Law Religion Culture Review

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

Friday, June 22, 2007

Movie Review: Ocean's Thirteen.

If slickness were a virtue, Ocean's Thirteen should be nominated for sainthood.

The clothes were slick; the dialogue was slick; the music was slick; the cinematography was slick; the setting was slick; the acting was slick; the story was slick; and the direction was slick.

Get the picture? It was slick.

But was there any substance to go along with that style? There was, but it lurked underneath all this slick veneer.

Basically, this is a revenge film. Most would not characterize revenge as virtuous. The motive was perhaps virtuous, however. A group of friends, the balance of Ocean's Thirteen, exhibited extreme loyalty to their friend (Eliott Gould's character, Reuben Tishkoff), who was cheated by Al Pacino's character, Willie Bank (slick name huh?). They set out to make it right.

At considerable cost and effort, they put together an elaborate scheme to extricate bank from Willie Bank. It was so intricate, and involved so many moving parts, that its execution was quite unbelievable. Nevertheless, it was a slick plan.

On par with Ocean's Eleven, and vastly superior to Ocean's Twelve, this movie will entertain those who liked either of the previous iterations.

Rated PG-13, this movie was surprisingly clean, and hardly earned even a -13 designation. Of course, it would be difficult to market a movie with 13 in the title without a -13 in the rating.

Ocean's Thirteen receives a B+.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Book Review: Den of Thieves.

Here's another James B. Stewart tome from yesteryear with implications for today's Presidential campaign.

In Den of Thieves, Stewart explored the insider trading scandals of the late 1980s.

Guess which candidate enters this story.....Rudy Guiliani.

At the time, Guiliani served as associate attorney general. He prosecuted with the US Department of Justice in Manhattan. He "brought to the office what many perceived as a Catholic, even Jesuitical view of the world, one marked by clear divisions between right and wrong, friend and enemy. He seemed to equate crime with sin, punishment with penance, cooperation with repentance." (p. 248.)

Another feature of Guiliani: fearlessness. "'I'm not in this job to do the safe thing,' he said in 1986. 'If you never try to accomplish anything, you never fail. I'd rather fail.'" (p. 248.)

The book explored Guiliani's legal strategies, especially how he used plea deals to "squeeze" them into testifying against other, and usually, "higher" targets. No doubt Guiliani played hardball, and not just with those he was prosecuting.

Den of Thieves delved into greed, its causes and effects. It showed how white-collar criminals lived very large, and then were cut down by the legal system and otherwise. Moreover, it analyzed the life-changing psychological ramifications of such a precipitous fall.

For example, "Now that it had come to this, Siegel was amazed at how little he cared about the money. When he'd been earning a six-figure income, money had seemed important--but it had never been enough to confer the elusive sense of security he craved. Now he was ruined no matter how much money he had. So what did it matter if he had none at all?" (p. 305.)

Ordering the James B. Stewart "trilogy" reviewed here, I recommend DisneyWar, then Den of Thieves and finally Blood Sport.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Book Review: The Monk and the Riddle.

The full title of Randy Komisar's book (with Kent Lineback) is The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur (Harvard Business School Press, 2000).

The title's catchy, engaging, and also misleading.

Komisar is neither the "Monk" nor the "Silicon Valley Entrepreneur"--even though the book is partly autobiographical.

Komisar, a Harvard Law graduate, did leave the law for entrepreneurship, and he writes about his journey. For example, "It struck me that no matter how interesting the clients or the case, my work as a lawyer was extremely narrow and routine. I decided at that point I wanted to do what they were doing--write the script not collate the pages. I wanted to be in the other room. Practicing law wouldn't put me there." (pp. 74-75; emphasis supplied.)

I noted Komisar allowed that his work as a lawyer was extremely narrow and routine--he doesn't say that all lawyer work is that way. One of the best things about practicing law--especially trials--is that it's neither narrow nor routine. Each case requires creating a big picture (an overarching, gripping theme); and each case is unique in its facts and personalities, so it can't be routine.

In this book, however, Komisar educates another--the "Silicon Valley Entrepreneur." Most of the book represents a series of communications (including emails) with "Lenny" who wants to launch a dot com--"" Komisar dispenses business analysis and philosophical flourishes, and not necessarily in that order or in equal doses.

Philosophically, Komisar's two big ideas are (1) exposing the "Deferred Life Plan", and (2) distinguishing "drive" from "passion."

First, he writes: "[T]he deferred life is just a bad bet. Its very structure--first step one, do what you must; then, step two, do what you want--implies that what we must do is necessarily different from what we want to do. Why is that the case? In the Deferred Life Plan, the second step, the life we defer, cannot exist, does not deserve to exist, without first doing something unsatisfying. We'll get to the good stuff later. In the first step we earn, financially and psychologically, the second step. Don't misunderstand my skepticism. Sacrifice and compromise are integral parts of any life, even a life well lived. But why not do hard work because it is meaningful, not simply to get it over with in order to move on to the next thing?" (p. 83; emphasis in original.)

Second, Komisar asserts "[p]assion and drive are not the same at all. Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist. Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do." (p. 83; emphasis in the original.)

These general observations probably can't be quibbled with in the abstract, but Komisar fails to reduce them to concrete, despite his effort to apply them to "Lenny's" scenario. The more Komisar revealed the more I thought "Lenny" was apocryphal. The clincher was the alleged email from "Lenny" who supposedly wrote Komisar that the venture capitalist to whom Lenny pitched said "Lenny" "should feel free to 'explore other possibilities.'" And, then Lenny incredibly asked Komisar, "When do we get the money?" (p. 145; emphasis supplied.) If Lenny was so obtuse to mistake an "explore other possibilities" brush-off as a commitment to invest, he shouldn't be launching any business--even a lemonade stand.

In the midst of this text educating "Lenny" and simultaneously deconstructing his business plan, Komisar injected this remarkable observation about business's perceived role in society vis-a-vis the Church (which he doesn't define):

"Business is one of the last remaining social institutions to help us manage and cope with change. The Church is in decline in the developed world, ceding leadership to a materialism of unprecedented proportions. City Hall is subservient to the economic interest of its constituencies. That leaves business. Business, however, has a tendency to become tainted with the greed and aggressiveness that at its best it channels into productivity. Left to its single-minded pseudo-Darwinian devices, it may never deliver the social benefits that the other fading institutions once promised. But, rather than give up on business, I look to it as a way, indirectly, of improving things for many, not just a lucky few. I accept its limitations and look for opportunities to use it positively. In the U.S., the rules of business are like the laws of physics, neither inherently good nor evil, to be applied as you may." (pp. 55-56.)

This quote is more revealing than Komisar realizes. So, business is the new Church, and he (and those similarly-situated) educates the new high priests?

Now that the "Silicon Valley Entrepreneur" has been identified (at least the apocryphal one), who is the "Monk"?

The "Monk" offers Komisar a riddle about dropping an egg (email me if you want to know) at the book's beginning that isn't particularly insightful or applicable. However, I have to acknowledge the narrator's skill of dangling the riddle at the outset, and then revealing its solution only at the end as a "reward" to the assiduous reader.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

First Savings Bank of Pocket.

In preparation for an upcoming trial, I'm reading a deposition transcript taken years ago in another case. The following exchange amused me:

"Q. Where is that bank account? Where are the banks in which these savings are located?

"A. I don't have a bank account.

"Q. Where do you maintain these savings?

"A. In my pocket."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

Kindly allow a contrarian viewpoint.

I realize the Pirates franchise has produced about as much as McDonald's. However, volume does not equate to quality. BigMac anyone?

Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End is victimized by its own success. Because of the megadollars pulled in by the two previous installments, perhaps no one could instruct the filmmakers to reign it in.

Clocking in at over 2 hours and 45 minutes, I could propose a couple of alternative titles: At Wit's End, or Will It Ever End?

This film desperately needed a strong editor. It was larded with unnecessary and incessant swordplay, for example. The battle scenes were so frequent and boring they could cure insomnia.

Pirates 3 oddly employed not-so-thinly-veiled psychedelic or hallucinogenic imagery, bringing to mind Johnny Depp's more edgy and artistic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Trying to be edgy doesn't mean its artistic or even genuinely edgy.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End receives a C minus.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Budding Lawyer.

Budding lawyer: