Sunday, January 29, 2006

Maybe Interesting (Maybe Not)

So there is this thing that bloggers do to each other called "tagging" with a meme. Being relatively new to blogging, I don't really know what a meme is, so I checked out the Wikkipedia definition and other than learning that it rhymes with theme, rather than femme as I had assumed, it wasn't much help. The meme with which I have been tagged requires me to list 10 interesting things about myself. That's a rather tall order. I don't know if I can think of 10 interesting things about myself, so, if necessary, I will fill out the list with some uninteresting items:

1. I was born into an Amish family and had a "crockhead" haircut until I was 10 years old when my parents left the Amish church.

2. When I was 7 or 8 years old, and my next brother 18 months younger, we used to steal my father's cigarettes from the corn crib where he hid them from my mother, and smoke them behind the barn, a pack at a time without getting sick. (I think we must not have inhaled, something else I have in common with Bill Clinton besides being born in August, 1946.)

3. When I was 12 or 13, I used to wear my Sunday dress shoes to milk our cow, and not realize that getting them milk-spotted was not a cool thing to do, until an elderly neighbor lady for whom my brother and I used to pick up sticks kindly cleaned them up for me and told me to put on my work shoes to milk the cow.

4. In 1965, my cousin and I went to Flint, MI to work in a hospital as conscientious objectors instead of going into the military.

5. On December 25, 1965, a nurse at the hospital tore a button off my shirt trying to pull me under a sprig of mistletoe. I was a fool in 1965, but I am a quick learner and have lost no buttons for similar reasons since then.

6. I saw Richard Nixon in January, 1969 at his inauguration in Washington, D.C. as he went whizzing down Pennsylvania Avenue in his limousine while I and other anti-war protesters yelled at him.

7. In the spring of 1970, I impressed the woman who was to become my wife by reciting the entire 23 minutes of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant. She married me the following year.

8. Starting with high school when I worked before and after school and on Saturdays in my father's farm equipment dealership, I have held the following jobs for pay for at least one week or more: bookkeeper, hospital maintenance man, radio announcer, Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman, mover, mucker, ice cream salesman, newspaper reporter, lawyer.

9. I have two sons who are way smarter than me. No grandchildren in sight.

10. I think George W. Bush is the worst president of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Movie Report: The Squid and the Whale

The professional reviewers call Noah Baumbach's latest film, The Squid and the Whale, "literary autobiography." After the redefinition of truth that James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" has wrought on our culture, I guess that means it's autobiography that has been jazzed up to make it more interesting. (For a more in-depth discussion of "literary autobiography," read Elaine P. Maimon's article.)

The movie is about a divorcing New York City couple in 1986, who are competing with each other as writers and as parents. The father is a novelist and a professor, but his last published novel was years ago. He is still coasting on the recognition it brought him. The wife is up and coming professionally, with a newly-published New Yorker article and a book about to be published. The two sons, caught in the middle, are 17 and 14 and "act up" as the psychologists say, because of the family pain.

Although I love to read books and am an avid New Yorker fan, if all authors were like these people, I would seriously consider giving up reading and taking up hunting or something as a hobby. How could people as clueless as these write anything remotely interesting? The father, played by Jeff Daniels, is, maybe slightly more despicable than the mother, Laurey Linney, but neither are people you would want to spend much time with. The self-centeredness, the name-dropping, the one-upmanship, the attempt to impress with meaningless literary blather.

Baumbach's parents are well known film critics, Georgia Brown, who writes for The Village Voice, and Jonathan Baumbach, who has written 10 novels, none of whom I had ever heard. If I were Noah's parents, I would want to sue for his depiction of the family. If this is the essential truth (if not the literal truth) of what Baumbach's family was like growing up, he has a little of my sympathy, although not very much, because, after all, this is his second major movie, the other one being "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," which came out in December, 2004, and he is married to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was named as one of America's 10 most beautiful women in 1986 by Harper's Bazaar Magazine. Really, how bad could life be for Baumbach?

When I suggested seeing this movie last weekend, my wife said, "I'm not planning on getting a divorce." Well, duh, when I went to see "Fun With Dick and Jane," I wasn't planning on robbing a bank either. Despite my disgust with the characters, I thought the movie was well done and highly recommend it. For anyone with children contemplating a divorce, I would say see the movie before you shell out the money for half a dozen marital counseling sessions. I gave it four stars.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Movie Report: Fun With Dick and Jane

I know the professional reviewers don't think much of the movie, "Fun With Dick and Jane," but I loved it. Jim Carrey returns to "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective" form after a string of movies that I didn't much like, such as "The Mask," "The Cable Guy," and "Me, Myself and Irene." The movie is a send-up of the Enron, World Com and other corporate scandals in which high-flying corporations are cooking the books to make it appear they are profitable, and, then, when the inevitable crash comes, the southern good-old-boys escape with their billions while the employees and stock holders lose everything.

Dick and Jane turn to crime to make ends meet after Dick gets a short-lived promotion to vice president of communications of the fictional corporation, "Globodyne," that quickly turns sour when Globodyne's fraudulent books are exposed. Increasingly desperate to maintain their yuppie lifestyle on no income, Dick and Jane sell off their furniture, their high definition tv, and finally, have their lawn repossessed. A recurring funny bit is their six-year-old son's Spanish accent after having been raised by an Hispanic maid while the parents were off climbing their respective corporate ladders.

Dick and Jane start out robbing Starbucks of a couple of lattes and fat-free muffins with their son's water pistol, but quickly escalate to convenience stores and banks. In the end they figure out how to take back for the Globodyne pensioners some of the hundreds of millions of dollars the head of the company, played with exquisite glee by Alec Baldwin, had stashed away in an off-shore bank. Would that the real-life former employees of Enron had figured out a way to liberate some of the money Kenny Boy Lay got away with.

I know it will infuriate one of my regular readers who has forgotten more about movies than I will ever know, but I gave this movie four stars out of a maximum of five. Dick and Jane would be proud.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Theater Report: An Almost Holy Picture

I heard (and saw) two sermons Sunday. The first, during our regular church service lasted about 30 minutes, and after the first 15 minutes, I was frequently glancing at my watch, wandering how much longer this is going to go on. It was about "stewardship," which in Christian parlance means, donate more money to the church. That's about all I remember about it. The second was Sunday night at The Station Theater where I saw "An Almost Holy Picture," and it lasted for almost two hours, without me glancing at my watch even once. Our group retired afterwards to my brother's house, The Middle One, where we ate bread pudding and talked about the play for another hour. Such is the power of presentation.

The New York critics didn't like "An Almost Holy Picture," which played on Broadway with Kevin Bacon doing the one-man performance. I don't think it's just because our local acting genius, Gary Ambler, is that much better than Kevin Bacon that my reaction to the play was different from the New York critics.

Samuel Gentle, like the Samuel in the Bible, heard God's voice at a young age, saying "Follow me," the first experience that shaped his idea of God. He became a priest in an Episcopal parish in the desert in New Mexico, where he had his second spiritual experience when he came upon a woman howling at God, "The hell with you!" He learns about prayer from the woman who explains to him that God has her undivided attention when she goes into the desert and howls at him. A tragedy in which nine children on a church bus are killed when there is an accident causes Samuel to leave the priesthood and return to New England to become the caretaker of the grounds of a cathedral, The Church of the Holy Comforter.

Gentle doesn't find much comfort, however, when after three miscarriages, his wife, Miriam bears a daughter, who has a rare disease that causes her body to be covered with fine hair. That is his third spiritual experience, as he loves her with a father's "spectacular love," and tries to shield her from the hurt that he thinks she will experience from an insensitive world.

In the course of trying to protect his daughter from pain, however, Gentle winds up causing even worse pain, and his realization that he has to allow her to be herself is his fourth, unexpected spiritual experience.

Although my description of the play may make it seem maudlin, and although it is moving at times, it also has humor, and ends on a hopeful note. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to have a spiritual experience more uplifting than the admonition to give more money to the church.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reflections on Martin Luther King Day

Who would have thought 40 years ago, that someday in the United States, the schools, banks, and government offices would be closed to celebrate Martin Luther King Day? Growing up in rural central Illinois, we didn't have a race problem, we didn't think. We were blissfully isolated and blissfully ignorant.

There were no blacks in our area. The only blacks I ever saw were in the line of cars heading south on U.S. Route 45, going from Chicago to Mississippi on Friday nights of holiday weekends and heading north again on Sunday nights. In that pre-expressway era, cars would back up for a mile from the four-way stop in Arcola on holiday nights, all heading one way; south on Fridays and north on Sundays. Legend (couldn't call it an "urban legend" in a village of 2,000) had it that there was a law that blacks could not stay overnight in Arcola. I don't know why any would have wanted to, the only accommodations being a dilapidated hotel used as a flophouse by bums. Besides we were only 2-1/2 hours south of Chicago, the trip having barely gotten started on Friday nights when they came cruising through our town, and almost over on Sunday nights on the way back. I had never spoken to a black person until after I left home in 1965.

Despite growing up in a home without television, and the radio in the barn being tuned to a country music station that didn't bother with the news, we were at least dimly aware of the racial upheaval in the south. Our local weekly newspaper carried no national news, but we also received a small daily, from which a little national news seeped through the agricultural news and comics in which we were mainly interested. And we received other periodicals, like Capper's Weekly and The Reader's Digest that would occasionally have some items about the struggles in the south.

I knew enough to have opinions about Martin Luther King and civil rights laws, and I didn't think much of either. I absorbed the attitudes of the culture around me, and thought that MLK was a communist agitator, and that if blacks didn't like life in the good old U.S. of A, why they should just go back to Africa. Several years ago, I found an essay I had written in around 1963 or 1964 about civil rights laws in which I opined that although Negroes should have equal rights, things could not possibly change until hearts were changed, and laws could not do that, only Christ could do that.

Of course I was wrong, as I have frequently been over the years. The white Christians of the south (and many in the north) were quite content with the status quo. They were getting saved and reading their bibles, front to back, but all the salvation in the world was doing nothing for the plight of blacks who were not permitted to eat in white restaurants, use rest rooms marked for whites, use public swimming pools or attend schools with whites. In fact, they were reading scripture to justify segregation. Only when the laws were changed to make segregation illegal, did the plight of blacks in the south improve.

One can only speculate whether the laws would have been changed if Martin Luther King had not accepted the burden of leadership of the civil rights movement. Change was already happening before MLK became prominent. President Truman had integrated the armed forces after the Second World War. The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 declared that segregated schools were inherently unequal and ordered public schools to be integrated. Although John F. Kennedy had proposed an equal voting rights bill, the bill was going nowhere in Congress when he was assasinated. Lyndon Johnson was a southerner, who had repeatedly pledged to fight for segregation, but even more deeply felt than his southern heritage was his desire to be a successful politician, and after he became president, he pushed through the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a way of getting the support of the northern liberals who were suspicious of him. My own speculation is that the times were ripe for change, and that if MLK had not been available to lead the civil rights movement at the time he did, someone else would have done so. That is not to detract from his achievements. Only MLK could have preached the "I Have a Dream," speech, probably the greatest speech of the modern era, and it would be worth celebrating Martin Luther King Day for that speech alone.

My own change of heart occurred fairly rapidly. Within five years of writing my ignorant essay, I was one of the agitators, going to South Side Virginia to help organize blacks and to get them registered to vote, supporting Shirley Chisholm in her quixotic campaign for the presidency. My transformation occurred simply as a result of getting out of my isolated coccoon, reading some real newspapers to find out what was going on in the rest of the world, actually getting to know some blacks, and, frankly, the excitement of being part of a movement that was changing society.

In my law practice, I have wound up doing a lot of civil rights work. One of my first trials was an employment discrimination case against the University of Illinois in behalf of a black fireman who couldn't get promoted. His supervisor had made a comment that "I'm never going to promote that nigger." It was the first civil rights case the University had ever lost. As a result of the publicity in that case and word of mouth, I got many civil rights cases. I had some other successes, and also some defeats. Over the years, it has gotten harder and harder to win civil rights cases, as society, and the judges appointed to hear such cases have become more conservative. Richard Nixon was a conservative Republican president but on civil rights issues, he was a flaming liberal compared to The Lying Turd we have in office now, and the judges that Nixon appointed were liberals compared to the judges appointed by Clinton and TLT. It has gotten discouraging to have to turn down 99 percent of the civil rights cases that come to me because although what the potential clients experienced might have been because of their race the law has gotten so restrictive that we could never get the case even to trial.

Although I fully support setting aside a day to honor Martin Luther King, I do not attend the local MLK Day celebrations anymore. I get tired of listening to university and city and county bigshots making speeches and giving and receiving awards in the name of MLK while they preside over systems that discriminate on the basis of race every day. If we really want to transform society so that it is colorblind, then let's do something to enforce the laws. Maybe even pass some new laws. But, above all, get some judges who have a passion for justice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Stories and Lies: "A Million Little Pieces"

I was a 12-year-old brat who should have been knocked on my heels by my father for my impudence. My father was a good story teller. And, like all good story tellers, he changed the details sometimes, depending on the audience and the occasion. As a 12-year-old snot-nosed literal-minded little Christian, I could not abide my father's inaccuracies. So, I would helpfully correct him in the middle of a joke or an anecdote that I had heard before, saying, "No, Dad, that's not right," and proceed to tell the story the exact same way I had heard it the last time he told it. I don't recall him ever getting angry or rebuking me for my interference, but then again, how could he when telling the truth was one of the virtues that he espoused?

I am still not a good story teller, in comparison with my father, or my brother, The Sensible One. But I have learned that lightning does not automatically bolt from the sky the second that a story is embellished a little for dramatic effect. In fact, even in the Bible, stories are often told differently, depending on who is doing the telling and who is the apparent audience.

So, I find the brouhaha about "A Million Little Pieces," the supposed "true" memoir that has been on the New York Times best seller list for 17 weeks and sold more than 3.5 million copies very interesting. The book has been touted on the Oprah Winfrey show and other places as "raw" non-fiction. The author, James Frey, claims to be a reformed drug addict and dealer who had multiple run-ins with the law and spent long stretches in prison. He portrays himself as a tough guy, tough talking and tough acting. The Smoking Gun, an internet web site that specializes in publishing police reports and mug shots of the famous and weird, did an investigation, speaking with police agencies and people about whom Frey wrote and determined that much of the book is composed of gross exaggeration, if not outright lies. The site is at: The Smoking Gun
Other media have now investigated and it turns out that Frey took his book manuscript to Doubleday, wanting to have it published as either fiction or non-fiction and Doubleday decided to publish and market it as a non-fiction memoir. Doubleday chose to publish it as a memoir, apparently, because right now memoirs are hot with the reading public. Books that would be mediocre as fiction, become hot properties when the public thinks they are true stories of what actually happened to someone. Frey admitted to The Smoking Gun that he exaggerated some details of the book because of dramatic effect, but his lawyers threatened to sue if The Smoking Gun called Frey a liar.

Another book of the same ilk is "Running With Scissors," by Augusten Burroughs. It was on the New York Times bestseller list as a non-fiction memoir for close to 100 weeks, and also earned millions of dollars for its author and publisher. When our reading group read it about two years ago, I complained that I did not believe it to be truthful. The story of Burrough's childhood, growing up in his mother's psychiatrist's crazy household did not have the ring of versimilitude to me. I thought the key to the book was in the last chapter in which Burroughs described his current profession in the advertising business as a professional liar. I thought it was a message that the book was a bunch of lies. It turns out I was not the only person questioning the truthfulness of Burroughs's account of his life. In an article in Salon reviewer Priya Jahn asks the question, "What if Burroughs made it all up? What if he isn't the train wreck, the victim, the innocent bystander who overcame the odds?" It turns out the surviving members of the family with whom Burroughs lived say exactly that and have filed a lawsuit against him alleging libel, fraud and other things. I haven't researched the outcome of the lawsuit.

I have previously complained on these pages about the fictionalized portions of Bob Woodward's insider books about Washington. I think it is unethical for authors and publishers to sell books on the premise that what is contained in them is essentially true. I hope I'm not still being the 12-year-old jerk, who insists on complete literalism to the point of taking the life out of the narrative flow of a good story. But surely a true story can be told truthfully, even if sometimes one has to go with the larger truth rather than the literal truth.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Book Report: "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman"

It is my own fault that my science education has been so lacking. In high school, I took four years of English, math, and social studies, but only the required one year of science. I remember my thinking; I took four years of agriculture, because our ag teacher was interesting, and in the course of his rambling discourses he covered everything; biology, chemistry, botany, animal husbandry. But although Mr. Roberts's ag classes were interesting, there was little substance to them and I arrived in college with a minimal science foundation. When I got to college, I took a basic biology course, came close to flunking it and got so spooked by the experience I never took more than the one basic course.

Over the last ten years, I have tried to supplement my sorry education, by reading, on my own. I loved the Stephen Jay Gould books, particularly the collections of essays first published in "Natural History" magazine, but also his other popular works on evolution and other natural science subjects. Although far from having attained any academic rigor in my readings, I did become conversant with some of the concepts in biology.

I then decided it was time to try to supplement my meager knowledge in the physical sciences. The first book I finished in 2002 was "The Meaning of It All," by Richard Feynman. I was somewhat disappointed because it turned out to be a collection of lectures by Feynman, and the lectures did not have the elegant phrasings and the careful explanations that Gould did in his popular writings, but nevertheless, I found them interesting. My education was advanced incrementally, but I was still much more familiar with "punctuated equilibrium" than quarks.

The most recent book, "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman," was recommended to me by a friend whom I happened to meet while searching the stacks at the Champaign Public Library for a Book-on-Tape. Feynman was a physicist, a Nobel prize winner, who worked on developing the atomic bomb, and then later did work on quantum electrodynamics (even after reading the book, I'm not sure what that is.) He was an eccentric genius, probably in the next rank of physicists behind Einstein, but, of course, not nearly as well known as Einstein. He was very practically oriented, and loved to arrive at answers intuitively, without necessarily having worked out all the formulas that more pedestrian physicists insisted on. His eccentricities, besides being a skirt chaser of some note, included using logic to figure out how to crack the safes of his colleagues at Los Alamos, when the atomic bomb was being developed and tested.

The book includes a lot of physics, and in looking around the internet at what other people have said about the book, I get the impression that physicists love the book a lot. One reviewer who was a physics major, said that it was the only book to which he ever gave five stars. A lot of the physics was above my limited understanding, and that probably kept me from enjoying the book as much as someone better educated would have. I considered it an average book, and gave it three stars.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Movie Report: The Family Stone

I predict that in 25 years, "The Family Stone" will have replaced "It's a Wonderful Life" as the traditional holiday movie that everyone watches on television. It's just as schmaltzy, but with a modern twist. I've always liked Diane Keaton as an actress, and think that she has gotten better as she has gotten older. I loved her movie last year, with Jack Nicholson, "Something's Gotta Give," and "The Family Stone" is even better.

The Stone Family is a large, quarrelling, loving family. Critics can fault it, rightfully, as being a little too pc, but it's the type of movie that you go see if you want to be entertained, not expand your artsy fartsy horizons.

I hate to even summarize the plot because it sounds so predictable, and the whole of the movie overcomes the weaknesses of its components. A barebones summary is that a son, trying to rise in the business world bring his uptight girlfriend home to meet his family, which consists of mother, father, two other boys and two girls. The girlfriend's too-earnest efforts to fit in result in disaster. There is some hidden tragedy in the family that is gradually exposed. In the end, everyone ends up with the right mate, and they all mourn a loss. I gave it four stars and if you don't see it in the theater before it leaves town, don't sweat it. You'll see it on television. A lot.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Magical Evening

I haven't written about a unique event we hosted at our house last Thursday night, because by and large, I have been speechless. To understand, you first have to go back about 14 years, when son, Chris, was eight years old and just starting violin lessons. He had been begging to take violin lessons for about a year, but we were reluctant to let him start because our oldest son had taken violin and it was a constant battle to make him practice, and he quit as soon as we let him. A daughter of a friend of ours had also started violin, and quit out of frustration after a year of doing nothing but scales. Then we happened to see an ad in the newspaper for four introductory violin lessons from Ken, who had come to town to get his master's in violin performance at the University of Illinois. We decided we could put up with four lessons and see how they went.

What happened is that Chris took off like a rocket. The problem turned out not to be to try to force him to practice, but to get him to stop practicing. We had to make rules: "No practicing before 7:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings," and "No more than two hours of practicing without a break." Ken was the perfect teacher for a beginning student. He had an enthusiasm for violin playing, and he was willing to let students go at their own pace, letting them try new pieces even before the pieces they were working on were technically perfect. Ken loved to perform and he provided lots of opportunities, particularly for five of his more advanced students, to perform, at weddings, birthday parties, nursing homes, the county fair, talent contests and other places.

After about three years, Ken and his wife, Peggy, moved to Korea to teach English as a Second Language. His students were distributed to other teachers, and gradually lost touch with each other, although we maintained contact with John, one of the students, because we had gotten to be friends with his parents. After Ken and his wife came back from Korea, they moved to Southern Illinois, where he built up another violin studio, and then left violin teaching to become a trucker, although he still loves to play violin.

The week before Christmas we went, with Chris, to hear the annual Christmas concert by BACH, a local group specializing in Baroque music, at Holy Cross Catholic Church. We mainly went to hear Sherherazade Panthaki, a fantastic soprano, who is still around after getting her PhD from the U. of I., but is destined for bigger things. Before the concert started, my wife spotted the Oreskovich's, whose daughter, Katie, had been one of Ken's five advanced students. During the intermission, we sought them out and asked about Katie, learned that she had been a voice student of Panthaki's, was a junior at West Virginia Wesleyan, studying voice and violin and was doing well. We asked if she was coming home for the holidays and got sort of a strange look and a reply, "Yes, she's singing in the BACH choir." She had been standing right in front of us for 45 minutes and we had not recognized her, which was understandable, since the last time we saw her, she was an eight-year-old tow-head. I remember clearly the first time I saw Katie play at a recital, a cute little girl, brimming with charisma. Now she is a beautiful 19-year-old, brimming with charisma.

We decided we should try to get these kids together over the holidays, contacted Ken and found out he would be in town on the Thursday before New Year's, and invited him and the five advanced students and their parents. Two of the students, sisters, one of whom is in medical school in Chicago, could not make it. Katie and her boyfriend, Adam, a trumpet student at West Virginia Wesleyan, John and his parents, and Chris's high school friend, Jimmie, a piano player, did make it.

What a night it was. After a light meal, the kids (not the right word anymore, "young people" I guess) jammed for about four hours. They enjoyed each other, but there was such joy in their playing that nobody wanted it to end. They all have such talent, not just in music, but also intellectually, that they could be successful in many different fields. I didn't do anything but listen, but I felt a high I have never felt before from aural stimuli.

Ken has started a blog, Heart Strings Express, which I have added to the links to blogs I read on the right side of the page where you can read his description of the evening.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Movie Report: The Ringer and Munich

Pairing "The Ringer" and "Munich" in a movie double header may seem like an odd juxtaposition, but there are some common threads besides the fact that I saw them both on Saturday, with members of my family who are in town for the holiday.

"The Ringer" is a Farrelly Brothers creation. They are known for movies like "Dumb and Dumber," "Me, Myself and Irene," and "There's Something About Mary." "The Ringer" has a typical Farrelly premise. Steve is a failure in his job, and in order to raise money (you don't want to know why he needs to raise money) goes along with a scheme concocted by his slimy uncle to pretend that he's retarded in order to enter the Special Olympics. The thinking (if the word can be stretched to that meaning) is that any normal person can beat "a bunch of retards," and his uncle will bet heavily that the five-time champion of the Special Olympics won't be able to retain his title.

The surprising thing about the movie is that despite the political incorrectness of its premise and plot, the Farrelly's display a real affection for developmentally disabled people and expose some of the unthinking ways that even well-meaning people discriminate against them. When is the last time you actually saw developmentally-disabled people in a movie? And, it turns out, they may have some skills (like spotting phonies) that are better than those of so-called "normally-abled."

The movie passes up on some obvious jokes, even leaving out some hilarious scenes that my son tells me were in the South Park cartoon episode from which the movie was apparently lifted. This is not a "must-see" movie, and it is a "shouldn't see" movie for people with tender consciences. But it isn't as bad as one would expect, and it is definitely different than the usual Hollywood comedy, so I gave it an average rating, or three stars.

Since "The Ringer" was going to be over about 15 minutes before "Munich" started, the plan was to theater hop from one to the other, seeing both on the same admission ticket. Unfortunately, when it actually came time to slip into the second theater, my tender conscience wouldn't let me do it, so I went back out and bought new tickets for my son and me. Whether some others in our group got the two-for-one deal, I won't say.

"Munich" is about the aftermath of of the 1967 Olympic games in Munich, Germany where a gang of terrorists took hostages and all of the terrorists and hostages wound up getting killed at the airport. The Israeli government hired an off-the-books team to track down 11 people who they thought had some responsibility in planning and carrying out the attack, and kill them. It, too, is not for the faint of heart as it portrays a lot of violence, but the violence, for the most part, was not what I considered gratuitous, but is essential to telling the story.

The twist in this movie, which literally comes more than halfway through, is that it is not just a violent thriller, but that it raises questions about the effectiveness of the tactic of hunting down and executing the perpretrators of the Munich massacre. Avri, the leader of the hunters, comes to the realization that for each terrorist they kill, six more spring up to take their place. He starts questioning his handlers whether they are absolutely sure that every person he has tracked down, actually had a part in the Munich operation. And he wonders why they couldn't have just arrested them and taken them back to Israel and put them on trial, like they did Eichmann.

The critics love this movie, which normally puts me in a skeptical frame of mind. Although big names like Stephen Spielberg and Tony Kushner are connected with its production, the movie is a good movie, better than average, but its violence keeps me from giving it the top rating. I think it's worth four stars.