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Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

“I see now what I have to become to stop men like him.”

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The Dark KnightTheatrical trailer


My excitement for this picture grows every week. Each trailer has further revealed the many layers this story looks to cover, particularly Bruce Wayne’s struggle against a kind of criminal that more closely resembles the senseless malevolence of terrorism.

The more I see, the bigger the story looks, and the rumors that the filmmakers were working feverishly to trim the film down from three hours look less and less unfounded.

The inclusion of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) adds a twist. Fans will recall his destiny as  Two-Face.  Since I learned of the character’s inclusion in the film, I’ve been curious how Christopher Nolan would handle it.

There’s much more to the character than what we saw in Tommy Lee Jones’s incarnation.  Dent’s arc, if handled properly, would add a great character-driven element to the mythos of this particular iteration.  I love the foreshadowing offered by the trailer as Dent pontificates, “You either die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Once the previous Batman films ventured into the realm of two villains per picture, things started to go a little awry. Begins handled the dual villainy of the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul pretty well.  But, the Joker’s already larger than life, and there has to be a line to cross where things start to look bloated.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Various other sites are beginning to post pictures of Dent after his…”incident.”  I’ve avoided them, plan to until I see the film.  I want to be blown away by this picture.  I expect to be.  And I have had my hopes dashed before, so I remain a little guarded.  Sequels like Aliens, The Godfather Part II, or even Spider-Man 2, do not appear very often.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Written by taj

May 5, 2008 at 11:19 am

Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, stories

Guitar Hero Humble Pie

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Over the weekend, I finally had the opportunity to play that phenomenon of video games (and, so I’ve read, frequent diversion for writers caught in the WGA strike) – Guitar Hero III

Where video games are concerned, I was a once a solid contender.  My aptitude for the controller knew no bounds.  But then adulthood arrived and the need to pay rent soon overwhelmed the need to buy video games, and I bid my consoles farewell long ago. 

I imagined I would take to Guitar Hero well enough.  Having never played, I knew I was in for a challenge.  But when, upon failing one of the training courses, someone actually quips, “Wow, I’ve never seen that happen before,” something is dreadfully wrong.  I am now about eight years removed any serious video game playing, already in danger of becoming one of those old relics whose children will lament to their friends my inability to play. 

Luckily, some friends of ours have procured a Nintendo Wii, so maybe I can recapture some skills there as a freeloading amateur.  (crosses fingers)

Written by taj

April 28, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Posted in General, Pop Culture

Kids just know

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The other day, I had the baby in my lap, and just for kicks, I played the trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie. 

His attention was rapt.  And I kid you not, when the trailer was over, he actually clapped his hands. 

Kids know, man.  They just…know.

Written by taj

April 21, 2008 at 9:21 am

Smash Cut – Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

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Back in November, I had the opportunity to screen an early cut of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — Ben Stein’s documentary examining the issue of Intelligent Design, its relation to academia, and of the embargoes placed on the careers of educators who raise any questions regarding the strengths of Darwin’s popular theory.

At the time, everyone at the screening was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I put any hope of posting a review out of my head for the time being. In January, I was fortunate enough to see the film again — a new cut this time, albeit still covered under the aforementioned NDA.

The NDA lifted several weeks ago, and by that time, the pages of notes I had taken at the second screening didn’t jive as well as they would have had I bothered to go ahead and write a review then. So, here are my thoughts, many weeks delayed…

Most people familiar with Ben Stein know of his erudite wit and expansive writing and teaching careers. He has, in his vast library of accomplishments, served as a lawyer, professor of economics, and as a presidential speech writer. But one of Stein’s lesser known attributes includes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. His deep respect and admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to compel him in every manner of his professional acumen, including this documentary, due in theaters this April.

The film’s thesis rests on one of the core foundational aspects of what Dr. King often called the “dream” of America. Part of the glory of America, the film states, is the freedom for anyone to believe anything he or she wishes without fear of reciprocation. Whenever the tenets of Darwinism have faced any significant challenge within the academic community, the film contends, voices of dissent find their mouths duct-taped shut.

Stein begins the film in a lecture hall, his trademark voice setting up the premise, intercut between various statements from personalities you come to know quite well over the next 90 minutes or so. The narrative launch pad picks up the story of Dr. Richard Von Sternberg, who in 2004 endured various kinds of persecution after publishing a paper for the Smithsonian Institution written by noted scientist Stephen Meyer.

Meyer’s paper essentially took a look under the hood of Darwinism, and suggested that the study of Intelligent Design (ID) had raised some very important questions. After its publication, Sternberg, having now earned the moniker of “intellectual terrorist” from some of his peers, eventually resigned his post, stating that he was told the Smithsonian would not seek to renew its relationship with him.

To address the assumption that this story represents a singular incident within scientific academia, the film spends some time with and lists name after name of highly credentialed scholars and scientists whose academic careers have faced significant obstacles for even mentioning that ID raises questions that Darwin’s theory has been unable, or is ill-equipped, to answer.

The majority of the narrative follows the news magazine/feature approach. Stein works fast through the material with enough good humor to make all of the science accessible to a general audience. The film’s use of metaphor and juxtaposition paint a clever presentation. Old archival footage of the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall sets up some of the more ominous pay offs later on. But Stein keeps the tone light at first, punctuating his points with quick anecdotes, old film clips and cheap animation. The effect works — one assertive visual involves popular scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, and several million slot machines — and friends, Vegas never looked so good.

As the film throttles into its second act, the cultural implications of Darwin’s theory come under Stein’s radar, and the film takes a sharp turn toward the realm of the truly serious. The connection between Darwinism and Nazism — of particular interest to Stein, an orthodox Jew — brings this issue out from the walls of high science and into the pages of humanity’s recent photo albums.

The switch in tone here might turn some away; the implications presented are certainly worth exploring, and only a piece of a gargantuan puzzle. The segment, however, sets up an intentional reveal, demonstrated in the later comments of noted biologist P.Z. Myers. Here, Stein renders a haunting rhetorical correlation between the dark pasts of Germany’s Nazism, America’s own eugenics movement in the 1920s, and the ideological wall that separates the study of ID and Darwinism today.

In the closing acts, we’re led to a meeting between Stein, and one man who would personify the intensity, passion and determination of the scientific community’s assertion that Darwin’s theory marks the scientific and cultural benchmark for the belief of life’s origins: Richard Dawkins. And the resultant conversation becomes one of those rare remarkable moments that makes going to the movies special. I can’t give it away — it’s just best to let Dawkins explain it to you himself.

Stein’s film covers a wide breadth of scientific and cultural anthropology, centered on its central thesis that an ideological wall prevents scientists from questioning the status quo. The questioning of popular authority, the film concludes, finds allowance in every other sector of American dialog and exchange, except in the realm of science and academia.

To quote Stein, “people that are confident in their ideas are not afraid of criticism.” If Stein’s objective is merely to cast a light on a frightening facet of freedom’s suppression, then his success may have preceded the film’s release. Judging by the enormous, vitriolic response the film has already received — and demonstrated well in the comments of this post over at Looking Closer — the prospect of cracking this wall appears to riddle some with terrible dread. And that’s really too bad. Because the implications involved in denying freedom have only ever led to one end. Revolution.

(photo (c) Premise Media Group)

Written by taj

March 25, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Must Reads

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Undercover at Planned Parenthood – Follow the links in the post; you will not believe your ears.

Angelina Jolie on Iraq – Thoughtful and encouraging.  Here’s the money quote: “As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.”

33 Things on Evolution and Intelligent Design – One of the best seriously and open minded primers on this issue that I have read.

Bob Geldof on Africa and the President – If people could dialog, work together, and disagree with this much class, the world would be a much different place.

HTs: The Point and Libertas

Written by taj

February 28, 2008 at 11:56 pm

Smash Cut – Juno

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UPDATE: Diablo Cody just won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.


Comedies tend to fair well when they can find that just-right blend of sincerity and irreverence, the kind that affects without offense, and gives without insult. This is, by no means, a cut and dry formula—sometimes, insults are called for. Irreverence can reach too far, or it can hit just the right note, and almost no creative effort gets it exactly right. Almost. Director Jason Reitman (son of the great Ivan Reitman), however, strikes it pretty close to the bull’s eye with Juno. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by taj

February 23, 2008 at 10:38 pm

Indiana Jones Teaser!

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Written by taj

February 14, 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, stories