Sunday, January 29, 2012

“Big Miracle” – Movie Review




This weekend, my movie class held a bonus screening of the new drama, “Big Miracle” starring Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski and Ted Danson.



When a local television news reporter airs a story about a group of gray whales trapped under the ice near a small town in Alaska, it soon becomes a national event – but despite all of the attention, can the whales be saved? 



The small Alaskan town of Barrow never sees much in the way of excitement, but in October of 1988, Adam (Krasinski), a local television news reporter, files a story about a family of gray whales that are trapped under an immense slab of ice and are unable to migrate south for the winter.  Six inches thick and five miles wide, the ice proves a challenge for the whales who are unable to surface, except for a small hole the three of them have somehow managed to burst through.  Without a way for them to swim out and come up for air periodically, they will surely perish before they can make their way down to Mexico. 

Once the story airs, Rachel (Barrymore), a Greenpeace activist and Adam’s ex-girlfriend, makes her way to Barrow in order to try to save the trapped whales – unfortunately, there isn’t much interest by either the government or businesses, including and especially oil company executive J.W. McGraw (Danson), whose firm was just awarded a contract to start drilling in that area.  But once the story is picked up by a major television network’s news broadcast in the lower 48, it immediately becomes a national story and gains greater visibility.  With hordes of media swarming to Barrow, McGraw soon becomes convinced that it is in his best interest to try to help save the whales for good public relations; as a result, he volunteers the use of one of his company’s barges to break through the ice, organizing the local militia to use helicopters to tow the vessel over 270 miles to the area. 

Unfortunately, the plan fails when the barge runs aground over a huge ridge of ice and the helicopters are unsuccessful in getting it freed.  By this point, the whales’ situation has become more than a national story – it has in fact gained the attention of the President Of The United States.  Seeking to improve the public’s perception of his administration as being anti-environment – and looking to help his Vice President succeed him in the upcoming election – the President calls on the leader of Russia for help.  With a mammoth icebreaker ship in the Bering Sea, he asks Russia to send the ship to Barrow to crash through the ice in order to free the whales.  But can the ship get there before it’s too late – and if so, will it be enough to allow the whales to start their migration? 



“Big Miracle” is based on the book “Freeing The Whales”, which itself was based on an article in (of all places!) Spy Magazine, which in turn was based on a true story.  With all of this tale documented so many times before, you might think that it wasn’t worth a movie since everyone knew its outcome – but then again, there have been other movies based on actual events that have been hugely successful (“All The President’s Men” and “JFK” both come immediately to mind).  People like predictability, which is I guess why the James Bond franchise has enjoyed such longevity. 

Although certainly a family movie, “Big Miracle” does not have a G rating; it is instead PG.  What justified this rating, I’m not entirely sure, but there you go.  The interesting thing about this movie – and the topic that dominated the class’ post-screening discussion – is that “Big Miracle” is only about saving the whales on its surface; what it’s really about is how the media manipulates the general public in the way they manufacture a story when there really isn’t one in the first place. 

While “Big Miracle” isn’t the type of movie I’d rush out to see, I can envision this being commercially successful even if it isn’t a big hit with the professional film critics.  If you are considering seeing “Big Miracle”, one thing you may want to keep in mind is to sit through the credits at the end of the film; the reason for this is because you get to see old news clips of some of the real people who were portrayed in the movie.  Oh yeah, and one other thing – the flick gives you the opportunity to get to see a very young Sarah Palin as well. 


Friday, January 27, 2012

“Declaration Of War” – Movie Review



The winter semester of my movie class has begun and this week we saw the French drama “Declaration Of War”, which opened the Cannes Film Festival.


When a couple’s son is diagnosed with cancer, will they be able to save both their child and their relationship?


A man and a woman meet at a party, quickly fall in love and soon thereafter have a son named Adam – given their intense and speedy romance, is it more than just a coincidence that their names are Romeo and Juliette?  As new parents, they are tested with a baby who appears to be crying non-stop and rely heavily on their pediatrician to help them retain their sanity without losing control of their newborn.  But after a year and a half, they begin to suspect that their son may have medical issues when he vomits regularly, doesn’t show signs of walking and has an asymmetrical countenance. 

When their pediatrician examines the baby, she fears the worst and suggests they take Adam to a neurologist immediately.  After a CAT Scan, the neurologist diagnoses Adam with a malignant brain tumor; the good news, however, is that it is operable.  A neurosurgeon is brought in to remove the tumor; although he is able to remove most of it, there is still a substantial amount that cannot be safely reached.  The parents are sent to another specialist who now diagnoses their child with a very aggressive form of cancer that has only a 10% survival rate; she recommends chemotherapy, which will keep the boy alive until about five years of age – thereafter, if he survives, radiation treatments would follow. 

As this ordeal continues, it inevitably begins to take a toll on the couple’s  relationship.  With their lives now surrendered to Adam’s survival, it becomes immediately apparent that the increased stress, absence of romance and lack of down time is driving a wedge between the two parents – both of whom consider seeking a little bit of fun outside of their relationship.  But will they be able to stay together and continue to care for their seriously ill boy? 



What we learned at the end of the screening was that this movie was based on a true story – that of the filmmakers, who appear in the movie and tell the tale of their own son who was actually diagnosed with a brain tumor.  We did not know this at the outset of the film because there was no indication of this, as is normally the case; instead, we were told this by our instructor, who saw a different print which did, in fact, inform the viewers that it was based on facts.  Without this information at the beginning, you definitely view the movie differently. 

“Declaration Of War” was supposedly a big hit in France, but I can’t see it equally that success here in the United States.  For one thing, it’s heavily stylized, both visually and audibly – the special effects and frenetic camera work are off-putting and distracting.  The soundtrack is absolutely schizophrenic, challenging you to take seriously even the most dour scenes.  Also, the very first scene basically tips off the end of the movie.  Only the French could’ve made this film – and, I believe, only the French could either appreciate or understand it, as well. 

Prior to the screening, our instructor interviewed producer-director Brett Ratner.  Originally, Ratner was supposed to visit the class a couple of months ago when we screened his film “Tower Heist”.  Unfortunately, he was forced to cancel because it was around that time that he was wrongly accused of making an anti-gay slur and in his whirlwind of fence-mending, damage control and apologia in these overly politically-correct times, he wound up being forced to quit his job as producer of the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony (his pal, Eddie Murphy, who was supposed to host, quit shortly thereafter).  A superior raconteur, Ratner talked about his beginnings and how he wormed his way into New York University’s film school, even though his grades didn’t merit acceptance to the institution. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Champagne 101


Intro2Champagne 002

Recently, I took a class at Flute in New York City; it was an Introduction to Champagne – in other words, “Champagne For Complete Idiots”. It sounded appropriate for the likes of me, so naturally it seemed to sense for me to report on it for youse guys.

On this evening, we tasted three different Champagnes – Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

… followed by Paul Goerg 2002


… and finishing with Ayala De Puy Rosé Majeur, the only Rosé Champagne from the tasting.


The evening started with a brief history of Champagne, which began over 300 years ago. Champagne is the most successful wine category in the world and is very regulated. Its name comes from where it is made -- in the Champagne region of France, an area northeast of Paris. All sparkling wines in that region are Champagne, but if they come from outside of that region, they cannot technically be called Champagne – they must instead be generically referred to as sparkling wines. Popularized in the 18th Century, its success is attributed to the monarch of France, the Monks of France and – of all people – the British.

France’s Louis XIV was born the same year as Dom Perignon, the monk who made Champagne famous; coincidentally, they both died the same year, too. As a monarch, Louis XIV served Champagne extensively, giving it great visibility. The reason why the British are attributed to its success is due to the fact that when it was originally exported to England, while the British loved this new sparkling wine, they found it too sweet; suggesting it be manufactured with a lower sugar content, Champagne gained even wider appeal in the world.

Typically, Champagne is made from a blending of three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Muniet; the percentage of each grape varies from one Champagne producer to another. These are one white grape and two dark grapes. In the “body” that is Champagne, Chardonnay is considered the blood, Pinot Muniet the skeleton and Pinot Noir the muscle. Usually, the lighter and more refined the Champagne, the greater the concentration of Chardonnay grapes.

The sugar content of Champagne can be anywhere from six to 12 grams; the lower the sugar content, the “drier” the Champagne. Today, there are Champagnes made with absolutely no sugar – these are called either Zero Dosage or Low Dosage Champagnes. The benefit of these so-called Zero Dosage Champagnes is that because they have no sugar, they are low in calories. However, there can be something of a drawback to these Zero Dosage Champagnes, too – some can be so dry that they have an acidic taste, which can render them virtually undrinkable. They tend to have around three grams of natural sugar – which is residual sugar from the grape – but no further sugar is added.

When Champagne is manufactured, it is not unusual to lose anywhere from 10-15% of the bottles in aging; this is due to the fact that the bottles will tend to explode at some point during the aging process. In 1776, for every 3,000 bottles of Champagne manufactured, about 90% exploded. This led to two very important inventions: one was the Riddling Rack and the other was the type of glass used to make the bottle. A Riddling Rack is a special type of shelving used for aging wine bottles; the neck of the bottle is inserted into the rack and the bottle is held at an angle. Each day, the bottle is given a one quarter turn to make sure the sediment does not settle in one spot. The daily turn used to be done by hand; now, however, it is performed by a machine which is capable of turning six bottles per second.

The change in the type of glass used in bottling Champagne had to do with using a more fortified type of glass in order to prevent it from exploding. Thanks to these inventions, only about one Champagne bottle in 30,000 tends to explode. The explosions can never be 100% prevented due to the fact that the Champagne bottles contain living organisms in the wine.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

“Haywire” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we had another bonus screening – this time, we saw Director Steven Soderbergh’s spy thriller “Haywire”, with a cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas in small supporting roles – but the real star is newcomer Gina Carano. 



When a special ops agent is betrayed by the agency that employs her, she must clear her name while seeking revenge on those who sold her out. 



Mallory Kane (Carano) is an elite member of an international organization hired by various governments around the world to perform dangerous covert missions that the heads of state cannot publicly condone.  After she and her team rescue a kidnapped Chinese journalist, Mallory decides that this will be her last mission and decides to quit the organization.  But her boss and former boyfriend Kenneth (McGregor) convinces her to go on one last mission – one so easy, he says it’s like a paid vacation. 

During her final mission, however, Mallory learns that she has been marked for death by her own employer and narrowly escapes being killed by one of her fellow agents.  Who has turned against her and why is not immediately clear, but Mallory now sets out to discover the truth – all the while evading arrest, trying to set the record straight about her and saving her father (Paxton) from those who would do her harm. 

Coblenz (Douglas), a U.S. government official who had hired Mallory’s team to free the Chinese hostage, finds out about her predicament and reaches out to her to offer assistance of some kind because he doesn’t believe the rumors being spread about her.  As pieces of the puzzle slowly start to fall into place, Mallory suddenly suspects Rodrigo (Banderas) as a key player in the plot to have her taken out.  But can Mallory somehow manage to get the full story on her agency’s betrayal and exact revenge on those who would have her dead? 



If you don’t recall ever seeing any movies or TV shows featuring Gina Carano, don’t feel bad because you’re not alone -- “Haywire” is not only her first movie, it’s her first acting job, period.  Known mainly as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, her fight scenes in this movie are among the best things about “Haywire”.  While the action scenes alone are worth recommending this movie, I will do so with some caveats, however.  I found the story to be somewhat hard to follow at the beginning in the sense that you really had to hang in there for a good portion of the movie to get your footing and understand exactly what is going on here.  Also, it doesn’t help that there are a number of bad guys introduced early on and it can be a bit daunting keeping all of them clear. 

Carano appears quite capable of wresting the female action heroine character from the clutches of Angelina Jolie, who seems to have held a monopoly on those types of movies for the past few years.  Comparisons such as a female Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal (at least before he gained so much weight that he can no longer lift his leg to kick) are both obvious and inevitable.  That said, however, I think that this comparisons will probably be favorable – at least based on what we can see in “Haywire”. 

At only an hour and a half in length, the movie in no way leaves you feeling that you didn’t get maximum entertainment value because of its pace and all of the action scenes shoehorned in every so often.  The ending, while humorous, was a little abrupt and hints that there may be a sequel if the movie proves to be a hit – which I suspect will likely be the case.    “Haywire” will be certain to attract a substantial male audience (especially young males), but whether or not women will be interested in seeing it is another matter altogether. 



Sunday, January 08, 2012

“Contraband” – Movie Review



Although the Winter Term of my movie class doesn’t begin until the end of the month, the bonus screenings have already started; this weekend, we saw the action – thriller “Contraband”, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale and Giovanni Ribisi. 



A former smuggler finds he must return to the game when a family member is in trouble with gangsters – but can he save his wife and children before time runs out on them all?



Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) has finally settled down to raise a family with his wife Kate (Beckinsale) by making a living as a home security system installer in New Orleans – but when her younger brother Andy bungles a drug deal, Chris finds that he must revert to his former life as a smuggler to repay the debt owed to Briggs (Ribisi), the dealer who hired Andy in the first place in order to protect his wife and sons. 

Reaching out to a few of his old associates, Chris decides that the best and quickest way to settle up with Briggs will be to run millions of counterfeit U.S. dollars into the country from Panama.  Towards this end, he rounds up a team and manages to finagle his way onto a cargo ship run by a suspicious captain (J.K. Simmons).  After Andy once again jeopardizes the operation, Chris realizes that in order to make the deal, he must first assist the Panamanian counterfeiter in an art heist. 

Once the counterfeiter’s theft is foiled, Chris manages to secure both the fake bills and the painting onto the cargo ship before it goes back to New Orleans.  Making his way onto the ship in the nick of time, Chris learns that Briggs forced Andy to make a drug purchase – so now, they find that they are also smuggling drugs into the country, adding considerable risk and danger to their exploit.  But when Briggs’ impatience causes him to terrorize Kate and her children, will Chris be able to somehow pay him back in time to save everyone from Briggs’ crazed vengeance?



“Contraband” is based on an Icelandic film called “Reykjavik To Rotterdam”; the same filmmakers were given an opportunity to remake the motion picture in an Americanized version, so they changed the two cities that involved the smuggling and cast it with actors familiar to U.S. audiences.  That said, the movie suffers from occasional moments of unintentional humor, confusion among some of the characters and challenges to the viewer’s ability to suspend disbelief. 

Among the other difficulties I had with the movie were with its use of a handheld camera at times.  After the screening, our instructor made note of the use of the handheld, but said that it was justified in certain scenes and used well.  While some filmmakers make the mistake of overuse of the handheld, such was not the case with “Contraband” – however, in the scenes where it was used, I found it to be distracting, disturbing and not entirely necessary. 

Another problem I had with this movie – something to which I alluded earlier – was that it was somewhat hard to follow, especially with respect to the characters who are supposed to be the bad guys; following our screening, the instructor raised this same issue and some other members of the class tended to agree with him as well. 

If you like your action movies formulaic, unsurprising and something you could watch while reading a newspaper or paying your bills, then “Contraband” might be worth a rental or view on cable, satellite or Internet.  Otherwise, I would suggest you not spend the time, effort or money to see it in the theaters. 


Saturday, January 07, 2012

Occupy Hedonism! – A New Year’s Eve Trip Report



I do not represent the 99%; instead, I represent the 1% – that is to say, the 1% of the people who vacation at Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica and somehow manage not to hook-up with anyone.  This is unfair!  There is an uneven distribution of carnal wealth going on around this place and damn it all, I think it’s about time for me to protest!  So, taking some inspiration from the folks who caused such a ruckus down on Wall Street a few months back, I’ve decided that the theme of 2011’s vacation at Hedonism to celebrate New Year’s Eve has to be “Occupy Hedonism”! 


View Larger Map


Occupy Your Room

So how would you like your room this year:  No hot water or no water at all?  That’s the choice a number of guests were presented with upon check-in to due the fact that a pipe had burst just prior to our Boxing Day arrival.  Gradually, this was addressed – but not after some hard feelings and inconvenience on the part of the guests.  I started out with hot water, then warm water, then cold water only as the problem eventually worked its way to my room.  Fortunately, the matter got corrected before too long, but the water just returned to something of a lukewarm state, never hot. 

Occupy The Pool/Beach

The weather was, in a word, uncooperative.  From Monday 12/26/11 through Wednesday 12/28/11 (or at least, the portion of Monday that I was there), there was perfect weather – warm with partly cloudy skies.  However, from Thursday through Sunday (12/29/11-1/1/12), the weather pattern was abundant sunshine in the morning, rain in the afternoon, followed by enough cloudiness that there would be no more sun for the remainder of the day.  The worst of these days was Saturday (the afternoon of New Year’s Eve) when we had heavy rain for about 3/4 of an hour.  Neither Monday nor Tuesday (1/2-3/12) had rain, but it was mostly cloudy for both afternoons.   

The dinner menu for New Year’s Eve 2011:

Occupy The Piano Bar

Dion, despite whatever issues people may have with him, drew some rather large crowds in the Piano Bar every night he appeared; the place was considerably less crowded (and enthusiastic) on the karaoke nights.  His band played in the courtyard on New Year’s Eve after midnight, with many people dancing in the outdoor space that lovely evening (and many more too pooped to even stand after partying all night).  In the piano bar, Dion consistently put on an entertaining show and exhibited the right spirit for Hedo.  The air conditioning worked rather well, making the place very comfortable for everyone.

Occupy The Disco

As comfortable as the Piano Bar was because of its excellent air conditioning system, that’s how uninhabitable the Disco was due to its lack of such a system.  Quite simply, it was impossible to breathe in there night after night because there was no circulating air.  One guest quite accurately said to me, “You can smell the mold as soon as you walk in”.  Very few people put in an appearance at the disco and those that did, didn’t stay for very long.  An unfortunate consequence of this was that the PJ Party on Tuesday night wasn’t terribly well attended; in fact, the only night I saw it even somewhat crowded was on Friday night (12/30/11) when one of the groups visiting during that week – The Bare Bottom Bunch – successfully threw a rather well-attended foam party.

The Champagne Menu for New Year’s Eve 2011 at Hedonism II:      

Occupy The Dining Room

Generally, I haven’t found conditions in the Dining Room to be quite as bad as others have, but this year, it was pretty stuffy on New Year’s Eve.  As an example, by 10PM, some male guests who originally came to dinner in tuxedoes had switched to t-shirt and shorts because it was way too warm to stay dressed-up for very long.  Contributing to this was the fact that all of the hotel’s guests were crammed into the dining room (the alternative restaurants were closed that evening) and there were plenty of outsiders present who had purchased a night pass for the evening.  On top of that, the entertainment staff had decorated the space in such a way that the breeze you might normally get from the beach was blocked by some curtains.

While the food was its typical mediocre self, the two nights that they got it right were New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (Saturday 12/31/11 and Sunday 1/1/12).  On New Year’s Eve, they had their traditional grilled lobster tails, which – for a delightful change – weren’t overcooked.  One tip if you go there when they are serving lobster:  don’t pour the melted butter over your lobster tails.  Instead, prior to queuing up for the lobster, grab both a plate and a bowl from the soup station and ladle the butter into your soup bowl.  This prevents drowning the lobster tail in butter; it tastes better (and is a bit less messy) to simply dunk the lobster tail into the butter. 

On New Year’s Day, they served roast suckling pig for dinner; it was cooked to perfection – in fact, I went back for seconds.  Both times, the cook was smart enough to include some of the cracklings when he sliced meat off the pig.  I also asked for the pig’s ear both times; I was not disappointed.  Now that’s my other tip for eating at Hedonism:  if they are serving the suckling pig, by all means get some, make sure you get the delicious and crispy skin and ask for the ears from the pig’s head (assuming no one else has somehow managed to snag them before you).  If the ears aren’t available, then go for the cheeks!   

In conclusion, here now is the countdown to midnight from the dining room at Hedonism II on New Year’s Eve 2011:


The Countdown

Thursday, January 05, 2012

“A Farewell To Arms” – Book Review




During my recent vacation, I finally had a chance to read Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, “A Farewell To Arms”.



When Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I, is injured after a trench mortar explodes near him, he is sent to a hospital in Milan for treatment and recuperation.  While there, he falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse.  During their courtship, she becomes pregnant, but he is returned to the front lines, where he eventually becomes a deserter in order to return to her.  Together, they flee to Switzerland where they live a modest but nevertheless fun life while waiting for her to go into labor. 


Hemingway wrote this semi-autobiographical novel at the age of 30, several years after “The Sun Also Rises”.  Although the main character of Lt. Henry seems to be about this age, Hemingway himself was still a teenager at the time he was an army ambulance driver in Italy during WWI where he was similarly injured.  The story parallels the romance he himself had with the nurse who cared for him during his recuperation, the main difference being that it was never fully realized as it was in the novel. 

With the story of war as a backdrop against the love story, it is no wonder that this novel was made into a movie twice --once starring Gary Cooper in the 1930’s, then again in the 1950’s starring (wait for it) Rock Hudson!  While I wished I had more knowledge about World War I prior to reading “A Farewell To Arms” – from a historic, political and military perspective – it was reassuring to learn that some research on the Internet following my reading filled in a considerable amount of gaps in my understanding. 

The puzzle I find myself constantly trying to solve with Hemingway’s writing is what is either implied or unsaid or only vaguely alluded to in either the narrative or dialog.  As a result, it may take somewhat longer for me to read because I sometimes feel as though I’ve missed something and must go back to re-read certain passages just to make sure. 

Structurally, the book contains a total of 41 chapters within five sections or “Books”.  Book I contains Chapters 1-12; Book II has Chapters 13-24; Book III Chapters 25-32; Book IV, Chapters 33-37 and Book V with Chapters 38-41. 

As far as the characters are concerned, I couldn’t help but think that Miss Van Campen was the inspiration for Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  The Dr. Rinaldi character seems to be some rather welcome comic relief in the appearances he makes at various points along the way.  To some degree, I suppose you could argue that the young priest is, too, yet somehow seems more of a pathetic victim than anything else. 

Although I felt that the last part of the book was a bit drawn out, the final chapter was stirring and Henry’s musings on death insightful.  He was not religious, yet he couldn’t help but thinking that in his situation with Catherine, he was being punished for desertion.  Likewise, was she being punished for breaking the rules where she worked?  And what was the baby being punished for?  For all of the baiting done to the priest, might he have wound up being of some comfort to Henry in this time of need? 

For me, the best passage in the book came in Chapter 39, where Henry considers how life kills you:

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.  The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.  But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

“Hitchens vs. Blair” – Book Review



During my recent vacation, I had a chance to read “Hitchens vs. Blair:  The  Munk Debate On Religion”. 

On November 26, 2010, an edition of The Munk Debates was held in Toronto, Canada between author, journalist and staunch atheist Christopher Hitchens and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; the debate was televised live throughout Canada.  The topic of the debate was “Be It Resolved Religion Is A Force For Good In The World”; Blair took the Pro side of the debate, Hitchens the Con side.  For those of you unfamiliar with it (as I was at the outset of the book), The Munk Debates were started in Canada in 2008 by philanthropists Peter and Melanie Munk; they exist as an ongoing series of international debates on wide-ranging topics of political importance.  The debate is considered one of the nation’s major cultural events, in part because the participants tend to include the world’s brightest minds. 

A transcript of the debate, I found this book to be a fascinating discussion between two erudite and articulate individuals, both of whom came well-prepared for their confrontation with extensive research to support their individual positions.  As a long-time fan of the recently deceased Hitchens, I must admit that I was considerably inclined to favor his side of the debate.  That said, however, I found flaws in some of Hitchens’ points and must admit that I admired Blair’s passion, sincerity and conviction, despite the fact that I disagreed with him. 

Among my disappointments in Hitchens’ side of the discussion is that I did not find that he sufficiently answered matters regarding George W. Bush’s faith terribly well; I suspect that this may be attributed to the fact that he became a fan of Bush and supported his invasion of Iraq – presumably because of his admitted distaste for the Muslim religion and the terrorists it has bred.  Even more specifically, I was also left to wonder about the absence of questions to Hitchens about W’s lack of support of stem cell research based on his religious beliefs. 

Perhaps the best advantage of reading the transcripts versus seeing/hearing the actual debate on television is the fact that the book contains extensive footnotes to some rather obscure (to me, at least) references made by both parties.  Thanks to the footnotes, we are better able to understand the context of their statements.  Conversely, the disadvantage of not having seen the televised debate is that it is impossible to read someone’s body language or hear the vocal inflections of either debater.

I particularly liked the format of the debate – questions from the live audience were taken by the participants, as well as questions that were submitted through the Munk Debate’s Web site.  Although each conceded an occasional point to the other, they were ultimately intractable in their belief (or non-belief, as the case may be).  While reading one person’s response to a particular question, I found myself anticipating how the other person would respond – and as such, it made for quite the compelling read. 

An interesting component of the debate was the results of a poll taken both before and after.  Viewers were asked which side of the issue they supported; the purpose of doing this was to determine whether or not the audience was swayed in their opinion by either participant as a result of hearing both sides of the debate.  If you didn’t see the debate on television but want to know the results of both polls, well, you’ll just have to read the book.