Monday, October 20, 2008

Pithy Movie Ratings for Busy Culture Watchers

I have been seeing a few movies lately, but there really hasn't been anything that has really been worth taking a lot of time to review. Still, for those of you who want to know, here are quick "Barb giving the thumbs down" to some things that are in theaters right now...

Appaloosa Directed by Ed Harris and starring Jeremy Irons, Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Rene Zellwegger.

Strengths: Ed Harris in cowboy clothes riding horses and acting alpha-male-ish. Priceless.

Weaknesses: Everything else. This one of the recent sporadic revisits to the Western genre is what could correctly be called extraordinarily conventional. But that doesn't make it extraordinary.... There are good actor written and directed pieces like The Apostle and Sling Blade which allow talented actors to go somewhere in character dramas that studio executive driven tent poles aren't allowed to go any more. Then, there are bad actor pieces in which one feels like the actors are being self-indulgent and playing dress up, in which they demonstrate the bitter truth of what we shrug about in Hollywood with the words "He's after all, just an actor."

Appaloosa is that latter thing. Nothing really offensive. Just really nothing. And actually painfully embarrassing to watch Jeremy Irons flail around here in search of something to do.

{NOTE FROM BARB....HMMMMM....I need to practice my pithiness, I think. Let me try again....]

Nick and Norah's Infinite Play List directed by Peter Sollett and starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings

Strengths: Michael Cera. He's playing that guy from Juno again here, but he does it so well that we're not at the point of thinking that maybe that is the only thing he can do.

Weaknesses: Everything else. Kat Dennings has nowhere near the quirky compelling screen presence of Ellen Page in Juno to cast Cera's awkward nice guy into better relief. She doesn't seem much of an actress, and I'm wondering why with the 80 gazillion young ingenues out there she is getting parts.

What else?.... there is no story here. There are no beats, foreshadows, defining character arcs or turning points, visual images or intriguing notions. There is one really, really crass and disgusting device in which several characters unknowingly chew a piece of gum that has been in a vomit-filled Penn Station toilet. An image that has had revoltingly relentless staying power in my brain.

And for maliciously bestowing that on me when in return I had innocently given the filmmakers two hours of my time and fourteen dollars, I full-throatedly and vehemently PAN this piece of teen-pandering crap.

The Miracle at Santa Anna
, directed by Spike Lee

Strengths: It didn't result in any audience members committing ritualized homocides of white men.

Weaknesses: As a piece of cinema this is a complete mess. But worse, it is a reverse-racist, white American male visual lynching that sadly spews only one clear idea: Spike Lee has nothing to say but how much hate he has in his heart. I hope this has been somehow cathartic for him. For us not filled with hate people, it was boring and insulting. I kept sliding out of the story to think about Spike, "poor fellow."

The only miracle in this piece is that it got financed. It has already taken up two hours of my life. I refuse to concede even one more second to the negative that is this film.

Nearly Every Thought I've Ever had in My Head...

This past May, I had the honor of participating in a four day conference in Austin, TX that had the title Transforming Culture. It was organized by the awe-inspiring David Taylor and featured wonderful thinkers as keynote speakers like Jeremy Begbie, Eugene Peterson, and Andy Crouch...all of which had me singing the Sesame Street song when I saw my name on the program beside theirs, "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong..."


I was just ego-surfing this morning (because now that we are past the two job searches for Act One, the Gala, the Story Conference and the Mary: Mother of the Christ script, I have nothing to do!!!), and found that some amazingly zealous and purposeful soul has transcribed the main portion of my comments and posted it here.

Here's a snip:

I love artists. I love creative people. They make me crazy, but they are never boring. And I get bored very easily. I have the sense when I am with artists that I am with people who are living life to the fullest. Even in their despair, it's gritty and real and passionate.

There are two kinds of people in the world: people who are artists and people who are supposed to support them. So, figure out which you are and do it with vigor.

In a study I've done on artists geniuses, I've learned that when God sends a gift of genius He usually sends at least one person who gets that genius. It's like Theo with Van Gogh and Susan Gilbert with Emily Dickenson. You can see this over and over. Somebody was given this gift to save this artist for the rest of us. That might be you. I encourage you then to take that vocation seriously.

I think the subtext for this symposium has been that right now in the Church it’s real hip to support the arts. Everybody is pretty much on board with that. The problem is that we aren’t really sure, though, who is an artist in the sense of those we want to support for the general edification of the Body of Christ in the world.

There are some we want to support in that they are artists for their own catharsis. The art that they are doing is for them to be healed. In that sense we are all supposed to be artists. There's a book called Only the Lover Sings by a philosopher named Joseph Cipher.[NOTE FROM BARB: That's Josef Pieper.] The book makes the case that the modern world is so intrusive that we are losing the ability to see. There's so much coming at us that we're losing the ability to see the presence of God in the details. So we have to become artists because art makes us focus on the details. So whether that's gardening or cooking or whatever it is that we do, everyone has to bring forth beauty somehow. Everyone needs to exercise that creative facility to keep their life vibrant.

But tonight I'm talking about the other sense of artist. I'm talking about the person who's been called to be prophet and priest for the masses of us. Those who have been given powerful talent from God to edify the Church.

It seems to me that we need help to figure out who's who, because every pastor is now freaked out that anyone could come up to them and announce, I'm an Artist. Give me money. Fill in the blank -- money, time, microphone, whatever it is. How do we know how we're supposed to respond to that? Before doing that, though, I'm going to lay out a few ideas about the beautiful. This is the terrain of artists -- the beautiful. And one way to recognize them is that they dwell in this terrain.

There are a few teeny discrepancies in the text (the 20th Century philosopher is Josef Pieper not Cipher...) but overall, the talk is a good summary of the main conclusion s that my life as a Christian, an artist and a former of artists has given to me up to now. Many thanks to the good blogger at Living Palm.

(Note that the talks from the event are going to be published into a book, and I have already submitted my edited talk for inclusion in the text. I will let you all know when the book is out.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Story Conference Debrief

I'm really tired here and I can't take long as I am meeting dear friend and erstwhile Los Angeles expat Karen Hall for Mass and brunch. But what an amazing two days we just had!

It's hard not to think that we participated in something monumental in the Story Conference. Ten brains - all very sharp and passionate about the question. And everybody really showed up in the sense of being prepared, witty, entertaining, and deeply thoughtful.

Peter Kreeft told me at the end that in all the conferences he has ever attended, this one will be special and rank among the best, particularly because of the Socratic format we used. (Scott! I so wish you could've been there. You would have really loved it. Next time I pathetically whine and plead, you should relent!)

Anyway, we had so much fun because I have rarely been in dialogue with more witty, experienced and profound people. The brilliant thoughts and back and forth were thick and almost too many. I kept wanting to stop the days so that I could move into a corner and consider the ramifications of somebody's thought. But then we were off like a train again.

Now, we look forward to the book, podcasts and magazine articles. Dr. Pat Phalen will be transcribing and editing the event for publication. It will be a monumental task seeing we had about 14 hours of continuous discussion and presentations.

My thought is that anybody whose arena is storytelling will have to regard the book from this event as seminal. And then anybody else who is awake culturally will find it a must read. There is just nothing else like it out there, and if particularly Christians could brood over it, we could move so far past the "Fireproof vs. Sex in the City" facile dualism that we might be able to actually get somewhere as apostles in the culture.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Story Conference Prepping

I'm doing a lot of Flannery reading in preparation for our Story Conference next week. Some of the lines in Habit of Being are so good they make me want to call my older sister and just say them to her. It makes me happy to read her. I thought I'd share some of these lines as I find them.

(Flannery O'Connor, from a letter to Ben Griffith, 4 May, 1955)

"You will observe that I admire my own work as much if not more tan anybody else does. I have read "The Artifical Nigger" several times since it was printed, enjoying it each time as if I had nothing to do with it. I feel this is not quite delicate of me, but it may be balanced by the fact that I write a great deal that is not fit to read which I properly destroy."

"I am interested in making a good case for distortion, as I am coming to believe it is the only way to make people see."

"Thank Mr. S for liking my stories. I am always glad to know that I have a reader of quality because I have so many who aren't. I get some letters from people I might have created myself."


See Barb in the Bay Area

Barbara K. Marsh-Wetherell
Marsh-Wetherell Market Relations
+1 925 933-1907


You Need More Than Christian Values, You Also Need Talent

Danville, CA – (October 8, 2008) – Hollywood has been attacked as foregoing basic Christian and family values for sensationalism. While there are clearly examples of this occurring, the “big picture” is very different. The scripts that are accepted and the movies being made are, for the most part, not selected because they counter Christian and family values, they are selected because of the quality of the writing, the relevancy of the script and the emotional engagement of the storyline. The biggest obstacle to Christian values surfacing on the big screen is not an anti-Christian mindset, but rather a lack of talent. Act One, a non-profit program for grooming Christians to become film and TV executives, is taking this issue head-on.

Ms. Barbara Nicolosi, Founder and Executive Director of Act One, will be the featured speaker at the Tuesday, November 11, 2008 Catholics@Work breakfast forum at Crow Canyon Country Club, 711 Silver Lake Drive, Danville, CA 94526. Nicolosi will provide a view of what goes on in Hollywood and what Christians have to do to break into the industry. A full buffet breakfast is served starting at 7:00 am (Mass is offered at 6:30am at the same location.) Cost is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. To register visit

Now in its sixth year, Act One keynotes artistry, professionalism, ethics and Christian spirituality. A screenwriter herself, Nicolosi wrote The Work, for IMMI Pictures in Hollywood, and is co-writing Myriam with Benedict Fitzgerald (The Passion of the Christ) for a Beverly Hills production company.

Nicolosi is passionate about changing the nature of the content of the entertainment Hollywood produces, but she is not taking on the quixotic chore of changing the business model of Hollywood. Good talent will create good work and Hollywood will produce good work. “The goal should not be to make more Christian movies,” said Barbara Nicolosi. “The goal is to make movies people want to watch that happen to include Christian value themes.”

“Hollywood is a major force in shaping Pop Culture,” said Alison Yount, president of Catholics@Work. “Understanding how Christian values can have an impact on Pop Culture, working from within the industry as opposed to trying to apply force from the outside, will gives us a perspective on how we can alter our own thinking about how to get things done in our own work places.”

Nicolosi is a screenwriter and a member of the Writers Guild of America. She has recently co-written Mary, Mother of the Christ with Benedict Fitzgerald (The Passion of the Christ) which will be distributed by MGM. She has produced several plays with the critically acclaimed Actors Co-op Theater Company in Hollywood, including award-wining productions of Fools by Neil Simon, Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, and Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
A media columnist for the National Catholic Register, Nicolosi was the recipient of Catholic Press Awards in 2000 and 2002. She is the co-editor with Spencer Lewerenz of the 2005 Baker Books publication, Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture.

Catholics@Work is committed to fostering fellowship and connectivity among Catholics facing the realities of life in today’s workplace environment. The monthly breakfast gatherings are a unique opportunity for Catholics to:
• grow in their understanding of the Catholic faith,
• be encouraged to apply the principals of their faith in the everyday workplace,
• and, to network with other Catholic business professionals.

The breakfast series is held at Crow Canyon Country Club, Danville, California, on the second Tuesday of the month nine times per year (February-June, September-December). The event starts with a buffet breakfast followed by a speaker or panel discussion and runs from 7:00-8:30am. The event offers a great way to network with people who look for purpose and leadership in their lives. There is time prior to the beginning of each speaker’s presentation to interact with other attendees, to share faith, and business and personal information. Mass is offered at 6:30am for those who wish to attend before breakfast at the same location. Managed by Catholic business professionals, Catholics@Work breakfast events are open to all, regardless of faith or occupation, who want to explore the issues of actively living one’s beliefs in the workplace.

For more information visit or call +1 925-683-5263.

Catholics@Work is a trademark of Catholics@Work. All other brand and product names are registered trademarks, trademarks or servicemarks of their respective holders and are gratefully acknowledged. All specifications subject to change without notice.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Duchess Lacks Pedigree

It looks lovely.  So, lovely, you almost forgive the fact that this is a one note tragedy about a lovely, and intelligent young woman who is crushed under the injustice and occasional brutality of unbridled patriarchy.   

But the costumes are grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!  And if it doesn't win best costume than whomever spent two years designing and sewing the hundreds of gorgeous dresses and hats on display here will probably jump off the top of the Paramount arches.

It wasn't a mess.  It just didn't go very many places.  It wasn't a story so much as like watching a long drawn out train wreck screeching along the track until you hit the climactic screaming marital rape scene that finally succeeds in breaking the heroine's will to virtue.

The movie seemed to me to be a thinly veiled look at the Princess Di story.  As such, it felt creepily voyeuristic to me.  Ralph Fiennes seemed to have spent hours mastering Prince Charles' strained awkwardness as he selfishly insists that he needs his mistress to live under the same roof as his wife and children.  You could hear Di's soft voice echoing off the theater walls:  "From the beginning there were three of us in this marriage."  There was another line in which a character proclaimed, "Everyone in the world loves the Duchess, except the Duke."

Keira Knightly does well as a manikin for the gorgeous costumes.  Not so well as an actor.  I was never sure what her character was really making of her predicament.  I wasn't sure if she was shrewd or clueless, heroically resolute or coweringly impotent.

In the end, I stood in the parking lot of the Director's Guild and asked my friend, "So, do we recommend this movie?"  She shrugged at me and said, "Well, I wouldn't sit through it again."  I had to agree.  So, it isn't a pass, but it isn't a recommend either.  It's just kind of there.