Friday, July 29, 2005

Jan Gets Harry

Sorry I've been a bad blogger lately. Chalk it up to running two programs this summer, consulting on two scripts, doing a polish on one and co-writing another.

I also had another go around with my new friends the NY Times reporters yesterday. If I get a free second I'll blog about the latest head-shaking exchange.

But, meanwhile, go check out Jan "The Maven's" Blog these days. She's been doing an exhaustive examination of the whole Harry Potter mythology, including predictions for the next and final book in the series.

I admit I've only read the first book. I wanted to experience the films without any prejudice from having read the four-hundred page study guides. But I still want to know - so WHO DIED in Book Six?! Everyone is being so good on the Web about not spoiling the surprise that even those of us who want the surprise spoiled can't find out. I don't know why I really care -- except I hate not knowing things.

rats.

Anyway, for all your Potterly needs, go see Jan

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Island Misses the Boat

"Too bad." That's what I thought coming out of the theater this weekend after screening Michael Bay's latest offering, The Island. I absolutely believe we need our artists to envision for us the places in which unprincipled, unboundaried science might take us. It's just too bad, this important theme was entrusted to director Bay, who would always much rather be destroying large props than serving the story at hand.

I liked a lot of The Island. Specifically, I liked all the parts that dealt with the theme of breeding peolple as products. Some of the parallels to the current stem cell research and cloning debates made me gulp. I kept thinking, "Do they realize what side they are on here?" That is, the side of the RCC and pro-lifers everywhere. I hope we see many, many more of this kind of movie - Lord knows - somebody has to try and visualize where a society that eats its children might be headed.

Unfortunately, the film stops short of adding anything new to the cultural debate -- basically because the filmmakers can't bring themselves to discuss the fundamental reason why human lives are sacred: because they belong to God.

The film completely unravels around its mid-point, when Bay surrenders himself to an orgy of stupid chase scenes and explosions. By the time he's done, we can't even remember why we're there.

There isn't anything really problematic from a Christian standpoint - one bad word, a bit of intense violence and a ridiculous sex scene. I actually found the shameless product endorsements throughout the film the most offensive. But that, as much as cloning, is the wave of the future...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It's Official! Act One Nashville 2006!

After intense global competition, with cities like Seattle, Orlando, New York, Chicago and Austin making heartfelt pleas but, alas, falling short, the distinguished and discerning overlords at Act One, Inc. have decided that next year's month-long screenwriting intensive will be held in Nashville, TN! Condolences to the nice little cities who weren't able to make the cut. We urge you to make a pitch again in 2008.

Every other year, we hold two screenwriting months - always one in Los Angeles in July, and a second one in a city of the Holy Spirit's leading. We have held programs in NY, Chicago and Washington in previous years.

Nashville was a dark horse candidate that just wouldn't go away. I have wanted to take Act One into the South for years, as my experience is that Southern writers are the best we've got in the States. This program will make it possible for lots of folks from the region to get a taste of Hollywood -- without having to actually make the scary trip to the Left coast.

As the seat of a large chunk of the music business, Nashville has also become a center of a lot of music video production. And, having all that equipment sitting around, more and more people are trying their hands at making movies. We look forward to helping many of these folks integrate our Act One principles of artistry, professionalism, content and spirituality into their efforts.

The tricky thing is, we haven't actually gotten any money to hold the program in Nashville. And it will cost us - conservatively - around $100K to meet expenses. We have gotten a lot of pushes from the Spirit by way of good people who have come forward to help us in promotion and location scouting. We had a very successful weekend program there, and now have a core group of Act One fans who are eager to help us. (Truthfully, I just couldn't withstand the constant harrowing assaults from country music animal and Act One faculty member, Clare "the Sweaty Bar Bull-riding Canuck" Sera, who threatened to two-step on the top of the telephone pole in front of the Act One office singing "Put on Your Cowboy hat and Your Faded Blue Jeans" until we agreed to the Nashville gig.... See if you turn down a trip invite again, Miss Too Busy for Barb's Will!)

But, we still need to raise the money to bring Act One to the South. We're going to go ahead in faith, as we always do, that the bills will get paid, but it would help my always at bay ulcers if we could find a good Christian donor to help underwrite the program. If you'd like to help us, please send a check marked "Nashville Program" in the memo to:

Act One, Inc.
2690 Beachwood Dr.
Hollywood, CA 90068

(We'll respond with prayers of gratitude and a tax deduction letter.)

So, besides money, we are also looking for contacts in Nashville to help us as wealthy donor types, program volunteers, housing for the students, chauffeurs, and faculty. If you know people from the area with whom we should be in touch, please email our Writing Program Director, Christopher Riley at Chris@actoneprogram.com.

If you are from the South and want to be a screenwriter - start working on a script. We'll need a solid ten-page writing sample among several other tedious proofs of worth. Applications for Nashville in May will open in January. (We will also, of course, be holding our annual Hollywood Writing program in July...but at this point, there is very little difference in the content of the two programs.)

Verrrrrrrrrrrrry Scary

The trailer for my friend Scott Derrickson's new movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is on-line here

Be warned though, it's really scary!

Scott, as it happens, has authored one of the most original and provocative chapters in our November release Act One book Behind the Screen. He is a thoughtful and committed Christian, who, IMHO, is just a few short Chesterton books away from Crossing the Tiber. (Heh heh, I know you're there, Scott!)

The film will premiere at the Venice Film Festival in late August, and then opens wide in theaters on September 9th.

I've been hearing good buzz about the film. It will take all my high ideals of support for fellowship's sake to get me in the theater as I am a big scaredy cat about horror movies. I never see them. I still haven't seen the original classic of the demonic subgenre The Exorcist, but I promised exorcism subgenre novelist, friend Karen Hall, I'd watch the film with her if she would watch The passion of the Christ with me. For similar reasons, she hasn't been able to bring herself to watch Gibson's film.

I think devil movies are a good idea in this moment of cultural history. When we are fighting over when it is okay to stop feeding sick people, and how big our offspring have to be before it is immoral to suck out their braincells, and how sodomy is as nonconsequential to a human person as flossing teeth, I think it is good that we have some visceral dramatic presentations of the Devil.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A Letter I'm Sick of Writing

I was recently asked to give notes on a screenplay that is being produced by a group of earnest Christians. None of the folks controlling the creative decisions have ever been involved a feature film before. All are from outside of Los Angeles and the money (think, millions of dollars...) is coming from a rich Christian somewhere out there in fly-over country.

I generally avoid reading this kind of project - especially because no one ever wants to pay me for my trouble. But, in this case, I wanted to help because I have some personal relationships with folks involved in the project. So, I volunteered to read the project for free.

Sigh.

The sub-title of the piece should be "Or, Why We Need Act One". It is typical of hundreds of projects that I have seen from earnest Christians over the last decade. I am so tired of seeing good people's money wasted on efforts like this. Filmmaking is hard, and complicated, and not something that can possibly work on a whim and a prayer. I have written this letter too many times over the years.... For the purpose of my personal venting and in the hopes that somebody out there will actually take it to heart, here it is (minus any references particular to the project)...



Dear _________:

I have had an opportunity to read the script that you had forwarded to me. I was very happy to take a look, to see if I can help in some way. I am always eager to support the efforts of creative people who want to see cinema used to bring light and good things to the world.

Hmmmmm...

My opinion is that this script is very amateurish. It is deficient in story, character, dialogue, theme, structure -- pretty much every area from which I could evaluate it.

The most serious problem is in the area of story. There is probably only a short film's worth of story here, and even that involves very little movement. It's a movie in which the characters move from having conversations in cars, to conversations in restaurants, to street corners, to houses, etc. Talk, talk, talk, no choices - no actions, nothing to see. Where there are choices by the actors they are unmotivated and seem to come out of nowhere. It is sloppy dramatization in which the moments are not set-up, and so are unbelievable.

Another huge problem with the piece is the portrayal of the lead character. It is not engaging for the audience to have the lead character spend most of the movie loping around staring and grunting like a semi-dead person. This is the kind of script that actors tend to write - ie. angst ridden with lots of staring - which are pretty self-indulgent for the actors, but empty for the audience. (I have read many, many, many of this "moving from darkness to light" scripts from earnest Christians. They all fail in the area of character, because they spend the entire first hour or more with an angry, or wounded or lost or unappealing person who will get unangry and healed by story's end. The problem is, the audience won't wait. No one wants to pay money and spend time with someone who comes across as pathetic, downtrodden, embittered and dangerous. The audience will not connect with the lead character. They won't care, and so the movie will not work with them.)

The dialogue is flat - completely devoid of sub-text or style. It's overwritten and every scene meanders through long boring conversations, taking twice as long as they should.

The structural choices are confusing. My sense is that the filmmakers are trying to generate some story by moving scenes around. Audiences are too sophisticated for that. Intercutting two scenes through space and a third over time is not clever. It's annoying and feels sloppy.

And now, a personal pet peeve of mine (and I'm not even going to bring up the non-industry standard formatting in the piece which was typed in Word...).... The script shows lots of overly stylized, unmotivated camera stuff that I see very often in the work of film students and budding writer-directors: bizarre camera angles, and lots of handheld work and random zooming and fast pans. It's all for naught in terms of the narrative. The moments are just there "to please the players" using the words in which Aristotle damned bad plays. In all of these moments the audience will be taken out of the story and made to think of the filmmakers. It is sheer self-indulgence on the part of the writer-director. These moments also add unnecessary expense to the shoot.

Thematically, I really don't know what the point of this movie is. I can't come up with any kind of universal behind the story. This is damning because it makes it unclear what the story is about. It robs the audience of any sense of message and finality. Hence, the story doesn't seem to end so much as stop.

To sum up, my opinion is that this film will make for a boring, or worse, confusing viewing experience. I can not see it getting any kind of real distribution, and the critics will savage it's good intentions because of its sloppy craft. I think it's only lasting good will be that it will be a very expensive learning experience for the people involved, and if their friendships survive, it could mean their next project will be much better. I don't think a rewrite will help. I don't think there is enough story here to merit a rewrite. This is a classic example of a script that should never have been written, because there was never enough of an idea to warrant the process.

Forgive me if I am speaking too bluntly. It's just one idiot's opinion - but this particular idiot has read probably two hundred scripts like this....and this script falls at the lower end of that pile in terms of skill.

If you would like to call me, I can offer some cosmetic notes about fixing the main character's development and motivation, as that will probably be the only thing that can be done at this late moment. It will help somewhat.

I wish I had better news to tell. I so hate to see money wasted on projects like this. I will pray that something miraculous happens on the set to transform this into something better. Thanks again for inviting me to take a look. God bless -

Emily Monday

(Okay, it's a gorgeous Southern Cal summer day...so here's my favorite Dickinson poem...)

#214

I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro' endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue –

When "Landlords" turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove's door –
When Butterflies – renounce their "drams" –
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Medievalism is SO Happening

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm

100%

Charles Finney

67%

Paul Tillich

60%

John Calvin

60%

Karl Barth

60%

Augustine

53%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

40%

Martin Luther

33%

Jonathan Edwards

33%

J├╝rgen Moltmann

33%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Some REAL Act One Photos

Here are some shots of our new Executive Program opening retreat. The retreat hppened at the gorgeous Serra Retreat in Malibu....needless to say, there were no muddy redneck cars anywhere around...






















Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Details Gets the Picture...Er, A Picture, Anyway

From the very beginning, my practice with secular journalists has been to give them near total access. The practice was framed by the ideological pillars that a) It would always be better to speak for ourselves than to be interpreted from outside; and b) the Truth has nothing to fear from discussion. It has been something I have fought for. One of the original founders of Act One dropped out in the first few months because I agreed to be interviewed by CNN.

Well, I think I may soon have to rethink.

For the last few weeks, Act One has been in the spotlight of Details magazine which is doing a feature story on our Executive Program. My staff and I, and our students and faculty spent a lot of time with the journalist doing the piece. We liked him, and by the end of his four days with us, it was clear that he liked us. I had high hopes that he would do a fair job on us. I pleaded with him not to caricature us according to the typical MSM perception of Christians as dangerous, scary, unhip, intolerant and idiotic. And maybe he won't. I'll let you know when the article comes out this Fall.

But, I don't have a lot of hope because of what happened yesterday, when the phototographers from the magazine were done with their dirty work. I should have gone with them when the three of them insisted that they needed to take a few of our wonderful students down the street for some "staged" shots.

One of our students, who happens to be from New Orleans, was brought down the street to a parking lot. There, the photographers had a beat up car which somehow, in a Los Angeles in which it never rains, they had managed to get covered in mud. The car even had Louisiana plates. They put our student behind the car as though it was his car. You know, a redneck, hick, unhip, scary and idiotic kind of car. It's sickening because this particular student could easily have been photographed in front of his own car - a very cool, hip, and sexy looking new jeep. But, THAT wouldn't have been the image Details wanted - get the picture?

Another student was brought down to Sunset Blvd. where the photographers actually had him kneel on the ground and look like he was praying! Because, you know, that's what we Christians in Hollywood do every day. Our student did it because he is a nice guy, and he thought he was doing it for Act One. The photographers would say they were doing it in a "ha, ha, aren't we funny?" kind of way.

But all I could think was, imagine if Details was going to do a profile of gay Hollywood. And they decided to find a couple of very overweight women with canes, bad hair and no sense of humor to be the lesbians. Or maybe, they do a story on the Black writers in town, and ask them to come wearing baggy denim shorts down to their ankles with Crips hats and waving Saturday night specials.

Because stereotyping is just harmless fun, right?! Right?

No, no, I know. We bring in the - this is gonna kill ya - Muslim writers - and shoot them with plastic explosives wrapped around their waist - only - here's the slam!!! - there AREN'T any MUSLIM writers! So we use Jews instead dressed like Muslims! What a side-splittin' knee slappin' laugh riot!

Aw, come on, lighten up...

Finally, the magazine photographers had asked to come to producer Steve McEveety's(TPOTC, Braveheart, What Women Want) class to take some pictures. We watched them for nearly two hours as they stood there with their cameras trained on Steve. Steve isn't a demonstrative guy, but it was clear they were waiting for a particular stance to shoot. Then, it happened. At one point in the class, Steve was answering a question and he had his hands folded in front of him. He closed his eyes and bowed his head slightly as he thought. FLASH! SNAP! went the cameras. They hadit - a shot that LOOKED LIKE Steve was leading the class in prayer - but actually, he was just thinking for a second. And they knew it.

I have no idea how the article will come out. It was just amazing to me how, just as with the NY Times reporter a few weeks ago, these photographers had their orders from above, and knew what their story was going to be - and they were going to get it - regardless of whether it was true or not.

In my next life, I am going to start a training and mentoring program to help young Christians start out in journalism...

States in Which There is No Screenwriting



create your own personalized map of the USA

...That would be the white states. I KNOW this, because they are the states I haven't visited yet doing my schtick.

I find this white state-red state polarization deeply troubling. I can't see that it can end in a good place if we don't do something to remedy this ominous breach. Somebody, quick! Invite me to a high plains state!

(I swiped this from Karen Hall, who is supposed to be re-writing a script, and so is finding all kinds of cool procrastinations...)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

SEE BARB AND SEAN AND LEARN SCREENWRITING IN NYC

Act One alumnus and Advisory Board member Sean Gaffney and I will be co-teaching a two-day starter course in screenwriting this July 25-26 in Westchester County. The event is being hosted by an area college, but they are letting us open it up to any other writers or educators - or people who want to be smarter about movies - in the area who would like to attend. So here follows the info. Go here to register for the event. (Thanks in advance for any of you who can help us get the word out!)

ACT ONE SCREENWRITING SEMINAR

Like movies? Like to write? Think you have a story to tell?

Act One Screenwriting Seminars are two-day workshops on writing for mainstream TV and film, taught by Hollywood professionals, which include skill training and study of the screen art form with an emphasis on excellence, artistry, professionalism and a personal relationship with Christ. Sessions cover:

Story development
Screenplay structure
Plotting and pacing
Character
Dialogue
Formatting
Visual images
"Haunting Moments"
and more

WHEN:
July 25 - 26, 2005
Monday, 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
TBA
Westchester County, NY

COST:
$195

To register: https://my.updateu.com/registration/register.asp?intOrgID=9286&intEventID=1832731&intOccID=45484319

For more information: Spencer@actoneprogram.com

Another Great Quote

"When God intervenes in human history, he usually gets two things: the wrong person and a really bad idea." Writer, Donna Partow

Monday, July 11, 2005

Emily Monday

#579

I had been hungry, all the Years --
My Noon had Come -- to dine --
I trembling drew the Table near --
And touched the Curious Wine --

'Twas this on Tables I had seen --
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope -- for Mine --

I did not know the ample Bread --
'Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature's -- Dining Room --

The Plenty hurt me -- 'twas so new --
Myself felt ill -- and odd --
As Berry -- of a Mountain Bush --
Transplanted -- to a Road --

Nor was I hungry -- so I found
That Hunger -- was a way
Of Persons outside Windows --
The Entering -- takes away --

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Whatever Four

Maybe I've just seen one too many comic book movies. Or maybe, at 41, I slipped over the perimeter in which "heroes in tights" can still trip my trigger. Or maybe, FOX's new fantastical budget comic book project is just a mediocre movie despite its cool CGI and high level production values.

I suppose if I could make myself give the movie's problems a bit of thought, I would say that there was too much backstory and plot points awkwardly stuffed into the first act in the piece. The result was the movie was very episodic, in a mad rush to get out a lot of information, very little of which added anything to my engagement with the main characters.

The movie was very badly miscast. The villain ended up being the most engaging character. I never cared about any of the heroes. Maybe if they had named them the "Earnest Four" or the "Trying Really Hard to Be Huge Stars Four"...? Most egregious was the casting of the wide-eyed buxom blond babe as an eminent world shatteringly brilliant DNA research scientist. Yeah, I'm so buying that.

As with too many studio blockbusters, Fantastic Four has lots to look at but not much to see. The movie gave a few cursory nods to the effort to be about something. But the efforts all got dashed on places like the Extreme Dirt Bike Ramp which had no business being in the movie except that kids like that stuff these days. Unpardonably, it wasn't fun enough for a comic book movie. I never felt a rush moment like I did when watching Spiderman swing through the city in that top comic franchise.

The only rush I got in the movie was seeing friend Ralph's cameo in the last scene. Fun.

There's nothing problematic in the film from a moral standpoint. Unless spending $8 or more on a comic movie that doesn't give you a rush is a moral problem for you. It kind of is for me.

Fantastic Four is what it is. Not a four. More two-ish.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Pause for Real Life...

Emily Dickinson wrote once, "I have read but little lately. Experience has overshadowed prose." That's how I feel about blogging lately.

We just started our second summer program today. We have 34 writers with us for the next four weeks. We still have our 15 executives in training with us until August 24th.

And even if I DIDN'T have 48 young people who have a claim on my attention, I'm also consulting on a feature script and about to sign a contract to co-write another. The last project is still in the polish phase.

It's all good. It's just alot.

Please pray for all our great young writers and executives-in-training. Pray that they are protected from every kind of harm - and that they find everything they need during the programs.

Thanks and God bless for now.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Madame Valerie

My sister Val is singing in Madame Butterfly in Charlottesville, VA. I couldn't find the cast list anywhere on the official site, but she's been posting 'I'm bored in Virginia' messages on the family yahoo group, so I know she's really there.

Bored in VA? Go be a patron of the Nicolos-- I mean, of the arts!

EMILY INDEPENDENCE DAY

#444

"...are we that wait, sufficient worth...?"


It feels a shame to be Alive --
When Men so brave are dead --

One envies the Distinguished Dust --
Permitted -- such a Head --
The Stone that tells - defending Whom - This Spartan put away
What little of Him we possessed.

In Pawn for Liberty -- The price is great -- Sublimely paid --
Do we deserve -- a Thing That lives (like Dollars) must be piled before we may obtain -- [it? The unwritten "It" here is Liberty.]

Are we that wait -- sufficient worth --
That such Enormous Pearl As life -- dissolved be -- for Us --
In Battle's -- horrid Bowl?

It may be -- a Renown to live --
I think the Man who die -- Those unsustained Saviors --
Present Divinity --

[Note from Barb: I added and deleted punctuation to make it more understandable for Emily neophytes.]

Saturday, July 02, 2005

More Ralph

Friend and fellow critic, Jeffrey Overstreet, has the full-text of his piece on Ralph Winter up on his blog over at Looking Closer.

Here's a snip of Craig Detweiler and me chiming in our testimonies...

Craig Detweiler, who writes and teaches about faith and film from his vantage point on the edge of Hollywood, says Winter reached this level of accomplishment and influence “by being good.”

Okay, he’s good, but what sets him apart? Detweiler explains: “If you go to Ralph Winter’s office, he has posters up for all of his films. They have signatures [and messages] from all of the crew. You’ll see the depth of feeling from the actors, the level of appreciation. It’s not like, ‘Ralph, hey, that was fun.’ It’s like, ‘Ralph, I couldn’t have survived without you. Ralph, you made a difference to me when it mattered. Ralph, you were the glue that held this production together.’ There is a depth of respect engendered from the way he has carried himself. It goes far beyond what happens onscreen. The power is in the interpersonal testimony more than the finished product.”

Barbara Nicolosi grants Winter something akin to superhero status, calling him “a talented, experienced and reliable professional. He is one of the handful of men who can line-produce $150 million projects, and bring them in on time and on budget. He has wrangled the most temperamentally difficult actors and directors, and has managed to get the best results possible out of them.”

She adds, “Ralph is important to the Christian community of Hollywood, because he is a living breathing witness of what it takes for Christians to acquire power and influence here. [He’s] a wonderful combination of professionalism and integrity, and godliness. He has made it to the highest level in Hollywood, without losing his faith in Jesus, and without the kind of nauseating rationalizations that many Christians eventually make to achieve success here.”

Friday, July 01, 2005

Ralph Lovin' On Us

Cool guy, and big-budget movie Executive Producer, Ralph Winter is featured in an interview this week on Christianity Today online.

Ralph has nice words for Act One in the piece, as follows...

Q: When you talk about the need for Christians in Hollywood, are you talking about screenwriters, primarily?

Winter: In writing and directing, we just don't have the material. We don't have the talent. It takes time to develop and cultivate material and get it out there. Some of the movies we've been able to do at Fox are due to having some Christians in that organization who stir up that stuff inside the organization. We need Christians inside the studio.

We need more Christian agents who are out there developing and finding material, cultivating it, [people] with moderate integrity. We need good examples in all areas of business.

The people at Act One, like Barbara Nicolosi, are doing that. Scott Derrickson has written for Jerry Bruckheimer, Wim Wenders, and Martin Scorsese. Now he's written and directed his own piece, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, with Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson, and it's good. He's one of the guys who is the epitome of up-and-coming directors. We need more like him.


It's a thrill to have a man like Ralph say nice thing in public about us. He is someone whose good opinion I value very much.

War of the Whys

My first War of the Worlds inspired question had to do with the audience size itself....

** "On the second day the latest Speilberg blockbuster opens, in the theater smack in the middle of Universal Studios citywalk which is over-run with tourists, why are there only five other people in this five hundred seat theater? Hmmmmm," thought I, "poor Tom and Stephen."

The rest of my questions started flowing with the credits....

** "Why open the movie with a few frames that give away the ending? Are people that stupid not to notice? is it good for a director to think people might be that stupid?" (Why not do it more cleverly - like open on someone sneezing?)

** "Why does Ray's son hate him? Cause I, as an audience member would like to know before I decide to make Ray my hero."

** "Why are we spot-lighting this guy Ray, anyway? Except for being way too handsome, he seems to have lots of nothing as a screen character." (A suspicion borne out by the rest of the film. Note from Aristotle and Flannery: Good characters are BETTER THAN REAL people. They have to be AT LEAST as good as real people, but to be entertaining, they need to be smarter, cleverer, ingeniuser, deeper, intriguinger, resourcefuller, better-er....By the end of the film, I had to conclude that Ray hasn't survived because of his skill and brains, but just because he's lucky. Just try and build an action figure empire on THAT foundation...)

** "Why, in fifty thousand years, haven't we ever accidentally unearthed and of the thousands of tripod machines that are as big as Seattle's space needle?" (You think some oil driller somewhere would have accidentally hit titanium once or twice?)

** "Why didn't the aliens just settle the planet back 50,000 years ago, before we became as plentiful as "maggots" needing to be exterminated? (Seems like a waste of resources...Unless they like putting people in wood-chippers.)

** "Why do the aliens switch from exploding people into wood-chipping them? (The special effects people on the movie want to know...)

** "Why do military bazookas not work on alien tripods until the end of the movie?"

** "Why doesn't the ACLU arrest Speilberg for being blatantly pro-Christian? (I mean, nobody in the WHOLE movie breathes the smallest prayer while the human race is being systematically exterminated. So, I figured, the filmmakers must be saying that all the Christians must NOT be getting exterminated. That is, the aliens are only killing the unbelievers who don't pray -- the Christians must have put lamb blood or something on their lintels off screen. Anyway, I think that must be pretty offensive to the ungodly...)

** "Why would anyone with a brain flee from a metropolitan area under attack to another in a cataclysmic end times scenario? (Note to my parents and friends: When the aliens come, I will be looking for a remote cave somewhere in the high desert. Not going to Boston.)

** "Why haven't the aliens developed any heat-seeking technology to locate warm bodies in buildings? They've, you know, conquered the space time continuum, but they don't have heat seeking radar?" (Note to aliens: Call the 1980's.)

** "Why would space-time contiuum conquering geniuses, who have been studying us for "millions of years" not thought of micro-organisms? (Note to aliens: Call the aliens from Signs. They didn't realize they had a Wicked Witch problem until they had attacked a planet 70% water....except dew doesn't bother them... H.G. Wells avoided this problem by not implying that the aliens had hidden research machines on the planet for millenia...)

** "Why is it heroic for Tom Cruise to kill a man driven insane with fear?" (Answer: IT AIN'T! The moment is not self-defense. It's panic. And the main character should have paid a price for it. But no, he actually kind of "grows up" after the murder.)

And the biggest WHY of all....

*** "Why can't Spielberg make a movie lately that is about anything? (Note to young filmmakers: Suffering is directly proportional to your ability to have something meaningful to say to people. People who live like gods for forty years, kinda lose their edge, I'm thinkin'....)

Pass this War of the Worlds for the original. (Note to Self: They won't listen to you. But they'll wish after they did....)