Law Religion Culture Review

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

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Concert Review: Rush (Irvine, California, July 25, 2007).

“We are young….” (Geddy Lee, July 25, 2007, performing “Dreamline”.)

Not so much. With each member in his 50s, youth is not a hallmark of Rush today. Singing songs in excess of 20- and 30-year vintage can catch the artist in an anachronism, which happened Wednesday night at Irvine’s Verizon Ampitheater.

The simultaneous upside and downside of this maturity, however, is a body of work that even a “three-hour tour” cannot remotely exhaust. Given the lack of time to cover the Grand Canyon-like expanse of material, the group made some surprising choices in its 26-song set-list.

First, Rush played nine songs off its decent, but not distinguished, new record, Snakes & Arrows. Even more remarkably, the group bundled them into two blocks, one of which spanned five new songs in a row, immediately following an intermission. While the crowd was generally receptive, the mostly unfamiliar tunes planted many in their seats, slowing the concert’s momentum. I understand, and even appreciate, the group’s desire to remain relevant and not become an aging, touring “jukebox” of yesteryear’s hits, but this heavy reliance on the new record was excessive.

Second, Rush unnecessarily covered an old song from another artist (Eddie Cochran), “Summertime Blues.” The song was contagious—I was developing a case of it myself this summer evening listening to it.

Given the zero-sum game of song selection, this odd choice simply caused an omission of a more worthy candidate, which I understand was "Distant Early Warning" (played at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of nights earlier), among many, many other potential selections. Indeed, entire records were mostly abandoned—some mercifully (Roll the Bones and Test for Echo) and some not (Farewell to Kings and Power Windows). Nevertheless, Rush dug deeply into Permanent Waves, performing muscular versions of "Entre Nous" and "Natural Science," and Moving Pictures, including my favorite, "Limelight," as well as "Witch Hunt" complete with torch-like effects. Also, the underrated Hold Your Fire was ably represented with an arresting portrayal of "Mission."

Aside from set-list issues, the show did not skimp on accoutrements. While Rush has somewhat pioneered the use of videos (and purloined pyrotechnics from others), it has perfected the strategic use of videos. In fact, some videos were used to not only introduce the band, but also some songs, and then the lyrics were expanded or explained through visual imagery. On top of the videos and pyrotechnics were lights and lasers to round out the ocular experience.

While Rush’s hallmarks have always been stunning musicianship, complexity and philosophical lyrics—all tending towards seriousness, the band seems to want to add a new one in its advanced age: frivolity. Many of the videos were comedic, including a "South Park" cartoon introducing "Tom Sawyer," as well as the opening and closing video sketches. I'm not sure what to make of this new "wrinkle" (pardon the age pun), but the intergenerational crowd didn't seem to mind.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 16, 2007

DVD Review: The Heart of the Game (2006).

Leadership, not high school girls' basketball, stood at the heart of this game.

Showing uncommon diligence, these documentary filmmakers recorded the progress of a Seattle area girls' basketball team over several years, much like Hoop Dreams. While players filtered through the program, the one constant was coach Bill Resler.

Resler did not draw heavily on a background of his own sports glory. Rather, Resler taught tax at a local college, and was drawn to the game because his daughter played as a youngster.

Resler's a rare combination of bravado and humility.

On the humble side, Resler admitted when he accepted the job he feared his new responsibities because people now relied on him. For bravado, Resler didn't seem consumed with a fear that people would find his unorthodox methods, well, unorthodox.

For example, Resler eschewed any formal offense. He preferred instead just to run the other team into oblivion.

More unconventionally and importantly, however, Resler adopted and sold a theme each year to his charges. One year he had them believing and behaving like "wolves," who would stalk their prey and devour them. On the printed page, or if told second-hand, most would either roll their eyes or scoff at the absurdity.

To the contrary, Resler had the uncommon ability to inspire his team into believing, and then doing. If it weren't so effective, it might have been laughable when coach Resler screamed from the sideline during one playoff game--"Look into their eyes"--like wolves do right before a kill.

I enjoyed The Heart of the Game because it illustrates one following his passion and then inspiring others to do likewise. However, the movie is almost entirely story-driven, because its production values are so low they might be rejected for public access cable.

The Heart of the Game receives a B.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Book Review: The Operator.

On a former music industry executive's recommendation, I read The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood by Tom King, then a Wall Street Journal reporter.

I got what I expected and what I didn't.

The Expected

I expected a biography about a colorful entertainment mogul who became a multi-billionaire. In this vein, the book provides many details about how business is conducted in Hollywood--whether music, television or movies.

Geffen has been remarkably involved in all three and more. He has even achieved success on Broadway, including at least one Tony Award. This aspect of the book--Geffen's rarified interactions within this sphere--reveals many amusing, if not amazing, anecdotes about celebrities (especially musicians) and shows.

The book, for example, discusses how Geffen secured John Lennon's first recording in over five years--1980's Double Fantasy. He astutely appealed to Yoko Ono--and in so doing, appealed to John. (This echoes a talent discussed below).

The book also delves into the Disney/Eisner-Katzenberg dispute that James B. Stewart's DisneyWar also explored. This book, however, focuses on Geffen's role brokering a settlement. Admiring the compromise fashioned at his beach house, he said: "'It's the perfect definition of a settlement...Both parties felt they didn't get what they wanted. Disney paid more than it wanted, and Jeffrey got less than he wanted.'" (p. 586.)

I enjoyed the following exchange, revealing much within a few words:

"'Geffen railed at [Edgar] Bronfman [then of Universal Studios] for balking. 'I have one job in the world now and that's to make him happy!' he ranted, pointing at Spielberg. 'And you're putting me in a position where I cannot make him happy!' Geffen, slipping into a familiar role, had begun acting as Spielberg's de facto agent.

"'David, stop screaming,' Sid Sheinberg [then of Universal] said calmly.

"'I'm not screaming!' Geffen yelled.

"'You're screaming, David,' Sheinberg said.

"Finally, Steven Spielberg piped up. 'David, you know what would make me happy?' he asked.

"'What?' Geffen asked angrily.

"'Stop screaming,' Spielberg said." (p. 546.)

The Unexpected

I didn't expect to get a primer in leadership. Without a college degree and with an undistinguished high school academic record, Geffen had at least three basic skills or abilities that repeatedly paid enormous dividends for him as a business leader.

First, Geffen has uncanny vision. King writes about how Geffen can see the "endgame" when others cannot. A fellow executive at Geffen Records described Geffen as "truly an artist, a visionary who creates magic and who sees his dream as an ever-evolving path." (p. 541.) This description elucidates Geffen's vision as moving and malleable. In other words, he has the ability to recast and recreate on the fly, rather than being slavishly wedded to a plan that might not be working.

Geffen himself placed this visionary talent into a divine context, however. "'I realize[ ] that the future is just an illusion....You talk about your plans, but the fact of the matter is that you can only live right now, this very minute. I always think there's your plan, and there's God's plan, and your plan doesn't matter.'" (p. 536.)

Second, Geffen's a masterful motivator because he understands people. He has the ability to see inside people and move them to his vision. Geffen's "'incessant questioning and prodding... has often brought us to a place we never saw or knew existed," reported one executive who worked with Geffen.

Third, Geffen's self-motivated. His passion bleeds into everything he does.

When he was building Geffen Records, or otherwise, he didn't (and doesn't) do things half-heartedly. At some point, the money fails as a motivator. According to Geffen, "I can tell you that the money certainly doesn't make it worthwhile. Certainly I will never have played with, looked at, touched, or felt nine-nine percent of it. It's just numbers on a financial statement." (p. 542.)

Conversely, Geffen's finds motivation elsewhere. "[T]here's another part of me that is full of joy about being at the edge of potential failure again." (541; emphasis supplied.) As a leader, Geffen didn't fear failure, but he recognized and even revealed in the potential of failure--and necessarily its flipside, success. In this regard, Geffen elsewhere said: "I'm very optimistic about what people can do who have the courage to try, and the willingness to fail. Because without failure, there is no success." (p. 536.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


In trial this week, my esteemed opponent asked the following question of one of his witnesses:

"Q. How many children do you have approximately?"

What was expecting, an answer of "2 or 3, around 3, or 2.5 children"?


The answer must be a whole number, a positive integer, and it must be precise. There is no "approximately."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Movie Review: SiCKO.

While I can't find myself agreeing with Michael Moore's politics, I appreciate his work. I've seen all of his movies (include the obscure The Big One and Canadian Bacon), and read all of his books. If you haven't seen Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine, you need to do so posthaste. Stop reading this blog to take care of this egregious oversight. (Okay, finish the entry and then check them out.)

I'm a fan because he demonstrates uncommon skill in conveying his message. His movies simultaneously provoke and entertain. He weds biting social commentary with comedy. Moore brings together liberalism and lampoons. Laughs and tears are justly juxtaposed. Not easy to do.

With this backdrop, I approached SiCKO with anticipation. Perhaps too much. The movie didn't seem to deliver the same Moorean prescriptions of satire and silliness.

Instead, SiCKO is a sober, searing indictment of the US health care industry. Moore indicts through case studies of people you won't recognize. While building sympathy for "ordinary folks", you sense Moore cherry-picked the cases, and attempts to draw grand conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.

On the other side of the ledger, there were only about 4 or 5 chuckles or chortles. These moments of light were almost dropped in as asides. They didn't advance Moore's message as well as he has been able to do in the past. His biggest joke took some time to build to a crescendo. It's late in the movie and didn't really reward the audience's patience.

While some have said SiCKO is Moore's least controversial or political film, I noted Moore could not resist indulging his disdain for the current occupant of the Oval Office, who appeared (unwittingly) in the movie about 4 or 5 times in unflattering contexts. Iraq policy even garnered a sneering mention.

Additionally, I noticed a heavy-handed, obtrusive use of the soundtrack to "program" the audience to adopt a certain emotion. It was the musical equivalent of a laugh track, but usually in reverse--"folks get serious now because the serious stuff is at hand" was the virtual lyric.

Nevertheless, you can't walk away from this movie without concluding that the system is broken. The patient is indeed sick. Getting the diagnosis is the easy part, the prescription isn't. On this score, Moore travels to four countries and uncritically offers their plans as solutions. Moore offers Canada, France, Great Britain and Cuba as models. His glowing praise of their imperfect systems glosses over the tradeoffs.

For example, Moore got very close to addressing a legitimate objection about France's health care when he asks the question about whether the French are awash in taxes and then didn't answer it. I'm not sure who said it, but the line, "You think health care is expensive now, wait until it's free" ran through my mind during the film and Moore ignored this obvious issue throughout his polemic.

Recognizing what this movie is and what it isn't will help make it a more palatable experience. At bottom, it's an agitating, thought-provoking film that constitutes its own niche among the other films in the multiplexes. This innovation and creativity should not be shrugged off simply because one disagrees with the filmmaker's politics or message.

SiCKO receives a B plus plus (B++).