variation on the traditional cinematic love story (it rings especially true on the difficulties of starting over after years of settled family life).

The Selfish Giant ***½ Directed by Clio Barnard. Two teenage boys band together to steal copper wire from power stations and railway lines to sell to a local scrap dealer. Their friendship sours when the scrap dealer begins to favor one of the boys over the other. Though slow-going for much of its running time, Arbor’s delicate tale culminates with a frighteningly choreographed tragedy, but tacks on a beautifully evocative and mostly wordless epilogue that carries the semblance of progress.

The Rocket *** Directed by Kim Mordaunt. Determined to disprove the common belief that he brings bad luck to everyone around him, outcast Laotian boy Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamie) builds a giant rocket with the intention of participating in the lucrative but dangerous competition at a rocket festival. Mordaunt’s when-life-gives-you-land-mines tale is light on well-drawn characters, but its performances, especially from the nonprofessional junior members, more than light the fuse for the finale.

Escape From Tomorrow **½ Directed by Randy Moore. On the last day of a family vacation at Disney World, a man (Roy Abramsohn) learns that he’s lost his job. Soon thereafter, he begins to lose his mind, wandering through the artificial phantasmagoria and becoming obsessed with two perky French girls. The film, shot in black-and-white at canted angles, suggests an R-rated Twilight Zone episode with a twist of Fellini-lite, in a trite film school kind of way. Mickey Mouse is unlikely to be shaking in his big yellow shoes.

The Best Offer ** Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. A master auctioneer becomes obsessed with an extremely reclusive heiress who collects fine art. Aiming for a Hitchcockian take on an eccentric auctioneer (well-handled by Geoffrey Rush) who becomes enamored of an heiress with severe agoraphobia, the picture ends up more in Dan Brown territory, with over-obvious setups and phony insight into the art establishment. With Sylvia Hoeks, Jim Sturgess, Donald Sutherland.

Labor Day ** Directed by Jason Reitman. What begins as a short ride turns into a life-changing event for divorced single mother Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), when they give a lift to a bloodied man (Josh Brolin) during a Labor Day weekend. Reitman has placed a not-unreasonable bet that sensual creatures like Winslet and Brolin can convey the passion necessary for their relationship to make sense, but the film carries itself too stiffly, like it’s so afraid of making the wrong choices that it doesn’t make any good ones.

Gimme Shelter ** Directed by Ron Krauss. After running away from her abusive mother, streetwise teen locates her father, who’s never been part of her life, but he rejects her when he learns that she’s pregnant. Desperate and alone, she seeks help from a compassionate priest. For all of Krauss’ clearly good intentions, the film still falls staggeringly flat, even with the inclusion of a bold and unexpected performance from Vanessa Hudgens, doing her damndest to break out of the Disney mold and turn in actual work here. With James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser.

Devil’s Due * Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett. After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple finds themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. The script tips its hand so early on that Devil’s Due lumbers toward a woefully flat, predictable ending, and the unwelcome promise of something truly demonic — sequels.

The Legend of Hercules * Directed by Tenny Harlin. Hercules is born half-human and half-god and chosen by destiny to overthrow the cruel king of Greece. While The Legend Of Hercules offers plenty for viewers who’ve acquired a taste for the fake and incompetent (not the least of which is the dialogue, which finds characters saying each other’s names at the end of every other sentence), it’s unlikely to please anyone who wants entertainment in the conventional sense.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

With a cloud of dust and a mighty you-know-what, Project Trio rides again

Project Trio's latest album, Instrumental, will be released Friday, May 2. I certainly hope this gem is on it. I've seen them perform this live a couple of times and, trust me on this, it knocks an audience out.

Just got a look at the cover of the upcoming CD, courtesy of Peter Seymour, the world's greatest stand-up bassist. Here it is:

Monday, April 21, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Trials of Muhammad Ali *** Directed by Bill Siegel. Covers Ali’s battle to overturn a five-year prison sentence for refusing U.S. military service in Vietnam. The film falls short of explaining Ali, who, like many outspoken individuals, can stubbornly repel scrutiny, nor will it pacify the many who opposed his conscientious objections. But it also underlines one enduring quality: namely, that he probably couldn’t care less what people think.

Bettie Page Reveals All *** Directed by Mark Mori. The pinup model and cult icon recounts the true story of how her free expression overcame government witch-hunts to help launch America’s sexual revolution. Why does the movie waste so much time on empty adoration from celebrity fans and skim past the significant tragedies that contributed to her complex life? Parental neglect, sexual assault, severe mental illness — all of these factors shaped the woman Page became. But perhaps, even today, no one wants to consider the sadness behind her 1,000-watt smile.

Big Bad Wolves ** Directed by Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado. A vigilante cop joins forces with the father of a murder victim to interrogate the main suspect in a series of brutal child homicides and to mete out their own version of justice. Keshales and Papushado, the two-man writer-director team, are swinging at serious targets here, but their point soon wears itself out, and what remains is schlock with airs and tired black humor.

Barefoot * Directed by Andrew Fleming. The black sheep son (Scott Speedman) of a wealthy family meets a young psychiatric patient (Evan Rachel Wood) who’s been raised in isolation her entire life and takes her home for his brother’s wedding. It’s dispiriting enough that we’re still getting movies about the cute side of mental illness, but to turn someone rendered childlike by abusive trauma into desirable girlfriend material — and sporting cast-off stripper attire to boot — is more than a little creepy.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saturday night in Virginia Beach

The Wall by Bruce Springsteen

Cigarettes and a bottle of beer
This poem I wrote for you
This black stone and these hard tears
Are all I've got left now of you
I remember you in your Marine uniform laughing
Laughing that you're shipping out probably
I read Robert McNamara says he's sorry

You and your boots and black t-shirt
Ah Billy you looked so bad
Ya, you and your rock and roll band
Was the best thing this shit town ever had
Now the man who put you here
He feeds his family in rich dining halls
And apology and forgiveness have no place here at all
At the wall

I'm sorry I missed you last year
I couldn't find no one to drive me
If your eyes could cut through that black stone
Tell me would they recognize me?
For the living, time must be served
Life goes on
Cigarettes and a bottle of beer
Skin on black stone

High School pictures, paper flowers
Ribbon, red as the blood
Ya, as the blood you spilled
In the Central Highlands mud
Now the limousines rush down Pennsylvania Boulevard
As the rain falls
And apology and forgiveness have no place here at all

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Invisible Woman **** Directed by Ralph Fiennes. At the height of his career, Charles Dickens (Fiennes) meets a younger woman (Felicity Jones) who becomes his secret lover until his death.Gives us a plausible image of the great man in the fullness of his celebrity, and an affecting portrait of the woman who lived much of her life in his shadow. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander.

Philomena ***½ Directed by Stephen Frears. A world-weary political journalist (Steve Coogan) picks up the story of a woman’s (Judi Dench) search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. Turns out to be a subtly told tale of tragedy and redemption with much of the sentimental payoff you’re expecting but several intriguing plot twists along the way. Compelling, poignant and gently funny.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty *** Directed by Ben Stiller. A day-dreamer (Stiller) escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. This is a film about acting out our dreams, but Stiller never quite shows us the soul of his dreamer.

Date and Switch **½ Directed by Chris Nelson. Two guys (Nicholas Braun, Hunter Cope) who make a pact to lose their virginity before prom find their friendship tested when one of them comes out of the closet. A plucky step in the right direction for diversity in teen comedies, but it lacks the extra oomph to stand on its own merits. With Dakota Johnson, Zach Cregger.

Great Expectations **½ Directed by Mike Newell. A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor. Contains enough characters and subplots for three movies. The novel has almost been suffocated by Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls in an effort to get everything in. With Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Holliday Grainger.

Black Nativity ** Directed by Kasi Lemmons. A street-wise teen from Baltimore who has been raised by a single mother travels to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives. Many of the transitions between narrative and music are rough. The temptations of the street, all too real in the real world, feel forced. Confrontations become clichés. The substance of human motivation is missing. And thus the heart never beats as it should. With Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyree Gibson, Jacob Latimore, Mary J. Blige, Naser Jones, Jennifer Hudson.

Better Living Through Chemistry ** Directed by Geoff Moore, David Posamentier. A strait-laced pharmacist’s uneventful life spirals out of control when he starts an affair with a trophy-wife customer who takes him on a joyride involving sex, drugs and possibly murder. The unexpected chemistry between Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde helps balance this sour noir comedy. With Michelle Monaghan, Ray Liotta, Jane Fonda.

Ride Along ** Directed by Tim Story. Fast-talking security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) joins his cop brother-in-law James (Ice Cube) on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela (Tiksa Sumpter), James’ sister. This rote buddy-cop action comedy is instantly forgettable. We’ve seen it all before, and worse than that, we’ve seen it done far better in films ranging from last year’s The Heat to 80s classics such as Midnight Run and Lethal Weapon.

The Nut Job Directed by Peter Lepeniotes. An incorrigibly self-serving exiled squirrel finds himself helping his former park brethren raid a nut store to survive. This dead-on-arrival ‘toon is some of the worst p.r. for rodents since bubonic plague hit medieval Europe.

Copperhead * Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. An upstate New York family is torn apart during the American Civil War. Maxwell’s film, from beginning to end, exudes all the excitement of a textbook history lesson.

Monday, April 7, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug *** Directed by Peter Jackson. The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Some of the dwarves have nice individual moments, namely Balin (Ken Stott), Bofur (James Nesbitt), and Kili (Aidan Turner), and Gandalf gets to throw some potent magic around at Dol Guldur. But other than that (and the dragon itself), The Desolation of Smaug turns to be more of too much of a good thing.

August: Osage County **½ Directed by John Wells. A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. It’s not so much a mangled movie as it is an unfulfilled, forgettable one: unnecessary for anyone who’s seen the play, yet sufficiently watered-down that newcomers won’t be able to tell what all the fuss was about. With Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones ** Directed by Christopher Landon. Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) begins experiencing a number of disturbing and unexplainable things after the death of his neighbor. As ever with this series, the shocks are cheap but effective, and the shaky-cam aesthetic adds an unsettling layer of realism (if you’re willing to overlook the innate ridiculousness of the film-everything concept).

Grudge Match ** Directed by Peter Segal. A pair of aging boxing rivals (Sylvester Stallone, Robert DeNiro) are coaxed out of retirement to fight one final bout, 30 years after their last match. Essentially recasting Grumpy Old Men with the senescent specters of Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, the result is sporadically amusing, with some chucklesome sight gags and crowdpleasing supporting turns from Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart, yet its all so overcooked that it defeats its own purpose.

Justin Bieber’s Believe * Directed by Jon M. Chu. A backstage and on-stage look at Justin Bieber during his rise to stardom. Strictly for the Beliebers.

Nurse * Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski. By day Abby Russell is a dedicated nurse, someone you wouldn’t hesitate to trust your life with. But by night, she lures cheating men to their brutal deaths. Co-writer and director Aarniokoski’s clunky, crude blotch of prurience and bloodletting is too self-satisfied with its wink-wink naughtiness to be either fun-dumb or scary-sexy.

Back in the Day (no stars) Directed by Michael Rosenbaum. Jim Owens (Rosenbaum) heads home for his high school reunion. In an attempt to relive the glory days with his boys and explore an old romance, he nearly destroys his hometown and friendships. Cloying and smug when it’s not being unfunny and crass, this film hits lows with a frequency that suggests a world-class sharp shooter or free-throw king.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Something to brighten an otherwise dreary day

Just ran across this by accident and it knocked me out -- Sheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris collaborating on a Lou Reed/Velvet Underground song. I didn't even know it existed before today.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Great music to take you into the final four weekend

I'm beginning to feel this way all the time: