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Paul Rust is 28, and looks it, maybe a little older. But in “I Love You, Beth Cooper” he plays Denis Cooverman, a high school valedictorian. Jack T. Carpenter, last seen playing a college student in “Sydney White” two years ago, is 24, and looks it. But he is also playing a graduating senior, Cooverman’s best friend Rich Munsch. As the movie opens, two actors who look like they should be playing guys in lab coats and stethoscopes wearing suits and carrying briefcases are wearing cap and gown and pretending — badly — that they are at their high school graduation. They look older than their principal, clue number one that no one is paying much attention to making sure this movie is going to work on any level.
Clues two through twelve that this movie is a mess come very quickly, and that is all that comes quickly in this slow-moving, sour-tasting disaster. It is possible — unlikely, but possible — that there is yet some unexplored humor to be made out of difficulty in opening a champagne bottle, but what this movie gives us instead is an excruciatingly drawn-out extended sequence with the most unimaginative of pay-offs. The characters race from one place to another for no purpose — either in story or in comedy. There are more locations than there are laughs.
Cooverman, the high school valedictorian, gets up to give his graduation speech and instead of the usual, “as we go forth,” he decides this would be a good time to tell the school’s mean girl that she is an insecure witch, the school bully that he is cruel because he was abused, Munsch that he should come out of the closet, and the school cheerleader, Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of “Heroes”) that even though they have never spoken, he loves her. So the rest of the movie consists of the consequences of these poorly-timed revelations as Cooverman has to run from Cooper’s crazed and coked up boyfriend and Munsch keeps telling everyone he’s not gay. Oh, and everyone gets to break in on Cooverman’s parents having sex in a car. Cooverman’s father is played by Alan Ruck, who must have spent every minute on set wondering how he could be in both one of the all-time best teen movies (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and one of the worst (this one). Every single character is a dull paper-thin caricature, from Cooper’s roid rage boyfriend to Cooverman’s despised ex-girlfriend, whose unforgivable failing is that she is not pretty and she likes him.
The wild last night of high school party movie can be done well (“Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Dazed and Confused,” “American Graffiti”). Here, however, director Chris Columbus seems to have taken the tiredest and most predictable elements from each of them, wrung out anything resembling an authentic or appealing detail, and then dragged out every single set-piece to the agonizing breaking point. I can’t say I’ve never seen a clumsy attempt to open a champagne bottle go wrong on screen before, but I can say I have never seen one so poorly staged and lugubriously paced. It look Cooverman less time to get through high school than it felt like I spent watching this film.

This third version of the story of a hijacked New York subway car may be superfluous but it still delivers some zip thanks to Tony Scott’s music-video flash and even a bit of heft thanks to Denzel Washington.

The 1974 version had Robert Shaw (“Jaws,” “The Sting”) as the leader of a group of trigger-happy thugs and a bitter ex-subway motorman and Walter Matthau as the transit cop working for the safe return of the hostages. The film’s great strengths were its nicely twisty plot, its superb cast of character actors (including Jerry Stiller), and its gritty feel for the city at a time of great economic turmoil and municipal decay. Then there was a made-for-TV version in 1998 with Vincent D’Onofrio and Edward James Olmos. This time, it is updated for the era of cell phones, laptops, and failing financial markets. The leader of the hijackers is John Travolta, with a 70’s porn star mustache, a prison neck tattoo, and a whole lot of attitude. He starts out at the top of Mount CrazyAngry and pretty much stays there the whole time. At the other end of the phone is transit guy Garber (Denzel Washington), who has depth of expertise and some complications in his work situation.

Director Tony Scott knows how to deliver a cinematic adrenaline rush, and there are some impressive car crashes and chases. James Gandolfini is superb as the mayor, a cross between Giuliani and Bloomberg, and there are some nice up-to-the-minute touches for the era of cell phones, wifi, and Wall Street collapses. It sacrifices some of the original’s craftiest switch-ups for action but the biggest problem is that Travolta never really connects and Washington’s fully-realized portrayal of the troubled but heroic Garber makes even more obvious Travolta’s struggle to make his character work. Travolta may steal the subway car, but it is Washington who steals the movie.

Filmed on location in more than 30 countries, this 13-episode series covers the history of Christianity from the time of Jesus through “two thousand years of persecution, politics, and power.” This DVD set has extras as well: a new introductory segment by host Bamber Gascoigne, a 16-page viewer’s guide with highlights, questions to consider, avenues for further learning, a timeline, and more, The Cultures of the Cross and Christ in Art photo galleries, and Architects of the Faith, select bios of people influential to Christianity. This is Christianity as a historical force, its highs (acts of sacrifice and compassion, learning, great works of art and architecture) and its lows (persecution and atrocities). It covers the largest and oldest denominations, and the briefest off-shoots, the unchanging traditions and the agile adaptations, the controversies and the conflicts.

I have one set to give away to the first person who sends me an email at with the word “Christians” in the subject line. Good luck!

In 2008, TED gave its annual award to Karen Armstrong, author of more than 20 books about what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common and their effect on world events. She is a former nun who now calls herself a “freelance monotheist.” Receipients of this prize receive $100,000 and “One Wish to Change the World.” Armstrong’s wish was for a compassion initiative:

“I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.”

The Charter for Compassion will be released later this month. But TED has posted six short videos of religious leaders with their thoughts on compassion and how to make the values of compassion a vital form of meaningful engagement. Watch these two and then go to the TED website to see the rest.

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