Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas Break

Happy and holy Christmas to all!

I am back in CT where I have to share the world's slowest Internet connection with five other adults. It works out to me getting about fifteen minutes a day to barely catch up with only the most desperation-tinged sounding email messages.

And then, I'm sick again with one of those colds that all the hardy New Englanders don't seem to get anymore because they have all built up all this immunity living in this germ-ridden cold place.

So, I won't be blogging much till I get back to Los Angeles January 4th. And it hurts because I have the greatest series of photos from my adventure in Gettysburg with friend Katie. Just have to wait on those.

God bless all -

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lars is Real Nice

I can't believe how humane the movies are lately. Completely rejecting the selfishness and narcissism of the last forty years, several of this year's best films call for quiet, heroic virtue, that is all about doing your duty and putting other people first. And cynicism seems to have become an anti-trend, in stories in which simple faith and the unconditional love of friends and family are all indisputable goods. Considering Waitress, Juno, August Rush, Dan in Real Life and Lars and the Real Girl there are a whole slew of movies out there right now that are much more throwbacks to Marty than Pulp Fiction. (And granted, there is still lots of bloody cynicism to be had at the cineplex, but there is definitely a contrary trend showing up that would point our society in a whole other direction.)

Lars and the Real Girl was written by Nancy Oliver whose writing credits include Six Feet Under. That should tell you a lot about the well-drawn flesh and blood characters that drive the story here. In addition, there are several super performances here. Most notably Lars, played by the uber-talented Ryan Gosling (who just picked up a Golden Globe for his work in this movie), Patricia Clarkson, as the therapist everybody needs, and Emily Mortimer, who has, in spades, those damn amazing Brit acting instincts, as Lars' compassionate, pregnant sister-in-law.

Lars is a gentle, quirky little movie. You have be patient with it, as the story, like the tiny mid-Western town in which it unfolds, definitely takes its time. But it takes its time in that good, gradual, cumulative way in which life lessons are learned. Notwithstanding its measured pace, Lars is still a smart film, without being the least bit arch. You walk away thinking,, among other things, don't let the accents fool you, those small town folks have wisdom, which is a better thing than hip wit.

For reasons that are revealed throughout the course of the film, a young man, Lars, has been slowly withdrawing emotionally from his friends and family. One day, he surprises his brother, Gus and his sister-in-law, by introducing his new girlfriend, Bianca, whom he has met on the Internet. Bianca, from Brazil, speaks little English, and is wheelchair bound. She has long brunette hair, favors red lipstick and lots of blue eye-shadow, and has the sexiest figure of any woman in the town.

And, oh, Bianca, is a life-sized plastic doll.

After getting over the shock of realizing that Lars is suffering from a mental illness, Lars' circle brood over the best way to respond to Bianca. In a loving tribute to the best thing that small towns can be, the whole community of neighbors and friends around Lars, decides to patiently support him in his delusion, "as long as he needs it," as expressed by Clarkson's wise doctor.

As humble people, the folks in the town are willing to humbly look like fools by welcoming Bianca into their homes, church and even the school board, out of love for one of their own sons.

Larsis a satisfying, charming and compassionate movie that handles its central improbable plot-point with the patient sigh in which so much of the freakishness of modern life has been met in the unweird, measured life of a small town. These people have given up trying to understand the mystery of the human person, especially in the modern age. They have elected to accept people in a kind of "he's not heavy, he's my brother" kind of way. Beautiful script, beautiful story, beautiful direction, performances and complementary production design and cinematography.

I recommend Lars and the Real Girl very highly. Rated PG-13 for a few references to sex toys and Internet creepiness, there really isn't anything else problematic in the film. Sadly, it will probably only make it to major cities, so do watch for it on DVD next year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Message from Dappled Things

Dear Ms. Nicolosi,

I have some very important news to share with you about Dappled Things, and I hope that you will be able to share them with your readers.

Since its inception, Dappled Things ( has sought to provide a venue for emerging writers and artists to engage the culture from a Catholic perspective. In order to safeguard this mission, we have followed the policy of only receiving submissions from contributors between the ages of 18 and 35. However, throughout the past two years we have received comments from many readers and potential contributors who wish Dappled Things would accept work from persons of any age. This desire is understandable, as there are almost no other venues that specialize in creative work inspired by the Catholic tradition. Still, we have hesitated to remove our age limits because we do not want a situation in which more experienced writers and artists crowd out those who are still at the start of their careers.

After much deliberation, we have concluded that opening up the magazine to creative Catholics of all ages need not undermine our mission. We will remain committed to seeking out and publishing the work of emerging writers and artists, but we will now welcome submissions without regard to a person's age. By doing this, we hope Dappled Things will become a locus of the best creative talent available within the English-speaking Church. We want Dappled Things to be a magazine of which the Church can be proud (in a completely non-sinful way, that is) and through which Catholics can offer an alternative to the often confused culture that surrounds them.

If "The Golden Compass" and "The DaVinci Code" are works that characterize the "wisdom" of our age, we hope that Dappled Things will become a venue where those with a more profound vision -- the Tolkiens, Lewises, Waughs, and O'Connors of the future -- will be able to become known and share their work with the world. So whether you are a reader seeking material that will enrich your mind, soul, and imagination, or a writer who hopes to share some truth and beauty with the world, we hope you will join the Dappled Things community. To submit your work, please visit our website for instructions.

Sincerely in Christ,

Bernardo Aparicio
President, Dappled Things

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Application Deadline Only One Month Away!

2008 Act One Saturday Writing Program

What’s It All About?

The Act One Writing Program trains talented Christians for careers in mainstream film and television. The program takes place in Hollywood with intensive classroom instruction from a world-class faculty that includes over 50 top-notch TV and movie writers, agents and producers, Hollywood pros like Dean Batali (That 70s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), Monica Macer (Lost, Prison Break), Bill Marsilii (Déjà Vu) and David McFadzean (Home Improvement, What Women Want).

“Act One helps the Christian writer overcome the temptation to ignore or oversimplify the arduous task of integrating faith and creativity. It provides not only a serious investigation into the art and craft of screenwriting, but also a challenge to think deeply about content.” - Scott Derrickson, writer/director, The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Program Dates and Applications

The Saturday Writing Program will take place in Hollywood from February 29 through November 1, 2008. Applications must be received by January 10, 2008.

For more information or to apply, visit us online at

What Our Alumni Are Saying About Us

“It's a fantastic program and an unbelievable deal for the money. I went through both UCLA's professional screenwriting program and Writers Bootcamp. They do not compare in terms of content and the comprehensiveness of Act One, not to mention the spiritual formation. It really is a must for any Christian writer in Hollywood.” (2007 Alumnus)

"Act One was one of the most fulfilling months of my life...both spiritually and artistically… It doesn't make writing easier. It makes it harder...and better...and thank God for that." - Kevin Chesley, Summer Writing Program Alumnus

“For one intensive month I was thrust into a world of focused learning and creativity, with teachers at the top of their game who, in their generosity, shared their expertise. I can't recommend it highly enough! I cried the day after the program ended.”- Staci Armao, Summer Writing Program Alumna

“I wrote and directed my first feature film earlier this year, and Act One's fingerprints were all over the project -- two of the producers are Act One alumni, our executive producer is an Act One faculty member, and several Act One alumni helped on the set. Act One not only offers the tools necessary for good storytelling, but has also created a vibrant spiritual community of artists committed to helping each other.” - Nathan Scoggins, Summer Writing Program Alumnus

What Act One Teaches

Act One's rigorous screenwriting curriculum includes:

* 160 hours of classroom instruction, writing exercises, screenings and discussions, covering everything from script format, story selection, structure, genre, character and dialogue to understanding the business of Hollywood, pitching and working with an agent, plus:

* optional TV-writing track, which recreates the atmosphere of a network television writing room

* ethics and spirituality for Christians in the industry

* challenging pre-program homework

* the opportunity to complete a screenplay with weekly, small group instructor feedback

“The amount of scholarship, the degree of professionalism and the wisdom of the Act One program is an unparalleled gift to script writers. I can hardly believe it exists.” - David Hansen, Summer Writing Program Alumnus

Alumni Successes

Here’s a sampling of recent alumni successes:

* Stephen Chang (winner, ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship, hired as staff-writer for the ABC primetime comedy Miss/Guided)

* Clare Sera (writer, Curious George (Universal), Blended (Warner Bros.), Captain Abdul’s Pirate School (Nickelodeon Films))

* Amy Snow (winner, ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship, writer, Kept Men (Paramount))

* Nathan Scoggins (writer-director, The Least of These, starring Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy))

* Cheryl McKay (writer, The Ultimate Gift)

* Zoila Galeano (selected, 2007/2008 Latino Media Coalition Writing Program)

* Kimberly Wilson-Lauziere (winner, Cosby Writing Fellowship, ABC/Disney Talent Development Program)

* Elizabeth Beachy (winner, Nashville Screenplay Showdown)

“Every great production starts with the writer. Writers who are interested in the craft of writing should start with Act One!” - Ralph Winter, producer, X-Men, X2, Fantastic Four

For more information visit

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Meme-ing...

I generally resist the whole "meme" thing, because I already tend to be way too fascinated and delighted by myself. And frankly, this isn't my way of bragging. I like to get people to feel like they have dragged the self-congratulations out of me. But this is at least the third time friend Karen has gone to the trouble to meme me - such trouble as it is - and it seems unfriendly to keep ignoring the invitations. (I am not sure I have eight blogging friends of such intimacy that I might spread the meme to, however. Maybe they'll come to me.)

Meme Rules: Each tagged person must post 8 random facts or habits about themselves on their blog. At the end of the post, choose 8 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment telling them that they are tagged and to read your blog. Have fun!

1. I wrote my first play in the fourth grade. It was a ten minute monologue of Napoleon Bonaparte that I recited with the fully nuanced accent that I appropriated from Maurice Chevalier in Gigi.

2. I am pathologically incapable of being late. Even when I try to be fashionably late, I end up getting there five minutes ahead. I once got to an airport so early that they wouldn't check me in because, you know, I was there too early.

3. I have the corresponding twisted masochistic pathology that draws me to make friends of people who are pathologically incapable of being on time. I will surely spend all the minutes in purgatury that I have already lost in seething indignation while I waited in restaurants and on street corners thinking to myself, "I could have been here at 9:18am. And that would have been fine. But we said 9am! Didn't we?!!?"

4. I have been obsessed with the Battle of Gettysburg for about a decade now. I watch the movie several times a year, befriended the movie's director, have read about fifteen Gettysburg books, have spent hours pouring over every inch of every photo in my favorite book "The Gettysburg Battlefield", have been planning a visit to the battlefield for years, and intend to name my next cat "Buford" for the guy who saved the high ground and, indisputably, the Union. My father says my grandfather Nicolosi has the same obsession. I think that is comforting in a weird way.

5. It isn't home for me until there is an aquarium. Even when I was a nun and couldn't dispose of any material goods, I found ways - without any mental reservations or remorse of conscience - to finagle donors or superiors into financing ten gallon tanks. Something about the process of slowly killing little exotic fish just lets me settle interiorly.

6. Probably the writer who most influenced me growing up was Taylor Caldwell. I've read her life of Cicero A Pillar of Iron probably ten times.

7. I don't like the different foods on my plate to touch each other, and then, I only eat one at a time. I got corrected for this many times when I was in the convent, until finally my superiors gave up, deciding I was either mortificationally intransigent or nutritionally demented.

8. When I was ten years old, I said these prayers every day for a year. When my older sister told me that I hadn't actually completed a year because I had stopped on the last day of the 365 day year, I was so perplexed I said the prayers for another year, and added on an extra week at the end just in case. I still can't believe I had the self-mastery and faith to do this as a child. I feel sure the merits of those prayers account for all the blessings that I have received in my schleppy adulthood.

Okay, Karen. I hope that was worth it to you. I hereby meme anyone reading this blog who wants to do this exercise.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Partial Atonement

I'm going to recommend Atonement because it is visually stunning and also very respectful of the audience's intelligence. And the story which is the fragile skeleton of all the stunning images is fundamentally true and moral. But I am going to say Atonement is one of those movies in which the real star is the production design, and the story beats, cinematography and performances all serving the visual arena of the piece.

Based on the book by the same name (which I haven't read, but which people are saying makes you care much more about the lovers here than the main character Briney), Atonement the movie is much more about a crime and its consequences in the lives of three little people, than it is about atonement. The "atonement" in the movie is strictly literary, which is desperately unsatisfying to everyone in the movie and in the theater, but it is plausible, so we all suffered the disappointment. In relating the tragic details of an immoral act and a repentance that is just a bit too late, Atonement is fundamentally moral because it makes you regret these things. Nobody gets away with anything in this movie and it is all played as tragedy. Catholic brain had me thinking that even the two lovers who are wronged, set up their own tragedy by committing a series of mortal sins.

I appreciated very much how the storytelling unfolds non-traditionally, in flashbacks, through differing points of view and in the character's own retrospect. The movie dares to not lay all the back story and motivations up front, but to reveal them throughout -- including the main characters principal motivation which comes in a flashback to a moment by a lake that happened years before. It is a relief to see a film that allows me to do my job as someone inspecting and searching into a work of art.

And while appreciating the subtle storytelling, I am sure that for a lot of viewers it will be too subtle and they'll be wanting some more of the dots connected. To those I would say, the motivations you want are mostly all there, or else are in reach of your imagination. But the look of the story, and the recreation of the historical moments - an ideallic British manor in the mid 1930's, and the war-ravaged French countryside and beachhead at Dunkirk - kept my attention through all the moments of ambiguity.

I had some quibbles... Keira Knightly, the most lovely we have seen her rather flat face, is still way, way too thin here. In a bathing suit scene, she reveals all the curves of a twelve year old boy, and in other moments her shape seemed quite concave. Give that girl some bread.... The Dunkirk sequence went on too long and started to annoy me. Narratively, there wasn't much that needed to happen there, so I felt like they had ordered all this production design stuff and costumed throngs of extras, and so were trying to get the most use of them.... We needed way more of Briney in the last half of the film. The sources of her repentance are never explored except to say "I grew up." Yeah, not enough in a movie with the title Atonement.

There is some sexuality in Atonement but the R rating comes more for the startling images of the violence of war. I think those images were all to show effects of violence that are all interior in the life of the main characters so they are not gratuitous. I recommend this film for grown-ups who really like movies as art. (Which is to say that if "Bella" is your idea of fabulous, this one will be over your head. Go buy a Thomas Kinkaid calendar.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hollywood Advent Retreat - Dec. 8

Just a reminder about this weekend's Advent Retreat on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. We will be praying especially for a just resolution to the Writers Guild strike.

The retreat location is Immaculate Heart Retreat House, 3431 Waverly Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

The theme of this retreat is "Mary: The Eternal 'Yes' of Prayer." It focuses on the person and activities of the Blessed Virgin as the quintessential expressions of the prayerful life. Far from robbing her of her human dignity, her constant acquiescence to the will of God elevated her above all other humans, making her not only a powerful intercessor with her Son but also the great model of all that is best in womanhood. This activity is a combination of seminar (e.g., some Bible study), retreat (prayer and meditation, with Mass at the conclusion), and dialoguing (general discussions).

Here is the final schedule for Saturday's retreat:

830-900 Gathering/Coffee

910-920 Opening Prayer and Lighting of Advent Wreath

920-945 The Catechism on Prayer (Barbara)

945-1000 Discussion and Questions on Prayer

1000-1015 Break

1015-1045 Reflections on Motherhood and Mary as Mother (Bernadette Neal)

1045-1115 Silent Meditation

1115-1200 Mary in the Bible (Dr. Eric Hansen)

1200-1245 Lunch

1245-115 Silent Meditation

115-145 Mary in the Church (Dr. Hansen)

145-215 Mary in Our Lives (Todd Inman)

215-245 Discussion and Questions on Mary

245-330 Break/Time for Sacrament of Reconciliation (continues all afternoon)

330-430 Mass

There are still spaces available. Email to rsvp to: so we can order the right amount of lunches.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Juno : Ooooh Baby!

When was the last time you left a movie theater sad that your time with a main character was over? And you walk into the street wanting to find that person somewhere out there? My theory is this experience tends to make people generally kind. This year's indie with all the buzz is Juno and it deserves every accolade. I felt fairly secure in the conviction that Once had the best female character of the year, but Juno has left me all in grinning uncertainty. Twenty year old Canadian actress Ellen Page better get an Oscar nom or the universe will tilt on its axis.

Juno is first and foremost a humane film. It's wonderfully humane. Not sure how to expand on that. You have to see it to know what I mean. But without being a political message movie, Juno is also pro-life, in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about pregnancy is pro-life, and more so. (I would say Juno is a cultural message movie without being a political one. Certainly, that will be an inscrutable nuance in contemporary Christendom in which almost everything is politics. What I think is interesting is that Gen Xers and Millenials are pro-life without necessarily being Culture of Life. They don't put together all the pieces in the puzzle....not yet anyway.) The movie is also anti-divorce in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about family is anti-divorce. And people with faith are here too, in a decent and gritty way that shows mere secularism to be selfish and shallow.

There is wonderful film making in this movie. All the elements come together to set and maintain the tone. It knows what it's about, and it makes you care. But the film makers absolutely know that the principle element in a movie is character. And Juno has some of the best I've seen in the movies in recent memory. I really loved these people. I wanted them to be real.

And great stuff all the way through. On the level of craft, and on the level of narrative/content. (I am being deliberately obscure here in the hopes that I provoke you into seeing the movie.)...."I don't know what kind of girl I am." (She gets the Oscar just for the way she said that line!)... Loved that the thing that Juno at first likes in Mark - his childlike attachment to his music and horror movies, becomes the thing that repels her in him - what Vanessa articulates as Mark's refusal to grow up. And isn't that nailing the dark shadow of the video game playing, lazy, commitment phobic twenty and thirty-something generation?....Loved the woman making a noose out of licorice that the child bites through....Loved the boyfriend. Loved him...Loved Alison Janney - this woman can do anything - pausing in her ridiculous hobby of cutting out dog pictures to say with the profundity of years, "I know exactly who you are."...Love the color pallet juxtaposition - the bright impressionism of the poor vs. the beige still life of the rich.... Love Vanessa talking to the baby in utero and the baby kicking back!... Love the seedy ickyness of the abortion clinic.... Loved fingernails as a moment of grace! Loved and hated it as a writer because I would never have the courage to be that daring.... Loved how much I hated watching Juno cry those two times. How I couldn't comfort her. But wonderful to watch her move from the child wanting a fantasy, to an adult taking the best next step with what's there.... It's all very good.

Inner dialogue as I left the theater: "Something wonderful is going on in the movies as the Baby Boomers cede the story-telling scepter to Gen X. Are you noting all this, you Christians who hate Hollywood and think it is all garbage? Something wonderful is happening right under your noses, but you're literally not seeing it because it doesn't fit your paradigm. Gotta ask, miss any renaissances lately?"

Juno is for older teens and adults. It has a few bad words and the suggestion of teen sex, but is not crass or coarse. I recommend it very highly.

A REAL Culture of Life Movie

Go see August Rush. It is lovely.

The dialogue is a little lame at points, and the voice-over is over the top, and they have some draggy second act problems, but the story is so good, that you forgive them all of that. August Rush is a fresh, inspiring and spiritual story that leaves you believing that God is in the universe, that people are all basically searching for love, and that the best thing is to be a profound and kind person.

And it makes a compelling, powerful case for the personhood of the unborn child. In a flash, but it's there. And then, there is the whole point of the film which is that parents and children are connected in a mysterious and spiritual way.

And there are wonderful performances here by Freddie Hightower and Keri Russell. And there are at least two absolutely great visual and paradoxical haunting moments!

This movie deserves the support and attentions of all the folks who have been falling at the feet of Bella as a "great pro-life film." Too bad that latter mediocre film sucked all the oxygen out of the cultural room for Catholic, pro-life movies. Too bad August Rush doesn't have the money-grubbing, brainwashed Church of Regnum Christology virally shoving it at everybody in the Church.

But really when you have a good film, you don't need to deceive and blackmail people to get them into the theaters. August Rush has already lapped "THE #1 GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME!!!!" at the box-office twice over and is holding fourth place. In the end, the truth will out.

Go see August Rush! It will make you glad. And maybe more.

Totally Enchanted

Go see it. Haven't laughed this hard at a movie in years. My sister and I were crying with laughter at a couple points.

It is smart and at moments hilarious and consciously uncynical. And when Disney is on the dock at the last judgment, they will just show this film and say, "The defense rests."

More hopefully this weekend. Just wanted to give a heads up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Act One Writing Program Info Night


Join us for a Q&A session with the staff of the acclaimed Act One Writing Program to learn about Act One's upcoming 2008 Saturday Writing Program. This program trains talented Christians for careers in mainstream film and television.

Our world-class faculty includes over 50 top-notch TV and movie writers, agents and producers.

If you love movies and TV, if you're serious about your faith, and if you're crazy about telling stories, come find out more.

DATE: Thursday, November 29, 2007

TIME: 8:00-9:30 p.m.

LOCATION: Act One offices, 2690 N. Beachwood Dr., Hollywood, CA 90068



Monday, November 12, 2007

Dan Has Real Charm

I can't decide if Dan in Real Life is a chick film, or if the Cyrano de Bergerac-style suffering of the male protagonist will translate well for male viewers as well. I'm thinking it will, because for anybody with normal levels of humanity, there is a lot to like in this movie.

But, I have to get one thing out of the way. Even though the movie exteriors are all in the unbelievably gorgeous and cinematic state of Rhode Island (and Providence Plantations), the truth is, there is no family in my home state that would not choke to death amidst the unrelenting progression of clever group activities and quaint games that background the main story here. The big island in Rhode Island has the Indian name Aquidneck, meaning "land of the tight-lipped, narrow-eyed people."

But, anyway, back to the movie... I can't say a whole lot about the story because it has a great first act reversal. I mean, it plays really great because of the gentle way the story has unfolded up to that point. And then, there is very little story after that, so if I told you the set-up, I'd be giving away the main plot point.

But suffice it to say, this is a nice vision of the community that family and extended family can be. Unlike the recent movie The Family Stone, this movie has no political agenda and has almost no cynicism. There are some genuinely funny moments in the film, and while the awkward pain of the main character perhaps dwindles too long in the second act, the family arena here is enjoyable enough to keep the audience connected.

The competent group of actors, led by Steve Carrell, do a very solid job. I was glad to see Carrell in a piece like this, as it shows that he isn't going to take his career exclusively in the wide and easy comedy path trod by comics like Will Ferrell. Carrell is actually quite a good actor, I think, and really makes the audience feel his restrained agony here, without any over the top antics.

The sub-plot of the three daughters starts great but ends up a bit too emotionally manipulative. Still, it is refreshing to see a basically functional parent actually parenting a teenager on the big screen. Again, I think this is all evidence that the Gen Xers as they continue to assume the reins of power, are going to be reshaping a lot of the paradigms of the Sexual Revolution.

There isn't any deeper level to this movie. There isn't any lyrical imagery or cleverness in its structure. But those things would certainly detract from the "Real Life" quality that is in the film's title and reflects its tone. The emotional power of this piece comes from the psychological insight of the main character's dilemma, and how life holds surprises for all of us.

I recommend Dan in Real Life. It's very sweet.

Pray to End the Strike

On December 8th, there will be an Advent Day of Recollection and Prayer with the intention to bring peace to the industry in the Season of Peace. As Christians in the industry, our first witness should always be the way we turn to prayer in times of difficulty. The Strike will not be resolved without the softening of many hearts, as well as a rejection of fear and greed. These rank among those demons that Jesus said "are only cast out by prayer and fasting."

More info on the Advent Day of Recollection will be coming soon, but if you are in the area, please do plan to join us.

Meanwhile, do consider adding the following graphic to your blog to show your support for writers against the machine.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Art Lecture Series in NYC

I'm passing on this announcement for a friend... I really like the Communion and Liberation movement. They are an example of a healthy spiritual association that forms its members to authentic freedom. By contrast to unhealthy cultic groups, C&L is also is about more than just collecting money for the overlords.


I am very pleased to share information about an exciting group of lectures on art being sponsored the Crossroads New York Cultural Center and I want to personally invite each of you to these free lectures.

Details about the lectures are listed below and on the attached four flyers (one flyer for each lecture) and I would greatly appreciate it if you'd distribute this information to all your contacts.

Religious Awareness in Art from Prehistory to Today:
A Course in Art Appreciation

Lectures by Dr. Francis J. GREENE, Art Historian

• Wednesday, November 7 , 2007 at 7:00 pm
Prehistoric Cave Art, Egypt, Greece and Rome

• Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 7:00 pm
Early Christian and Medieval Art

• Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 7:00 pm
Renaissance, Baroque, and the 19th Century

• Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 7:00 pm
The 20th Century and the New Millennium

November 7 – December 5, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Museum of Biblical Art, 1865 Broadway, New York

As many of you already know, Crossroads New York Cultural Center was born in Fall 2004 as the initiative of four friends who are members of Communion and Liberation, the international movement in the Roman Catholic Church that was founded 50 years ago by Monsignor Luigi Giussani and was defined by Pope John Paul II, as "one of the beautiful fruits of the Holy Sprit for the Entire Church."

At the roots of Crossroads there is a shared interest in culture and the desire to communicate in New York the remarkable vastness, openness, richness, and profundity of the cultural life and passion for what is human that springs from the education to the Catholic faith taking place in Communion and Liberation.

What characterizes Crossroads New York Cultural Center as a Catholic cultural center is that particular ability, that can come from the event of Christ present here and now in His Church, to encounter people and to look for, and give value to, everything that is true, good and worthy of praise in all the expressions of human life. Therefore, the suggestion of Saint Paul - "Test everything, retain what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21 ) - sums up the ideal of Crossroads much more than any pre-determined subset of issues or people who fall under the 'Catholic' label.

With this passion and with this cultural horizon, we have begun our adventure and I invite you to join us in this adventure by attending this and all the Crossroads New York Cultural Center events.

And if you have not already done so, please visit the Crossroads website at

Into the Wild Doesn't Go Far Enough

The tragic story Into the Wild now in theaters, is the kind of movie actors love. I know this, because several actor friends raved about the movie to me. Actors love this kind of movie first of all because it was directed by an actor, Sean Penn, and any time an actor directs, it is like the entire acting universe exhales a long, melodramatic, self-justifying, "See, we can have thoughts too!" (Hahaha...Just kidding!) But this is also the kind of film actors like because it affords a lot of long drawn out moments of actors emoting on the screen.

In case you missed the book, as I did, (Cause I don't think I ever would have been coaxed into the theater if I had read it!), Into the Wild follows the road-trip and then off-road trip of Gen X antidisestablishmentarianist Chris McCandless, as he acts out his rage against his selfish Boomer parents by leaving home, leaving civilization and then accidentally starving to death in his ill-conceived trek into the wilds of Alaska.

I didn't think a lot of the film technically. Sean Penn chose a very distancing style of framing his shots, either in extreme close-ups, or in broad canvas wide shots. I kept wanting to just see the actor's faces, and where they were sitting in relationship to each other in a nice plain old medium shot. But there are way too few of these early on. And by the time, the director has dropped this over-stylistic technique well-into the (way too long) movie, I didn't care about bonding with the characters any more. And I know that there may be a rationale behind the framing that was deliberately distancing so that we can't really see who these people are blah blah blah, but all I can say then, is, if you were trying to make me disengage from the characters, you succeeded. Take a bow.

The actors are all raving about the acting and, with the exception of the lead character, played by Emile Hirsch, I did think the performances were very good. But I felt very sad that so much acting talent was squandered in the sense of not having a whole lot to do. Marcia Gay Harden is always enjoyable to watch, but here, she flits in the background of a handful of moments. Also William Hurt didn't need to be here. Hal Holbrooke was lovely, and has the distinction of being the only character in the movie whose backstory and purpose in the film makes any sense at all. And the other character actors who flit in and out of the main story, all seem to be kind of bored, like any minute either Catherine Keener or Vince Vaugn were going to direct address the camera, "So, what is this movie about, anyway?"

As the lead, Emile Hirsch was over his head and had no real connection with the emotions that were driving his character. The actor lost a lot of physical weight to play the character, but he never surrended to the hysteria and rage that would actually have to be there to drive someone to the extremes that led McCandless to his death.

The film uses embarrassingly overwritten narration to cover for the holes in the story. Every time you are just about to put something together, in comes Jena Malone's mournful voice to oversimplify it for you. Not good.

There was one great line of dialogue that I thought pretty much summed up this Boomer Post-script era. Two of the folks that Chris McCandless cavorts with on his trip are two long-haired, grey-hairs who are still living the 60's sexual revolution drop out dream. One of them sighs at one point on their meaningless existence and says, "All is not well in hippie land." Ha! Talk about a quote to carve on the Boomer's collective gravestone!

In it's totality, the movie is quite disturbing. My friend and I left the theater alternately disgusted and annoyed. It just seemed like such a damn waste of a life. If only somebody had been around to slap McCandless ont he side of the head and say, "So your folks dropped you on your head. So, pick yourself up, and go and help somebody!" If this film has any importance at all, it will be because of the window (even incomplete as it is) it gives into the lives and motivations of the children of the Boomers. Rage and narcissism, the sense of having gotten a raw deal, laziness masking itself as wunderlust, did I say angry narcissism?

The problem for Sean Penn, et al, in making this film, is that they can't bring themselves to actually condemn the Sexual Revolution. So, they end up saying very little, except, "Wow, let's all stare at this guy."

I was bored after about thirty minutes into this movie. Except for a few weird moments of nudity, there isn't anything here that would be violating for most Christians. It's just disappointing because it doesn't have much to offer by way of meaning. I can't recommend it. Pass.

Golden Compass Points to Religious Bigotry

I haven't seen The Golden Compass yet, although I have been aware of the problematic nature of the books for several years. In case you haven't heard of the series, the author Philip Pullman, hates Christianity, and has been pretty vocal about the point of his book being to help free children from the lies of religion, and let's stamp out the damm-ned thing and anyway don't forget the inquisition and ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz.

Where was I? Oh yes, so, I can't imagine going to see this film because nobody pays me to be a critic, and no amount of money would be worth it to me anyway.

But here is a helpful piece featuring friend and Christian critic, Jeffrey Overstreet talking about the substance of the stories. He also cautions Christians about creating any kind of extra publicity for the film by some kind of protest. The best thing to do is to just keep your kids away.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Act One 2008 Applications Now Available

Applications for the 2008 Act One Executive and Writing Programs are now available online and we’re asking for your help to get the word out.

The success of the Act One programs depends on the quality of our students, and every year the most effective method of getting news about Act One to high-quality applicants is word of mouth. Please help us by thinking of smart, talented, culturally savvy Christians who are serious about their faith and who love movies and television, and then telling them about us.

Program dates

The Act One Saturday Writing Program will take place on Saturdays, beginning with a weekend retreat February 29 and running through November 1, 2008. Applications must be received by January 10.

The Act One Summer Writing Program will run from July 6 through August 4, 2008. Applications must be received by March 13.

The Act One Executive Program will take place from June 5 through August 22, 2008. The application deadline is March 14. All applications received after the deadline will be considered on a space available basis only.


Applications are available online here.


Brochures for both programs are available now. If you would like a copy mailed to you, or if you would like multiple copies to distribute at your church, alma mater, or in any other setting, please let us know the number of brochures you would like and your mailing address by e-mailing us at or by calling us at (323) 464-0815.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Ron Paul of Christian Movies...

Now, will people agree that this project is being over-hyped into the stratosphere?

Here is a message a friend of mine in Chicago got last night. The subject line had the heading: "BELLA IS THE 7TH HIGHEST RATED MOVIE OF ALL TIME!!!"

According to this message, people out there think Bella is a better movie than Chariots of Fire and Life is Beautiful, and even Lord of the Rings. Can that really be true? Is it right to get people into the movie theaters by saying this movie is as great as those others?

(I am editing out the Internet addresses.)


We have huge news!!!

Bella is #1 Highest Rated Movie in the World with Audiences!

-Yahoo (#1 web portal in the world): Bella is #1 highest rated by the people:

-Yahoo: Bella is the #7 highest rated of ALL TIME ahead of Lord of the Rings, Empire Strikes Back & Pirates of the Caribbean: (scroll down to see "Top Rated Movies of All Time" (there is some funny business here because we were top 3 with an A- but someone changed our score to a B+ on the main page- but it has the correct info on the bella page an A-)

-Fandango (#1 movie ticket website): Bella is #1 Fan Rating-

-Rotten Tomatoes: Bella has highest user rating of any film on Rotten Tomatoes at 96% (higher than Life is Beautiful, Chariots of Fire, Hotel Rwanda, American Beauty and the other winners of Peoples Choice Award at Toronto Int Film Festival)

This is amazing because this is the voice of the PEOPLE!

The Peoples Choice Award Winner is still the Peoples Choice the week of it's release… not just #1 for this year… but in the top 10 of ALL TIME in only 1 week of release!!!

This is truly a miracle and we have no idea how it has gotten so big.

Now that we know how important this is we want to ask you to please take 10 minutes right now to visit each of these sites and VOTE the top for BELLA and view the trailer because this helps increase our score. Also leave positive comments that are short and powerful. THIS CAN HELP US STAY ON TOP and be in front of millions and millions of people!



But you know what is even more amazing than all of the above? Most mind-blowing is that the "#1 MOVIE IN THE WORLD!" could, after a week in release, be just hitting $1.5 million at the box-office. How can that be? Somebody help me out here.

But seriously, is viral marketing legitimate when you really believe in a product?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Christians Investing in Culture

There has been a lot of talk around Hollywood this past week about the best way for Christians to spend their money to see a positive impact in the culture. I have been to no less than three events this past week on this subject, and about three more in the last month.

And it's great. A dream really. For too many years, we Christians in the business have been operating in a parallel universe from the rest of the Church was has always ready to wag fingers and send recriminations, but never up to actually rolling up sleeves and making the sacrifices to help things get better. So is surreal to suddenly be sitting in many rooms with "potential investors" who are seriously discerning how and where to invest towards a new renaissance.

The change has been due to many things like John Paul II's emphasis on the arts specifically highlighted in his Letter to Artists, and then the success of The Passion of the Christ and LOTR and Narnia, a complete exhaustion with the proliferation of unsatisfying and even degrading stories offered by secular materialists in the last few decades, but probably most of all the dawning realization among the People of God that our natural place is to be leaders in the arts and storytelling. It's a very good movement to realize that nothing will change in Hollywood without an intelligent, integrated strategy for change.

As I see it, there are two ways that make sense as investment approaches. There is the major investment approach, and the minor investment approach. Both are necessary, and ironically, the minor investment approach will probably have the longest term strategic impact. Both of these approaches assume a "people versus projects" emphases.


The major investment approach has to do with identifying creative people in the industry who are looking to provide entertainment product for your neighborhood cineplex.

What I mean by that is, in this age of You-Tube, there are lots of people who will be happy to take gobs of money to express themselves on screen. These folks are making movies on a dime, without a lot of training or experience, without any industry relationships, without a serious business or distribution plan, really without much more than a wish and a prayer. This stratum of folks are the object of approach number two, so we'll get back to them. But frankly, they are not the folks to whom you give $5,000,000 or $2,000,0000 or even $100,000 to.

The idea is to find people who share your values, but also have much more besides just your values, that would enable them to get projects on television and in the theaters. They would have all those things I listed above, plus talent. Um, and then they should have some talent. And by talent, I mean, actual, you know, talent.

So, once you've identified them, they need to be trusted with serious investments. Millions of dollars. Ultimately tens of millions of dollars. Because global influence doesn't come cheap. And because what companies need is to support a large slate of projects, each of which is a multi-year, multi-million dollar enterprise. Serious investment will allow thes companies to sustain long-term relationships in the industry, which will be the key to the celebrity talent which drives the global audience, and to distribution. It will also maximize the chances of achieving the magic combination of great story and high-level execution which secures a movie a place in the hearts and minds of viewers.

Investing in the movie business is very much like investing in building construction. You wouldn't hire an architect and contractor to build you a skyscraper just on the basis of their Christian commitment. You'd want to know that they have the technical know-how, relationships, and experience to do the job for you. Movies are just like that. Really expensive. And requiring a very advance level of expertise.

And there are definitely companies like this. Committed Christians, with a vocational dedication to Hollywood, with serious business plans and structures, and with an intelligent understanding of art, story and entertainment.

But the thing is, once you have satisfied yourself that the company fits all of the above requirements, then, you have to step back and let them do their thing. In the same way that you wouldn't try and tinker with where the architect puts the electrical system in the skyscraper he is designing for you, investors shouldn't try and dabble with dialogue in movies, or come up with character quirks or really good ideas for second act transitions.

The truth is, most of us Christians have very little sense of art or story. We've lost any aesthetic standards, starting with what we are doing in our own churches in the arts. We are going to have to trust our artists to be "prophetic voices" for us, borrowing from John Paul II. (NOTE: Again, you don't trust just any one who declares themself an artist. Read above again and then move to Section B.)


For those investors who can't afford to shell out hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, the next best way to positively impact Hollywood is to support those people who are directly invested in nurturing a new generation of people for the industry.

There will be no long-term change in Hollywood without a whole new generation of people with Christian values coming to be a part of the business at all levels. (Here I go again.... but it is my thing:) We need actors, writers, directors, agents, studio, network and production company executives, cinematographers, stunt people, publicists, grips, mechanics, production designers, graphic artists, animators, editors, hair and makeup people, script supervisors, production coordinators -- get the picture?

But principally, we need people who can affect content: writers, directors, executives, and agents. We need to develop and support programs that identify and recruit talented individuals at top schools who share our values and who have the real possibility of pursuing a Hollywood career. Then, we need to support programs that train, mentor, and help launch the careers of these people.

The training we provide needs to be a combination of high-level, real world craft study, (of the nature that few Christian universities even aspire to), married to an insightful curriculum of ethics and spirituality to support people as their careers in the industry unfold (of a nature that no Christian universities have even thought of yet.) We also need coordinated efforts to rally the People of God to support their brothers and sisters in Hollywood with prayer and resources.

And there are programs in the business that are doing this. Programs like Act One and the Los Angelus Film Study Center, the Angelus Awards, Hollywood Connect, and backing them all up with prayer, the Hollywood Prayer Network. But all of these projects are shoe-string non-profits who struggle month to month to meet payroll for their dedicated, servant-minded staffs. For any of these programs, a donation of five or ten thousand dollars makes a huge difference.

But I think it is shameful, that these programs are struggling. Christians have no business whining about how horrible Hollywood is if they haven't done anything to support those people who are trying to make it better.

So, there it is. A two-pronged strategy for cultural renewal. The question is, how serious are we about having our voice heard in Hollywood?

Good for you, Jess!

I found this through a link at Pewsitter.

Actress Jessica Alba has vowed that she would 'never' strip naked for a film - because her Catholic background does not allow her to do so.

The 26-year-old actress revealed that she wouldn't think twice before turning down a role that requires her to go nude, as she believes it is important to abide by her strict religious beliefs.

"I will never do a nude scene in a movie - not ever. I can act sexy and I can wear sexy clothes but I can't go naked. I think I was always very uncomfortable about the way my body developed," Contactmusic quoted Alba, as saying.

"I come from a Catholic family and it wasn't seen as good to flaunt yourself. I can handle being sexy with clothes on but not with them off," she added.

Hopefully this will be a new trend. Christian actors coming out, you know, as Christians. Good for her!

About that "High Per Screen Average"...


On Monday, the Hollywood Buzz woman, Nikke Finke noted on her site,

Also, Roadside Attractions' little known PG-13 Bella opened in only 165 theaters to make $1.3 mil this weekend but surprisingly had Friday's 3rd best per screen average ($8,026). "Think there are some distribution guys around town wondering right now what the heck a Bella is?" an insider on the film boasted to me...

So, then, I just got copied on this following email from a friend of mine in New York who got it this past weekend:

Dear _____,

10,000 tickets to BELLA have been purchased by GOYA FOODS for your use this

This is a free gift from Goya Foods to New York.

(All showings Saturday/Sunday. Manhattan only. See Times/Locations below.
First come, first serve).

Goya foods believes in the message of Bella and wants New Yorkers to
experience the movie for FREE when it opens this weekend in Manhattan.

Bring anyone and everyone you want and spread the word.

Pick up tickets at the box office or look for people wearing Bella or Goya

The executive producers of Bella and Goya Foods finalized these details
yesterday and we've been asked to help, so please get the word out. This
will be awesome.


Ten thousand tickets!?!! Wow!

How do we feel about this? Do you suppose this fact was also 'boasted' to Nikke Finke? Does it bug you that this movie's high per screen average is being vaunted in the press, but not that it was actually inflated by, um, Goya Foods? Suppose George Soros bought a million dollars in tickets to the latest anti-America movie and, then, the movie was reported to be a huge hit, how would you feel about that?

But more than just perception, it matters because according to one person associated with the project, the future expansion of the film's release was going to be decided by the distributor, Roadside Attractions, based on the opening weekend's receipts. But those receipts were inflated by 10,000 tickets in New York alone. When the secular industry finds out, do you think they will see this as Christians being admirable and savvy? Or trying to rig a game we can't win legitimately?

I don't know if this is wrong. Maybe it's just really shrewd playing of the game. I don't know.

I do know I have a headache...

"Regressive Utopians" - The Other Church Which is in Hollywood

And because it's Halloween, I thought it would be appropriate to do a piece on the real servants of darkness that lurk on every corner of Hollywood Blvd. in front of lovely restored buildings and huge complexes. Scientology, the omnibus cult that, in the Church's pastoral absence, has filled the spiritual void in so many creative people here, has made Hollywood its Vatican. One estimate I read says Scientology owns 60% of the land in Hollywood, including this place, right down the street from me...

I see the kids crossing the street every day from their cheap apartment building to the glamorous Celebrity Center. You know them because they wear a weird uniform of navy blue chinos and white shirts, and they always have a grimly focused demeanor, as though they need to be particularly intent, on crossing the street and mixing with non-Church members, not to be distracted off the elitist dogma that has them living the separatist lives of slaves.

So, in honor of this day dedicated to creepy ghoulishness, here is an excellently written and researched piece from a few years ago that appeared in Rolling Stone about Scientology. Definitely worth a read. Here are a few snips...

Unique among religious faiths, Scientology charges for virtually all of its religious services. Auditing is purchased in 12.5-hour blocks, known as "intensives." Each intensive can cost anywhere from $750 for introductory sessions to between $8,000 and $9,000 for advanced sessions. When asked about money, church officials can become defensive. "Do you want to know the real answer? If we could offer everything for free, we would do it," says Rinder. Another official offers, "We don't have 2,000 years of acquired wealth to fall back on." But Scientology isn't alone, church leaders insist. Mormons, for example, expect members to tithe a tenth of their earnings.

Still, religious scholars note that this is an untraditional approach. "Among the things that have made this movement so controversial," says S. Scott Bartchy, director of the Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA, "are its claims that its forms of therapy are 'scientific' and that the 'truth' will only be revealed to those who have the money to purchase advancement to the various levels leading to 'being clear.' It is this unvarnished demand for money that has led many observers to opinethat the entire operation looks more like a business than a religion." Clearing the stages along the Bridge to Total Freedom is a process that can take years and cost tens and often hundreds of thousands of dollars -- one veteran Scientologist told me she "donated" $250,000 in a twenty-year period. Other Scientologists can wind up spending family inheritances and mortgaging homes to pay the fees. Many, like Natalie's parents, work for their local church so they can receive auditing and courses for free.

Both of Natalie's parents are Clear, she says. Her grandmother is what's called an "Operating Thetan," or "OT." So is Tom Cruise, who is near the top of Scientology's Bridge, at a level known as OT VII. OTs are Scientology's elite -- enlightened beings who are said to have total "control" over themselves and their environment. OTs can allegedly move inanimate objects with their minds, leave their bodies at will and telepathically communicate with, and control the behavior of, both animals and human beings. At the highest levels, they are allegedly liberated from the physical universe, to the point where they can psychically control what Scientologists call MEST: Matter, Energy, Space and Time....

..."L. Ron Hubbard says, 'What is true for you is what you observe to be true.' So I'm not here to tell you that Scientology is the way, or that these are the answers. You decide what is true."...

....In one of the stranger chapters in Hubbard's life, recorded in detail by several biographers, the soon-to-be founder of Dianetics became Parsons' assistant -- helping him with a variety of black-magic and sex rituals, including one in which Parsons attempted to conjure a literal "whore of Babalon [sic]," with Hubbard serving as apprentice.

Charming and charismatic, Hubbard succeeded in wooing away Parsons' mistress, Sara Northrup, whom he would later marry. Soon afterward, he fell out with Parsons over a business venture. But having absorbed lessons learned at Parsons' "lodge," Hubbard set out to figure his next step. In his 1983 autobiography, Over My Shoulder: Reflections on a Science Fiction Era, the sci-fi writer Lloyd Eshbach describes meeting Hubbard in the late 1940s. "I'd like to start a religion," Eshbach recalls Hubbard saying. "That's where the money is."....

There is lots more mind-blowing stuff in the article. You have to read it if you want a real sense of the spiritual warfare going on for the soul of the 'City of the Angels.'

Please pray for the real Church to wake up, and see this place as a missionfield.

P.S. I guess this makes it officially "Barb Takes on the Cults Week." You either know what I mean, or not....

Hollywood's All Hallow's Eve

in Hollywood, the writer meant nothing. They were paid well, but the moguls never saw any real difference between their writers and the carpenters who built the sets. - L.A. Times"

So tomorrow, everybody here in the business is expecting the Writer's Guild of America to go on strike. This means all of us who make our livelihoods in the word writing side of the business will stop getting checks and delivering pages. Karen has a synthesis of issues and links at her site here. The issues are very real in this conflict and basically come down to greed on the part of the studio/networks who have been for years finding new technology ways to profit on the work of writers without having to pay for the privilege. It isn't right, and it has to stop. But I am not hopeful for the negotiations because I have been in rooms where Greed was the other silent presence in the room, and it is a presence which neuters and obstructs every rational argument.

This past Fall, I was a party in a negotiation with a producer who was screwing a writer, completely in breech of a contract that we all had in front of us. And in between the agent's well-constructed pleas, and the producer's blustering distortions, the writer kept holding up the contract and shaking their head at the producer, "Just do the right thing." Finally, the producer began screaming the F-word in feigned horror that his ethics could be in question, and everyone in the group just walked away. (BTW, the producer here is a Christian...) It was ugly because it was so transparent that the producer was fighting for, in the words of Fargo 'just a little bit of money.'

My experience is that there is a weird thing that happens when people get money in their bank account. Especially if it is money that is due to be remitted to other people. As soon as the money comes in, people start to imagine it is their own, and that to pay it out is an act of charity and personal discretion. When it isn't. If it is due to others, the money in your bank account doesn't really belong to you, and they are either going to get it the easy way or the hard way. This is why so many of us run for our lives from deals that are predicated on this proposition: "As soon as we sell it, we will pay you $______." I always think when I hear that, a) You might not sell it, which means I will have worked for nothing. AND b) If you do sell it, you might not be able to let go of the money so as to pay me. (Think I am kidding? Just the other day one of our alumni turned in a script to a production company which then announced to the writer that they no longer had the money to pay for the script but that they would "eventually." There was a contract, and there had been money given for the script. But it got spent once the script deal was signed, and now the money meant for the script was gone. Oh well. We're sorry you can't pay your rent dear writer.... Did I mention that this production company too was run by Christians?)

Back to the strike...My sense is most folks outside of the business are secretly enjoying the idea of spoiled, overpaid Hollywood narcissists in a war against themselves. But the truth is, lots of everyday people will suffer in this huge industry, as the wave of production gradually moves towards a halt. It will take several months before the viewing audience starts to feel the effects of the strike. By the time most of you start to get fed up with one more super-extended week-long extravaganza of Deal or No Deal - the models will probably be close to topless and in G-strings by then - the most struggling people in the business will already be in foreclosure on their homes and selling off their furniture piece by piece. As with any sad situation like this, the top-tier people in Hollywood - the one's Christians are really thinking of when they call this place evil and poisonous - will not suffer too much from the strike. It's always the poor who take the hits when the sh*t hits the fan.

To try and put some kind of a hopeful spin on this, perhaps those of us who care about the cultural demise, can pray that the writers will spend these next few weeks or months of strike as a time of retreat and reflection. Pray that while they are having to stop writing, the writers here, who have so much power, can be moved towards eventually writing things that will be good for the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Best Team in Baseball!

An Administrative Note

I am suddenly seeing a strange uptick in infuriated and ad hominem attack style emails and comments (which have variously claimed that I'm stupid, unjust, jealous, pro-choice, clueless about movies, un-Catholic, and not even Christian, but also that the Bella "movement" is holy...okay then....)

Consequently, I have had to adjust my blog to moderate most comments. This will mean that there will be a delay in getting your comment up while I am out living my life and not sitting on my computer waiting.

Sorry, to everybody else.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Bandwagon Proposal

If we must have a cinematic bandwagon, I propose that we have it for The Assassination of Jesse James. Based on the novel by a devout, brilliant, and very-talented Catholic novelist Ron Hansen, the film is truly Catholic. That is, it has matter (profound truthful content) and form (technical and artistic mastery). It is therefore sacramental in the way that art should be.

Anyone who is walking out of Bella theaters full of wonder and delight, I'm happy for you. Be of very good cheer! You can find much more abounding joy in box set editions of Touched By an Angel and Highway to Heaven at your local Walmart. And that may not be bad for you in the long term. (I'd have to know you to make a better guess.)

But anyone who is walking out of Bella screenings disappointed and confused, because the hype didn't seem justified, then you are the kind of person for whom The Assassination of Jesse James is waiting to fill you with wonder and delight....and more gravitas, besides. Go back to the cineplex. Give movies another chance! Buy another ticket before you renounce this art form altogether!

But all anti-Wormwooding aside....

It is an interesting question. Is it possible for Jesse James and Bella to both be great in the same time and aspect? If Bella is great, then what is left for poor Jesse James?

And remember, for Christians, the answer can not be that movies are in the eye of the beholder. The only thing in the eye of the beholder is stuff with which to see or not see.

Such fun we're having this weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


So slight that a gentle breeze might tip it over, "Bella" is a film about selfless love that wants to be loved too much. Manipulative pic trades in fairy-tale views of New York life alongside briefly sustained emotional confessions, which may partly explain its victory as Toronto fest's aud winner. Mexican-born helmer Alejandro Monteverde's debut will be remembered as a curious case of a mediocre film that wows crowds... Daily Variety

I have been getting loads of email asking (and sometimes demanding!) my opinion of the indie project Bella that opens (frantically) this weekend in several cities. I have thus refrained from making an official comment about the project because it seemed to me there was no upside. There has been an aggressive and, frankly, stupefying marketing blitz in the Catholic, pro-life universe for the film, and the folks behind the film have recruited an impressive number of good-willed, Catholic and pro-life notables to give the film a thumbs-up. I can't figure out where the momentum is coming from - as the film itself is not that good - except that everybody in Christendom is eager to support something in the culture instead of always saying "Bleck." (Which Christians really wouldn't have to always be saying if we paid attention better to the good work that is out there to be seen...but that's another post.)

So, we have ourselves a real-live, mind-numbing bandwagon going here to get behind Bella if you love Jesus and care about the babies! I have been contacted three separate times in the last two months trying to get me to say something in support of the film, and my response was, "Why do you need me? You have nearly the entire orthodox Catholic world telling you it's the greatest Catholic, pro-life film ever made?" A producer on the film subsequently left a message on my voicemail noting that my refusal to support the film had its source "in the demonic." Really? "Demonic"? It couldn't just be that I found the film plodding, easy, sloppy and uneven?

In short, I don't think Bella is great. It's not really "Catholic" (in the sense of overt spirituality). And it really isn't pro-life (in the usual sense of that term). Is it the worst film ever made? No. I'm not saying that at all. It is a first-time project from some filmmakers with clear potential, that has some nice moments and certainly loads of good intentions behind it. But is it great cinematic story-telling, or even really good cinematic storytelling deserving of all the raves it is getting? No.

When you know, practically from the beginning, what's going to happen at the end of a movie, what do you do with your time in between? Offer to buy everyone in the theater popcorn while you sit this thing out? Check cellphone messages? Catch up on lost sleep? We opted to just watch "Bella," a Mexican movie in which the outcome is never in doubt, the scenes are endless -- sorry, we meant poetic-- and the false beard on the central character's face looks as though it could use a little extra gum. One conversation segues into what seems to be eternal walking and talking....Anybody need any help with where this is going?.... But as the film amiably observes the passage of time, we can only think about the clock. - Washington Post

What is going on is a wildly over the top marketing blitz in which the investors in Bella are trying desperately to recoup their investment, by telling good Catholic people that they must support this film to send a message to Hollywood. As with so many other mediocre Christian movies, the only "message" that Hollywood will get if Bella does well, is that the Christian audience has no idea what a good movie is and will rave about anything that remotely mirrors our world-view. And the really sad thing is, that message isn't true. Most Christian people, like the rest of the world, do know a good story when they see one. So many, possibly most of the folks who are going to dutifully show up to support Bella this weekend are going to be disappointed or annoyed, or generally confused at what it is they are missing that everybody else is raving about. Trust your gut, audience of The Passion, you're not missing something. There's just not much in Bella to miss.

...It's as if director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde felt the episodic and wandering tale had gone on long enough and now needed to round the film off with a neat ending. He wanted to avoid the most obvious, but did not come up with the surprising or the satisfying, but rather the second-most-obvious choice. Movie logic replaces character logic, and we feel cheated....It ends like a TV show, and everyone has learned a neat little lesson. Phooey. - Arizona Republic

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I haven't seen the film in over a year since it was in rough cut. In the weeks before the project was shot, I had read the "screenplay" (and I use the term loosely, because it was astoundingly unprofessional, but I understand from one of the producers that "80% of the script was thrown out on set as the actors improvv-ed the scenes...."Oh great," I thought. "That will fix things just fine.") My notes on the project were, "This screenplay is deficient in every area in which it can be." I noted that there was no real story, and that the character's choices were unmotivated. There was no conflict, no theme, no imagery, no subtext and no rationale to the structure. And the dialogue was very bad. And there was a lot of stylistic showing-off that had nothing to do with the main story. And the only two choices that make up the entire A-story, HAPPEN OFF SCREEN! All in all, a very bad script.

Bella, which surprisingly took the top audience prize at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, is yet another dull American independent movie, one that eschews the empty flash of the Hollywood model but doesn’t substitute anything interesting of its own. It’s content to plod along as it plays out its rather hackneyed skein... None of this is done with any real style or panache... Bella is as pedestrian as they come. - Boxoffice Magazine

When I saw the film in rough-cut, it was ostensibly to help the filmmakers decide on a name for the movie. I remember saying to them, "I don't know what to call it, it isn't really about anything." (In response, one of the producers on the film suggested to my manager that I have "deep spiritual problems". I'm just saying...) I noted at that point that the performances were uneven, the structure was deeply flawed, the costuming and make-up were bad, and that the production design was, well, non-existent.

Director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde has so little control of tone or nuance that even the most tragic and serious moments here come off as melodramatic jokes. (During the screening I attended, nearly the entire theater burst out laughing at the violent death of a child.)...(Bella) manages to be utterly predictable without making any sense at all.....The Village Voice

Okay, a year later, people are telling me that the movie is "the greatest Catholic pro-life movie ever!" Every Catholic media outlet is covering the project like it is Gone With the Wind for the Church. I am hearing stories of people breaking into tears and renouncing lives of sin because of the movie. Everyone mentions the "amazing story" of the filmmakers who converted to Christ and then knowing nothing about movie making, won an award at Toronto. (And I should note, I really like the lead actor here, Eduardo. He's a lovely, prayerful, completely sincere guy.)

Though the Toronto Film Festival doesn't have an official competition section, its People's Choice Award winners have been a reliable bellwether for movies that will enjoy some degree of popular acclaim: Tsotsi, Hotel Rwanda, Whale Rider, Amélie, Life Is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Given that history, a full-scale investigation needs to be launched over how Bella managed to take the award in 2006...this gooey, cheap-looking Mexican tele-novella...The emotions at play in "Bella" are no doubt heartfelt—and must have resonated with a few hundred people, anyway—but they're so cut-and-dried that the mawkish script virtually writes itself. - AV Club.

Monteverde's movie is full of long, melodramatic monologues, meagerly developed motivations and TV-movie staging. The choppy narrative makes the story unnecessarily confusing and largely uninteresting. The good news for Monteverde is that he must have a lot of family and friends in his corner. How else to explain the fact that "Bella" won an audience award at last year's Toronto Film Festival? - Los Angeles Daily News

I don't know what they were smoking at Toronto, but I suspect that the film was well-received there because of its occasionally charming images of a Latino family, but mainly because of the fact that Bella, regardless of what is being said about it, is ambiguous on the subject of abortion. One review I read praised the film for being a look at a problem pregnancy "in which the woman is supported in the choice that is right for her." (which has mysteriously disappeared this week...) was scratching their heads as to why pro-lifers were supporting Bella. One of the writers there wrote, "Just because a woman has a baby, doesn't make a movie anti-choice!"

But please, can we just take all the hype out for a second and be down-to-earth, gut-wrenchingly, "Emperor may not have any clothes on," honest? Do you really think, under any conceivable scenario, that a movie that compellingly articulates the Culture of Life, would get under the radar of the lefty crowd at the Toronto Film Festival? In this day and age in which the issue of abortion is THE SUBTEXT TO JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING?! "A house divided against itself cannot stand. If NARAL celebrates a 'great Catholic pro-life movie' than how can NARAL's kingdom stand?" Try and put the situation in reverse. Could you ever see us pro-lifers being heart-warmed and won over by a subtly pro-choice film, you know, and kind of not see that it is undermining our world-view? And aren't pro-choice people minimally as smart as we are? You're damn right they are. So, regardless of what is being said, this movie is not strongly pro-life. It doesn't represent common-ground. It just takes a very complex, divisive social issue and handles it, well, sloppily enough that neither side in the argument knows exactly what case is being made. I don't even think it is pro-adoption as some have claimed. If it was, then the bookend at the beginning would have Jose looking somewhat healed after five years with the child. As it is, he looks like a pedophile who hasn't moved an inch from the last time we saw him. If it is supposed to be "pro-adoption," it's just sadly sloppy.

While I don't want to question the reliability or taste of Toronto Film Festival audiences, this super low-budget movie doesn't seem to have very much plot or purpose; the writing and storytelling just aren't there. Monteverde tries too hard to squoosh too many ideas into a short amount of time, and there's little reason why you might be interested in spending a day roaming around New York with these two people...but what really kills the movie is when it jumps forward an indeterminate number of years and the two main characters look exactly the same, showing exactly how lazy and sloppy this filmmaker really is. Rating: 5/10.... from Weekend Warrior

"Phooey." "Lazy and sloppy." "Cheap." "Utterly predictable." "Pedestrian." "Melodramatic." "Mawkish." "Gooey." These are the words secular critics are using to describe this movie that Catholics everywhere are raving about as "grrrrrrreat!" These are not words one generally sees applied to great art, even when one disagrees with its agenda. We can't both be right. Someone is blind here, or else not telling the truth.

I want to know, what the hell is going on here that the damned pagans can see exactly what this project is as a work of art, but the Christians can't? Or if we are not blind, God forbid, we don't care! What the hell is going on?

Clearly, the pagans take art much more seriously than we Christians do. And that is not something we get to be all bullish about.

The "Cream of the Crop" percentage for Bella over at Rotten Tomatoes is a "25%" Which is about right. And no, I don't think the industry critics are panning the project because of its Christian worldview, although I know that many Christians will make that case. If only they were panning this film as propaganda. But they're not. They are panning it as bad art. Bad storytelling...and that should really matter to us Christians who are raving about this project, shouldn't it? Should we Christians be throwing ourselves on the ground in front of a movie just because the filmmakers are Christians? Should we rally around a project that is ambiguous about the "right to choose," simply because the filmmakers meant to make a pro-life film? Does wanting to make a great Catholic pro-life film equate with actually making one?

How do we respond to the serious charges against this piece from the secular critics? Should we just ignore what they say as the threatened snarling of jaded, hedonistic, pagans? I'm hearing people tell me that, anyway, movies are all just a matter of taste. "Movies are like food." Oh, so now, we Christians are going to be the ones making that case that there is no such thing as the beautiful and that beauty is all in the eye of the beholder? Be careful with that. I promise you, you're not going to like where it goes.

(In Bella) it's necessary to endure a cruel barrage of sappy butterfly imagery, dubious evocations of "New York moments," and one laughable spectacle of cultural immersion... Until the especially maudlin final reel... After the prodigal son returns to his parents' home, the whole family subjects Nina to violent fluctuations between adoration and admonishment. "Joy" is what Nina calls their borderline minstrelsy, when really it's closer to the latest episode of Ugly Betty....SLANT magazine

Will Bella hurt the world? Probably not. The only damage it might do is to affirm some people in thinking the world would be a better place if we all just "supported women in the choice that is right for them." Will Bella do good in the world? It seems like it is inspiring lots of folks, so that's good. (It's what I like to call "Precious Moments good" You know, the stuff soul-searing, self-abnegating heroes generally feed on.... Uh-huh.)

Someone asked me if Bella was okay for kids. My take is, "No." First of all, they'll be bored out of their gourds. But second of all, and critically, there is still time to raise them to love good stories well told. Please, be better to your kids than you are to yourselves!

Seriously, I don't recommend or not recommend this film. Truly this is the kind of film for which the phrase, "It is what it is," was invented.

...with "Bella," the melodrama and cheap theatrics of the story's off-center segments drag the whole thing down. In his feature directorial debut, Alejandro Monteverde hits the mark as often as he misses it, but the film's problems linger longer than its successes. - Chicago Tribune

A Friend's Movie...

Some friends of mine on the East coast have made an indie and will be screening it around in the next few weeks. It has done very well at film festivals around the world.

I haven't seen it yet, but the folks behind the project are kindred spirits on the importance of craft and excellence in cinema, so I look forward to seeing it soon.

Here are some of the review blurbs:

“Graceful, intelligent filmmaking… Strathairn is remarkable.”

--Warren Etheredge, The Warren Report, Seattle

“Compelling, engrossing, beautifully shot. Strathairn is marvelous.”

--Ron Henderson, Artistic Director, Denver Film Festival

“Absolutely absorbing.”

--Michael Rabehl, Programming Director, Cinequest Film Festival

“Wiederspahn’s episodic character study might have been inspired by a lost short story by John Cheever…Several standouts in the effective ensemble…” [Film Pick of the Week]

--Mark Griffin, The Boston Globe

“Savory American indie fare…impressive…ambitiously ruminative.”

--Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post

“The movie is hauntingly real in its portrayal of the human condition in all its depressed yet redeemable glory. David Strathairn pulls off another Oscar-worthy performance and the film’s ensemble stays with you long after the closing credits…this film is truly an eye-opener.”

--Yaniv Rokah, Moving Pictures

“The Sensation of Sight is brutally hypnotic.”

--Emmas Gluck, film critic, Diario Vasco (Spain)

“Completely different from what we see in current American movies…A modern Jim Jarmusch.”

--Carlos Fernandes, film critic, CINeol (Spain)

“Delightfully smart independent fare…carried thoughtfully forward with intellect, poetry, and pithy insight…You can walk away touched by feelings, motivated toward compassion, engaged to face fears…a tall order, but well within range of this film…The Sensation of Sight carries tremendous audience appeal.”

--W. Fred Crow, film critic, Cineblog, San Jose

“A very beautiful film…informed by a transcendent sensibility.”

--Aaron B. Smith, film critic,

For more information on The Sensation of Sight, go here.