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What Would People Think?

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Movie Update

1. Saw Syriana. Wasn't all that blown away by it. It was no Traffic. I don't know why. Maybe it's the lack of characters I could sympathize with. In Traffic I felt for the Benicio Del Toro character, the Michael Douglas character, the Don Cheadle character, and (at times) for the Catherine Zeta-Jones character. In Syriana, no character captured my sympathy and so I never really got emotionally invested. By the end of the film, the most sympathetic character might have been the terrorist. That's messed up.

Not that a movie has to have sympathetic characters to be good. Syriana does a decent job making its point. Like everybody else, I think "Corruption is how we win" should be the next "Greed is good." Syriana is, if nothing else, educational. But it didn't pull me into its world like Traffic does, or like (I suspect) Munich will.

2. In my list of good movies from this year, how could I have forgotten the wonderful Kung Fu Hustle? Think Looney Tunes meets Crouching Tiger.

3. Rotten Tomatoes has a hilarious piece on how to transform this year's worst bombs and make them Oscar contenders. I especially love the suggestions for Hide & Seek (just have Dakota Fanning play every role) and Stealth (have Jaime Foxx play Ray Charles . . . as a stealth pilot!).

Life Update

I got a job offer yesterday from the Orlando Public Defender.

On the one hand, I'm thrilled. However my other interviews turn out, I know I won't be jobless come graduation time. Orlando is an affordable city (more than I can say for D.C.) in sunny Florida. I've got family nearby in Jacksonville and Tampa. The Orlando PD pays pretty good for a Public Defender.

So why am I not leaping for joy? I don't know. Part of it has to do with the ridiculous case load. 200 cases at a time for misdemeanor cases (where I would be starting out). Other public defender's I've talked to have averaged 80-100 cases at a time, which is still ridiculous. I'm used to handling 2 to 5 cases at a time. The people in Orlando frankly told me they don't have time to prepare for a trial most of the time. (Although, perhaps because of sympathetic juries, the guy I talked to had won all his trials!)

Perhaps I'm worried about my finances. Even with the better-than-average pay for a PD, the salary might not be enough to handle all my loan payments, especially as the Duke Loan Forgiveness program gets worse and worse.

I am still awaiting the results of several other interviews over break. I guess I'll have to wait and see. And pray. Lots of prayer goin' down in the Stark household.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas! (From Ben the movie buff)

My gift to my readers: the gift of my opinions. Ok, that's lame. Let's say "the gift of movies."

2005 was a pretty pathetic year for movies. The summer, especially, was disappointing. But, as always, good movies lurked around the corner (or in plain view) if you just looked. I've been compiling year-end lists of movies that made going to the theaters a worthwhile experience since 2003.

So here's my list for 2005. If you haven't seen these movies...do so. They were the bright light in a dismal cinematic year.

  1. Sin City (the most violent movie since Kill Bill...and the most visually stunning)
  2. Batman Begins (thank Christopher Nolan for rescuing the Batman series from the hole Joel Schumacher dug for it)
  3. Crash (excellent ensemble piece about race relations in L.A.)
  4. Hustle and Flow (Terrence Howard for best actor!)
  5. A History of Violence (Viggo Mortensen proves he's more than Aragorn. David Cronenberg proves he can still gross us out on the level of Scanners)
  6. Walk the Line (yes, it's basically a White, country retread of Ray. So what? Ray was a damn good movie and so is this)
  7. Pride & Prejudice (seen it twice now. Both times I had to hold in the urge to literally cheer for Elizabeth and Darcy. Keira Knightly for best actress nominee)
  8. Shopgirl (Steve Martin and Claire Danes shine)
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (this ain't your little brother's HP flick. Darker, and better, than its already good predecessors)
  10. King Kong (see my previous post explaining why Peter Jackson is God)
  11. Millions (an enchanting little fable about greed . . . and lack thereof)
  12. Serenity (cowboys in space. Who knew it would actually be good? Makes me want to seek out the canceled TV show it is based on)
  13. The Chronicles of Narnia (a rousing epic. A children's fairy tale. The movie I've had in my head for 12 years now. Remind me to write more in depth about this wonderful film.)
  14. Four Brothers (better than I thought it would be. A satisfying revenge flick which takes the time to develop its characters and throws a few twists into an otherwise straightforward revenge tale.)
  15. Red Eye (inspired my post on the Well Constructed Thriller)
  16. The Merchant of Venice (Al Pacino proves he can still say more than "hoo-ah". Shakespeare proves he's freakin' Shakespeare.)
That's all I can think of. Mind you, I have a number of 2005 films that I want to see but haven't yet:

  • The Family Stone
  • Me, You, and Everyone We Know
  • Cinderella Man
  • Syriana
  • Munich
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Match Point
  • North Country
  • The New World
  • Grizzly Man

Feel free to disagree with me on my list. Point out movies I should have put up there. In fact, I want you to. There are a number of critically loved movies (i.e. Good Night and Good Luck, The Constant Gardner) that I intentionally snubbed because I wasn't all that impressed by them.

If there is popular demand, I will post my old lists from 2003 and 2004 (which were longer because those were better years for movies).

Merry Christmas! (From Ben the Christian)

The following is an e-mail I sent out last year to the Christian Legal Society at Duke. It expresses my musings on Christmas Eve, 2004. Now I'll post them for the blogosphere:

"His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty."

- Luke 1:50-53

Dear friends,

As I look back over the annals of history, I find a dark tale. Mankind fell from God's ideal with stunning speed and has seemingly sunk deeper and deeper in sin ever since. From Herod to Hitler, from Nero to Saddam people seem to be competing to see who can commit the worst atrocities against each other. The powerful almost always wield their power with arrogance and self-interest. And Christmas becomes "Xmas" - a collective worship of that particularly potent idol called materialism.

But then I look at the event we are celebrating this season: the birth of Jesus. In the world's eyes, this event could not have been more inconsequential. Here we had a weak baby...born to a poor family (outcasts to many since the child was apparently conceived out of wedlock)...sleeping in a donkey's food trough...in a remote, insignificant corner of the world (the Roman philosopher Celsus once scoffed at the idea that the God would come into the world "in some corner of Judea somewhere").

But in this private, seemingly insignificant event, the God of the universe reached into history and turned the world on its head. All of the world's measures of significance and success are shown to be nothing because of this one event - God taking the most humble form possible to minister to outcasts, and then die and be resurrected, rescuing us from sin and injustice....from the prisons of our own creation.

From a rational, worldly, power-centered mindset none of this makes any sense. But God confounded this world and its values . . . and now we celebrate this "insignificant" birth as the most important event in history. It never ceases to amaze me.

Looking at history with an eye to eternity, I am filled with awe, joy....and hope!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Wiretaps: Illegal, Unconstitutional, Pointless

(Oh yeah, THAT'S why I read DailyKos. Occasionally they have something insightful to say...or they find a nice "gotcha" moment.)

On the warrantless wiretaps:

1) DK's resident lawyer, "Armando", demolishes the specious argument that the President has the constitutional power to do ANYTHING in the name of "national security" here and here.

2) Also from Daily Kos, this golden moment from Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's press conference, in which he tries to say that Congress implicitly authorized the warrantless wiretaps. When asked why they didn't seek explicit authorization, he says that Congress probably wouldn't have given it to them. Hmmmmm

3) And finally, from the laws of the United States of America - this whole exercise in illegal wiretaps was pointless. Bush says that he couldn't always wait the few hours it takes to get an intelligence wiretap from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. So he had to personally authorize these illegal wiretaps.

No he didn't. I ask you to go to this link and go down to section (f). There you will note that, in emergencies where time is of the essence and the Attorney General believes he has enough evidence for a warrant, he can authorize a (circumscribed) wiretap and get a retroactive warrant within 72 hours. Do you understand what this means? It means Bush's rationale is bullshit. It means there was no need to authorize illegal wiretaps to save American lives.

I can think of only 2 possible conclusions. 1: Bush and company are incompetent and don't know the law. 2: They knew the law and decided they didn't even have enough for a retroactive warrant when doing these wiretaps.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. And illegal. Normally I consider the "impeach Bush" crowd to be a bunch of crazies....but this is beyond a stupid decision to go to war. This is breaking the law.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Pokie the Punisher

Mark Fiore, one of my favorite political cartoonists, expresses his feelings on the death penalty. Arguments I've made elsewhere...but better because it's a cartoon.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Peter Jackson = God

Okay, so that title is straight-up blasphemy. Forget I said it.

But after having referred to The Lord of the Rings trilogy as "the cinematic achievement of our lifetime", I've kind of painted myself into a corner. What superlatives can I possibly use to describe King Kong?

How about this one:


Oh man...I'm still jumping up and down about the scene with the THREE T-Rexes and the cliff and the vines. Or the Valley of Really Creepy Bugs. Or Jack Black as Carl Denham. (Ok, so I'm a Jack Black fan. I know he's not exactly the main attraction. The big ape is properly awe inspiring and actually sympathetic. But I still love the line "and we'll donate the proceeds to his wife and kids!" You'll have to see it in context.)

It's official. I'm a Peter Jackson groupie (in an entirely platonic, non-sexual way). If Peter Jackson made a movie about watching grass grow, I'd see it. Why? Because he's freakin' Peter Jackson. He'd find some way to weave A-list talent and mind-boggling special effects with captivating story-telling and epic scope into a story about grass growing.

Why are you still reading this blog? Why aren't you running out the door, careening your car down the road (narrowly missing a little old lady and running over at least one lawyer), and settling down for the fun? I'd only recommend that you go to the bathroom first. It's a long movie.

On an unrelated note: The New York Times publishes an article revealing that Bush authorized potentially unconstitutional (but potentially life-saving) warrentless wiretaps of people inside America. The Times delayed publishing the article for a year, to conduct more research they say. RedState accuses the Times of delaying the publication so they can torpedo the PATRIOT Act. Dailykos accuses the Times of "betraying the American people" by waiting to publish the story at all.

My response to the political blogs: "Oh, shut up. Why do I even read these thought-free rants?"

I think it's a complex issue. I come down against the warrantless wiretaps because I don't trust the government to responsibly spy on Americans. But I don't pretend there is no possibility that such illegality may have made me (temporarily) safer. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm sure any debate we have on this blog will be better than the mindless bile coming out of the political blogs.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

No Narnia Yet

Ok, so my many fans (a.k.a. Mike) demand I write about The Chronicles of Narnia. Well, I can't yet. I haven't seen it. I promised Christy that I'd wait to watch it the first time with her. I probably shouldn't drive over to Nashville, kidnap her, and carry her bodily into the nearest movie theater.

Can't say I haven't considered it. But a little kidnapping is a hard thing to explain to the future in-laws.

One thing I can say is that some critics of the film need to grow up. Especially the very, very angry review in The Guardian entitled "Narnia Represnts Everything That Is Most Hateful About Religion." Salon has a more subdued review asking whether moviegoers can enjoy the film knowing its Christian subtext. Even that review talks about feeling "betrayed" after finding out that her childhood favorite books were "peddling the same stuff as dreary old Sunday School."

It astounds me how easily offended some people are. A lot of folks can't take it as much as they dish it out. I joyfully see movies with titles like Sin City (which, trust me, does not share my values) with nary a complaint. I can find value in movies I disagree with, such as Million Dollar Baby (I vehemently disagree with Hillary Swank and Clint Eastwood's choice at the end of the movie...really her choice since she almost forced it on him). A lot of movies simply proceed on the baseline assumption that religious Christians are bigots and/or morons. Certainly most movies don't share my values as to sex. (Yes, I intend to wait until marriage, dammit!) That doesn't mean I sit there with a sour face at every film I disagree with. I try to accept a film on its own terms and see if it does that well.

But let a movie have Christian subtext and oh, the horror!

Certainly part of the blame is the none-too-subtle marketing campaign by Disney. But - with rare exceptions like The Blair Witch Project - a movie should be judged outside of its marketing campaign. A random-ass example: Changing Lanes was billed as some sort of revenge flick and looked pretty darn mediocre. In fact, it was a smart character drama about two flawed, but not evil, men who bring out the worst (and best) in each other over the course of one life-shattering day.

Don't judge a movie by its marketers. Marketers are morons.

Besides...the symbolism of the Chronicles of Narnia doesn't slap you in the face. (I'm basing this on the book, having not had a chance to kidnap my future wife and see the movie yet.) Ok, so one character dies for another's wrongdoing and then comes back to life. The symbolism is certainly there. But the story also works entirely on its own level. It's also just a great adventure yarn about 4 kids who are transported to a magical world with talking animals and a kick-ass battle scene.

If you see the movie and choose to hate it for its religious symbolism, so be it. I think you are missing out, but at least you've seen the movie. But if people start bashing the movie without having seen it like they did for The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ (which would be a shame, since Narnia is just a kids tale....not an intentionally controversial film like those other two), then I shall be forced to label them fools, morons, and philistines.

And on that "fools" note, I must give you the following quote from the popular Web series Red vs. Blue:

O'Malley, giving orders to his robot army: "Now kill all those fools. And those fools over there. And those fools. Leave no fool left unkilled. This army has a no fool discrimination clause, mwahaha!"
Doc: "I like that we have a no fool discrimination clause. This makes us progressive!"
O'Malley: "Shut up you fool"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Microwavable Cakes - My Life Has New Meaning

Sure, there's some story out there about a German being kidnapped by the CIA. And a vitally important Supreme Court case in which one of my professors is one of the plaintiffs.

But I know what you are really concerned about. In this time of crisis and terror and studying, how can we find time to bake cakes any more? It's a valid question. I mean, I don't even have time to write this post. I should be writing a paper on the ethics of lying in negotiations.

Luckily, the good folks at Betty Crocker found a way: microwavable baking! They call them Warm Delights. Now I'll grant you, I found it in the "Price Cut" section of Target. It probably didn't sell too well. But I'm willing to try anything microwavable at least once!

I shall report back on this vitally important global news when there's more to report. Or whenever I feel like it.

Fun with Pakistani Poetry

Here's a funny one for ya:

Pakistan has ordered that a poem in which the first letters of each line spell out the name "President George W. Bush" be deleted from a school textbook.

The Education Ministry said the poem "The Leader" was unacceptable as it had been downloaded from the Internet and was anonymous.

A ministry statement seen on Tuesday accused those responsible for compiling the English textbook of "oversight" and "negligence" and warned them to be more careful in future.

The move came after local newspapers published the poem on their front pages and called it an embarrassment for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally of Bush in his global war on terrorism.

How, pray tell, does one "negligently" download an anti-Bush poem and publish it in a textbook?

I'd love to get my hands on that poem. (But it's probably not written in English.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Nothing Like Massive Compliments To Brighten Your Day

Well, this has never happened to me before.

Christy (my fiancee, love-of-my-life....you know the one) has a younger sister named Melissa. Melissa's 12 or 13 years old. I've talked to her on the phone a few times, but I've only met her once - for a weekend at Christy's place. Given my recent movie experience, she reminds me of Jane Bennett in Pride & Prejudice: sweet, friendly, and always willing to think the best of others. Also in the recent movie version of Pride & Prejudice, Jane has blond hair and so does Melissa. (Hey, man, I'm using an analogy here! The comparison need not be perfect.)

That last trait was put to flattering effect when she wrote an essay about me.

Yeah, that's right, she wrote about me. Her assignment was to write a descriptive essay about a person, thing, or place. She could have chosen a direct family member, Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon Dynamite....heck, she could have chosen Mount Everest. Instead, she described me. As if that wasn't flattering enough, she also described me as having a "great voice", "one of the nicest, sweetest guys I've known", "caring and loving", "really funny", "perfect for my sister", "a kid at heart", and "taller than I had expected."

Yup. There's no better boost for the ol' ego - or, to put it in more benign terms, no better means of relieving a depressing day of studying - than to have an entire complimentary essay written about you.

Thanks, Melissa!

Well, That Was Fun

Just got back from the SpencerAcuff concert, which I attended along with Jamie Katz, who is a better dancer than I.

Let nobody deny that I am an enthusiastic fan. I was apparently so into it - y'know, air guitar, jumping up and down a lot, and otherwise rocking out - that Scott Cash, the lead singer of opening band Starting Tuesday actually called me out in between songs and gave me a free CD! They were a really good band, by the way.

SpencerAcuff themselves started slow at first. There were far too many teenagers standing around talking. So many, in fact, that when the band tried to play their quiet acoustic song, North Shore, I couldn't even hear them over the chattering teens. But, once Jaime and I moved to the front and the chattering kids left, the show blasted off! Great finale. They started playing the "Peanuts" theme and ended with a full hard rock jam session which included a bunch of enthusiastic fans (not including me) jumping on stage and dancing with the band.

Good times were had by all. Tomorrow, it's church and then back to the grind. Tonight, it's musical bliss.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Yes, I'm Still Alive

I haven't had time for a proper blog entry in some time. I still don't. So here's the highlights of what's going on in my life.

  • Law journal. Final paper. Exams. This is what I'm spending 95% of my conscious hours doing. It's what I should be doing right now.
  • Turning 25. I reached my first quarter century last Monday!
  • Interviewing. I've already had one interview (on my birthday)! Over the month of December, I will have five more. That, and I'm a finalist for another job. (You may note that there is a wide variety in the jobs I am interviewing for. That's because I have no idea what I am doing with my life. I suppose there's my oft-linked fallback job. Or the fantasy job managing a popular rock band.)
  • Wondering how to comfort a grieving friend. Sending this friend a mix CD. Wishing I could do more. Feeling hopelessly inadequate.
  • Pondering watching the Film Noir collection I got for my birthday. Remind me to post about film noir sometime soon. What an awesome genre.
  • Taking time for 2 (and possibly only 2) mental health breaks: Pride & Prejudice and SpencerAcuff. Needless to say, both kick large degrees of ass.
Ok, that's it. No more blogging today.