Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kudos Susan!

My friend and fellow Act One faculty member, Susan Isaacs, has a new book out, and has just gotten a starred review from Publishers Weekly (which I am excerpting below).  Susan is one of the funniest people I have ever met - AND she's a Christian.  Check out her book - it will be a riot, I'm sure.
Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir
by Susan E. Isaacs. FaithWords, $19.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59995-062-4

God in couples counseling? Sounds sacrilegious, but in the adept hands of comedian, writer and actress Isaacs, it’s a success. Isaacs reached bottom at age 40: no job, no boyfriend, no home. Of course, she blamed God. So off they went to counseling with the ever-patient therapist Rudy. Isaacs moves easily between recounting her life story and her counseling sessions. She describes encounters with the Nice Jesus of her Lutheran upbringing; the “Oakie” Pentecostal church and the militant counselor; the “Rock-n-Roll” church and the “Orthopraxy, Dude” church, plus her rocky acting career and her love life, including guilt-ridden sex and Mostly Mister Right. Isaacs readily admits to being snarky, but she’s honest about her quest and its conclusion: “I saw now all too clearly why I had married God: for the power and the glory. For the money.” Isaacs goes on a Job-like search for explanations from God, but instead finds the problem to be her. She’s funny, biting, earthy and brilliant. (Mar. 12)

Entertainment Industry Mass




"Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."   -[Mt. 11:28]

February 3, 2009 (7:30 pm)

 St. Finbar Catholic Church (2010 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA.)

Many people within the entertainment industry are burdened with great anxiety over immediate or future unemployment and other economic hardships.

St. Finbar Catholic Community in conjunction with Hollywood ministries [Family Theater Productions, Open Call, Catholics in Media Associates (CIMA), St. Charles Borromeo’s Catholics in Entertainment, and The Hollywood Project) want to offer a sense of solidarity, concern, and consolation.

A special Mass will be offered on the Memorial of St. Blaise (including a blessing of throats along with a special blessing for those facing economic hardships). Fr. Don Woznicki (Hollywood Project) will preside along with Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C and Fr. David Guffey, C.S.C (Family Theater Productions), Fr. Ron Schmidt, S.J. (Open Call), Fr. Anthony Scannell, O.F.M., cap. (CIMA), Fr. Darrin Merlino, C.M.F. and Fr. Dominic Delay, O.P. (Hollywood Project). All ARE INVITED TO ATTEND, including those who wish to show their solidarity through prayer with friends, family, and colleagues.

A reception in the Parish Hall with light refreshment will follow the Mass.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Actor Tells the Truth

Here is an astounding piece by actor, Gary Graham (Star Trek: Enterprise), posted over at, about his journey from being a pot-smoking, baby-boom, free-lover and pro-choicer, into being a shell-shocked, "I killed my own children" pro-lifer.

I can't tell you how much courage it takes for someone in the Hollywood cosmos to say clearly and uneqivocally, "I don't care that you think you need it. Abortion is murder." God bless Mr. Graham. (Thanks to Jeff C. for the heads up.)

Here's a snip:

I have been on all sides of this issue for most of my life, and I can simply not escape the logic. That fetus a pregnant woman is carrying inside of her, regardless of the gestation stage, is a living, breathing human being. Yes, breathing – the amniotic sac forms 12 days after conception, and in the second trimester the baby is actually breathing the amniotic fluid. It’s not an ‘unviable tissue mass.’ Not a wart, a mole, a skin outcropping, a boil, or a bundle of uncoordinated cells. It’s not just a ‘fetus’.

It’s a baby. Not fully developed, true. Like an infant is not a fully developed and mature adult. But it’s a baby.

And the first time I got a girl pregnant, I would have wrestled you to the ground for saying that. How f*cking dare you? You don’t know what you’re talking about! You piece of crap, you don’t know!

Well I do know. And I stand condemned. I’ve paid for three of them and was responsible for probably several more, I’m not really sure. But it breaks my heart. Because I’ve been convicted in my soul. It took years after the fact, but I was shown the Truth. And not to get mumbo-jumbo, oogly-boogly on you, but it was a spiritual awakening that did it. It happened unexpectedly, and it threw me to my knees in sudden tearful epiphany of what it meant for a man to be with a woman, what sex was really designed for by our Creator and… what abortion is.

Oh God, have mercy on us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Theology of the Body Script Contest

My friends over at Family Theater asked me to post the following announcement.


Theology of the Body Script Contest

Choose one or more of the following major lessons from Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, write a short film script 5 to 10 pages long that helps illustrate that point (or points) and submit it to us at by April 1st, 2009.

The winner will receive $100... and fantastic food. Runner ups and other finalists will receive cool prizes as well. Here are the major points...

1. The family is the fundamental building block of society. Hence, the way we treat marriage and procreation has a direct effect upon society (positive and negative). See October 22, 1980 audience and January 16th 1980 audience (section 5)

2. Earthly marriage and the conjugal union between a husband and a wife is meant to mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church. Hence it is a sign pointing us to heaven (i.e. God). Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church: selflessly. However, it is dangerous for us to get caught up in the sign (conjugal union in marriage) while not paying enough attention to where it is leading us (heaven). See August 11, 1982 audience

3. Christ not only calls us to avoid being lustful but to allow Him to change our ethos, or the inner desires of our heart in regards to lust. He wants us to follow his teachings out of love, not obligation or guilt. He wants us to find lustfulness unattractive. He wants us to attain the freedom that allows us to be in a relationship with God and away from the emptiness of sin. See September 10, 1980 audience

4. Christ calls us to affirm the value of the person in "every" situation by never treating another human being as an object for our own selfish pleasure. We are called to always think of the dignity and welfare of others, before our own desires. See January 7, 1981 and January 14, 1981 audience

5. The use of contraception is directly opposed to the free, total, faithful and fruitful love Christ calls us to in marriage. See August 22, 1984 audience

6. The body has a "language" that is meant to proclaim the truth of God's love. However, if we are able to speak the truth with our bodies we are also capable of speaking lies. See August 22, 1984 audience (section 4 specifically)

Here are a couple good examples from movies...

Vanilla Sky: In the scene right before the car crash Cameron Diaz tells Tom Cruise "Your body makes a promise whether you say something or not!" The language of our bodies can speak the truth or it can speak lies.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: After using each other for selfish purposes Matt McConaughey and Kate Hudson's characters begin to openly insult each other during the diamond gala scene near the end of the film. The use of others (as opposed to selfless love) is empty and ultimately hurtful.

FINAL NOTE: Any genre is welcomed...Avoid being preachy, lean towards subtleness and most importantly be like Jesus...really, really cool.

Email your script to by April 1st, 2009

Also check out and join our Facebook Group at this link...

Sponsored by Family Theater Productions

Friday, January 23, 2009

And We're Off - "Kill the Babies! Kill them!!!"

From the Associated Press this morning:
Obama to Reverse Abortion Policy

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that promote or perform abortions, officials told The Associated Press on Friday.
The move, long expected in the Democratic president's first week in office, will be welcomed by liberals and criticized by abortion rights foes.
Obama was expected to sign the executive order at a low-key event, one day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

The move was not a surprise as both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will oversee foreign aid, had promised to do away with the gag rule during the presidential campaign.

Organizations that had pressed Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant...

And how about you "Obama Christians"? Are you still jubilant too? Own it, because you made this happen. Here is the mantra for you to say 87 times today, "Their blood be upon us and on our children!"

Have a n
ice day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thank you, President Bush.

I'm grateful that our country has been kept safe from any terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. I'm grateful that our President redirected his whole focus to protecting us after 9/11, so that nothing else like it would ever happen again on his watch.

And I'm grateful for the following proclamation, the likes of which we will certainly not see for the next four years.


National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 15, 2009

The White House, President George W. Bush

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy
of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country
recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has
a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication
to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and
voiceless among us.

The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My
Administration has been committed to building a culture of life by
vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing
Federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence, and
funding crisis pregnancy programs. In 2002, I was honored to sign into law
the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which extends legal protection to
children who survive an abortion attempt. I signed legislation in 2003 to
ban the cruel practice of partial-birth abortion, and that law represents
our commitment to building a culture of life in America. Also, I was proud
to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which allows authorities
to charge a person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb with a
separate offense in addition to any charges relating to the mother.

America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the
gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never
abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we
all seek with reverence for the gift of life.

The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this
day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every
child is welcome in life and protected in law. We also encourage more of our
fellow Americans to join our just and noble cause. History tells us that
with a cause rooted in our deepest principles and appealing to the best
instincts of our citizens, we will prevail.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of
America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and
laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National
Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day
with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting
and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of
January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence
of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

BSG: "Sometimes a Great Notion"

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town
Sometimes I get a great notion
To jump into the river an’ drown

(from the song Goodnight Irene, by Lead Belly)

Oh dear.

They blew it last night. The revelation of the final cylon was far from "a great notion" and seemed to me to be quite, thoroughly and stunningly lame. I was staring at the television in those last three minutes that the show ran long and said aloud, "How dare they?"

No, but really. What a disappointment. I have read a hundred fan theories in the last year or so, many of which would have been much more clever than the way the show went. You know you are in trouble when the fans are thinking about the show more than the creators. I am particularly disgusted at all the marketing hype and suspense that the show and its creators went through to set up the revelation. It was not worth it.

Still, in deference to those who don't want to spoil the (lame, not worth it, hugely disappointing) surprise of the identity of the final cylon, I am not writing the name in the substance of this post. However, the comment thread is open to be a full discussion of this, so if you don't want to know the (stupid, absurd, not worth the build up) identity of the final cylon, then don't click on the comments.

Now I get why Katee Sackhoff and even Ron Moore, said in recent interviews that the point of the show was not the revelation of the final cylon and the various mysteries of the mythology. They were saying that to lower expectations and try to cover for the lameness of the actual revelation. I can't imagine what happened to the writers, except that they must have just dug themselves in so many holes with other characters that they didn't have anybody left to turn into the Final cylon.

The solution the show went for, however, does nail the coffin on the idea that reincarnation makes a person in any sense a grown up. Nuff said.

Having said all that, I thought the pacing and look and tone of the episode was excellent and well up to the BSG standard. I so didn't see the suicide of THAT main character coming - although, afterward, it struck me as perfect - "a great notion." I LOVED the long scene between Tigh and Bill. All those ECU's with the actors practically spitting and sputtering on the camera. And the Kara stuff with her, um, finding herself in that, um, ultimate way. Genius.

Of course, now, they've dug in a much bigger hole with Kara which has the name, "just how did she get from nebula to here?" They better answer it.

I can't say I like where the show seems to be heading about the "what exactly is human life?" question. But I'm holding out hope that, in trying to be "bold" the writers don't betray the innate spiritual essence that they have revealed in their human characters all through the run, and which have made the show so worth watching.

But I feel strangely free of the thrall of BSG this morning. I feel superior in the way that exposure to great art never makes me feel...

Okay, so I'm a bit bitter. But it was supposed to be smart. They really let us down.

P.S. I just found a link here to a long series of interviews from the TV writer at the Chicago Tribune with Ron Moore and the writers and director of "Sometimes a Great Notion." Moore discusses at length the thinking behind the choice of the final cylon.

I found his thinking on the matter to be not impressive. Also, I found his desire to even do an interview like this about this decision, emblematic of defensiveness that comes from knowing you have messed up. Generally, when you are talking about great storytelling, the story choices speak for themselves. Anyway, the "reasoning process" behind the choice of the final cylon seemed to be kind of silly and emotional actually, in light of the creepy way that the final person lived on the show. In this interview, Moore wants us to get all sentimental about the character, but the character was not at all sympathetic.

Moore does reveal that the writers had no idea whom to make the final cylon until well into Season 3. Hmmmmm.... so then they had to try and make it seem like it made sense in the backstory. It doesn't. Rats.

Much better in the interviews is the discussion of THAT character's suicide. I think that sequence was one of the great moments of the series in terms of its psychological depth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Act One's 10th Birthday Party!

Dear Friend -

This January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, marks the 10th Anniversary of the founding of Act One. We are celebrating this special benchmark anniversary with several events this year, but will be marking the actual birthday of the program with a party for all of our area friends, alumni, faculty, mentors and board members.

Please do consider coming to celebrate with us. It will be just an evening meant to enjoy each other and thank God for the precious community He has raised up as Act One.

Information follows below. I look forward to seeing you on the 24th, but if you can't come, please do join with us in sending up a prayer of gratitude to God for Act One and all the good that He has done and continues to do through the program. God bless -

Barbara Nicolosi

P.S. If you can't attend, but would like to express a tangible sign of thanksgiving, (you know, in these troubled financial times in which it is even tougher to be a struggling non-profit...) please do click here.

Act One's 10th Birthday Party

Saturday January 24th, 7:00pm.

Dave and Buster's
400 S Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia , CA 91007

$25 includes dinner, presentation, and a $10 game card. You may pay ahead of time, or you may choose to pay at the door. Either way, we need to know you are coming. It will be a fun-filled night, and we're only 10 once. Don't miss it!

Special for Alumni! Bring two prospective students and you get in free! Call Karen Veazey for details. 323-464-0815

We need an accurate headcount for the caterers, so please RSVP no later than Monday, January 19th. You may RSVP online, call Karen Veazey at 323-464-0815, or by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hear Barb Brood on Storytelling

I did another interview with the great magazine Salvo last October for their R&R feature. These are conversations I have the pleasure of doing quarterly with Bobby Maddox, the editor. Our October conversation was in anticipation of the then upcoming Act One conference on storytelling. There is a long podcast version of the interview here. Click on "What's the Story?"

I'm getting some good feedback about it. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

See Barb and Act One in Colorado!


HOLLYWOOD | JANUARY 2009. Act One is bringing Hollywood to Colorado Springs, and the best minds Hollywood has to offer along with it.

With Act One’s latest “Training for Hollywood Seminar” in Colorado Springs this January, we got the best trainer we could possibly find. World renowned screenplay consultant Dr. Linda Seger will be delivering the keynote address, “Spiritual Steps on the Road to Success.”

Seger created and defined the job of script consultant in 1981 and has consulted on over 2,000 scripts since. She has worked on scripts for more than 40 produced filmsand 35 television projects, including works from TriStar Pictures and Ray Bradbury. Additionally, Seger has given scriptwriting seminars in more than 30 countries on six continents, and is the author of nine books. Her latest, And the Best Screenplay Award Goes To... Learning from the Winners will be published this February by Michael Wiese Productions.

Also slated to speak is Barbara Nicolosi, VP of Creative Development at Origin Entertainment and the founding Director of the Act One Program. Nicolosi is a sought after speaker and commentator on culture, and an accomplished writer, producer and director. She is a member of the WGA and is currently writing the screenplay adaptation of Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy.

In addition to our slate of speakers, participants will study the Hollywood storytelling process, from story development to pitching, and the craft of producing spiritually engaging entertainment that is commercially appealing. Writing track participants will learn practical lessons on writing outlines and treatments, creating compelling characters and stories, as well as the basics of screenwriting format. Those choosing the business track will cover lessons on the marketplace, commercial creativity and how to option materials.

In addition to the “Training for Hollywood Seminar,” Act One will be hosting a Hollywood Insider Panel and Discussion from 7-10pm on Friday, January 30. Open to the public, the event will feature a presentation on the activity of the church in Hollywood, Dr. Linda Seger’s keynote address, and a Hollywood Insider Panel, a no-holds-barred Q&A about life and work in the world’s most influential mission field.

Conference Details

Date: Friday, January 30, 1pm to 10pm and Saturday, January 31, 10am to
Location: Glen Eyrie Castle and Conference Center, 3820 N. 30th St., Colorado Springs, CO 80904

Cost: $285 - includes study materials, meals (Fri. dinner, Sat. breakfast,
lunch & dinner) and Hollywood Insider Event
$435 - includes study materials, meals (Fri. dinner, Sat. breakfast, lunch & dinner, Sun. breakfast), 2 nights stay (Fri. & Sat.) & Hollywood Insider Event

Speakers: Dr. Linda Seger (Author, Making a Good Script Great and Making a Good Writer Great)
Barbara Nicolosi (Screenwriter, Editor, Behind the Screen, Act One Founder, VP
Development at Origin Entertainment)
Dr. Thom Parham (writer JAG, screenwriting professor, Azusa Pacific University)
Monica Jimenez-Grillo, Executive Program Director
Vicki Peterson, Writing Program Director, Act One, Inc.

For more information: or call 323-464-0815

Act One, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that has trained Christians of all denominations for careers in mainstream film and television for the past ten years. Stressing artistry, excellence, professionalism, and Christian spirituality, Act One prepares students to pursue careers marked by personal integrity and professional excellence, in writers rooms, on sets, and in studio and network offices. The end goalis not to produce explicitly religious entertainment, but movie and TV projects that respect and serve the global audience, combining mastery of craft with great depth and meaning. Over ten years, Act One has amassed a vast alumni network of writers, producers, directors and entertainment executives who are dedicated to producing excellent work for the global audience.

Friday, January 09, 2009

One more week! One more week!

Next Friday marks the beginning of the end of the great and wondrous Battlestar Galactica (2003). It's really all I can think about! (You know, in between working on a script about Fatima, and teaching cinema to undergrads, and watching award screeners, and buying a car, and....well, you get it.) I'm actually kind of weirdly dreading the last twelve or so hours of the series. I really thought half of season three was kind of a let down (in terms of depth of insight), and I found the first half of season four to be full of sound and fury, but not signifying very much. There seemed to be alot of running around yelling and crying and firing weapons, but not a lot of real delving into the many questions that the series has raised in its chronologically meandering run. They've kept us waiting a year to finish the story. That will be judged a really nasty thing to have done if the show doesn't pay off.

I'm not sure the writers haven't dug themselves into a pit too deep to be filled in in only twelve more hours. For the record, I was thinking to write down the questions that I would need to see answered to feel satisfied. Any of you other BSG enlightened feel free to chime in in the comments any others. The rest of you, go rent the mini-series.

1) Is there anything sacred about human life? One day during the WGA strike last winter, I found myself walking next to one of the BSG writers. I started talking to her about the show and at one point she stopped me and said, "So, you are assuming that there is something sacred about human life?" To which I said, "Uh, well, yeah." She laughed and said, "The show doesn't have any such presumption." Or words to that effect.

Now, for me, Battlestar Galactica would be ultimately kind of, you know, disgusting, if having been so insightful and provocative about some things (like suicide bombing, and the case for stealing elections in some situations, and the need sometimes to suppress civil liberties in the name of a greater good) could get the big, huge question of the sanctity of human life wrong. If the show shrugs off that human beings are just another kind of machine/material being, then it seems to me the whole journey of the show will be wrecked and it will not then be something that I would ever want to return to as a viewer. Because who will ever want to revisit the toils of a bunch of things who weren't really "alive" but were rather delusional piles of matter?

The only way I think such a conclusion to the show would be moral - because it is, after all, a lie, would be if the show was meant to shock us into horror at the imaginary idea of a human world in which all of the humans were actually just material beings without any innate dignity which comes from their spiritual potential. But I think an ending like that would be a cop-out and very disagreeable to the audience. It would be bad storytelling, I think, for reasons that have to do with what the needs of the audience are in the area of story endings.

The last thing the show might do is not attempt to answer the question at all, but leave it out there. That too would be a bad storytelling choice. A storyteller needs to have a point of view, and when you are talking this, the central issue of the whole drama for four years, the storytellers just can't back away and say, "Gotcha! Who's to say?" That would be really annoying to the audience. In a bad way.

2) "We only asked how to survive, but never if we deserved to survive." This was the heart of Bill Adama's speech in the opening minutes of the mini-series, and more and more, I think it too is one of the points of the show. Why are we all fighting so hard to stay on the world stage - 'lighting fools the way to dusty death, a tale told too often by idiots...'? Oughtn't we have to do something as a people to justify our survival?

Of course, from the Creator's standpoint, all we have to do is fulfill our nature. We don't need to do or make something as though God needed it. But from our standpoint we should be moving collectively towards becoming a kind of being that makes the cosmos more beautiful. More intelligent/profound/thoughtful. More loving/self-sacrificing/life-giving. More grateful. More open. Which are all the opposite of a planet of warring, self-indulgent, narcissists.

I would be okay if the show didn't really venture a thorough opinion on this one, because it's too big for a TV show, but I'd like to see the last half a season raise it again as kind of the point of the whole series.

Then, along with the revelation of the last cylon, and what happened to earth, and where they should all go now, and where is the cylon home world, and who is running the show there, there are the more mundane story problems that need to be resolved...

3) How did Baltar survive the original nuclear attack, when at the start of every episode we see the windows of his house getting exploded in on him?

4) What the heck was Head 6 for Baltar? Was he insane the whole time she was appearing to him, or what force was generating her in his brain?

5) Why isn't Nicky as special as Hera if he was the product of a cylon and a human too?

6) What is Kara Thrace now? (And all the million Kara questions - why her? how did she get her destiny? where was she when she thought she went to earth? )

7) How could Sam be one of the Final Five - because he had no possibility of surviving on Caprica? It was just a fluke Kara met him and fell for him and then went back to get him. (This one really bothers me inordinately as a story problem. I hate hate hate flukes as key story beats.)

8) Where the heck do the cylon hybrids come from?

9) How could Tigh and Caprica have a baby? And if they can, then how come all the cylons aren't just having babies with each other?

10) What made the music flow through Galactica that only the final four could hear? (Maybe Galactica is the Final Cylon? That would be a terrible thing to do...)

11) Who built/programmed the skin job cylons? It seems like the Centurion models just aren't bright enough.

12) What is the opera house?

That's twelve questions for about twelve hours of television. They have a lot to do. They also better give us satisfaction in several of the relationships in the show - most notably between Kara and Lee. Enough with all the angst.

Anything else I'm missing?

I hope it's good! I hope it's good!


P.S. I just found an interview with Katee Sackhoff ("Starbuck") from the Wall Street Journal on-line which has some fodder for us about the substance of the final episodes. Katee generally says things that are worth reading into. (There's also something oddly refreshing about an actress who can acknowledge without fanfare that she's 29.) I'm glad to see the part about the point of the show being about "the human condition." That's always been the main draw for me, and that's why I guess I found so much of Season 3 such a let down. It was as if they forgot what the show was about.

The thing about the ending being sad doesn't do a lot for me. As a fan of the show's intelligence, I want the resolution to be smart, not emotionally manipulative.

WSJ: Your co-star James Callis said of the show's finale: "I think if Adolf Hitler were back, he'd be crying in his handkerchief." How would you describe it?

Ms. Sackhoff: It's sad. It's extremely emotional. A lot of the tears you'll see are real. I'll leave it at that.

WSJ: You can't give away anything more than that?

Ms. Sackhoff: The remaining episodes are wrapping up every single thing that has ever happened on "Battlestar." Because the show is considered science fiction, we have been able to talk about issues in a post-9/11 world that other shows have had to tiptoe around. We could really play out the reality of those emotions and circumstances. It will break your heart.

WSJ: The most recent episode of "Battlestar" (which aired in June) ended with a cliffhanger -- the crew discovered that the planet they had spent three and a half seasons trying to find, Earth, was a nuclear wasteland. Since, there has been a speculative frenzy among fans.

Ms. Sackhoff: ...What's interesting about the show, and what it's always tried to convey, is that the literal issues and questions that motivate the story -- who is the final cylon? will we get to Earth? -- is not what the show was ever really about. [Creator] Ron Moore had this much more profound global concept. You find out really early [in the final episodes] what everyone is. In my opinion, Ron and the writers really just want you to focus on what the show's really about, which is the human condition.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More Quick Movie Reviews

Still making my way through the stack of award screeners. I wish I could say I have found lots of movies to love, but my feeling is most of the critically acclaimed movies made in 2008 will be quickly lost to cinematic history. One can hope anyway.

Let's jump in...


Short Changed-ling

Directed by Clint Eastwood, written by J. Michael Straczinski, starring Angelina Jolie and that cute guy from Burn Notice, Jeffrey Donovan

Storyline: Every parent's nightmare. The eight year old son of a single mother vanishes from their home. A year later, the police return the boy to his mother...only, it's a different kid, but the police won't hear any of that. Turns out the corrupt LAPD wanted the matter to go away and so they refuse to listen when the mother denies the child is hers. They actually put her in an insane asylum for awhile. Eventually, it comes out that her son was one of several dozen who were kidnapped and murdered by a late term abortionist....also known as a child serial killer.

So, if you are thinking that is a truly truly weird story, you have registered about half the weird emotions of watching the movie. To be frank, I found the story so truly incredible that I almost couldn't focus on the emotion of the child's kidnapping and murder. I kept thinking, "Why would the cops think that a mother would accept another kid as a substitute for her own?" I get that this is supposed to be based on true events. I just couldn't make myself believe it while watching.

Theme: As with any Eastwood movie, the theme is always lost somewhere amidst the very nice mise en scene. I'm not exactly sure what the universal take away from this project was supposed to be. Maybe some variation on a mother's love will withstand great obstacle or suffering? (I mean, once the mother has birthed the child and decided that he or she is wanted.....gotta love the post Roe v. Wade world, eh?) Following my thesis that a good theme is one that can be argued, I think The Changeling fails in this area as I can't come up with what the other hand here would be.

In the end, I wasn't sure what to make of this project. I didn't know what the filmmaker wanted to say by it, and so it left me nonplussed.

Production design: Very good. The movie is mainly about a glimpse of 1920's Los Angeles. In many respects it felt a lot like Chinatown to me.

No standouts here either in terms of awfulness or excellence. I tend to like Angelina Jolie but there wasn't really much to do here for her but stand around and look horrified. Donovan is fun to watch, but it isn't a reason to see this movie.

My friend and I were actually bored during this movie, which is shocking considering its subject matter. We were talking over the movie as it dragged along. There was very little urgency in the storytelling. This does prove that it really doesn't matter how shocking your story material is. If you don't know how to tell a story, it won't work no matter what you've got.

And Clint Eastwood is really a very dreadful storyteller. I'm never really sure what any of his movies are about at the end. They always seem riddled with self-contradictions as opposed to paradox. This one was less egregious then some of his others - most notably the stunningly self-contradictory Million Dollar Baby, with a close second in Flags of Our Fathers. Eastwood's characteristic confusion in theme really always has me thinking somewhere in his movies, "He really doesn't know what this movie is about."

Anyway, Changeling isn't self-contradictory in theme. It just doesn't have one. Not sure that is a step forward. It isn't edifying or illuminating or inspiring or beautiful. It isn't clever or wonderful or profound or disturbing in that good prophetic way. Pass.


Burn Before Viewing

(That's my advice to anyone who is tempted to by this DVD.)

Directed and written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand

Storyline:  Uh, I'm not even going to try.  Suffice it to say, as with all Coen films, it is about people who try and dabble in a little evil and then are swamped in the consequences.

Theme:  Well, I think Joel and Ethan Coen must be reading this blog. For their last several movies, I have gleefully sneered at the way they are stuck on one theme: "Crime doesn't pay." So now, in a fit of clear adolescent pique, their latest movie tries bravely to stake the claim, "Actually, crime does pay!" But alas, in the end, the film pretty much is a reiteration of their same old same old, because the two characters who "get away with it" here end up being totally insane and paranoid. Nobody wants to be them.

Burn After Reading a classily produced, stylish-looking and well-acted film.  Which added together means it is able to powerfully depict a kind of human life that is so debased and vile that I really couldn't make myself laugh at it.  The characters in the movie are all pretty much stupid narcissists or amoral bureaucrats.  There was one moral character in the film, played by RIchard Jenkins, but eventually, he too goes the way of the stupid criminal and pays for it with a brutal Coen-esque death.

Everyone in this movie is committing adultery. Ick. It wasn't funny to me. Just kind of a depressing commentary on an entertainment culture in which sex is no big deal.

The movie is full of hard hits at the U.S. government. Fair enough, I guess. Just seemed like an easy target. Like little kids making fun of the fat boy on the ball field wadding around the bases. Easy.

There are a lot of hits at Hollywood style vanity and emphasis on outer beauty to the total exclusion of any interest on inner beauty. But that kind of message seemed very condescending being delivered as it was by George Clooney and Brad Pitt....

Screenplay: Just wasn't funny enough. Now, I grant that the Coen movies are never funny enough and they get away with it by putting in brutal murders so that they can say they are making "dark comedies" so they don't have to be funny like regular old comedies. But you know, it also could be that they just aren't funny enough guys. I didn't find the story clever. The characters were intentionally caricatures, but I'm not sure what it was all serving by way of message.

It was an unedifying movie. And not funny enough to justify all the sordid human sin it depicts. I say PASS.


Got Nausea?

So, three guesses as to what this movie is REALLY about....

Directed by Gus Van Sant, written by Dustin Lance Black, starring Sean Penn and James Franco

Ugggggggggggggggggggggggggh. I mean, ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww to the 87th power.

Somewhere after the first awful hour of Milk my very kind friend who doesn't happen to work in the movie business, looked over at me and said, "This is a really, really bad movie."

And she didn't just mean because it was a smarmy piece of pandering nonsense. She meant because it was just plain old bad storytelling. The funny thing is, there actually is a story in the life of Harvey Milk, but for propaganda reasons, the film makers didn't want to tell that story. So, what you have here is a lot of mis en scene featuring half dressed and hippie-looking homosexuals acting obdurate and offended in San Francisco in the 1970's, and that's all folks.

I'm not even going to write what the storyline of this movie is, because I wouldn't want any of you to think that has too much to do with the actual true story of the seriously tragic and macabre character who was Harvey Milk. The movie story might have gone into the twisted soul who over the course of his life drove four of his five lovers to commit suicide. I mean come on - THAT'S A STORY! (The only other man in history whom I have ever heard of who had that many suicides in his close inner circle was Hitler....I'm just saying...)

The film fails basically because there just isn't any material in the biography to convincingly transform the radically narcissist, sex-obsessed community organizer, Milk into Ghandi. They had to work so hard to sanitize this creepy dude, that they ended up stripping the movie of any potential interest. It's a bore.

But it's a bore the way Triumph of the Will is ultimately a bore. (Although, Leni Reifenstahl was a much more talented film maker than Van Sant.) Propaganda is always a bore because it is innately insulting to the intelligence.

Theme: Homosexuality is a tragic and disordered behavior that retards human maturity and spiritual development. (Cough...Yeah, just kidding....) Can't say what the theme is. It is the nearly irresistible downfall of biopic makers to disregard the need to establish a universal theme. They always think the person they are in love with at the center of the story will be fascinating enough. But valentines are tedious to anyone but the person to whom they are intended. And so, in Milk the audience doesn't care.

Contrary to what every critic is blathering, I thought this was some of Penn's most banal work. He played a homosexual man with a New York Jewish accent using every cliche about all those descriptors that one could have. What makes a great performance is not the ability to imitate glaring traits like the limp-wristed gay flourish or the harsh Brooklyn slur, but rather subtle contradictions in character. There was none of that here. Penn's Milk is all one note - wide-eyed and full of self-righteous passion with moments of giddiness bordering on silly.

James Franco just looked awkward and embarrassed. I read an interview in which he said Penn had to pressure him into having extended kisses and love scenes. No doubt.

Other notes: This one is just icky. The sodomy-as-love scenes are creepy in the way that they always must be. You can tell us that they are the same as heterosexual love scenes, but they're not.

And in some ways, the film makers here were just having too much fun in depicting the homosexual scene in the pre-AIDs 1970's. It is riddled with cliches, but also makes the homosexuals look the way they do in gay pride parades - like fourteen year old boys nervously playing with grownup toys. I thought to myself at one point in the movie, "If I was gay, I'd be offended." There are a lot of lies in Milk - mainly sins of omission, but many other downright distortions. The movie will fade and die a quick death once it has served its new purpose to be a forum over which Hollywood people can decry Prop 8 during awards season.

PASS the Milk.


Benefits of Doubt

Written and Directed by John Patrick Shanley, starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman

God, I love Meryl Streep. Honestly, I enjoy watching her so much because she always manages to delight. She raises every project she's in whether it's The Devil Wears Prada or even Mamma Mia. (In the former case, Devil, she took what would have been a forgettable B movie, and made it something that will probably last. Doubt gives Streep yet another vehicle to make us all wonder at the woman's range. She turns a movie that would have been an uber-conventional stageplay adaptation, and raises it into something that makes you have to pause. I know it's all the rage to diss and diminish Streep, but it's just bunk. She is the greatest actress of our generation.

Having said that, while I do think that Doubt has some things to recommend it, I don't see the movie as ever raising itself above its theatrical roots. The four core performances are all excellent, but, in the end, this piece was meant to be something mainly verbal and intellectual. It isn't cinematic in the way that Man for All Seasons transcended its play roots and became a visual story. The move dragged a bit as it used the pedestrian trick of trying to make the play feel like a movie by expanding the cast and putting in wider shots of the arena. That isn't what makes a project cinematic as Hitchcock noted in offering Rear Window as a counterpoint to the epic movies of the late 1950's. Cinema is about forcing the audience to see things in a new way. Doubt the movie might have created some lyrical visual imagery, but the director and writer was, sadly, the original playwright. He was too steeped in his original art form, I think.

Also, in not adding any real additional visual choices, the extra shots of scenery and characters just make the piece feel clunkier.

Storyline: Uh, well that's the problem isn't it? Doubt is about something that may or may not have happened. So, the movie is already saddled with the problem of soft beats - that is, beats that are primarily emotional/psychological. That's very little to see.... So, anyway, with no evidence except a sense of people, a nun becomes convinced that the parish priest has molested a child. She applies pressure to the priest until he resigns and moves on to another post.

Theme: Doubt is not the absence of evidence but the presence of a disturbing conviction. (Which, by my theme standard is a very cool and estimable theme.)

First rate. Really the whole thing here. (Somebody help me out here, is Amy Adams getting any sleep at all these days?! She's everywhere. And without reproach, in my book.)

In the end, I think the movie suffers from the same problems of the play. I though when I finished reading the play that it was missing a few scenes. The playwright doesn't have a strong enough point of view. It leaves you wanting a bit more of an opinion as to the consequences of the characters' choices. I also felt that given the timing of the play - flush in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandal, the whole thing feels a bit manipulative in its lack of insight. I wondered why he set out to write the play, beyond the fact that fixating on sex abuse in the priesthood is the car crash of the decade. But it isn't at all a hit piece on the Catholic Church.

As a former nun, I admit I got a surge of sadistic thrill out of watching the self-sacrificing nuns prevail over the cigarette smoking, self-indulgent, priest. I had a bellyfull of patriarchy in my convent days. It's truly one of the proofs of sanctity in the Church that the women religious put up with so much petty arrogance from so many priests for so long. (NOT ALL! But there is definitely an old boys club in the Church that is infuriating if you are a woman with half a brain.) I was also intrigued by how the priest/forces of renewal in the Church ended up being the bad guy in the movie. Take that you Spirit of Vatican IIers!

It isn't a great movie unless one is grading 2008 on a curve, but it is solid. There are some nice lines. And there are some moments of insight. And the actors are great. In fact, if the movie lasts it will be as part of the Streep canon. I enjoyed it more than my non-writer friend who thought it was creepy and slow. I'm going to recommend it....and put it on my sidebar list of best movies of the year.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lisbon, Pt. II

Lisbon's landmark church is named for the Blessed Virgin Mary and called Estrela Basilica. Queen Maria I had it built in the mid-18th century as a thanksgiving for the birth of her son who was also the heir to the throne. The basilica has a huge rococo dome and beautifully carved twin bell towers.

I thought this was cute. I think it is the entrance to the Presidential Palace. Just like the security at the White House, eh?

Lisbon is full of lovely little park areas with monuments and inlaid tiles and fountains. It really is a charming and quaint city. This was in one park near the waterfront.

And, ah, my hotel in Lisbon, the Pestana Palace. It was unfrakking believable! My assistant had found the hotel on line and then insisted that I spend the fifty or so extra euros per night to stay there. She gets a raise! I am someone who travels and I have had the good fortune to stay in many beautiful and historic hotels around the world. This was, by far, the most incredible hotel I have ever been in. It was like living for two days in one of the Newport mansions (I grew up in Newport, RI...) It was certainly elegant, but it was more, what I would call gracefully elegant.

Just one of the hotel's many parlors for guests to hang out and drink tea or even better, port.

The hotel's entryway.

Nothing says "You are now in a Catholic country" like your most elegant hotel boasting a chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception...

On two different occasions, I was the only patron eating in this, the hotel restaurant. There I was with four chefs, two waiters and a wine steward all hanging on my every slurp. Once I timed how long it took them to refill my water glass after I had drunk it down to almost empty - 30 seconds. The whole hotel staff was amazing. I felt like royalty.

Someone on the staff told me Madonna has said that the Pestana Palace is her favorite hotel, so, I guess that's one more thing Madge and I have in common...

Barb in Lisbon

I am back in Los Angeles but wanted to share some of my photos from my two weeks in Portugal just before Christmas. I was in Portugal prepping a screenplay that I am writing for Origin Entertainment about the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that occurred in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. So, I have scads of photos of every inch of Fatima and the visionaries' village of Aljustrel. Those will be coming with commentary. But here are some shots I took during my two day stop in Lisbon.

This, rather ugly, but still impressive monument recalls Portugal's maritime heritage. Starting with Henry the Navigator and culminating in the seafaring explorers who mapped the route to India and then the New World, Portugal's glory days of the past were all wrapped up in her achievement on the seas. The city of Lisbon is full of references to maritime things. This monument stands at the port of Lisbon on the river. It is actually quite huge. You can get a sense of it from the little person standing in the foreground of the monument.

Called the Jeronimos Monastery, this complex was the most impressive thing I saw in Lisbon. It is an example of Manuelite architecture, which if you haven't heard of it is because it is apparently a distinctly Portuguese style. It struck me as kind of massive Gothic meets Baroque. Anyway, huge and amazing, it was apparently originally conceived as a maritime chapel to pray for sailors and in which men preparing to be sailors could come and get holy. They really had a sense of God ordaining the exploration of the world on which Portuguese ships were setting out. The Jeronimos is the must see of any trip to Lisbon. The following are all shots of the "chapel."

As gorgeous as any church to be seen in Europe, the sight that greets you upon entering the Jeronimo's chapel just takes your breath away. Unfortunately, it left my poor little Kodak gasping and sputtering. Use your imagination...

I kept thinking while I was walking around taking in all the splendor, "Now, I'm not saying that the awesomely awful Los Angeles cathedral needed to look quite like this... But why does it have to be that none of it looks anything at all like this?"

Of course, one of the reasons for the endemic aesthetic of ugliness that has become predicable of the Church today is that there is certainly no one left in Christendom who is capable of doing this anymore.

Then, there are the monastery cloisters that abut the chapel...

The cloisters apparently took several decades to complete as every inch of them was devoutly and beautifully carved in stone.

More soon....