Thursday, November 30, 2006

Please beam me up, Jesus.

This just in courtesy of The Seattle Times:

The Sundance Film Festival announced Wednesday that Seattle filmmaker Robinson Devor's documentary "Zoo" has been accepted into the 2007 festival's documentary competition. The film examines the widely reported case of an Enumclaw man who died in 2005 after having sex with a horse.

I don't suppose anybody has any idea about the appropriate vehicle to protest this? Is there a way someone can say to the overlords at Sundance that bestiality is not pushing the envelope of artistic expression, but is just pushing human society into the crude, coarse hell of anti-civilization?

You feel that hard, pit in your stomach? That's your better instincts telling you that in a couple years, bestiality will be old hat on the screen.

"And the days will come when people will say to the mountains, 'Cover us!'"


I went to see Casino Royale last night. Profoundly disturbing film. Much of the movie is really the stuff of a top action film. But I think it may have singled-handedly ruined one of my favorite screen characters for me. Rah.

The people who are saying that the film is the best Bond movie ever are mistaken. It isn't really a Bond film, is it? The whole tone of the movie is different. Whereas the Bond films are famously tongue in cheek, this film has absolutely no sense of irony or absurdity. Where Bond films are generally thrilling with the creativity of the gadgets in action, this film is tense with the principle gadget being the brutalized body of the main character himself. Where you usually walk out of a Bond film feeling a rush, this film left me very a violated kind of "I never wanted to see stuff like that kind of way."

Just so we know what we are talking about, I am referring to the fact that I never wanted to see my beloved Bond, James Bond, stripped naked and bound in a cane chair to then have his scrotum viciously beat on while he screams in agony. Nope, never wanted to see that.

(Yeah, maybe that counts as giving away a spoiler. But I'm feeling really mad that somebody took my Bond away this morning. But really, I look at it as more of a warning to those who don't like to get violated than giving away a plot point. I felt completely disgusted that none of the Christian critics had cued me in that a truly perverted, vile scene was coming. What the hell is wrong with us in the Church these day?! We've gotten so avant garde that we are afraid to send out a loud, resounding "BLECK!" when we get slimed by the culture? And watching that scene was getting slimed, my friends. The fact that you didn't register it as such just means your innocence has been lost.)

Now, it may be that the whole problem was with the idea of the James Bond franchise in the first place. Here is a character that is the embodiment of the Sexual Revolution. eh? He's free (no troubling conscience), he's fabulous (terribly clever, cool cars, limitless money, exotic places, never gets caught by a stray bullet) and he's getting tons of sex with only gorgeous women (no AIDS, vd or pregnancy in this universe). And that's all a lie, isn't it?

So, by this reasoning, Casino Royale is one more deconstruction of the web of boomer lies....? Maybe. The film feels much more cynical than enlightening. It seems to me to be one more shredding of a beloved hero, for no good reason except to take something people love and spit in their eye.

See, the thing is, the James Bond franchise was formerly fun because the films were always winking at the lies of the popular culture, and the Sexual Revolution in particular. We all knew that his life was the stuff of fantasy. We weren't looking for realism in Bond andy more than we were in Superman (before we saw his 2006 reincarnation stuck in an adolescent cruch that had him knock up chick and then become a deadbeat dad). Did anybody really need Casino Royale to shatter their faith in Octopussy cliques and albino assassins?

Stay tuned, next week we are going to see a film in which we learn that not only didn't the prince marry Cinderella, but rather, the corporate climate of corruption which is the DARK REALITY beneath the trappings of monarchy, refused the poor little fool health insurance to treat the ACTUALLY REAL TB that she got while ingesting fumes from trying to make herself slippers out of broken shards of her REAL filthy basement HUD-assisted low income housing, because the REAL shoes that she should have gotten from a VERIFIABLE government contractor were IN FACT made of cheap materials in a third world sweat shop and fell apart. All that stuff about a fairy god-mother and glorious pumpkin carriage were the result of crystal meth haze which her step-mother got her addicted to so she could profit off the kid as a sex-slave.

Aren't you glad you know the whole story now? Buck up you idealistic fools! Movies are hard, then you die.

Oh yes, another disturbing note... When I was in film school, my radical feminist lesbian professors were quite adament that we all leave Northwestern with a keen sense of what they called "the male gaze" in cinema. The "Male Gaze" is a fundamentally skewed-with-patriarchy way of seeing the world and especially women that, my professors contended, was predicable of pretty much all of classic Hollywood cinema. They used to endlessly dissect camera angles and lighting in shots to reveal cues of the male desire to dominate and dehumanize women. A lot of times I thought my professors were nuts and paranoid. But every now and then they had a point.

Well, I gotta say, there is something icky in Casino Royale that feels very much like what we could call "the homosexual gaze." The women in the film, first of all, spend much of the film very ioconically made up - shall we say, like Liza Minelli or a Marilyn impersonator? Then, the women all end up as victims of sick and/or violent acts. All three are tortured or threatened with torture. Can we say the disdain of women is part of the homosexual "culture," even unofficially? (Cause I have seen it first hand, and I'm not in a mood to deny my own experience today.) Anyway, I don't recall women being tortured as part of the traditional Bond canon.

Then, there are the many loving and languid shots of the - admittedly picturesque - torso of the star, Mr. Craig. A more notable one of these was Bond coming out of the water - and the camera almost cuts off his head to focus on the middle of his body. I don't remember the same kinds of voyeuristic shots holding on the mid-section of Sean Connery.

Finally, there is the afore-mentioned, extended, gratuitous, sado-masochistic torture scene in which a naked and slimey Bond, James Bond, is first complimented on his fine body by the lascivious male villain, and then, well, whipped on his privates. In between screaming in pain, Bond cries out for more evidencing a sick enjoyment of the sexual torture. It is a kind of moment that deserves to be dissected by film scholars for evidence of the "gay gaze." (Oh yeah, and as I learned in film school, it deosn't matter if the filmmakers are gay here. This stuff is systemic.)

But maybe all that feminist film theory stuff in film school just has me seeing goblins everywhere!

If you like your action tense, brutal and perverse, go see Casino Royale. I certainly wouldn't let my kids go.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You Can Quote Me

John Paul II on The Passion of the Christ: "It is as it was."

Barb N. on The Nativity: "It is what it is."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Strangely More Inept Than Fiction

My sisters and I ran out to see the latest movie with Emma Thompson in it, Stranger Than Fiction, because we have been huges fans of hers since Dead Again.

Well, the picture fails terribly in many areas - casting, direction, production design, and, of course, writing, and so it would be lamentably forgettable, except for one thing. The film repeats over and over a shocking technical blunder that we just don't get to see in Hollywood films these days. Long after we stopped trying to follow the film's mess of a story, my sister and I were waiting expectantly for the sound boom to peek-a-boo into every scene.

I've scanned both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, and nobody seems to be commenting on what is to me an astounding technical gaff...pun intended. I can't figure out how this could have happened in modern technically obsessed Hollywood. And then, I can't figure out why the critics are covering for this kind of inexcusable screw-up.

It starts early in the film and goes all the way to the end. My sister noticed it before me,

"Hey, what's that black thing bouncing on the ceiling."

"Humph. It's the boom."

"The what?"

"The boom...Maybe it's going to be a plot point. You know, maybe the whole story of his life is actually being made into a fiction movie."

A scene or so later, there it was again. A dark fuzzy ellipse bouncing down between the two actors.

"There it is again."

"Yeah. What a mess. Is it possible that nobody was watching dailies of this project?"

"No. No. It HAS to be on purpose."

"Yah think? Why not? This film is so beyond credibility that the idea that the whole thing might be a film in a film is intriguing."

A few scenes later it was back. Bobbing in and out. And then again a scene later."

"I know what it is. Will Farrell is really tall. Maybe the boom operator is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that he is towering over Dustin Hoffman."

"No, no, no. I'm telling you it is on purpose. They couldn't have that many screw ups in the film."

But then, there was the boom again, hovering over a scene with just Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. I think the boom must have intruded into the screen about fifty times during the film. How weird is that? Does this mean that the director was not looking into the camera enough? Or that the cinematographer was asleep? Or that the producers didn't have time for the dailies? (Help me out here, Jan.) Whatever it is, Stranger Than Fiction ends up being truly much stranger than any other movie I have seen for a while. The one thing Hollywood can usually boast about is technical craft.

Putting a good spin on it, watching for the boom to peek into the scene was really the only suspense in this terrible film. Pass. A big booming one.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Prayer of Gratitude for Delle Chatman

My beloved friend, writing mentor and Act One faculty member Delle Chatman died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. She fought recurrent ovarian cancer
for just over four years, and each year she rebounded and spent precious
time teaching at the opening retreats of our Writing Program. She
joined us as recently as this July to teach at the 2006 Summer Writing
Program retreat in Malibu.

I first met Delle at Northwestern University where she headed up the screenwriting department. I remember thinking on the first day of class with her, "This lady has got to be a Christian." She stood out from the bitter, intolerant nostalgic Marxists on the film department faculty there because of her grace and passion for beauty, and her genuine respect for each student.

Delle was an amazing person and absolutely defied any easy categorization. She was always kind and full of hope and optimism. I loved her and it makes me sad to think that I will have to wait who knows how long to see her again. Please say a prayer for Delle today, and her daughter and friends and family.

Below are excerpts from a recent email she wrote.


The time has come for me to begin my journey to God through the sacred
corridor of hospice.

The cancer has gotten so far ahead of us that the side effects from the
drugs we're using to overtake it have themselves become debilitating.
Rather than allow further treatment to beat me down, I want to invest my
remaining strength and time in Ramona, God, friends, and getting my
house in order so that my loved ones are not left with a monumental
mound of Delle-dom through which they must sort and sift. To complicate
matters more, because Medicaid has paid for two years of my medical
treatment, if things are left just so, they will come back after my
death and take much of what I hope to leave to the Remarkable Ramona.
This isn't news to any of you who have laid a loved one to rest. One of
my mantras is, "I will not leave a mess!" ...

So many have prayed for so long that I would be delivered from this
horrific disease. Thank you. Thank you for every last prayer and
please do not feel that those prayers have been in vain. I certainly do
not. November 5 is my ***fourth*** "cancer-versary" and for a gal with
Stage IV Ovarian, this has been an extraordinarily long haul. Not only
that. These have been wondrous years for me and Ramona and for me and
the Lord. He's still working with me, even now.

My other mantra is "I'm Yours, Lord. All yours!"

I catch glimpses of Him from time to time, eyes full of compassion and
mercy. He is beautiful to behold.

Pray that my faith holds, that my family's faith holds . . . and that as
the dust settles all will be well. ...

It has been a privilege to share this journey with each of you.



P.S. Remember, brothers and sisters, either we believe in eternal life
or we don't.

Flags of the Angst Ridden, Ridiculous (Will They Ever Go Away?) Baby-Boomer's Fathers

Gonna take a two second time out from Jane Austen and Santa Barbara polo writing to deride and dismiss Clint Eastwood's latest directoral over-hyped disappointment, Flags of Our Fathers.

A friend of mine had warned me aout the movie in advance by saying, "I wanted to walk out at least twice it made me so angry." Myself, I didn't get as angry, because I have taken to watching the relentless and pathetic ravings of grayhaired baby-boomers with kind of a sick fascination these last few years. I sit there watching them with a cruel grin, the way one watches lobsters hissing while they go headfirst into a pot of boiling water. "You're going down, boys and girls. Your power is gone. And you are the only ones who don't know it. Pass the melted butter."

Anyway, much more egregiously than in Saving Private Ryan, Flags of our Fathers seems to be trying to make the case that nobody who fights in a war is a hero. They just end up there on battlefields and then their bodies get chopped up by the whims of meglomanical politicians and generals. And they die confused and angry and wondering what the hell we are all here for anyway?

This kind of tedious angst absolutely fits from a generation that decided to rebel against everything in their youth, and now have nothing in which to believe. But the thing that makes it my business, is that it absolutely undercuts any fun I might have at the movies, watching a story where the filmmaker has no coherent point of view!

Movies are supposed to be better than the real. That is, they are supposed to offer some kind of coherent, intelligible meaning. The audience is watching to try to put together and then either assent to or reject whatever the filmmaker is communicating. If the filmmaker is basically communicating, "Heros? Whatever. What does anything matter anyway?" then the viewing experience will be alternately disquieting and then confusing and finally irritating to the audience.

So, nobody in the theater clapped at the end of Flags of Our Fathers ...unless you count the nods we got to my sister's exhalation, "Thank God that's over" as being a kind of accolade.

Maybe I should get more specific here....

The movie makes the classic story mistake of making much ado about nothing and missing something much bigger in the process.

So, the basic storyline is, "Nevermind those 5,000 guys who died fighting the Japanese on Iwo Jima. The BIG story is how there were two photographs taken of these guys raising the flag!!!! God, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! They had TWO flag-raisings on Iwo Jima!!!!! IT'S STUNNINGLY MIND-BLOWING!!!!!! TWO FLAG PICTURES!!! QUICK! SOMEBODY CALL CLINT EASTWOOD!!!!!"

I remember once a student of mine coming to me with a pitch for a movie. The idea was basically flawed in the same way as Flags of our Fathers. The pitch was all about the story of the first "First Man" of the United States. That is, the first guy married to the first female president. So, the movie story kept talking about the woes of the first first man trying to pick out china and then decorating the White House and trying to get the kids off to school all while the first lady president is dealing with avoiding WWIII.

See the problem? The big story is THE FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT! The first, "First man" is the stuff of a comic sub-plot on the side.

This was the problem with the original West Wing concept, btw. In exactly one week, Sorkin and company figured out that the West Wing was only interesting because of its proximity to the Oval Office, and that the Presidency needed to be what the show was really about.

Okay, so, the first flaw of Flags is, as my sister said to me halfway through the movie and then many times thereafter throughout, and in the car going home, "I really didn't care about the drunk Indian guy. I wanted to be back on that beach with the Marines." Yup.

I can only surmise that the reason the movie, and the book on which it is based, spend so much time on non-essentials in this story, is because they think that politicians conniving to raise money for war bonds is innately more compelling than watching 5,000 Marines die.

For the Watergate generation, however, unmasking dirty politicians is always what it is about. "See, if we can unmask corruption in the establishment, maybe nobody will see the rot and inconsistency and meaninglessness of our own disastrous sexual revolution racked lives. If we can say that "The Greatest Generation" wasn't really that great, maybe we can drown out the voices of our kids who hate us for our selfishness? If we can say that there are no heros, even on a place like Iwo Jima, then maybe we can rid ourselves of the uneasiness we feel for our own pampered narcissitic lives?"

The look of Flags is great. There are some beautiful tableaus of the starkness and horror of war. Some of the bloody effects were badly executed and border on slasher-cheesy, but the main look of the battle scenes was quite effective. We just get far too little of it.

I went to the movie expecting to see fleshed out some of the myriad heroic stories of which I have read so much in my weird obsession with battlefield heroics. There were none of the Iwo Jima stories here. Just an obsession with a minor factoid that should have been a two minute scene at best in the larger story.

As with every Eastwood film, the directing of the actors here is horrific. The characters are all made to be one dimensional stereotypes - remember the "bad bully guys" in the gym and the redneck Christian trailer dwellers in Million Dollar Baby? Well, here we have "crooked corporate lobbyist guy", "arrogant clueless senator guy", "angry brutish general guys" and lots of "clueless farmboy soldier guys." And many more. They could make a dictionary of stereotypical characters from Clint's filmography. Really, really a bad actor's director.

Flags should be buried with a jubilant jazz-styled riff of TAPS. Don't hit this beach. Pass, Marines.

Jan's New Potter Book!

Friend, colleague and fellow blogger Jan "The Maven" Batchler has just got a book out in time for the Christmas season. It is the ultimate rush gift for anybody who loves Harry Potter. Jan has predicted with astute precision where J.K. Rowling should and even must go in the last book of the series to tie up all the loose ends and threads of her earlier work.

I am not really one of the race of Potter (although I like the movies), but even I have been fascinated to read Jan's recollections, deductions and insights. It's a fun read. Check it out!


Dear friends--


This is a great read for any Harry Potter fans -- and a great gift! It will soon be available on Amazon and Barnes and -- but you can get it at a substantial discount NOW, by clicking "What Will Harry Do? The Unofficial Guide to Payoffs and Possibilities in Book 7 by Janet Scott Batchler" (or paste this URL into your browser:

Here's a brief description, and some of the advance praise for the book:

WHAT WILL HARRY DO? ..... Will Harry return to Hogwarts? Is Draco a werewolf? What did happen at Godric's Hollow? What is the sixth Horcrux? Is Snape truly evil? Truly good? Or just out for himself? Who will live?... Who will die? You may think you have to wait for HP Book 7 to answer these questions. But the clues... the set-ups for them have already been cleverly established in Books 1 through 6, and are just waiting for you to put the pieces together. WHAT WILL HARRY DO? is the unofficial guide that will help you unlock the puzzles of the all-encompassing question: What Happens Next?


"Not only is WHAT WILL HARRY DO? must reading as far as Book 7 speculation goes, it's a long-lasting representation of the best in Harry Potter thinking..." - Travis Prinzi,

"...I was hooked. Janet's book will definitely tide us over until the publication of Book 7." - LaShawn Barber,

"...Her command of canon is magisterial and her 'set-up and payoff' approach to speculation is novel and engaging... You will be challenged to reconsider what you thought you knew for sure." - John Granger, author of "Looking for God in Harry Potter" and "Unlocking Harry Potter"

Don't forget to buy your copy today!!! And SPREAD THE WORD -- feel free to forward this e-mail to any interested party or website you like! Thanks!

It's The Most Wonderful Concerts of the Year

Here follows info about the annual Christmas concerts performed by the Daughters of St. Paul choir. Lovely music - perfect pitch, perfect timing, perfect harmony - the nuns do it right. It's worth a trip to the tri-state area just to hear them.





Thursday, November 30, 6pm
Benefit Concert/Dinner for the Daughters of St. Paul, Hilton Garden Inn
1110 South Ave @ Lois Lane
Call for ticket reservations: 718-477-2100 ex 244

Saturday, December 2, 1pm
St. Malachy's Church (The Actor's Chapel)
239 W 49th St. @ Broadway
free will offering, call for info: 212-754-1110

Sunday, December 3, 3pm
St. Paul's Church, 214 Nassau St.
free will offering, call for info: 732-572-1200

Wednesday, December 6, 7pm
Bala Golf Club, 2200 Belmont Ave.
Call for ticket reservations: 215-676-9494

Saturday, December 9, 7pm
Sunday, December 10, 3pm
Daughters of St. Paul Convent
50 St. Paul's Ave., Jamaica Plain
free will offering, call for info: 617-522-8911

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

See Barb in Houston, #2

I will be giving another talk open to the public in Houston, next Thursday night, the 16th Thursday at 7:30pm at University of St. Thomas, Cullen Hall, sponsored by UST Campus Ministry Office and Department of Young Adult and Campus Ministry, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

(Contact at UST is Sr. Maura Behrenfeld, FSE, Director of Campus Ministry, 713-525-3589 for more information.)

Special thanks to Bill Cork for making all this "See Barb in Houston" stuff happen!

See Barb in Houston, #1

I will be giving a talk in Houston Thursday, November 16th
at noon at Texas A&M University, Galveston, sponsored by Catholic Student Organization.

We're not sure yet of the exact location. I will post it as soon as I know.