Thursday, December 29, 2005

Our First Mixed Review

Here's a mixed review of Behind the Screen from the Acton Institute (Now, there's a name trying real hard to be "Act One"...).

The review is basically a thumbs up and for that I am grateful. Still, after noting that the book has "passages of real insight," the reviewers still had to get the following sadly defensive bit in...

If this collection of essays has one flaw, it is that it does little to recognize that there are those outside Los Angeles who have actively and prudentially considered how to create products that better society and engage culture.

Oh yeah, like what? No, really. Show me the movie or television show from Christians outside of Hollywood that deserves to be "recognized". Give me the name of one Christian writer who is as good at Grisham or Clancy or King or Wolfe. (Anne Rice doesn't count. She's one of those talented converts Jesus is bringing over to make art on our behalf.)

Now, I'll grant you that lots of Christians have sat around in rooms far and wide "prudentially considering how to create product," but if these efforts have come to nought, why should we pay them lip-service in our book? Part of the purpose of the book was to suggest that the "prudential thoughts" of Christians outside of Hollywood, don't do a thing to build culture. They are irrelevant to the folks who are showing up every day on the lots and in the offices of Hollywood, trying to get better stuff into your living room.

One of the points of the book is to say that we, as a church, are never going to get anywhere in the culture until we are ready to call a spade a spade. And the spade here is that our cultural forays have been marked by a lack of professionalism, depth and artistry. We have to stop the pretending.

However, as I said, the review still comes in that the book is worth your money by concluding,

And yet, this collection does one thing consistently well: it reminds the reader that the entertainment industry is a real industry where businesses and workers are subject to the same rules of excellence and quality performance as any other successful industry. Whether the matter at hand be the production of goods or the production of films, without refined technique, good intentions walk.

I admit. I can't help thinking it's a kind of benediction that we got our first mixed review from our fellow Christians.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy and holy Christmas to All!

Wintery, partially white Christmas greetings from CT where all I have been doing for a week is watching television, eating and reading Taylor Caldwell novels. Almost perfect joy - there is truly nothing like Christmas!

God bless you all with every good thing - the best thing of all being a renewed intimacy with the little Child of Bethlehem.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Review I Don't Have to Write Now

Go down to December 17th entry on this blog to read the review of Peter Jackson's Kong that I would have written if I had the strength of will to force myself to revisit the movie. The blog is by Brandon Fibbs in Colorado. Here's a paragraph with which I particularly resonated:

The usual and oft-deserved complaint you hear from many film purists is that the advent of CGI has allowed filmmakers to run afoul of good, old-fashioned storytelling. They complain that the story oftentimes takes the backseat to the effects. On King Kong, they have found the definitive case study in a film that uses its computerized brushes not for the sake of dramatic velocity, but simply because they can. That sort of wild abandon—the impulse to create magic and wonder for its own sake is a perfectly viable and I would argue, necessary element of cinemagic. However, when special effects are presented narcissistically as they are here, when they serve no other purpose than to showcase the bravado of the artist, when they exist solely so that someone can thump their chest as the great ape, and cry, “Look what I can do” they cease being magic and become the very worst kind of cheap parlor tricks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Re-Review: King Wrong

I decided my previous review was too snarky. As I noted, however, I have already wasted too many hours on this movie.

King Kong is truly awful. Paper thin characterizations, ridiculous dialogue, unmotivated and unbelievable scenarios, and Jackson's trademark, over-the-top extravagant excess at the expense of story.

The opening hour which might have been used to make us care about the characters, actually distances us from them. Meandering and episodic, ridiculous and unengaging. The opening montages of monkeys and vaudville make for an unfortanuate preamble to a film that is full of sound and 'furry,' signifying nothing.

Two opposable thumbs way down.

P.S. So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

From the Email Bag...

Here's an email someone just sent me which I post shamelessly hoping it will get some of you to order our book for someone on your Christmas list...

I just obtained my own copy of Behind The Screen and read the whole thing right through. Excellent!!! Brilliant!!! All Christians should read it. Not just people like me who are 49 years old and over the hill but still dream of moving to LA someday and writing a screenplay. Great book. I will reread it and reread it. (Martin, in PA)

Friday, December 09, 2005

NARNIA - This Weekend!

Everybody go.

No, not next weekend.

Now. Today, or tomorrow. Or Sunday. But THIS OPENING WEEKEND.

Everything depends on how a movie opens. The future distribution pattern, future advertising, the DVD release plan, the television rights. EVERYTHING.

Go. Bring your families.

Honestly, there is a weird thing going on in the secular media to HYPE the upcoming King Kong movie. I actually read an article last week to the effect that, Kong could be the BIGGEST, MOST HUGE, FANTASTICKEST BOX-OFFICE MAMMOTH IN THE HISTORY OF THE MOVIE BUSINESS!!!" This kind of talk has my culture wars senses tingling. Could it be that the secular folks are really hoping Narnia with its damn annoying Aslan-Jesus is a fringe blip that will be quickly obscured if they can only make any other movie the focus?

It would explain why we are getting drowned in heralds for the sodomites in saddles fantasy, Broke Back Mountain and also the ear-piercing evangelism for Jackson's "I need three hours to do what the 1933 classic did in two " Kong. Having already wasted nine hours of my life surviving Jackson's self-indulgent excesses, I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the Kong worship might be to drown out the noise around the Christian movie.

Just thinkin' out loud here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Village Voice Falls in Line

Here is a really good and fair piece in, that bastion of conservative Christian principles - The Village Voice! I had a very fun time talking to the journalist, Anthony Kaufmann - and I'm so glad the article reflected that.

Here are the snips with me in them...

Earlier this year, evangelicals expressed concern on websites that Hollywood producers would soft-pedal the story's Christian principles. But those fears have now been allayed by former nun Barbara Nicolosi, head of Act One, a Los Angeles–based Christian screenwriting program. "People particularly want to know if Aslan comes off as a Christ-figure, or just some warm and fuzzy magic lion," she writes in a press release accompanying her new book Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture. "Well, I personally cried every moment Aslan was on the screen. . . . So, I am going to say that Aslan is absolutely discernible as a figure of Jesus—for those who have eyes to see." Indeed, Barbara Nicolosi, who encourages her students to emulate her favorite author Flannery O'Connor and films like Todd Field's In the Bedroom and Jim Sheridan's In America, says she wants the arts to "explore the spiritual side of human nature. Too much art is coming from the one limited perspective of pure materialism."

Along with writers like Dean Batali ( That '70s Show) and Scott Derrickson ( The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and producers like Ralph Winter ( X-Men), who all teach at Act One, Nicolosi is leading the charge from the inside, calling for Christians to learn the craft of filmmaking and work within Hollywood. "To write a movie that's unintelligible outside of the [Christian] community is a weird thing to do," she says, citing films like the Left Behind series. "It just keeps Christians on the fringes of our own culture."


Still, judging from the dozens of stories published in the mainstream press about the Narnia-Christian connection—The New York Times has run at least six since February—the "secular" establishment seems to be worried. As Nicolosi says, "The idea of religious people acquiring media and artistic expertise is chilling to the secular left. I suppose they imagine that we will be as unfair and propagandistic with cultural power as they have been. But I pray we won't be. We have to answer to God for how we treat people."

P.S. For the record, our God is an awesome God.

P.P.S. For the further record, I am not "leading the charge." My principle achievement is in securing a forum for a whole bunch of really cool people to share what they know.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Really Nice Review...

...of our new book, Behind the Screen, is here. Written by R. J. Carter, it includes lots of citations from the book. A really nice treatment. Here's a snip...

Behind the Screen is one of those books that can't really be fully covered in a review -- and God knows, I've tried. There's too much meat in here -- no, too many full course meals entirely. It's a two-month Bible study, a textbook, and a soul-baring of those at Act One, a Hollywood "support group" for Christians, who participated in the production of this book.