Thursday, May 29, 2014

Which way to die: smoking or trying to quit?

Have you seen that commercial for Chantix, the wonder drug that is supposed to get its users to quit smoking? Like all the other commercials for pharmaceuticals that require a doctor’s prescription, this ad lists all the various possible side effects. The ones for Chantix, I kid you not, may include "drastic change in behavior, suicidal thoughts or actions … "

Suicidal thoughts or actions?

I get the thoughts part. People who swear off cigs may be so nicotine deprived they could think that a better alternative would be to off oneself? But "actions"??? I read that as saying some folks who have taken these pills have bought the big one, have actually committed suicide — or, at the very least, have given suicide a damn good try.

Here’s a possible sales slogan for Chantix: "If smoking doesn’t kill you, than using Chantix to quit just might do the trick."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Vibrators don't kill people; however, people armed with a vibrator and an assault rifle ...

"Ah yes, Miss Jones, I think I have the cure for what ails you."

Sandy Springs, Ga., is to Atlanta what Richardson is to Dallas, a toney, ultra-conservative suburb that border's Georgia's largest city on the north. It has, according to the 2010 census, a population of 93,853, 65percent of whom are white; a median family income of $129,810; and a council-manager form of government run these days by a bunch of kooks.

The reason I know they are a bunch of kooks is that the City Council -- six council members and a mayor, all of whom are males (which is vitally important in lieu of what comes next) -- recently passed an ordinance that makes it illegal for women to purchase a marital aide without a doctor's prescription. That's right: If a woman desires to purchase a vibrator, for example, she must schedule an appointment with her physician, pay for that appointment and during that appointment persuade the physician she has a valid medical reason for purchasing a vibrator. If the physician believes she is in medical need of the sex toy, he will give her the necessary prescription for purchasing it.

By the way, in Georgia you can carry a gun without even a minimal background check. So men can carry around their fun toys, but women can't.

No word yet on how many bootleggers are frequenting neighboring Atlanta's adult book stores, purchasing vibrators, dildos, edible undies, etc., and selling them on the black market in Sandy Springs.

The 10 Most Disappointing Chain Restaurants

I don't have any real problem with this list and, yes, I'll bet some folks will find some of their favorites on here. The one thing I'm not sure about is whether the list starts or ends with THE most disappointing or whether the author feels they are all equally worthy of being on the list. If I had to pick, I would say it was trying to start at the top and work it's way from there.

This Week’s DVD Releases

Run & Jump ***½ Directed by Steph Green. Struggling to support her family after her husband, Conor Edward MacLiam), is fundamentally changed by a stroke, Vanetia (Maxine Peake) accepts a grant from a brain researcher named Ted (Will Forte). As Ted studies Conor, he and Vanetia form an unexpected bond. An uncommonly offbeat and charmingly unconventional romance, an Irish comedy that lets itself get very serious, now and again, and is all the richer for it.

Cheap Thrills *** Directed by E.L. Katz. A scheming couple put a struggling family man and his old friend through a series of increasingly twisted dares over the course of an evening at a local bar. A nasty, elemental thriller, basically a four-character play with blood and guts and sex and drugs and dares. With Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, David Koechner.

Journey to the West *** Directed by Stephen Chow, Chin-kin Kwok. Chen Xuanzang (Zhang Wen), who fights evil with love and nursery rhymes, clashes with Duan (Qi Shu), a showy female warrior who’s in it for the thrill of the hunt. Chow’s go-for-broke sensibility has been sorely missed, and a tale of demons is the ideal context for the gravity-defying, logic-impaired stunts he favors.

A Birder’s Guide to Everything **½ Directed by Rob Meyer. The day before his widowed father’s wedding, a 15-year-old bird-watching fanatic impulsively sets off on a road trip with three friends in an effort to locate the extinct Labrador duck he may have spotted. The film captures its lush, leafy settings with an understated evocativeness that fully immerses the viewer in its sense of place. The problem is that the movie ultimately leans too heavily on that sense of understatement, failing to let genuine, unexpected emotion fully break through to the surface. With Kodi Smit-McPhee, Katie Chang, Alex Wolff, Michael Chen, James Le Gros, Ben Kingsley.

24 Expsoures Directed by Joe Swanberg. A photographer (Adam Wingard) who specializes in erotic photo shoots is suspected of murder when one of his models is found dead. This brief, loosely-knit film never builds any empathy or tension.

Endless Love * Directed by Shana Feste. An intense teenage boy (Alex Pettyfer) falls for a wealthy girl (Gabriella Wilde), and when their worried parents try to keep them apart, their incendiary love affair grows obsessive and dark. Not to harp on petty details, but this film is so colossally tone-deaf and off-key in every way that its collection of jarring missteps almost carries it into the arms of perverse comedy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Charter Barter

As I watched select members of the Charter Review Commission brief the Dallas City Council today, I gave silent thanks that no members of this council were around back when the U.S. Constitution was drafted. If they were, we’d be living in the States of America, because there would be nothing United in their efforts.

These small minds have no right determining what should be changed in the Dallas City Charter. The CRC’s recommendations should go right to the voters, bypassing the idiots on the council completely.

Here, in summation, was the basic argument each of the council members had to each of the commission’s recommendations: "That’s not in my best interest." The discussion was all about the wants of these self-centered egotists and had nothing to do with the best interests of the city at large. To his credit, Mayor Mike Rawlings recognized this and tried in vain a couple of times to change the subject from "me, me, me," but, ultimately, he realized his efforts were fruitless.

This was especially true when it came to the subject of redistricting — a process that is shameful because it is so politicized. But instead of considering changes that would de-politicize it ever so slightly, all the council members were interested in was protecting their turf, as if they were still going be representing that turf 30, 20, even 10 years from now. The pinnacle of this ridiculousness came when District 5 council member Rick Callahan, an anglo who represents a district that was created to elect an Hispanic, attempted to display how fair everything would be under the current system by announcing "I would appoint a Hispanic to represent District 5 on the redistricting committee." As if he’s even going to be around when the next redistricting committee is named. "You are term-limited, you jerk,"

Then there was District 3 representative Vonciel Jones Hill who argued against higher council pay because she was an attorney and no one was going to force her to give up her law practice just because she was on the City Council. That means, she argued, being on the City Council is not a full-time job. Again, all about "me."

I attended and even spoke to one meeting of the Charter Review Commission and watched most of the other sessions on television. I guess you could say I’m a city government wonk. From that vantage point, I can testify that the recommendations of the CRC mirrored the will of those Dallas residents who spoke to the commission. It’s therefore amazing to me that the appointed CRC is far more attuned to the will of the people than is the elected Dallas City Council.

I have lived in Dallas for 46 years now, all of them as a voting-age adult. I was a major supporter of the 14-1 City Council system because I saw the injustices that resulted when the city was ruled exclusively by white males who lived in North Dallas. The argument against 14-1 was that the result would be 14 individual mini-mayors who would only protect their own self-interests and would not be cognizant of the needs of the city as a whole. I thought those fears were exaggerated, but, sadly, they have come the reality. I will still argue, however, that it is not the system that’s to blame; it’s the small, closed minds we elect to the council in the name of that system.

Thunder Struck

For the past two NBA seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder has been the best team in the league — at least, until the playoffs came around. The season before this one, the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook, their dynamic point guard, to a leg injury. As a result, they lost in the first round to the
Memphis Grizzlies. This season, the Thunder maintained a healthy status until they won the right to play in the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, a team the Thunder beat all four times they played during the regular season, But, on the eve of that series, the Thunder learned they would be without their solid power forward Serge Ibaka, a loss tantamount to the Spurs playing without Tim Duncan. I was really hoping to see an NBA finals series between the Thunder and the Indiana Pacers. It would be tantamount to witnessing a new generation coming to the fore in the NBA. But I guess that’s not going to happen. The snakebit Thunder can make the series competitive, but can’t win it without Ibaka plugging the middle, and the Pacers losing the coveted home court advantage a couple of hours ago to the Miami Heat seems to make another Heat appearance in the finals a boring inevitability. Oh, well. I think I’ll take a nap.

Monday, May 19, 2014

America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants

The Daily Meal came up with this list. You will notice that there is only Dallas restaurant ranked — Javier’s at No. 49. And before anyone raises a stink about why joints like Matt's didn’t make the list, it’s because this is a list of Mexican Restaurants, NOT Tex-Mex, which is a completely different category.

Here’s what The Daily Meal had to say about Javier’s:
"In the land where Tex-Mex is king, Javier’ in Highland Park serves authentic Mexican, focusing its upscale take on Mexico City fare. There’s mounted game on the walls, lest you forget that you are still in Texas. Javier’s is not necessarily a critic’s darling, yet it’s the go-to choice for locals when they’re tired of the flashy scene at nearby Mi Cocina — and one that’s outlasted many other Mexican upstarts since it opened more than 30 years ago."

Casual Observations

Thanks to My Hero, I have been away on a fabulous, relaxing Florida beach vacation so I have some catching up to do:

  • Johnny Manziel and the Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones, for once, made the correct decision passing on the overrated Texas A&M quarterback in the recent draft. Although Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin was a solid pick, it didn’t address the Cowboys most pressing need – defense. I would have preferred to see the Cowboys pick Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. I only saw Dennard in two games last season, but in one he shut down Ohio State’s passing game in the Big 10 Championship game and in the second he squelched Stanford in the Rose Bowl. I am also convinced that had the college playoffs begun last season, Dennard and the Spartan defense would have had their way with Florida State’s offense to win the college title.
  • Donald Sterling vs. Magic Johnson: I always thought banishment meant to get rid of. But Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is getting more media attention now that he has been banished by the NBA than he ever did before. Quit giving this jerk a platform, especially when it’s so obvious he’s in desperate need of media training. All Magic Johnson accomplished by answering Sterling’s stupid remarks was to lower himself to Sterling’s level. He could have easily found hundreds of individuals willing and even anxious to speak on his behalf.
  • Call me a prude, but that "No more settling in this household" Time-Warner high-speed internet commercial makes me uncomfortable.

This Week’s DVD Releases

About Last Night *** Directed by Steve Pink. After a couple’s flirtation quickly moves from the bar to the bedroom, they test if their physical chemistry is enough to carry a real relationship. It’s playful, stable and sexy, thanks to a cast that knows how to find the sweet spots. With Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant.

Grand Piano *** Directed by Eugenio Mira. A pianist (Elijah Wood) returning to the stage five years after a public meltdown learns that a sniper will shoot him and his wife (Kerry Bishé) if he plays just one wrong note. To its credit and sometimes detriment, Grand Piano keeps a frothing-at-the-mouth level of insane melodrama going for 75 minutes, aided by Wood’s sweaty, terrified performance, a screenplay rich in ridiculous contrivances, and a swooping camera that never stands still. With John Cusack.

Raze *** Directed by Josh C. Waller. After a secret society abducts her, Sabrina (Zoe Bell) becomes one of dozens of women forced to engage in a mysterious and gruesome tournament in which the participants brutally battle each other for their lives in order to entertain a hidden audience. The film leaves the background particulars about this competition oblique, partly because it adds a layer of ominous mystery, but primarily because it doesn’t matter; witnessing women-on-women violence is the thing here, regardless of any narrative context.

Pompeii **½ Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. In the days leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a slave on a ship headed for Naples is determined to get back home to save the woman he loves, as well as his best friend, who is a gladiator trapped in the city’s coliseum. A generic saga with a cast of forgettable one-dimensional characters. With Kit Arington, Carrie Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Keifer Sutherland.

In Secret **½ Directed by Charlie Stratton. Set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris, Therese Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen), a sexually repressed beautiful young woman, is trapped into a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton), by her domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), until she seeks solace in the arms of the attentive Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac). Olsen and the more persuasive Isaac may generate heat, but their performances and the filmmaking lack the frenzy that might explain how these two crazy kids turned into murderous fiends.

The Monuments Men **½ Directed by George Clooney. An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. Clooney takes a wild, stranger-than-fiction true story and turns it into a dull, prestigious slog. With Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett.

3 Days to Kill ** Directed by McG. A dying CIA agent (Kevin Costner) trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment. The end result is not a very good film, but it is one that boasts some enjoyable moments — but only if you find yourself with two hours to kill. With Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld.

Vampire Academy ** Directed by Mark Waters. At St. Vladimir’s Academy, Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) learns to navigate life as a dhampir, a half-human vampire. It’s not a complete disaster, but even the appearance of Gabriel Byrne fails to make much of a dent in the slapdash proceedings.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Next Week’s DVD Releases

Her **** Directed by Spike Jonze. A lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system (Scarlett Johansson) that’s designed to meet his every need. It’s a tale of lonely souls and literalized online dating, and you assume Jonze will characteristically mix high-concept absurdism with heartfelt notions. Unexpectedly, the latter dominates, thanks in no small part to Phoenix’s nuanced, open-book performance. With Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde.

Stranger By the Lake **** Directed by Alain Guiraudie. Young Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) notices the middle-aged Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao) sitting on a beach by himself and starts a conversation. Their dialogue continues over several days, in between Franck’s repeated trysts with a seductive killer named Michel (Christoph Paou). A psychosexually intriguing blend of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and William Friedkin’s Cruising — one in which sex gets intertwined with murder, fear battles desire, and the police discover that voyeurs don’t necessarily make good witnesses if no one ever exchanges names or phone numbers.

Stalingrad **½ Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk. A band of Russian soldiers fight to hold a strategic building in their devastated city against a ruthless German army, and in the process become deeply connected to two Russian women who have been living there. Viewed strictly as cinema, it’s an unstable and almost surrealist combination of Soviet-style war propaganda film, Zack Snyder-style action flick and sentimental fairy tale.

Special ID ** Directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung. A cop goes undercover in a ruthless underworld organization to stop a gang leader, only to put himself in great danger after being exposed by his former protégé and best friend. Maddeningly muddled and frustratingly counterintuitive, the story shuttles between Hong Kong and mainland China without a noticeable gain in logic or reduction in decibels.

That Awkward Moment Directed by Tom Gormican. When Jason’s (Zac Efron) relationship crumbles, his three best friends decide to show their solidarity by staying single until he’s ready to get back in the game. But the pact is put to the test when fate presents all three with their ideal ladies. There is something of a manufactured air to the proceedings, one that is acutely aware of the techniques and traits of other similar better film, but without the strength in writing to back it up. With Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan.

I, Frankenstein * Directed by Stuart Beattie. Frankenstein’s creature finds himself caught in an all-out, centuries old war between two immortal clans. Utterly witless, listless, sparkless and senseless, this supernatural action picture makes one long for the comparative sophistication of the conceptually identical "Underworld" franchise (with which it shares producers and a writer). With Aaron Eckhart.

Monday, May 5, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Still Mine **** Directed by Michael McGowan. An elderly couple (James Cromwell, Genevieve Bujold) fight against local authorities in rural New Brunswick to build their final home. In a era populated with comic-book superheroes, ersatz Transformer types and stupid buddy comedies, this movie lets viewers spend some quality time with real humans for a change.

Veronica Mars *** Directed by Rob Thomas. Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) gets pulled back to her hometown — just in time for her high school reunion — in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who’s embroiled in a murder mystery. It plays less like a meaty mystery than an extended thank-you to the fans who breathed it into existence. Still, it’s smooth and engaging enough on its own compromised terms, clearly informed by Thomas’ genre-savvy storytelling and unpretentious craftsmanship, and not without a certain self-deprecating sense of humor about its own immodest origins.

The Art of the Steal **½ Directed by Jonathan Sobol. Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) , a semi-reformed art thief, agrees to get his old gang back together to pull off one last heist. An energetic but paper-thin genre exercise, filled with pleasant riffs on the standard heist flick, but ultimately lacking in payoff. With Jay Baruchel, Katheryn Winnick, Chris Diamontopoulos, Kenneth Welsh, Jason Jones, Terence Stamp, Matt Dillon.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Evil that is Donald Sterling


Donald Sterling is a bad man — a very, very bad man.

The fact that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers pro basketball team is an out and out racist is undeniable. His taped conversation with his girlfriend was only the latest example. Back in the early 1990s, Sterling’s insurance company shelled out $2.75 million to settle a racial discrimination suit filed against him by the Justice Department involving some of the apartment properties Sterling owns in Los Angeles.

Former Clippers employee and Los Angeles Lakers legend Elgin Baylor filed a racial and age discrimination suit against Sterling claiming the owner had "a plantation mentality" and thought of the Clippers players as "poor black boys from the South playing for a white coach." The suit further claimed that after home games Sterling would take guests into the Clippers’ locker room so the guests could check out his players’ "beautiful black bodies."

But Sterling’s "badness" goes deeper than his racism. Who are the most despicable people on earth? That’s right — divorce lawyers. OK, perhaps the attorney who represented you in when you split with the spouse might have been an alright person during daylight hours but you also know that shark that represented your spouse was — on the evolutionary scale — one step below pond scum.

So now I’m talking about a guy who was born Donny Tokowitz in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles who made his bones as a — you guessed it — not only a divorce lawyer, but a personal injury shyster as well.

He used the sums he amassed in these nefarious pursuits to purchase real estate all over Los Angeles. And he never sold any of it. In 1981, he shelled out $12.5 million to purchase the San Diego Clippers, which had moved to the Southern California city from Buffalo three years earlier. During his time in San Diego, his players claimed they would receive their paychecks after the banks closed on Fridays, presumably to keep them from bouncing.

In 1984, he abruptly moved the team to Los Angeles without the NBA’s permission and got slapped with a $25 million fine from the league for doing it. And not only did he decide not to share the Forum, the then home court of the Lakers, with the older LA NBA franchise, he forced the Clippers to play in the decrepit Los Angeles Sports Arena and made a nice profit from a lousy team because of his sweetheart lease deal.

Like I said at the beginning: Donald Sterling is a bad man.

By now, anyone who’s over the age of 7 and breathing the air of this country knows that this week that taped conversation I referred to earlier — in which he implored his girlfriend to quit posting pictures on public forums of herself with black athletes and, while he was on the subject, to quit bringing blacks to see Clippers’ games — has resulted in Sterling being banned from the Clippers and the NBA for life. Not only that, the league’s other 29 owners seemed determined to make sure Sterling doesn’t own the Clippers for too much longer.

Most everyone I’ve talked to or have heard talking about this seems to believe it’d karma — Donald Sterling is finally getting just what he deserved.

However, my very intelligent South Florida correspondent smells a rat in all this. He presents an extremely well reasoned argument that Sterling has been wanting to sell the team for a while and what he’s doing now is driving up the price of the team by producing all this publicity surrounding it. Why else, Mr. Howard Schulman claims, would he freely admit that "Yes, that is my voice on that tape and those are my views"? Why else, he argues, would Sterling not dispute the fact that private conversations should remain private and not cause punitive judgments if and when they become public. And, it appears, his tactic is working. The proof of that, according to Mr. Schulman, is the fact that mega-buck folks such as Oprah Winfrey and David Geffen, both of whom could probably pay for the team by collecting the cash they could find by removing the cushions of their respective living room couches, are among those interested in shelling out the $1 billion or more I’ve heard it will take to puchase the Clippers. But I don’t want to put words into the great Mr. Schulman’s mouth. You can read it all for yourself here.

Now, as reasoned and as well articulated as Mr. Schulman’s arguments are, I am going to take exactly the opposite point of view. Why? Because, as I’ve said twice now: Donald Sterling is a bad man — a very, very bad man. I also said that Sterling made his bones as a divorce lawyer.

Unlike most in the legal profession who seem to want to achieve justice, divorce lawyers want nothing of the kind, Divorce lawyers want revenge — regardless of the monetary or emotional cost. And when someone lashes out at Donald Sterling, he lashes right back with double or triple the intensity.

Remember, he didn’t lose that racial discrimination suit against the Justice Department. He also emerged victorious in the Baylor affair. When the NBA slapped that $25 million fine on him for moving the Clippers without permission, he simply countersued. The case dragged on for three years and in 1987 Sterling wound up paying a fine $6 million, less than a fourth of the original judgment.

Right now Donald Sterling is a bitter old man plotting ways to get even with an NBA and fellow team owners he is convinced have done him wrong. And here’s how he’s going to do it: He’s going to file for divorce from his long-suffering wife Rochelle. And when that happens, everything else grinds to a halt.

The team, you see, is not owned by Sterling per se, but a Sterling family trust that includes Rochelle. Such a divorce filing would put the jurisdiction of the team into the multi-layered California’s family court, while both sides decide how to divide the community property, Agreement on those decisions could take years, perhaps not even in Donald Sterling’s lifetime.

According to Sharon Kalemkiarian, a California family law specialist: "If somebody is looking for a litigation strategy, and they want to slow down a forced sale by the league, you file for divorce so you get more people involved arguing over it. Everybody's got to spend more money trying to figure out what happens to it. Getting the family court involved in it would create another layer of complexity to the sale and another set of lawyers who would be trying stop it from getting sold."

So what happens to the Clippers in the process? Coach Doc Rivers will absolutely refuse to participate in any actions that would put more money in Sterling’s pockets and, as a result, will resign before the start of the 2014-15 season. Premier players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes will feel the same way and demand the league declare them to be free agents, a demand to which the NBA will undoubtedly honor. And quickly the value of the team plummets, down to the point where, when and if the dust settles, the only person who will want to purchase it is another divorce lawyer. Still, the selling price will be more than the $12.5 million Sterling paid for it, so he still makes a profit.

And when that happens, if he does happen to be among those still living on this planet, Donald Sterling — that very, very bad man — will prominently display his middle finger to NBA Commisioner Adam Silver, the NBA, and the other league owners, and walk off into the sunset with a huge smile on that very, very bad face.