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Archive for July 2012

Madea gets in your face yet again

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Film review: ‘Madea’s Witness Protection.’ 114 minutes. Rated PG-13. Lionsgate.

The titled character rants, scolds and chatters her way through another movie in Madea’s Witness Protection, the newest foray of Tyler Perry’s “mad black woman” creation.

Yes, Perry shows his great versatility in playing several roles: Madea, her bumbling brother and her federal prosecutor nephew. But how often can you hear Madea spew dumb stuff, and say it three times or more, without squirming and looking at your watch?

Tyler Perry reprises the titled role in ‘Madea’s Witness Protection.’ (Courtesy Allied Integrated Marketing)

At least Perry makes the setup somewhat believable. George is a simple, honest accountant (Eugene Levy) who finds he’s been set up by a shifty corporation to take the fall in a Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars. He offers to rebuild the money trail, but of course he and his family need a safe house.

Naturally, the federal prosecutor assigned to him is Brian (Tyler Perry as a middle-aged man). And for some reason, the feds are all out of safe houses. So naturally #2, the family has to be put up at the house of his aunt: Madea.

The plot then rolls on three wheels: the effort to nail the real scammers, the need to heal rifts in the family, and Madea’s outsize, overbearing personality — which, however, Perry tries to soften a bit with a grain or two of wisdom.

There are a few other subplots. The son needs some male bonding. The daughter is an insolent brat and needs to value her family. The wife (Denise Richards) tells George that family is more important than the material success he was chasing. Right, right. Family values. We get it.

Not that this is a terrible film. One good thing, as in just about every Tyler Perry film, is the respectful treatment of faith and its adherents. At a church down the street (although Madea doesn’t attend), we hear some evocative spirituals from a gospel choir. We also hear an emotive sermon from the pastor (John Amos). The church folks show a bold, joyous faith and even use Jesus’ name as something besides a swear word.

Another positive of this film is throwing work to actors who haven’t gotten much attention lately. Eugene Levy is a masterful comedian, a cast member of the brilliant Second City Television and its successor, SCTV. Doris Roberts, as his senile mother, is a veteran of the memorable show Everybody Loves Raymond.

We also get a glimpse of two fine 1970s sitcom actors, John Amos as the pastor and Marla Gibbs as a neighbor. And Denise Richards as George’s wife — well, she’s still nice looking and can say a line without embarrassing herself.

Tyler Perry is immensely talented, and a man of good will and great sensitivity. But he just may have put on that lipstick and gray wig and floral housedress once too often.

Interestingly, Perry may have concluded that himself. The screening I attended included a preview of Alex Cross — in which he plays a tough cop.

If you want to look into the movie more, here’s the website.

James D. Davis=

Written by Jim Davis

July 16, 2012 at 2:45 am

Reading the Quran is risky — if a Muslim woman does it

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The day begins with recitation and prayer at the school at Al-Zahra Mosque in ‘The Light in Her Eyes.’ Photo by Itab Azzam.

TV Review: The Light in Her Eyes. Clockshop, produced in association with American Documentary-POV. Broadcast date: 10 p.m. July 19 on PBS (check local listings). 56 minutes.

“We can be teachers and students; we can rule and arbitrate,” Houda Al-Habash tells her Quran class for girls in Damascus. “You are free in your choices, free in your way of thinking, free in your faith, free in everything.”

If only it were that simple. But of course, it never is, not in the Middle East. The Light in Her Eyes strikes a hopeful tone, but it was shot shortly before the civil war that currently grips Syria.

The documentary, directed and produced by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix, shows the delicate balance of Middle Eastern women in advancing intellectually while staying true to their faith — a faith whose leaders often denounce their efforts.

Nix and Meltzer focus on the two-month Quran memorization program Houda sponsored every summer at Al-Zahra Mosque in Damascus. Now in her 40s, she founded the program at 17, then gradually began supervising similar programs at mosques around the Syrian capital.

She presents a mix of opposites, wearing black robes but donning sunglasses and driving around Damascus in her car. Making rounds of mosques, she delivers a mix of praise and demands — both of students and their teachers — smiling but prodding everyone to work harder.

The students are charmingly like young girls elsewhere: giggly, fidgety, quick with smiles and silly songs. But they’re also dutiful, pacing circles on the mosque’s carpet with their Qurans, reciting what they consider to be direct quotes from God.

Houda talks with her daughter, Enas, about how she started work as a preacher in ‘The Light in Her Eyes.’ Photo by Laura Nix

The girls do get positive reinforcement, too. When one memorizes a chapter, Houda has everyone else applaud her. Houda gives an award to the girl who memorized the most. And all the girls go on an overnight field trip, including a dip in a pool — though Middle Eastern swimsuits include sleeves, pants and little skirts.

Change is everywhere in Damascus, as The Light in Her Eyes shows. Women in hijabs and bulky coats share the streets with others who wear jeans and pullovers.

In the background are conservative Muslim scholars, represented by grim lecturers on TV. They sternly state that women’s religious duties are to bear and raise children, take care of the home and serve the husband. None are invited on camera, creating a bias in this documentary. Then again, Nix and Meltzer weren’t filming with the Syrian dictatorship’s permission.

Houda’s husband, Samir Al-Khaldi, says he supports her in her quranic memorization classes, as long as she keeps up her wifely and motherly duties. “A man works hard to provide for his family,” he says.

Some of the students complain often about the rules they feel are holding them back — indeed, causing the whole Islamic world to fall behind. But like Houda, they always blame custom, culture and tradition, not the religion itself.

“If a mother never learns, how can she teach the next generation?” one girl asks. “A woman is a school. If you teach her, you teach a generation.”

Enas, Houda’s 20-year-old daughter, is taking the next step: studying international relations at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. She and Houda acknowledge that some Syrians still frown on a girl going off by herself to study — let alone study secular topics. But “I can serve Islam better if I study politics or economics,” Enas says.

Not that Houda encourages outright rebellion. Indeed, she makes it a privilege for her students to wear a hijab, comparing it to a national flag, an emblem of the faith. And the graduation ceremony is a very big deal — dressing the girls in white gowns and laurels as a female chorale sings the praise of virtuous women.

What a difference from feminism of the 1960s and ’70s in the West. Women’s rights activists here felt the need to reject religion, or at least the parts of it that they perceived was hurting their rights. In proto-feminist circles of Syria, women want it all: the roots of their faith and the opportunity to learn.

It’s all lovely, but in Syria it may be doomed. A postscript to the film notes the uprising that started in spring 2011. A year later, Houda and her family fled Syria, and the school closed. Light in someone’s eyes can be beautiful, but it’s also fragile.

Besides the rundate, The Light in Her Eyes will be available for streaming on the PBS website from July 20 to Aug. 19.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

July 10, 2012 at 4:30 am

A tool for baring logical flaws

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Handy icons in “Your Logical Fallacies” click into fuller descriptions of each error.

He’s wrong. You know it. But how? Your Logical Fallacies can help you diagnose brain slips — and, in this handy toolbox, point ’em out to your opponent.

This delightfully crisp site shows 24 errors in thinking — common and not so common — laid out in a simple table with easy-to-remember icons.

Roll over each icon, and you’ll see its name and a one-line description. Included are some familiar flaws, like Ad Hominem, appeals to emotion, appeals to authority, loaded questions, begging the question and black-and-white thinking.

You’ll also see devices that are a little subtler, like the false cause, the Bandwagon Argument, shifting the burden of proof and saying that a compromise, or middle point, between two extremes is the truth.

Another interesting one is “Tu Quoque,” or “You too.” An example: “How can you complain about my arguing when you’re arguing with me?”

Inevitably, there’s the Fallacy Fallacy: “Presuming that because a claim has been poorly argued, or a fallacy has been made, that it is necessarily wrong.”

There’s more: Click on the icon, and you’ll get a paragraph describing the flaw more fully, and why it’s a flaw. You’ll also see an example of each flaw in action.

Some arguments seem to overlap, though. The so-called “Genetic Argument” judges something as good or bad on the basis of where or from whom it came. This sounds like another version of the “Ad Hominem” argument.

And for all its thoroughness, the list misses a few types of errors, like glittering generalities and guilt by association. Wikipedia has a decent list in an article on propaganda, although it’s not as fun as this one.

Your Logical Fallacies does have an advantage in making a separate page for each error: being able to email it to your opponent. Ba-zing! You’ve tagged and pinned up his error on display, like a butterfly on a card!

Just use the site gently when pointing out your opponent’s flaws. After all, he can use the site to judge your flaws, too.

The site also has two nice frills. One is a line of the icons across the bottom of a page, very clickable. The other is a downloadable poster of the chart in .pdf form and in three sizes. Might have been easier to provide .jpg versions, though.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

July 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm

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