Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Movie Review: Fast Food Nation.

This movie is much like the burgers it attacks: a mishmash.

This film could have been a documentary, a comedy, or political satire. It wasn't really any.

It took a nonfiction book indicting the fast food industry, and then fictionalized it into a heavy, pedantic drama. In the translation, much was lost.

In crafting the drama, the filmmakers tried an approach, much like in Traffic, where several stories are woven to create a tapestry. Unfortunately, an unfinished rug emerged. Some strands were seemingly abandoned, loose ends were left loose, and others were included for no apparent purpose.

Another squandering of promise came with regard to the casting. The film had many big-name stars, including Bruce Willis (small role), Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Wilmer Valderrama, Luis Guzman, Kris Kristofferson, and the youngest child actor from Growing Pains. Yes, she got another role, and played it respectably.

Given the politicized material, I was hoping for something clever like Thank You for Smoking--my favorite film of last year. Instead, the movie took a straightforward approach, much like delivering a homily--without the comedy or colorful illustrations.

Nevertheless, Fast Food Nation delivers its message. When it shows the disturbing "kill floor" of a slaughterhouse, it is hard to miss its point. Again, that's part of its weakness--no subtlety.

Fast Food Nation receives a "C".

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Borat: The Lawsuits, Part II.

Here is the "Frat Boy" complaint filed in a California Superior Court against the Borat filmmakers.

Here is the release that Borat participants were asked to sign.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale (Bond).

"Some of these guys go to Vegas thinking they are James Bond, and then come back realizing they are more like Weird Al."

Several years ago, I overheard this put-down in the Orange County (John Wayne) airport terminal when a flight arrived from Vegas, as beaten-down gamblers drudged past with their lightened wallets and unenlightened faces.

Implicit in this quote is that Bond and poker prowess go hand-in-hand. Any doubt about this gambling connection is eviscerated by the latest installment of the Bond franchise: Casino Royale. Capitalizing on the popularity of Texas Hold-Em, poker features prominently in the film from the revamped opening credits to the plot.

I was somewhat surprised to see Paul Haggis among the three with screenwriting credits for Casino Royale. Lately, he has been associated with penning more controversial fare from Million Dollar Baby to Crash. While one wouldn't expect a Bond film to be especially edgy or erudite, this film transitions from a gadget-laden romp to a more cerebral exercise of witty dialogue and spy intrigue. While I can't be sure it came from Haggis' pen, there were some unnecessary anti-religious or traditionalist statements seemingly thrown in to ensure the audience was paying attention to the dialogue, or to advance a worldview through the actors.

For Bond aficionados, Casino Royale delivers the requisite chase and action sequences. However, they were executed with a unique flair. The foot chase scene early in the movie employed moves more reminiscent of Spider Man than Bourne Supremacy. At the end, instead of sinking a ship, they sank a building. That is not a typo--a building is sunk. Innovative. You have to give credit also for its realism; the CGI, which presumably was used, was not overt as the choppy battle scenes in say, Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Regarding the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, he nailed it. While I came into the film inclined as a fan, because I enjoyed Mr. Craig's work in Munich, he even exceeded my expectations. I look forward to more films with him in the driver's seat.

Negatively, clocking in at 144 minutes, the movie took on a life of its own, and seemed longish.

Nevertheless, enjoy the ride.

Casino Royale earns a "B+."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Borat: The Potential Lawsuits.

Borat has generated almost as many legal issues as the O.J. Simpson cases.

Perhaps law school deans should consider adding Borat Law 101 to the curriculum. Here are two more links regarding potential claims arising out of Borat:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Borat: The Lawsuits.

Lawsuits have an uncanny ability to follow success.

In the first link, Romanian villagers appear poised to sue Borat filmmakers for paying them a pittance and for portraying them poorly.

The second link involves the frat boys in Borat who claim they were duped and drunken.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Another voice.

As one with graduate degrees in both law and theology, I have observed the similar fashions these disciplines approach texts (and have written extensively on these issues on this blog and elsewhere).

Often, the two fields wrestle with the same interpretive issues, such as "original intent" and "plain meaning" rubrics. Coming from the theological side, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman astutely grasps this overlap between law and theology's interpretation of texts.

In Misquoting Jesus (2005), Dr. Ehrman writes:

"[T]he more I studied, the more I saw that reading a text necessarily involves intepreting a text. I suppose when I started my studies I had a rather unsophisticated view of reading: that the point of reading a text is simply to let the text 'speak for itself,' to uncover the meaning inherent in its words. The reality, I came to see, is that meaning is not inherent and texts do not speak for themselves. If texts could speak for themselves, then everyone honestly and openly reading a text would agree on what the text says. But interpretations of texts abound, and people in fact do not agree on what the texts mean." (Emphasis in original; p. 216.)

Dr. Ehrman continues:

"[S]urely the texts of the New Testament are not simply collections of words whose meaning is obvious to any reader. Surely the texts have to be interpreted to make sense, rather than simply read as if they can divulge their meanings without the process of interpretation. And this, of course, applies not just to the New Testament documents, but to texts of every kind. What else would there be such radically different understandings of the U.S. Constitution...? (Emphasis supplied; p. 217.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Movie Review: Borat.

Whom does this mockumentary mock?

The short answer: everyone.

For starters, Borat offers himself up to ridicule as a haplessly clueless "outsider". Whether he makes politically incorrect comments (about women's brain size, for example) or defies social conventions (carrying a bag of excrement from the bathroom to a society dinner table, for instance), Borat makes himself an easy target.

However, if you look closer, Borat mocks everyone else too. And, he does so coast-to-coast, as he travels from Manhattan to Hollywood on his quest to learn from America. New Yorkers, southerners, feminisits, Pentecostals, frat boys, car/Hummer salesmen, antique/civil war relic dealers, rodeo fans, humor coaches, local tv news guys, and many others, do not escape his satirical cannon.

I marveled at the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's ability to maintain his character in the most absurd scenarios, and to draw out the absurdities in his interview subjects/victims. Like Michael Moore's documentary-style films--Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, just enough "rope" is provided to the targets to hang themselves--willingly.

However, despite the similarities between Cohen and Moore's (and Stephen Colbert's) techniques, Moore does so with an overarching purpose or theme. Moore mocks for a reason--his political agendas. I couldn't discern Cohen's. He seems to mock for the sake of mockery. It's undeniably funny, but it's hollow fun. It's deconstruction on parade. Nihilism.

I can't give this movie a grade because it defies such glib glosses. Some have said it has to be seen to be believed. That's true.

However, there is a scene in this movie that goes so far over the proverbial line, as Doug McIntyre has said, you couldn't find the line with the Hubbell telescope. You've been warned. Only for the hearty.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hubris is Dangerous, Part II.

Last September, I wrote about a real estate trial I won here:

This week, the Court of Appeal rendered its decision on the other side's appeal of the judgment I obtained. The result: 3-0 affirmed.

The appellate panel was not amused. Here are some of the greatest hits from the opinion:

"In challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, defendants are required to set out all material evidence, even that which is unfavorable, or the claim is waived. [citations omitted.] Defendants have not done so here. There is no section devoted to setting out the facts; purported facts are sprinkled thoughout the brief. Further, defendants failed to set out any evidence introduced by plaintiff that suports the juidgment. They recite only those facts favorable to their position.
Plaintiff, on the other hand, points to evidence supporting the judgment."

Also: "[D]efendants advance straw person claims, such as whether the action is barred by the statute of frauds, merely to knock them down. Although litigated at trial, these are not relevant to the issues on appeal.... [D]efendants fail to properly brief certain arguments....To the extent defendants make other assertions that are not properly briefed, they are also waived."

And, my favorite:

"Contrary to the claim of defendants' counsel at oral argument, the judgment did not incorporate a statement of decision. Defendants purport to set out 'factual findings', but there are no such findings in the record." (Emphasis supplied.)

What made this win even more gratifiying is that I had pointed out these deficiencies in my respondent's brief, which the opinion seemed to incorporate virtually wholesale.

I had an inkling at oral argument on October 20th that I was going to win again when one of the justices asked my opponent, "How can we not affirm?"

How can we not indeed.