Saturday, June 23, 2007

Film Review: "A Mighty Heart"

An Unmighty Film

By Debbie Schlussel

http://www.FrontPageMag.com

June 18, 2007

I went to the screening of "A Mighty Heart"--activists Brad Pitt's and Angelina Jolie's movie on the Al-Qaeda murder of Daniel Pearl--expecting a movie with an agenda.

And that is exactly what I got. That, plus a Lifetime Channel weepy-damsel-in-distress movie of the week. Muslims are the heroes--NOT the perpetrators--in this "Can't we all just get along?" kumbaya film ostensibly about terrorism.

As one would expect from the Jolie-Pitts, "A Mighty Heart" is mostly NOT about the Al-Qaeda murder of Daniel Pearl, killed in cold blood specifically because he was a Jew. In fact, the movie minimizes that, instead repeatedly blaming America for its treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners as the reason Pearl was cut into the ten pieces like a slaughtered chicken, the state in which his body was found. (That's no surprise, given that the Jolie-Pitts hired as "A Mighty Heart's" director, Michael Winterbottom, who also directed the propaganda fake-umentary, " The Road to Guantanamo.") In "A Mighty Heart," we see no depiction at all of Pearl's captivity or even kidnapping by Qaeda thugs, but for a few re-enactments of tiny parts of the famous Pearl video.

Most shocking, we get an onscreen repeat of the oft-told Muslim myth that 4,000 Jews didn't show up for work at the World Trade Center on 9/11, because the Jews planned the attacks. The movie provides no refutation of this myth or any indication that it is invalid. (It shouldn't be shocking, though, given Jolie's anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activities.)

And instead of depictions of Daniel Pearl's treatment at the hand of Muslims, Jolie/Pitt repeatedly hit you over the head with a baseball bat that the hero--not the murderers--in the Daniel Pearl story is a Muslim, a Pakistani Police Captain. We see him admonishing a Qaeda Pearl suspect that he is not "a good Muslim." The movie also stresses that Pearl's friend, Asra Nomani, is a feminist Muslim who also is upset and worried for Daniel Pearl. And don't forget the cheerful, hijab-encrusted full-time, diligent housekeeper and her cute little Muslim baby boy--both of whom we constantly see, in-your-face-style, throughout the movie.

That's all nice and dandy. But these Muslims wouldn't be involved, but for the fact that oodles of their fellow co-religionists--the ones who follow the dominant Sunni strain of their religion, Wahhabism--kidnapped and murdered Pearl in the name of their religion, an undisputable fact that is minimized as much as possible in "A Mighty Heart."

The long, boring, disjointed movie is less about an Al-Qaeda kidnapping and live crude dissection murder of an American Jew, and more a mixture of MTV's "The Real World" (or CBS' even worse reality show "Big Brother") and a Lifetime Network movie of the week. Short on Qaeda info, it is long on scenes of Angelina Jolie, as Mariane Pearl, wandering, brooding, and whining as she roams a cool looking, modern house in what is supposed to be Pakistan.

Mostly, we see her speaking--and whining--in a really, really bad "Saturday Night Live" version of a French accent (that's in addition to the brief, terrible Israeli accent of the actor playing Judea Pearl, Daniel's father). Peppy Le Pew and Peter Sellers were far more convincing.

We see Jolie, uh . . . Pearl, roaming around a cool modern house interacting with friends and associates and constantly uttering meaningful, poignant lines, like: "Sh*t, Sh*t, Sh*t;" "Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t;" "F*ck, F*ck, F*ck." Actually, most of the American characters in this film have those obscenity-laced lines, too.

On top of that, we're treated to dialogue by Mariane's Muslim friends, like this:

What do Americans really know about Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . other than bombing them?

In addition to blaming America's Gitmo detention of terrorists for Pearl's murder, the movie also blames the Wall Street Journal for providing the CIA computer files it obtained, giving insight into the operation of shoe bomber Richard Reid, his Al-Qaeda connection, and his scoping out of Israel. By doing that, in Jolie/Pitt/Mariane Pearl's eyes, the Journal confirmed Qaeda's assertion that Pearl is a CIA agent.

Any reason, any excuse to grab for Pearl's inexcusable, horrific murder--other than Muslims hate a Jew and barbaricly kill him for it--and the movie grabs onto it. Even prior to making the movie, last year, Brad Pitt a/k/a Mr. Jolie--producer of this film--lectured us that

We hope the film can increase understanding between people of all faiths and portray the story and the people involved . . . without anger or judgment.

In other words, don't judge the Muslims. Don't judge the people who barbaricly killed Pearl because he was a Jew. Don't even think that's why they killed him. Understand the murderers.

Understand that it's not right for us to keep murderous terrorists in detention with three gourmet halal meals a day and every religious article they'd ever want. Understand that the Wall Street Journal should never help the CIA with intelligence to counter terrorists.

And those are the messages of this movie. That's why, instead of scenes of Muslims beating, interrogating, torturing, beheading, and dissecting Daniel Pearl, we see Muslim Asra Nomani crying and anguishing over Danny. We see Muslim police officers very concerned about Pearl.

Mariane tells us of the beauty of Muslim Eid Al-Adha sacrifices of lambs. We see a scene of Mariane, a French Afro-Cuban/Dutch Buddhist, bowing down to the ground meditating. Then, it shows Muslims also bowing down to the ground praying to Allah. Forget the butchering Muslim murderers. We are all the same. We all care. We all pray in a similar manner. That's the message of this movie.

And then there are the even sillier parts of this movie. Woven in with the earnest, concerned Muslim detectives and police officers, we see caricatures of the Americans, which are such comedic parodies, you wonder how they made it into what is supposed to be a serious movie about an execution of an American Jew. They appear stolen from the editorial cartoons of Islamist newspapers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and propaganda dramas on Hezbollah's Al-Manar.

We see a useless lesbian FBI agent who does nothing but sound and appear officious in a Rosie O'Donnell know-it-all way. No, the movie doesn't say she's a lesbian, but trust me, they picked the most butch-looking actress possible. Clearly, she plays for the other team.

Then, there's Randall Bennett, a mysterious "security official" from the U.S. Embassy in Karachi. Played by Will Patton, who often plays criminals, bad guys, and bizarros, the CIA-esque Bennett constantly wears sunglasses indoors and gushes and drools over Pakistani torture of suspects.

And don't forget Wall Street Journal reporter Steve Levine, played by Gary Wilmes, the most stereotypically Jewish-looking actor they could cast--a living embodiment of the angst-ridden, sweaty big-nosed, glasses-wearing Jew you'd find in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" picture book for kids.

Yup, that's how the Muslim world--and Pitt and Jolie--see America: bizarre, drooling torturers in sunglasses, lesbian FBI agents, and big-nosed, bespectacled Jews who dominate the media.

So much for Pitt's exhorting us to be "understanding" and "without judgment."

At the end of the movie, we are told in Jolie/Mariane's voice that

Ten Pakistanis were killed this month by terrorists. They [Pakistanis and Muslims] are suffering as much as we are.

Are they really? How many of the Americans were killed because they were from rival terrorist groups? How many Pakistanis were blown to smithereens because they were on airplanes or in the two tall towers they flew into?

The problem with the film is that the Jolie-Pitts do have judgment--against us and not the terrorists or their Islam--and that they have very selective understanding--lenience only for those, ie., Muslims, who hate Jews and hate Americans, looking for that tiny fringe of moderation that's barely on the far, outer margin.

In the many print and broadcast interviews in the mounting PR campaign for this summer movie, Jolie tells the press that

Mariane is a person who has every right to be full of hate, and yet she's completely the opposite. She wants to have a dialogue.

And there are Jolie's and Pitt's lectures that

The hero of this movie is a Muslim Pakistani Captain . . . . Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish--they all came together, all of them becoming great friends.

The problem is not with whether or not Mariane Pearl hates those who butchered her husband to death or whether those who helped investigate it were a tiny number of Muslim friends and police who don't represent the dominant anti-Semitic, pan-terrorist thought on the Muslim street.

The problem is that those who butchered her husband were dominated by hate and that they are Muslim. And a propaganda film whitewashing that by a beautiful actress and her metrosexual boyfriend won't make them hate us any less or make Islam any less extremist.

Until we face those facts, there will be many more Daniel Pearls. Onscreen Valentines to terrorists and their hateful religion, a la "A Mighty Heart," only enable their murderers.

If your heart is so big that your head is buried in the sand, it's not "A Mighty Heart." It's a weak heart, soon to be in cardiac arrest.

Visit Debbie Schlussel's website at DebbieSchlussel.com. She can be reached at dschlussel@yahoo.com.

Steve Kelley: M's should bring Griffey home to stay

Seattle Times

June 23, 2007



Ken Griffey Jr. hands a framed photo of Safeco Field to a Mariners ballgirl during a pregame ceremony in his honor as former teammate Edgar Martinez, left, looks on.

The game could wait for a while. A long while. The sold-out house just wanted to cheer. And cheer. And cheer.

This crowd wanted to dig deep and rediscover the magic that was Seattle baseball back in the Ken Griffey Jr. era. It had waited more than seven years for this chance, finally, to thank him for what he had done for baseball. What he had done for the city.

The game could wait. The fourth-largest crowd in Safeco Field history needed this three-minute standing ovation to remind itself how good baseball had been here.

It needed these lump-throated moments to convince itself that some day baseball will feel this good again.

They roared in waves, not seeming to care if or when Mariners starter Ryan Feierabend ever threw a pitch.

(The fans must have known something. Feierabend threw 83 pitches and surrendered nine runs in 2-2/3 innings.)

And as the cheers flooded the field and poured all over Junior, it was if these fans were trying to send a message to the Mariners' front office. They weren't merely cheering. They were practically demanding pleading.

"We want Griffey."

Not just for a visit, but forever.



Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. warms up in the on-deck circle during his first game at Safeco Field as a visiting player.

One fan held a sign with a picture of Griffey wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap, with a caption that read, "This was the saddest day of my life." Another sign, speaking for many of the 46,340, read, "We want Griffey Jr. back."

Why not?

If CEO Howard Lincoln was worried about fan reaction, if general manager Bill Bavasi was looking to make a midseason deal that could jump-start a jumpy team, the crowd offered a nearly unanimous decision.

"We want Griffey. We want Griffey," it chanted as Junior scratched at the dirt in front of home plate.

"I didn't realize how much I missed being in Seattle," Griffey, obviously moved by the warmth he felt, told the crowd.

"Back at you," it said with its cheers.

Deal-making isn't a popularity contest. This isn't "American Idol." Fans can't dial the number of their favorite player and force Bavasi to make a deal.

But this trade makes sense. Forty-six thousand fans can't all be wrong.



Griffey, flanked by former teammates Edgar Martinez, left, and Jay Buhner, acknowledges the crowd after a pregame celebration in his honor.

Despite this lopsided loss, the Mariners should be buyers this summer. Trade for Griffey. Not because it's sentimental, but because it's smart.

He's healthy again. His 19 home runs are third-best in the National League. Once reluctant to make the move from center field to right, Griffey, now 37, is an agreeable right fielder for the Reds.

Imagine Griffey and Ichiro in the same outfield. Imagine Griffey, his health and his home-run stroke restored, in the middle of the lineup. Imagine him coming home and hitting his 600th career homer wearing a Mariners uniform.

This franchise has taken its lumps the past three seasons. Even with the team's surprising, above-.500 start this year, Safeco Field never has felt as cold and empty as it has been much of this season.

The Mariners need a shakeup. The offense needs a jolt. This season can be rescued.

"We want Junior."

Just how much?

When Griffey came to bat in Seattle for the first time since 1999, Feierabend made two throws to first to hold the runner, Brandon Phillips, before he pitched to Griffey.

Both throws over were booed loudly.

This night belonged to Griffey, and the crowd didn't want some rookie playing around with its drama.

When Feierabend finally came home, Griffey jumped on the first pitch and sent a single under Richie Sexson's glove.



Griffey heads for the on-deck circle for his first at-bat back at Safeco Field.

"We want Griffey."

When he was pulled in the bottom of the sixth after a 1-for-5 night, the crowd booed.

The idea of trading for Griffey isn't new. The Reds and M's have spoken before. Deals have been put together. Nothing ever worked.

But on Friday night, when the Mariners looked every bit as bad as they were when Griffey first came to Seattle in 1989, the trade seemed believable.

The Reds are going nowhere, stuck in last place in the NL Central, 13 ½ games behind Milwaukee. Their home attendance is fourth-worst in the National League. Their future is years away.

They will listen seriously to offers for Griffey.

"Never could I imagine that it would be like this coming back," Griffey told the crowd before the game.

Imagine if he came back for good.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists


Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Yankees top Giants despite Bonds' 749th HR

BY KAT O'BRIEN

New York Newsday

June 23, 2007, 8:59 AM EDT



Alex Rodriguez singles against the San Francisco Giants in the seventh inning.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Yankees may not be in their customary position of first place in the American League East. But they remain a top-drawing roadshow.

The crowds they draw – both the love-em and hate-em variety – are only amplified in interleague play. And last night's series-opening game against the Giants at San Francisco's AT&T Park, the Yankees' first-ever regular-season series there, was the greatest show in town both because it involved the Yankees and because Giants slugger Barry Bonds is closing in on Hank Aaron's all-time home run record of 755.

Bonds chugged closer last night with career homer 749, an eighth-inning solo shot off the Yankees' Scott Proctor. The Yankees had more to celebrate, though, as they won 7-3, to snap a three-game skid.

The largest regular-season crowd ever at AT&T Park saw history when Bonds crushed the eighth pitch of the Proctor at-bat over the right center field wall. They also saw the player who someday might pass both Bonds and Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, have a big night. Rodriguez reached base five times, going 4-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs.

"The pitch was on the outer corner," Proctor said of the fastball. "He's a great hitter. He took advantage of it. … Heck, yeah, I'd love to face him again."

Bonds and Rodriguez could be members of a mutual admirer's society. Although Bonds was not available for interviews, he has often praised Rodriguez. And Rodriguez was positively glowing in his praise of Bonds, as well as the ballpark and the city of San Francisco.



Barry Bonds hits a solo home run off of Scott Proctor in the eighth inning.

"You get caught up as a fan of baseball," Rodriguez said of the scene. "He's one of a kind."

The atmosphere was electric, with giddy Yankee fans enjoying a rare chance to see their team in San Francisco and followers of Bonds's pursuit reveling in his home run. Billy Crystal and Robin Williams sat together, Crystal showing his support for the Yankees and Williams donning a San Francisco hat. The Yankees got their win, Bonds got his home run (though he said before the game that he was more interested in wins), and most of the crowd went home happy.

"I'll take two more (Bonds home runs) and two more wins, I'll trade that," Rodriguez said. "I'm a huge Barry fan. As long as we win, he can do whatever he wants. Barry Bonds is the greatest of all-time."

Yankees left-hander Kei Igawa made his first major league start since May 4th. He had spent the last six weeks retooling his delivery in the minor leagues. Igawa gave up two earned runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings. For four of those innings, he was outstanding. He allowed only two singles and a walk in those innings.

"He certainly was impressive the first four innings," manager Joe Torre said. "The way he pitched to Barry those two times was very impressive."



Hideki Matsui catches a fly ball hit by San Francisco Giants' Bengie Molina with the bases loaded in the fifth inning.

Igawa got Bonds to ground out in his first at-bat, and struck him out swinging the second time. The fifth inning was a completely different scenario for Igawa, as he had to be bailed out by Luis Vizcaino after getting in a jam.

"I just couldn't get outs," Igawa said through an interpereter. "As I said before, I just didn't get the results today. I'll do better."

Vizcaino, Mike Myers, Proctor and Mariano Rivera completed the Yankees' win.

In being swept in Colorado, the Yankees managed a total of five runs in three games. It was something third base coach Larry Bowa, a former Phillies manager, said he had never witnessed at hitter-friendly Coors Field. The hitters were back against Giants starter Matt Cain last night, stacking up seven runs in the game on 13 hits. Melky Cabrera knocked in two runs, and Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui had one RBI each.

"What happened in Colorado was probably part of the motivation today," Matsui said.

Relievers Luis Vizcaino, Mike Myers, Proctor and Mariano Rivera completed the Yankees' win.

Torre got his 2,009th career victory, tying Leo Durocher for ninth on baseball's all-time win list. Jeter gave him the game ball afterwards, informing him of the milestone.

"Yeah, he knew," Torre said. "He says he knows everything. That means a lot, it really does."

Film Review: "Mr. Brooks"

'Mr. Brooks': Kevin Costner Will Slay You

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007; Page C01



Our Mr. Brooks seems to have everything: a beautiful wife, a beautiful daughter, a flourishing career, a house fit for the cover of Architectural Digest and some nourishing hobbies. He likes to make ceramic pots and kill people.

He likes to shoot them in the face, then pose them provocatively. Very creative, our Mr. Brooks, yet at the same time quite thorough, and as the Thumbprint Killer, he has been driving the Portland cops mad for years. And when I tell you he's played by Kevin Costner, don't your teeth just want to fall out?

The movie "Mr. Brooks" features Costner at his most unlikely: as a suave, assured, in-control, morally repugnant psycho killer. The movie is a lot like the character Costner plays: suave, assured, in-control and morally repugnant. You have to make peace with the idea that the film asks you to empathize with an executioner on the grounds of his style and to select him over another, much less couth wannabe (but as yet unblooded) killer. Can you do that? If you can't, best stay far away.

Costner's Earl Brooks owns a box factory that he rules with benevolent despotism in the coastal Oregon city. How can you hate a guy who wears a bow tie and dresses like a professor of medieval poetry at the Yale of the '50s? He's just been named the chamber of commerce man of the year and accepts the award with grace and charm and heads back to the 'burbs to, one assumes, celebrate with the wife (Marg Helgenberger, definitely a woman with whom most men would like to celebrate). But Marshall, the gentleman in the back seat, has other ideas. Speaking seductively into his ear, Marshall (the oozing, cooing William Hurt) tells Brooks he's earned a little fun. After all, it's been two years.

That is, two years since the Thumbprint Killer has given himself a little treat.



William Hurt is the dark alter ego goading Kevin Costner down a bloody path as a serial killer. (By Ben Glass -- Element Films Via Associated Press)

And so on this night, we stay with him from start to very violent -- disturbingly violent, point-blank violent -- end. Marshall is actually Mr. Brooks's bad alter ego, a device by which the screenwriting partnership of Raynold Gideon and Bruce Evans (who also directed) explore the dynamics of Brooks's mind. Frequently the two will chat while the excluded outsider doesn't have a clue; it looks funny and demands a willing suspension of disbelief, and again, if you can't deal with that, go elsewhere. (The device is somewhat similar to Ron Howard's trick in "A Beautiful Mind.")

From the interplay between Marshall and Earl, we learn that Mr. Brooks considers himself an addict, drawn to murder yet loathing himself for it, and working desperately to recover. He even goes to AA -- he's a blood drunk -- where he is kind and nurturing to all, and yet can't stop shooting people in the head as an expression of his need to meticulously display his control. He never makes a mistake until, obviously, this time.

On the last killing, Mr. Brooks forgets to check the curtains. They are open, as the couple involved got some kind of kick out of making love in quasi-public (each of Mr. Brooks's victims, over the course of the movie, will have some sort of vulgarity that will qualify him or her for elimination). So who should show up at the box factory the next day but a sleazy young man with a smirk, an Army fatigue jacket and a beard (Dane Cook, eschewing comedy) and a set of photographs of Brooks looking out the window, the bodies in the background. Does he want money? No, that would be ordinary, and one of the pleasures of the movie is how it adroitly plays with, then avoids, the ordinary. What Mr. Smith wants is kicks; he wants to come along. He wants to be a buddy.



So that's the first wrinkle. Wait, no, it's the third wrinkle. The first wrinkle is the discovery that Costner is playing the better half of Mr. Brooks and the second wrinkle is that the usually benevolent Hurt is playing the worse half. The fourth wrinkle, I suppose, is that Cook isn't supposed to be funny but scurvy. Or maybe that's the fifth wrinkle, with the fourth wrinkle being the discovery that Demi Moore doesn't play the wife but the cop. Then the sixth wrinkle -- or fifth, moving five back to six -- is that the cop is rich: She's worth $60 mil. She's in it for the sense of her own mastery.

Well, as you can tell, the movie is flawed, alas, by what might be called wrinkle madness. Twists, twists, twists, oh my God, it's the frozen head of Adolf Hitler!, that sort of thing. It has more wrinkles than my face. It's all wrinkly. Has it been in the bath too long? Is it a raisin, an old baseball glove, the sheets after a nightmare? And I haven't even hinted at the wrinkle about the daughter.

In the end, the wrinkles and the smooth stylings of director Evans, who sets the movie inside a perfect haute bourgeoisie world, seem constantly at war. I'm still trying to figure out whose body comes falling out of the ceiling at about the three-quarters point. A lot of the movie has to do with computer connections: When we see whom Mr. Brooks is investigating, we know whom he's stalking and the plot is supposed to instantly clarify. But in truth, I missed much of that.



What's compelling, then, isn't the overwrought plot but the simpler things: the dynamics between the actors, the avuncularity between old pros Costner and Hurt, the class condescension between Costner and Cook, and Moore's exasperated rich girl in comfortable shoes with a 9mm pistol on her hip. It has a fascinatin' rhythm.

Mr. Brooks (120 minutes at area theaters) is rated R for bloody, grisly violence, graphic sexual content, nudity and profanity.

Touching The Dark 'Heart' of Reality

Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom Didn't Shy From Pearl Tale

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2007; N01




Michael Winterbottom

With hard-hitting, documentary-style films set in the torturous recesses of Guantanamo, the dusty hopelessness of refugee camps and the genocidal terror of the Bosnian war, British director Michael Winterbottom regularly coaxes moviegoers to consider the awful, the horrible and the morally unjust -- not exactly popular fare for the big screen.

For the most part, Winterbottom has been sequestered in the art houses of big cities and the "world view" sidebars of international film festivals, where his films preach to the pre-converted -- the left-of-center intelligentsia who put more stock in the BBC than Fox News.

But that cultish obscurity is about to disappear with this weekend's release of "A Mighty Heart," a movie that retells the true story of American journalist Daniel Pearl, whose 2002 abduction and murder at the hands of Muslim extremists reverberated around the world.

With Angelina Jolie -- perhaps the world's best-known actress -- in the principal role as Pearl's wife, Mariane, Winterbottom has made the most high-profile film of his career. It's also one of his most expensive, with a budget of approximately $16 million.



Angelina Jolie arrives at a location for the shooting of 'A Mighty Heart' in Mumbai, India.

Although the budget is bargain-basement by Jolie's standards, the role is an opportunity to do poetic justice to a powerful story, centered on a woman she calls a close friend, and it's a rare chance to showcase her acting talents between "Lara Croft" projects. To that end, Jolie's publicity machine has been in high gear since "A Mighty Heart" screened at Cannes this spring, with the actress granting interviews at most celebrity stops, including "Larry King Live" and even "The Daily Show."

Sitting in a hotel bar in Washington, Winterbottom seems blissfully unconcerned by this convergence of the Hollywood Babylon he usually avoids and the reality-based stories he likes to pursue. For Winterbottom, the movie was another opportunity to tell a true story with as little of the artifice of conventional filmmaking -- and as much of the real world -- as possible.

"I guess one of the things I like about real stories is, there are givens that you're not controlling," he says, in the rapid-fire spillage that amounts to his version of conversation. "Real stories give you a good excuse for not tying everything up, because it doesn't work out that way. There isn't a climax here because there wasn't a climax in the real story."

Normally, Winterbottom and his creative partner, Andrew Eaton, decide what projects to film, says the 46-year-old filmmaker. (Their varied résumé includes last year's "The Road to Guantanamo," part fiction, part documentary, about three British Muslims held in Guantanamo Bay for two years before being released without charge; and 2002's "24 Hour Party People," about the 1970s pop scene in Manchester, England.) But in the case of "A Mighty Heart," it was Brad Pitt who contacted them. The actor and his Plan B Entertainment producing partner, Dede Gardner, had loved his films and wanted to make this one in his down-and-dirty, quasi-documentary style.

Winterbottom and Eaton met with Pitt and a pregnant Jolie in Namibia in 2006 to secure the deal, and Pitt "gave us the freedom to go off and make it our way. They had the money and the stars and the project, but we could still kind of make it the way we wanted to."

Winterbottom told Jolie about his working method -- a no-frills style that employs handheld cameras and eschews artificial lighting and large crews. Where most filmmakers attempt to control their invented worlds with tight scripting and carefully monitored production shoots, Winterbottom actively seeks the real world.



Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in "A Mighty Heart"

"I like the idea of putting actors into environments that are not controlled by you," he says. "I like the fact that the actors have to interact with people who have not been told where to go. So the actors have to be aware of what's going on around them."

Winterbottom, Eaton says, "tries extremely hard to make films as truthfully and as real as they can be."

For 2002's "In This World," a movie in which two Afghan refugees trek from a camp in Pakistan to Great Britain, Winterbottom and a small crew followed the actors through border checkpoints and refugee camps -- forcing the performers to deal with whatever happened along the way.

"The story was very, very simple, an outline," he says. "So it was actually just [a case of] watching them, the way they behave, the incidents, the people, the places they saw. And it was a very small crew, so, obviously, the filming was actually quite easy and, actually, it's really enjoyable because new things are happening all the time and you're not planning."



Mariane Pearl's memoir, "A Mighty Heart"

"A Mighty Heart" is set in Pakistan but Winterbottom shot the majority of his scenes in Mumbai, India. He also filmed in Karachi, Pakistan, revisiting the same locales Pearl had been to before his apprehension. Although Jolie did most of her work indoors in Mumbai, Winterbottom coaxed her and co-star Dan Futterman (who plays Daniel Pearl) outside for some guerilla-style forays. They knew their time was limited before the crowds caught on to Jolie's presence.

"Michael's method -- because it's so fast and unencumbered and mobile -- frankly enabled Angie to get out on the streets in a way she normally can't," says Gardner, who went to India and Pakistan. Because Jolie was made up to resemble the curly-haired, darker-skinned -- and pregnant -- Mariane Pearl, Jolie managed to temporarily filter through the crowds undetected.

"We had a 10-minute lag time before people caught on to it," Gardner says. "You had to jump out and grab it and get done before the crowds assembled. It was really fun. And Michael works quickly. He manages to get those scenes in 20 minutes."

When the production was shooting at the train station in Mumbai one day, Futterman recalls, "Michael said, 'Let's get on the train.' I thought it was the worst idea, but I didn't say anything. But Angie said, 'Yeah, sure.' There's not too much you can dare her that she won't do. So we were on the train."

Winterbottom pursued this serendipitous, documentary method in Pakistan, too, Futterman says.

"We'd stop somewhere on the streets, pile out, shoot and go somewhere else. . . . Karachi is a real character in the movie. It's like no place you've been -- that feeling of its bursting at the seams, people from all over, and the infrastructure seemingly held together with a rubber band."

For Futterman, Winterbottom's method reflects the director's worldview.

"There's something proletarian about his attitude towards the world. To him, the guy in the street is every bit as fascinating as the biggest star in the world. And he's going to shoot that way and make the movie more interesting."

Winterbottom, who was briefly a documentary filmmaker before he moved into feature films, says he likes to show the real world to "capture something of what people are like in a place, how they behave in the world outside."

He explains in his typical conversation-as-flood:

"If the characters in the film are also made to engage with -- you know -- even it's just boring stuff, like, they're just in a bar talking. But you know, they're drinking in a bar. It's midnight and the music's on. They behave different -- they're drinking or they're drunk or whatever -- They're behaving differently than when it's 8 in the morning on a set, and they go to a fake bar with fake drinks. And so, so, I like that element of chance in filmmaking."



Dan Futterman and Angeline Jolie in "A Mighty Heart"

Winterbottom's documentary eye has never left him. He remembers how, during the shooting of 2000's "The Claim," a frontier drama filmed in Canada, he became more fascinated with the parking lot filled with camera crew and their vehicles than with the artificial town on the hill the production had constructed.

"The car park for the crew was much more spectacular than our set," he recalls. "There was 150 people and loads of vehicles in it. And all the effort and money of that budget was going into the car park, and not enough was going into the film."

Which is why he prefers to stay at the low end of the budget scale. Big-budget filmmaking, he says, is "like dragging a really long tail around with you." He prefers to work with about $3 million per picture so "we can get the money and make them, as opposed to spending two years to try and persuade someone to give us more money."

And the ideas never stop coming. Winterbottom is incredibly prolific, making an average of one or two movies a year. He's shooting "Genova" later this month in Italy, starring Colin Firth. And with Pitt's company co-producing, he's planning "Murder in Samarkand," a film based on the memoirs of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was fired for drawing attention to human rights abuses.

"I have a feeling he will be 76 and still saying to me, 'I have this great idea for something,' " says Eaton. "And I'll be saying, 'Leave me alone.' "

Friday, June 22, 2007

Film Review: "A Mighty Heart"

Missing Heart
Nightmare in Karachi.


By Frederica Mathewes-Green

http://www.nationalreview.com

June 22, 2007, 5:00 a.m.



On January 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan. Some weeks later a horrifying videotape arrived, documenting that he had been beheaded. In those intervening days, his wife Mariane and a team of friends and investigators tried desperately to find him, adding up the scarce clues that might enable them to save his life. It was nightmarish in a way we can hardly imagine. A Mighty Heart gives us a 100-minute tour of that nightmare.

The flaw in this expertly made movie is that that’s all it gives us. But first, give director Michael Winterbottom his due: He has effectively every means at his disposal to keep the audience just as tense and frustrated as the characters. (It’s a challenging task because, after all, we already know how the story turns out). The images he shows us appear in exaggerated contrast, so that things we’re trying to look at are concealed by shadows or lost in whitish glare. Interior scenes have an unpleasant fluorescent hue, and the colors look as exhausted as the characters. Often enough, we’re being awoken in the gray dawn, or sitting with the characters through endless eye-glazing hours tapping at laptop computers. The collision of urgency with hopelessness is a particularly miserable feeling, and Winterbottom makes sure we feel it keenly.

The city of Karachi itself contributes a chaotic factor to the story, posing impediments to any attempt to go anywhere or do anything. It is impossibly congested; as Brendan Bernhard described it in the New York Sun, Karachi is “a heavily-guarded city in southern Pakistan with a population of 14 million people, all of whom appear to be male.” The task of locating one man in this melee appears hopeless. As if that wasn’t enough, Winterbottom throws in additional small bits designed to make us feel even more jittery. As we gaze through a car windshield at heedless pedestrians blocking our way, one stumbles and just misses falling under the car’s wheels. Little extra twitches like that, extraneous to the plot, pile the tension higher.

And the sound track is a perfect match, keeping us on edge continually with scrapes and screeches, rustlings and whines, a muezzin’s call, a baby’s cries, strange-sounding pop music blaring from tinny speakers. Cellphone ringtones from five years ago are drearily familiar. Two recent movies that impressed me with their sound design were Punchdrunk Love and Lost in Translation; A Mighty Heart makes three.

Yet for all this tension there isn’t really suspense, in terms of a story you can follow step by step. It’s just too complicated for a non-expert to be able to do that, given that this is a movie flying past rather than a book or news article. We’re given permission to relax on that point when, early on, we see Mariane (played by Angelina Jolie) take a large whiteboard and begin to diagram on it the names and connections of possible players. Every time that board reappears the diagram is more complicated and tangled with names, but apparently we’re meant simply to grasp that fact, rather than scrutinize and memorize. Catching all this data on the fly would be impossible, if only because of the confusion of names. A significant figure in Pearl’s kidnapping, for example, is Amed Omar Saeed Sheikh; he is also known as Omar Sheikh, Sheikh Omar, Sheikh Syed, as well as aliases “Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad” and “Bashir.” Characters toss around the names of other characters in a variety of accents and against a noisy background, so it’s no wonder that some points go flowing by. We end up staying on edge throughout the film, but without a sense of the story proceeding or developing.



Will Patton and Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart"

The film’s focus on Mariane is also limiting. The more tantalizing story would be the one about Pearl (excellently played by Dan Futterman), and we get hints of his character when, for example, he is seen in a kidnapper’s photo retaining a bold smile, despite the gun pointed at his head. In reenactments of the terrorists’ video Pearl is calm and quietly steadfast about his Jewish background, and even cites more proof of his heritage than his captors demand. The perhaps inevitable decision to tell the story from Mariane’s point of view, given that the film is based on Mariane’s book, means that it centers on a person who is going through something rather than one who is actively doing something. And there is something about Angelina Jolie that is intrinsically cold. The trait leaks from the actress to the character, so that we feel little emotional connection between Mariane and her friends and supporters. Maybe Angelina Jolie has become too much of a celebrity to pass as an actress anymore; even though her appearance and actions are subdued, compared to some other roles she’s played, the tabloid identity still tramples the character’s bounds.

Despite earlier hints that the film might treat terrorists sympathetically (Brad Pitt, one of the film’s producers, said he hoped it would “increase understanding” and tell the story “without anger or judgment”), A Mighty Heart reports events coolly, without provoking either tenderness or vengeful fury toward Pearl’s captors. It begins with the assumption that these horrible things are happening, and doesn’t justify or explain. The closest it comes to politicizing is when a newsclip depicts Colin Powell responding to the kidnappers’ demand that Guantanamo prisoners be released with the statement that they “are being treated humanely.” But this point is not belabored, and it’s clearly outnumbered by scenes depicting the cruelty and anti-Semitism of the terrorists. (They are forthrightly called “terrorists,” not fudge-terms like “militants.”) A Mighty Heart is an effective memoir of what it’s like to endure several weeks of that terror; but without emotionally grounded characters or a developing plot, it amounts to a still life — a peculiarly abrasive and miserable one.

Film Review: "A Mighty Heart"

Shattering Story Is Told Astutely In 'Mighty Heart'

Jolie Is Fierce, Tender


By JOE MORGENSTERN

The Wall Street Journal

June 22, 2007; Page W1



Dan Futterman and Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart"

Of the two powerful presences in "A Mighty Heart," only one gets star billing: Angelina Jolie gives a fierce and astute performance as Mariane Pearl, the wife of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was abducted and murdered by al Qaeda operatives in Karachi five years ago. The other presence is the city itself -- vast, throbbing with life, teeming with misery and, as depicted here, all but unfathomable to Westerners seeking to penetrate its secrets. This is a smart and serious film, however much it may also function as a star vehicle. The director, Michael Winterbottom, working from a script by John Orloff, has turned Mariane Pearl's memoir into a relentlessly intense drama about the search for her husband, as well as her search for meaning in his death. And the immediacy of the setting, heightened by documentary techniques, makes this a chastening film, a portrait of the explosive new world in which we live.

In her own portraiture, Ms. Jolie mixes tenderness with implacable toughness. She plays Mariane, a journalist herself and six months pregnant at the time, as a wife who loves her husband passionately, but a woman with no time or inclination for the niceties of behavior once it's clear he has been taken prisoner. At that point she becomes an obsessive organizer of the search, and a compulsive scourge of anyone who threatens to stand in her way. (One fatuous Pakistani functionary insists that the abduction is an Indian plot.) Given Angelina Jolie's celebrity, the obvious danger in such a take-no-prisoners style of acting was imposing herself on the real-life story, but that hasn't happened. To the contrary, the actress enters the character and stays there, even during her feral cries in the film's most harrowing scene.



Dan Futterman and Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart"

Daniel Pearl is played by Dan Futterman (who, oddly in this context, may be best known as the Oscar-nominated screen writer of "Capote"). The reporter is seen fleetingly, at first, as he arrives in Karachi from Islamabad, then goes to his fateful meeting with a supposedly legitimate source for a story he was doing on the shoe bomber Richard Reid. I didn't know Danny, so all I can say about Mr. Futterman's performance is that it, and his physical resemblance to his character, seem persuasive. But Danny's character seems persuasive too -- not a hero of the war on terror, as some have sought to cast him, and certainly not the incautious naïf that others have thought him to be, but a first-rate reporter of maturity, reflexive decency, insatiable curiosity, reasonable prudence and unreasonable dedication to finding the truth of whatever story he might have been working on.

Against most Hollywood odds, Danny Pearl's tragically truncated life story has fallen into good hands, thanks to the film's producers (first among them Brad Pitt) and to the filmmaker they entrusted with the production. For much of the past decade Michael Winterbottom, who was born in England, has been refining his agile style in such extraordinary films as "Welcome to Sarajevo" and "In This World," and in last year's "The Road to Guantanamo." It's a style that integrates drama and documentary footage, mixes professional with non-professional actors and yields a sense of place that's as vivid as anything seen on TV news.

On one occasion the stylist stumbled. "The Road to Guantanamo" was long on immediacy but short on factuality. And one aspect of the technique here amounts to tacit editorial comment. Through the use of oppressive close-ups, quick cuts, film-noir peeks into labyrinthine neighborhoods and long lenses that compress the confusion of Karachi's streets into pandemonium, the director and his Danish-born cameraman, Marcel Zyskind, have made the city seem endlessly menacing. What would the same locales have looked like if they'd been shot by a Third World filmmaker?

Yet the film's point of view is inevitably that of an outsider, which Danny Pearl was, and menace is the essence of this shattering story, which has been told with skill and urgent conviction. "A Mighty Heart" makes the terms of the terrorist threat palpable.

Jason Whitlock: NBA suffering from U.S. basketball's ills

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Sat, Jun. 16, 2007



Larry Bird and Magic Johnson


It’s going to take more than tweaking the playoff format to fix what is ailing the NBA.

The league that just 15 years ago thought it was on the cusp of catching the NFL in terms of U.S. and global relevance has now spiraled below baseball and could once again find itself a very distant third behind the NFL and MLB.

The just-completed NBA finals was the most-ignored championship series in the post-Magic-Larry-and-Michael era. The Spurs vs. the Cavaliers sparked little discussion, little drama and little television interest.

There are lots of theories about why this happened, including the one-sidedness of the series, the Spurs’ boring style of play, the weakness of the Cavaliers and the Eastern Conference, “The Sopranos” series finale, the overall number of cable viewing options. There is more than a kernel of truth in all of the theories.



Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 1991 NBA Finals.

But I think there is a bigger truth that is not being widely discussed on a consistent basis.

Basketball in the United States is in poor health. Our entire system needs to be overhauled to improve play and increase the passion of fans.

What has happened to American basketball is a prime example that freedom without vision is a dangerous thing. You can have too much freedom, and clearly the NBA is suffering the consequences of the freedom overload granted our players.

The good thing is that eventually the rank-and-file NBA players will begin to suffer financially, too. The current TV ratings are going to damage David Stern’s ability to negotiate the kind of TV contracts necessary to support the salaries of the average NBA player.



Michael Jordan after the Chicago Bulls claimed their sixth NBA title in 1998.

Yeah, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan will always get their money. The shoe companies will see to that. It’s the non-superstar — most of the league — who is going to get hurt, and that will force the NBA players association to work with Stern and the owners to fix basketball.

There are two major things, in my opinion, killing basketball right now: 1. AAU basketball; 2. early entry into the draft.

See, you can’t fix the NBA without first fixing college basketball. The players and David Stern must realize the healthier college basketball is the easier it will be for the NBA to regain its $ignificance.

Basketball fans are losing passion for the NBA because they haven’t been properly introduced to the league’s players.

LeBron James, allegedly, is a big star. He has a huge shoe contract. He’s featured in clever commercials. His face is recognized around the world. So why didn’t people tune in to see him play in the NBA finals?



Tim Duncan fights for a rebound with LeBron James during the 2007 NBA Finals.

Because basketball fans in Lawrence and Bloomington, Ind., and Durham, N.C., and all the other little basketball hotbeds don’t care about LeBron James. He didn’t play their game. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan built gigantic college followings and brought those passionate fans with them to the NBA.

Today’s players bring posses. The NBA players who visited a college campus for one or two years leave their disappointed fan bases behind.

Many college basketball fans hate the NBA. They see the league as an institution that undermines the college game by stealing its underdeveloped players. There are people who want to see the NBA fail. That’s not good. It’s not healthy for basketball.

Rather than whining that an age limit is racist, NBA players need to understand that requiring players to go to college is good for the league and will put money in everyone’s pockets down the road.

This year’s NBA draft has created more excitement and more discussion than any NBA draft since Patrick Ewing came out of Georgetown. Why?

Because the Florida Gators — Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford — stayed in college and won back-to-back titles before jumping to the NBA. Because Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were forced to spend one year in college.

We’re actually familiar with many of the players who will be in this year’s draft. We’ve seen them play. We listened to Dick Vitale overhype them for five straight months. Durant and Olden will help drive TV ratings when they hit the league.

The NBA needs an age limit of 21 and/or a rule requiring three years of college participation.



Greg Oden meets Bill Russell and Julius Erving during the 2007 NBA Finals.

The league and the players association also should work with the NCAA on doing something to eliminate AAU basketball. Our players are too raw and too difficult to coach because AAU basketball — and its undisciplined style of play — has become more important and influential than high school basketball.

I hate to keep using LeBron James as the example because I absolutely love his mental maturity and willingness to be coached, but he is an AAU player. AAU is the reason he doesn’t have a jump shot. AAU is the reason he’s so unskilled in the low post.

AAU is the reason Carmelo Anthony is one of the worst teammates you could have. Yes, he got lucky and won a national championship in college. Trust me, it was luck. His game isn’t about winning. It’s about putting up numbers. He can’t see the floor and what his teammates are doing because that’s not necessary in AAU ball.

Anyway, the NBA — players, owners and Stern — should think big picture when trying to fix what ails the league.

To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to jwhitlock@kcstar.com. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

KC Johnson: Due process for the 88



The Duke University Chronicle
Posted: 6/21/07

At last week's disciplinary hearing for Mike Nifong, Mecklenburg County Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow detected a possible positive outcome. "If this case," she testified, "has caused DAs to be more complete in turning over discovery, that's a good thing."



Peter Wood

In a best-case scenario, Goodenow's comment, slightly modified, could apply to campus life as well. Duke, like most universities, has a faculty handbook. It affirms that "students are fellow members of the University community, deserving of respect and consideration in their dealings with the faculty."

Too often during the past 15 months, some Duke professors have acted as if the Handbook's provisions did not apply to them. To take a few egregious examples: In August, history professor Peter Wood told The New Yorker that a lacrosse player had spoken favorably of genocide against Native Americans. Wood's evidence? An anonymous comment on a student evaluation form, which could have come from any of the 65 people in his class.



Karla Holloway

In January, English professor Karla Holloway sent a mass e-mail suggesting a heretofore unrevealed witness who would testify that racial slurs were uttered during the lacrosse party, perhaps even by one of the accused players. No such witness emerged.

In April, literature professor Grant Farred informed an audience at Williams College that unnamed lacrosse players had perjured themselves. Farred cited no evidence to substantiate his claim.



Grant Farred

It seems unlikely that Wood, Holloway or Farred ever will acknowledge their apparent breaches of the Handbook. Nor, it seems, will those who signed a January statement expressly refusing to apologize for the Group of 88's ad. The April 2006 document, which relied solely on the version of events presented by Nifong, affirmed that something "happened" to Crystal Mangum and thanked "the protestors making collective noise."

To paraphrase Goodenow, if the lacrosse case has caused professors at Duke, and other elite institutions, to show more respect for all their students, that's a good thing. Some signs do exist of precisely this effect. The highest-profile example, of course, came in January, when 17 economics professors issued a public letter expressing regret that, in light of the Group of 88's actions, "The Duke faculty is now seen as prejudiced against certain of its own students." The signatories promised to "welcome all members of the lacrosse team, and all student athletes, as we do all our students as fellow members of the Duke community, to the classes we teach and the activities we sponsor."

In one important respect, however, Goodenow's comments do not apply to the situation at Duke. Her testimony came in open court, as part of what Disciplinary Hearing Commission Chair Lane Williamson correctly described as an example of due process in action.

No procedure, on the other hand, has ever been established to examine the faculty's rush to judgment regarding lacrosse-related events. There was a time when President Richard Brodhead showed no reluctance to appoint investigative committees-in April 2006, after he canceled the season and demanded the resignation of former men's lacrosse head coach Mike Pressler, Brodhead appointed five committees to investigate the lacrosse team and issues surrounding the case.

But the president has shown little, if any, curiosity as to why-in the highest profile case of prosecutorial misconduct in modern American history-so many Duke professors made statements or took actions that attorneys for Duke students considered highly prejudicial to the victims of Nifong's misconduct.

Moreover, while Brodhead has publicly suggested on at least three occasions that critics of the Group of 88 misinterpreted the ad's words, the administration's actions reflect a different recognition. The recently signed settlement between Duke and the three accused players contained a clause shielding all members of the Group from potential lawsuits-an implicit recognition that the Group's critics might have been right all along.

In his closing remarks at the Nifong hearing, Williamson noted, "Those who made a rush to judgment based upon an unquestioning faith in what a prosecutor had told them were made to look foolish and many still do look foolish." Academics, of all people, should be able to resist the passions of the mob, avoid a rush to judgment and stand up for due process.

This week's settlement has minimized the institution's liability in acknowledging shortcomings in the faculty's Spring 2006 behavior. The Brodhead administration should take advantage and explore why so many of its faculty members found so appealing the metanarrative misleading offered last spring by Mike Nifong.

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Since last April, he has regularly commented on the Duke lacrosse case in his blog, "Durham in Wonderland."
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
© Copyright 2007 The Chronicle

Pressler gets to 'The Truth'

The former Duke lacrosse coach is back in Durham with copies of his new book

Anne Blythe, Staff Writer
News & Observer
22 June 2007



Former Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler gets a hug from supporter Sherry Hollcraft during his book signing.

DURHAM - Mike Pressler, the former Duke lacrosse coach, waited more than a year for the truth to come out about false accusations of sexual assault that cost him his job.

On Thursday -- in what has been a week full of news surrounding the Duke lacrosse case -- the coach-turned-author told a crowd of supporters at the Regulator Bookshop that he still awaits one thing: an apology.

"A big part of education is when you're wrong, you admit you're wrong," Pressler said.

Nearly 150 people packed the Regulator on Thursday evening to show support for a man who lost his job at the height of the outrage over an escort service dancer's false accusations that three lacrosse players raped her.

Pressler is on a book tour with Sports Illustrated writer Don Yaeger, who helped write "It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered."

Pressler's visit to Durham came in the same week that District Attorney Mike Nifong learned he would lose his law license and was removed from office.

Pressler regaled his followers with a few stories in the book and spoke about meeting Nifong's nephew at a lacrosse camp.

Many in the bookstore said Duke President Richard Brodhead and Athletics Director Joe Alleva should share some of the blame with Nifong.

"I'm embarrassed over our administration, the way they handled the situation," said Jean Senter, an administrator who has worked at Duke for 17 years. "It's just a shame. I think the Duke community needs to step up and make this right. They owe [the players and Pressler] that apology. When they expelled the three players and let Coach Pressler go, they were saying, 'They are guilty right now and don't get to prove their innocence.' "

The book-signing drew many in Durham who have kept up with every twist and turn in a case that grabbed the national media attention from the outset.

Eugene Brown, a Durham City councilman, came to ask about police interactions with the coach and players.

Sherry Hollcraft, a Duke basketball fan, showed up to support a man she said was treated "despicably."

"The whole team was treated with utmost rudeness," Hollcraft said. "It should never have happened. The only thing those boys were ever guilty of was just being boys. That's it."


Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or anne.blythe@newsobserver.com.

Pressler says police used coercive tactics



The Herald-Sun/Bernard Thomas

Former Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler (center) and author Dan Yaeger (left) sign their book “It’s Not About the Truth” at the Regulator Bookshop Thursday for Boyd Vicars (right) of Durham.


BY RAY GRONBERG : The Durham Herald-Sun
gronberg@heraldsun.com
Jun 22, 2007 : 8:33 am ET

Durham police investigating the Duke lacrosse case used coercive tactics against players on the team, but are due for a comeuppance, former Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler told a capacity crowd Thursday at The Regulator Bookshop.

Pressler, in town to promote "It's Not About the Truth," the book about the case he co-authored with writer Don Yaeger, said police investigators were intent on getting team members to "say certain things" to corroborate a phony rape charge regardless of whether they were true.

But he noted that the detectives who led the Durham Police Department's probe, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb and Investigator Ben Himan, recently procured a lawyer through the N.C. Police Benevolent Association.

Seeing that, "I remember [then-District Attorney] Mike Nifong saying why would we need attorneys if we're not guilty," said Pressler, who lost his job last year three weeks after a 28-year-old stripper lodged the false allegation. "I wanted to say to them, 'Have you ever heard of an innocent person going to jail?' "

Pressler added that the police responsible for botching the case are "going to get their's in the end."

The former coach's comments came in answer to a question from City Councilman Eugene Brown, one of the officials who's pushed for an outside review of the Police Department's handling of the case.

Pressler was also asked what he'd say to the now-disbarred-and-suspended Nifong if he stood next to the former prosecutor.

After quipping that he'd likely "be doing a whole lot" rather than saying a whole lot, Pressler said he'd ask Nifong why he pursued a trumped-up case.

"Was your pension worth this? Was your political game worth this, for all the agony and pain and dishonor you did to so many people here, to those three boys, to those families, to all the players, the former coach, you, the city of Durham?" Pressler said.

He added that Nifong's actions stigmatized an entire state.

"I'm a Yankee now, back up in Rhode Island [coaching at Bryant University], and they look at the state of North Carolina now as a disgrace because of this, and this one man," he said.

Yaeger accompanied Pressler and offered some similarly pointed criticism of Duke University officials, who he said were caught flat-footed by the allegation and proved unable to craft any real strategy for dealing with it.

The parent of one player accurately described the university's response by saying "Duke was playing one-move chess," Yaeger said. "There was no vision. They didn't know where the game was going to end. It was 'You move, now I've got to move.' Everything was about reaction. There was no thought that, 'If we maintain this position, we'll end up here.' That never happened."

Duke appears likely to emulate a number of other schools that have studied the lacrosse case and moved to better define "the rules of engagement" for handling incidents involving student-athletes, Yaeger said.

But officials there continue to duck hard questions and in particular are actively shielding school President Richard Brodhead from anyone who might ask them, he said.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mini-Series Revisits the Yankees’ Melodrama During the Summer of ’77



Richard Perry/The New York Times
From left, Jimmy Breslin; John Turturro, who played Billy Martin; Leonard Robinson (Mickey Rivers); and Erik Jensen (Thurman Munson).



By RICHARD SANDOMIR
The New York Times
Published: June 21, 2007

LITTLE FALLS, N.J., June 20 — Joe Grifasi was at the Yogi Berra Museum here Wednesday explaining his approach to portraying Berra in “The Bronx Is Burning,” the eight-part miniseries on ESPN that begins July 9.

“Never raise your voice,” said Grifasi, who found Yogi’s voice in its serenity and simplicity. “He never yells.”

Yogi is the Zen foil to Billy Martin (played by John Turturro) in the miniseries. “With Yogi, there aren’t many moving parts, the ones that are are important,” Grifasi said. “I just had to listen to John yell and when he was done, give him a look or say, ‘Are you through?’ ”

There is a reason why Berra’s ears are big.

“He listens a lot,” Grifasi said.

Moments later, Berra was asked what he thought of excerpts he had just seen of “The Bronx Is Burning,” which focuses largely on the fractious Martin-Reggie Jackson-George Steinbrenner psychodrama in 1977, but is also about the hunt for the Son of Sam serial killer, the mayoral race, which Ed Koch won, and the devastating blackout (and ensuing looting) that July.


John Turturro as Billy Martin. Turturro wore latex ears to approximate Martin’s.

“I’d like to know what Yogi thinks,” someone asked Berra.

“Right now?” he said, repurposing an old answer to being asked the time.

“See?” said Grifasi, as if to say that Yogi is best at playing Yogi.

Grifasi’s Berra is a small role, supporting the big three. Oliver Platt’s Steinbrenner is a broadly drawn villain and consummate seducer who tortures the fragile Martin, who either is the team’s savior or is easily replaceable. Jackson, as played by Daniel Sunjata, is oblivious to the effects that his ego has on his teammates. And Turturro’s Martin is full of anger, insecurities, agony and spirituality.

“It was a little haunting; you’re chasing a ghost,” Turturro said, sitting with Grifasi on a panel of actors, Yankee beat writers of the time and Jimmy Breslin, whose columns about the Son of Sam in The Daily News riveted readers during that summer of fear.

“There was something about Billy that people gravitated toward,” Turturro said. “He was such a raw, exposed person.”

Turturro wore jutting prosthetic ears to better resemble Martin and in the film he alternately looks haggard, desperate, feral and prepared to attack. He said he internalized Martin’s combativeness to the point that during a long night of filming in Connecticut, he challenged an assistant director to a fistfight.

“I said, ‘I’ll meet you in the parking lot,’ ” he said. There was no chance of Turturro, as Martin, slugging a marshmallow salesman; that notable Martin bar fight occurred two years after the time period shown in the miniseries.



The rocky relationship among Martin, Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, played by Oliver Platt, left, is a main thread of the show. Right, Platt talking with former third baseman Graig Nettles, a consultant for the project. "Oliver's got George," Nettles said.

Phil Pepe, who covered the Yankees for The Daily News, first encountered Turturro in a trailer outside Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn.

“As I approached, he had his back to me, in his Yankee uniform,” Pepe said. “He was so Billy Martin. I got chills. His shoulders were slumped. His hands were in his back pockets. Just like Billy. He had the same way of speaking.”

One incident that ESPN recreates is the Sport magazine interview in which Jackson declared himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” Jackson spoke to the writer Robert Ward (who plays himself) in the spring; the story came out in May 1977 and galvanized the team’s antipathy toward him.

Maury Allen, the beat writer for The New York Post, said his initial response to Ward’s scoop was to say, “Eh, there go those magazine writers,” but as reaction, especially Thurman Munson’s, snowballed, he wondered why Jackson spoke to a freelancer he did not know. Steve Jacobson of Newsday said that Jackson had showcased his self-importance in many ways before, but that the article served as a “gross magnification of what he’d said to us.”

Jacobson, Allen and Pepe, played by actors in the miniseries, are the journalistic sounding boards of Martin and Steinbrenner.

Breslin, played by Michael Rispoli, is the critical journalist shown in the film. He received the crazed and disturbing letter from David Berkowitz, which Berkowitz signed “Son of Sam” and in which he revealed his fixation on the columnist.

Even today, Breslin said, if there was another serial killer who claimed to take homicidal instructions from a dog, he would send letters to Breslin.

Breslin knew his sports (he wrote a book about the hapless 1962 Mets), but on the panel he said that he did not pay much attention to the 1977 Yankees.



Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson in ESPN’s miniseries “The Bronx Is Burning,” an account of the Yankees’ 1977 season.

“I didn’t know anything,” he said. “I heard at the end of the year that Reggie Jackson hit home runs. There was a lot going on.”

Yet in one of the episodes in the miniseries, ESPN shows Rispoli, as Breslin, typing out a column about Berkowitz while watching a Yankees-Red Sox game in which Jackson hit a home run.

Nonetheless, the real Breslin said: “I didn’t not pay attention out of not wanting to know my surroundings. But the Yankees didn’t shoot anybody.”

Phil Rogers: Blast puts Sosa in rare company

Long-ball late bloomer reaches exclusive club of 600 home runs

Chicago Tribune
June 21, 2007



Sammy Sosa acknowledges cheers from fans as he walks back toward the dugout with his Texas teammates after hitting his 600th career home run off the Cubs' Jason Marquis.


Sammy Sosa shined shoes on the streets of the Dominican Republic as a child. In the future, only the greatest of sluggers will be able to follow in his footsteps.

On Wednesday night in Arlington, Texas, Sosa became only the fifth player to hit 600 home runs in his career — no mean feat for a kid who arrived in professional baseball undernourished and appreciated as much for his smile and his speed as anything he could do with a bat.

In the fifth inning, off Cubs right-hander Jason Marquis, Sosa took a 1-2 pitch barely into the bullpen in right-center field for the Texas Rangers. It finished an 18-year climb to a milestone previously reached only by Henry Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, rewarding Sosa for returning to baseball after appearing to retire in 2006.

Like Bonds and Mark McGwire, Sosa will present a dilemma for Hall of Fame voters and historians because of suspicions that he fueled his late-career surge in power through the use of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone or other performance-enhancing substances that were in wide-spread use in the 1990s and, at the least, first years of this decade.

Unlike Bonds and McGwire, Sosa never has been tied even to circumstantial evidence about the use of steroids. En route to a 66-homer season in 1998, he told reporters he used nothing stronger than "Flintstone vitamins," and despite Sosa's bulk and strength, that claim never has been disproved.

Like Bonds, Sosa once raced through home-run milestones. He hit his 300th in 1999, his 400th in 2001 and his 500th in 2003, all during a historic run in which he hit 292 home runs in five years. But as his power slipped, his image crashed—largely the result of a suspension for using a corked bat in 2003—and he experienced a series of injuries. Because of this, Sosa lost his realistic chance to join Bonds in pursuing Aaron's career record of 755 home runs.



Sosa breaks his bat June 3, 2003, in a game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, exposing an illegal corked center. He was thrown out of the game and suspended eight games. He denied he used the bat on purpose, but rather that he unknowingly grabbed the bat he normally used during batting practice to put on a show for the fans.

In 2004, his final season with the Cubs, Sosa hit 35 homers in 126 games, production that so disappointed him he ducked out of the clubhouse early on the last day, angered his manager, Dusty Baker and set in motion a trade that sent him to Baltimore. He had only 14 homers in 102 games for the Orioles in 2005 and after the season decided he didn't want to play anymore.

He took a season off before signing a minor-league contract with the Rangers last winter. He said the season off had re-energized him and he has seemed to benefit from a reunion with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who was his manager in rookie ball. He currently is batting .243 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs in 62 games.

Sosa began his career with Texas after being discovered at a tryout by Omar Minaya, now the general manager of the New York Mets. Sandy Johnson, then the Rangers' scouting director, offered him a contract based on his raw ability and the work ethic he saw as he watched Sosa sell oranges and shine shoes on the streets of San Pedro de Macoris.

Sosa reached the big leagues at age 19, batting leadoff and playing center field in his major-league debut at Yankee Stadium. He homered off Boston's Roger Clemens in his first week with Texas but wasn't projected to develop into a prolific home-run hitter. Otherwise he wouldn't have been traded twice in his first four big-league seasons, going to the White Sox in a three-player package for Harold Baines and then on to the Cubs for George Bell.

Sosa had homered only once every 24 at-bats in his first six seasons but learned to drive the ball consistently as he settled into his big-league career. His breakout season came in 1995, when he homered 36 times in a season that was reduced to 144 games by the player strike that wiped out the World Series the year before. He made his next big jump in 1998, the second year that he worked with hitting coach Jeff Pentland.

While it was McGwire who wound up with the single-season homer record of 70 in '98, Sosa challenged him to the final day of the season. He briefly led on the final Friday, when he hit his 66th homer before McGwire would pile on five in St. Louis' season-ending series against Montreal. Sosa followed up that season with 63 homers in 1999 and 64 in 2001.

Sosa never seemed to stop growing while with the Cubs, seemingly reporting to camp bigger every spring. His physique and the ease with which he hit home runs led to suspicions that he was using steroids or other performance-enhancing substances but the whispers didn't stop the Cubs from signing him to a $72-million contract in the spring of 2002, keeping him off the free-agent market.

None of his former teammates ever has accused Sosa publicly of steroid use, but Mark Grace frequently has stopped just short.

"I can only say when the allegations and suspicions arose, it didn't surprise me," Grace said in 2004.



A long way from the summer of 1998 lovefest, Sosa is sworn in before a Congressional hearing on steroids on March 17, 2005.

Jim Riggleman, who managed the Cubs in 1995-99, admits he now has his doubts but never investigated where Sosa got his bulk.

"I think I was very naïve about what happened back in those days with steroids, and whatever," said Riggleman, who is now the field coordinator for St. Louis' farm system. "That subject never came up at the time, only Mark McGwire's [androstenedione], which was legal. … We looked at it like Sammy was doing something to maintain his weight, maybe he had something going like Mark does. The big thing at the time was creatine. We felt like the guys who were big and strong, maybe they were using creatine. … Steroids for us were more under the radar."

Pentland insists Sosa was a product of hard work and natural ability, not steroids.

"Sammy was a good player who got better through our work," said Pentland, now the Seattle Mariners' hitting coach. "He was very diligent. … He might have been the hardest worker I've ever had, actually. His body, he had tremendous flexibility, not just strength. He was never hurt. He played every game. Those things tell me he wasn't on steroids, from what I hear."

Frequently calling himself "a gladiator," Sosa hated being out of the lineup. He avoided the disabled list for an eight-year stretch when he was at his peak, twice playing the full 162 games in a season.



Sosa goes into his signature hop after knocking out his 64th home run on the final day of the 2001 season in -- what else? -- a Cubs loss. He is the only player to hit 60 or more home runs three times.

Sosa's first-inning sprints in front of the right-field bleachers and kisses to the television cameras were popular with fans at Wrigley Field. His home runs contributed to the Cubs annually outdrawing the White Sox despite taking a pounding in the standings. The Cubs won only one division title in the Sosa era, and it was pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior who supplanted Sosa as leading men that season.

Sosa's image crashed when he was caught using a corked bat against Tampa Bay's Geremi Gonzalez in 2003 and even his good health left him in '04, when he suffered the embarrassment of going on the DL after hurting his back while sneezing.

Sosa rarely bonded with teammates. Enjoying the perks of celebrity, he seemed to mix better with celebrities and world leaders than utility men and minimum-wage relievers. That lack of popularity left him without many allies when his production slipped, making him an easier target for reporters and fans.

When he ducked out of the clubhouse early on the final day of the 2004 season, an unnamed teammate demolished Sosa's boom box, which for years had played loudly in the clubhouse. Sosa's value had fallen so much that the Cubs were forced to pick up $17 million of the $25 million in earned in 2005, when he played for Baltimore. The Cubs had become the third team to trade him away.

"The honeymoon was over," Grace said at the time. "He let them down. Other than Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg, there was not a more sacred Cub than Sammy. But Sammy is no longer the begotten son, and he has nobody but himself to blame."

Sosa remains the Cubs' all-time leader with 545 home runs, 33 more than Ernie Banks. Hack Wilson is the only hitter in franchise history with a higher slugging percentage but Sosa's legacy also includes a club-record 1,815 strikeouts.

progers@tribune.com

Irshad Manji: Islam the problem

The irrational response to Salman Rushdie's knighthood is sadly typical

The Australian
June 21, 2007



Salmon Rushdie and his wife, actress Padma Lakshmi

GROWING up in Vancouver, I attended an Islamic school every Saturday. There, I learned that Jews can't be trusted because they worship "moolah, not Allah", meaning money, not God. According to my teacher, every last Jew is consumed with business.
But looking around my neighbourhood, I noticed that most of the new business signs featured Asian languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Punjabi and plenty of Urdu. Not Hebrew, Urdu, which is spoken throughout Pakistan.

That reality check made me ask: What if my religious school isn't educating me? What if it's indoctrinating me?

I'm reminded of this question thanks to the news that Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and 10 other works of fiction, will be knighted by the Queen.

On Monday, Pakistan's religious affairs minister said that because Rushdie had blasphemed Islam with provocative literature, it was understandable that angry Muslims would commit suicide bombings over his knighthood.

Members of parliament, as well as the Pakistani Government, amplified the condemnation of Britain, feeding cries of offence to Muslim sensibilities from Europe to Asia.

As a Muslim, you better believe I'm offended - by these absurd reactions.

I'm offended that it is not the first time honours from the West have met with vitriol and violence. In 1979, Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam became the first Muslim to win the Nobel Prize in science. He began his acceptance speech with a verse from the Koran.

Salam's country ought to have celebrated him. Instead, rioters tried to prevent him from re-entering the country. Parliament even declared him a non-Muslim because he belonged to a religious minority. His name continues to be controversial, invoked by state authorities in hushed tones.

I'm offended that every year, there are more women killed in Pakistan for allegedly violating their family's honour than there are detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Muslims have rightly denounced the mistreatment of Gitmo prisoners. But where's our outrage over the murder of many more Muslims at the hands of our own?

I'm offended that in April, mullahs at an extreme mosque in Pakistan issued a fatwa against hugging.

The country's female tourism minister had embraced - or, depending on the account you follow, accepted a congratulatory pat from - her skydiving instructor after she successfully jumped in a French fundraiser for the victims of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. Clerics announced her act of touching another man to be "a great sin" and demanded she be fired.

I'm offended by their fatwa proclaiming that women should stay at home and remain covered at all times.

I'm offended that they've bullied music store owners and video vendors into closing up shop.

I'm offended that the Government tiptoes around their craziness because these clerics threaten suicide attacks if confronted.

I'm offended that on Sunday, at least 35 Muslims in Kabul were blown to bits by other Muslims and on Tuesday, 80 more in Baghdad by Islamic "insurgents", with no official statement from Pakistan to deplore these assaults on fellow believers.

I'm offended that amid the internecine carnage, a professed atheist named Salman Rushdie tops the to-do list.



A demonstration in 1989 brought thousands of British Muslims to London's Hyde Park to protest against Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses".

Above all, I'm offended that so many other Muslims are not offended enough to demonstrate widely against God's self-appointed ambassadors. We complain to the world that Islam is being exploited by fundamentalists, yet when reckoning with the opportunity to resist their clamour en masse, we fall curiously silent.

In a battle between flaming fundamentalists and mute moderates, who do you think is going to win?

I'm not saying that standing up to intimidation is easy. This past spring, the Muslim world made it that much more difficult.

A 56-member council of Islamic countries pushed the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution against the "defamation of religion". Pakistan led the charge. Focused on Islam rather than on faith in general, the resolution allows repressive regimes to squelch freedom of conscience further - and to do so in the guise of international law.

On occasion, though, the people of Pakistan show that they don't have to be muzzled by clerics and politicians.

Last year, civil society groups vocally challenged a set of anti-female laws, three decades old and supposedly based on the Koran. Their religiously respectful approach prompted even mullahs to hint that these laws are man-made, not God-given. This month, too, Pakistanis forced their Government to lift restrictions on the press. No wonder my own book, translated into Urdu and posted on my website, is being downloaded in droves. Religious authorities won't let it be sold in the markets. But they can't stop Pakistanis - or other Muslims - from satiating a genuine hunger for ideas.

In that spirit, it's high time to ban hypocrisy under the banner of Islam. Rushdie is not the problem. Muslims are.

After all, the very first bounty on Rushdie's head was worth $US2 million. It rose to $US 2.5 million.

Then came higher reward numbers. The chief benefactor, Iran's government, claimed that the money had been profitably invested. Looks like Jews are not the only people handy at business.

Irshad Manji is creator of the new documentary Faith Without Fear. She is author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith (Random House Australia).