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