Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The 25 Best Films Released on DVD in 2015

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

1. Boyhood Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater. The greatest movies, the ones that stick with us, are those that hold up a mirror to the human condition and reflect something back at us that we too often manage to overlook. Boyhood is one of those movies, and with it Linklater proves he is among the best practitioners of that art. A home movie of a fictional home life, an epic assembled from vignettes, Boyhood shimmers with unforced reality. It shows how an ordinary life can be reflected in an extraordinary movie.

2. Inside Out Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith. I never saw a movie this year with a more brilliant combination of imagination, emotionally moving moments, witty writing, visually interesting details and psychologically accurate behavior than this one. It’s as audacious as it is silly, as funny as it is imaginative.

3. Mr. Turner Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Timothy Spall. Through it all, Spall is equally enigmatic and transfixing: With his guttural croaks and barks, his J.M.W. Turner is often difficult to understand, but, thanks to Spall’s amazing physical performance and Leigh’s sensitive, information-laden direction, he’s never incomprehensible.

4. Leviathan Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev. Magnificently acted, expertly crafted and unerringly sure of every treacherous step it takes, Leviathan is an indictment, but also an elegy, a film set among the monumental ruins of a culture, whether they’re the skeletal remains of boats, a whale’s bleached bones, a demolished building or a trail of lives that are either ruined or hopelessly resigned. It may be the one true masterpiece of global cinema to be released this year on DVD.

5. Timbuktu Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. A transcendent political poem as intellectually rigorous as it is beautiful. Sissako’s point, while never heavy-handed, is hard to miss: Traditional Muslims are among the world’s biggest victims of Islamic militarism. A thoroughly remarkable and disquieting film, it is also a work of almost breathtaking visual beauty, but it manages to ravish the heart while dazzling the eye simultaneously, neither at the expense of the other. It’s a work of art that seems realized in an entirely organic way.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron. Will leave you speechless, which couldn't be more appropriate. Words are not really the point when it comes to dealing with this barn-burner of a post-apocalyptic extravaganza in which sizzling, unsettling images are the order of the day. Even in the most chaotic fights and collisions, everything makes sense. This is not a matter of realism — come on, now — but of imaginative discipline. And Miller demonstrates that great action filmmaking is not only a matter of physics but of ethics as well. There is cause and effect; there are choices and consequences. It’s all perfectly, wonderfully, fantastically crazy. Amidst all those ingenious, power-packed road warrior sequences, Fury Road contains a surprising amount of depth and character development.

7. Selma Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson. A gripping, inspiring and sometimes terrifying historical drama, loaded with specific detail, that brings a turning point of the civil rights movement back from black-and-white obscurity to present-tense urgency. Even if you think you know what’s coming, Selma hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling. And much more than that, of course. Oyelowo takes full advantage of his close physical resemblance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but he wisely avoids mere impersonation, delivering a performance that’s as sensitive as it is spellbinding.

8. Two Days, One Night Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Starring Marion Cotillard. This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal. Her shoulders slumped, her eyes weary, her gait heavy, Cotillard moves past naturalism into something impossible to doubt and hard to describe. Her character is an ordinary person in mundane circumstances, but her story, plainly and deliberately told, is suspenseful, sobering and, in the original, fear-of-God sense of the word, tremendous.

9. Whiplash Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons. This is a muscular and accomplished work of kinetic cinema built around two tremendous acting performances, and it’s really about teaching and obsession and the complicated question of how to nurture excellence and where the nebulous boundary lies between mentorship and abuse. Chazelle proves an exceptional builder of scenes, crafting loaded, need-to-succeed moments that grab your attention and hold it tight.

10. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Starring Michael Keaton. The director has wisely assembled an ensemble of performers who know how to handle a long take; this will certainly rank among Keaton's career highlights — in a role that allows him to completely dump out his paintbox and show a vast range of emotion — but everyone shines.

11. Citizenfour Directed by Laura Poitras. Both an urgent tale torn from recent headlines and a compelling work of cinema, with all the paranoid density and abrupt changes of scenery of a John le Carré novel.

12. Life Itself Directed by Steve James. Gives measured and pragmatic reflection to many of the things that are most interesting about film critic Roger Ebert's personal and professional life. James has done a wonderful job of telling a colorful life story.

13. Force Majeure Directed by Ruben Ostlund. A movie about something not often explored in film: the consequences of male weakness in a world in which men are expected to be strong at all times. It's the rare kind of film-watching experience that will haunt you long after you turn off the TV and could lead to some very awkward conversations with your spouse. A brutally smart and original film.

14. The Babadook Directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman. Believe it or not, the real horror of this superb Aussie monster movie has almost nothing to do with the title fiend and everything to do with the unspoken, unspeakable impulses he represents. Remove the Babadook from The Babadook, in other words, and something plenty terrifying remains.

15. Amy Directed by Asif Kapadia. Amy Winehouse’s story is a tragic one — as with Kurt Cobain, who also died at 27, her potential as a singer and songwriter was only just beginning to be realized. Yet the prevailing mood of this documentary is joy. Kapadia captures what was irreplaceable about this unique performer, and in the process gives her the opportunity to do what she was made to do, the only thing she ever really wanted: to sing.

16. Tangerine Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone, Mya Taylor. Writer-director Baker’s sun-scorched, street-level snapshot is a work of rueful, matter-of-fact insight and unapologetically wild humor that draws a motley collection of funny, sad and desperate individuals into its protagonists’ orbit. It’s touching for its non-condescending stance toward working girls and the spirit of the sidewalk.

17. Love Is Strange Directed by Ira Sachs. Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina. Calling this a great gay love story is both precise and inaccurate; I didn’t see a more finely performed and beautifully crafted love story, with or without any mere modifiers, on DVD this year. In addition to the performances — truly, everyone is good — what stands out is Sachs' direction. It's measured, patient. The scenes play out as one imagines the characters' lives would.

18. It Follows Directed by David Robert Mitchell. Starring Maika Monroe. A smart, relentlessly chilling thriller that opts for originality over cheaply rejiggered jolts. Pretty much earns its buzz as the scariest and best-engineered American horror movie of recent years, and that’s all down to Mitchell’s sophisticated understanding of technique and the trust and freedom he accords his youthful cast.

19. ‘71 Directed by Yann Demange. Starring Jack O’Connell. This is more than just a performance showcase, delivering a gripping, at times almost unbearably tense, incredibly involving anti-war statement, made the stronger for being set against the less cinematically familiar backdrop of Belfast in the year 1971. Nothing is extraneous, no moment that doesn't enhance the tension of this nightmare scenario is allowed to survive, until the proceedings become, in the best possible sense, almost unbearable to watch.

20. Red Army Directed by Gabe Polsky. In this swift, smart, often very funny film, Polsky takes an unprecedented look at the legendary Soviet-era hockey program and its life after glasnost, exposing an athletic system that became a crucial symbol of Communist history and politics, but also discipline, grace and brooding, melancholy soul. Good sports movies are always about more than sports and this one touches on themes of friendship and perseverance. It also offers a compact and vivid summary of recent Russian history.

21. The End of the Tour Directed by James Ponsoldt. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel. Like Almost Famous, Ponsoldt’s film gets at something deep and true about the journalist/subject dynamic and the phony intimacy and tiny betrayals implicit in it. It’s a profoundly moving story about a towering talent who seemed to feel too much and judge himself too harshly to stick around for long. What a shame. There was a cry from fans of novelist David Foster Wallace fans when Segel was cast (some are still up in arms), but he’s terrific. So is Eisenberg, in an even more difficult role, as Rolling Stone reporter and novelist David Lipsky.

22. Foxcatcher Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell. Another strange and compelling anthropological drama from Miller, a director with evident expertise at enabling Oscar-worthy star performances. Though anchored by an affecting and sullen turn by Tatum, the movie derives its primary discomfiting power from Carell in a revelatory performance as a monster of American wealth.

23. Inherent Vice Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This isn't the towering masterpiece that those who admired There Will Be Blood and The Master were probably hoping for, and thank God for that. It's loose and free, like a sketchbook, though there's also something somber and wistful about it — it feels like less of a psychedelic scramble than the novel it's based on. It serves as a portrait of 1970 California that mixes absurdity with an air of looming cataclysm, a volatile formula that wouldn’t work without central performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

24. Shaun the Sheep Movie Directed by Mike Burton, Richard Starzak. In a bold move that pays off, the movie jettisons dialogue altogether and tells its whole story through barn-animal noises, goofy sound effects, and sight gags so silly they’d make Benny Hill spin in sped-up ecstasy. The effect is contagiously cute. A world-class winner.

25. Love & Mercy Directed by Bill Pohlad. In telling the story of one damaged suburban genius and his unlikely rebirth, Love & Mercy captures the vanished possibilities of 1960s pop music, the fecklessness of the California dream and its decay into tragedy and madness, and other things less easy to describe or define. It doesn’t claim to solve the mystery of Brian Wilson, but it succeeds beyond all expectation in making you hear where he was coming from.

Monday, December 28, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Bone Tomahawk *** Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Kurt Russell. Russell’s performance is certainly one reason to see this unexpected low-budget treat, a witty fusion of western, horror and comedy that gallops to its own beat. That rhythm is dictated entirely by writer/director Zahler, a novelist and musician who flips genre conventions upside-down and cares more about character than body count.

The Intern ** Directed by Nancy Meyers. Starring Robert DeNiro, Anne Hathaway. Meyers seems content to make a nice movie about nice people doing their best to be nice to each other despite one or two not-nice things that happen along the way. That’s all very nice, but not particularly the stuff of potent or rousing entertainment.

A Walk in the Woods ** Directed by Ken Kwapis. Starring Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Nick Nolte. It has its charming, lively moments, but also many that just feel tired and listless, as if the filmmakers were working off a checklist of all the things two well-past-middle-age travelers would say and do while trekking through the wilderness.

HeistDirected by Scott Mann. Starring Robert DeNiro, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Gina Carano, Morris Chestnut. Would the movie be as (barely) entertaining as it is without De Niro? He only has about 15 minutes’ worth of scenes in the film, but whenever he’s on-screen the film almost feels legitimate.

The Perfect GuyDirected by David M. Rosenthal. Starring Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy, Morris Chestnut. There’s certainly an audience for these thrillers, but imagine how big that audience might be for one that really works.

Jenny’s Wedding * Directed by Mary Agnes Donaghue. Starring Katherine Heigl. A movie so hopelessly late to the coming-out party that you want to haul everyone connected with it into the 21st century.

Hitman: Agent 47 * Directed by Aleksander Bach. Writers Skip Woods and Michael Finch have a few tricks up their sleeves as betrayals emerge and allegiances shift. But it’s not enough to make us care or to keep the third act from being a head-scratching mess.

Some Kind of Hate * Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. Like so much teen-targeting modern horror, it opts for dull angsty brooding over the very sort of grim-and-gruesome sleaziness that might have made its premise interesting.

Monday, December 21, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Queen of Earth ***½ Directed by Alex Ross Perry. Two women (Elizabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston) who grew up together discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together. A lovingly rendered, feel-bad chamber piece chock-full of elliptical psychodrama.

Black Mass *** Directed by Scott Cooper. The true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. Despite Depp’s seemingly flawless efforts, less may have been more in conveying just how bloodthirsty Bulger was. Where the film excels is with a stellar cast whose spot on performances keep your interest as the film moves along.

Pawn Sacrifice **½ Directed by Edward Zwick. The tumultuous life of chess wunderkind Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), from his formative years to his epic world championship match against Soviet archrival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in Reykjavik, Iceland, during the height of the Cold War. This is a film in which, as the end credit documentary footage attests, the real story overwhelms its dramatization.

Nasty Baby **½ Directed by Sebastian Silva. Fixated on having a baby, bohemian artist Freddy (Silva) enlists his best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), to bear a child for him and his boyfriend. But the trio's happy lives are disrupted when a deranged neighbor begins to torment them. Subverting expected narratives may have been Silva’s aim all along; still, the turn isn’t just nasty, it’s confounding.

Dragon BladeDirected by Daniel Lee. When corrupt Roman leader Tiberius (Adrien Brody) arrives with a giant army to claim the Silk Road, Huo An (Jackie Chan) teams up his army with an elite Legion of defected Roman soldiers led by General Lucius (John Cusack) to protect his country and his new friends. The picture never finds its tone: It's neither go-for-broke outrageous enough to be consistently funny, nor energetic enough to be viscerally entertaining. It may not be as bad as you might fear, but it certainly isn’t as much fun as you might hope.

PanDirected by Joe Wright. With pirates roaming the landscape, a young lad (Levi Miller) is transported to the magical kingdom of Neverland, where he's destined to become the hero Peter Pan. The film doesn’t deliver on its own promise. The movie doesn’t so much enhance our understanding of the flying boy as it demonstrates how little thought went into crafting his back story.

War Room * Directed by Alex Kendrick. From the outside, the lives of Tony (T.C. Stallings) and Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) Jordan appear perfect, but their marriage is in shambles. After seeking counsel from a wise older woman (Karen Abercrombie), Elizabeth realizes it will take a deep commitment to prayer to keep her world from crumbling. It may not be as brazenly offensive as God’s Not Dead or as spectacularly inept as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, but it’s still awful, offering all the forced humor and superficial substance of a half-baked homily.

An idea for a dramatic film

There are those who will argue Traffic already undertook this subject 15 years ago (Wow! It doesn't seem that long ago), but it seems to me that in the right hands, Cartel Land, which is now a documentary (admittedly unseen by me at this point), could be made into a riveting dramatic motion picture. Take a look for yourself:

Monday, December 14, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Top Spin ***½ Directed by Sara Newens, Mina T. Son. Documentary that follows a trio of determined teen athletes as they undergo the rigors of training for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic table tennis team. With sleek and informative onscreen graphics and thrilling slow-motion demonstrations of game technique, Top Spin packs a lot of information into its 80-minute running time, arguing that a great table tennis player is one part boxer, one part chess master.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation *** Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Ethan (Tom Cruise) and team take on the mission of eradicating the Syndicate — an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are that’s committed to destroying the IMF. Ultimately, as inconsequential as it all is, Rogue Nation is not pretending to be anything it isn’t. And as a sensory escapist experience with laughs, pleasures, and excitement, it will likely be a most satisfying mission viewers will choose to accept repeatedly.

Time Out of Mind *** Directed by Oren Moverman. Homeless and struggling to survive on the streets of New York City, George Hammond (Richard Gere) admits himself to Bellevue Hospital as a last resort. Before long, he finds a sympathetic soul named Dixon (Ben Vereen), who encourages George to try to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone). The film’s not entirely effective as drama. The pacing and sparse plot keep it from being truly immersive, and it’s not exactly a film designed to spur social change, either. Instead, it’s worth watching for Gere’s most uncompromising three-dimensional performance in 20 years.

He Named Me Malala **½ Directed by Davis Guggenheim. A documentary that looks at the events leading up to the Taliban’s attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls’ education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations. Guggenheim largely dodges lodging her story within a greater political context; a choice, but a shame, for when he does, the movie gains tension.

Wolf Totem **½ Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. During China’s Cultural Revolution, a young urban student (Shaofeng Feng) is sent to live with Mongolian herders, where he adopts a wolf cub. It sets out to take the viewer on a journey, but ends up giving them little more than a pleasantly diverting sight-seeing tour. There are worse ways to spend two hours. Better ones, too.

Slow Learners ** Directed by Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce. When platonic pals and co-workers Jeff (Adam Pally) and Anne (Sarah Burns) fail to ignite sparks in their romantic lives, they make a pact to improve themselves, launching a makeover campaign they’re certain will leave them confident and lucky in love. Even if this movie isn’t fresh, it’s often amusing.

Ted 2 ** Directed by Seth McFarlane. Newlywed couple Ted, a stuffed bear, and Tami-Lynn want to have a baby, but in order to qualify to be a parent, Ted will have to prove he’s a person in a court of law. Feels like far too many other sequels: born of box office expectations more than a bona fide reason to return to the characters we loved the first time around.

Maze Runner: The Scorch TrialsDirected by Wes Ball. After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. Ball’s film is a mad dash from one place to the next, with little time in between for rest, recuperation or plot development.

The Strongest ManDirected by Kenny Riches. Angst-ridden Beef (Robert Lorie), who fancies himself as the strongest man in the world, and his hapless best buddy, Conan (Paul Chamberlain) embark on a quest to reclaim Beef’s most cherished possession: a gold BMX bike that’s been stolen. Thinly amusing, The Strongest Man stretches a short’s worth of potentially funny ideas to feature length, where they slowly and surely lead nowhere in particular.

Fantastic Four * Directed by Josh Trank. A team of scientists who suddenly acquire superhuman abilities are soon obliged to put them to use when a powerful nemesis with malevolent plans threatens Earth. So bereft of all the things we expect from a superhero movie — humor, excitement, adventure, awe — that it plays like a drawn-out pilot episode for an upcoming TV series no one would ever watch again.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Handicapped Harley

Does anyone else in the wide, wide, wide, wide, wide world of sports think a handicapped license plate on a Harley seems a little strange?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The brilliance of Donald Trump

The way to achieve electoral victory in any political contest, especially when there is an above-average number of contenders, is to set the agenda. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong; if everyone is arguing about your topics, you win. No one knows this better and no one has capitalized on this strategy better than GOP presidential contender Donald Trump.

Today it doesn’t seem like anyone in politics is talking about anything else than Trump’s horrendous, stupid and unconstitutional idea to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. However, the illegitimacy of Trump’s idea is completely irrelevant; all that matters is everyone is talking about it and that means everyone is talking about Trump and no one else. And when that happens, Trump wins.

This is important because it boils the field down to a contest between Trump and all those other candidates who disagree with Trump. And this is important because as strong as Trump has appeared in all the polling we’ve seen, he still isn’t anywhere close to claiming the support of more than 50 percent of likely Republican voters. That means, obviously, more than half of those voters don’t plan to cast their ballots for Trump.

So Trump is playing the media like a video game he has mastered and the media is reacting exactly the way Trump wants them to. "Talk about me, me, me. What I say isn’t important. But as long as you’re talking about only me, you’re not talking about any of the other candidates, unless, in the off-chance, your quoting what they have to say about me, me, me."

There are plenty of more important stories the media should be concentrating on, including one that could have a far more profound effect on our democracy than whether Trump will ever get to establish a religious litmus test for immigrants to this country. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments today on a suit filed by a pair of Texans who claim voting districts should not be based on population, but on the number of voters in each district. This is simply another attempt by Republican Tea Party right-wingnuts to strip representation from minorities, since minorities tend to congregate in urban areas and this suit seeks to strip more diverse urban areas of representation in congress, state legislatures, etc., and allow more representation is less populated, less diverse rural areas.

The fallacy in this argument is that elected representatives must represent everyone, not just those who bother to vote. That’s the basis of our system of government. That doesn’t mean the Supreme Court will do the right thing (see Bush v Gore, see Citizens United).

It’s interesting to note exactly who is filing this suit. According to Mother Jones, "One is a Texas tea party activist who has promoted a conspiratorial film suggesting President Barack Obama’s real father was Frank Marshall Davis, a supposed propagandist for the Communist Party. The other is a security guard and religious fundamentalist who believes the Earth doesn’t revolve around the sun and that unicorns were real." I’m not making this up. You can learn a whole lot more about these crazies by reading this.

But no one is talking about this threat to our voting rights, because Trump has managed to divert all the attention to himself.

My Final Top 25 College Football Teams for 2015

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 12-1 (1)
2.  Clemson 13-0 (3)
3.  Oklahoma 11-1 (2)
4.  Ohio State 11-1 (4)
5.  Michigan State 12-1 (5)
6.  Stanford 11-2 (6)
7.  Notre Dame 10-2 (8)
8.  Iowa 12-1 (7)
9.  Florida State 10-2 (11)
10. TCU 10-2 (10)
11. Mississippi 9-3 (13)
12. North Carolina 11-2 (12)
13. Houston 12-1 (16)
14. Michigan 9-3 (15)
15. Oklahoma State 10-2 (14)
16. LSU 8-3 (18)
17. Baylor 9-3 (9)
18. Oregon 9-3 (19)
19. Navy 9-2 (21)
20. Florida 10-3 (17)
21. Northwestern 10-2 (22)
22. Tennessee 8-4 (23)
23. USC 8-5 (20)
24. Utah 9-3 (24)
25. Wisconsin 9-3 (25)

Monday, December 7, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Blind ***½ Directed by Eskil Vogt. When she loses her sight, a woman (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) retreats to her apartment and senses that her husband may not always leave when he says he’s going to work. It’s all presented as a playful cinematic puzzle by Vogt’s confident direction and mischievous humour.

The Kindergarten Teacher *** Directed by Nadav Lapid. A kindergarten teacher discovers in a 5-year-old child a prodigious gift for poetry. Lapid confidently peppers the film with enough provocative beats, unsettling behaviors and bold camera moves to keep us intrigued — if not necessarily invested.

Ant-Man **½ Directed by Peyton Reed. Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to make it through the entirety of Ant-Man’s two hours without thinking of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as least once, and I’m not sure that’s an association the filmmakers were courting.

Xenia **½ Directed by Panos H. Koutras. When gay teen Danny (Kostas Nikouli) loses his mother, he travels from his home in Crete to Athens to meet up with his older brother (Nikos Gelia). Together, they set out on a surreal journey to find the Greek father they’ve never met. Brashly uneven and wildly overlong, this comedy of brotherly love and outsider acceptance nonetheless boasts a spirited, audience-pleasing core.

Jobriath A.D. **½ Directed by Kieran Turner. After enjoying a brief burst of fame in the mid-1970s, gay rocker Jobraith was quickly abandoned by his audience. He died of AIDS in 1983. This documentary surveys the details of his life and renewed interest in his music. Viewers will surely have their curiosity piqued, but may not finish watching this convinced of Jobriath’s place in the pop Pantheon.

Minions **½ Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin. Minions Stuart , Kevin and Bob (all voiced by Coffin) are recruited by Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm), hatches a plot to take over the world. The new team thinks that if mayhem is funny, five times the mayhem will be five times as hilarious. That’s not how movie math works, and too many scenes spin out of control.

Knock Knock ** Directed by Eli Roth. Alone for the weekend, Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) offers two attractive young women (Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas) shelter from a stormy night but comes to regret his charity after they seduce him and then proceed to upend his idyllic life. A pretty flimsy erotic thriller, but thanks to Reeves’ oaken obliviousness it’s also got a few moments of deliciously trashy fun.

Partisan ** Directed by Ariel Kleiman. Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), a boy who has been raised in a sequestered commune, finds that his increasing unwillingness to fall in line puts him on a collision course with Gregori (Vincent Cassel), the society’s charismatic and domineering leader. While the systematic corruption of innocents under an outwardly benevolent protector makes for a disturbing scenario, Australian newcomer Kleiman dulls the unease with his studiously enigmatic approach.

One &Two ** Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo. Two siblings (Kieman Shipka, Timothée Chalamat) discover a supernatural escape from a troubled home. Never feels as momentous or as angsty as a good story about moody teenagers should, and that’s mostly because the film lacks a menacing parental adversary.

Jellyfish EyesDirected by Takashi Murakami. Kids have mini-monster "friends" that they control via smart phones. May be blessedly unpretentious, but it’s also immediately unmoving and relentlessly boring.

The Transporter Refueled * Directed by Camille Delmarre. In the south of France, former special-ops mercenary Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) enters into a game of chess with a femme-fatale (Loan Chabanol) and her three sidekicks who are looking for revenge against a sinister Russian kingpin. Cheap silliness abounds, including car chases that are more about loud crashes and CGI than the thrill of speed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December Oscar Predictions

Listed in the order of their chances for a nomination:

The Revenant
The Martian
Bridge of Spies
Steve Jobs
Inside Out

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Ridley Scott, The Martian
David O. Russell, Joy
Todd Haynes, Carol

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbinder, Steve Jobs
Matt Damon, The Martian
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Jonny Depp, Black Mass

Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy, The Revenant or Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Inside Out
The Hateful Eight
Bridge of Spies

Steve Jobs
The Revenant or The Martian

The Revenant
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl
Crimson Peak or Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
The Martian
Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Black Mass

Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies, The Martian, or The Danish Girl

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Inside Out
The Danish Girl
The Hateful Eight or Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Revenant
The Martian

Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Revenant
Straight Outta Compton

The Martian
Jurassic World
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Walk or Avengers: Age of Ultron

Inside Out
The Good Dinosaur
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Peanuts Movie

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 11-1 (1)
2.  Oklahoma 11-1 (3)
3.  Clemson 12-0 (2)
4.  Ohio State 11-1 (4)
5.  Michigan State 11-1 (7)
6.  Stanford 10-2 (10)
7.  Notre Dame 10-2 (5)
8.  Iowa 12-0 (8)
9.  Baylor 9-2 (6)
10. TCU 10-2 (15)
11. Florida State 10-2 (17)
12. North Carolina 11-1 (14)
13. Mississippi 9-3 (16)
14. Oklahoma State 10-2 (9)
15. Michigan 9-3 (11)
16. LSU 8-3 (21)
17. Houston 11-1 (25)
18. Florida 10-2 (12)
19. Oregon 9-3 (18)
20. USC 8-4 (NR)
21. Navy 9-2 (13)
22. Northwestern 10-2 (22)
23. Tennessee 8-4 (NR)
24. Utah 9-3 (20)
25. Wisconsin 9-3 (NR)
Dropped out: Mississippi State, Toledo, UCLA

Monday, November 30, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Amy ***½ Directed by Asif Kapadia. The story of Amy Winehouse in her own words, featuring unseen archival footage and unheard tracks. Both biography and autopsy, an exhaustive chronicle of her rise to the top of the charts and a bare-knuckled indictment of the vulturish men who took advantage of the emotionally vulnerable singer.

Goodnight Mommy ***½ Directed by Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz. After plastic surgery, a mother returns home to her 10-year-old identical twin sons with her face swathed in bandages. But as she recovers, her increasingly odd behavior fuels the boys’ fears about the identity of the woman behind the gauze. This elegantly nasty little potboiler should satisfy those brave enough to brave it. They might see the big reveal coming, but that won’t help them unsee the horrors leading up to it.

The Hunting Ground *** Directed by Kirby Dick. An exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the toll they take on students and their families. This is an emotionally devastating piece of advocacy journalism, as it should be. It should also be mandatory viewing for both college-age teens and their parents.

Mississippi Grind *** Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Deeply in debt because of his compulsive gambling, 44-year-old Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) hopes to change his luck by teaming with a slick young poker ace (Ryan Reynolds) and heading to New Orleans to buy into a renowned high-stakes poker game. So long as the film focuses on spiky rapport, and on the authentic, lived-in textures of the American Midwest, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the grittiness and weary pathos ultimately gives way to a disappointingly pat finale, undermining everything that came before.

Mistress America *** Directed by Noah Baumbach. A lonely college freshman’s (Lola Kirke) life is turned upside down by her impetuous, adventurous soon-to-be stepsister (Greta Gerwig). Doesn’t quite achieve the magic of Frances Ha. But it’s a fresh take on the comic possibilities of friendship among the young.

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans **½ Directed by Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna. Steve McQueen was already an accomplished road racer when he agreed to star in the racing drama Le Mans. This documentary recounts the creative differences and a flood of personal issues that nearly doomed the project. It doesn’t really succeed in conveying McQueen’s great passion for auto racing. In truth, it mostly makes him seem like a jerk — but cinephiles might enjoy it as a case study of moviemaking gone wrong.

Yakuza Apocalypse **½ Directed by Takashi Miike. Yakuza boss Genyo Kamiura is the most feared man in the criminal underground, but few know that he’s also a vampire. Just before being killed, he passes on his undead powers by biting his faithful underling — who’s bent on avenging Kamiura’s murder. For those fans who don’t mind enduring some tedium and confusion, this at least offers something memorably bizarre.

Tokyo Tribe **½ Directed by Shion Sono. In this saga of Tokyo’s violent criminal underworld, two of the city’s biggest gangs are the Wu-Ronz and the Musashino Saru. After a Wu-Ronz leader mistakenly kills the wrong victims, a city-wide battle begins. This is so insistently over-the-top from the start that the results are just fairly amusing when they ought to be exhilarating.

The Immortalists ** Directed by David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg. A documentary about two eccentric scientists (Bill Andrews, Aubrey de Grey) who struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call "blind to the tragedy of old age." Would that the film encouraged some deeper thought on the matter instead of inviting viewers to gawk at the subjects as if they were freak-show attractions.

Cooties ** Directed by Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion. Students at an elementary school fall prey to a virus that transforms them into bloodthirsty, cannibalistic mutants. Though the movie has a reasonable amount of laughs and frights, and though real teachers may find it an apt allegory for the zombielike charges in their classrooms, it’s not really funny enough to achieve grown-up cachet, and it’s too ugly and violent for younger viewers.

Desert Dancer ** Directed by Richard Raymond. Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) defies the government’s prohibition against dancing in modern Iran and starts an underground dance company. Ghaffarian’s story plays out within such a generic framework, and with such self-importance, that it’s all too easy to remain untouched by the onscreen events.

Lost in the SunDirected by Trey Nelson. After crossing paths with recently orphaned teen Louis (Josh Wiggins), two-bit crook John (Josh Duhamel) forces the youngster to accompany him on a road trip that turns into a robbery spree. By the time you’re meant to learn just what the tie is between John and Louis, you’ve stopped caring. But, thanks to the excellent if a little on the obviously-pictorial-side cinematography by Robert Barocci, you’ve seen some lovely vistas on the way to indifference.

90 Minutes in Heaven * Directed by Michael Polish. A man (Hayden Christensen) involved in a horrific car crash is pronounced dead, only to come back to life an hour and a half later, claiming to have seen Heaven. It’s certainly a moving tale. Unfortunately, the film tells the story in the most prosaic fashion imaginable, missing nary a single faith-based film cliché with its one-dimensional noble characters, banal dialogue and requisite sermonizing.

Grace of Monaco ½* Directed by Olivier Dahan. Six years after Grace Kelly’s (Nicole Kidman) storybook life led her to become the Princess of Monaco, the actress weighs an offer to resume her career in Hollywood while helping her country in a dispute with France. The film isn’t just bad — it’s awful — ineptly directed, terribly written and bafflingly acted by an assortment of miscast faces.

Momentum ½* Directed by Stephen S. Campanelli. Intending to retire from a successful career as a master thief, Alex (Olga Kurylenko) makes the dangerous mistake of revealing her identity during her final heist. A spectacularly generic action-thriller that, despite its sleekly shot and edited mayhem, lands with a giant thud.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 10-1 (2)
2.  Clemson 11-0 (1)
3.  Oklahoma 10-1 (4)
4.  Ohio State 10-1 (3)
5.  Notre Dame 10-1 (5)
6.  Baylor 9-1 (9)
7.  Michigan State 10-1 (11)
8.  Iowa 11-0 (7)
9.  Oklahoma State 10-1 (6)
10. Stanford 9-2 (12)
11. Michigan 9-2 (14)
12. Florida 10-1 (8)
13. Navy 9-1 (15)
14. North Carolina 10-1 (16)
15. TCU 9-2 (10)
16. Mississippi 8-3 (21)
17. Florida State 9-2 (19)
18. Oregon 8-3 (NR)(
19. Mississippi State 8-3 (24)
20. LSU 7-3 (17)
21. Utah 8-3 (18)
22. Toledo 9-1 (NR)
23. Northwestern 9-2 (NR)
24. UCLA 8-3 (NR)
25. Houston 10-1 (13)
Dropped out: USC, Memphis, Wisconsin, Arkansas

Monday, November 23, 2015

Something to think about

Muslims have died defending the freedom of millions of Americans to say hateful things about them.

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Square ***½ Directed by Jehane Noujaim. A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience. An electrifying, at times heartbreaking documentary from the Egyptian-born, Harvard-educated documentarian Noujaim.

Shaun the Sheep Movie ***½ Directed by Mark Burton, Richard Starzak. Animated tale that follows roguish alpha-sheep Shaun, who schemes to take a day off by lulling the Farmer to sleep. Delivers exactly what it promises: The cutest, most innocuous entertainment this side of internet panda videos.

Twinsters ***½ Directed by Samantha Futerman, Ryan Miyamoto. Alerted to a You Tube video featuring a woman who bears an eerie resemblance to her, adoptee Anaïs Bordier makes contact with her lookalike via social media and the two discover they’re twins who were separated at birth. An enjoyable ride, made with vigorous love and creativity, which is more than enough reason to recommend it. Especially to siblings.

Sand Dollars ***½ Directed by Israel Cardenas, Laura Amelia Guzman. At a seaside Dominican resort, the long relationship between aging French lesbian Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) and her 21-year-old lover, Noelí (Yanet Mojica) — who’s paid for her services — begins to disintegrate when Noelí gets pregnant. Guzmán and Cárdenas present this tropical island as both Anne’s romantic refuge and Noelí’s exploitative landscape, a beautiful, enchanting — and realistic — Eden where snakes are merely snakes.

A Hard Day *** Directed by Seong-hoon Kim. After trying to cover up a car accident that left a man dead, a crooked homicide detective is stalked by a mysterious man claiming to have witnessed the event. Has a breakneck pace that allows one to easily dismiss the more ridiculous, downright nonsensical aspects of its plot. Only occasionally will the eyes roll. For the most part, it works.

1971 *** Directed by Johanna Hamilton. Eight antiwar activists broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office in 1971 and made off with a treasure trove of documents revealing a massive illegal surveillance program. Now, in Hamilton’s fiery truth-to-power documentary, those gray-haired agitators finally step out of the shadows to explain what they did and why they did it (with the help of some slightly hokey dramatic reenactments). Their message — namely, Who will watch the watchmen? — remains as important today as it was 44 years ago.

Ricki and the Flash ** Directed by Jonathan Demme. A musician (Meryl Streep) who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. This is a sour movie masquerading as something more cheerful. In that attempted deception the film is both helped and hindered by an indispensable performance by Streep.

Cut Snake ** Directed by Tony Ayres. A pair of ex-cons hatch a scheme to burn down a nightclub in Brisbane. It’s in the accelerating spiral of crime that the weaknesses of the script and direction become hard to ignore.

American Ultra ** Directed by Nima Nourizadeh. Mike Howell’s (Jesse Eisenberg) indolent life as a small-town stoner is abruptly upended when he comes to realize that he’s a trained sleeper agent for a foreign foe and that U.S. government operatives have marked him for death. The movie is replete with bloody encounters, sly asides, and one-liners, but the tone is awkward and uneven. There are also some serious structural problems that we’re supposed to brush aside.

A Christmas Horror Story ** Directed by Grant Harvey, Steve Hoban, Brett Sullivan. Interweaves four horror-styled yuletide yarns including one where Santa Claus finds himself pitted against a horde of zombie elves, and another where a family inadvertently conjures a primordial Christmas demon. As horror movies go, this one’s not especially tense or scary. Instead, it’s eerie, provocative and at times ridiculously violent. The ending feels like a cop-out after so much creative mayhem.

No EscapeDirected by John Erick Dowdle. In their new overseas home, an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape from an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed. I won’t make a case for No Escape being a good film; the first half is pretty good and the second half ranges from pretty bad to truly awful. Nor will I deny having enjoyed quite a bit of it as a zombie film, never mind that it’s supposed to be an international thriller with contemporary political significance.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Excluding refugees makes us less safe

Imagine for a second you’re a high school senior getting ready to embark on your collegiate adventures. And you have decided that becoming a member of a fraternity or a sorority will greatly enhance that college experience. You are being courted quite actively by one particular Greek house, but that’s not one you have any interest in joining. However, the one you really desire to join wants no part of you. So the second house steps up its recruiting efforts, telling you they will give you plenty of opportunities to "get even" with those that slammed the door in your face. Makes that house a lot more appealing, doesn’t it.

That, in a nutshell, is ISIS’s recruiting strategy. It offers a refuge for the disaffected, the disenfranchised and tells them it will teach them how to get even with those who disaffected and disenfranchised them.

Remember, last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris were not carried out by Syrian refugees, but individuals of the Muslim faith born and raised in France or Belgium, Muslims ISIS managed to recruit because they were somehow alienated by their government. (The Syrian passport found on one terrorist turned out to be a forgery.)

According to figures I came across, there are some 140,000 Muslims in Texas, comprising about .7 percent of the state’s total population. Now these 140,000 are hearing from our state’s highest elected officials "We don’t want you and your kind here and we’re going to do everything we can to keep the doors closed to you and your kind." All ISIS needs to do is isolate three or four of those 140,000 to wreak havoc in some major metropolitan area of Texas and the actions by Gov. Greg Abbott will go along way to making it easier for ISIS to find those three or four or more.

His actions are stupid, irresponsible and make us far less safe.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Two REALLY bad movie ideas

According to the trade bible Variety, AMBI pictures plans to produce a remake of the classic Memento. Are you freaking kidding me??? This is a cult classic and the members of its cult can recite every line, re-enact every scene, at the drop of a hat. What could possibly be gained from remaking this picture?

Then I heard that Ridley Scott apparently wants to redeem himself for having unleashed the comparatively awful Prometheus upon the world, so he's going to make yet another Alien film, this one apparently called Alien: Covenant. Doesn't he know when it's time to leave well enough alone?

My Top 25 College Football Teams

The College Football Playoff Committee has actually agreed with my top four the last two weeks. However, I would be shocked to discover the committee is knowledgeable enough to see it my way three weeks in a row. As usual, the number in parenthesis is that team's rank last week.

1.  Alabama 9-1 (2)
2.  Clemson 10-0 (1)
3.  Ohio State 10-0 (3)
4.  Oklahoma 9-1 (10)
5.  Notre Dame 9-1 (4)
6.  Oklahoma State 10-0 (5)
7.  Florida 9-1 (11)
8.  Iowa 10-0 (9)
9.  Baylor 8-1 (7)
10. TCU 9-1 (12)
11. Michigan State 9-1 (15)
12. Stanford 8-2 (6)
13. Michigan 8-2 (14)
14. North Carolina 9-1 (19)
15. Navy 8-1 (16)
16. Houston 10-0 (18)
17. LSU 7-2 (8)
18. Utah 8-2 (13)
19. Florida State 8-2 (24)
20. USC 7-3 (17)
21. Mississippi 7-3 (22)
22. Wisconsin 8-2 (23)
23. Memphis 8-2 (21)
24. Mississippi State 7-3 (20)
25. Arkansas 6-4 (NR)
Dropped out: UCLA

This Week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Meru *** Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Three elite climbers set out to scale the imposing Shark’s Fin on India’s Mount Meru. Blindingly beautiful and meticulously assembled by the award-winning editor Bob Eisenhardt, Meru easily makes you forget that what you are watching is completely bananas.

The Stanford Prison Experiment *** Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. Conducting a study on the psychology of incarceration, a Stanford professor assigns prisoner and guard roles to 24 male test subjects in a mock jail. Even with some familiar faces, this film feels like an honest-to-goodness documentary — a high compliment for a movie based on an infamous college project.

Jimmy’s Hall **½ Directed by Ken Loach. After being deported from Ireland to the United States, political firebrand Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to his hometown a decade later and reopens the dance hall he once ran as a gathering place for youngsters, much to the dismay of community leaders. Loach’s staging is so calm and sober that it turns his story into an expertly photographed yet weirdly remote rebellion tale.

The Wanted 18 **½ Directed by Paul Cowan, Amer Shomali. A small Palestinian village buys 18 cows and stops buying Israeli milk. Imaginatively interspersing testimonials with re-enactments, comic panels and Claymation, the film plays out like an entertaining absurdist satire.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ** Directed by Guy Ritchie. In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Ritchie manages a promising first act. But at the whim of the action movie formula, and ostensibly nothing else, priorities shift as the story carries forward. When we’re asked later on to attend to escalating stakes and a dimming tone, we’re simply left wondering what happened to all the fun.

Trash ** Directed by Stephen Daldry, Christian Duurvoort. Three kids who make a discovery in a Brazilian garbage dump soon find themselves running from the cops and trying to right a terrible wrong. While once upon a time Daldry made a very good movie (Billy Elliot), here he lets what should’ve been an efficient little thriller get stymied by an excess of style, and the weight of self-importance.

We Are Your Friends ** Directed by Max Joseph. While trying to break through as a DJ in Hollywood’s competitive club scene, ambitious Cole Carter (Zac Efron) finds a mentor in James (Wes Bentley), a charismatic older DJ. But complications arise when Cole makes the mistake of falling for James’ young girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski). Besides Bentley’s performance, the only thing this has going for it is the occasional directorial flourish, with words on screen or characters addressing the camera or that painterly drug trip. These jolts are few and far between, but they’re most welcome when they arise.

Monday, November 9, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Tangerine ***½ Directed by Sean Baker. A working girl (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) tears through Los Angeles on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp (James Ransone) who broke her heart. A groundbreaking film that leaves you in stitches while quietly breaking your heart.

Trainwreck *** Directed by Judd Apatow. Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman (Amy Schumer) may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy (Bill Hader). There’s a lot thrown in here for two hours, and Apatow could easily have lost about 30 minutes of high jinks and gotten the point across that everybody has their somebody. Yet with Schumer driving the action, Trainwreck may be his most impactful film yet.

Mala Mala *** Directed by Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles. A documentary about the transgender culture told through the eyes of nine trans-identifying individuals in Puerto Rico. After spending time with all nine of these sometimes-gutsy, sometimes-conflicted women and men, it’s impossible not to feel a deeper appreciation for their struggle to feel like the skin they live in is genuinely their home.

Far From Men *** Directed by David Oelhoffen. In 1954 rural Algeria, French teacher Daru (Viggo Mortensen) is given the task of escorting an Arab man accused of murder to the town where the trial is to take place. The film often suggests a less defiant cover of The Defiant Ones, yet it should be seen for Mortensen’s characteristically wonderful performance.

Mr. Holmes *** Directed by Bill Condon. An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), deals with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. This is a ruminative film of minor-key rewards, driven by an impeccably nuanced performance from McKellen as a solitary 93-year-old man enfeebled by age, yet still canny and even compassionate in ways that surprise and comfort him.

Zarafa **½ Directed by Rémi Bezançon, Jean-Christophe Lie. A 10-year-old boy journeys from Africa to France to save an orphaned baby giraffe from a life in captivity. May not be the most groundbreaking feat of storytelling, but it does have a giraffe in a balloon.

Advantageous **½ Directed by Jennifer Phang. When age threatens her job as spokesperson for a radical procedure that offers lasting youth, a single mom (Jacqueline Kim) decides to undergo the treatment. It’s a kick to see how effectively Phang has created the future on a shoestring even if she hasn’t yet figured out how to turn all her smart ideas into a fully realized feature.

Terminator GenisysDirected by Alan Taylor. A prequel to the original Terminator story. Feels like being trapped in a conversation with a child breathlessly recounting the highlights of all the preceding Terminator movies.

We’ll Never Have Paris Directed by Simon Helberg, Jocelyn Towne. After unintentionally breaking up with his longtime girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey) while trying to propose, a neurotic, vacillating man-child (Helberg) pursues her to Paris. This film requires so many leaps of faith and suspensions of disbelief that you might develop acrophobia.

Self/less Directed by Tarsem Singh. A dying real estate mogul (Ben Kingsley) transfers his consciousness into a healthy young body (Ryan Reynolds). Eventually, you start to wonder if the movie forgot to take its own pills: What starts out as an interesting exploration of identity soon gives way to the uninspired, generic action flick I had feared it always was.

Pay the Ghost * Directed by Uli Edel. A professor (Nicolas Cage) searches for his son who was abducted during a Halloween parade. This somnolent supernatural thriller is a low-energy wash from start to finish.

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Got it all figured out a little earlier than usual this week. Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1.  Clemson 9-0 (1)
2.  Alabama 8-1 (4)
3.  Ohio State 9-0 (2)
4.  Notre Dame 8-1 (6)
5.  Oklahoma State 9-0 (13)
6.  Stanford 8-1 (11)
7.  LSU 7-1 (3)
8.  Baylor 8-0 (10)
9.  Iowa 9-0 (9)
10. Oklahoma 8-1 (12)
11. Florida 8-1 (8)
12. TCU 8-1 (5)
13. Utah 8-1 (14)
14. Michigan 7-2 (16)
15. Michigan State 8-1 (7)
16. Navy 7-1 (NR)
17. North Carolina 8-1 (24)
18. USC 6-3 (18)
19. Houston 9-0 (19)
20. Mississippi State 7-2 (21)
21. Mississippi 7-3 (17)
22. Memphis 8-1 (15)
23. Wisconsin 8-2 (25)
24. Florida State 7-2 (20)
25. UCLA 7-2 (NR)
Dropped out: Texas A&M, Toleo

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Incidentally, the committee got the top four teams right. Last week's rank in parenthesis.
1.  Clemson 8-0 (1)
2.  Ohio State 8-0 (2)
3.  LSU 7-0 (3)
4.  Alabama 7-1 (4)
5.  TCU 8-0 (6)
6.  Notre Dame 7-1 (5)
7.  Florida 7-1 (12)
8.  Michigan State 8-0 (9)
9.  Iowa 8-0 (8)
10. Baylor 7-0 (7)
11, Stanford 7-1 (10)
12. Oklahoma 7-1 (11)
13. Oklahoma State 8-0 (16)
14. Utah 7-1 (13)
15. Memphis 8-0 (14)
16. Michigan 6-2 (15)
17. Mississippi 7-2 (17)
18. USC 5-3 (20)
19. Houston 8-0 (22)
20. Florida State 7-1 (18)
21. Mississippi State 6-2 (19)
22. Texas A&M 6-2 (24)
23. Toledo 7-0 (25)
24. North Carolina 7-1 (NR)
25. Wisconsin 7-2 (NR)
Dropped out: UCLA, Temple

Monday, November 2, 2015

This week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Inside Out **** Directed by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen. After young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling)and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) — conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. Pixar’s 15th feature proves to be the greatest idea the toon studio has ever had: a stunningly original concept that will not only delight and entertain the company’s massive worldwide audience, but also promises to forever change the way people think about the way people think, delivering creative fireworks grounded by a wonderfully relatable family story.

Seymour: An Introduction ***½ Directed by Ethan Hawke. A documentary that examines the life and times of piano teacher Seymour Bernstein, who chose teaching and composition over the chance to pursue a career as a concert pianist. The 81 minutes spent in Bernstein’s funny, touching and vital presence is something you don’t want to miss.

The End of the Tour ***½ Directed by James Ponsoldt. The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, Infinite Jest. Intimate, soul-baring, and winning, this is a special, lovely little gem.

Best of Enemies *** Directed by Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville. A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. An outstanding account of a pivotal moment in television history.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine *** Directed by Michael Josue. A documentary that recounts Shepard’s brief life and his grisly murder in 1998 that had a stunning effect on the American public and brought the legacy of hostility toward gays into focus. Josue’s film is not consistently effective in bridging her personal story with Shepard’s well-known legacy, but there are striking moments that explore the limits of forgiveness.

Digging for Fire *** Directed by Joe Swanberg. The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband (Jake Johnson) and wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) on separate adventures over the course of a weekend. More lightweight than its ample talk of weighty subjects suggests, the film is nevertheless enjoyable.

Do I Sound Gay? **½ Directed by David Thorpe. A documentary about the stereotype of the gay voice. Gets into the mysteries of homosexual attraction and eroticism, and suggests that if Thorpe wants the kind of long-term relationship that Takei, Sedaris, and Savage have, he’ll have to get over his fetishization of the macho and learn to accept himself. That’s a poignant, powerful conclusion, all from asking one question.

Roar **½ Directed by Noel Marshall. Jungle beasts assemble in flocks to invade an otherwise quiet home where they chase humans up and down stairways and from one room to another. Something this bad can’t help but be good.

Tap World **½ Directed by Dean Hargrove. A documentary detailing a renaissance in tap dancing. It would be better if it had a bit less proclaiming and a bit more nuts-and-bolts information, but still, it’s refreshing to see people bubbling over with enthusiasm for an art that is somewhat out of the mainstream.

The Final Girls **½ Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Not every joke lands and it’s not as consistently funny as it could have been, but at its best, The Final Girls evokes the offbeat silliness of David Wain’s parody films like Wet Hot American Summer and They Came Together.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ** Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. A 10-year-old cartographer secretly leaves his family’s ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute. For all it boasts in ingenious style, this genial American yarn lacks the delicious bile of Jenuet’s early days.

A LEGO Brickumentary ** Directed by Kief Davidson, Daniel Junge. A look at the global culture and appeal of the LEGO building-block toys. Even the interesting parts of this documentary aren’t that interesting, but are rather more like the best thing you might hear while being cornered by the most boring person at a party.

She’s Funny That Way ** Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. On the set of a playwright’s new project, a love triangle forms between his wife, her ex-lover, and the call girl-turned-actress cast in the production. Posted as a love letter to the classic screwball comedies of Hollywood’s golden age, but delivers ersatz Woody Allen instead; it’s like Bullets Over Broadway minus the mob plot and 90 percent of the charm.

VacationDirected by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein. Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes his own family on a road trip to Walley World in order to spice things up with his wife (Christina Applegate) and reconnect with his sons. One of the most repellent, mean-spirited gross-out comedies it’s ever been my squirmy displeasure to sit through.

Before We Go * Directed by Chris Evans. Two strangers stuck in Manhattan for the night grow into each other’s most trusted confidants when an evening of unexpected adventure forces them to confront their fears and take control of their lives. A talky, contrived and ultimately tedious actors’ exercise.

Some Kind of Hate * Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. A bullied teenager is sent to a reform school where he accidentally summons the spirit of a girl, herself a victim of bullying, who takes vengeance on his tormentors. The film fails to deliver a thrill — not even a shiver, except of revulsion — rendering all that slasher gore downright anemic.

The Diabolical * Directed by Alistair Legrand. A single mother (Ali Lasrter), and her children, are awoken nightly by an intense presence. It might be asking too much for this movie to fully live up to its cheesy-ominous title, but the sheer unadulterated inanity of these proceedings suggests that it’ll soon be teleported to the far corners of the B-movie streaming-video abyss.

Some Kind of Beautiful no stars Directed by Tom Vaughan. A Cambridge poetry professor (Pierce Brosnan) begins to re-evaluate his life of excess. From first frame to last, this movie is some kind of hideous, a perfect storm of romantic-comedy awfulness that seems to set the ailing genre back decades with the sheer force of its ineptitude.

Some brief thoughts on UT football and the DH

  • University of Texas football coach Charlie Strong needs to fire his entire coaching staff at the end of the season, whether every single member of that staff deserves it or not. He has to demonstrate to the Longhorn faithful he's willing to take the most drastic steps that can be taken to turn the football program around. And then he should do whatever it takes to hire former UT quarterback and highly successful high school coach Todd Dodge as his offensive coordinator. Dodge coached Southlake Carroll High School to four state championships in seven years and a 98-11 record. He is currently doing well as the head coach at Austin's Westlake High School. Dodge, I am convinced, would also be a valuable aid in recruiting.

  • This just completed baseball season was, to me, the Season of the Starting Pitcher -- Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Jake Arrieta, Matt Harvey, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez and, of course, Clayton Kershaw. I really enjoyed watching their magic on the mound. I have never really been for or against the 42-year-old American League Designated Hitter rule until this season,. But now, because I have become such a fan of starting pitching, I am a major advocate of spreading the DH to the National League as well. If a starting pitcher is on the mound throwing a really good game, I don't want to see him pulled for a pinch hitter because the game is tied or his team is a run or two down late in the game. That has nothing to do with pitching and takes the game away from the players and puts it into the hands of the managers. The Kansas City Royals just finished proving what can be accomplished if you just let the players play the game.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November Oscar Predictions

It's Nov. 1, which, I guess, is as good a time as any to kick off my regular round of Oscar predictions. Here's how I see the nominations going in the principle categories, with all the nominees listed alphabetically. Once again, for best picture, I'm working under the assumption there will be the maximum 10 nominees, I'll tell you right now the three pictures I have the least confidence in are Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight and Brooklyn.

Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
The Martian
The Revenant
Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
David O. Russell, Joy

Matt Damon, The Martian
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbinder, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Supporting Actor
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
(Personally, I think it's criminal that Paul Dano is not on this list for his portrayal of the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy. I have heard Hardy is actively seeking not to be considered, and if the Academy takes his actions seriously, hopefully Dano can make the final five.)

Supporting Actress
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out

Adapted Screenplay
Steve Jobs
The Revenant

Animated Feature
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Clemson 7-0 (3)
2.  Ohio State 8-0 (2)
3.  LSU 7-0 (5)
4.  Alabama 7-1 (4)
5.  Notre Dame 6-1 (9)
6.  TCU 7-0 (6)
7.  Baylor 7-0 (7)
8.  Iowa 7-0 (8)
9.  Michigan State 8-0 (10)
10. Stanford 6-1 (15)
11. Oklahoma 6-1 (14)
12. Florida 6-1 (11)
13. Utah 6-1 (1)
14. Memphis 7-0 (18)
15. Michigan 5-2 (13)
16. Oklahoma State 7-0 (16)
17. Mississippi 6-2 (21)
18. Florida State 6-1 (12)
19. Mississippi State 6-2 (23)
20. USC 4-3 (NR)
21. UCLA 5-2 (25)
22. Houston 7-0 (22)
23. Temple 7-0 (NR)
24. Texas A&M 5-2 (17)
25. Toledo 7-0 (20)
Dropped out: California, BYU

Monday, October 26, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Gift *** Directed by Joel Edgerton. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance (Edgerton) from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. This film, a psychological roller coaster on a doomed track, is one of the best directorial debuts in ages, hands down.

A Borrowed Identity *** Directed by Eran Riklis. A Palestinian-Israeli boy (Tawfeek Barhom) is sent to a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem, where he struggles with issues of language, culture, and identity. Commendably avoids polemics in order to provide a textured portrait of a young man going through a set of personal transitions against the background of ongoing cultural flux that reflects a larger, collective identity crisis. Its evocation of the historical period feels carefully honed and resonant.

Southpaw **½ Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) turns to trainer Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker) to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife (Rachel McAdams) in a tragic accident and his daughter (Oona Lawrence) to child protection services. Gyllenhaal’s performance is great, but for reasons unrelated to his physique. He’s thrilling to watch and the only unpredictable thing in a two-hours-plus movie where you can count on one hand the number of moments that aren’t hand-me-downs from better boxing films like Rocky, Raging Bull, and Fat City.

7 Chinese Brothers **½ Directed by Bob Byington. Lazily treading water on the sea of life, sad sack Larry (Jason Schwartzman) drifts from job to job and bottle to bottle. But his apathetic attitude toward his latest place of employment — a Quick Lube station — changes when he starts to fall in love with the boss (Eleanore Pienta). This is no Listen Up Philip, but it’s an amiable enough slacker comedy, boosted by its star.

Sunset Edge ** Directed by Daniel Peddle. As four rudderless teens spend their days skateboarding and scavenging in the dilapidated remnants of a rural North Carolina trailer park, they cross paths with a young stranger who’s come looking for clues about his father’s death. The film uses nonprofessional actors and has a good eye, but more story development and fewer lingering shots of the trash-strewn trailer park would have been an improvement.

Max ** Directed by Boaz Yakin. A dog that helped US Marines in Afghanistan returns to the U.S. and is adopted by his handler’s family after suffering a traumatic experience. A genial if somewhat old-fashioned tale that’s too clunky to transcend its genre(s) but effective enough within its own limited emotional range.

Pixels * Directed by Chris Columbus. After aliens attack Earth using 1980s arcade games as models for their onslaught, President Will Cooper (Kevin James) calls in longtime friend and former gaming ace Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) to take on the extraterrestrial invaders. The "characters" vary from slightly annoying to unbearable — this is a film in which a viewer can be forgiven for rooting for the old video game icons to annihilate humanity. God help us if the best savior we can muster is Sandler.

The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) no stars Directed by Tom Six. The warden (Dieter Laser) of a notorious and troubled prison looks to create a 500-person human centipede as a solution to his problems. A cynical, and consistently unpleasant film with creators who try very, very hard to push as many of your buttons as they can.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Really looking forward to these

Hits theaters around Christmas time.

Word is the best picture Oscar race right now is between this film and Spotlight.

Just say ‘no’

The Texas Constitution is a mess — a statement that is probably as revelatory as saying rain is wet. In my view, a constitution should outline basic government principles. The Texas Constitution consists of whatever dumbass ideas legislators had at any given moment.

For that reason I have always voted against any new amendment to the Texas Constitution and will continue to do so until (1) a constitutional convention agrees on a completely new document that achieves what a constitution is supposed to accomplish, or (2) I die. I have a feeling I know which will come first.

But I actually have specific reasons to vote against these proposed amendments and since early voting on these issues have already started, it’s time to state my case.

Prop. 1: The last thing Texas government needs to be doing is taking money away from school districts. I know, legislators are promising they will reimburse the districts, some how, some way, but where have I heard those kind of empty promises before?

Prop. 2. This is worthwhile, but it simply should not be a part of a state constitution. Simple enabling legislation will accomplish the same kind of housekeeping.

Prop 3. This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make it more difficult to prosecute crooked politicians like Attorney General Ken Paxton. It’s the legislators protecting their own and it’s shameful.

Prop. 4: Why this should be a part of a state constitution boggles the mind. The only reason I can think of is that some of our lawmakers are deeply in debt or extremely beholden to owners of professional sports teams,

Prop 5: Nothing particularly wrong with it except it is not a constitutional principle.

Prop 6: The only reason I see for this proposal is that animal rights activists have these right wing nuts who run our state government paranoid. Come on. Get serious. Does anyone really believe this groups will have any affect on hunting and fishing regulations in Texas?

Prop 7: This is another plan for the legislature to take money out of one fund in put it into another instead of simply doing the right thing which is providing for more funding. This type of legislation should be the subject of legislative debate during regular sessions and not locked into the constitution.

I know that most Texas voters don’t pay any attention to these amendments and just hit the "yes" key because they think it’s the proper thing to do, even if it isn’t the right thing to do. What I’m saying is that all these propositions will undoubtably pass by large margins. But that doesn’t mean they should.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Utah 6-0 (2)
2.  Ohio State 7-0 (6)
3.  Clemson 6-0 (4)
4.  Alabama 6-1 (9)
5.  LSU 6-0 (11)
6.  TCU 7-0 (1)
7.  Baylor 6-0 (8)
8.  Iowa 7-0 (15)
9.  Notre Dame 6-1 (10)
10. Michigan State 7-0 (22)
11. Florida 6-1 (3)
12. Florida State 7-0 (14)
13. Michigan 5-2 (5)
14. Oklahoma 5-1 (17)
15. Stanford 5-1 (13)
16. Oklahoma State 6-0 (12)
17. Texas A&M 5-1 (7)
18. Memphis 6-0 (NR)
19. California 5-1 (21)
20. Toledo 6-0 (23)
21. Mississippi 5-2 (16)
22. Houston 6-0 (NR)
23. Mississippi State 5-2 (NR)
24. BYU 5-2 (NR)
25. UCLA 4-2 (19)
Dropped out: Northwestern, Boise State, Temple, USC

Monday, October 19, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Güeros *** Directed by Alonso Ruiz Palacios. During a student strike at Mexico’s National University, flatmates Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) and Santos (Leonardo (Ortizgrls) settle into a different routine until the arrival of Sombra’s brother, Tomás Sebastián Aguirre), sends the trio on a quest to find a long-forgotten musical star. A good story, full of life and related with intelligence and a sense of humor.

The Wolfpack *** Directed by Crystal Moselle. In the heart of Manhattan, Baghavan and Susanne have raised their seven kids with virtually no exposure to the outside world. This documentary captures their offspring’s unique views of society molded largely by films they’ve watched. Despite its considerable faults, this bizarre, fascinating story is impossible to shake off, like the expression on the face of one of the brothers as he’s talking about his father and begins getting choked up (instead of crying, he smiles convincingly, evidence of a life led having to learn to hide his emotions for fear of reprisal).

Z for Zachariah **½ Directed by Craig Zobel. In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors. Its craft can be impressive: Zobel’s film possesses a searing, slow burn tone that’s beautifully controlled. The movie is admirably patient and gives breathing room and space for these relationships to bloom believably and organically. But the build to a climax is far too slow and with little emotional payoff.

Jurassic World **½ Directed by Colin Trevarrow. A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park’s newest attraction — a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine — escapes containment and goes on a killing spree. The movie unquestionably "delivers." It feels like a hit; it offers a professionally crafted blend of blandness, predictability, watered-down cultural commentary and manufactured excitement.

Seeds of Time **½ Directed by Sandy McLeod. A documentary that follows agricultural scientist Cary Fowler as he traverses the globe on a mission to preserve and stockpile seeds that may someday avert a worldwide famine. Fowler is not a terribly charismatic subject, but the matter-of-fact manner in which he delivers important information and the stunning depth of his knowledge compensates, as does the steady way in which McLeod reveals pertinent personal details about his life and work.

Paper Towns **½ Directed by Jake Schreier. When Quentin Jacobsen’s (Nat Wolff) longtime crush — fabulously cool high school senior Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) — vanishes soon after drafting him for a revenge-fueled mission, he sets off on a cross-country road trip to find her. While Schreier (Robot & Frank) doesn’t do a whole lot with the camera besides make sure that there are people in the frame, he does manage to provoke strong performances from Wolff — who looks kind of like a young Dustin Hoffman, but stretched out like a piece of taffy — and the young supporting cast.

Meet Me in Montenegro ** Directed by Alex Holdridge. Linnea Saasen. A failed American writer enters into an affair after a chance encounter with a European dancer. While this tale of a couple experiencing myriad romantic ups and downs has its occasional amusing and insightful moments, it doesn’t quite render its characters’ foibles endearing.

Hungry Hearts ** Directed by Saverio Costanzo. When Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) and Jude (Adam Driver) get stuck in the bathroom of a New York City restaurant, romance, marriage and a child soon follow. But before long, the couple finds themselves clashing over the care of their infant, who’s not developing. Beginning as an adorable romcom, the film morphs into a disturbing but not particularly illuminating story of mental illness.

The Vatican Tapes Directed by Mark Neveldine. When an infection from a cut lands 27-year-old Angela Holmes (Olivia Dudley) in the emergency room, everyone around her begins to suffer, thanks to a Satanic force that’s taken possession of the young woman. Another day, another exorcism. Ho-hum.

Chloe & Theo * Directed by Ezna Sands. Determined to save his Arctic Inuit homeland from environmental ruin, Theo (Theo Ikummaq) sets off for New York City, where he finds an unexpected ally in a homeless young woman named Chloe (Dakota Johnson). This should have been a film about Theo: a complex man taking on an unfamiliar world he is not particularly fond of, with little more than conviction and principle to help him along. Instead, we get another film where a hapless foreigner teaches white people how to better themselves.