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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Do Creationists make good science students?

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A letter from a longtime participant on my blog, Dave Van Dyke (left above), who has written a Ph.D. dissertation on the effect Creationist beliefs have upon the learning success of high school science students:

One of my favorite childhood memories is seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with my father. My dad took me because had seen a glowing review of the film by Roger Ebert on Channel 11 WTTW out of Chicago. "Raiders" was the first movie I ever saw twice. Little did I know that, 30 years later, I would befriend the very guy who told my Dad to go see what became (and remains) my all-time favorite movie.

A few years ago, I clicked a box on the upper right-hand corner of Roger's site labeled "Roger Ebert's Journal." Roger had posted a reflection about a movie called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." I found myself involved in a discussion in the "Comments" section about evolution: What it means, how it works and why it is important. You see, I teach science in a middle-school classroom in South Bend, IN. There was this guy on the blog defending intelligent design creationism named Randy Masters. I remember thinking "...this guy Randy just will not quit." Although neither of us budged a bit, we became friends.

Last winter, Randy and I met at a restaurant in Southwest Michigan. I told Randy then what I purposefully haven't told anyone else in Ebert World until now: I had been writing a dissertation on the effect of creationism on my students' learning. I was doing it through Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. Andrews University (a wonderful school) happens to be a school run by Seventh Day Adventists, none of whom accept evolution.

Randy asked me to send him a copy of the dissertation when I was done. I finished a couple weeks ago, so I sent him an Email and attached it to Roger, thinking he might be interested. I wrote that part of what kept me going included the breaks I took at Ebert World.

Roger greatly honored me by proposing the dissertation be posted on his blog, and asked me to write this introduction. So I did.

I feel have made many good friends here. Thanks to all of you.

David Van Dyke Click here for the file download: Van_Dyke_Dissertation Nov 23 2010.docx And here is a PDF file: Van_Dyke_Dissertation Nov 23 2010 .pdf

Music and news about Dave's rock and roll band, the Van Dyke Revue. The Ebert blog entry on "Expelled," Win Ben Stein's Mind. Photo at top, l-r, Dave Van Dyke, Randy Masters and me at Ebertfest 2010. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

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The Duke on Rooster: "My first good part in 20 years"

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By Roger EbertDecember 8th, 1968

Hollywood, California -- Over in a comer of the big sound stage, John Wayne was playing chess. He was leaning against a packing crate and studying the board in complete oblivion to the commotion Henry Hathaway was raising 10 yards away.

Hathaway got into the movie business as a juvenile in 1908 and has been directing action and Western pictures since 1918. His directing style remains unchanged; he gets excited about three times a day and starts shouting at people. But he has white hair and looks gentle, as opposed to Otto Preminger, who has no hair and looks dangerous, and so Hathaway is known as a terror but regarded with affection.

Just now he was haranguing a group of extras who were supposed to be a courtroom crowd. "You're all waiting for the other fellow to sit down," he was saying. "Now it's clear as day that some of you have got to sit down before the rest of you do. So when the judge comes in, don't everybody stand around with his hands in his pockets." His tone was that of an eminently reasonable ship's captain addressing a cargo of madmen in the hold. "Now let's try it."

"Here we go," Wayne said. He plays the part of Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit," a Western comedy, adventure, satire or what-have-you based on the best-seller by Charles Portis. The press releases describe Rooster as a mean, ornery, one-eyed, no-good, low-down rapscallion, and Wayne obviously enjoys the part. He took another look at the chess board, decided not to move until the scene had been shot, got up and moseyed over to the set.

It turned out that the light men hadn't arranged the lights to their satisfaction, so Hathaway decreed a 10-minute break and Wayne walked back off the set, pushing his eye-patch up on his forehead.

"This is, oh, maybe the fifth or sixth picture I've made with. Hathaway," Wayne recalled. "Every director has his own way of handling actors. John Ford, now, had a rapier wit and if he wanted to zing somebody he'd hit 'em quick and pull back. Henry, on the other hand, uses a club."

What was the last picture by Wayne and Hathaway?

"Let's see. That would be 'Sons of Katie Elder.' I don't care for it much, myself. I had just got over that cancer operation and I thought I could hear myself breathing all the time. Everybody said it was my imagination. Well, old Henry was very thoughtful of me, of course, since I was recuperating and all. He took me up to 8,500 feet to shoot the damned thing and the fourth day of shooting he had me jumping into ice water. Very considerate."

Wayne chuckled. "All the same, give Hathaway a good story, and that's what 'True Grit' is, and he's great. He's not so good on his own stories; I found that out. He can't quite get objective about them. But I love this story. I tried to buy the rights and then I found out Hal Wallis was bidding on it. Between us we pushed the price clear to the sky, and then Wallis got it and cast me anyway."

The story involves a spunky little frontier girl (played by Kim Darby) who sets off to avenge her father's murder and hires Rooster as her paid gunman. Glen Campbell, the hot young country singer and TV host, makes his screen debut in the film as a Texas Ranger.

"The picture's got to make a bundle," Wayne said. "And for a change I have a good part. I'd say this is my first good part in 20 years."

There were protests from Wayne's listeners. "Well," he said, "what the hell has there been? I'm always the straight guy who heaves the pack up on his back shouts, 'Follow me!' Everybody else in picture gets to have funny little scenes, clever lines, but I'm the hero so I stand there.

"Howard Hawks worked out a whole system based on that. He'd just stand me up as a target and run everybody at me. 'EI Dorado,' that was just a remake of an earlier picture by Hawks, 'Rio Bravo.' And in both pictures you had Robert Mitchum or Dean Martin as the drunken sheriff, and you had the old deputy and the young kid, and where did that leave me?

"And in that picture, Who Killed What's-His-Name? Yeah, the John Ford picture: 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.' They had Lee Marvin as the colorful heavy, and that young Irish fellow playing the intellectual, and Andy Devine playing the best friend, and Jimmy Stewart to get a laugh kicking the horse crap out of his way, and what was left? Try to wind your way through that one..."

Wayne said he was talking in professional terms. "What I mean is, I haven't been short of good roles in terms of starring roles, but I've gotten damn few roles you could get your teeth into and develop a character. Until Rooster in 'True Grit,' I haven't had a role like that since 'The Searchers' (1956). And before that, maybe 'Sgt. Stryker' or 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,' another great Ford picture.

"But look at 'The Quiet Man.' Everybody was a character but me. For three fourths of the movie, I had to keep alive just walking through it. Those are the tough ones to do. At least in 'Rio Bravo,' I had a couple of gags in addition to furnishing the father image."

He unwrapped some peanut brittle and took a bite. "And old Rooster is going to be a lovely role. When this picture's over I got to go to work and get some of this weight off." He grinned. "But it's pretty nice playing a fat old man."

Hathaway walked over, slapped Wayne on the shoulder, and said, "All right then, Duke, let's get to work. Always assuming, of course, that I can get those damn fools to sit down when the judge comes in."

"Heah come de judge," said Wayne.

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West Virginia 8th grade test in 1931

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To take the test, open this file: tests.pdf

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Do I dare to eat a peach?

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This would have made the cover of the Weekly World News.

My theory: He saw this movie when he was younger and it traumatized him.

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I'll never smoke weed with Willie again

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My 1986 interview with Willie, happiness is being on the road again.

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Update on the TSA breast milk incident

I posted this video a day ago, and it drew thousands of visits and a lot of comments. One of them was from the woman seen in the video, Stacey Armato, who clarifies the situation and adds the charge that the TSA was retaliating against her! She writes me:

Thank you all for your support. My brother in law compiled the video for me to speed up TSA footage I received of my very long screening process at PHX. There were a couple errors in his effort to put together the footage as quickly as possible. [Below] is the updated video.

I was not pregnant at the time (I got pregnant six weeks later), my son was 7mo at the time, and I arrived an hour before my flight (not 20 min)...but TSA erased almost 30 minutes of the second half of my screening. Also, it clarifies that I had filed a complaint against TSA the week before for not knowing the breast milk screening rules and their actions on February 1 were retaliatory because of that complaint.

It was a terrible experience but have so appreciated the kind words and support. I will do my best to give them a good fight.

Thank you. Stacey

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Leslie Nielsen, RIP. "And don't call me Shirley"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Leslie Nielsen, who traded in his dramatic persona for inspired bumbling as a hapless doctor in "Airplane!" and the accident-prone detective Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.

The Canadian-born actor died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home at 5:34 p.m., surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.

"We are saddened by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in 'The Naked Gun' series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television," said Kelly.

Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.

Nielsen first performed as the king of France in the Paramount operetta "The Vagabond King" with Kathryn Grayson.

The film -- he called it "The Vagabond Turkey" -- flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.

His first film for that studio was auspicious -- as the space ship commander in the science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet." He found his best dramatic role as the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure."

He became known as a serious actor, although behind the camera he was a prankster. That was an aspect of his personality never exploited, however, until "Airplane!" was released in 1980 and became a huge hit.

As the doctor aboard a plane in which the pilots, and some of the passengers, become violently ill, Nielsen says they must get to a hospital right away.

"A hospital? What is it?" a flight attendant asks, inquiring about the illness.

"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now," Nielsen deadpans.

When he asks a passenger if he can fly the plane, the man replies, "Surely you can't be serious."

Nielsen responds: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."

Critics argued he was being cast against type, but Nielsen disagreed.

"I've always been cast against type before," he said, adding comedy was what he'd really always wanted to do.

It was what he would do for most of the rest of his career, appearing in such comedies as "Repossessed" (a takeoff on the demonic possession movies like "The Exorcist") and "Mr. Magoo," in which he played the title role of the good-natured bumbler.

Nielsen did play Debbie Reynolds' sweetheart in the popular "Tammy and the Bachelor," a loanout to Universal, and he became well known to baby boomers for his role as the Revolutionary War fighter Francis Marion in the Disney TV adventure series "The Swamp Fox."

Unhappy with his roles at MGM, he asked to be released from his contract. As a freelancer, he appeared in a series of undistinguished movies.

"I played a lot of leaders, autocratic sorts; perhaps it was my Canadian accent," he reasoned.

Meanwhile, he remained active in television in guest roles. He also starred in his own series, "The New Breed," ''The Protectors" and "Bracken's World," but all were short-lived.

Then "Airplane!" captivated audiences and changed everything.

Producers-directors-writers Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker had hired Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Nielsen to spoof their heroic TV images in a satire of flight-in-jeopardy movies.

After the movie's success, the filmmaking trio cast their newfound comic star as Detective Drebin in a TV series, "Police Squad," which trashed the cliches of "Dragnet" and other cop shows. Despite good reviews, NBC canceled it after only four episodes.

"It didn't belong on TV," Nielsen later commented. "It had the kind of humor you had to pay attention to."

The Zuckers and Abraham converted the series into a feature film, "The Naked Gun," with George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley as Nielsen's co-stars. Its huge success led to sequels "The Naked Gun 2 1/2" and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3."

His later movies included "All I Want for Christmas," ''Dracula: Dead and Loving It" and "Spy Hard."

Between films he often turned serious, touring with his one-man show on the life of the great defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

Nielsen was born Feb. 11, 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan.

He grew up 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle at Fort Norman, where his father was an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The parents had three sons, and Nielsen once recalled, "There were 15 people in the village, including five of us. If my father arrested somebody in the winter, he'd have to wait until the thaw to turn him in."

The elder Nielsen was a troubled man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. As soon as he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, even though he was legally deaf (he wore hearing aids most of his life.)

After the war, Nielsen worked as a disc jockey at a Calgary radio station, then studied at a Toronto radio school operated by Lorne Greene, who would go on to star on the hit TV series "Bonanza." A scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse brought him to New York, where he immersed himself in live television.

Nielsen also was married to: Monica Boyer, 1950-1955; Sandy Ullman, 1958-74; and Brooks Oliver, 1981-85.

Nielsen and his second wife had two daughters, Thea and Maura.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The Sun-Times is a member of Associated Press.

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