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?