Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
November 24, 2006 - November 17, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Hobbit in Iran

UNCLE TED. Now that he's retired from the temporary show he started during the Iran hostage crisis a quarter century ago, Ted Koppel decided to visit the country that cemented his journalism career at ABC News. Only he's not working for ABC anymore but for the Discovery-Times channel, which means we got to see his tiny body in jeans and the oh-so-cool khaki foreign correspondent shirt with epaulets.  You couldn't help noticing that he's gotten older -- the bags under his eyes have bags of their own now, and some of them are even toting little man purses -- but he hasn't lost his gift for stentorianating. His magical voice somehow transforms every cafe table and restaurant booth into an anchor desk, and the minuscule nods and tilts of that enormous head still serve to inform us eloquently about what the great man is thinking of the responses to his gravely intoned questions.

Frankly, I had been hoping for a lighter touch. When he met with the woman who served as Khomeini's spokeswoman during the hostage crisis, I thought he could have winked at her and said, "Do you have any idea how many millions of dollars your little stunt put in my pocket? Thanks, babe." But he didn't. Of course, it could be that his softball interview with her was an expression of gratitude. When she deprecated the importance of President Ahdumjihad and dismissed him and Bush in the same breath as fundamentalist idiots, he didn't bother to point out to her that the American fundamentalist idiot hasn't ever proposed erasing an entire country and race of people from the earth. I suppose that would have sounded jingoistic or not objective or something.

Actually, I think we were supposed to feel encouraged about our future relations with Iran. Everyone Koppel talked to acted as if Ahdumjihad was just a slightly comical figurehead whose quaint notions about genocide and Armageddon are more to be sniggered at than taken seriously. The real power resides with an imam who looks enough like the Ayatollah Khomeini to be his twin brother -- or his resurrected corpse. So we shouldn't worry. I mean, the modern world can't be put to an end by an irritable old zombie, can it? This isn't a George Romero movie we're living in, is it? Okay then.

And there's more good news. There are rappers in Iran. And Y-Generation party animals. And snidely above-it-all intellectuals. And BMWs. And sex. And bloggers. It was downright touching to watch Koppel visit his first ever internet cafe and express his astonishment that the young burkha-clad woman he was chatting up was simultaneously exchanging coarse sexual jokes with a friend on-line. In fact, except for the burkhas and the medieval theocracy and the looming nuclear doomsday, Iran is just like America, a place where the well educated people are much much smarter than their dim-bulb government and would fix everything if they could just win a modest electoral majority in the national legislature. Really. You just couldn't believe how well Ted and his intellectual Iranian friends got along. They flashed the same crooked grins when someone made a Bush joke, and they just knew that we can all get through the rough patch caused by America's paranoid fantasies about Islam if enough of the right people nod sagely at one another in chic urban settings.

The one thing they left out was any description of the process by which the cool intellectuals are going to stop the runaway train that is their government. It's all well and good to interview people who make fun of Ahdumjihad, and it's (possibly) reassuring to learn that the Iranian government appears to be a classic authoritarion rather than totalitarian state. But no amount of seeming reasonableness can disguise the fact that an authoritarian state run by crazed Jew-haters who have nuclear weapons is an incredible danger to everyone. And worse, no amount of articulateness by the Iranian gentry Koppel liked so much can obscure the fact that they are still blaming America, not themselves, for the insanely bipolar world they are cruising through in their BMWs.

I'm sure Koppel doesn't see anything wrong with that because he and the other members of the MSM demi-monde also blame America for everything that's wrong in the world. But I see something wrong with it. As a people, Iranians are kind of like a giant head on a ridiculously tiny body. In their own minds they are powerful, sophisticated, and blameless. In reality they are impotent fools, incapable of turning their grandiose thoughts into action.

No wonder Koppel looked right at home there.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Passion of the Bobby

Opening in theaters everywhere, Thanksgiving Day.

RENAISSANCE. Finally, in this Thanksgiving season, a movie that deals beautifully with the sacred death of the most important person who ever lived. Cynics who believe that Hollywood is no longer capable of truly reverential productions will find themselves both weeping at the sheer transcendant anguish of the subject and cheering for the fact that someone at last had the courage to bring this story to the silver screen.

It's no accident that the visionary director who pulled off such a miraculous feat is Emilio Estevez, the son of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who plays himself in the film. But that's only the beginning of a cast so huge and talented that we haven't seen the like of it since Cecil B. DeMille last assembled his "cast of thousands." Of course, DeMille never attempted subject matter as substantial as this, which is why we must be grateful indeed that Estevez managed to secure the services of Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, and, yes, thousands of extras. As a sidenote, it can't be the case that all these stars were paid their usual rate; these days, only a Spielberg would be able to afford the price tag of a screen legend like Harry Belafonte PLUS even one of the others. Our guess is that these good people participated not for money, but for the honor of helping to bring such tragic but inspiring events alive on film.

That they have achieved their purpose magnificently well is beyond dispute. Here's an excerpt from just one of the glowing reviews that have already been published in advance of the premiere:

The film does not just attempt to tell the story of his death – it brings forward some of the most impactful things about his life. At the center of this story is a message of hope, and it is visualized through the eyes of those people who were present on that fateful night...

Adding some intrigue is the way the film’s setup has such relevance to today’s politics. From hanging chads on ballots to an unpopular war that has made the nation uneasy, the director does a great job of pointing out how closely related that time in history was to our own. The only difference is that in the film, during that time in America, there was a great hero.

It's true that the movie is shockingly violent, and parents should pre-screen it before deciding to take their children, but Estevez's commitment to historical accuracy is so scrupulous that he is as faithful in his depiction of death as he is in duplicating the period speech, attire, and backgrounds of the hundreds of fictional characters amongst whom the real events unfold. And no one will be able to find fault with the performances on display here. Belafonte is powerfully moving as Pedro, the disciple who adores his master but denies him nonetheless. Anthony Hopkins is equally brilliant as Ponzio Pilates, the corrupt bureaucrat whose decision not to decide has such fatal consequences. Quite unexpectedly, Sharon Stone shows flashes of genius as the compulsively exhibitionistic Mary Magpie, who overcomes her past to reveal a heart-rending devotion to virtue. Almost as good is Demi Moore in the role of Mary Magpie's jealous twin sister, who can't stop herself from stripping to the buff at a hugely inauspicious moment -- just as the saintly mother character played by Helen Hunt is acting up a storm. Other performances consist largely of gemlike cameos -- Kutcher as the treacherously dull-witted advance man Jude, Christian Slater as the security guard who undergoes a miraculous, blood-spattered conversion, Linday Lohan as a gum-chewing tart who's still johnny-on-the-spot with a drink of water, and, of course, Martin Sheen as the incomprehesively wise lord and creator of the universe.

"Ready when you are, Mr. Estevez."

Those who are looking forward to a star turn in the role of the protagonist will be momentarily disappointed by the fact that he is rendered in the style of the messiah character in Ben Hur, shown only from behind bathed in radiant light, but as the film progressively illuminates his supernatural greatness, it becomes clear that no one yet born would have been big enough to play him. In this decision, as in all others, Estevez demonstrates an Oscar-worthy mastery.

It's rare for us to admit that words can't do justice to a movie, but that's the fact of it with regard to The Passion of the Bobby. Millions will come out of the theater sobbing and broken-hearted but filled with a deeply healing inner light. It's our guess that people will be going to see this movie on key anniversary dates year after year. We'll be there for sure.

Believe it or not.

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