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.