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Thursday, October 26, 2006
Facing Facing the Giants
Brace yourselves. I am long overdue for a rant...

I am just about on my way out of town for a few months to sequester myself with nothing but polo and Jane Austen. This script is due in February and is the primary reason why I have not been blogging lately. How can I authoritatively whine to my producer that I can't get the script done, if he can just log on and see me procrastinating for free on this blog? It's a dilemma.

One of the things I look forward to escaping for a few months is the debate that has been simmering among Hollywood Christians because of the whole "FOX FAITH to Greenlight 12 Cheapie Christian Movies in 2007!" headlines, married to the controversy surrounding the weird little film made by a Church in Georgia, Facing the Giants.

A while back when I screened the film, I wrote a brief post that it should never have gotten a PG rating, and also that clearly, the folks who made the film, had every right to make it. I assumed the project was so bad as entertainment that it would just kind of disappear, and there was no reason to get involved smearing something that bad. It would be like jeering at a junior high talent show. What's the point?

That was before the FOX Faith announcement and the small success of Facing the Giants at the box office, which has all of us Able Christians (as in Cain and Able) in Hollywood scared to death that Facing the Giants will be the prototype of the movies that all the new divisions geared to "creating product for Christians" will be seeking out and producing.

I have taken to calling "Able Christians", those who are committed to giving God beautiful, first fruits kind of work. We talk about excellence alot and "the demands of beauty*"(JPII, Letter to Artists) and professionalism and the rigors of the craft. We talk about being missionaries to Planet Hollywood, and how God is much more interested in the people making movies than in the movies being made. We are always wrestling with making projects true AND commercial, beautiful and mainstream. Not because we want the money of studio success, but because we believe that the Gospel needs to be preached to those who haven't heard it, to those who might never wander into a church.

In contrast to this movement of Christian artists, are the ones who are yearning to replicate the Christian Contemporary Music model in Hollywood with a Christian Contemporary Cinema. The goal of these folks seems to be to create fantasy movies for Christians, made by Christians, and paid for by Christians.

Facing the Giants from any serious perspective is a fantasy film. Its message is very dangerous for Christians, and scandalous for pagans. Adult Evangelical Christians watching Facing the Giants is like sex addicts watching the Spice Channel. (Nope. Not going to take it back.)

We are going to leave alone the fact that the film is badly acted, terribly written, completely lacking in imagery, and directed and shot without any style or evident skill. Let's skip all that and just talkabout the content problem.

The film tells the story of a poverty-stricken, generally disdained, losing football coach who drives a broken down truck and goes home at night to a devastatedly infertile wife. Incited by no particular plot point, the coach reads the Bible one day and then kneels down in a field (Why the hell is it always a field? Is that like in Zecharaiah somewhere?) and gives his life to Jesus. In short order after he utters the Evangelical commitment formula aloud, he wins back the esteem of his fellow townspeople, he turns around his terrible team so that they win the championship, somebody gives him a brand new shiny red truck, AND his infertile wife becomes pregnant!

WOW! Give me some of THAT Jesus-stuff!

Absolute fantasy stuff. The kind of thing that makes Christians puff out their chests proud to be on the winning team! This film fumbles deep, deep in the prosperity Gospel end zone. It is icky to tell people that they should be Christian because of the career and health benefits. We have the problem on the team of that embarrassingly unsuccessful crucified coach of ours.

Anyway, everybody who has been laboring as a believer in Hollywood is talking about this film, because it is clearly what Hollywood thinks "the Audience of the Passion" wants.

At a dinner the other night, one of my fellow Able Christians looked at me sadly and said, "Is there a way we all can write a better Facing the Giants for the industry?" He was sad because he knows the answer. NO! We can't write a better version of Facing the Giants because that movie was designed to be easy. It was designed to not challenge the audience, but rather make the audience (of Evangelical Christians) feel good about being on the winning team. We can't make a better version of this film because easy is a lie. Human society is tinkering on the precipice of disaster today. "Easy" isn't going to be the fix.

Another friend told me a couple days ago that he knows the fellows who made the film, and that their philosophy (apologies to philosophers everywhere...) of filmmaking is that entertainment should be idealistic and not mirror the world as it is, but as it should be.

WRONG!

WRONG.

Entertainment should not be real. To be healing it needs to be better than real. But it needs to be AT LEAST as good as the real. The "better than realness" that makes entertainment healing is in its beauty - its, wholeness, harmony and radiance - elements which are not found stumbling along in the real world of property taxes and upset stomachs and mold on the ceiling.

The problem with too much contemporary cinema is that it seeks to imitate the real in a way that doesn't require or deliver and insight.

The problem with Facing the Giants is that is seems to ignore the real and deliver a lie. It is not idealistic but silly.

Strong words. Probably some of the bravest I have ever written. (Don't believe me? Just keep checking the comments boxes.) Yes, but I feel on firm ground here. As Flannery O'Connor said, "Sentimentality for Christians is INEXCUSABLE." And Facing the Giants is pure, easy, emotional sentimentality.

So, am I saying that the FOX Faith thing will be bad for the whole God in Hollywood thing? I don't know yet. I do know that greenlighting 12 movies for what one regular studio picture usually costs says that FOX believes that believers can be had on the cheap. And they are probably right. Pathetic and sad.

Making a movie that is beautiful is damn hard. Damn hard. Expecting to be able to produce a film with no experience or training is arrogant and as absurd as someone thinking they could just build a building with no traiing or experience in architecture.

Facing the Giants won't save anyone. It needs to be saved itself. Let's pray that it doesn't become the template.
Heads Up for Midnight Clear
Here is a preview of a film by one of our bright young talented directors in Hollywood who happens to be Christian. Dallas Jenkins is a thoughtful committed Christianand director who is one of the guys I am expecting to lay down the foundation of the renaissance in cinema made from a Christian world-view.

There are a lot of Christians out here who have elected to disengage from the problem of being intentional as a Christian making films. Exhausted or intellectually and academically ill-equipped to figure out a philosophical underpinning for their work, we hear Hollywood Christians living the unexamined life in Hollywood say things like, "Hey, I am a Christian. Anything I make will refelct that."

No. Way too easy. A renaissance in Christian filmmaking is not going to happen by accident. It's too hard. It certainly isn't going to spring from the creative loins of believing filmmakers who routinely subvert their intended good messages by co-opting cinematic and storytelling conventions that are problematic or even perverse.

Anyway, Dallas isn't living the unexamined life here. He is an artist and a believer who works with pagans and believers with that missionary mindset that we Act Oners are always harping on. No Christian ghetto-dweller here.

My sense is that Dallas' films won't be the stuff that will be intelligible or desirable to FOX Faith and Sony Inspirational and Lionsgate "Whatever they are calling their holy stuff division" and Newline "Whatever they are calling their holy stuff division". At least not this week. I think Dallas' style of films is more what the future for Christians in Hollywood will look like. More difficult. More ambiguous. More stylistic. Definitely less Pollyanna and more Flannery O'Connor.

So, check out the preview to his current project "Midnight Clear" and be hipper than all your Christian cinema geek friends!

Click here
Monday, October 23, 2006
Prestige Doesn't Pay Off
I think The Prestige was a disappointment. I'm qualifying myself here on the off-chance that the film might actually be brilliant, and I just missed it. But I don't think so.

I think it ended up wanting to be much more clever than it really was.

Which is unfortunate, because it had a very nice message about not letting revenge and obsession become, well, vengeful obsessions.

But they had set up so long the idea of "THE PRESTIGE!" that they kind of had to have a big whammy of a finish. But I don't think they really did. Or, at least, I sat there in the last shot not sure of what just happened, and frustrated by Michael Caine's strong Cockney accent that garbled the last word of the film which might have been key.

But, I guess I'll never know.

The film's other main twist - I mean the one that comes before the last frame twist that might not really be a twist not sure I'll ever know - is really kind of pathetic as it is broadcast all throughout the film.

And were they asking us to believe that science can really do what they seem to say it can in the film? I didn't get that either.

The film has a couple of vioolent moments. It's really not scary. Teenagers can see it without harm. As long as they don't become overly frustrated by movies that are too clever by half.

Sometimes too clever is really just that. Not much fun.

If anybody can explain the ending to me here, I would be obliged.
See Barb in Houston?
I have to be in Houston for a non-public speech on November 15th, but I was hoping I could set up another speech or informal thing at which I could sell books while I am in the area, probably on the 16th.

Anybody want to help? Or anybody just want to meet and have lunch?

Email to BRNicolosi@aol.com.
Monday, October 16, 2006
News From Barb
Okay, here is a letter that I have been sending around lately. If I have time later today, I will write a bit more about the reasons behind this decision (no scandal, really!) and what I will be doing now that I am unemployed.

_______________________________________________________________


Dear Friends -

After nearly eight years at the helm of Act One, I decided this summer that it was time for me to move on from my all-consuming responsibilities as the Executive Director. So, I am pleased and excited to advise you that as of October 6th, I am no longer be on staff at Act One. The Board of Directors has hired the charming and talented Thomas Deason (former executive of Alaska Airlines, Act One Executive Program '05) to be the interim Executive Director while they conduct a search for the next permanent head.

I will mostly be writing for the next few months although I will certainly be doing some speaking engagements as well. I won't have an assistant anymore, so the best way to reach me will undoubtedly be email. (Does anybody like listening to twenty-seven phone messages?)

My new contact email will be BRNicolosi@aol.com. For appointments for writing or speaking, check out my website at www.barbaranicolosi.com or else you can reach my manager Matt Malek at Origin Entertainment at (310)319-1349.

Chances are, I will be out of the Los Angeles area for much of the last quarter of this year. I am hoping to go back East and get some writing done in a nice little cottage near the beach. We'll see how that works out.

I am very excited to see what this next season in my life will bring. Of course, I will stay intimately involved with Act One as a Board and faculty member and I look forward to being able to enjoy a little more solitude, a lot more time for friends and family, and many fewer airports! - as my twilight years continue to unfold.

God bless -

Barbara
Monday, October 09, 2006
Mirren Saves The Queen
I really enjoyed this film. What could be better than two hours of one of those great Brit actresses walking through palaces and Scottish highlands all while acting emtionally understated and discomfitted? Very fascinating to watch.

Unfortunately, the script wasn't what it should have been. It felt unbalanced to me. The opening few minutes were terribly written, and then suddenly there were a few scenes which were well-written. Made me think that there must have been two or more writers operating. At least one of whom was pedestrian.

The movie tried to be about how the Queen was a woman of another time - a time when personal restraint and private dignity and quiet courage were virtues. Mirren's great QE2 doesn't fit in the brave new world of her people with its tabloids and its voyeurism and its need to be coddled and patronized. Thematically, the movie loses its way, but basically, this contrast makes for the central problem of the film - and it is a worthy reflection.

Another issue in the film is why the world fell apart when Diana died. The film doesn't know. The Queen doesn't know.

I know.

The crowds went crazy when Diana died because of guilt.

We all know that Diana was not good enough to have merited the outpouring of love that accompanied her death. You know, the death that came when she was speeding away with her latest playboy lover instead of being with her adolescent sons back home? Not to step all over my point, but, come on. The crowds weren't crying because of the terrible loss that Diana would be to the sorry world. They were crying to absolve themselves of complicity in her death.

Everybody intuits that the paparazzi were acting on the celebrity-obsessed mob's behalf. They weren't taking pictures for the dwellers on the planet Zondor, now, were they? Pictures of Diana commanded millions BECAUSE the mobs plunked down billions to stare at them.

Bringing flowers to Diana's grave, weeping and hurling abuse at "the media" and "the royals" were all defense mechanisms on our global part to evade our own self-critique. Try and drown out with "Candle in the Wind" the inner voice that calls you to compunction, "Diana died because you couldn't stop staring."

Let the one who never gaped at a photo of the Princess, who never watched the interview, who never read an article about her latest love, cast the first stone.

Anyway, The Queen is a pretty good film. More fascinating than I expected for its look at the inner life of royal people. Also cool for its ultimately sympathetic portrayal of QE2 as a noble relic.

We decree the film good and we bestow our grateful thanks to the filmmakers of the realm.
Little Children - Incredible, Thoughtful and Obscene
"What do I say here?" - That was me talking to friend Sean, after we staggered out of the new film from Todd Field (In the Bedroom).

The guy is brilliant. Along with Terence Malick, arguably the most metaphorically astute and Flannery O'Connoresque filmmaker working today. He gets that sin is the fundamental sickness in society, and that holiness is just going from moment to moment with the grace that is out there. In the Bedroom was a profound film about how the failure to forgive leads to insanity. I have been eagerly awaiting his next project. Was In the Bedroom a fluke?

No. It wasn't.

Little Children goes way beyond In the Bedroom in looking at sin as the native human disease that afflicts us all in varying degrees. In the film, sin manifests itself as immaturity and all the action in the film proceeds out of the mainly adult characters acting like, well, little children, who play with their seven deadly toys, like toddlers with a set of colorful plastic keys. Some of the adult children in the movie play with more harmful, scandalous toys than others, but the basic point of view here is the omniscient which watches all of the silliness with the same compassion.

Get it?: "Let the little children come to Me..."

There is some amazing stuff. I could teach a course on it. Like the whole thread of how we tend to want to "fix" sinners fast - just castrating sexual predators like snapping our fingers (all imagery from the film) - but that won't work the film shows us at the end. Quick fixes to tragedy become themselves bigger tragedies still.

It's an amazing, thoughtful film that in so many ways reflects a profound Christian worldview.

But then, it's just a bit obscene, you know.

Rats.

Right there smack in the middle of all the wonder of it, this film has two or three fully nude absolutely graphic sex scenes. There are also several references to perverted sexual practices and sickening moments centering around male masturbation. The scenes aren't erotic, and, in fact, the "worst" (from a moral standpoint) scene subverts itself midway, demonstrating that the adulterous sex we are watching is just one more way that the main characters are fleeing adulthood, acting out as adolecents.

But the scenes are obscene in a way that wrecks the film by making part of it a thing of ugliness. Because obscenity is ugly. In itself. Regardless of the creative intention for using it.

I have a lot to say on obscenity - the whole "anonymous eyes" problem, but let me just say here that a Catholic understanding of art includes the notion that you need matter + form to be a means of saving grave (sacrament). The matter/content of a movie can absolutely be subverted by its form/method.

In metaphorical terms, it means that if you drag people through a sewer to bring them to some aspirin they will probably not thank you. Even if they have a bad headache, because chances are you will have infected them with other diseases as bad or worse than the one you were seeking to remedy.

Now, the profound truth in Little Children is definitely worth more to our society today than an aspirin...but being exposed to the obscenity in the film is also very bad. As filmmakers it is inexcusable to ever put actors in the position that Mr. Fields required of his actors. Even actors have privacy as human beings. He degraded them to make his point. And we don't get to do that no matter how cool our message is. It can't be delivered by objectifying human beings.

And let's not even start on the potential harmful effects on the audience.

It's ironic that the film pillories Internet sexual voyeurism - and then creates several moments that for some people would be just as potentially dangerous.

Little Children is not a graceless universe. Neither was In the Bedroom and that was why I think both films deserve a lot of respect. They aren't cynical films because they show grace being offered.

But I can't recommend the film indiscriminately because it contains obscenity. Which makes me very sad today. Still, if you are a serious student of film as an artform, go and prepare to duck in parts, because this is an amazing film.
Press Release from Maximus Entertainment
Hello Barbara,

I wanted to let you know about a great, interactive website that was recently launched, www.thereasonforourhope.org. This site is managed by The Reason for Our Hope Foundation which was founded by a dynamic priest, Fr. Larry Richards, from the diocese of Erie, PA.

Fr. Larry’s goal is to change the world by reaching 15 million people with the ultimate Reason for our Hope, Jesus Christ. This site is really awesome! I haven’t seen anything like it in Catholic ministry. From the site visitors can send e-cards to family and friends, receive free MP3 downloads and screensavers, and a lot more, all containing the message of hope. The only thing visitors need to do is register.

Your help in spreading the word about www.thereasonforourhope.com on your blog would dramatically increase the number of people we can reach with this positive message of hope! This talk is also available on the site for download.

Peace and God Bless,


Brian Walsh
Production Assistant
Haven't Seen It - Just Passing the Word
Subject: Christmas at Maxwell's - PRESS RELEASE - Immediate Release.

Date: 10-09-06

Christmas at Maxwell's (www.christmasatmaxwells.com), a PG-rated Award winning holiday film which enlightens family audiences with messages about faith, hope, and miracles of love is coming to movie theatres November 10, 2006. The movie starts Andrew May, Jack Hourigan and Helen Welch. Bill Lewis and Aloha Releasing are handling releasing. The movie utilizes Hi-Definition technology.

Christmas At Maxwell's was written, produced and directed by father-daughter team Bill and Tiffany Laufer whose goal is to offer entertainment centered on redeeming values. The movie story line centers around a fortysomething husband struggling to find answers surrounding his wife's illness and was inspired by a true story about human struggle, forgiveness, and the power of love. Filmed in Cleveland, Ohio, the movie has been awarded the Dove Seal of Approval which has recently published a companion interview on their website (www.dove.org). Christmas at Maxwell's has earned rave critical and audience acceptance including an acolade from Bishop A. Edward Pevec, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, who calls it "a marvelous film!". Various organizations have teamed up with the movie and upcoming articles include a featurette in The Costco Connection. Cancer organizations have embraced the movie for its spirit of HOPE.

Press Release GOAL: It is our interest that you cover this story in your various publications and that you communicate this press release to the people who are responsible for "upcoming events for the Christmas season." yearly calendars, film, radio, and TV projects, Christmas projects etc.

Other Quotes:

"Very heartwarming and full of hope." Dennis Sadowski, Editor of Catholic Universe Bulletin

"A heartfelt film with admirable messages about God's forgiveness, the strength of family and being a good samaritan" - Harry Forbes - USCCB

"Extremely well done, a powerful story of a family's love" - David Kullberg - Christian Happenings

"Brings a message of life and hope." - Julie Washington, Cleveland PD

"This story about a miracle during the holiday makes it a season special" - Donna Rolfe - The Dove Foundation

"A beautiful new holiday film" - Stephen Simon - Spiritual Cinema Circle

Additional information on Christmas at Maxwell's is available at: http://www.christmasatmaxwells.com/ & http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0420550/combined <>

Thank you! Publicity contact: Bill Laufer - 216-229-4444 / laufer@lauferfilm.com

Laufer Film (www.lauferfilm.com) , Christmas at Maxwell's www.christmasatmaxwells.com/.
From Feminists for Life
Barbara,

Feminists for Life is launching a new online initiative—a series of weekly emails from Pres. Serrin Foster that gives pro-woman answers to pro-choice questions in a short format. I pasted in the press release below. This link goes to the press release:

http://www.feministsforlife.org/register/index.htm

It would be wonderful if you would blog this. We are starting a website ad campaign on the project today with the first weekly email going out Thursday.

............................................
Valerie Schmalz
National Program Manager

Feminists for Life of America
http://www.feministsforlife.org