Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Results *** Directed by Andrew Bujalski. Two mismatched personal trainers’ (Guy Pierce, Cobie Smulders) lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client (Kevin Corrigan). While the polish of good-looking Hollywood types shot in clean, well-lit spaces doesn’t quite connect with Bujalski’s writing style, the film’s tone is honestly unorthodox, a quality missing from most mid-budget comedies.

Alléluia *** Directed by Fabrice Du Welz. Follows a lonely morgue worker (Lola Dueñas) who meets a man (Laurent Lucas) she hopes will return her love but instead inspires murderous jealousy. Religious allusions aside, Alléluia is like Psycho combined with Bonnie and Clyde, with Norman and Norma Bates as the conjoined criminal couple on the run.

The Heart Machine *** Directed by Zachary Wigon. A man (John Gallagher Jr.) begins to suspect that his long-distance girlfriend (Kate Lyn Shiel) whom he met on the Internet has been living in the same city as him, and he sets out looking for her. Except for its ending, which deflates the tension and makes a brief gesture toward profundity, it’s an unblinking look at one man’s total unraveling.

The Farewell Party *** Directed by Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon. Residents of a retirement home build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend, though they are faced with a series of dilemmas when rumors of the machine begin to spread. The film’s deft, improbable balance of tone makes its success feel well-deserved. Not many directors could have pulled off the blend of somber reflection and gallows humor that Granit and Maymon manage here.

The Great Museum **½ Directed by Johannes Holzhausen. This documentary reveals the day-to-day operations at a prominent Vienna museum, from curating and restoration to budgets and marketing. In avoiding narration, interviews, music or any traditional method to draw the audience in, the film has a cold, unengaging feel, leaving it mostly for art buffs who like seeing taxidermied bears having their hair fastidiously cleaned with a tiny toothbrush.

Pitch Perfect 2 **½ Directed by Elizabeth Banks. After a humiliating command performance at Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform. If you loved Pitch Perfect you’ll find plenty to enjoy here because it’s pretty much exactly the same film, but there’s enough wit and warmth that it feels like a worthwhile sequel.

In the Name of My Daughter **½ Directed by André Téchiné. A young independent woman (Adèle Haenel), returns to Nice in 1976 to have a new start in her life after a failed marriage. None of it is quite satisfying, especially when old-age makeup takes center stage. But striking moments develop along the way, jolts of weird joy and melancholy as menace gathers under the Mediterranean sun.

Saint Laurent ** Directed by Bertrand Bonello. Yves Saint Laurent’s (Gaspard Ulliel) life from 1967 to 1976, during which time the fashion designer was at the peak of his career. The screenplay seems to generally lack a throughline or focus, coasting from party scenes full of drugs and alcohol to work-related drama but rarely managing to get inside the head of the self-destructive character the designer had become by the 1970s.

Big SkyDirected by Jorge Michel Grau. A teen (Bella Thorne) traveling with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to a treatment center for her agoraphobia has to fight for their lives against two gunmen (Frank Grillo, Aaron Tveit) who attack them. The film rests on the attractive but opaque Thorne, who is not ready for such weight. Commendably, she stretches her acting muscles, but her character’s internal struggle remains elusive. Viewers need more to connect with.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Love & Mercy ***½ Directed by Bill Pohlad. In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he (John Cusack) is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of a shady therapist (Paul Giammati). 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.

Buzzard *** Directed by Joel Potrykus. After ripping off his employer, paranoid flimflam man Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge) decides to lay low in Detroit. But as his growing fear of capture makes Marty ever-more desperate, a truly monstrous side of him begins to emerge. Under Potrykus’ clever direction and with a striking performance from Burge, Marty goes from quirky to desperate to dangerous gradually and effectively. He’s not a character to be taken lightly, or quickly forgotten.

Heaven Knows What *** Directed by Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie. Follows a 19-year-old heroin addict (Arielle Holmes) and her mercurial, obsessive relationship with an abusive junkie boyfriend (Caleb Landry Jones). A strange film, at once distancing and transfixing. If it’s not as impactful as it might have been considering the experiences portrayed, it has potent atmosphere and an admirable refusal to put any kind of gloss on the bleak reality of its limbo world.

Monkey Kingdom *** Directed by Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill. A documentary that follows the perilous lives of a monkey and her newborn daughter in the jungles of southern Asia. As part of a larger group, mom and baby risk starvation if they fail to abide by the stringent social rules. Everything the movie lacks in scientific rigor, it makes up for in pure entertainment value — and then some.

The Seven Five *** Directed by Tiller Russell. In the 1980s and ‘90s, cop Michael Dowd terrorized New York City’s drug dealers, shaking them down at gunpoint for cash and cocaine. This documentary looks at his fall from grace and the biggest police corruption scandal in the city’s history. It would be hard to imagine a more entertaining corrupt-cop documentary than this, a slick and fascinating portrait of a disgraced New York policeman.

Cinderella *** Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Young Ella (Lily James) finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters. Never one to give up hope, Ella’s fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger (Richard Madden). Though this Cinderella could never replace Disney’s animated classic, it’s no ugly stepsister either, but a deserving companion.

Furious 7 *** Directed by James Wan. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family for his comatose brother. It’s joyous, it’s crazy — cars skydive out of aircraft in Azerbaijan, no less — it’s exhaustively long, and, still, it’s clunkily lovable.

The Overnight **½ Directed by Patrick Brice. Transplants from Seattle, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) feel like fish out of water in Los Angeles until a meeting at a park leads to a play date for their son (R.J. Hermes) and a dinner date for them. But they soon discover that their hosts (Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche) have more in mind than friendship. Promises more than it can deliver: Some of the supposedly provocative material ends up being juvenile, and the movie ends just as the situation gets truly, weirdly interesting. It’s too tame a resolution to a film that suggested the capacity for more.

Closer to the Moon ** Directed by Nae Caranfil. A Romanian police officer teams up with a small crew of old friends from the World War II Jewish Resistance to pull off a heist by convincing everyone at the scene of the crime that they are only filming a movie. Caranfil, who’s made several previous features in Romanian, struggles throughout to find the right tone, mostly in vain. There’s no way to know whether he was hampered by the need to go international, but the film’s general lack of authenticity certainly doesn’t do it any favors.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

No explanations necessary

Love the win, but …

I graduated from the University of Texas. While there I was a sportswriter for the student newspaper. I had the privilege of getting to know head football coach Darrell Royal more than most folks and we became even closer associates when I left school and went to work at UPI, which, back then, operated the coaches college football poll. Coach Royal would call me every Sunday evening to tell me his top 25 teams and we would chat for some 10 to 20 minutes about what was happening on campus. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s and there was plenty to talk about. Much, much later I became good friends with and a confidante of Texas coach John Mackovic and we planned to co-author a book, a plan that was scuttled when he was dismissed as the Longhorns coach. I’ve always maintained if you slit my wrist, the blood would come out burnt orange. I proudly wear a t-shirt the says "I graduated from Texas. To save time, let’s just assume I’m always right." I defend the brand.

I can stomach a Texas loss, even though they leave me with a bitter aftertaste. But it drives me absolutely nuts to see the brand embarrassed, and embarrassments have been too frequent of late. I’m not even going to mention all the lopsided losses of last season, but that 38-3 manhandling by Notre Dame a week ago was horrendous, a total beat-down. Texas was completely and utterly dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It was like seeing a professional football team playing a high school squad. It was painful to watch, even more painful when I saw how close Virginia came to defeating Notre Dame yesterday.

Today, a lot of Texas supporters are celebrating a 42-28 victory over Rice. You’ll have to pardon me if I’m not one of them. Again, Texas was dominated at the line of scrimmage, especially by Rice’s offensive line. Rice amassed 462 total yards against the Texas defense last night (compared to only 277 for the Horns). Rice had 30 first downs, Texas 11. Rice ran 96 plays against the Texas defense. The Horns only had 38 snaps. Out of the total 60 minutes playing time, Rice was on offense for almost three-quarters of the game, 44:02 minutes. If Rice can do that, I hate to see what the Baylors, the Oklahomas, the TCUs, the Oklahoma States and the West Virginias of the world can do. Heck, I’m concerned about California next week.

Texas won last night because Rice turned the ball over four times (including one interception in the end zone and one close to the goal line), because the Owls gave up too many big plays (seven of more than 25 yards), and because Texas’s Daje Johnson had three punt returns totaling 118 yards and one touchdown.

But what Notre Dame and Rice showed the football world is that you can successfully run the ball right at Texas all game long. And that has me worried.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Sorry for being so late posting this list this week. Time got away from me.
1.  Ohio State 1-0
2.  Alabama 1-0
3.  TCU 1-0
4.  Oregon 1-0
5.  Georgia 1-0
6.  Baylor 1-0
7.  Michigan State 1-0
8.  Florida State 1-0
9.  USC 1-0
10. Mississippi 1-0
11. Georgia Tech 1-0
12. UCLA 1-0
13. Texas A&M 1-0
14. Auburn 1-0
15. Clemson 1-0
16. Arkansas 1-0
17. Notre Dame 1-0
18. Oklahoma 1-0
19. Missouri 1-0
20. Boise State 1-0
21. Mississippi State 1-0
22. Tennessee 1-0
23. Wisconsin 0-1
24. Utah 1-0
25. West Virginia 1-0

Monday, September 7, 2015

This week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show *** Directed by Des Doyle. A documentary that explores the world of U.S. television showrunners and the creative forces aligned around them. Unstudied to the point of utilitarianism, the film nonetheless has wide scope, and Doyle effectively gets his arms around this huge, nebulous, weird job.

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker **½ Directed by William Gazecki. A documentary focusing on the tumultuous early days of this iconic vaudeville superstar who ruled the 1920's Flapper Era in the United States. The movie isn’t especially well made, yet because Tucker is such a gloriously rich figure — immigrant turned runaway mother turned vaudevillian turned superstar — she renders its formal and aesthetic shortcomings (mostly) irrelevant.

The Age of Adaline ** Directed by Lee Toland Krieger. After 29-year-old Adaline (Blake Lively) recovers from a nearly lethal accident, she inexplicably stops growing older. Sadly, director Krieger’s offering, a weak wanna-be Jean Cocteau-esque fable with magical realist pretensions, does great disservice to Lively and her remarkably accomplished costars.

Misery Loves Comedy ** Directed by Kevin Pollak. More than 50 famous American and Canadian funny people (filmmakers, writers, actors and comedians) share life, professional journeys and insights, in an effort to shed light on the thesis: Do you have to be miserable to be funny? This documentary does not need to exist. The niche it aims to fill has already been occupied by people willing to go much deeper than Pollak.

American Heist * Directed by Sarik Andreasyan. James (Hayden Christensen) owes his life to his older brother, Frankie (Adrien Brody), after taking the rap for a crime they committed together. While Frankie served time, James worked to turn his life around, got a steady job and began courting his former girlfriend (Jordana Brewster). Now, Frankie is released and back on the streets with no money and no place to go. Slick but derivative and forgettable on all levels.

United Passions (no stars) Directed by Frédéric Auburtin. Follows the passing of the FIFA baton through three association presidents: Jules Rimet (Gérard Depardieu), Joao Havelange (Sam Neill), and Sepp Blatter (Tim Roth). This is one of the most unwatchable films in recent memory, a dishonest bit of corporate-suite sanitizing that’s no good even for laughs.