Monday, February 09, 2004

JOAN BURNS CHRISTIANS AT THE STAKE

Yes. I did see some of this past Friday's Joan of Arcadia. And, yes, I did think it was an unfair caricature of a Christian of the type that we have all become unhappily accustomed in primetime. And, no, I do not feel any compulsion to defend the show. I haven't felt any compulsion to say anything critical about it up to now, but I'm getting confused and outraged emails, so....

Honestly, I couldn't stomach more than the first twenty minutes of the show, so I switched off, and maybe I missed the fair and balanced twist that the epsiode was going to get to eventually. If I did miss it, please, some of you JA devotees, post here.

The part I saw involved a redneck Christian middle-aged father beating a homosexual minister to a pulp, and then using the excuse that the minister had it coming because he had molested the rednecK's son. Of course, it was a trumped up charge, because AS EVERYBODY KNOWS, homosexuals do not molest children REALLY.

The episode was really badly written and had Joan's police chief father "trick" out of the man's son that he hadn't been molested using a stupid line of questioning that wouldn't have tripped up a four year old...but then, these are Christians and their bigotry makes them stupid...or else they are just innately stupid and so susceptible to bigotry...whatever.

Anyway, it seemed to me like the gist of the episode was to boldly challenge the homophobic notion that homosexuals tend to be attracted to minors. Oh yes, and to remind America that Christians are evil, sneaky, brutal and hypocritical.

Honestly (John...), the writing in the piece I saw was so bad that I didn't need the unfair characterization of one particular religion and the superficial presentation of a complex social issue to make me turn the channel. The problem is, when you are competing with fabulous procedural shows like NYPD-Blue and Law and Order, you just don't have the leeway to put on a sloppy, silly interrogation scene, without looking, well, sloppy and silly. I have a particular disdain for scenes that scream, "Trust us. We know it looks like the scene is obvious and just driving toward a plot-point, but it is really clever and tricky." It was just awkward and embarrassing.

I hate the idea of a show in which God is a character being cloying and easy.

What's probably going on here, is the all-consuming desire on the part of people in the entertainment industry to win the approval of their peers. You do that through the "brave" act of offending the sensibilities and impugning the intelligence of people who love God. It would actually be a much braver act in Hollywood to look the industry's elitism and politics in the eye and spit. But perhaps this would take heroic courage.

Pray for the show.

ROCK THE RED CARPET?

Has anybody else put together the weird synchronicity of The Passion of the Christ opening the Wednesday before the Academy Awards? It's just kind of weird that this is the first year that they moved the Oscars back to February, and then that Lent is late this year.

The result is that if the movie opens huge, it will be in Hollywood's frontal lobe on its biggest night, and hopefully, render all the celebrity preening and posturing that much more absurd. It might even make some of them a little hysterical and frantic, and maybe they'll burst out even more embarrassing statements than usual, about how "scary" it is that Americans are flocking to a, you know, movie about Christianity. I know I'm looking forward to it!

It would be soooo cool if the morning after the Oscars, the news of The Passion's opening overshadowed media discussions of star cleavage.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

MONEY WELL SPENT

For most of my life, I have listened to committed Catholics malign the NEA as the source of a lot of what's wrong with the world. It's been right up there with the iconocalstic "enforcers" of Vatican II for popularity.

More than just greenlighting obscene trash like Mapplethorpe, the NEA in the hands of the mostly leftwing creative community was perpetually spewing unfair radical politics disguised at art on PBS, on NPR, PRI and at the local art museum.

My posture for many years has been to march around opining that government subsidized art was always bad art, and that a constiuent element of the artist's sacrifice was poverty. With all due respect, I disagree with myself.

I just finished serving as a panelist for the new "Gioia-ized" NEA, and I find myself now happily furnished with a new set of predispositions. The truth is, the NEA plays a vital role in supporting the dissemination of many wonderfully creative and beautiful artistic projects. The agency - at least under Gioia - is not about commissioning "important" works (ie. works that exist solely to make social policy statements), but rather about helping the average American have a broader access to the beautiful creative work being done out there. The presumption is that art is good for us, and that the government has a role in facilitating the well-roundedness of its citizenry. The evaluation forms we used in considering grants were all about artistic excellence, mastery of craft, and substance of the work -- standards taken right out of Aristotle for those who have eyes to read.

Gioia's NEA is not afraid of the prophetic role of the arts, but is intent on seeing that the messages inherent in supported projects be "fair." What a great little word, eh? Positively empowering.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

"I GET AROUND-ROUND-GET-AROUND, I GET AROUND"

Visited states are in red. Hmmm...seems like I have bias against the northern prairie states. Is that what they are called? Please somebody, have a screenwriting conference somewhere up there and invite me.



create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide
CHILLING ER'S ARTISTIC BREASTS

Daily Variety reports today that as more fall-out over the Timberlake assault at the SuperBowl, NBC has ordered ER to edit out a couple of seconds from tonight's episode in which there is a scene of an 80 year old woman's bare breast. ER Exec-Prod, John Wells, (whom just yesterday I was praising and who now has me eating my visual words) sniffed back in affront that if the timorous network execs want the breast cut, "they'd have to do it themselves."

Wells went on to lecture the planet that while the shot of the naked elderly lady was "of no consequence to the absolute storytelling," trimming the breast would have a "chilling effect" on all network TV.

"This is why so many producers and viewers are headed to HBO and cable, where there isn't this attempt to censor....it's short-sighted and leads to less interesting programming."

It's because stuff like the naked bodies of 80 year old women make for the "interesting programming," in ER-land, that everybody I know is now watching CSI on Thursday nights.

ROCK THE PARISH VOTE!

How cool! This, my humble, unassuming blog has been nominated in the first ever St. Blog's Parish Blog Awards! I am nominated in the category "Best Blog By A Woman." Frankly, methinks Amy Welborn has this category pretty well wrapped up. Amen, amen, I say to you, this blog is unfit to delete Amy's Internet Temp Files...

But really, I now know what all the actors mean when they say, finding myself in the company of writers in this category, it is an honor just to be nominated!

In a shameless effort to secure a victory for this blog, I had suggested that there be another category for "Best Orthodox Catholic Blog From Hollywood," but the nominations committee -- typical of Church entities, continued the pattern of ignoring the cultural landscape in its Award categories... sigh.

Anyway, votes are open until Feb. 18. If you have enjoyed this blog, go and make your computer heard! I am counting on your support to bring my platform of cutting-edge, pithy cultural-Church engagement to drag the People of God into the present moment! Go and vote!


P.S. WHEEEE! COTM (that's Churchofthemasses) has pulled in a neck and neck tie for third place. It just occurred to me that, to those of you to whom it may be important, have I ever mentioned how much I truly love the Lord of the Rings movies?! I do! I do!.... Don't call this a flip-flop. I just didn't realize how good they were until I started running for an award. I was seduced by some bad intelligence.... I'm also considering becoming a Vietnam War veteran...

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

PILOTS GETTING ORDERED AROUND

I can't say I got real excited reading the descriptions of the 51 drama pilots that have been ordered by the six major networks. Still, one can hope. Here are some highlights/lowlights/whatever lights of the list that will eventually mutate into next Fall's TV season...


43 Minutes (ABC) - SWAT team handles the final 43 minutes of a major crisis in real time.

And this is not 24, how? You have 42 minutes left to explain it to me...


Desperate Housewives (ABC) - The sexy and secret lives of the inhabitants of a cul-de-sac.

How fresh and surprising! Melrose meets Main Street. Now, I grew up "on" a cul-de-sac... We never really said we were inhabitants "of" it, however. Maybe that is one of the secrets? How much you want to bet that the entire creative team has never actually "seen" a real live cul-de-sac. How much you want to bet they think its a kind of spa or something?


The Catch (ABC) - from JJ Abrams, the Felicity/Alias guy, one of two pilots on the list about bounty hunters.

Untitled Bounty Hunters - from Spelling, the Melrose/90210 guy, the other pilot about bounty hunters.

My money is on Spelling to win this contest. He has more experience with desperate, moral pygmes who will do anything for a buck, having worked with Beverly Hills stories already.


CSI: New York (CBS) - from yeah yeah yeah...

Alternate title: "Na-Na-Na-Na-NA We'll Meet Your Law and Order and Raise You One"


Clubhouse (CBS) - from Icon Prods/Spelling/Vincent/Cerrone - Coming-of-Age drama about a Yankees batboy

Sounds completely perverse and vile to me!!! This time Hollywood has gone TOO far! We NEED more of this kind of crap on the airwaves?! I think NOT! --- (sigh) Go Red Sox....


Revelations (NBC) - from David Selter/Gavine Polone - a group tries to stop the apocalypse; Da Vinci Code meets The X-Files

Alternate title: NBC Continues to Invite Its Own Apocalypse By Greenlighting Garbage Like This


Nikki & Nora (UPN) - from Myatt/Linn - Two lesbian private investigators investigate privately in a lesbian way

I'm thinking this kind of programming isn't going to lift UPN out of the cultural/ratings basement?


Dark Shadows (WB) - John Wells - Remake of the ABC soap about a wealthy Maine family and a vampire curse

I'm excited about this! Hope it makes it. I remember having the bejeebies (sp?) scared out of me when I was like four or five by the original show. John Wells makes good stuff, so this could be cool. Betcha' didn't know thatthe house used for the exteriors of Dark Shadows was in my home town of Newport, RI. I grew up a few blocks away and every time we drove by it -----eeeew! Too creepy.


Oh, and my leading contender for the "Let's All Slap Our Foreheads in a Collective Expression of Exasperated Befuddlement" Award goes to the WB for greenlighting...

Jack and Bobby - from Berlanti the Everwood guy - drama about the teen years of JFK and RFK.

GOOD GRIEF! Will the baby-boomers PLEASE PLEASE stop the insanity!? Say it with me..."The Kennedys are not God. The Kennedys are not God." Please, please, stop....
I HAVE NO TIME TO BE TAKING THESE STUPID QUIZZES!

Well, maybe not so stupid... [coy cough]


You are: SALT! Outgoing, funny and a great friend
to have around.


---What fast food condiment are you?---
brought to you by Quizilla
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST - ANOTHER REVIEW

I like this review. It has a visceral quality to it. Someone emailed it to me so I'm not sure where it first appeared in print.

A News Anchor's Perspective on "The Passion of the Christ"
by Jody Dean
Dallas/Ft. Worth anchor, CBS News

There have been tons of e-mails and forwards floating around recently from those who have had the privilege of seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ prior to its actual release. I thought I'd give you my reaction after seeing it last [week.]

The screening was on the first night of "Elevate!” a weekend-long seminar for young people at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. There were about 2,000 people there, and the movie was shown after several speakers had taken the podium. It started around 9:00 and finished around 11:00...about two hours in length. Frankly, I lost complete track of time - so I can't be sure.


I want you to know that I started in broadcasting when I was
13-years-old. I have been in the business of writing, performing, production and broadcasting for a long time. I have been a part of movies, radio, television, stage and other productions - so I know how things are done. I know about soundtracks and special effects and make-up and screenplays. I think I have seen just about every kind of movie or TV show ever made - from extremely inspirational to extremely gory. I read a lot - and have covered stories and scenes that still make me wince. I have also seen an enormous amount of footage from Gibson's film, so I thought I knew what was coming.

But there is nothing in my existence - nothing I could have read, seen, heard, thought or known - that could have prepared me for what I saw on screen last night.

This is not a movie that anyone will "like". I don't think it's a movie anyone will "love." It certainly doesn't "entertain". There isn't even the sense that one has just watched a movie. What it is…an experience - on a level of primary emotion that is scarcely comprehensible. Every shred of human preconception or predisposition is utterly stripped away. No one will eat popcorn during this film. Some may not eat for days after they've seen it. Quite honestly, I wanted to vomit. It hits that hard.

I can see why some people are worried about how the film portrays the Jews. No, it's not anti-Semitic. What it is, is entirely shattering. There are no "winners". No one comes off looking "good" - except Jesus. Even His own mother hesitates. As depicted, the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day merely do what any of us would have done - and still do. They protected their perceived "place" - their sense of safety and security, and the satisfaction of their own "rightness."

But everyone falters. Caiphus judges. Peter denies. Judas betrays. Simon the Cyrene balks. Mark runs away. Pilate equivocates. The crowd mocks. The soldiers laugh. Longinus still stabs with his pilus. The centurion still carries out his orders. And as Jesus fixes them all with a glance, they still turn away. The Jews, the Romans, Jesus' friends - they all fall.

Everyone, except the Principal Figure. Heaven sheds a single, mighty tear - and as blood and water spew from His side, the complacency of all creation is eternally shattered.

The film grabs you in the first five seconds, and never lets go. The brutality, humiliation, and gore are almost inconceivable - and still probably does not go far enough. The scourging alone seems to never end, and you cringe at the sound and splatter of every blow - no matter how steely your nerves. Even those who have known combat or prison will have trouble, no matter their experience - because this Man was not conscripted. He went willingly, laying down His entirety for all. It is one thing for a soldier to die for his countrymen. It's something else entirely to think of even a common man dying for those who hate and wish to kill him. But this is no common man. This is the King of the Universe.

What Gibson has done is to use all of his considerable skill to portray the most dramatic moment of the most dramatic events since the dawn of time. There is no escape. It's a punch to the gut that puts you on the canvas, and you don't get up. You are simply confronted by the horror of what was done - what had to be done - and why. Throughout the entire film, I found myself apologizing.

What you've heard about how audiences have reacted is true. There was no sound after the film's conclusion. No noise at all. No one got up. No one moved. The only sound one could hear was sobbing. In all my years of public life, I have never heard anything like that.

I told many of you that Gibson had reportedly re-shot the ending to include more "hope" through the Resurrection? That's not true. The Resurrection scene is perhaps the shortest in the entire movie - and yet it packs a punch that can't be quantified. It is perfect. There is no way to negotiate the meaning out of it. It simply asks, "Now, what will you do?"

The truth is this: Is it just a "movie"? In a way, yes. But it goes far beyond that, in a fashion I've never felt - in any forum. We may think we "know". We know nothing. We've gone 2,000 years - used to the idea of a pleasant story, and a sanitized Christ. We expect the ending, because we've heard it so many times. God forgive us. This film tears that all away. It's is as close as any of us will ever get to knowing, until we fully know. Paul understood. "Be urgent, in and out of season."

Go see this movie.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

VIOLENCE IN THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

The anti-Semitism argument is not the most controversial thing about the soon to be released Mel Gibson film. The amount and quality of the violence in the film will be a much bigger bone of contention for the Christians who will be lining up at theaters. Believe me, this isn't the kind of film that you load up on popcorn and Diet Cokes for and then sit there munching away. A lot of people are going to be shocked, and profoundly disturbed by the violence.

Most adult Christians need to see the film, but we need to prepare them for the shock of it.

I have written an article for an upcoming issue of the St. Austin Review that addresses this question. I don't have permission to excerpt the article here, but I'll reprint a couple of paragraph's by way of promotion...

Several devout Christians have noted to me that they will be staying away from The Passion of the Christ because of the violent images. I hear from them things like, “Violent images on screen get stuck in my head” and “screen violence is just too disturbing to me.” I understand this. I have never been able to purge from my mind some of the terrible torture scenes I have been exposed to in films like Romero, The English Patient and The Fixer. And yet, those films amount to powerful indictments of real evils, in the civil war in El Salvador, from the Nazis, and in the Mob. These are evils that caused immeasurable human suffering. If others had to live it, through no fault of their own, isn’t there something just in me having to watch it, especially from the relatively easy life I live, through no particular merit of my own? The truth is, I could have gone merrily on my way, never brooding over, or even aware, of the terrible suffering in the Church in Central America, had not Romero forced me to look....

...The images of violence in The Passion of Christ are very hard to watch. They are truly disturbing on a level in which I have never been disturbed by a movie before. But I needed to see it. The movie “disturbed” me back into a pragmatic seriousness about, to borrow from St. John, “sin, and righteousness and condemnation.” The great novelist Flannery O’Connor defended the harshness of her work by noting wryly, “I have found that violence uniquely opens my characters to the truth. The truth is something that we can only be returned to at great cost.” She also noted that as the world moved farther and farther from righteousness, more violence would probably be necessary to return it to the truth.

Still, watching the Savior suffer and die may be too much for some disciples. Out of the entire troupe of Our Lord’s apostles, even after three years of front row seats at miracles and sermons, only John was able to stand up and watch the actual events of the Passion. The others fled the sight, and it was undoubtedly a mercy for them to be able to shield their eyes.

Perhaps the horror of the Passion would have obscured for Andrew and Thomas and Peter the joy of the resurrection. Perhaps it would have irrevocably shaken their faith. Perhaps it would have led them into an anger and hatred that they would not be able to overcome. The reasons probably all are still applicable to some believers today.

But certainly, those same apostles who did fail to watch with him, lived and died with the certainty that theirs was a falling short. It was a failure of courage, and the consequence of a weak faith that kept them away from the images of Jesus on the Cross. Above all, it was proof of an imperfect love that ultimately placed their own safety and sensibilities over following Jesus....


The article came out to be 1700 words long, so, if you want to read the other three sections of the piece, (ie. "Prudence or Fear?" "Art or Exploitation?" and, "Does It Have to Be So Bad?") contact the magazine for a copy.
IT'S NOT THAT I'M WEAK...

...it's rather that I would consider it a reprehensible lapse in journalistic integrity not to reference this column of Michael Medved, in which Viggo Mortensen, who has just spent three years working on a film that is purportedly chockful of important, Christian themes, is now writing poetry for the Socialist Nihilists of the Universe Party. (Sean and Kale - this one's for you guys...[wicked, shrill screams of delight -] And I quote...

"Viggo Mortensen, who plays the title character in The Return of the King, has used the publicity platform provided by his role to trumpet his anti-war and anti-Bush views. Since the release of last year's Rings installment, The Two Towers, he's turned up for numerous press interviews wearing a ''no more blood for oil'' T-shirt and freely offered his bitter critique of U.S. foreign policy.

This fall, with the distribution of the biggest movie of his career just weeks away, he appeared at a Washington anti-war rally sponsored by International ANSWER (a coalition to ''Act Now to Stop War and End Racism''), identified by its own leaders as an off-shoot of the Socialist Workers Party, a Stalinist fringe group. In the midst of speakers defending Palestinian terrorists, Cuba's Castro regime and the saber-rattling North Korean government, Mortensen read an interminable original poem about exploding bombs, burning flesh, flattened huts and American guilt. "


Hmmmm...Guess Mortensen missed the profound point of the films. I'm shocked! Shocked!
Following the example of Eve Tushnet, who thus sanctified Wednesdays, I hereby declare Monday, "Poetry Monday"...but because it's this blog, it's more appropriately titled...

EMILY MONDAY

(And it's not just because I'm home sick today and don't have enough to do with myself....although, that is true too...)


#228

One Crucifixion is recorded only -
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics -
Or History.

One Calvary - exhibited to Stranger -
As many be as persons -
Or Peninsulas -

Gethsemane - is but a Province in the Being's Centre -
Judea - for Journey - or Crusade's Achieving -
Too near -

Our Lord - indeed - made Compound Witness -
And yet -
There's newer - nearer Crucifixion
Than That -
MONSTROUSLY SAD

I am unsure what to say about the movie Monster, for which Charlize Theron is nominated - and the frontrunner - for the Oscar.

Indisputably, Theron's performance is amazing. It's almost eerie how she transforms her mannerisms, her walk, her intonation until you don't even remember what the real Charlize looks and sounds like. The other nominees are disadvantaged by the fact that they are only acting. Charlize is channeling...

Having said that, Monster is not a film that I can recommend to a general audience.... even a generally adult audience. This is a great film that requires a very wide berth of artistic, and frankly shocking sexuality and violence to deliver its fundamentally moral message.

Normally, I take the position that the end never justifies the means, and so "thumbs down" this kind of project. Generally, however, the ultimate moral message in this kind of project is not worth every disgusting and/or violating corridor that a film traverses to make its point. An example of this would be movies like The End of the Affair, Boogie Nights, To End All Wars, American History X, Fight Club, and pretty much everything by David Lynch (well, okay, except for The Straight Story and Elephant Man).

I am going to give Monster a grim thumbs-up, however, because it seems to me the ultimate message is very worth all the pain and suffering the audience has to go through to apprehend it. (And I give the movie a thumbs-up even though it is a portrayal of two lesbians, AND includes a couple girl-on-girl love scenes. --- HA HA John! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!)

The key to Monster is the title of the film. This is a movie that sets out to challenge the idea that a human being can ever be defined and dismissed as "a monster." Dead Man Walking dealt with the powerful theme that, "Every person has an innate dignity that can never be obscured by their own bad choices." Monster pushes this theme by presenting the causes that lead a human being into monstrous choices. In so doing, the film challenges the viewer to apply the word "Monster" to its main character, as we would be wont to do just hearing the cursory details of her story. Monster is a profoundly ironic title for the project.

Based on the true story of serial murderer, Aileen Wuornos, the film never excuses her, but does provide the sources of her alienation and so an explanation for her choices. It shows her struggles with her own grief and guilt as she tries to rationalize her understanding of herself as "I'm basically a good person" with her own terrible deeds. The film presents a God-like perspective of a lost human being. Borrowing from the book Poem of the Man God, "If you would see rightly (ie. like God) you need to combine facts with compassion." Ultimately, the film comes down to being the story of a woman who has never been loved. She has been abused by many of the people who were supposed to love her and has never been able to connect with a mentor, a teacher, a pastor -- anyone who could have thrown her a line on her way slipping down through the cracks in society.

The centerpiece relationship in the film is filled out in a largely over-looked performance by Christina Ricci who delivers well here as she always seems to. Interestingly, the movie isn't so much about lesbianism, as it is about two individuals who are desperately seeking to connect. It isn't sex, it is a glass of cold water to two people dying in a desert. My friend who attended with me noted, "I don't think either of them were really gay." I tend to agree.

Monster is a very, very sad story that is not for the faint of heart or the weak of sensibility. The film contains a moment of graphic sexual violence, and the other kinds of scenes one would associate with a lesbian-prostitute turned murderer. It isn't a gratuitous project, however, and it is far from being a Hollywood style exploitation film. Mystic River, by comparison, is an over-the-top actor's show piece. Proof of Monster's moral merit as an artistic project, is that it leaves the viewer feeling personally complicit in the tragedy that unfolds on the screen, as opposed to staring in superior fascination at Wuornos horrific story.

It's a great film. I just don't know too many people who should see it.

TAG, YOU'RE IT

A "friend" sent me this... Thanks. I needed one more thing on my things I can't do list. Go ahead, try it...heh heh heh....

Left brain, right brain

While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off
the floor and make clockwise circles.

Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air
with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction and there's nothing
you can do about it.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

AND ON THE OTHER HAND...

Another Act One alum, Dan Ewald, recently interviewed Patty Heaton for Christianity Today. It's here and very good.

Patty is a super person, and a happy 'other hand' to the absurdity and disconnect of so many celebrities. I've met her several times, and have always found her simple and friendly. Most recently, we spoke at a Feminist's for Life event at UCLA. Patty spoke frankly and without any anger or spin to the students, three quarters of whom identified themselves as being pro-life. I asked the guy who runs the Bruins pro-life group, "How did you guys pack this audience like this?" He said, "We didn't. They all just came!"
HOLLYWOOD AS REALITY SHOW

My friend and Act One alumn, Spencer Lewrenz, has a scathing riff of the Golden Globes telecast here. It's funny and goes a long way to foreshadowing my ultimate dream of being rendered irrelevant by my much more talented and intelligent students...

Fun fact: The Golden Globes is known as "The Party of the Year." Or at least that's what The Eternal One, Dick Clark, repeatedly reminded television viewers during the opening red carpet ceremony. (I had always thought "The Party of the Year" was acquital day at the Kennedy compound.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

OSCAR DOESN'T EMBARRASS HIMSELF

I always cringe a little to see the list of Oscar noms in a presidential election year. Inevitably, the Academy anoints several movies that are second-rate but "important". This year, the "important" films are happily missing from the list.

I think that Michael Moore's embarrassing tirade last year and his subsequent booing by the assembled Oscar crowd started a small anti-trend in the Academy as regards politicizing the movies. Only the most obtuse and strident actors, (ref. Meryl Streep and Martin Sheen) seem not to have gotten the message.

Anyway, overall, I am really happy about the Oscar noms. Everybody is surprised and thrilled by the Best Actress nom for Keisha Castle-Hughes, the amazing little girl in Whale Rider. and also for Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Ben Kingsely's wife in House of Sand and Fog. I love when the Academy passes by easy noms for the stars in favor of unknowns who are more worthy. In other words, I love it when the Academy is fair.

It's also great that Samanatha Morton is being recognized for her work in In America. I hope this will get a wider release for the picture and keep it in theaters a little longer.

I'm REALLY happy that Cold Mountain didn't get a Best Picture nom, despite Miramax's relentless campaigning. It's a plodding, tedious film despite its stars and sprawl.

I am most MOST EXCITED by the honorary Oscar recipient this year. Blake Edwards has been a great populist director and producer, and notably wrote and directed my family's all-time favorite comedy, The Great Race. We Nicolosi's LOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVE it and probably can recite the whole script. Blake has writing credits on 52 feature films and directing credits on 47 features. He was the guy behind the Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Days of Wine and Roses, and Experiment in Terror, to name a few. "There's another one the Great Leslie can try."

So, there is a lot of great work this year, and that will make Oscar night a good rush. Phew!

Monday, January 26, 2004

"When my kids were young,
I played a game with them.
I'd give each of them a stick. One for each of 'em,
and I'd tell them to break it.
They'd do that easy.
Then, I'd tell them to make a bundle of all the sticks,
and try to break that.
A course they couldn't.
I used to say that was family, that bundle."
(from The Straight Story)
WHAT ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE RAVING ABOUT?

"A well-written, entertaining show! A breakthrough... genuinely funny and amusingly complicated..." The New York Times

"The concept is groundbreaking..." US Weekly


Yeah? Yeah? Tell me more!

"Sophisticated...stylishly involving, amusing..." Entertainment Weekly

"Polished" Philadelphia Inquirer

"...going to change everything...always entertaining...not just evolutionary, it's revolutionary! Afterellen.com


Wow, this sounds cool. I'm excited!.........Wait. Did you say "Afterellen.com"?

"...a drama meant for everyone....ambitious and suberb...complex characters fleshed out in a series of ever-improving episodes..." San Francisco Chronicle

"Wonderfully written, suberbly acted..." Tribune Media


"Fine acting and sharp writing..." The Miami Herald

Hmmm...I like great writing and acting too...but why did you need to say that it is meant for 'everyone'?

"Strikes universal chords" Los Angeles Times

Well, that's kind of an odd way to praise something...

"Wickedly provocative drama..." The Washington Post

Wicked-ly? What is this tingling on the back of my neck? But really, would the Post recognize wickedness? Maybe it's nothing...

"A finely wrought drama tinged with humor" CNN

..."filled with smart dialogue and richly drawn characters." Hollywood Reporter

"Downright Addictive" Time out


Hey, time out. Did you just say Time Out? What the he--??

"Explodes old sterotypes. Powerful, wildly sexy" NY Magazine

What's going on here?!

"Likely to hook viewers, gay or straight with sleek sexy melodrama. The show is a lesbian combo platter of Melrose Place, Friends and Sex in the City." Detroit Free Press

"Lustrous new series... straddles
[emphasis theirs] the zeitgesit and offers something for nearly everyone." The Village Voice

"Sharp well-observed and very funny..." San Jose Mercury News

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

"Hot!" People

"Stellar cast and interestingly flawed characters..." Times-Picayune


Sing it to me, honey.

"Let the Emmy hype begin!" US Weekly

If it looks like a bandwagon, and careens like a bandwagon, it's probably something about homosexuality.

We're talking, of course, about the new show The L-Word from Showtime. Airing on the Lord's Day at 10pm, the show has been promised to be just as graphic as Queer as Folk, and - as amazing as it might sound - even more mainstream, because, well, we all know how much straight guys like to watch lesbians. I know that because I learned it on Friends. Which is, you know, produced by gay guys.
SCORCESE GUESSING AT THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Daily Variety on Friday reported that Martin Scorcese is developing Graham Greene's novel The Heart of the Matter for the screen. From Variety:

Story concerns a scrupulously honest Catholic police officer serving in a West African country during wartime who gets in trouble when he falls in love with another woman while attempting to break up a diamond smuggling operation. Before he knows it, the man has borrowed money from a blackmailer, he's sent his wife away on vacation, and he's in way over his head.

If Scorcese could just let himself believe in the goodness of God, he could make a great film out of this. He always ruins things with his inability to commit.
WHEN THE INTERNET KNOWS YOU BEST...

None of my real friends will be surprised....ahem

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Sunday, January 25, 2004

A GOOD TRAGEDY

House of Sand and Fog is a pretty good film. It holds together well and has a couple of great performances from Jennifer Connelly - who has never looked gorgeouser - and Ben Kingsley - who was made to play this role.

You know Ben Kingsley is a great actor because every role he plays, people say "that role was just made for him!" No, he's just a great actor and makes every role seem like it was, well made for him, because that's what actors do, act like they are playing a real person, and not themselves just changing clothes like Tom Cruise or Melanie Griffith, for example, who always seem to be playing the same person in different clothes.

[Excuse the run-on sentence, but I am watching the celebrities being interviewed on the red carpet, and I think the "I don't know how to talk without a script so I will just keep running on my mouth saying stupid things about my dress and my movie and my lovelife until you pull the microphone away" thing may be contagious.]

Anyway, House of Sand and Fog is a tragedy in the Shakespearian mode, in which a good guy tries to finesse a little bit of evil, and innocent people he loves end up paying with their lives. The movie has a very slow-building momentum towards its ultimate tragedy, although it never feels like someone couldn't stop the whole thing by just pulling out of the madness. The story comes down to the horrible things wrought in two people's lives by greed and pride. I think it is ultimately a moral story.

From a story perspective, the thing stays believable well into the third act, and when it does start to press credibility, it isn't annoyingly unrealistic...just slightly. I do wish the writer had eliminated the cop boyfriend character. He exists basically just so we have somebody to get naked with Jennifer, but he takes away from the film because we only really want to watch Kingsley and Connelly.

The score is written by James Horner and is really too big for the movie. Several times I was taken out of the movie by the bigness of the music which doesn't seem to match the slow build of the story. It was like Horner was screaming at us, "I AM THE GUY WHO SCORED TITANIC!!!! I HAVE TO TELL YOU WHAT A GREAT COMPOSER I AM BECAUSE OTHERWISE YOU MIGHT NOT NOTICE!"

Still, I give this film a thumbs up. It is well-crafted and thoughtful.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

A GOOD TRAIN OF THOUGHT

The Station Agent is the kind of pitch which can never get anywhere in the Hollywood studio system. It's the kind of project on which I would never let my students work. The Station Agent is a story in which nothing really happens, in which the characters actually spend long stretches sitting next to each other in silence, reading and watching train tracks. I would tell my students to come back with an idea in which there is some visual movement. Shows how much I know.

The Station Agent exemplifies why we need independent cinema. This is the kind of delightful project that would be unmarketable by the studio machines - you know, one more embittered, isolated dwarf finds community with an older woman mourning her dead son, an overweight black third grader, and a Spanish speaking hot-dog vendor movie. Thank God for Sundance, which is the only venue in which a project like this can get a real hearing from the Hollywood distribution entities that are necessary to get any project into the theaters.

Despite the lack of pulse/visual conflict/action in The Station Agent, it still works because the filmmakers manage to create an underlying ominous threat, that at any moment, something bad might happen to the vulnerable little man who is the main character. There are just enough shots of redneckish brutes eyeing little Fin, to keep us nervous and alert for him throughout the whole film.

This film is all about character. A dwarf who loves trains!? On paper it would be too weird to live. On the screen it is brilliant only because it works.

Fin, as the big man seethingly trapped in a little person's body, is perfectly played by Peter Dinklage. As the sympathetic characters around him gradually start pulling at his crusty exterior, he slowly emerges as the steady, strong presence they will all need.

The character of Joe, played by Bobby Cannavale, instantly became one of my favorite screen characters ever. He is so good at being a gregarious, shrugging hero, that you almost forget how handsome he is. For his underlying humanity and grace, Joe is right up there with Emma Thompson's Oscar-wnning Margaret Schlegel in Howard's End.

This is a wonderful film. Most of you won't find it in your local cineplexes, but if you have to, it is worth taking a train to see.

Friday, January 23, 2004

GREAT QUOTE OF THE WEEK...

...comes from writer Barry Garron in Wednesday's, Hollywood Reporter. He is writing about the latest FOX reality show, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance:

"In shows like this, and Average Joe, for
example, the not- so-subtle message is that for someone
with good looks, even associating with an unattractive
person is an activity fraught with anxiety and disgust, if
not downright terror."
"WAS IT 'AS IT WAS' OR WASN'T IT?"

Might as well weigh in on this whole "did he?" or "didn't he?" thing.

Fuzzy wuzzy was an edict. The edict was fuzzy, wasn't he?
But if fuzzy wuzzy got past the bureacracy, it wasn't an edict, was it?


....Having experienced The Passion of the Christ, it would seem virtually impossible to me, that a lover of Jesus could watch this film and walk away without emitting any comment.

...Agreeing to a screening of the film, with the producer waiting outside for a reaction, it would seem barbarically cruel to open the door and say, to that producer, "No comment. Go away now."

...JPII having no comment on a great work of sacred art seems absolutely inconsistent with his own call for "a renewal of that fruitful dialogue that has always existed between the Church and the arts." Ignoring the rest of the world, it would seem to me that he would be encouraging al least to this one artist.

...But ultimately, EVEN IF the Pope said "Movie BLECKKKKKK!" it wouldn't change anything about the beauty and power of this film. We lay people have to all grow up and read Vatican II on the appropriate role of priests and bishops and laity. The temporal sphere belongs to the laity. We have to stop needing to be told what to think about politics and culture and art by clerics. It isn't their job. It's ours.

Perhaps the Vatican's change in tone in this matter was to withhold using the Pope's blessing to get the People of God to embrace this film. It isn't a good movie because the Pope says so. It just is.

Monday, January 19, 2004

BRIDESHEAD TIME AGAIN

We just started our annual RCIA class for people in the entertainment industry. This year's class spent most of Saturday watching the British television version of the book done in 1981. We'll have our official first class tomorrow night, and will begin by discussing Brideshead Revisited. (If you know someone in the biz who is interested in Catholicism, have them email me...)

I spent at least an hour last night looking for my favorite Brideshead quote on line. Amazingly, I couldn't find it. So, I decided it is up to me to reproduce it here for the plugged in masses who may never crack open the book.

Setting up the quote... Julie and Charles are having an affair. Julia has been raised in a devout Catholic home. Her brother, Bridey, tells her that she is not welcome in his home as long as she is living in sin. Julia freaks out and when Charles wants to know what is wrong with her, she blusters out the following amazing discourse...

"He's quite right...All in one little word, too, one little flat, deadly word that covers a lifetime.

'Living in sin;' not just doing wrong, knowing it is wrong, stopping doing it, forgetting. That's not what they mean...He means living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out.

Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it's fretful.

Always the same, like an idiot child carefully nursed, guarded from the world. 'Poor Julia,' they say, 'she can't go out. She's got to take care of her little sin...

Sin. A word from so long ago, from Nanny Hawkins stitching by the hearth and the nightlight burning before the Sacred Heart. Cordelia and me with the catechism, in Mummy's room before luncheon on Sundays. Mummy carrying my sin with her to church, bowed under it and the black lace veil, in the chapel; Mummy dying with my sin eating at her, more cruelly than her own deadly illness.

Mummy dying with it; Christ dying with it, nailed hand and foot; hanging over the bed in the night-nursery; hanging year after year in the dark little Study at Farm Street; hanging in the dark church where only the old charwoman raises the dust and one candle burns; hanging at noon high above the crowd and the soldiers; hanging for ever;..."
BARB'S TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2003

I haven't seen all the nominated films yet, most notably Master and Commander , so this list might change. But it feels safe to leave number six open for M&C. Friends keep telling me that I will love it. But in case I don't love it, I will add X2 to the end of the list and move everything else up.


1. Finding Nemo

I should note that I generally loathe animation, so ceding my top spot to Finding Nemo is extra-extraordinary for me. I just think it was the best all around production from script to direction to production design to score to performances.

2. Peter Pan

I think the studio made a mistake releasing this film in the wake of ROTK and during the holidays. It would have made a bigger impression earlier in the Fall when the field for family entertainment was less dense. Can't figure out why it isn't doing better at the b.o. It's truly a great piece of cinema.

3. Big Fish

4. Spellbound

This film is a documentary - but delivered one of the most compelling emotional film journeys of the year. It will always be on my list of best films about "the American thing."

5. In America

6. [holding open for Master and Commander]

7. Lost in Translation

8. Whale Rider

9. Pirates of the Caribbean

This film is 90% Johnny Depp, but the filmmakers deserve credit for letting him run with his instincts. On the other hand, even if you took Depp out, the story here is surprisingly good.

10. Seabiscuit

I liked this film - it was very good -- but something wasn't quite GREAT about it, and I can't say exactly what. It never really got me in the heart, although it had good characters and a good story. It may be those unfortunate b&w history lessons that are interspersed through the whole film. I think they tended to be distancing for the viewer - kept pulling us out of the story and reminding us it was a movie? ...But notwithstanding this, it is a well-executed and worthy film.
SURE LEFT ME COLD

I don't care how many Golden Globes are clanging around in Cold Mountain's future. All of them banging against each other in 8-part harmony could not drown out the sound of the fellow sitting behind me in the theater SNORING early, EARLY in the first act. The film is a bore.

Cold Mountain is from director Anthony Minghella, who gave us the earnestly languid, Oscar collecting 1996 film, The Patient Audience...oh, silly me, I mean, of course, The English Patient. Despite its ploddingness, I actually liked a lot of The English Patient. It had some lovely frames to look at and a slew of well-developed, intriguing characters.

In a striking lack of creativity, Cold Mountain meanders through its first hour or so using the same structural device as Patient; flashbacks in the memory of a bed-ridden man. But the film ultimately fails because it breaks the cardinal rule of filmmaking: it never establishes sympathy for the two main characters. We don't care about the two leads, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law before the story launches off and the screen gets cluttered with explosions and scenery. We don't feel any chemistry between them. Hence, we are not at all invested in whether they will ever find their way back through the Civil War to live happily ever after together. The film makes the mistake of assuming that we will like thesee two people because they are both beautiful.

Minghella ought to be slapped with a clammy carp for spending so much time storyboarding shots and recreating the Civil War in modern day Albania, but forgetting to make us like his main characters.

The best thing about Cold Mountain is the performance of Renee Zellwegger. She really goes for it as an unglamorous, redneck daughter of the South, and brings the only real humor and sympathy to the film in the process.

I was also really annoyed by the ridiculous acrobatic sex that Nicole and Jude had to go through for the cameras. It just felt ridiculous in light of the fact that they have both been starving to death and have become essentially different people by all they've suffered. Just couldn't see these two people pulling a strip tease at their hardwon reunion just like they stumbled off the set of Sex in the City.

Minghella obviously sensed that there would be nothing in the film for the viewers if he proceeded to kill off Jude Law's character immediately after the reunion WITHOUT first letting his two leads demonstrate the most mind-blowing Kama Sutra techniques the planet has ever seen.

Well, he was right that there isn't much for the viewers here. Unfortunately, naked stars writhing around don't fill the void.




Sunday, January 18, 2004

"OKAY BY ME IN AMERICA"

This year has had its share of epic films. Huge, big-budget productions with every trick the contemporary cinema of attractions has on its palette. All of it is geared to one end - creative control.

So, a director is charged with creating and sustaining an emotional experience for masses of viewers. Everything in cinema - as entertainment- serves this goal. In so far as the audiences' emotions are engaged and held in a movie is the measure of whether the director is successful or not (as a cinema director...not necessarily as a moral man or a catholic storyteller....).

Budget and scope are irrelevant. This must drive studio executives nuts. But they never seem to learn. So, the $130 million dollar The Hulk had audiences yawning, and the $3 million dollar In Amerca, had the twenty-something, male, nose-pierced ticket-taker at the theater warning me and my friend, "Hope you feeling like crying."

More than anything, 2003 movies have made the case that, in cinema art, size doesn't matter. Rabbit Proof Fence, Whale-Rider, Spellbound, Lost in Translation, and now In America - all movies made for under $10 million are all better films than most of the studio films this year with budgets topping $50,000,000.

And when I say "better", I mean the smaller films delivered sustained emotional journeys

Back to In America... what a beautiful, positive, and surprisingly artistic film! Set in a tenement in a drug and crime infested neighborhood in NYC, the film is lovely and beautiful. Dealing with death, illness and poverty, the film is uplifting and inspiring. Without any stars to distract, the film delivers a carefully crafted ensemble performance from a wonderful group of talented actors. Directing and cinematography is artful in terms of imagery and composition. Most important for me, the script knows exactly what it is about from the very first scene. So, the very last scene provides the cathartic and intelligent denoument that is so missing in many movies that just seem to stop as opposed to ending.

In terms of the meaning of the film? Well, In America made me want to be kind.

Don't miss this one.

Friday, January 16, 2004

SURPRISED BY DESIGN SHOWS

For most of us, television is an aural medium. That is, it is written to be listened to, and only occasionally glanced at. I never just "watch" television. I always have something else to read at hand, or else I am opening mail, and - do I even have to say it - the only time I watch television without my laptop on in front of me is at airport gates.

But, thanks to the latest hot genre of TV shows, I am watching television again. Closely. Like, I mean I have to sit there and watch every stupid little segment. And I love it. And so does just about everybody I know.

I'm talking of course about the rash of home design shows. As near as I can tell, it all started with me (and with the rest of the country, it seems) with Antiques Roadshow. But now, I practically live on HGTV, Discovery Channel and Learning Channel to watch Monster House, Surprised by Design, Designer's Challenge, Clean Sweep (oooh, baby!), and the favoritest of all, Trading Spaces. I don't watch any other show with the rapt attention of these shows, down to leaning in closer to see the colors and textures of the wall by the fireplace, and critically trying to decide if I woul d ever paint a larger than life flamingo on a bedroom wall.

My sister Val and I actually watched an entire day-long marathon of Clean Sweep over the holidays, ostensibly to "try and discern what is the appeal of these shows." Yeah right! It was sheer, gluttonous compulsion. "Feed me, Seymour!!!!"

Not sure what this is about. I think it might be the fact that - for my generation, which has had to pay tens of thousands of dollars just to get educated - home ownership has become the American Dream again. (For our boomer parents, who got to go to college for cheap, and who mostly inherited property from their Greatest Generation parents, the American Dream seems to have been something about doing whatever they felt like without ever getting stuck or pregnant...) Anyway, most of my twenty and thirty something friends can only dream about owning their own home -- a place defined by the fact that you can paint and tear down walls if you want.

I think some of this is also driven by the Gen X and Y attraction toward authentic community. The idea of remaking a home in which to live with one's family - oooh, what a rush - the stuff of Gen X fantasy?

POPE GIUSEPPE I

As a rule, I can't stand all the speculation about the life expectancy of the Pope and whom his successor will be. It's just so much journalistic salivating over a story - trying to make news of potential news.

But then, not long ago during a sermon, Father was rambling on and on and, in the course of his wanderings, mentioned the tradition of Pope's picking names that will have some meaning for their Pontificate. On the way home in the car, my sister posited the question, "If you were going to be the next Pope, what name would you pick?"

(Once I got over the shock of her use of the word "if"...) I started brooding over the times and what name would make a good anchor for the next papacy. And then it occurred to me that nobody yet has ever chosen the name Joseph. I think that is weird and strange. Joseph is the Patron of the Universal Church. He is one of the most beloved saints. He was the Just man in times of terrible trial. He was the protector of the Holy Family, and particularly the protector of the Child Jesus. He is revered as chaste. He was also silent.

Does anybody know why noone has yet been Pope Joseph? Is there some obscure ecclesial tradition I don't know about to forbid it? There have been a lot of Joseph's who were raised to the papacy, but they all changed their names once they were elected.

In this moment ...
...in which the family is under such severe attack, and,
...in which the Church has been so remiss in its defense of children, and,
...in which the value of chastity has been almost completely lost, and,
...in which a period of silence would be good to brood over all the volumes of words issued by John Paul II, and
...in which a period of renewed and deepend devotion to the Patron of the Universal Church couldn't hurt, and finally,
...in which it would be a powerful symbol to choose the name not of a previous cleric but of the father of a family, therefore,

If it was me, I would give my first blessing to the city and to the world as Pope Giuseppe I, or Papa Joe, for short. Any other nominations?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

COMING SOON TO THEATERS: A BOA CONSTRICTOR DIGESTING AN ELEPHANT

HR reports this week that Pathe Pictures is partnering with Antoine St. Exupery's estate to develop an animated feature of The Little Prince. The book has sold 25,000,000 copies world-wide.

"You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose."

Here's a funny site that determines early on whether you think this is cool news or no news at all.

I think it is cool news. But then I also think that "what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"ONWARD, DAUGHTER OF GOD!"

Congratulations to CBS' Joan of Arcadia for winning the People's Choice Award.

Much to my chagrin, I have only caught a few episodes of the show because I tend to spend most Fridays in airports lately. It is neat to see how beloved the show has become to hoards of Gen Y'ers, particularly. Everywhere I go, Christian teens and twenty-somethings want to talk about the show and tell me how much they love it. I am glad for Barbara Hall and the show's creative team. I think you must get special graces for making masses of people happy.

I was wondering, for those of you who watch the show regularly, does the central character feel like Joan of Arc to you, or does the similarity end with the name? Also, does the God feel like God to you, or does the similarity end with the name?

This Friday's episode, one of our Actors Co-op actors gets to be God. Ted Rooney, the skinny God in the white-lab coat in the episode promos, is a longstanding member of the Co-op, Hollywood's Christian theater company, and is a wonderfully talented actor. Kudos Ted!

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"TWO DIFF'RENT WORLDS. WE LIVE IN..."

Hollywood Reporter carried the story last week that HBO is close to greenlighting a drama project from Tom Hanks' Playtone Prods. The project is called Big Love and, quoting HR, "is set in the world of bigamy."

The "world of bigamy"?

I need aspirin.
THE SCOPE OF THE MISSIONFIELD

OR

WE MIGHT STOP SENDING MISSIONARIES TO THE THIRD WORLD NOW


The L.A. Times ran a story recently about a new book detailing the "spirituality" of many Hollywood celebrities. [Note to self: The correct response to the following is not gagging but praying.]

George Clooney: "I don't believe in heaven and hell. I don't know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won't allow this life-the only thing I know to exist-to be wasted."

[Note: So, how do you explain making Confessions of a Dangerous Mind?]

Phyllis Diller: "We were not created by a deity. We created the deity in our image. Life began on this planet when the first amoeba split. Mankind will still be seeking God, not accepting that God is a spirit; can't see it, touch it, only feel it. It's called Love."

[Note: And tomorrow, we'll learn about the animals...]

Carrie Fisher: "I love the idea of God, but it's not stylistically in keeping with the way I function. I would describe myself as an enthusiastic agnostic who would be happy to be shown that there is a God."

[Note: My friend defines agnosticism as the deeply held commitment to being in utter confusion. Now, THERE'S something to be enthusiastic about.]

Janeane Garofalo: "Organized religions and their dogmas only serve to indoctrinate the participants into sheeplike common behaviors. This type of blind assimilation promotes the popularity of Top 40 count-down radio stations and movie sequels. Skepticism toward groups, holy or otherwise, is enriching and makes you a far more entertaining person."

[Note: NO GAGGING!..Nope... stop it... say it with me: "In the Name of the Father.....]

Angelina Jolie: "There doesn't need to be a God for me."

[Note: Good thing God doesn't feel the same way about Angelina...]

John Malkovich: "I grew tired of religion sometime not long after birth. I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don't believe something I can't have absolutely no evidence of for millenniums."

[Note: I don't understand the Deity "car." But then, I only drive a Pontiac.]

Jack Nicholson: "I don't believe in God. I can still work up an envy for someone who has a faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience."

[Note: But then, so is irrascibility, Jack.]

Nick Nolte: "I have difficulty with God and with beliefs. You have to ask the question, 'If God created man in his own image, what kind of an image is God?' "

[Note: Poor Nick...]

Uma Thurman: "What I have learned is that I like all religions, but only parts of them."

[Note: That's how we all feel about celebrities.]

Bruce Willis: "Organized religions in general, in my opinion, are dying forms. "

[Note: Kind of like marriages, eh Bruce?]
NOT KNOWING IT WHEN WE SEE IT

Friend Kale Zelden has a thoughtful and ironic rant here about the recent article by Naomi Wolf in which she expresses qualified unease about the fantastic wonderfulness of the Sexual Revolution and its special gift to culture, pornography.

This reasonates particularly with me this week as I was victimized by the unheralded pornography in the accalimed movie The Cooler this past weekend.

I had read at least four RAVE reviews about R-rated,The Cooler, which has garnered Oscar buzz for its screenplay, direction and stars Bill Macy, Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin. Not one of the reviews mentioned that the film includes a few absolutely graphic sex scenes - start to finish encounters with both Macy and Bello completely nude.

My friend and I came out of the film asking each other, "What the hell (and I do mean hell) is left for pornography?" It was just awful to watch - just coarse and lurid, like a couple of alley cats in a dumpster.

One of the reviews I had read of The Cooler lauded it as "a sweet love story." Good grief! Is it that the critics don't know what "sweet" means, or is it that they are so clogged with crassness and sin that they don't (to borrow from Flannery the Great) "recognize a freak" anymore? Or is it something much darker?

Since screening the film, I have been brooding over why so many filmmakers put moments of graphic sexuality in their movies. From a creative perspective, there is really nothing entertaining about watching people have sex. It isn't like there is anything new there from one movie to the next - some new body part or alternate way of doing it that will make it really surprising and different in the viewing. In every other circumstance, it is considered pedestrian to show something that the audience has seen before.

Anyway, The Cooler has a neat opening premise. The first ten minutes of the piece are quite good. Then, the whole thing starts to cool and then begins fluctuating wildly in tone until any sense of genre is completely lost. This is bad directing. But the writing is just as bad. The script makes use of only one adjective - that being the F-word which prefaces nearly every noun in the piece, and particularly those uttered by Alec Baldwin's despicable and - in terms of storytelling - completely inconsistent casino boss character.

Bill Macy is always good, but this movie has way more of him than I ever wanted to see including an unattractive middle-age paunch. Beyond writhing around naked, there isn't much for Macy to do here. Go rent Door to Door if you need a Macy fix.

The Cooler is not sweet. It is not cool. It is just more poison.

Monday, January 12, 2004

PLEASE STOP...

...right now and send up a prayer for Fr. Benedict Groeschel, ofm. He was hit by a car last night and is in critical condition.

[....pause for prayer...]

I have had the grace of knowing this wonderful priest for twenty years now. He has been a light and a comfort, and a source of compunction to millions of people in the Church in the U.S. It seems to me great and charismatic priests are not so plentiful right now that we should lose this one.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

SO NOT "LOST" IN TRANSLATION

So, it's safe to say that Sophia Coppola got the family filmmaking genes. I am late to the party in recommending her new film Lost in Translation, which has been nominated for several Golden Globes, and will probably earn Oscan noms for stars Bill Murray and Scarlet Johannson.

The film is very controlled and probably establishes Coppola as the strongest artistic female director out there right now. We are so overdo for a great female director. When I was in grad school, I had to take a whole class just on female directors, and we ended up concluding that the greatest female cinema director of all time was well, Leni Reifenstahl, who worked for you-know-who at the Reichstag.

Lost in Translation is a fascinating and humane film about many things - all of which will sound pedestrian if I try to name them here. Borrowing from Flannery O'Connor, "If I could say it in a sentence, I wouldn't have needed to write the story." A few things that ran through my mind while watching...

...Flannery O'Connor was once accused by a critic of not having any business writing about love becuase she had never been in love. O'Connor replied, "The truth is, I am falling in and out of love every other week."

...Pacing of Lost in Translation is deliberate (ie. not plodding, but close...shows directorial talent in keeping it this side of plodding), which is good because it lets the viewer think while watching.

...Scarlet Johannson will be a household name.

... I don't like this film just because so much of it reminded me of my own recent trip to Seoul, Korea. But the film certainly captures the unique awkwardness of Americans in the Far East. It's a bit like looking through the glass at a zoo - and then realizing you are the one in the cage...

...Bill Murray is amazingly talented.

...The scene in the Sushi bar after Bob disappoints Charlotte was fabulous dialogue writing... even though it doesn't have words.

Lost in Translation is a film for grown-ups. There is one really gross scene of naked women in a strip club being completely objectified for some leering Japanese customers. The scene is not erotic, but is rather a pretty harsh commentary about the perception of women in Japan even today. Other than that scene, there are only a few gratuitous Scarlet in her underwear shots, particularly the opening shot of the film.