Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Mississippi State 7-0 (2)
2.  Mississippi 7-1 (1)
3.  Alabama 7-1 (3)
4.  Auburn 6-1 (4)
5.  Florida State 7-0 (5)
6.  Georgia 6-1 (6)
7.  Oregon 7-1 (7)
8.  TCU 6-1 (8)
9.  LSU 7-2 (16)
10. Michigan State 7-1 (9)
11. Kansas State 6-1 (13)
12. Notre Dame 6-1 (10)
13. Nebraska 7-1 (15)
14. Oklahoma 5-2 (12)
15. Baylor 6-1 (11)
16. Ohio State 6-1 (14)
17. Clemson 6-2 (17)
18. Arizona State 6-1 (22)
19. Arizona 6-1 (20)
20. West Virginia 6-2 (24)
21. Marshall 8-0 (18)
22. Utah 6-1 (23)
23. UCLA 6-2 (19)
24. USC 5-3 (21)
25. Texas A&M 5-3 (25)

Monday, October 27, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Begin Again **½ Directed by John Carney. Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, Yasiin Bey, Cee Lo Green, Catherine Keener. A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents. It may not always swing, but it makes up for that in sincerity and a welcome willingness to ambush expectations.

Life of Crime **½ Directed by Daniel Schecter. Jenifer Anistton, Mos Def, Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes. After kidnapping a rich property developer’s wife and holding her for ransom, two small time crooks discover their hostage’s philandering husband is in no rush to free her from captivity. Mostly, it’s fine. The acting is fine. The writing is fine. The story is fine. There are a few laughs. And that should be fine enough. But with material as rich as Elmore Leonard’s serving as the foundation, just fine is a disappointment.

Wish I Was Here ** Directed by Zach Braff. Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Josh Gad, Pierce Gagnon, Ashley Greene, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin. With his acting career moribund, Aidan Bloom (Braff) steers a new tack in life, taking over his children’s education when private school becomes too costly. Finding much to learn as well as teach, Aidan develops his own unique curriculum for the kids. It’s not a total disaster, but the tricky tone seems like it needed more time in the editing room to focus its story and trim some of the extraneous threads.

Deliver Us From Evil ** Directed by Scott Derrickson. Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, Edgar Ramirez. While investigating a bizarre case, a New York City police officer meets a priest who convinces him the incident is related to demonic possession, and the two men team up to ferret out the truth. You’ll be jolted a couple of times, but these aren’t scares that will stay with you. How about retiring "based on a true story" in favor of "based on a good story"?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A tribute to a great band too few people remember these days

I remember back in the early to mid-1970s hanging out with my brother in the bars in Austin. Usually we'd hit a bar, order a couple of beers and after the live music started we'd quietly walk out and head for another bar. Contrary to popular belief, most of the live music scene in Austin on an average night just wasn't all that good. We walked into one bar one night and saw a bunch of bizarre-looking dudes setting up on the stage, but really paid them little attention. Just another typical Austin band. We ordered our beers and continued with our matter-of-life-and-death conversation. Then these guys started playing, a Colombian cumbia ("Catagenera," the last video in this set). My brother and I stopped talking, looked at each other with the exact same thought in our heads ("Is this music coming from those rag-tag dudes we saw congregating on the stage moments before? Naw It couldn't be.") But it was and we were hooked.

The name of that band was Balcones Fault and I will dare anyone to name a better band to come out of Austin during that time in the 1970s. There might have been a handful just as good -- Plum Nelly (and its direct descendant, Mother of Pearl) and Greezy Wheels immediately come to mind -- but none better.

Balcones Fault played a handful of shows in Dallas. At one obviously meaningful one for me, at Faces on Cedar Springs, I met the woman who would become the mother of my son. But perhaps they were best known for a series of "Full Moon Concerts" they played at Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters. Late in the decade they went out to California to record an album which simply did not capture the magic of the band.

This was a band that was way ahead of its time. If it had been born during the first days of the music video in the early 1980s, I'm convinced Balcones Fault would have been a national success, not just a Texas one. It wasn't enough to hear Balcones Fault, you had to see them.

I recently retired and relocated from Dallas to Kyle in Central Texas (18 miles from my son and granddaughter vs. 234 miles away when I lived in the forgotten triangle of Northeast Dallas) and through some strange series of events I have quickly reconnected with two great musician friends from that era of the 1970s, Ernie Gammage (who sometimes back then and even to this day performed under the name of Ernie Sky) from Plum Nelly and Mother of Pearl and Fletcher Clark from Balcones Fault. Both are still heavily involved in music and I am so delighted to be back in their orbit.

To give you a small idea of what Fletcher was like back in those mid-70s days, check out this Balcones Fault video.

That's Fletcher singing lead and sermonizing on that Balcones Fault show-stopper. But to really get just a small taste of the variety of music styles this amazing band could capture, I've included a couple more samples. Check 'em out and then wish you were there, back in the heyday of Balcones Fault.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis

1.  Mississippi 7-0 (1)
2.  Mississippi State 6-0 (2)
3.  Auburn 5-1 (3)
4.  Alabama 6-1 (6)
5.  Florida State 7-0 (5)
6.  Georgia 6-1 (8)
7.  Oregon 6-1 (10)
8.  TCU 5-1 (11)
9.  Michigan State 6-1 (12)
10. Notre Dame 6-1 (9)
11. Oklahoma 5-2 (7)
12. Baylor 6-1 (4)
13. Kansas State 5-1 (17)
14. Ohio State 5-1 (22)
15. Nebraska 6-1 (16)
16. LSU 6-2 (14)
17. Clemson 5-2 (15)
18. Marshall 7-0 (21)
19. UCLA 5-2 (19)
20. Arizona 5-1 (20)
21. USC 5-2 (18)
22. Arizona State 5-1 (NR)
23. Utah 5-1 (25)
24. West Virginia 5-2 (NR)
25. Texas A&M 5-3 (13)
Dropped out: Oklahoma State (23), Stanford (24),

Monday, October 20, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

With this week’s list, I am converting from a 5-star rating system to the more universally used 4-star one.

Snowpiercer ***½ Directed by Joon-ho Bong. Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Ed Harris. The Earth’s remaining inhabitants are confined to a single train circling the globe as revolution brews among the class-divided cars. A rare hybrid that perfectly blends the dazzle of a futuristic action thriller with the intellectual substance of an art film.

A Coffee in Berlin **½ Directed by Jan Ole Gerster. Nothing seems to go right for Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling): His girlfriend dumps him, he loses his driver’s license, and his father cuts him off financially. With nothing else to do, he wanders around Berlin, crossing paths with a slew of eccentric characters. A snappy, quirky German indie that will thrill fans of early Jim Jarmusch.

The Fluffy Movie **½ Directed by Manny Rodriguez. A comedy concert film that captures the on-stage performance and inspirational success story of Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias. Inherently funny, with a terrific sense of timing, an amazing gift for mimicry, and an ability to perfectly imitate all kinds of everyday sounds, Iglesias is always charming and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

Earth to Echo **½ Directed by Dave Green. After receiving a bizarre series of encrypted messages, a group of kids embark on an adventure with an alien who needs their help. Passable family entertainment, neither unforgettable nor particularly bad.

The Purge: Anarchy ** Directed by James DeMonaco. A young couple works to survive on the streets after their car breaks down right as the annual purge commences. The new film pokes heavyhanded fun at extreme conservatives and has a "power to the people" sub-theme, but it’s full of ultra-violence and is dragged down by standard scare tactics, thin characters and the absurdities of the premise.

Life After Beth ** Directed by Jeff Baena. Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser. A young man’s recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead, but he slowly realizes she is not the way he remembered her. This dark comedy has a lot of promise for about half its length. Then, unfortunately, it settles into the mundane zombie genre picture that it seems doomed to be.

Sex Tape Directed by Jake Kasdan. Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Robb Corddry, Ellie Kemer. Rob Lowe, Jack Black. A married couple wake up to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts. The cinematic equivalent of herpes, Sex Tape is an uncomfortable embarrassment to raunchy comedies everywhere. Fortunately, no medication is required after being exposed to it: The effects are not permanent, only painful.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wish I could be there for this one

Patty Griffin will be in Dallas next month
In case you haven’t heard, two of the best pop singers in the business today, Patty Griffin and Mavis Staples, will be together Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Majestic Theater in concert benefitting the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. According to its website, the center uses music therapy in the recovery process for abused children.

I have seen Griffin in concert once, at the very first Austin City Limits music festival, and her performance moved me emotionally on a couple of occasions, most memorably when she sang "When It Don’t Come Easy." I have been searching for opportunities to see her again ever since. It is worth getting tickets to this concert just for Griffin alone, but when you pair her with Staples, this becomes a very special, not to be missed, concert event.

She will be playing closer to me the following night, but unfortunately that show is a taping for an Austin City Limits telecast and tickets for that sold out eons ago.

I discovered Griffin with the song "One Big Love" that was featured on her second album, Flaming Red (1998). Her next album, 2002's Stolen Kisses is perhaps my favorite, featuring such great songs as "Rain," "Chief," "Making Pies" and "Long Ride Home," although it was 2004's Impossible Dream that featured my favorite Griffin song, the aforementioned "When It Don’t Come Easy," along with "Love Throw a Line."

Her songs have been covered by Linda Ronstadt ("Falling Down"), the Dixie Chicks ("Truth No. 2," "Top of the World," "Let Him Fly"), Mary Chapin Carpenter ("Dear Old Friend"), Emmylou Harris ("One Big Love") and many others..

In 2010 she joined Robert Plant’s Band of Joy for a tour and an album. Plant subsequently moved into Griffin’s Austin home and startled both my son and granddaughter when they knocked on their door on Halloween night trick or treating. My son told me he did not know who lived in the house when they went to the front door and were startled when Plant opened the door, warmly greeted the two of them and dropped candy into his daughter’s basket. (That Griffin-Plant relationship has since ended.)

Mavis Staples will be performing as well
Staples, of course, is a blues/gospel/civil rights activist icon, perhaps best known for her work with The Staple Singers ("I’ll Take You There," "Respect Yourself"). VH1 named her one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rolling Stone called her one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2011, she collaborated with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy on an album, You Are Not Alone, that won a Grammy and she and Tweedy teamed up again in 2014 for the Grammy nominated One True Vine.

The Dallas concert will be a reunion of sorts for these two great singers. In 2009 Griffin and Staples collaborated on the song "Waiting for My Child to Come Home," featured on the compilation album Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration. I’m thinking you will hear them sing that song together on Nov. 13.

That collaboration led Griffin to record a gospel album, Downtown Church, that was actually recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville and was released in January 2010.

Ah, yes, this promises to be a great show. I am so sorry I’m going to miss it.

The next Ron Howard epic

Director Ron Howard, fresh from his much underappreciated Rush, will be releasing his next film, In the Heart of the Sea, in March based on the true story of the Essex.

If you’re like me, you don’t know that much about the Essex, but it seems it was a whaling vessel that, during an expedition in the winter of 1820, had a disastrous encounter with a mammoth killer whale. The story of the Essex would become the basis of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. (In the film Ben Whislaw plays Melville, whose investigation of the Essex made public what had happened to it.)

Howard employed many of the same behind-the-scenes people he used on Rush as well as that movie’s lead Chris Hemsworth.

Here’s a sneak peak that looks terribly promising to me (but then sneak peaks are designed to make films look promising):

Monday, October 13, 2014

The words on the shirt say it all

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Mississippi 6-0 (2)
2.  Mississippi State 6-0 (3)
3.  Auburn 5-1 (1)
4.  Baylor 6-0 (6)
5.  Florida State 6-0 (4)
6.  Alabama 5-1 (5)
7.  Oklahoma 5-1 (7)
8.  Georgia 5-1 (17)
9.  Notre Dame 6-0 (9)
10. Oregon 5-1 (11)
11. TCU 4-1 (8)
12. Michigan State 5-1 (13)
13. Texas A&M 5-2 (10)
14. LSU 5-2 (21)
15. Clemson 4-2 (NR)
16. Nebraska 5-1 (16)
17. UCLA 4-2 (12)
18. USC 4-2 (NR)
19. Kansas State 4-1 (18)
20. Marshall 6-0 (23)
21. Ohio State 4-1 (15)
22. Arizona 5-1 (14)
23. Oklahoma State 5-1 (NR)
24. Stanford 4-2 (NR)
25. Utah 4-1 (25)
Dropped out: Louisville (19), Georgia Tech (20), Missouri (22), Florida (24)

This Week’s DVD Releases

X-Men: Days of Future Past ***½ Directed by Bryan Singer. Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbinder, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart. The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in an effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. Spanning across several continents, and obviously decades, Days Of Future Past feels vast and epic in scope. But as large as the movie is, it never loses sight of character and themes (at least the ones that matter).

Venus in Fur *** Directed by Roman Polanski. Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric. An actress attempts to convince a director how she’s perfect for a role in his upcoming production. Polanski’s direction is masterful — a pleasure in and of itself — but Seigner is the star attraction here, giving one of the best performances of her distinguished career.
Chinese Puzzle *** Directed by C├ędric Klapisch. Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou. A 40-year-old father’s life is complicated when the mother of his two children moves to New York. Since he can’t bear them growing up far away from him, he decides to move there as well. Klapisch’s film is meandering and cutesy, but his characters are endearing and every so often he comes up with a deft insight, such as how New York City’s streets are like a flayed zombie.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman **½ Directed by Rob Minkoff. Ty Burell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Patrick Warburton, Stanley Tucci, Allison Janney, Mel Brooks, Lake Bell. The time-travelling adventures of an advanced canine and his adopted son, as they endeavor to fix a time rift they created. The film plays with some funny ideas about time travel, and like any good time travel movie, it flirts with paradox and what happens when you violate the rules of time and space. It doesn’t really go far enough with those ideas, though, and the end result is too often timid instead of brash and silly.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Auburn 5-0 (1)
2.  Mississippi 5-0 (8)
3.  Mississippi State 5-0 (10)
4.  Florida State 5-0 (6)
5.  Baylor 5-0 (9)
6.  Oklahoma 4-1 (2)
7.  Alabama 4-1 (3)
8.  TCU 4-0 (15)
9.  Notre Dame 5-0 (12)
10. Texas A&M 5-1 (5)
11. UCLA 4-1 (7)
12. Oregon 4-1 (4)
13. Michigan State 4-1 (16)
14. Arizona 5-0 (21)
15. Ohio State 4-1 (NR)
16. Nebraska 5-1 (11)
17. Georgia 4-1 (18)
18. Kansas State 4-1 (24)
19. Louisville 5-1 (NR)
20. Georgia Tech 5-0 (NR)
21. LSU 4-2 (13)
22. Marshall 5-0 (NR)
23. Missouri 4-1 (22)
24. Utah 4-1 (NR)
25. Oklahoma State 4-1 (20)
Dropped out: BYU (14), USC (17), Stanford (19), Wisconsin (23), Arkansas (25)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Obvious Child ***½ Directed by Gillian Robespierre. After being fired from her job and dumped by her cheating boyfriend, a comedian bottoms out and has a drunken one-night stand with a nice guy who’s not her type. Weeks later, she finds out she’s pregnant. It’s a warm, sympathetic, very sloppy, and often very funny little movie about a young woman who, among several other things, is not remotely ready to be a parent and knows it.

Edge of Tomorrow ***½ Directed by Doug Liman. Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Lara Pulver, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven. As Earth fights an alien invasion, Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Cruise) is killed in action, and a time loop forces him to continually relive his last day. With each iteration, Cage’s skill grows, as does his understanding of the enemy and how it operates. They might have called it Groundhog Day 2, but that wouldn’t have conveyed the film’s martial frenzy, its fascinating intricacies or the special delights of its borderline-comic tone.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon *** Directed by Beth Aala, Mike Myers. Comic Meyers turns documentarian with this film on his friend, legendary manager Gordon, whose client list ranged from Blondie to Alice Cooper. The film mixes Gordon’s own reminiscences with those from Michael Douglas, Sly Stallone and more. The movie is like sitting at a restaurant with a guy who’s got some of the best stories you’ve heard in your life — provided, that is, that you’re into stories about showbiz.

The Grand Seduction **½ Directed by Don McKellar. Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liana Balaban, Gordon Pinsent. The cash-strapped burg of Tickle Cove must persuade a doctor to move to town if they want a plastics manufacturer to build a new factory there. But selling the advantages of the tiny Newfoundland village to a young professional isn’t easy. With just a couple of strong casting choices and a winsome tone, an old formula can still work, and The Grand Seduction comes out of the lab with a disarming readiness to please.

Million Dollar Arm **½ Directed by Craig Gillespie. Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Suraj Sharma, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin. Looking to save his failing business, sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) launches a reality show to find India’s best cricketers, with the goal of turning them into professional baseball players and signing them to Major League contracts. What keeps you watching is the charisma of the performers: Hamm does an amiable riff on his Don Draper persona (he’s cynical before the big melt), Bell is a delight as his tart-tongued love interest, and Sharma and Madhur Mittal are all charm as the cultures-uniting underdogs.

A Million Ways To Die in the West ** Directed by Seth McFarlane. Seth McFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson. As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival. As director and writer, MacFarlane appears to have forgotten everything about cinematic standards of pacing, characterization and meaningful smut, resulting in an encore that’s slow, sketchy and dumb-dirty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Unbroken to open Christmas Day

It's written by the Coen Brothers and directed by Angelina Jolie (seems like a unlikely combination to me, but there you have it) and advance word on it is very, very good -- so good, in fact, it's seen right now as the only serious challenger to Boyhood for the best picture Oscar. But advance word is usually excellent on films no one has seen.