Law Religion Culture Review

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

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Movie Review: August Rush.

Some movies are lyrical. Their dialogue approaches the poetic, so little else needs to be added for dramatic effect.

Some are musical; where words really get in the way. The soundtrack lifts the movie into another storytelling dimension and forms its core.

Although not a musical, August Rush fits into the later category. In fact, words are almost surplusage in this film. The film involves an improbable, if not fantastic, plot. Keri Russell plays a classical musician who was separated from her son at his birth. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a rock musician who was also separated from the same son; he also lost contact with Ms. Russell's character. A musical prodigy, the orphaned boy comes under the spell of a shady character played by Robin Williams, who exploits his gifts as a street performer.

Music provides the bridge for the family to reconcile. The final climatic scene, involving a classical concert, has to be experienced to be believed. Keep tissues handy. The music creates and envelops it. It's hard to imagine this scene would have even approach the same impact without sound.

I had little hopes for this movie when it started. In fact, it was chosen for me as the entertainment on a flight to Hawaii. Even the headphones were free.

The movie took some time to build to its crescendo, but having witnessed it in all its musical glory, I felt better for the experience.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Movie/DVD Review: Atonement.

While some have compared Atonement to The English Patient in tone, tempo, temperament and time, I found director Joe Wright and writer Christopher Hampton's Atonement surprisingly underivative, despite their obvious parallels. It took the British romantic drama template and added fresh twists.

The unexpected, unconventional ending did not necessarily make it gratifying. Given the main character's search for atonement, however, this nonHollywood-type conclusion underscored even more poignantly humanity's oft hapless zeal for resolution or atonement.

Elegently written, acted and lensed, the film will never be confused with Norbit or its ilk.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sword Play, Part II.

Before long, I began to notice my neophyte opponent was replicating all of my actions in trial.

When I stood, he stood.

When I sat, he sat.

Testing the extent of the copying, I decided to begin my opening statement with an arcane and unduly formal introduction: "May it please the court."

Sure enough, he started his opening statement with precisely the same language.

I just hoped he would parrot my request that the judgment be entered in favor of my client.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sword Play.

At the outset of trial this week, opposing counsel said he had an annoucement.

He declared, "My law school professor said that I should tell the court that this is my first trial. So, please bear with me when I make mistakes. Please do not hold my client responsible for my errors; I take the blame for them."

The judge responded: "You are already falling on your sword?"

I couldn't imagine what his client thought.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Book Review: The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese (2007).

The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese contains many topics in search of a unifying theme.

Author Adam Freedman trots out "legalese" as an organizing principle, but it doesn't really encompass what this book covers.

It's partly:

1. An etymology text--exploring the derivations of certain legal words;

2. A primer on basic legal concepts--a sort of how-to manual for laypeople;

3. A polemic for Freedman's political agenda;

4. A collection of hilarious lawsuit anecdotes;

5. A discussion of the plain language versus precision debate circulating in legal circles;

6. A forecast of the legal future;

7. A memorialization of Freedman's evidently putative (or frustrated) stand-up routine; and

8. A handbook for pellucid legal writing.

Positively, there is probably something for everyone here. Negatively, its lack of clear categorization bespeaks aimlessness.

Sometimes excerpts cross multiple categories. "Criminal codes suffer from an ancient prejudice: the idea that each individual law, with all its conditions and exceptions, must be packed into a single sentence. The logic behind this practice is that a sentence is a 'self-contained unit,' and therefore one cannot with any confidence modify one sentence with another sentence. As a matter of English composition, the notion expressed in the preceding sentence is absurd, as this sentence demonstrates." (pp. 116-17.) This quote could fairly exemplify categories 5, 7 and 8, and perhaps others.

Freedman continues his comic commentary: "One California penal statute consists of a single sentence of 150 words.... The whole problem with criminal law, one might say, is that the sentences are too long." (p. 117.) Cue rim-shot.

I credit Freedman for demystifying the bane of many bar examinees: "The Rule Against Perpetuities." "The Rule of Perpetuities arose to ensure that title to property will vest absolutely at some definite point, so that the heirs will be free to sell it. According to the Rule, you may not leave property in limbo for longer than the perpetuities period, an amount of time that is measured by the lifetime of a real person identified in your will (referred to as a life in being) plus twenty-one years." (p. 162; bolding in original.) Freedman does a nice job explaining this arcane doctrine over three-and-a-half pages. However, one wonders why.

In all, the book builds a strong case for plain legal writing. Along the way, Freedman's wit is displayed with equal vigor. Not a bad combination.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Preview of Coming Attractions.

1. Book Review: God's Problem by Bart D. Ehrman;

2. Book Review: The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese by Adam Freedman;

3. Movie/DVD Review: Atonement;

4. Movie/DVD Review: August Rush;

5. Movie/DVD Review: The Great Debaters;

6. Adventure Review: Maui, 2008; and

7. Technology Review: Amazon Kindle and Nike+ipod.