Sunday, December 31, 2006

Home Is Where the Donuts Are

I think it was, in part, the snacks.

You see, growing up I never knew that we were poor. In grade school, Heather made fun of my boots, and my classmates defended me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that they came to my defense because my family couldn’t afford fancier boots.

I just thought they saw boots they way that I did – my boots kept my feet warm, like before me they kept Chris’ feet warm, and David’s and Matt’s and Greg’s. My boots came pre-tested for quality control.

We would probably have been considered lower middle class, some times lower, sometimes middle, rarely classy. My folks raised twelve kids on a single, government income.

Sometimes peanut butter became the recurring main meal – usually at the end of the month, coincidentally right before Dad’s paycheck hit. For me, I just thought Mom had a perverse taste for crunchy nut spread.

We never went hungry; we never went naked; and I never knew we were poor.

I think, in part, because of the snacks.

Every day when we came home from school, there were snacks waiting. Never store bought, always baked. Cookies, homemade apple pie, brownies, deep fried donuts. Always something.

Know any starving kids that get homemade donuts after school?

And it wasn’t just for us. Our home had an open door policy. Any friend that meandered over to our house was welcome. And they always got fed.

Maybe it was Don and George, hanging out to do our homework; or Andy who lived two doors down and whose mom was a teacher – he spent so much time at our house he wasn’t expected to knock; or Brian and Dick, tagging after Mary; or Greg’s gang just killing time before musical rehearsal; or Mark bringing the track team by, interrupting their distance run for some sweets.

It didn’t matter how many – one to fifty – all were welcome in our home, and all were fed.

Mom would joke that with so many kids of her own, she could never tell which ones were hers, and which ones were guests. Safer just to feed them all.

How can anyone think they were poor with a house full of laughing, well-fed friends?

Today is my mom’s forty-eighth birthday (my dad laying down the law many birthdays ago that his wife has to be at least one year older than her oldest child).

Happy birthday, mom.

And thanks for a lifetime of snacks.

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dream State

Let me say this right off: Jennifer Hudson blowing the roof off the movie theatre with “I’m Not Going” is worth the price of admission alone. So no matter what else I say, remember that.

The very white and respectable audience I saw DREAMGIRLS with couldn’t help but break into applause for the actress, almost convinced that her celluloid self could appreciate the gesture. How often can you apply the term “showstopper” to film?

The movie has many such marvelous moments, and many marvelous performances. Eddie Murphy stands out in a surprisingly non-Eddie Murphy role – giving us a solid glimpse into the actor that Mr. Murphy will mature into. Even Beyonce Knowles transcends her pop status to give depth to a pop star character.

However, the flick isn’t quite able to transition itself from stage play to film. There is a grace inherent in live performances when the characters start singing to nobody in particular (or even spouting out “Now is the winter of our discontent”); because, after all, there is an audience there, even if the fourth wall is supposed to keep the character from knowing that.

That grace doesn’t extend as easily to film, so the director has to work harder to establish that this is a world naturally containing gratuitous acts of music. Baz Luhrman did this in MOULIN ROUGUE by creating a reality so romantically unreal one couldn’t help but sing. And the marvelous Bill Condon created an inner life of imagination for Roxy Hart, thus giving us the most perfect recent musical film, CHICAGO.

If only DREAMGIRLS Bill Condon consulted with CHICAGO Bill Conden. DREAMGIRLS justifies the music by showing all the singing springing from the recording studio or performances of The Dreams. Except when it doesn’t (such as the aforementioned Hudson roof raiser).

The wishy-washy hybrid makes for an uneasy audience, requiring far too much time for us to let go and give in to the music.

The other big problem is one that was knotty with the stage version as well: trying to tell too much story in too little time. The film comes off as unfocused, unsure of whether this is Effie’s story (the character with the biggest arc, but she disappears half way through) or Deena’s story (who is a cipher for the first half plus), or Curtis’ story (a character that doesn’t arc) or, heck, even Early or C.C. or Lorell’s story.

We track all these characters over a decade plus, zipping from one song to another so rapidly as to be unable to create an emotional attachment. Sure, as an audience, we have moments of connection – but far too many more moments of disconnect.

Not to say that a film can’t effectively tell dozen stories at once. I also recently viewed John Sayles’ SUNSHINE STATE. Another movie with brilliant performances (standouts including Angela Bassett, Edie Falco, and Ralph Waite – who I love to see working!) and multiple stories.

They are even similar in their language – both heavily relying on conversations that mean more than they mean – STATE with lines like Marly’s repeated “What’s important is to keep smiling, even if you’re drowning,” or Furman’s classic, “You can’t live next to the ocean and be afraid of the water.” And DREAMGIRLS with all the songs – each masquerading as a pop tune playing on the radio, while really being the inner voices of the characters breaking the surface.

Both movies are intended to be lyric poems; yet DREAMGIRLS never seems to let the poetry steer the story.

Two things that Sayles did right: first, he focused his multiple stories over a short period of time – five days in May. The focus lets us settle a bit; we don’t need the full life of these characters, just enough to see us through this pivotal change.

And second, he lets each scene sit for a spell; he takes his time. Telling a dozen stories in two hours doesn’t mean rushing.

And DREAMGIRLS rushes, pushing from moment to moment in a breathless pounce, hoping to get it all said before the clock runs out. As a result, some of the best scenes of the story never make it into the film.

Danny Glover’s Marty tells us that Effie had been trying to sing again, but melts down in front of her audiences. He tells us that. Come on, after seeing Hudson mix vulnerability and power with so many moments prior to this, aren’t we all dying to SEE her take her brassy self in front of a club and struggle, and struggle, and lose…?

How can you choose not to show that moment? Instead, it is an aside, quickly tossed so we can rush to the final performance of the Dreams.

DREAMGIRLS is a good movie. Which is too bad; it could’ve been great.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Magic and the Season

Catherine and I joined friends Cory and Vicki at the Magic Castle to watch our brilliantly talented friend Michael Rayner perform. He was marvelous, by the way, as was the the whole night.

Coincidentally, a member of my writers group, Damon Young, mentions the Castle as part of his blog on the season. I like what he has to say, so I'll send you there.


Just my thoughts,



Catherine and I started watching a movie on television called "Gospel." Not a good movie; not even a movie that we could sit through.

But it did have a fun caution at the start.

It warned that The Gospel had adult content.

I think we should all keep that in mind.

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Good Grief, Part Three

Christmas comes with tidings of great joy, and also with a touch of melancholy.

The melancholy, in moderation, makes sense. After all, with the birth of Christ comes the slaughter of the innocents. Right on the heels of the multitude of angels singing is Rachel weeping for her children.

And the gift of myrrh reminds us that the birth was just a step in a plan that would lead to the Via Delarosa, the road of sorrows.

The joy of Christmas comes with a sacrifice. My pastor refers to this as “the cost of Christmas.”

This is another reason that I love A Charlie Brown Christmas – Charles Schultz fully understood the notion of sacrifice for joy. Charlie’s holiday malaise is eventually overcome, but only through sacrificial giving.

Let me explain.

The next time you watch the special, pay close attention to Linus and his blanket.

The importance of the security blanket (a phrase coined by Charles Schultz, by the way) is established in several scenes, as well as Lucy’s insistence that her brother give the blanket up. But under threats of humiliation and even corporal punishment, Linus makes it clear that he will never let his blanket go.

Until Linus recounts the meaning of Christmas. If you watch carefully, you will notice that the young boy starts his recitation from the Gospel according to Luke with his blanket firmly grasped. Then he gets to the “sore afraid” part.

“Fear not!” Linus quotes the angels, and as he says those words, he lets go of the blanket.

After the oration, he retrieves his most valued possession.

Later, once Charlie has killed the tree, the real sacrifice takes place. Linus points out that he never thought is was such a bad tree, and that it only needed love.

Sacrificial love, as it turns out.

So Linus uses the greatest treasure on earth to care for the tree, wrapping it around the base.

And therein is a Christmas message worth holding onto. We’re not so bad, really, we just need a little love.

Sacrificial love.

Just my thoughts,


Good Grief, Part 2

“Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” – 1776, Peter Stone, Sherman Edwards

Catherine and I saw Rent recently, a truly depressing movie. Not because of the people that die in the flick (the writing glosses over the characters that perish, so the viewer has to come with their own pain to make the film effective). Rather, the deep sadness of the movie is its philosophy.

The repeated mantra is: “There is only us; there is only this.” While useful when dealing with past regrets, the philosophy becomes a rather selfish one when used to justify short term pleasure – especially at the expense of another’s long term pain.

But it is a hard philosophy to argue against – with logic. This is after all the survival of the fittest, every man for himself, social Darwinism.

But still our hearts rebel – surely life is more than for the self?

Even the makers of Rent rail against the people (who aren’t us) who live in self-centered bubbles.

This puts me in mind of the dilemma facing contemporary Christmas entertainments. (Don’t worry, you will see why soon enough.)

There is an obsession with “the true meaning of Christmas.” Mostly because we can all so easily see what the “false” meanings are. But what do you do when you (or more appropriately, your network or producers) don’t believe that there is a G-d, let alone a Christ, and you are trying to broadcast the “true meaning” of ChristwithoutChristmas?

As one example, the big screen adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas ran into this problem. To help fill two hours, they decided that the whole town of Whosville would be devoid of the true meaning of Christmas. And when it comes time in the story to yahoo-doray, how does the town find the true meaning?

Uh, well, they know that being selfish wasn’t good, so we shouldn’t be, or something, right? There is no model for the true meaning in the preceding ninety minutes, so we have to take it on faith that there is something more to the season than greed and pride.

Most of the others get it a lot better – at least in establishing a good argument against every man for himself. Such as the Scrubs cast’s re-voicing of A Charlie Brown Christmas that has been floating around the internet. (I’d link it here, but it is too crass for little or big ears).

When it comes time for Dr. Cox to step forward and explain the real meaning of Christmas, he tells Dorian to suck it up and acknowledge that he is surrounded by a community of love.

And they’ve established enough community to make you buy it.

So, community, love, peace, joy – that there is Christmas, right?

Or maybe just the very good by-products of Christmas?

I’d argue the latter. I think the original A Charlie Brown Christmas got it right (one of the two reasons I’m giving for it being the best Christmas special ever – reason two tomorrow).

Linus steps forward to answer the question, “Does anybody know what Christmas is all about?” And he tells the simple story of G-d coming to earth as a baby.

The rest – the community and love and charity and peace and goodwill and resting merry and family and eggnog and stockings and wooden shoes and holiday spirit – the rest is all icing.

The cake is this: it isn’t all us, it isn’t all now. We are not alone, and never have to act like it again.

“Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

Yes. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Good Grief, Part One

I’m not a Grinch.

The Grinch didn’t like Christmas, not one bit. And there is plenty about Christmas that I do like.

I even have my radio tuned to the “All Christmas Music All Month Long” station.

(Of course, it is easier to appreciate carols in December in the years that I do not write a Christmas play. Writing a yuletide play means doing the initial drafts in the spring, rewrites in the summer, and rehearsing in the fall. By December, one can get quite Christmased out.)

No, I am not a Grinch. But I do have mixed feelings about the holidays. I feel a sense of melancholy mixed in with my joy.

Entertainment Weekly recently ran an article on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas;”
(Issue 912, “There’s Something About Merry”) a melancholy song that is a perennial favorite – perhaps because of the sorrow mixed with the hope in it.

The song was written for “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and comes at a down moment in the flick – as the family is facing a move away from home. Judy Garland sings it to her sister.

There are three versions of the song. The first is fully depressing, with older sister Judy telling the little one that there is no reason in life for joy. “Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.”

Judy Garland begged for lyrics that were a tad more optimistic.

The second version is in the movie, and basically has Judy telling little sis that although things may look bad now, there is hope – “someday soon we all will be together,” and “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

The third was a rewrite for Frank Sinatra, putting the good times in the present tense, and eliminates the sense of dread in the lyrics. “Through the years we all will be together,” and “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

Version two is the one that resonates with me – is this my inner moderate voting for Christmas?—the one that acknowledges that there are hard times.

And yet…

Just my thoughts,


Version from "Meet Me in St. Louis" (music and lyrics by Hugh Martin):

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again, as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What I get about cats:

When I get out of bed in the morning, they look at me like I'm crazy to leave the bed. I think they are right.

What I don't get about cats:

They are allergic to chocolate. How can creatures allegedy so wise be allergic to chocolate? Doesn't seem smart to me.

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Still Small Night

I saw The Nativity Story recently.

A pleasant enough of a film, with some serious flaws, and some really fine things to recommend it as well.

One aspect of the film that I truly admired was the recurring theme of finding G-d in stillness.

A story from 1 Kings is recited several times in the film. In the story, Elijah is told to go to the mountain to meet up with G-d. Elijah experiences a great wind, an earthquake and a terrible fire, and G-d is not in any of those things.

Then there is a stillness, and G-d is in the stillness.

The movie plays on that theme by presenting G-d and the heavenlies in subtleness and quietude. No big roaring angel overpowering Mary; no majestic wrath telling Joseph to get his act together. Just a persistent holy presence available for those that would take the time to listen.

The idea doesn’t fully work in the movie (the multitude of heavenly hosts is reduced to a pleasant glow) – but I admire them for trying it.

This season has become the season of busyness, of running around, of doing many doings.

It is a season concerned with how garish we can decorate our houses, how sugared up we can get our kids, how stuffed we can fill our rooms with stuff.

It is about jingle jangle bells, clanging carols and honking car horns.

I’m thinking that maybe the best way to find the meaning for the season is not in shouting “Silent Night” in the hopes of drowning out “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Maybe it is in hushing, and listening.

And being still.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, December 15, 2006

A Thousand Thousand Words

I once heard someone argue against taking pictures on vacations. Their thesis was that people become so busy documenting the events of their life, that they don’t take time to actually experience that life.

Then again, I’ve never heard anyone argue against having the pictures after the fact. So as long as my spouse and my siblings ignore experiencing life so that I can have photos, I’m good.

It’s the time of year that tradition mandates pulling out photos to put together the “Christmas Letter.” So my wife gave me the simple task of looking at pictures from my family gathering this summer.

The idea was to skim through the pics that brother Matt had compiled from the siblings cameras, find the two or three that captured the event, and be done with it.

Two complications. One, the skimming didn’t take into account the snap happy nature of my siblings, and I had to go through 945 pictures. Yeah, a picture is worth a thousand words, but a couple of days with my family is worth a thousand pictures.

Second, the reunion was the occasion of my brother’s funeral; and I had left unopened and unviewed the cd of pictures – until now. So the skimming was actually several emotional hours.

Here are two pics from those days that won’t make the annual letter, but are especially meaningful to me.

A sampling of nieces and nephews looking over into the neighbor’s yard. Check out the uncertainty and wonder as they see the “beyond.”

I’d like to think they are looking to the unknown possibilities of the future.

My niece and nephew starting construction on a sand castle. If I’ve got the timing right, this picture was taken while the adults were at the funeral home.

And the next generation is building.

I like that. I like that a lot.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Magically Delicious

This Saturday, MAGIC CASTLE AFTER DARK premieres on A&E at 11am.

This show, produced and directed by friend Jude, goes behind the scenes at the famous magic club in L.A.

Catherine and I volunteered to work for Jude at the Magic Castle for a Katrina benefit a bit ago – and the Castle was amazing. I’ve always had a thing for magic, and knowing that there was a club out there for magicians – what could be better?

As a kid, I bought the card tricks and magic sets. Even did a show for a Boy Scout fundraiser. (I created a character of a failed magician – try to make the ball disappear, and the cup vanishes instead. Try to puncture a quarter with a plastic toothpick, but the toothpick passes through the quarter instead. Try to transform a ten dollar bill into a twenty, and getting increasingly smaller denominations the more I try, until it turns into plain paper. That sort of thing. Hey, the shtick worked well for a dorky kid like me.)

Loved any murder mystery with a magician in it. Thought friend Lisa Wong was the coolest person on earth in part because her dad created magic tricks. (Okay, I was an adult then, but the kid in me never magically disappeared, so there.)

And it was always the “trick” part that I liked – not so much the notion of “real” magic. Supernatural superhero Dr. Strange didn’t do anything for me, and Zatanna was kinda irksome. (She spoke all her spells in the comic books by reciting her wants backwards. Nac uoy kniht fo gnihtyna erom gnitatirri ni a cimoc? Ees tahw I neam?)

So check out MAGIC CASTLE AFTER DARK. Which plays in the morning, which technically is way after dark. See, they are tricking you already.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


“If I marry someone under a false name, am I still legally married?”

Now, depending on the circumstance, that could be considered a rather odd question.

In fact, if you get that question from your husband after an old friend visits and calls him “Freddie old boy” all day, and you thought his name was Nelson, that is a question that should cause some alarm.

But in my case, it was my friend Jared asking the question, and I knew that this fellow screenwriter was working on a script, so I wasn’t too startled.

However, the woman sitting in the seat between us on the airplane, who didn’t know that Jared was a screenwriter, and didn’t know that Jared and I knew each other—don’t you think she should have been a tad inquisitive?

Instead, she assumed that the question was as much for her as for me, and answered with all she knew about obtaining marriage licenses, along with her guess as to what kind of background check is likely to occur prior to issuance of said license.

She never even asked why Jared would need to know such information. She was too cool for that.

I liked that about her. It made me wonder what it would have taken to rattle her.

Suppose my friend Jim were sitting in the window seat instead of Jared. He might have asked, “If I decapitated a violinist and put my head on the fiddle player’s body, would I know how to perform Tchaikovsky?”

Or Cheryl might have asked, “If I’m dating a deity, and that deity is in fact a trinity, would he be cheating on himself?”

I’d like to think that our helpful stranger would have discoursed on the limitations of muscle memory, or the technicalities of multi-dimensional courting.

I wish I was that cool.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, December 11, 2006

Guest Blogger...

Because of this blog I’ve become addicted to Blick Van Glory’s video for “The Sophomores.” At first I thought I loved it so much because it’s funny, creative and a catchy tune. But yesterday I realized it goes a lot deeper.

I hated sophomore year. High school and college. I couldn’t wait for both of them to end. When you’re a sophomore, you’ve passed a significant milestone — your first year. You feel like you should be better than the freshmen, but they at least have the excitement and giddyness of the new experience going for them. When you’re a sophomore, you’re not a newbie or an upperclassman, and graduation seems like a long way off.

I’ve been living in Hollywood for 7 years. I’ve passed some milestones but the excitement has worn off. I’m a show business sophomore.

This struck me at church yesterday, as it was the second Sunday of advent, when we lit the Bethlehem candle (the “sophomore candle,” as it were). We read the prophecy in Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

This verse proclaimed the hope that was to come for God’s people. Bethlehem was a kind of “sophomore city”, but out of it came the One.

Our hope to come is this — even when we are feeling powerless and discouraged, overlooked in the middle, or like the road is long ahead of us, we have Christ in our hearts. And so, as we go into the world out of us comes the One, the Ruler, the Hope of the World. He has a plan and a purpose, and that plan is that others would see Him emerging from our lives. That’s how He changes the world.

So perhaps if a great host of angels came proclaiming good news to me this season (and you, if you’re a sophomore too) they would sing, “Fear not, fair sophomores, the future leaders of the world...”

-Submitted by Andrea Nasfell

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Got this review from Publisher Weekly's site.

Pre-ordered my copy here.

Just my thoughts,


A Starred Review Coming in PW on Monday, November 27

Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies
Jeffrey Overstreet. Regal, $17.99 paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8307-4315-5

If viewing a film is to be a spiritual exercise, one must be open to conversion. Overstreet, cultural commentator and film critic for Christianity Today, leads readers through his own cinematic conversion in this compelling volume. Overstreet's greatest gift is the masterful way he brings a spirit of discernment to the world of film. For example, determining when sex and violence is artfully employed or when it is just plain gratuitous is not always an easy task. Overstreet uses inspiring anecdotes from his life to show how the process of discerning the content and meaning of films takes patience, prayer and humility. He exhibits all of these traits through his movie commentaries, and invites the reader to set aside biases about what is "properly" Christian and look deeper toward how cinema as an art form affects one's soul. This, according to Overstreet, is the work of God. At times, the author's stories distract from his main point, but his primary goal is one to be celebrated: "I have a strange compulsion to sit down between Christian culture and secular society, trying to help them understand each other—and ultimately, God—better through a shared experience of art." Two thumbs up!(Feb. 8)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Abiding In the Fields

Some folks think the Christmas season begins the first of December; some (in chillier climes) when the first snow falls; some when Santa makes his entrance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. (Retailers mark it somewhere in the middle of August.)

For me, it doesn’t feel like Christmas until the pre-schoolers stand in front of the congregation and sing.

This last Sunday, the season began at my church, and I was struck by the many different personality types that become showcased in such an event – much to the chagrin of the personalities’ parents.

It also struck me that they are a metaphor of the many individuals that make up the awkward body called “the Church.”

There are the kids that scream out the lines of the song that they are sure about, hoping perhaps that the volume will cover their lack of singing at other points.

There are the kids that know all the hand motions, but don’t seem to know the words.

Then there are the kids that have the words down pat, but have no idea how to put them into action.

And the kid (why does he always end up front and center?) that knows all the motions, just keeps putting them in the wrong place.

It seems every year that the child closest to the microphone is the one who feels the need to fill the time giving his personal, running monologue, seemingly unaware that he is no longer part of the body around him. He was represented quite well this year.

We also had the youngster that seemed happy at first to be up there, until she realized that she had to perform, so quickly ran crying down the aisle.

And, as a special treat for 2006, we had the kid who was angry that he was being forced to be there, so he petulantly placed his arms akimbo and shouted “No I won’t!” to the mortified mother in the second row.

He did not go unnoticed, as the initially sympathetic child standing next to him encouragingly patted his shoulder, and tried to tell Anger Boy that everything was okay. When the compassion was rebuffed with a “Don’t touch me!”, however, Empathy Lad turned snarky, and began touching (sweetly, of course) with abandon.

There is so much glee to be found in forcing consolation on those that don’t want it.

Next to Anger Boy and Empathy lad was the girl who chose to ignore the problem, turning her back slightly to the boys and raising her voice.

And on the other side of the group, the child who decided that the pre-fab words and motions weren’t enough to pay tribute to the music. So she just closed her eyes, spread her arms wide, and started dancing.

I’ve seen all these kids represented in the body of Christ.

In fact, I’ve been most of them.

Which one are you?

Just my thoughts,


Note: Photo provided by Andrea, proud mother of Emma, the shepherdess in the center.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Inspired in Traffic

I do a lot of thinking on the road. Maybe because I'm often stuck there on my commute to and from Pasadena. (Lest I sound like I'm the only one in this family who commutes to work, let me admit that Sean sometimes gets tied up by the kitties on his long trek from the bedroom to the office next door.)

So, I'm traveling home this week, stopped, waiting for the Gold Line train, and I see the back of an old car next to me with a dove symbol. First thought: "Oh, a Christian - very cool."

Then, I look closer and the dove is placed right in front of the name of the car (much like the mock-up image below).

Now I think, "How funny - 2 birds next to each other."

Then I think, "How appropriate for the Christian symbolism. The Spirit comes down as a dove and a voice from heaven resounds like thunder."

The ThunderDove. Powerful. Peaceful. Promising. Prophetic.

Make of it what you will. I thought it was pretty cool.

Just my traffic musings,

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beyond the City Gates

My Great Books Club spent the last two months on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I have to say, despite the daunting size of the book (I got extra air miles on all my recent trips, because the hefty tome counted as a travel companion) I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I missed last months meeting due to my Florida trip; a blessing, as I didn’t have to rush my read. The book is that good.

I will share Steinbeck’s words on the church and how the Hebrew word for “thou mayest” might just be the most important word in human language at some point in the future.

For this post, I wanted to share a section that struck deep inside me, as it should for anyone considering entering the worlds of theatre, film or television.

This is Lee, quoting his father:

“There’s more beauty in the truth, even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.”

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blick Van Glory, And In That Order

Todd Edwards, co-writer and composer of HOODWINKED, has a band.

And the band has a song.

And the song has a video.

And it made me laugh.

Just my thoughts,


T.J. Speaks Out

A friend sent us a new blog link. Welcome tothe twisted mind of T.J. Dallas. Warning: the site contains some language, alcohol use, and comparisons of meditation to bowel movements.

Favorite quote from the page (the section on how to start a bar room brawl): “Hey, play something by The Partridge Family, ‘cause I’m gonna beat you like a tambourine.”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, November 24, 2006

Things You Never Want To Hear...

But my family members have heard:

From the guy fixing the toilet, “It might be a little late to ask, but do you know where the shut off valve is?”

From an obstetrician, “I’m sure I can put that back in.”

From your partner in pinochle, “Are clubs the ones with the round edges?”

From a small child in a bathroom: “How did that happen?”

Just my thoughts,


Sunday, November 19, 2006

And Straight On 'Til Morning...

It’s not like exercise is my thing, but with a free-flowing diet of bite size snickers and dark chocolate kisses and sweet tarts and trinity triple chocolate ice cream, well, exercise wasn’t a bad idea.

The first night of jogging was glorious – seven out of ten retreat attenders in a group. The joy of solidarity helped ease the muscle pain and the griping lungs.

We all agreed that it was wonderful to run as a group, all looked forward to doing it again on a regular basis, and all knew that this was the last time we would all be in work-out agreement.

The more sensible stopped running at night; the half-sensible cut down the number of jogs; the insane started counting the miles in double digits. I was in the middle group, running every couple of nights or so.

The best night, there were three of us, and instead of turning left at the end of the access road – which would have led us toward the lights and comfort of the nearest town – we turned right.

Away from streetlights, into the unknown, into the dark.

Oncoming headlights were blinding, forcing the pace to slow so the sensation of sneaker on asphalt could keep us on the path. The weeds to one side whipped the legs of the one who veered too close to the edge. The swamp on the other side warned the errant jogger with a squish.

But once the cars disappeared and the lights of society were far enough behind, the sky became alive.

Orion’s outline filled out with muscles and flesh of countless stars. The three sisters stood in a group of women, nattering to the crowd. The dippers dripping with astral soup; the ram leapt over blockades of galaxies.

We ran face up, my companions and I, our feet bouncing off the earth, our imaginations bouncing off the sky.

I’m sure there is a metaphor in there; a pack of artists running away from civilization, but running together – a combination of unified isolation running into beauty.

And even more meaning could be found in the group turning back towards home, carrying the memory of the heavens back to the light of men.

But to be honest, I don’t care about the metaphor.

I just liked reveling in the stars.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Writers With In

Highlights thus far of working with these writers at the Art Within retreat:

-Watching Stranger than Fiction, a pic perfect to watch with writers.

-Watching the porch furniture fly over the railing, while wondering if the tornado warning would elevate enough to transport us to Oz (the technicolor version, not the prison version).

-Crowding the men's room at the Golden Corral, as we took turns laughing at the super-powered hand dryer causing ripples in each other's arm fat.

-Figuring out how to hook up downloaded Heroes episodes to the big tv, because some things aren't worth sacrificing.

-Watching the South Park kids create a Christian rock band with a room full of people that truly get how funny that really is.

-Blocking the windows with post its of faith representations in movies that include titles such as diverse as Dusk Til Dawn, Star Trek V, X-Men II, Haunted Mansion and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Oh, and I think some screenwriting has been going on as well. Not sure though, as I've been distracted by the combination Scrabble/Poker games.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bob's Blue Choice

Bob Newhart was the guest on TV Land’s Sit Down Comedy with David Steinberg. David started to ask Newhart why he never used blue material in his comedy, even though David hinted that Bob certainly could have.

Newhart’s response: “Well, I know the words.”

They never got back to the question, as they veered into talking about doing Roasts, which inevitably turn blue.

Newhart gave an anecdote about Roasts, a completely clean one. David then gave his anecdote, a blue one (although a soft PG by today’s standards).

I found that interesting.

Both knew the words. Both were talking about the same topic. They just made two different choices.

I guess with enough creativity, we always have a choice.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Getting Involved

So Heather kind of made me read this book.

We were talking about books that we love, pushing our favorites on each other, tsking in disbelief over the ones that the other hasn’t read, despite calling themselves intelligent and wise.

And we finished the conversation with, “I should lend this book to you,” and “Of course, I’d love to read it.”

Heather is still young, and naively handed me the book that I said, “Of course” to, not getting that insincerity is a hallmark of any good, casual “how-are-things-going, fine-and-you?” relationship. Problem is, Heather is an actual friend and treats me as such.

So I’m reading this book. And it’s turning out to be good, dag-nab it.

Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen F. Davis isn’t all that deep, which is a good thing; and it is practical, which is another good thing. Her approach isn’t based off scholastic mining or obtuse interpretations. She’s more of a, “Gee, this is what it says, so let’s treat it that way” kind of gal.

Now, I’m only up to the section on the Psalms, and it may turn to mud when she gets on to Moses, but let me share a thought from the book while I’m still a fan.

In the first chapter on the Psalms, she points out that the church tends to gloss over these poems in part because they go against our man-made beliefs on what a conversation with G-d should be. She points out some false ideas that hinder modern prayer, such as (and remember, these are false ideas):

-“G-d does not have any use for our anger.”

-“There is no place for fear or despair in the Christian life.”

-“You must never, ever be mad at G-d.”

Here’s a follow up that hit me hard:

“The problem with all these notions of prayer is that we cannot have an intimate relationship with someone to whom we cannot speak honestly – that is, someone to whom we cannot show our ugly side, or those large clay feet of ours.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, November 13, 2006

Light Thinking

I’ve been thinking a lot about the simplicity and complexity of Christ and the Christian walk. I’ve been thinking a lot about the misuse of such complexities, and the abuse of over-simplification.

I’ve been thinking a lot about James, and the sects that don’t like James and why, and the sects that embrace James when they can get away with only part of his teachings.

I’ve been thinking about my place in that spectrum, and how my thinking should be altered or challenged.

I was thinking about all that while waiting for mass to begin this morning, because Miguel and I got to the church early, so there was plenty of time for thinking.

And while I was thinking, the little girl in front of me gasped. She had spied the candles that led the processional behind us; she realized that a parade was in progress.

Her eyes went wide, her mouth forming a soundless “O”; she stared and followed the light and the cross and the Word as it moved among us.

She made a single clap, holding her hands tight around the sheer wonder of the moment, not willing to let it go.

And I thought that I think too much, and cleared my mind to make space for childish wonder.

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, November 11, 2006

I'm Half Crazy, All For the Love of You...

Continued from the previous post on “Bicycle Built for Two” and my father:

#3 -- It is a bittersweet song.

The melody is bouncing and joyful. The lyrics are about a rejected proposal of love. There is a sense of joy – or maybe it’s peace – being brought into what could have been merely tragic or merely tearful.

I suppose this speaks to an entire worldview, a perseverance combined with insight into all things working for good that makes the unbearable bearable.

If I were to get all psycho-analytical about it, I would guess that bringing up “Bicycle” on that particular subway ride with Mimi was a way of bringing the comfort and wisdom of my father into a situation where I didn’t have my father himself.

When I was a kid, another student in my class passed away. Not someone I knew real well, but that was the first death of someone my age. My dad took me to the wake.

He didn’t say much on the ride there. He let me ramble; I can’t remember what I talked about.

He didn’t say much on the way back. We stopped at a drug store, and he bought me a small bag of M & Ms.

He didn’t say much; yet he shared with me a great wisdom. There are times when the most astute insight is silence -- quiet comfort. And where the only appropriate answer to big sorrows are small graces.

Mimi and I would sing that song often after that. It was always a celebration; always a connection.

#4 -- It is a self-deprecating song.

My dad, as I said before, was a judge, which implies a certain comportment of dignity. But one can’t take oneself too seriously, and choose to be on the receiving end of “You’re half crazy if you think that that will do!”

I find it interesting that my dad enjoyed being on the goofy end of a goofy proposal song.

Not that there is any of that false humility going on here – in fact, it takes a level of security in oneself to be open to a decent ribbing. It is said of Johnny Carson that he was funny when he was “on;” but he was hilarious when he bombed.

It was in taking the badness of the joke onto himself – transferring the failure into human foible – that redeemed the joke. And in the process, bolstered his dignity. (As opposed to a selfish “I don’t get any respect” tack.)

My dad has a humor that, by embracing the goofy, embraces humanity.

It is a humor of grace.

I suppose to be complete in my profile, I should also do an in depth analysis of his other song.

Would it be too much of a stretch to find spiritual profundity in “Little Brown Jug?”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, November 10, 2006

Happy 231st Birthday!

Our niece, Elena (daughter of Luke Gaffney, 2nd Lt. US Marines currently stationed in Iraq) would like to wish a happy birthday (and a round of applause) to all the Marines who have served and are currently serving our country.

November 10th, 1775, the Corps was born as the Continental Congress raised the "first and second battalions of American Marines."

We're praying for you!

Semper Fi

PS: Thanks Sarah for the link and photo!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Daisy, Daisy, Won't You Please Answer True...

I was listening to an NPR feature that has someone talking about the most influential song from their childhood. That got me to wonder about my own influences. Hence this entry.

My father isn’t known for singing. Outside of church, I’ve really only heard him sing two songs, most often “Bicycle Built for Two.”

May seem on odd choice, but I think one can learn a lot about my father by examining this song – and perhaps even more of my view of my dad. So, what does “Bicycle Built for Two” say?

#1 -- It is a funny song.

Most of my friends thought my dad was scary. I suppose it was because he was a judge for his day job, and carried the gravitas of his work life home. He didn’t have an infectious laugh, and certainly was not a giggler.

But in truth, he was a man of off-beat and sly humor – one hidden behind a straight face.

In our family, if you missed school you wanted my mom to write the note. She would mention illness, barfing bouts or visits to the doctor. Dad didn’t think inside that box.

He was more likely to send you in with a note such as (true story): “Sean didn’t make it to school yesterday. He got lost in a phone booth. He has since found his way out, and is now able to return to school.”

Did I mention off-beat?

#2 -- It is a duet, and thus a communal song.

The story is that my dad would sing that song as a kid with his cousin. Sure, one could sing it alone, as my dad often did. But it was made clear that the song was meant to be sung with another.

And not just any other, but one that you are connected with. You can’t sing, “I’m half crazy all for the love of you” with just any old body. Nope; you duet on this song with someone, and like it or not, you now have a bond.

I taught the song to Mimi on the subway, returning from a funeral – a friend we lost during our college days. We dealt with the oddity of grieving and the enormity of the mortal world with “It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage…”

To be continued…

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On the Road Again

This time I am in Florida, working with a screenwriters’ retreat. This trip is a couple of weeks, which I suppose isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things.

What is long is that I didn’t have internet capability until now. I had to spend five whole days focused on things at hand, paying attention to my fellow human beings that share my time-space continuum.

I’ve had to talk with people without typing; looking at each other with no screen protecting us.

I’ve had to play cards with people at the same table as me, relearning how to laugh without the use of parentheses and colons.

I’ve had to figure out what the weather was like by looking out the window, or going the extra drastic phase of stepping outside and experience weather corporeally.

I may even be experiencing life corporeally.

Man, existence can be hard sometimes.

I could take a walk right now on the beach, feeling the sand between my toes and giggling at the shock of a cold wave, all while marveling in G-d’s creation… But the internet is back up, so maybe I’ll just download a few ocean screenshots instead.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, November 03, 2006

Good Grief

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is an oddball of a musical. More of a revue, really, a collection of four-panel comic strips put into the mouths of actors, book-ended by music.

I am a huge fan of Charles Schultz’ strip.

When I was a kid, I thought I was Charlie Brown – right down to a crush on a little red-haired girl. And recently, when my wife took me on a surprise trip to the Grand Canyon, I made her stop at Needles, Ca. (Extra credit for the person that knows why…)

So I was glad to relive the old four panels – Charlie not having the courage to talk to the little red-haired girl, Snoopy refusing to chase rabbits, Lucy planning her future life with a musician.

But with no overarching story – only a vague character arc for Charlie – this is a hard musical to pull off. When my wife and I saw a production recently, she leaned over to me half-way through and asked, “How does something like this become a success on Broadway… Twice?”

The answer lies in the imagination of the production, requiring the same outside-the-box thinking that Schultz used to fuel a strip that had a dog flying a sopwith camel, a kid hero-worshipping Joe Shablotnik, and a second baseman able to throw out a runner using the whip action of a security blanket.

Fortunately for my wife and I, the choreographer of the Vox Humana production we saw had such an imagination in spades. The show sparkled every time someone started to dance (the cast was mostly non-dancers – a sign of brilliant choreography that the audience didn’t notice); the best laughs and most heart-felt moments were contained within the movement.

Schultz would have been proud.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the choreographer, Jodi Shilling Little, is a good friend of mine. But then again, if I didn’t like her work, you wouldn’t be hearing about it at all. So there.

As to the rest of the production… It didn’t hold up as well.

The direction was pedestrian – suicide for this kind of piece. And the actors, with some exception (most notably Charlie Brown – played by an actor’s whose name escapes me, and thus forfeiting the shout out he deserves) played adults pretending to be kids – in direct opposition to the spirit of Schultz, who created a world of real kid commenting unfettered on an adult world.

So, the final review of this production? Inspired in parts, flat in others.

As to the original strip, I suppose Snoopy’s (and therefore Schultz’) words will do for me:

“It warms the cookies of my heart.”

Just my thoughts,


For more cookie warming, head to the Peanuts official site.

Favorite Family Halloween moments...

that I wasn't there for.

Story time with Uncle Mark. (NY)

Elena monkeying around. (NC)

Olivia bumbles her way through the evening. (CA)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hood is Good!

Friend Cory's movie, Hoodwinked, has some great news -- but I will let him tell that at his blog.

While there, read the entertaining updates on his writing life -- including the new Turtles movie (of the teenaged, mutant kind) and the Escape from Planet Earth update.

I've been wanting to mention his involvement in Turtles for some time, but as I heard about it first through a certain studio that I have a certain non-disclosure agreement with, I couldn't tout it -- until now!

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Prodigal Stories

Friend Jeff has posted an to-the-heart take on sin, forgiveness, and the importance of story.

Check out his blog: The Daily Hopper, and scroll down to "A Prodigal Son Hypothetical."

Snippet therefrom:

" Here's the problem for those who would reduce the life of faith to moral behavior. What do we do with failure?"

Go, Jeff!

Just my thoughts,


Monday, October 30, 2006

Everybody Loves Phil

My good friend Scott sent me this article on Everybody Loves Raymond creator, Phil Rosenthal.

He sent it primarily because of this quote:

"If he had to pin down a reason for so many failed comedies, he said, it would probably be that writers keep looking to get the next laugh instead of trying to “tell a great story.”"

Check it out. As I will be checking out Mr. Rosenthal's book, You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, October 27, 2006

I'd Like an Order of Chaos with a Side of Tyranny, Please

I’ve been working with a couple of organizations lately that have made me think of this quote from Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard’s The Leadership Lessons of Jesus:

“Contrary to popular opinion, order does not stifle creativity, but promotes it. It does not restrict freedom, but enhances it for the greatest number. Disorder is a kind of tyranny in which good things seldom happen. When disorder reigns, people suffer in many ways.

“There is a vast difference between order and regimentation. Jesus didn’t tell the five thousand to sit down in groups, organized alphabetically by last name, to count off, and remain silent until addressed. Instead, he created order that was not ominous and restrictive, but pleasant and liberating.

“Regimentation stifles creativity, and restricts freedom, but order creates an environment where freedom and creativity flourish.”

Order but not regimentation. A fine balance – yet having worked recently as an artist for hire in both disorder and regimentation, I have to say that Bob and Ray are on to something.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, October 26, 2006

15 Cents a Day

NPR is in its pledge drive, which makes it hard to listen to. I try keeping the dial tuned to their station anyway, figuring it is the least I owe them (beats writing a check), but some days it is harder than others.

Like today, when the female beggar -- uh, I mean fund raiser-- suggested a donation level of $15 a month, and her chipper male partner pointed out that the amount worked out to "about fifteen cents a day!"

With the voices of math teachers Tolomay and O'Leary screaming in my head, I changed channels to a less literate but hopefully more numerically sound station.

So that’s how I ended up on the talc music channel. (Think about it, wait, wait – there it is. What, you expected a better pun from me?)

I was not assailed with politician math there, but their sense of history baffled me.

The announcers were giving clues about a musician, offering the listener a chance to guess the artist. Since one of the clues was an event that helped create “one of the greatest musical careers of the century,” I was thinking in terms of Bono, or Sting, or some other contemporary one word moniker.

It was somebody I never heard of, which didn’t surprise me as much as learning that the performer’s first song aired in 2002.

If my math is less fuzzy than the fun-drivers, that makes his “greatest career of the century” only four years long.

Which I suppose qualifies on a technicality with a century only six years in existence. But still, it feels like politician math to me.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cud Stuff

A few rather diverse things in Entertainment Weekly (October 27 issue) struck me as worth ruminating on.

Maybe you will ruminate some as well.

Apropos to my entry into the world of sit-coms, Dalton Ross says this in a review of The Addams Family television series:

“It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but therein lay the key to the 1960’s sitcom: Sure, it was irreverent and off-the-wall, but unlike pretty much all the comedies on the air today, these characters genuinely loved and cared for one another.”

From a guy who has run for office, I found this tidbit from Clint Eastwood on the current political climate interesting:

“We’re living in a kindergarten. It should be on issues, and that’s the thing that makes you sick about the political scheme of things right now, regardless of which side.”

And another actor who is clearly a smart cookie, Masi Oka says this about his character in Heroes, Hiro:

“I play him like a big kid, inspired by Tom Hanks in Big.”

Just triggering my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Holding Out for a Hero

As long as we are talking about superheroes, here’s a little thought provocation from Kurt Busiek, in his introduction to Astro City: Life in the Big City.

At this point in the essay, Kurt is talking about the complaint he often hears about the superhero genre, that the characters are too simplistic and that they are nothing more than symbols. He then lists several of the figurative views of heroes – Superman as the weak child wishing for strength; Captain America as American ideal, etc.

Then he says this:

“However – and you knew there was going to be a however, right? – what charms me about that objection to the superhero is the way it points out, in the guise of criticism, what to me is the greatest strength of the superhero genre – the ease with which superheroes can be used as metaphor, as symbol, whether for the psychological transformation of adolescence, the self-image of a nation, or something else. A genre that can do something like that – is that really a limitation?”

For a compelling introduction to Busiek’s work, check out Marvels, or my favorite graphic novel of recent times, Superman: Secret Identities – Busiek’s own take on the Heroes question “What would happen if someone discovered super powers in a non-superpower world?”

Just my thoughts,


Monday, October 23, 2006

Just Super, Thanks

(Warning: Heroes contains material of violence and sexuality. It also contains scenes of super powers and situations that make comic book geeks get giggles of joy. You have been warned.)

SPOILERS contained within.

When Jennifer Schuchmann and I first embarked on collaborating on a musical for American Heritage Academy three years ago, the kids at the school said that they wanted a play about superheroes.

But not just about superheroes; they wanted a show that was about what makes a hero. The kids knew that super powers do not a hero make.

Heroes on NBC also know that super powers do not a hero make, and they too are interested in what it is that makes a hero.

In a world without folks in tights running around representing for truth, justice and the American way, some people are starting to realize they have unusual powers.

A cop hears people’s thoughts.

An artist draws the future.

A nurse thinks he can fly.

But does this make them heroes? Certainly not for the guy who uses his powers to become a serial murderer.

The single mom whose alter ego kills with remarkable ease and glee might not be on the side of the angels.

Or how about the indestructible cheerleader that takes the rapist for a ride into a brick wall at 90 miles an hour? Is that heroic? Or is that just vengeance?

I don’t know; but I do know that Heroes is a marvelous, compelling and entertaining way to explore such questions.

And that it makes this comic book geek giggle with joy.

Just my thoughts,


PS Save the cheerleader. Save the world.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It was risky; last season's ender was one of those, “this changes everything” stunners – but when a show is great, is changing everything a worthy risk?

In this case, yes.

Battlestar Galactica remains one of my favorite shows on television, representing the best of what sci-fi can do. Deep, socially relevant, intensely challenging – all wrapped up in a compelling story with driving action. What’s not to love?

This show is still the most significant study on the post-911 world that I have encountered to date – in fiction or non-fiction. The story gives complex viewpoints on all sides of right to life, suicide bombings, just war, the nature of love, politics, nationalism, religion, loyalty and on and on. No easy answers, no obvious choices, just thought provoking intensity.

Even without the brain, the brawn of the series would keep me tuning in.

The second episode of the season ended with a scene straight out of The Great Escape (no accusation here, I believe it was homage not theft). Key members of the resistance being trucked to a destination unknown, let out of the vehicles for a leg stretch as their captors line up with the machine guns… Edge of the seat action.

Or the echoes of issues from the Jewish ghettoes of Poland: the population under occupation being asked to police itself – does that make the police traitors, or supporters of their people? Compelling drama.

Yeah, I’m sticking around for more.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dearly Departed

(Warning: This is a Scorsese film, chockful of violence and flowing with foul language.)

Martin Scorsese is trying for another Oscar bid with The Departed, and many of the critics are raving. Not me, and here’s why.

The Bad: Don’t expect a lot of coherence. Several scenes seem randomly placed, and you will only hurt your head trying to figure out what they are doing there. (What’s the deal with the opera scene, and Jack Nicholson tossing cocaine around? Is it because every movie about the Italian mob requires an opera scene, and Marty didn’t want the Irish to feel left out?)

There are many set ups with no payoffs (as you watch, do not become invested in the envelope that DiCaprio leaves with the psychologist, telling her to open it if something happens to him and that it is very, very important. It isn’t, and the envelope is never mentioned again.)

This is a movie that needs no deus ex machina, yet somehow manages to squeeze several in during the last fifteen minutes. Taped conversations never hinted at before, a lawyer that missed mention, an act of trust that makes no sense, a cop choosing to make an arrest in the stupidest way imaginable… Again, don’t think about it – it will only make things worse.

Jack Nicholson’s performance is too far over the top. And we are talking about a movie where everything is intentionally over the top; you have to go a long way over before it becomes annoying. Yet Jack reaches that height.

The Good: I’d hate to be the guy trying to decide which actor should be up for the Oscar. Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin each deserve a statuette. Leonardo DiCaprio is a revelation in this movie; and Matt Damon maintains his status as one of my favorite smart action stars. And all five work off of each other -- each making the other guy look good (which is another reason that Jack’s performance was so disappointing.)

There are scenes that are explosively compelling; as well as scenes that are quietly beautiful. Martin Sheen inviting DiCaprio to sit and eat, “We’ll talk in the kitchen.” Beautiful.

The Ugly: So, there’s some good stuff, and some not good stuff. What’s the tipping point for me?

Ultimately, this is a movie that doesn’t matter. It has been compared to Shakespeare – mostly because a lot of people die in the end. But in Shakespeare, the lives of those killed mattered.

Verona was left a sadder but wiser place because Romeo and Juliet foolishly lived out their story. Denmark was transformed by the action of Hamlet. Even the dark deeds of Macbeth left us survivors altered, with more to ponder and carry away.

Shakespeare's characters left a mark. Their existence mattered.

Yet The Departed doesn’t matter – the characters do not leave a mark. It is reminiscent of Shakespeare more in embodying the line: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Martin Scorsese has been accused of having too much Good Friday in his films, and not enough Easter.

Maybe that’s it.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Quote of the Moment

"Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe."

-Flanner O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

Monday, October 16, 2006

Seriously Funny

In response to my post on Banned Books Week, Rob said... “I agree, Sean. But for me, it's not a laughing matter. Banning books belongs to the Nazis and the Taliban…”

Rob, I will whole-heartedly support your stance that this is a serious matter, and that is why I will continue to use humor in confronting it.

While I will grant that there is a form of humor that “makes light” of its topics, I find that wit is actually the strongest form of defense (and offense!) in exploring serious matters. Social criticism is a pill better swallowed, and often more effective, when presented in the form of comedy.

You will find that folks like, say, the Nazis (since you brought them up) tolerated no lampooning of their ideas – not because they thought them too serious of a subject matter, but because they knew that their propaganda could not stand up to the scrutiny of the comedian.

It requires someone with the ability to laugh to point out that the emperor has no clothes; and we have too many emperors running around this world. We require more laughing and pointing.

As Heywood Broun pointed out, “Humor is the grit in the evolutionary process. ‘Does it matter?’ is the underlying mood in almost every expression of humor. And of course it does matter.”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, October 13, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Great Scott

Friend Bryan pointed me to this article by acquaintance Scott Derrickson. Well worth the read.

Some quotes that caught my eye:

“Trying to be both an artist and a Christian involves one in an inevitable tension. While religion draws lines and sets boundaries, the role of the artist is to stretch boundaries, to find new ways of looking at things, to question, to break free of constraints.”

“Christian films are often resistible because Christian screenwriter have the habit of writing about what they believe instead of about what really moves them.”

“Many Christians in the film business have developed a unique ability to compartmentalize their faith. Their lives are like a TV dinner, and their faith is like the upper-left-hand section where the corn always goes.”

Just my thoughts,


More Sinister

My children's book, Larryboy and the Sinister Snow Day had another printing -- now up to 31,000 copies in print.


Just my thoughts,


Happy Birthday Sean!

My favorite guy...

(Snorkeling off Maui in August. Way too much fun!)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sleepless in Atlanta

Not getting much sleep here in Atlanta. After full days and evenings of script readings and think tanks, there has been “unofficial” late night screenings of movies that other symposium attendees are involved with.

Friday night was Sensation of Sight, a gorgeous film by Aaron Wiederspahn, produced by Buzz McLaughlin. The film is deeply moving, a collage of seemingly disparate yet connected stories of those trying to make sense out of life’s seeming senselessness.

This is one of those films that you watch the first time for the story – and yearn to watch again to dig more into the visual metaphors and poetry.

Aaron’s flick is helped out by a truly astounding and understated performance by David Strathairn, as well as a surprising deep and emotional turn by Ian Somerhalder.

Last night was a choice between two films. The more serious Trade (starring Kevin Kline) is a multi-language look on the sex-slave trade in the Americas. Devastating and appropriately harsh, the movie speaks to an important issue with a compelling and driving story.

I was able to see a special preview of Trade in L.A., so this go around I opted for the somewhat less intense option, The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah. This mockumentary from Chris Hansen is a hilarious look at a fella that believes he is a messiah.

Not the messiah, just a messiah. For this region.

The dvd we were watching glitched up ¾ of the way through the viewing, so I’m not quite sure how this one wraps up. We shall have to wait for a full review.

But the important thing is this: I haven’t slept. Too much art going on.

Gotta get me some less compelling art.

In fact, I’m sunk into a couch watching Sunday Night football as I type this. Ah, less compelling art.

Just my thoughts,