Monday, March 24, 2008

On Baby Watch

Coming to you from Backus Hospital in CT where I'm sitting with my family awaiting the arrival of a new nephew. The nurses are saying it will be another two hours. Watching Season 3 of BSG on DVD to pass the time.

Prayers for sister Alison and baby most welcome.

Happy Easter Week!


Christopher Joseph Patton, born March 24, 2008, 7 lbs., 7 oz. Alleluia!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Letterman Gets Real Cool Tonight

I've been excited for a week. The whole frakkin cast of the great and awesome Battlestar Galactica (that's the NEW RE-IMAGINED version, Doug!) will be on Letterman tonight. They are just supposed to be doing the "Top Ten List", but if we're lucky, maybe some will sit and chat (by that I mean Katee Sackhoff.... I'm dying to know what is next for her after they wrap the final nine episodes.....Ugh, it's so painful to even say that. "Final episodes." [incoherent grief-filled blubbering sounds])

P.S. to Alice: So I get to Orlando on April 4th - which date just happens to be the first episode of Season 4. How about we all sit on Karen's couch and watch it together? Karen isn't initiated yet, but I have faith.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Charlie Bartlett and Gen X's Revenge

Okay, Baby Boomers, this is the moment when you should reach for a barf bag. Or just skip this review and the movie it's about.

I seem to recall predicting about five years ago, that as soon as Gen Xers came of age, they were going to start telling one basic story. Their story: Dysfunctional parent-child relationships. And they will be filled with confusion about everything that matters except for a scathing indictment of Baby Boomer materialism and narcissism. The younger generation is not confused about those latter things being bad.

We've already logged a few of these movies like Garden State, Pieces of April, The Nanny Diaries and Devil Wears Prada (both based on Gen X novels). Those of us who watch student films have seen scores more than our share. Even the last Die Hard had a sub plot in which McClane's teen-aged daughter was filled with resentment towards her mostly AWOL dad.

And we are nowhere near the end of these. Figure even just half of Gen Xers are nursing this kind of resentment. And every one of them who ends up in Hollywood is going to be attracted to stories that serve as a kind of "hurts-so-good" scratching at an itch that will never quite heal in them. As an old nun told me once, "There are certain things that little kids need from Mommy and Daddy. When they don't get them, they spend the rest of their lives searching for them.

Okay, so Charlie Bartlett now in theaters is a not quite coming of age story about a young man with great intelligence, potential and empathy, who has had the misfortune to be born to two selfish narcissistic Baby Boomers. His father is in prison for embezzlement or some other such greedy materialistic crime. His mother is a loopy, immature alcoholic who loves her son in her own way - unfortunately a way that means she has turned over the role of parenting to him, while she enjoys her toys and games. In a real caustic slam at the Baby Boomer's drug as remedy culture, Charlie is put on a pharmacy's worth of behavior altering drugs from Ritalin to Vicodin and back. Charlie ends up compassionately setting himself up as a therapist to the other kids at high school, and dealing out to them the pharmaceuticals his various uncaring therapists have prescribed for him.

I actually enjoyed a lot of this movie principally because the guy who plays the lead, Anton Yelchin, was just a delight to watch. He plays Charlie as accepting his tragic lot in life without resentment and with a boatload of disarming good-heartedness. He loves his ridiculous mother, even as he can't deny that she has really screwed him up.

I find this quality very typical of a lot of the younger generation. I once attended a pro-life event at UCLA hosted by Feminists for Life. Patricia Heaton was there and started off the evening by asking the crowd of mostly young women how many of them considered themselves pro-life. Fully two thirds of the packed auditorium raised their hands. When Patty asked them why they are pro-life, one raised her hand and responded in very Juno-speak, "Well, I don't want to judge my mother, because she made the choice that she felt she had to. But, my Mom aborted two of my siblings, and I've spent my whole life growing up, wondering if she was glad she kept me, and whether I was worth being the one who got to live. I just don't want those kind of thoughts for my kids." I sat in the back and watched two-thirds of the two-thirds nodding their heads in assent.

So, the most functional of the younger Generation have a definite resoluteness rather than simmering resentment. They don't want to be their parents, because they have grown up having to often parent their parents and they instinctively know it wasn't right - even as they feel compassion for the tragedy of their parents' lives. And the Boomers thought it was hard growing up with Vietnam and disco music!

There are some great lines in Charlie Bartlett, and a lot of really cliched ones. The other performances are solid, with Hope Davis doing a great turn as Charlie's pathetic mother. The actress actually makes the character sympathetic, which is incredible considering the fact that she is a mostly drunk selfish person. Robert Downey, Jr. doesn't have a whole lot to do here, and it is kind of funny seeing him in a role in which he is having to be stern and unforgiving of a kid who is dealing out drugs. Cause, you know...

The story here doesn't quite pay off. As I said, it isn't really a true coming of age story in the way that Gen X stories of their lives - like Garden State and Pieces of April never quite make it to grown-upness. The younger folks among us are pretty cynical about ever overcoming the wounds of their childhood. This is mainly derived not from the fact that their wounds are so deep - because in the span of human existence, people have endured much worse childhood conditions - but rather because Gen Xers have little or no self-discipline, and they don't have the confidence that they will ever really be able to rouse themselves past their strong inclinations. Gen X stories get to a place of "I can cope" as opposed to "I can be healed" or even the "I can be anything I want" which was the subtext resolution of coming of age stories in past generations.

Some critics are waxing horrified that the movie would make a comedy of teenagers dealing prescription drugs to other kids. But I thought that the Ritalin generation has a right to suck some caustic irony out of the fact that they were put on drugs so that their normal childhood flailing around would not be annoying to their Boomer parents. Come on, 60's Generation, did you really think you were going to get away with putting your kids on drugs?

The movie is rated R for some non-graphic violence and sexuality, and some crassness and language that is consistent with its urban public high school backdrop. I found it entertaining and actually charming - especially the scenes in which Charlie is playing therapists to his fellow teenagers who are all starving for adult attention. The movie is a bit smug and nasty to older people, but, like I said, we're going to see a lot more of that at the theaters in coming years. So we might as well just go with it and find a way to enjoy it. I'm going to recommend Charlie Bartlett.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

See Barb in Florida

I have three non-public speeches in Florida next month from the 8th to the 10th, but I will be in Orlando reading email on Karen's sofa from the 4th to the 6th. (Alice?! We're having margaritas on one of those days. Maybe all of those days!)

Then, on April 7th, I'll be giving a talk at Ave Maria University in Naples. This one may be open to the public.

Send me an email if you want to make something happen in Orlando, or else get in on the Naples talk.

See Barb in Cleveland?

I have a speech to a Legatus chapter in Cleveland on Wednesday, April 16th. That speech will not be open to the public, but if somebody wants to get some other event together while I am in the area, that would be great. Something on the 17th maybe, anybody?

Send me an email if you have an idea at

See Barb at Notre Dame, March 29th

I will be one of the speakers at this event at the end of the month. The web site for the event is a bit sloppy, but I believe my talk will be on Saturday between 1pm and 3pm.

My talk is titled, "Hollywood and The Sexual Revolution: What's Left to Do?" I got the title from an event I attended several years ago with Karen Hall, called the S.H.I.N.E. Awards. That stands for "Sexual Health in Entertainment," and every star in the firmament was there. It was one of the most mindnumbinglyest crass events I have ever attended - kind of like back to back screenings of Little Miss Sunshine and Super Bad with the little heartwarming family moments left out. Karen was nominated for a SHINE Award for an episode of Judging Amy she had written which was about the date-rape drug Rohipnol. The host for the event - I'm thinking Caroline Rhea, suggested that all the winners of the awards should have to being their acceptance speeches by relating their first real sexual experience. Karen leaned over and said in deep Georgia drawl, "I hope I lose."

Anyway, at one point, they showed a fifteen minute clip real of the "heights" (read "depths, deep DEPTHS") of sexual openness that had appeared on television in the past forty years. They had everything from Lucy and Ricky moving to a double bed to Maud's abortion to Roseanne's lesbian kiss, ending with a truly barbaric moment from MTV's Real World in which house members were discussing things that called to mind vividly in me what St. Paul meant when he said, "Some things should never even be mentioned among you." At the end of the verbal and visual orgy, the screen went black to thunderous applause and actress Tyne Daly, I believe, stood at the microphone and said, "Yes, we have come a long way! But we have SO FAR left to go!!!" Feeling very much like a little lamb at a ravenous wolf convention, I leaned over to Karen and said while trying to get my eyeballs to uncross, "What do they possibly have left to show?!!?"

It's actually an excellent question. And especially if we put it to movie-makers who are people of faith. There is a lot about sex and human relationships that we haven't plumbed on the screen. Basically because, borrowing from Bono, Christians have left all talk of sex to the pornographers.

I have no idea what I am going to conclude, but it should be a fun rant.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pseudo Married Life

(Okay, Nancy, this one's for you...)

I'm always pretty sharp in my critique of the Boomer Generation. I think they inherited a pretty good world and then selfishly screwed up so much that it will take a hundred years to even figure out where they left us. But, just to keep things balanced, it's time to set the penetrating gaze on Gen X. (Of course, Gen X's problems can mostly be laid at the feet of the Boomers, but whatever...) As somebody who has been teaching undergrads and twenty-somethings for the last decade, I have a lot of observations here. Maybe in a subsequent post I'll flesh them out.

But let me start with one of the most serious issues that I see in Gen X. Let's call it, "Defiantly Ignorant." Simply put, one of the things that marks Gen Xers is the way they apprehend attempts to educate them as an assault on their personal dignity. Not everybody, but it is a generational trend. My experience with my students is that they are nearly incapable of debate, because every time you disagree with them, you suddenly find yourselves in a battle with their emotional survival. It makes many of them invincibly ignorant, I'm afraid.

An example of this comes up every time I teach Gen Xer's this class I've got on the nature of beauty. Invariably, after I have gone through the three elements of the beautiful from St. Thomas - wholeness, harmony and radiance - one of the undergrads will prop a limp elbow into the air - what is it with this generation that even asking a question in class has to be a statement on how ambivalent they are about even being there? - and then he or she will issue forth, "I don't agree."

And then I respond, pretending all the while that this is the first time I've heard the astonishingness, "You don't agree that there are elements to the beautiful? Okay, cool. Give me an argument."

"Well, I think, you know, that any body can just decide what, you know, they like."

"That's not an argument."

"I don't need to give you an argument. It's what I think. I have a right to my opinion."

AHHHHHHHHHHH. There it is. The "rights" thing. And the abuse of the word "think." There isn't thinking going on here. There is resentment and petulance and the need to assert one's existence. But it ain't thinking. A huge inhibitor to great art coming out from the young generations today is that the assertion of knowable truth (including all of the skills that go into excellence of craft) comes off to Gen Xers and Millenials as an assault on their autonomy and personhood.

So, the two-part cause of the problem that is keeping Gen xers from adding anything really profound to the lasting cultural canon, is first that they have been so abysmally educated, that they live in chronic, probably insurmountbale double ignorance. They don't know, and they don't know that they don't know. A reflection of double ignorance in Gen Xer storytelling is that they tend to say profound and then banal things back to back, and they really don't know the difference. They don't know when they are actually skirting and even ripping off great ideas that have been out there for three thousand years. And reciprocally, they don't know what "obvious" means. (When I was in college, it was a funny insult to say that someone had "a keen sense of the obvious." Today, I would kill for a room of students with that quality.)

So, I read scripts from my students in which they are wrestling with human freedom, and then in the next scene, a character will suddenly proclaim like it's astounding, "Hey, ketchup. What's that about?"

To which annoyed Baby Boomers more and more are answering. "Pureed tomatoes. Idiot."

Secondly, they have been so wounded by the flailings around of their Boomer parents, that they are often simmering pools of resentment with the craven idol of their own hurt feelings relentlessly jerking them around. So, they don't know, and it HURTS THEIR FEELINGS THAT THEY DON'T KNOW. When I correct my students for bad grammar, they tell me it hurts their feelings. When I call a young employee into my office for not doing her job well, she complains that it is a violation of her feelings. When I gave a student a completely unemotional notice that he had already missed his requisite three unexcused classes, he became pouty and petulant and told me I was harsh and didn't understand him.

The whole generational warfare over Barack Obama has a lot of this dynamic in it with the grey-haired side pulling their hair out, "There's no there there." And the slumping youth constituency, dark and smug, vengefully waving their "Hope and change" signs with the glaring subtext, "Superficial, So There!"

The movie just coming out in theaters from Gen X director Ira Sachs, Married Life is an egregious example of the younger generation's assertive superficiality. It really has nothing to say about marriage. The point here seems to be to vent and brood over the theme, "Sometimes, heterosexual marriages are phony and unhappy and people cheat."

Which theme, is to me, very much like the ketchup insight referenced above.

The best thing in Married Life is the cast of Chris Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan and Patricia Clarkson. But that's where the goodness stops. This wonderful team of talented actors has very little to do except sit around having angsty conversations about their own misery and desires. The movie doesn't move, and there is only one eventual suspenseful element, that ends up not paying off in any meaningful way. Basically we watch four adults commit adultery and betrayal of friendship, one plots a murder, but then in the end, everybody settles back into the mundane boringness of unfulfilling married lives without any consequences or resolution. The director and writer didn't have anything to say about marriage here. They thought it was enough to make a movie in which sad and selfish married people commit adultery, like that is a revelation. It isn't - and this is the Gen Xer/Milennial trap: Recreating and then staring at pictures of your own painful upbringing doesn't heal you or entertain me. (And when I found out that the director is a gay man, I found it hard to not see this cynical portrait of heterosexual marriage was not just sloppy and inadequate, but darkly unfair and agenda-driven.)

The production value of the film - recreating the 1950's - is nowhere as good as what we saw in Pleasantville or Far From Heaven. Again in what is becoming a nauseatingly familiar experience at the movies lately, I got tired of the annoying close-ups that littered the first act. (And like most movies that over use the close-up in the first act, the plodding, expensive and unsustainable style of this method ends up dropping out of the movie by the mid-point, making the movie feel aesthetically uneven.)

So, pass on Married Life. Even if you are big fan of the actors here - I actually sat through The Family Stone twice just because I love to watch Rachel McAdams - don't be tempted. Rachel is miscast and badly directed in this piece. She never projects any chemistry with the male leads and she really has nothing much to do. Patricia Clarkson also just sits around on sofas drinking and saying things that are set up to be profound, but are really obvious.

The actors, crew and publicity folks have already wasted their time on this movie. And now I have too. But you don't have to. Pass.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

So Say We All

Is there another show on television right now that's remained as consistently good, surprising and relevant as Ron Moore's reimagined Battlestar Galactica? If there is, I haven't seen it. Science fiction though it may be, week after week, Battlestar continues to earn its place among the very best dramatic series TV has ever delivered. Digital Bits

Season 3 is coming on DVD March 18th. There is an hour of deleted scenes on the set including nearly a half hour more of the hurts so good boxing episode "Unfinished Business." While I generally agree that some of the stand-alone style episodes of Season 3 were disappointing ("Hero", "The Woman King," the one about the labor fight with Tyrol, and the flashback one about Adama's marriage failing), the first four episodes of the season were some of the best of the series to date. And then the two episodes on the algae planet were great. And, due to some of the best writing I've ev er seen and amazing work by actress katee Sackhoff (Where did this kid come from and why doesn't she work more?! She's good enough to be a British actress!), Starbuck's climactic episode "Maelstrom" was breathtaking. It was so riveting I felt like it flashed by in just a few minutes.

Any way you slice it up, Battlestar Galactica delivers the goods. This show has NEVER been afraid to take risks and turn everything you think you know on end. It dares to be bold and original, even to the point of changing its tone and characters in absolutely fundamental ways. It's just been a true delight to watch thus far. If you're new to Battlestar, I highly recommend that you go back and start watching from the beginning on DVD - this is not a show you can truly appreciate if you start in the middle. The first half of Season Four (the show's final season) debuts on the Sci-Fi Channel on 4/4/08, with around ten episodes. Because of the recent writer's strike, the remainder of the season (which resumes production next week, as it happens) probably won't air until early 2009. [NOTE FROM BARB: Kill me now.] In any case, you can bet that Ron Moore, David Eick and the writers are cooking up a real rollercoaster finish for this series. I, for one, absolutely can't wait to take the ride. Bring it on! Digital Bits

I don't have much more to add here to what I've already written about this show (I really do, but all of my friends who know about the show are getting really sick of hearing me talk about it, and anybody out there who has never seen it thinks I've lost my mind....the way I did about BSG fans before I became a believer...), but I did want to post the above for any others "of the race of Joseph" who will be pouring over every little extra feature the DVD holds.


Deeply pathetic and proud of it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Talking to Salvo

I am very happy to note that I will be doing a regular podcast and print interview for Salvo Magazine which editor Bobby Maddex proposed to me as, "How about I just call you up every quarter and you can talk about whatever it is you are thinking about pop-culturewise?" This is an irresistible offer to me because I just can't seem to find the time, discipline and favorable conditions lately to write a proper article. And also, I really like Salvo which I think is smart and hip, and I am honored to be part of it.

We recorded our first interview this week, and it was basically an Oscar redux. Here is Bobby's article teasing the interview which will appear in the next issue of Salvo.

A snip....

In Salvo 5, I talk to Barbara Nicolosi, a Hollywood screenwriter and film critic, about Juno, as well as the other films nominated for academy awards this year. She, too, admires Juno, but will not concede that it is a pro-life movie. Indeed, when I contend that 2007 was the year of the pro-life film, citing Knocked Up, Juno, Waitress, and Bella, she is quick to correct me with a very compelling argument.

According to Nicolosi, such films do not reflect pro-life attitudes, but rather culture-of-life attitudes. Here's the distinction:

Those constituting the new generation of filmmakers responsible for Juno et al. care little for either the pro-life or pro-choice political positions. The debate between these positions was the province of the Boomers, and for this reason alone they do not participate in it. At the same time, this is a generation (in which I count myself) that grew up with photographs of sonograms on the refrigerator, making it extremely difficult for those within it to deny that embryos are children. It is also a generation that exhibits a sort of collective survivor guilt, elicited by the knowledge that many within it were themselves the victims of abortion, which has resulted in an avoidance of the practice whenever possible. This in part explains why abortion rates are falling.

Consequently, Nicolosi maintains that 2007 was not so much the year of the pro-life movie as the first indication that we are entering a new culture of life that is being built in response to the culture of death that has held sway since the Sixties. Generation X or the Millennials or whatever you want to call them (us) may not pay lip service to the pro-life position, but they are actually doing something far better. They are actively choosing life. And this, says Nicolosi, is reason for hope. Hope for the culture and hope for the kinds of stories that will be told by the next generation of filmmakers. In the end, maybe such hope is what I actually experienced while watching Juno, and perhaps it is hope that explains why I can't stop thinking about the film.