John Travolta

Most new religions, like most new businesses, die a quick crib death. Scientology, however, is not about to disappear. Scholars put the number of adherents in this country at about 25,000—a far cry from the millions of members its leaders claim, but hardly insignificant for a group that was founded about 50 years ago. Despite all its bad press, the allegations that it terrorizes its critics, its cult-like secrecy and hounding of apostates, and its very weird science-fiction cosmogony, it has become a part of the fabric of communities across the country.

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Savages is trashy, vulgar, preposterous, cruel—and maybe the most interesting and entertaining film Oliver Stone has made since Nixon. What more do you want when the country is burning, gridlocked, and practicing ballet on the brink? Don’t say the movies lack instincts about where we’re headed.

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The end of Larry King Live, after 50 years and a steep drop in ratings, was inevitable in a cable news climate that values mindless partisanship over mindless nonpartisanship. In contrast to the likes of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Glenn Beck, CNN’s middle-of-the-road tack was flailing. King’s farewell aptly coincided with the end of another institution in softball interviewing: The Oprah Winfrey Show, that stronghold of cheery neutrality and generic goodwill.

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Hot town, New York has been this week. Walking around, feeling half-dead, I've found myself singing the great old Lovin' Spoonful paean to urban torpor and release, "Summer in the City," to myself. It's remarkably durable for a song about the summer, a season that has inspired more dumb, junky songs than any other time of year. Doubtful?

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A Big Thud

Elmore Leonard is perhaps the most cinematic novelist writing in the English language. This is partly due to his usual subject matter—strong men and beautiful women on the edge of the law—but still more to the fact that his books read very nearly in real-time. Unlike most crime writers, for whom no physical or emotional detail is too small, Leonard has an extraordinary gift for concision: In any given scene he tells you just enough for the scene to play, and nothing more.

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Radical political figures attract film-makers. Those figures seem the available equivalents of saints or idealistic heroes; and since a good number of them ended badly they have some of the aura of tragedy. But in most cases such figures are cinematic snares--not because of the character or the heroism, but because of the politics. Warren Beatty's Reds (1981) is the best film he has made, but it never became much more complex than a biography of John Reed's love life against a revolutionary background.

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