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The [Thursday] Papers

It's true the Sun-Times has been running a series of stories for days throughout the paper under the rubric "Da Vinci Code Week," including a Travel section article informing us that "You don't need to decipher a message in a cryptex to plot a great European vacation following in the footsteps of the characters in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code," and a Food section article - with recipe - about the special Da Vinci Cod entree at a local restaurant called, well, Vinci.

But I'm not sure that kind of madness tops the Tribune's front-page story today about the press screening of the movie at the Cannes film festival.

The Tribune's piece opens awkwardly with another writer's description that newly named lead movie critic Michael Phillips must have desperately liked better than anything else he came up with on his own, considering the way it's shoehorned in there, and then slides into a weird religious reference that I might call offensive if I knew what it meant.

"There was blood in the water by the Palais on Tuesday, as Toronto Globe and Mail correspondent Simon Houpt put it on his blog, when The Da Vinci Code screened for a press and industry crowd prior to Wednesday's official opening of the 59th Cannes film festival," Phillips wrote. "And the blood didn't belong to Jesus Christ."

Whoa! What?

First, while the blood line appears to be Phillips's own clever addition to Houpt's opening line, the whole thing comes from Houpt. "There was blood in the water by the Palais tonight, and it didn't belong to Jesus Christ," Houpt wrote on his blog Wednesday night.

So Phillips copped the entire lead.

Second, well, I don't really know what to say about it except that I don't get it. I'm assuming it's a reference to an incident in the book, but I haven't read the book. And I'm guessing there are still a few others in Chicago who haven't read the book and are also scratching their heads in wonder at the harsh, seemingly offensive words on the front page of their Chicago Tribune this morning.

I'm guessing it's not a Biblical reference because I can't remember Jesus and/or his blood being anywhere near the Palais in the Bible. But hey, I haven't read that book either. At least not in its totality. Only the good parts.

Phillips did come up with a clever line to open his accompanying review when he wrote, "How can a film contain so many clues yet remain utterly clueless?"

Phillips gave it a star-and-a-half.

Having not been at Cannes for the screening and thus unable to judge the movie's merits, I'm more persuaded by Roger Ebert's seemingly effortless yet simply elegant take:

"They say The Da Vinci Code has sold more copies than any book since the Bible. Good thing it has a different ending. Dan Brown's novel is utterly preposterous; Ron Howard's movie is preposterously entertaining. Both contain accusations against the Catholic Church and its order of Opus Dei that would be scandalous if anyone of sound mind could possibly entertain them. I know there are people who believe Brown's fantasies about the Holy Grail, the descendants of Jesus, the Knights Templar, Opus Dei and the true story of Mary Magdalene. This has the advantage of distracting them from the theory that the Pentagon was not hit by an airplane.

"Let us begin, then, by agreeing that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction. And that since everyone has read the novel, I need only give away one secret - that the movie follows the book religiously. While the book is a potboiler written with little grace and style, it does supply an intriguing plot. Luckily, Ron Howard is a better filmmaker than Dan Brown is a novelist; he follows Brown's formula (exotic location, startling revelation, desperate chase scene, repeat as needed) and elevates it into a superior entertainment, with Tom Hanks as a theo-intellectual Indiana Jones."

Ebert gives it three stars.

And the stars don't belong to Jesus.

Cannes Crucible: Phillips, in turn, appears on Houpt's blog.

Falcon and the Snowmen
Will the federal investigation into City Hall hiring reach the mayor?

"In a meeting at his City Hall office, the patronage chief for Mayor Richard Daley directed Mary Jo Falcon and her group of Asian city workers to help the mayor's re-election effort, Falcon testified Wednesday," the Tribune reports.

But she did not implicate Daley.

"She also acknowleged that prosecutors had asked her about what her higher-ups knew about hiring practices," the Trib report says.

"But when [Sorich defense lawyer Thomas] Durkin asked whether prosecutors had ever asked whether Daley was involved in creating hiring lists, Falcon replied, 'I don't remember that question, sir.'

"Falcon said a grand juror had asked her that question. When Durkin asked for more detail, prosecutors objected and U.S. District Judge David Coar sustained their objection."

Duke, UCLA, and CHA
Mary Mitchell contrasts reaction to the rape allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team and the mysterious case of the UCLA student killed in a fall from a seventh-floor window of the last of the Robert Taylor Homes.

Checkbook Journalism
Washington Mutual announces a new branch office conveniently located inside the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom.

A Modern Stone Age Family
"One of the most detailed comparisons yet of human and chimp DNA shows that the split between the two species was a long, messy affair that may have even featured an unusual evolutionary version of breakup sex."

Zany Cheney
Wolf Blitzer's interview of vice presidential daughter Mary Cheney last night was extraordinary TV just to watch how incredibly similar her gestures and facial expressions are to her father's. It was like watching a Saturday Night Live parody to see her with her slightly cocked, downward-tilted head, her half-smirked way of talking out of the side of her mouth, and her utter contempt for intellectual honesty.

CHENEY: I think that they have handled Iraq exactly right.

BLITZER: You do?

CHENEY: Just think about it, Wolf.

BLITZER: No mistakes?

CHENEY: No mistakes.

BLITZER: Exactly right? Because those are strong words.

CHENEY: Three years ago - exactly right. Those are very strong words.

BLITZER: Tell us . . .

CHENEY: Three years ago, Wolf.


CHENEY: Twenty-five million - 25 million people are free today who were not free three years ago in Iraq. Iraq has managed to hold three national elections and every single election, more people came out and voted than voted in the previous election.

These are people who are going to the polls, and voting and casting votes for their leadership for the first time in their lives. They deserve an enormous amount of respect from us and they deserve our help, and we are doing everything we can to help them. And quite frankly, I think we are doing it exactly right.

BLITZER: But don't you think if there would have been a better plan for the post invasion to deal with an insurgency, to deal with the reconciliation, the disbanding of the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein, more than 2,000 troops might not necessarily have been killed if it would have been handled better?

CHENEY: As I said, I think it's been handled exactly right.

NSA Today
* The Tribune publishes a Baltimore Sun report about a pilot program tested but abandoned by the NSA in the late 90s "that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws."

* Just spotted: Former Reagan Administration lawyer Bruce Fein, aghast at the NSA's surveillance programs, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March that the president ought to be censured.

* USA Today's latest: Select members of Congress were briefed 30 times about NSA surveillance programs since 9/11. Also: Nat Hentoff with a refresher course on civil liberties for Gen. Michael Hayden, and legal scholar/pundit Jonathan Turley on the media, Congress, and the president's threat to the Constitution.

* Parsing the latest telephone company denials. CNET News on AT&T and a possible legal loophole.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Formerly the Chimp Channel.


Posted on May 18, 2006

MUSIC - Spring Awakening Wake-Up Call!
TV - Goodbye, Apu.
POLITICS - The Political Odds.
SPORTS - SportsMonday: Catching Bears Fever.

BOOKS - Gov. Ed Coles.


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