Monday, February 23, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Whiplash ***½ Directed by Damien Chazelle. A promising young drummer (Miles Teller) enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor (J.K. Simmons) who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential. Chazelle’s hyperventilated nightmare about artistic struggle, artistic ambition. It’s as much a horror movie as it is a keenly realized indie about jazz, about art, about what it takes to claim greatness.

Big Hero 6 *** Directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams. A genius robotics engineer (voice of Ryan Potter) finds himself enmeshed in a nefarious scheme to wipe out the city of San Fransokyo. A rousing movie that’s satisfyingly infused with traditional Disney sentiment.

Beyond the Lights *** Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Unprepared for the demands of fame and the conflicts that success generates, a rising musical star (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) finds herself in a moment of suicidal despair until she’s rescued by a young policeman (Nate Parker) who’s destined to become her lover. As a work of art, the movie is merely on the bright side of OK. But as a vehicle for an emerging star, as a platform to show one actress in a variety of modes and moods, within a sympathetic and glamorous context, it couldn’t be better.

Horrible Bosses 2 Directed by Sean Anders. Dale (Charley Day), Kurt (Jason Sudeikus) and Nick (Jason Bateman) decide to start their own business but things don’t go as planned because of a slick investor, prompting the trio to pull off a harebrained and misguided kidnapping scheme. A lackluster second effort that mines a lot of the same jokes. Only no joke is as funny the second time around, even when it’s being delivered by really funny people.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oscar predictions


Picture: Just like last year, this is a two-film race and just like last year it appears the Academy is set to split the booty between the two, giving the picture nod to one and the director statue to the other. Even though all signs are pointing to a Birdman sweep, I’m betting the Academy will do the right thing like it did last year and actually give this Oscar to the best picture of the year Boyhood. The reason why Birdman has such a strong chance is because, like Crash (which also didn’t deserve its best picture Oscar), this is a truly inside Hollywood movie. Crash tried to tell the world that those who lived in Los Angeles were really not as racist as all those outsiders believed, a message that the majority of Oscar voters who live in Los Angeles warmly embraced. Birdman not only concerns itself with the entertainment industry but takes aim at targets the industry loves to skewer, especially critics and superhero films. Birdman is a film for Hollywood while Boyhood is a film for the world and Oscar voters too often suffer from tunnel vision.

Director: Although I’m rooting for Richard Linklater in this category, not only for his execution of Boyhood, but because of the bravery he displayed in thinking he could pull this off, I think the Oscar will go to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who admittedly displayed a unique approach to Birdman.

Actor: Another two person contest, but I think the momentum is with Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything although Michael Keaton’s work in Birdman could pull through. Keaton is also the strong sentimental favorite. This is the only acting category that’s in doubt.

Actress: No contest. Julianne Moore (Still Alice) has this in the bag.

Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash). None of the other nominees has a shot.

Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood).

Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel with Birdman being the only other nominee that possibly could pull off the upset.

Adapted Screenplay: This is a close one between Whiplash and The Imitation Game, but I’m going to go with the latter. Graham Moore wins his first Oscar.

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman) wins his second Oscar.

Costume Design: Milena Canonero (The Grand Budapest Hotel) wins her fourth Oscar.

Film Editing: Sandra Adair (Boyhood) wins her first Oscar although Tom Cross (Whiplash) has an outside chance.

Makeup and Hair: Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Production Design: Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Score: I’m going to go with Johann Johansson (The Theory of Everything) to win this one over Alexandre Desplat whose nominated twice in this category (The Grand Budapest Hotel, for which he might pull off the upset, and The Imitation Game). These are Desplat’s seventh and eighth nominations and he has never won so if does take this away from Johansson it will only be because voters are going with sentimentality over achievement, which they are known to do.

Song: I never get this category correct, but this year I feel quite confident in saying you could put your money on John Legend and Common taking home the Oscar for "Glory" from the film Selma.

Sound Editing: Alan Robert Muray and Bub Asman for American Sniper. Hey, the most popular movie of the year has to win something.

Sound Mixing: I’m going with a slight upset here picking Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley (Whiplash) over John Reiz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin (American Sniper).

Visual Effects: Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott Fisher for Interstellar.

Animated Feature: Although The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was the best animated film of the year, even better than the non-nominated (for some amazing reason I have yet to comprehend) The Lego Movie, the Oscar in this category will go to Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold for How To Train Your Dragon 2.

Documentary: Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky for CitizenFour.

Foreign Language Film: Pawel Pawilowski (Poland) for Ida.

Animated Short: Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed for Feast, although a win by The Dam Keeper wouldn’t shock me.

Documentary Short: Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.

Live Action Short: Mat Kirby and James Lucas for The Phone Call.

Friday, February 20, 2015

For whom this Bell tolls, it tolls for bigotry and stupidity

I haven’t taken a position on gay marriage one way or the other. I have, however, taken a position on marriage, which is any two adult human beings who love each other and chose of their own free will to display publicly that love through marriage should be able to do so. That’s it. No other qualifications. If you’re an adult, in love, and want to get married, our free society should allow you to do so.

The lead story on the front page of today’s Austin American-Statesman bears the headline "FIRST GAY COUPLE MARRIED IN TEXAS" (yes, the headline was in all capital letters). My first reaction was "Texas finally enters the 20th century 115 years after the rest of the world" and then I was struck by a tinge of sadness that I live in a world where the marriage of two women who are in love, who have lived together for 31 years, should even be in the news in the first place.

But those emotions turned to anger when I followed the story to the inside pages that featured reaction to this news from a number of people including the village idiot from Magnolia, one Cecil Bell, who also happens to represent that area of southeast Texas in the state House. The last sentence of his reaction, as printed in the Statesman, reads as follows: "I am very conservative myself and I have very strong religious beliefs, and I believe that this is an enormous intrusion on the rights of Texas and it tramples on the religious rights of Texas."

Now I have absolutely no problems with this fool’s conservative leanings and I will defend forever his rights to maintain his own "very strong religious beliefs." However I take extremely strong exception to his statement that this marriage "tramples on the religious rights of Texas."

First of all, this couple was married by a rabbi. Now, I can imagine that in the walled-off world in which Dingdong Bell has erected for himself, he might not even know what a rabbi is. And even if someone tried to tell him, I’m not sure he would accept the facts. I mean, look, the Flat Earth Society is still alive and well and some still dispute the facts of climate change and refuse to acknowledge that "trickle-down economics" doesn’t create jobs because it quits trickling down at the CEO level.

But anyone with the IQ of your average 2-year-old or better will know that if any ordained spiritual leader of a religious congregation performs a ritual ceremony of any kind, the odds are very good that ritual ceremony is not going to trample on the religious rights of the members of that congregation, whether than congregation is in Texas, Alabama, California, Argentina, Russia, anywhere.

But even more important than that is the question: So what if it does? This country was founded on the idea there should be "a separation of church and state." And I gotta tell you, I’m getting damn sick and tired of these people who claim they are "very conservative myself," arguing we should only enact laws as intended by "our founding fathers" no matter what except if those laws contradict their "very strong religious beliefs."

The original illegal immigrants who came to this country came, in large numbers, to escape religious persecution. They knew that the religious teachings of one group may be directly the opposite of the teachings of another. That’s why they established a secular society that protected the freedoms of all religious teachings and beliefs, but made it clear that those beliefs should have no part in civil and criminal law. They knew that most of society’s most horrendous acts were fomented in the name of religion. The root cause of entire conflict in the Middle East today is the result of religious differences, not only among the actual Middle East nations, but also because the United States tried to obliterate the religious teachings of many Middle Eastern cultures and to replace them with our own value systems, not that much different from what Bell is doing through his backward statements on marriage.

This a Bell that needs to stop ringing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

This week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya **** Directed by Isao Takahata. Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. A visionary tour de force, morphing from a childlike gambol into a sophisticated allegory on the folly of materialism and the evanescence of beauty.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ***½ Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakas, Edward Norton, Andrea Risenborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts. A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play. One of the year’s most audacious, savagely funny and unpredictable films, it features an outstanding performance by Keaton as the has-been star of a superhero franchise desperate to be taken seriously.

Life Itself ***½ Directed by Steve James. The life and career of film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert. Far more than just a tribute to the career of the world’s most famous and influential film critic, this often revelatory documentary is also a remarkably intimate portrait of a life well lived — right up to the very last moment.

The Theory of Everything *** Directed by James Marsh. With his body progressively ravaged by ALS, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) must rely on his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), to continue his life’s work as he faces various challenges. The film is a boilerplate biopic, but with stunning cinematography and a couple of fierce performances, it is nothing if not an accomplished and emotional work of cinema.

The Homesman *** Directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Three women who have been driven mad by pioneer life are to be transported across the country by covered wagon by the pious, independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), who in turn employs low-life drifter George Briggs (Jones) to assist her. The film’s difficulties are in the roiling emotions that run through it. Intimacy and the interdependence required to survive a harsh environment are more easily achieved. Swank and Jones, in particular, are a very good odd couple, playing saint and sinner, sometimes reversing the roles.

St. Vincent **½ Directed by Theodore Melfi. Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts. A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door. Here’s how good an actor Murray is. He does such a bristly, entertaining turn as a boozy curmudgeon in St. Vincent, that he saves first-time director Melfi’s obvious dramedy from sliding into a burbling sinkhole of schmaltz.

The Interview ** Directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogan. Talk-show host David Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogan) are overjoyed when they get the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea. But their perspective on their big break shifts when the CIA asks them to assassinate the ruler. While The Interview never slacks in its mission to tell jokes, it’s such a messy and meandering movie that it never quite lands as a satire of politics or the media or anything else.

Dumb and Dumber To Directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. With Harry (Jeff Daniels) in need of a kidney, he and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) set off to find the long-lost child Harry only recently discovered he’d sired. So maybe some of this is hilarious. Heck, maybe all of it is. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it was not mine.

Monday, February 9, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Force Majeure ***½ Directed by Ruben Ostland. At a ski resort in the Alps, the sudden and terrifying approach of an avalanche opens a deep fissure in the lives of a vacationing Swedish family when the patriarch flees to save himself instead of protecting his wife and children. A cruelly precise, often bleakly comic account of upper-middle-class privilege coming unglued when the cosmos throws a curveball.

Stray Dogs ***½ Directed by Tsai Ming Liang. Follows the odyssey of a father and his two children living on the fringes of Taipei, offering glimpses into their past and a vision of a brighter future. The director’s austere minimalism has always been suspended between the mesmerizing and the distancing, and in his latest feature, the concentration on elliptical observation, mood and texture signals an almost complete rejection of narrative.

Nightcrawler *** Directed by Dan Gilroy. Eager for any work that will make ends meet, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins the flock of camera crews prowling the nighttime streets of Los Angeles in search of scandal and crime. Despite a mesmerizing performance by Gyllenhaal — he’s as transfixing as a cobra in a snake charmer’s dance — and a terrific turn by Riz Ahmed as an unskilled homeless kid Lou hires as his assistant, Nightcrawler doesn’t quite have the satirical smarts that made Network a classic.

Predestination *** Directed by The Spierig Brothers. Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor. Dispatched on a mission intended to alter the fabric of history, a temporal agent from a remote reality travels through time to prevent a criminal madman from carrying out a devastating attack on New York City. Succeeds in teasing the brain and touching the heart even when its twists and turns keep multiplying well past the point of narrative sustainability.

Kink *** Directed by Christina Voros. A documentary on fetish website Kink.com. Quite convincing in presenting this one workplace as a happy, sane environment where people respect each other and aren’t manipulated into doing things they don’t ultimately enjoy. But it leaves plenty of room to presume that Kink.com is an outlier in the industry.

Rosewater **½ Directed by Jon Stewart. Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is detained by Iranian forces who brutally interrogate him under suspicion that he is a spy. For better or worse, torture-themed films don’t get too much easier to take than this one.

Laggies **½ Directed by Lynn Shelton. Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwall. In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, Megan panics when her boyfriend proposes, then, taking an opportunity to escape for a week, hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika, who lives with her world-weary single dad. Possesses irrepressible cheer, optimism and an innate sense of ease that often go missing in angstier productions loosely organized under "Aging, fear of." Unlike its sometimes annoyingly wishy-washy heroine, this is a movie that knows just where it’s going, and finds joy in the journey.

Lilting **½ Directed by Hong Khaou. In contemporary London, a Cambodian Chinese mother mourns the untimely death of her son. The film is awfully methodical, almost mathematical, in working through the various emotional steps every character must take in reaching an end point we readily guess. You appreciate the effort, even as you sense it.

Kill the Messenger **½ Directed by Michael Cuesta. Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Michael K. Williams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Andy Garcia. A reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign that drives him to the point of suicide after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. This isn’t a great movie, but it’s a great vehicle for Renner, and a showcase for the kind of work he should be doing more regularly.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day ** Directed by Miguel Arteta. Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner. When 11-year-old Alexander wakes up with gum stuck in his hair, he’s unaware that it’s only the start of a daylong ordeal of woes. The latest example of a wonderful children’s book turned into a mediocre movie.

Felony ** Directed by Matthew Saville. Three detectives become embroiled in a tense struggle after a tragic accident that leaves a child in a coma. Proves only that skilled actors and slick photography can tart up even the most problematic script.

The Song Directed by Richard Ramsey. An aspiring singer-songwriter’s life and marriage suffer when the song he writes for his wife propels him to stardom. Striking nary an unfamiliar note, The Song sluggishly lurches towards its predictable conclusion — spoiler alert, the hero sees the error of his ways — but it does offer a few pleasures along the way.

Poker Night Directed by Greg Francis. Beau Mirchoff, Titus Welliver, Michael Eklund, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, Ron Perlman. A young detective becomes an unwilling participant in a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse when he is kidnapped by a masked serial killer. Francis has a few moments of inspiration, nonchalantly deploying visual gags. If he were going for cult status, perhaps gonzo is the way to go. The rest of his stylistic flaunts, plot twists and contrivances are joyless.

Addicted * Directed by Bille Woodruff. A gallerist risks her family and flourishing career when she enters into an affair with a talented painter and slowly loses control of her life. Doesn’t know whether it wants to be a modern-day bodice-ripper, a morality-tinged cautionary tale or a serious snapshot of sexual compulsion. Whatever the case, it fails on all fronts.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Progressives should follow the Tea Party’s example

It makes no difference whether you agree or disagree with the stated philosophies of the Tea Party — and, as a progressive, I abhor them all — you must acknowledge one unassailable fact: It is the most successful third party in American history, at least since the dawn of the 20th Century. The reason why the Tea Party has succeeded as a political force, where other third parties like the Green or Libertarian parties have failed, is because it operates within the existing political structure, in this case the Republican Party.

As a result, we now have on the American political scene, what amounts to three political parties: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Tea Party. Admit it: Texas, to cite just one example, is not a Republican state, it’s a Tea Party State.

The Tea Party was founded by white supremists and isolationists, but gained its greatest success when big business and the monied elite realized the aims of the Tea Party coincided with their own and if the Tea Party succeeded in what they wanted from government, the rich would get richer and big business would hold even more power than it does today. They scoured the landscape, found individuals who not only agreed with their jingoism but were willing to espouse it publicly, financed their political fortunes and sent them out to spread their message in evangelical style. It attracted a fanatical following, which flocked to election booths and resulted in the so-called Republican landslide of 2014.

This wasn’t a case of Americans suddenly adhering to the Tea Party point of view. It was a case of a handful of fanatics who cared enough to vote while most of American stayed home because, unlike the Tea Party, it couldn’t find a set of ideals around which to rally. Just 36.4 percent of the voting age population bothered to vote in last year’s midterms. That’s the lowest percentage since 1942 when only 33.9 percent of voting-age Americans cast ballots and a lot of that drop off could be attributed to the fact that a significant number of those Americans were off somewhere fighting in a war.

I will argue that progressive ideals and programs — Social Security, Medicare, civil rights legislation, etc. — are what have made this country great. But for some reason, the progressive movement has fallen silent and its ideals have been co-opted by the mainstream Democratic Party. This is nothing new. The progressive movement had a major surge in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s and then it all went downhill and culminated in the nomination and election of Jimmy Carter for president and has continued through the presidencies of Bill Clinton and, unfortunately, Barack Obama. And now that Democrats seemed ready to anoint Hillary Clinton as its nominee for 2016, the prospects are more of the same. I can see the monied interests of Wall Street readily supporting a Clinton candidacy, but I can’t see grass-roots, middle-class, progressive thinking voters being overly excited about the prospect. And as much as I admire some of what I’ve heard from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, she has yet to convince me she is the person to grab the banner of the progressive movement and lead followers to the barricades.

What is needed are new progressive voices within the framework of the Democratic Party, those unafraid to speak about issues that will drive those stay-at-homes-on-election-day to the polls, much in the same way the Tea Party has. Issues like gun safety, voting rights for all, sensible immigration reform, an individual’s right to make their own health care choices and to have the facilities available to them for those choices, an individual’s right to marry the person they love: programs based on loving thy neighbor instead of those based on distrusting them and, yes, even outright despising them.

Progressives should spend more time following the Tea Party’s blueprint for political takeover and less time criticizing it without offering an alternative ideals and candidates to excite and energize the American electorate.

Monday, February 2, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Overnighters **** Directed by Jesse Moss. Local pastor Jay Reinke tries to help the unemployed men drawn to North Dakota by the lure of jobs in the state’s booming shale oil industry. A third-act revelation will knock you silly and cause you to reevaluate everything that’s come before, but even without that jaw-dropping information, Moss’ film is a righteous piece of empathetic, of-the-moment documentary filmmaking.

Starred Up ***½ Directed by David Mackenzie. Jack O.Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend. A teenage offender’s violent temper gets him moved to an adult prison, where he finds a different breed of inmate including his long-incarcerated father. Thematically tough and emotionally rough, Starred Up is the kind of movie you might think about renting or streaming with some reluctance. But because everyone involved does such an outstanding job, it’s also the kind of movie you won’t want to see end.

Dear White People ***½ Directed by Justin Simien. A satire that follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over a popular "African American" themed party thrown by white students. The most impressive thing about Simien’s impressive film is his script, which he wrote. With multiple protagonists and multiple storylines to serve, he deftly manages to keep a number of balls in the air — without losing sight of his film’s purpose.

Appropriate Behavior *** Directed by Desiree Akhavan. As a bisexual Iranian-American, Shirin (Akhavan) doesn’t quite fit in to her perfect Persian family — and she can’t make a relationship work. Akhavan’s confidently off-kilter approach to basic human interaction makes for an authentically ironic, adorably wistful, smartly observed ride.

The Retrieval *** Directed by Chris Eska. During the Civil War, a boy is sent north by his bounty hunter gang to retrieve a fugitive slave. Despite its meager budget, The Retrieval is characterized by its authenticity. The dialogue and attitudes are persuasive in creating both a consistent psychology and a sense of the historical past, without ever lapsing into a flowery 19th century-ness.

John Wick *** Directed by Chad Stahelski. An ex-hitman (Keanu Reeves) comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. If you can stomach the setup, then the rest is pure revenge-movie gold, as Reeves reminds what a compelling action star he can be, while the guy who served as his stunt double in The Matrix makes a remarkably satisfying directorial debut, delivering a clean, efficient and incredibly assured thriller.

Food Chains **½ Directed by Sanjay Rawal. Details the ethics of the food supply industry, pointing out the power of huge supermarket chains to dictate low wages and inhumane labor conditions for farmworkers in the United States. The participants make a strong case, although the most emotionally powerful moments involve the workers themselves.

Exposed **½ Directed by Beth B. Profiles eight women and men who use their nakedness to transport the viewer beyond the last sexual and social taboos that our society holds dear. If you’ve never been to a burlesque show, this will give you some idea of what you’ve been missing. The dedication and warmth of the performers are infectious.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby **½ Directed by Ned Benson. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Ciaráh Hinds. Depicts the dissolving union of Eleanor and Conor, who begin drifting apart in the wake of a tragic and traumatizing event.. As a whole, it doesn’t quite work, but the parts — particular moments, observations and insights about the way people behave and perceive themselves — are frequently excellent.

Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain ** Directed by Ravi Kumar. Chronicles events leading up to the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, and the shattering repercussions that turned the city into a nightmarish landscape strewn with more than 10,000 corpses. Some of the portrayals are over-the-top in their villainy, and the dialogue, acting and music all tend to be melodramatic. But all of the overt heartstring-pulling doesn’t add much. Given the awful calamity, the truth would have been enough to amp up the emotions.

Starry Eyes ** Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Wydmyer. Determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood, Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) spends her days working a dead-end job, enduring petty friendships and going on countless casting calls in hopes of catching her big break. After a series of strange auditions, Sarah lands the leading role in a new film from a mysterious production company. The film begins to go downhill once it delves into body horror that makes Sarah’s transformation into a ravishing beauty as ghoulishly physical as it is mental.

Dracula Untold Directed by Gary Shore. As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) must become a monster feared by his own people in order to obtain the power needed to protect his family and the families of his kingdom. Armour-clanging, cloak-swishing tosh with okay battles, terrible dialogue and sadly little horror or heroism. Nowhere near as bad as I, Frankenstein — but what is?

Video Games: The Movie Directed by Jeremy Snead. Chronicles the meteoric rise of video games from nerd niche to multi-billion dollar industry. Unfocused and repetitive, this feature-length commercial uses a muddled timeline and bargain basement graphics to produce a horn-tooting, "Aren’t games awesome?" tone.

Ouija Directed by Stiles White. While entertaining themselves with an old-fashioned Ouija board, several young friends unintentionally conjure up a sinister ancient spirit. Bland, safe horror for those who like their scares nonexistent.

Hector and the Search for Happiness * Directed by Peter Chelsom. Simon Pegg, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Veronica Ferres, Barry Atsma, Christopher Plummer. Leaving behind a lucrative career as a psychiatrist, discontented Hector (Pegg) begins a journey across the planet in search of genuine happiness. Not even this sprightly cast can buck the privileged sense of entitlement that bedevils this movie. Don’t count on the impish humor that Pegg has unleashed so successfully in other movies to save the day.

The Best of Me * Directed by Michael Hoffman. Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato. Two former high school sweethearts reunite after many years when they return to visit their small hometown for a funeral. The bad news is that no matter how charming or fizzy the chemistry between the actors might be, they’re still trapped in the dead, fake melodrama and brainless coincidences of a Nicholas Sparks story.

Exists ½* Directed by Jamie Nash. A group of friends who venture into remote Texas woods for a party weekend find themselves stalked by Bigfoot. Against all good sense, Exists plays its material straight, possibly proving itself the year’s most laughably derivative and dreary film.

Some thoughts on the Super Bowl and the events leading up to it


I was rooting for the Patriots to win this one. For some reason, I am not a big fan of the Seahawks and the reason was exemplified at the end of the game. No, not the interception, I’ll get to that later. I’m talking about the brawl that occurred when New England got the ball back and Seattle was flagged for unnecessary roughness resulting in one of their players being tossed. The Seahawks have always come across to me as the thugs of the NFL.

What I was really rooting for, however, was an exciting, well-played game and I got that in deluxe fashion. One of the best, most nail-biting Super Bowls ever.

Here’s an interesting statistic that hasn’t received the attention it deserved since the game ended. Five times this year, the Seahawks handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch on the opponent’s 1-yard line and only once did Lynch get into the end zone. One in five, not the greatest of odds, especially on second down. I’ve always thought the smart play in that situation — when everyone in the universe knows for a solid dead certain fact you’re going to run the ball — was to catch the defense completely off guard with a pass. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have done it several times this year and each time it has worked. This time, however, New England’s Malcolm Butler simply made a great, albeit improbable, interception, just as improbable as Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse’s catch that victimized otherwise excellent coverage by Butler just a couple of plays earlier. Instead of vilifying Carroll — and the numbers argue he doesn’t deserve the criticism he’s getting (especially when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson could have checked out of the play when he saw how the defense was lining up) — the public should be heaping praise on Butler’s interception.

After this game, is it time to call Tom Brady the greatest NFL quarterback of all time? I will give the nod to the Brady-Bill Belichick as the single greatest coach-quarterback combo of all time, although the Cleveland Browns duo of Paul Brown and Otto Graham is second by only whisker. As far as the greatest NFL quarterback, I still have to go with Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts, not simply because he won three NFL championships, was the league MVP three times and held the record for the most consecutive games with a touchdown pass which was finally broken 52 years later by Drew Brees in 2012, but also because he called all his own plays — he was the team’s quarterback as well as its offensive coordinator.

The single greatest example of a non-story this NFL season has to be the one about the air pressure in the footballs during the first half of New England-Indianapolis playoff game. For one thing, it’s patently obvious that whatever conditions the footballs were in, it didn’t seem to measurably help the Patriots all that much. In that first half, when New England allegedly had this huge advantage because of the inflation of the football, the Patriots outscored Indianapolis 17-7. In the second half, when everything was even, New England whooped the Colts 28-0.

And if there was that much difference between the footballs Indianapolis used in the first half and the ones employed by the Patriots, why wasn’t that fact noticed by at least one of the referees, who touch the balls more than anyone else on the field? I haven’t heard one ref in that game come forward and say anything about the pounds-per-square-inch difference in the footballs used by the two teams.

So let’s just shut up about this entire non-event.

Now, about that Dez Bryant catch … and I do mean CATCH … is the NFL trying to get around explaining its inconsistency in the fact that "the ground can’t cause a fumble" but it can cause an incompletion? Get real! I’m not saying that catch, if it was ruled correctly, changes the outcome of the game. I’m just saying he caught the damn ball and that’s all there is to it. Quit trying to convince me with some arcane rule interpretation that he didn’t.