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February 29, 2004

Movie Review: The Passion of the Christ

This is pretty long, so:

basic review
adherence to gospel
love vs. violence


So much has been made of this film's possible anti-Semitism, sustained violence, and approach to Jesus' teachings, that most reviews have, in many ways, been meta-reviews, dealing with issues about the movie, instead of the movie itself. As other reviewers have noted, this seems to be because it is almost impossible to get any kind of emotional distance from the film: if you are Christian, you're likely to be too overwhelmed by the depiction of suffering to make much of a qualititative judgment, and if you're not Christian, the media coverage of the film has made it difficult not be skeptical before you've seen even a frame.

That said, before looking at some of the meta issues, I'll attempt to offer a conventional review of the film. [Or, skip to the meta analysis now.]

Qualitative Review

The movie is well-made, but the Hollywoodization of its story and style are evident throughout. Gibson provides nuances like character motivation and scenic details where the Bible offers none, and he spices up his narrative with flashback scenes that -- had they actually appeared in the Bible -- would have to have been written something like, "And then Jesus remembered the time..." (If you think about it, it takes quit a lot of nerve to allow your script to present what Jesus was thinking about at any given time, especially when he's lying face down in the dirt with a cross on his back.) Regardless of these liberties (the impact of which I'll get to later), the film is engaging throughout, although the number of people leaving the theater once the scourging started is a clear indicator that the violence may be too much for some people.

On the whole, the acting in the film is fine, and never noticeably bad, although with everyone speaking in Aramaic and Latin, it's tough to pick up on the subtleties of some of the performances. The only character who even gets a chance to do much hammy scenery-chewing is Herod (and maybe Caiphas), and although Herod strikes me as a sort of Galilean Liberace, his performance strikes a remarkable contrast with both Jesus's silence before him, and with Pilate, for whom practicality is a defining trait. Jim Caviezel is fine as Jesus, and although much has been made of his non-Semitic appearance, he blends in well enough with his disciples, who are cast more appropriately. His manner is calm, stoic, and confident, but he usually hits the emotional high notes when called for. It's virtually impossible to ask an actor to portray how Jesus felt when he asked God, "Why have you forsaken me?" so it's enough to see Caviezel give it his best effort, which is more than passable. Regardless, it's far better than the performances in Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ which threw a bunch of New Yorkers into Jerusalem and expected them to appear and sound native.

Stylistically, the film is like most big-deal Hollywood dramas: a few compelling shots mixed in with a lot of conventional ones. The scene in which Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane is probably the most visually interesting, with the cold blue of the night punctuated by the soldiers' torches as they make their way towards an expectant Jesus. The scenes of Jesus on the cross are photographed well, too, though not as iconically as you might expect. Most of the other shots are standard, and the editing is as well. It's possible the filmmakers did this so as not to distract from the story at all, but I wish they had taken a few more chances. The set design is similarly non-intrusive. Only Herod's quarters are distinctive, and that is mainly due to the leopard and exotically-dressed attendants who are the subjects of a few too many reaction shots.

All in all, it is a good film, not a great one. Had Gibson taken a few more chances and given some of his actors a chance to shine through a bit more, it might have been the better for it. Although I think it's possible for a film about Jesus to transcend itself, this film does not, though at times it comes close.

Now, on to the meta-analysis.


Before discussing whether the film is anti-Semitic, I want to first define that term as I intend to use it. In the context of movies, I think anti-Semitism can be loosely defined as the uncritical use of negative stereotypes about Jewish people, the advocacy of hatred towards or bigotry against Jews, or, in the case of a film like this one, the promotion of the idea that the Jews, as a religious/racial/ethnic group, were and/or are responsible for the death of Christ. (I acknowledge my definition may not be not be exhaustive for all cases, but maybe it suffices for this context.)

The film portrays its Jewish characters in one of two ways: as a mob who is deeply offended by Jesus's teaching and actions, or as kind and sympathetic characters who go out of their way to help Jesus, even though they do not necessarily believe he is the Messiah. With the exception of Caiaphas and his fellow high priests, the characters who call for the crucifixion of Jesus are mainly depicted as a mob, not as individuals. I think this shows the effect that the mob mentality had on the group, and serves as a partial explanation for their behavior, not as an indictment. Also, the film includes dialogue both to and from Caiaphas that clearly explains that Jesus's actions "violated the Sabbath" and that he threatened to destroy the temple. In other words, the people's desire to see Jesus punished is explained. From our perspective today, we can see that Jesus meant no harm, but I think at the time, both the priests and the religious devotees must have felt not just threatened, but deeply offended by Jesus' words and actions. Our society has become so secularized that it's hard to imagine wanting someone to be so brutally punished for offending us morally, but look at the outraged, hateful reaction of many Americans to same-sex marriages in recent days even as they claim to be defending "sanctity," and it's clear how emotions can interfere with judgment when one feels his religious beliefs are under attack. I think if Gibson had intended to portray the Jews as savage and bloodthirsty, he would have omitted these explanations, or at least have left them more vague.

And this is exactly what he has done with his portrayal of the Romans. Although it is a Jewish high priest who advocates the death of Jesus, it is a Roman governor who allows it to happen, and Roman guards who perpetrate the unspeakable violence against Jesus. Nearly all Romans in the film are portrayed as bloodthirsty sadists who take delight in beating and torturing Jesus with increasing cruelty and an absolute lack of remorse. The gleeful expressions on the guards' faces as they whip Jesus with thick saplings and then metalized whips are some of the most disturbing and unforgettable images in the film and make the violence even more unbearable and inexplicable. Pilate repeatedly and publicly declares Jesus to be innocent, and the guards' superior officer asks them to punish -- but not kill -- Jesus, and yet they beat, torture, and humiliate Jesus from the moment they get their hands on him and do not stop even after he is dead, when they thrust a spear into his side. Despite repeated warnings from their superior officers, they continue their assault on his body and mind, seemingly unable to quench their bloodlust. The negative portrayal of Romans in this film is far more one-sided and critical than its depiction even of Caiaphas, who at least had a reason to advocate the punishment of Jesus. Even the mob of Jews calling for his death have mass psychology as an excuse: the Roman soldiers can't even claim they were "just following orders." Merely arguing that the Romans are portrayed in a more negative light than the Jews does not establish that the film is not anti-Semitic, but I think the fact that Caiphas is shown to offer a rationalization for his followers' attitude may help to make that point.

But, of course, there are other indications that the film may be anti-Semitic. For instance, nearly all discussions of this film's portrayal of Jews mention the line of dialogue in which the Jewish crowd says, "May his blood be on us and on our children." Under pressure from various groups, Gibson eventually cut this line, but I have read that the line is still actually spoken in the film in Aramaic, but the subtitle translating it does not appear. The line comes from Matthew 27:25, but is given some context by the previous verse, in which Pilate famously abrogrates his responsibility as he tells the crowd, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person. You see to it." By responding the way they supposedly did, the crowd seems to be accepting responsibility for Jesus' death. If Gibson had depicted this, would that have made it anti-Semitic? I guess that depends on whether you think the line was actually spoken by the crowd. If it was, then it would be tough to argue that including it would be an anti-Semitic gesture. But if Matthew made it up as a means of spreading hatred towards the Jews (who he believed killed his Messiah), then including the line in the film would be an anti-Semitic gesture, at least according to my definition, since it would be intended to assign perpetual blame to the Jewish people. And so now we hit upon the obvious problem: without corroboration (the line does not even appear in the other Gospels), it is unknowable whether this line was spoken or heard by anyone at the scene. (Unless you believe the Gospels were aided by divine intervention, and are infalliblly accurate, a belief that's hard to maintain in the face of various contradictory accounts contained in the Gospels.) So given the uncertaintly over whether such an inflammatory comment was made, should Gibson have included it, either with subtitles or without? In my opinion, no. The presence of the line can only serve to divide, and opens the door to charges of anti-Semitism, which can only further divide. Gibson was right to remove the subtitle, but that move by itself is a cop-out, an insincere gesture. He should have deleted the line completely.

Adherence to the Gospels

Certain Christians, in their efforts to defend the film and Gibson against the charges of anti-Semitism, have said, loudly and ad nauseam, "It's in the Bible!" as if that answers everything. This is an invalid argument for many reasons that are probably obvious to non-believers but may be difficult to grasp for others. I believe that it is possible to believe in the general account of the Gospels, but still find that Gibson's film is anti-Semitic. In fact, one has very little to do with the other. There are two primary reasons for this: (1) the Gospels, while a testimonial of what happened, are a product of their time, and not necessarily infallible, and (2) Gibson took many artistic liberties with the Bible elsewhere in the film, and in doing so, invalidates the "it's in the Bible" argument completely, since he both fails to portray everything that's in the Bible and presents many things that are not in the Bible. In other words, he picked and chose what he wanted to include, and what he didn't. Therefore, the depictions of Jews, Romans, and everyone else were subject to his interpretation. I realize that this point is blatant to non-Christians, but I cannot even count how many times I've heard an uncritical defense of the film from fellow Catholics, and so I want to answer the argument here.

Defenders of the film can only rely on the "it's in the Bible" argument if Gibson offered a strict depiction of the Gospel accounts, and used no artistic discretion whatsoever. Anything added or omitted by him is by its nature subject to debate. This includes any characterization, dialogue, or physical behavior not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. It even includes the ways that Gibson deals with certain ambiguities in the Gospels. Take, for instance, the crucial moments in which Pilate washes his hands and the crowd utters the "his blood be on us" line. Matthew 27:24-25 reads:

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it."

And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."

So who is the "you" in the sentence "You see to it"? It sounds like it's the crowd, right? Not in Gibson's movie. In the film, Gibson addresses the first part of his statement to the crowd, and then says "You see to it" to an assistant. It seems like a small thing, but if he said it to the crowd, wouldn't it seem like he was commanding them to kill Jesus? In Gibson's interpretation, it seems like the crowd is commanding him and he in turn commands his assistant to take care of it. Gibson's decision to portray the moment this way is one of several in which he is more sympathetic to Pilate than he is to Caiaphas and the Jewish crowd. Perhaps this small detail isn't enough to make the point that Gibson's interpretation (not that of the Gospel authors) colors the depiction of Jesus's persecutors, so consider a much greater bastardization of the Gospels that appears to have been almost entirely invented by Gibson: the role of Claudia, Pilate's wife. We first see Claudia waking up in Pilate's bed, as if startled. This is explained in Matthew 27:19:
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of him."
Fair enough -- even if you set aside the question as to how Matthew would have been privy to this exchange -- but Gibson goes on to imagine a whole dialogue between the two of them in which Pilate bares his doubts and insecurities to her as she looks at him searchingly. He asks her how she knows what truth is, and she answers him. Later, as he prepares to send Jesus off to be scourged (so as to appease the crowd and avoid crucifying him), he looks at Claudia several times, as if to strengthen himself against the crowd. None of this is in the Bible, and yet all of it serves to make Pilate a more sympathetic character. He gave in to the Jews despite his own better judgment, he had no choice, etc., the film seems to say. Where are the scenes in which Caiaphas shares his deepest emotions with his wife or his friends, and says he has doubts about whether to kill Jesus? The Bible says the high priests decided it would be "expedient" to sacrifice someone (much as Pilate did), so why doesn't Gibson portray the scenes where this is discussed? Because they're not in the Bible? Well, neither is the extended exchange between Claudia and Pilate. Later, as Jesus is being scourged, a teary-eyed Claudia brings towels to Mary, who exchanges meaningful glances and uses the towels to soak up her sons blood. Where is all this in the Bible? The inclusion of non-Biblical scenes that serve to make certain characters sympathetic and others unsympathetic should have been avoided, especially if Gibson later wanted to rely on the "it's in the Bible" argument.

Gibson also apparently manufactures several other incidents that (as far as I can tell) cannot be found in the Bible. The most noticeable of these is his treatment of Satan, who is embodied by a female actress, but voiced by a male one. According to John 13, Satan enters Judas at the last supper, but Gibson assigns Satan some extra-curricular activities that are not included in the Bible. Satan visits Jesus as he prays alone at Gethsemane and attempts to undermine his confidence. (I thought this was in the Gospels, but I couldn't find it. One gospel says an angel shows up and helps him find strength.) But then, a snake crawls out from between Satan's legs and Jesus stomps on it. Satan later shows up as Jesus is being scourged and as he's carrying his cross, all of which seem to support the general theme that evil was among the guards and the crowd, but this interpretation is not supported by the Gospels. But no matter how liberal your interpretation of the gospels might be, nothing could prepare you for perhaps the oddest of Gibson's amendments to the Bible. As Judas contemplates his suicide, he is viciously taunted by some children who transform into grotesque "little Satans" (his words) with distorted features who eventually start biting his arm. What chapter and verse is that one, Mel? I'm still looking. Soon after, a group of these devil children chase/lead Judas up a hill where he hangs himself next to a rotting, maggot-infested animal. The satanic-children motif pops up again in the scourging scene as Satan walks by carrying what appears from the back to be a large infant caressing Satan's gray face. As Jesus looks up at the pair, the infant turns its head, revealing itself to be a grotesque, unnaturally aged creature -- a cross between an old man and a baby. All effective imagery, but once you start throwing stuff like this in your film, how can you, or your defenders, rely on the "it's in the Bible" argument for anything?

Similarly, when the Gospels conflict on certain matters, Gibson tends to take the path that is narratively expedient. For example, in Matthew 27, both robbers on the cross next to Jesus "revile him," but in Luke 23, one of the robbers asks Jesus to remember him when he enters His kingdom, and Jesus tells him he will. Gibson goes with Luke's version. In John 19, Mary, her sister, and Mary Magdalene are present at the cross. Mark 15:40 has a slightly different cast of characters, but notes that they watched from "afar." In Gibson's version, Mary spends the entire crucifixion period right next to Jesus. She is there when the soldier offers the vinegar on the sponge to Jesus, and Jesus says "I thirst" to her, although according to John 19:27, she left immediately before that incident. Gibson's narrative also projects itself into Mary's mind during Jesus' carrying of his cross. As she watches him fall, she remembers his falling as a boy and how she ran towards him. This memory inspires her to find the strength (after her "swoon") to run up and comfort him. The moment is awkward, both because you're wondering whether it's necessary to show a mother's motivation for running to aid her son, and you're trying to remember back to the early parts of the Gospels to the time when young Jesus was running and tripped. (Keep looking.) The incident is one of several that borrows heavily from the Catholic ritual of the Stations of the Cross, a ritual rooted more in tradition than the Gospels. (Only about half of the "stations" are depicted in the Bible). In any case, it's disingenuous to pick and choose the parts of the Gospel that suit your story-telling goals, then fall back on the Bible as a defense of your depictions. It is also disingenuous for defenders of this film to accept scenes like these and then argue that Gibson was merely portraying what the Bible says. I want to make it clear that I think it's fine that Gibson took artistic liberties with the Gospels. I just think it's wrong for anyone to then argue that everything in the film is justifiable because it adheres to the Bible.


Much, too, has been made of the violence in the film, and whether it is appropriate or necessary. I feel that Gibson may have strayed too far from his Biblical sources, but the violence itself is essential to the film's religious message. (n.b. I'm choosing to respond here to the argument that the film is unnecessarily violent, setting aside for now the idea that the violence does not belong because it is not detailed in the Gospels, a position that I think is reasonable, but one which I haven't actually heard anyone take. At this stage, I'm also going to begin evaluating the film more as a religious work, and less as a conventional film.)

The central point of the film is that Jesus suffered and died for us. It opens with a quote from Isaiah 53 ("by his wounds we are healed") that attempts to establish a context for what we are about to see. For non-Christians, it is apparent that the film is so violent, it's not really worth sitting through, because it is merely a film about a man being tortured, but for Christians, I think the film reminds us of something that has been too easy to forget: the extent of Jesus' suffering for us. Christians who object to the violence in the film might argue "We know he suffered for us...so why do we have to see it?" I would ask these people, particularly if they are relatively well-off in life, to consider just how much they truly understand what suffering in the name of God is. Though he was the son of God, Jesus showed us through his intense suffering just how much a human can endure and, compared to what he went through, what we are asked to do is not really all that difficult. In Mark 8:34, Jesus says:

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.
Jesus showed that a man can take up a cross in the most literal sense, and bear physical and psychological torture while still maintaining faith in God. Although Jesus had doubts about being "forsaken," he still gave himself over to God, a sign of faith far exceeding anything we are asked to endure. In portraying the violence, Gibson reminds us of what Jesus sacrificed for us and for God, and puts our own pain in perspective. I think Gibson's intention was to shock the audience a bit, so they would wake up and be cognizant of the reality of Jesus's pain. In a time when "Christian" has in many ways become more of a political label than a religious one, I think it's important for people who identify themselves as Christian to take a step back and consider what that means in their daily lives. In Catholicism, the notion from James 2 that "faith without works is dead" is a central tenet. You can follow all the rules of the Church, but unless you actually do things to help other people, you cannot really consider yourself Catholic. I think that in recent times, this idea has been overlooked. Everyone is so concerned about getting to Mass on time and not eating meat on Fridays that they forget that Catholicism is really about putting others before yourself, and doing everything possible to help them, even when that means bearing hardship yourself. In other words, you must give up your life to save it. It's difficult for us, but Gibson depicts Jesus doing exactly that in his film, and offers him (as Jesus offered himself) as an example to follow. On top of that, as a culture, many of us have forgotten what suffering is. We don't weart hair shirts or self-flagellate anymore, so how are we supposed to understand Jesus' suffering on any kind of profound level? If the violence were not portrayed as it is, would the message come through as clearly? I don't think so. Without presenting shocking images, Gibson would have risked a complacent reaction from his audience, and I think that was exactly what he hoped to avoid. In fact, I think the whole point of the movie was to wake people up and say, "This is what Jesus did. What does that mean to you?" Answering that question, I think, is a meaningful way of exploring one's Christian identity, and I think that for too long, people have avoided it.

Violence vs. Love

Several reviews have complained that the film all but ignores Jesus' teachings and concentrates on his suffering. Although it's my belief that his suffering is an essential part of his teachings, I want to point out that the film does present Jesus' message of love and forgiveness throughout. Repeatedly, he utters the "Forgive them for they know not what they do" prayer, referring to both the Jews and the Romans, and in flashback, he is seen preaching to the disciples about forgiveness and love, including the "Love your enemy" speech that is critical to the concept of Christianity. Although few in number, these moments are made all the more potent by their sharp contrast to the violence that permeates the rest of the film, and they serve to show Jesus' message, and, I think, to tell both his disciples and the film's audience to forgive those who were responsible for his suffering.

There are other emotionally resonant scenes that convey love and kindness, and these show some aspects of Jesus existence that are often missing from other accounts. First, Simon, who helped Jesus carry his cross, was picked at random from a crowd of onlookers. It is not clear whether he believes Jesus is the Messiah, but it's implied that he doesn't. Nonetheless, as he carries Jesus' cross, he begins to understand his suffering, and at one point, angrily defends Jesus from the assault of the guards and the surrounding mob. Although Simon exists in the Gospels, this is more dramatic license from Gibson, but it shows Jesus as a human, deeply in need of another human's love and assistance. Simon is presented as one of the most admirable characters in the film, and it should be pointed out that he serves as a counterbalance to some of the portrayals of other Jews (namely Caiaphas) in the film. The other relationship that clearly shows Jesus as a man is his relationship with his mother, Mary. Unlike Jesus' disciples, Mary is motivated by love, not worship or religious belief. This is clear in nearly every shot that she looks at her son, and it helps the audience to see Jesus as a human, too, a perception that can be overlooked when reading accounts of miracles, resurrections, clairvoyance, etc. Mary's constant presence at Jesus' side grounds the film, and engages us in his suffering (and hers) in a way that otherwise would not be possible. Since many accounts of Jesus are intended to put us in awe, it's a refreshing change to look at him, in a sense, through his mother's eyes.

The themes of love and suffering combine when Jesus speaks of his choice to take up his cross and die for us. He says he does it out of love for his disciples. The fact that it was his choice is another critical element of Christianity, in part because, as I mentioned earlier, it provides the ultimate lesson for his followers. Reviewers who say that his message of love is missing from the movie should consider that Jesus didn't endure this torture just for the sake of being tortured. He did it in an attempt to show what love really is, and he (and Gibson) makes this explicit in the film.


Although Gibson takes some questionable artistic liberties with his source material and is less circumspect in his portrayal of the some Jewish characters than he might have been, the film is an engaging depiction of Jesus' final hours, and in certain cases illuminates relationships and incidents in new ways. It is understandable, but unfortunate, that the movie has led to further divisions between Christians and Jews, as the film might have been a strong ecumenical tool. Although many Christians are touting it as an evangelical resource, its graphic violence seems more likely to bolster the beliefs of existing Christians rather than encourage non-Christians to join the faith.

February 26, 2004

White Hollywood +

As we approach this year's Oscars ceremony, we recall the awards from two years ago, aka The Year Hollywood Pretended It Wasn't Racist. How are things looking this year for multiculturalism? Not great. There's the odd Iranian and Japanese man and West African among the supporting actor nominees, but these are people from other countries, not Americans whose race is not white. The Times has a piece on the role of black people in Hollywood, which points out: "In the history of the movie studios no African-American has ever had the power to green-light a film." Hollywood still seems to believe that movies about black people might be successfully here in the U.S., but won't do well internationally. But movies like Barbershop have had such massive domestic success that overseas box office doesn't matter. Whether this will result in a shift in power remains to be seen. -Amy
At this point, I would almost settle for someone telling me why Wesley Snipes appears to be the only black movie star who is allowed to kiss white women on screen -- and even he isn't allowed to do it all the time. One of a thousand examples: Did you ever see The Siege? If any white actor had that role, Denzel and Annette Bening would have made out furiously. Instead, they just sit their with their hands folded and harmlessly flirt with each other. This trend is brilliantly spoofed at the end of Steven Soderbergh's under-rated Full Frontal. As Blair Underwood and Julia Roberts fly off into the sunset together, they face each other for what should be the film-ending kiss. Instead, Soderbergh has them face the camera and grin, cheek to cheek, in a final bit of anti-miscegenistic Platonic warmth.

Why are Wesley, Denzel, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, and Morgan Freeman practically the only black men Hollywood allows to headline major films? And why are nearly all of these men always in action films or comedies? Probably because the film industry presumes its white audience's racism, a presumption which leads to actual institutional racism in Hollywood. But as hard as it is to come up with the names of more than maybe five African-American lead actors, it's even more difficult to identify that many black actresses who are given a chance. Take a look at the careers of Andre Braugher, Courtney Vance, Angela Bassett (Courtney's wife, by the way), Mekhi Phifer, Don Cheadle, and Isaiah Washington and see if you can come up with any decent explanation -- besides race -- for why they have not had the number of quality roles given to lesser white actors. Most of the overlooked stars I mention above have been acting since their twenties but are now pushing into their late thirties or beyond, and their potential as leads has been purposely overlooked throughout their careers. I'm not sure to what degree audiences can or will demand more ethnic diversity, but maybe the successes of films like Barbershop, Soul Food, Orginal Kings of Comedy, etc., will get Hollywood to put money behind someone other than the same "bankable" five guys it's been using for the last 10 years. I suppose one way things could change is if as as younger, more open-minded directors and producers start getting authority, they begin insisting on more diverse casting, establishing beyond doubt that audiences will pay to see multi-racially cast films. Interestingly, the force of hip-hop in the record industry has begun to translate into a greater African-American presence in films, as Ice Cube, Ice-T, Latifah, and others (Mos Def, soon?) have successfully crossed over, and it's worth noting that Laurence Fishburne, Samuel Jackson, Ving Rhames, and a few other actors have had good success lately diversifying supporting roles but, again, those are supporting roles, and that's not enough.

It's easy to be dismissive of words like "pioneer" when they get thrown around to describe, say, Halle Berry, but I think it's important to remember that Hollywood is so dominated by white people that for any black person to achieve what she's achieved (even if you don't think she's a great actress) is, by its nature, pioneering and, in a sense, radical. -ADM

February 24, 2004

Ebert on "The Passion"

We linked to his full review over on the Link Factory, but here's a great excerpt that perfectly sums up a lot of Catholics' prior experience with the Passion of Christ. He's talking about the Stations of the Cross ritual that many Catholics attend weekly during Lent:

For we altar boys, this was not necessarily a deep spiritual experience. Christ suffered, Christ died, Christ rose again, we were redeemed, and let's hope we can get home in time to watch the Illinois basketball game on TV.
Substitute the hometown team of your choice, and I think he's pretty much nailed it.

The rest of Ebert's review is less light-hearted (he says it's the most violent movie he's ever seen), but for a really extraordinary review, check out Kenneth Turan's piece in the LA Times today. It's a bit idealistic, but offers a terrific analysis of the film and the controversy it's generated. Both reviewers seem interested in what a hypothetical, absolutely unbiased viewer would think of the film, but realize that such a viewer does not, apparently, exist.

TV from the future

Our old favorites Fametracker have a great feature on future television shows based on this year's Oscar contenders for Best Picture (thanks Rungu for the alert.) It gets better as it goes on, ending with an outstanding Master and Commander, Mystic River, and a brilliant Seabiscuit. You know by now that we didn't fall all over ourselves for Mystic River, so I especially appreciated this parody of Sean Penn's character: "Markum, meanwhile, grows testy as he waits on a huge shipment of bottled water that's late for delivery to his store. Old tensions bubble to the surface when Devine and Powers commandeer an approaching delivery truck, prompting Markum to run from his store shouting, 'Is that my water in there!?! Sean -- is that my water in there!?!'"

February 23, 2004

Letterman's Pillow Talk

Forget what gets whispered at the end of Lost in Translation, a topic Ebert covered a few weeks ago. This week, we learn the sorts of things Letterman whispers in his guests ears after a segment, just before a show cuts to commercial. As Ebert discusses a fast food chain in reponse to an email, he offers this little bit of insider information.

You know how on the Letterman show, Dave sometimes whispers in a guest's ear at the end of a segment? Whenever I'm on the show, he recites Steak 'n Shake's "four ways to enjoy," which are, of course, Car, Table, Counter and (their spelling) Takhomasak.
He also calls Steak 'n Shake "the finest fast food restaurant in the world." [last item]

Presidential health

Following up on Bush's dental records which we posted recently, the Guardian features a reflective piece on the health records of Bush and Kerry. We know that the taller candidate usually wins in presidential elections, but how would the public react to learn that Bush had a hemorrhoid removed at age 22? And what about Kerry's operation for prostate cancer a year ago? Some funny anecdotes in the article about JFK's pill popping and Winston Churchill's defiant indulgences ("I drink a bottle of brandy a day, smoke 10 cigars, and I'm 200% fit!") demonstrate that we don't mind if our leaders like to drink--but we're suckers for that "I stopped drinking through the grace of God" stuff.

If we really do value health and athleticism in our politicians, Kerry should make more use of those windsurfing photos, and remind everyone about Cheney's heart problems.

February 19, 2004

Journalism, Reality, and Quotes

We were wondering about this a while ago, and it looks like we finally got our answer: The Washington Post has changed its policy about correcting the grammar of the people it quotes. It won't be done anymore.

In the same policy statement, they also clarified their position on some journalistic phrases that are often taken to have the same meaning, but actually are different in subtle, but important, ways:

  • Off the record: The information is not to be used in the paper in any way, not even if it is confirmed elsewhere. "We recommend that reporters not get into those kinds of conversations," Downie stressed.
  • Not for attribution or on background: The information can be used, with the source being identified only through a description, such as "a White House source" or "FBI official."
  • Deep background: The information is useable in reporting, but not sourced to a specific person. "Deep Throat was the classic deep background source," Downie said.

Life after Dean

Howard Dean's campaign has sent out an inspiring email to all his supporters that highlights the incredible devotion and hard work that they have contributed over the past year, and also makes specific requests of those who voted, or planned to vote, for him. His main points are: the future of his organization, Dean for America, and its role as a different kind of grassroots organization that will still work for change in politics. He encourages more people to run for public office, and offers his organization's support. And he reminds us that even though he's dropped out of the race, he's still on the ballot, so you can still send a message and send delegates with your votes. And you can still dress up in a Deanie Baby costume.

See the full email message below.

Continue reading "Life after Dean" »

February 18, 2004

24: Now that's what I'm talking about

Well OK! As TWoP puts it, Nina slithered all over last night's episode of 24, and exhibited some of the death-defying, blood-soaked bravado that got us excited about this show in the first place. Not only does she do everything but lick Tony's face during her interrogation in her efforts to make him uncomfortable about their former relationship, before he knew she was a global assassin/racketeer/traitor/spy/agent of sexiness, but she also does the following things:

1) rams her own neck into a syringe full of that super-painful green liquid that torture artists inject into people to make them confess;
2) lacerates her carotid on the needle, spraying blood everywhere;
3) squeezes off the flow of anesthesia while on the operating table, to keep herself from being sedated while the emergency paramedics are attempting to stop her arteries from gushing;
4) shoots the entire squad of medics working on her;
5) runs through CTU unseen, while bleeding from her arteries and shooting a lot more guards, to that control room where all the bad stuff happens at this agency, and where she shot Teri Bauer years ago;
6) gets into a standoff with Kim;
7) gets shot in the shoulder by Kiefer, who lays the velvetiest of the smoothest Sutherland bedroom whispers on her before
8) blowing her away. Because even after all that she was still going for her gun.

Nina, it won't be the same without you, but that was a hell of a way to go out. If only you could have somehow manipulated Kim into driving a stake through her own heart before you bit it, that would have really been something. -amy

[Here's a pic of Jack shooting her. You can see the smoke rising from the gun and everything. -adm]

Lindsay Lohan on Letterman, Ages 6 and 17

lindsay lohan 1992
lindsay lohan 2004

One of our favorite teen stars, Lindsay Lohan (whom we loved in Freaky Friday), was on Letterman last night. It turns out she first appeared on the show when she was 6 years old, in the skit they do every October where kids show up in funny Halloween costumes. Her costume was "Things Found on the Floor of the D-Train." She says she remembers the "treat" Dave gave her as she walked on set was a garden hose that kept unravelling.

Here she is in 1992, and here she is last night.

She also talked about her feud with Hilary Duff, and said there was nothing to it. "That's so old," she told Dave. "You need to keep up."

February 17, 2004

The Troubles and John Kerry

The British press is interested in the continuing social, political, and religious problems in Northern Ireland, and today, in how John Kerry proposes to respond. A rash of suicides among Catholic teenage boys in Belfast highlights the ongoing problem of violence and terror, especially for young men. Depression and other forms of self-destructive behavior, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, are also common, but the suicides are raising greater alarm. Meanwhile, Kerry has criticized Bush's failure to advance the peace process, and is also urging the IRA and the all republican and loyalists paramilitary groups to disarm. Kerry's criticism of the Unionists for "refusing to form a government with Sinn Fein" should also be popular with the Irish-American population. However, these recent suicides and the violence around Belfast is largely attributed to the Irish National Liberation Army, a paramilitary offshoot of the IRA that has probably gotten a lot of its funding from Irish-Americans, who don't understand the realities of the terrorism they support. Kerry can gain a lot of supporters in the US by siding with Republican Irish activists, but he might want to keep focusing on the disarming part.

Law & Order Marathon at My House. Every Day. Since December.

tivo menu
A few months ago, while a lot people were coming up with New Year's resolutions like getting a better job, losing weight, or starting a new relationship, I decided to focus on achieving something a bit more meaningful: watching a lot of TV. And although I have the same job as before and I probably weigh a few pounds more and am just as much of a lonely bastard as ever, I do have this to say for myself: Since December 23, I've watched 100 episodes of Law & Order, and have written about all of them.

The results of this effort are accessible at The Ledger, a site I started to keep track of all the shows and other L&O-related stuff. It's terribly, terribly boring to read unless you are a fan of the show, and even then it's at least quite boring. But even if you don't enjoy L&O, you might be interested in these highlights (each of which comes with a screen shot):

  • The episode with Janeane Garofalo.
  • The episode with Claire Danes, when she was 13.
  • The episode with Rudy Giuliani.
  • And the jewel in the crown: the 1991 episode with a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a teenaged rape suspect. Incredibly, Samuel L. Jackson plays his defense attorney.
We've written about the L&O shows since the earliest days of this blog, but it wasn't until I started watching a few at time that I realized that part of the show's appeal is that it inspires an obsessive/compulsive urge to document it, and that's what led to the creation of The Ledger. Keeping track of all the references to Hudson University, "fruit of the poisonous tree," McCoy's affairs, and the Ed Green Five-Second Foot Chases helps you understand the underlying structure of the series as a whole, and gives you an appreciation for the writers' strict adherence to procedural storytelling. Stories that would otherwise feel dry and mechanical are given an extra layer of meaning when you can connect bits of them to other episodes you've seen. I think TNT realizes the connection that obsessive viewers have to the show, and that's why it can get away with airing as many as 5 or 6 episodes on weekdays. In that sense, there's a L&O marathon at everybody's house every day.

So let's see. That's 100 episodes down....just 219 left to go! At this rate, I'll be done in April. Not too bad...With my new girlfriend at my side, anything seems possible. Sweet, sweet Tivo, I couldn't have done it without you.

February 16, 2004

Presidents Chris Noth Day

mike loganbig
bad apple
It's been a big couple of days for Chris Noth, aka Mr. Big, aka Detective Mike Logan. Last night, he returned to Sex and the City and -- almost simultaneously -- was interviewed at the NBA All Star Game. Tonight, as the signs and posters all around the city tell you, he's starring in Bad Apple, TNT's made-for-tv movie about an undercover FBI agent (Noth) and the mob. In this promotional interview, Noth says he has been interested in making Bad Apple for nearly 10 years, ever since he read the book.

What all those posters don't tell you is that TNT is also airing 11 consecutive episodes of Law & Order (the show Noth starred in for several pre-S&TC years) beginning at 10 AM today. Supposedly, these are 11 of the "best" episodes of the series, so if you've never seen the show, maybe today would be a good day to check it out.

ps. Chris reminds you his last name rhymes with "both" not "goth."

ps2. I think we are going to have some more Law & Order news later tonight.

February 13, 2004

Who's Older?™ Special Sexy Political Figure Edition

Whether these allegations about Kerry having an affair stick or not, it gives us a perfect excuse to offer another edition of America's favorite pasttime, Who's Older?™. Since Kerry's sex life has been introduced into the public arena, we may as well call to mind some graphic images. So here you go: