Unlocking The Master Plan


How do you make a provocative movie about the founder of one of the most litigious organizations on the planet?  How deeply would you have to disguise your artistic intentions to tell hard truths?  In The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson wades into the legends surrounding the birth of Scientology and may earn Oscars rather than lawsuits.   Now, that is true artistic genius.L. Ron Hubbard’s ability to turn his cracked personal narrative into a mythic origins story is remarkable.  Yet, the … [Read more...]



 Can a motion picture be great even if it is thoroughly unpleasant?   Do we need to like characters in order to love a movie?   What about a film that nearly shuts out half the audience, dealing almost exclusively with male lust for sex and power?   The Master mixes the sacred with the profane, delving into our ancient struggle to tame our drives, to master our base instincts.  Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman offer powerhouse performances exploring humanity’s bestial and s … [Read more...]



For dedicated cinephiles, wrestling with a movie and its meaning is a profound pleasure.  To casual moviegoers, The Master may feel too arduous, a long slog, not worth the effort.  Hollywood makes so many effects-driven, popcorn movies that it is tough to adjust to a film rooted in characters and their struggles.  Especially when it doesn’t offer an easy resolution.    The Master requires considerable reflection to unearth what it is saying, doing, and communicating.   Such complexity will garner … [Read more...]

The Innocence of Muslims: Blasphemy, Pornography, and Christianity


What do Christian films and porno movies have in common?  Bad acting, lousy production values, and you always know how it will end.  This is a joke, told by many of my filmmaking friends in Hollywood that rings remarkably true in The Innocence of Muslims.   The script, the sets, the lighting, the hair, the makeup, the clothes are all horribly cheesy.   Noticeably awful sound is always the mark of the amateur.   A true editor would have cut out the film altogether, leaving no trace of this trash.  … [Read more...]

REMEMBERING 9/11–”What’s Not to Like?”

9-11 Memorial-ground-zero-New-York-City

I visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City over the summer.  It is a peaceful place amidst the hubbub of Manhattan.  Cascading water silences some of the din.    The diversity in the names inscribed in the marble are a stirring tribute to the many peoples and tribes that constitute America.   Two squares flowing with water mark the site of each of the twin towers.    (Check out these 360 degree panorama views here).   I was struck by how the water flows out from beneath the victims' names befor … [Read more...]

DNC: Back to School Special

DNC 2012 in Charlotte

Few things concern parents more than their children’s education.   We want to make sure our kids are challenged and encouraged, stretched and supported all at the same time.   And so the job of teachers—to raise test scores amidst the competing demands from parents and school districts can be maddening.   God bless the educators who dare to care, who resolve to equip the next generation in reading, writing, and arithmetic (not to mention arts and science!).Perhaps that is one reason why a mov … [Read more...]



When I have been asked to name my favorite novel, I always answer Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  Not because it is has the most riveting plot or the most pleasant story, but because it burrowed into my soul and built empathy into my being.  Never before had I felt so immersed in the mind of a protagonist, particularly one whose life experience was so different from my own.  While I can never know what it feels like to be an African-American, Ralph Ellison put me inside his head in ways that shoo … [Read more...]


Jack Black as Bernie

My favorite film of the summer just arrived on DVD.   Bernie is a kick; an eccentric, captivating, and thoroughly original comedy.   Jack Black gives his most complete and sympathetic performance yet as Bernie Tiede, an officious mortician who gets a little too close to a rich Texas widow.  Bernie is “an artist in the embalming room,” but his taste for the high life of Marjorie Nugent becomes quite costly.   Based on a 1996 true crime and trial, Bernie gets inside the small community of Carthage, … [Read more...]

The Hunger Games in China


As the father of two tweens, The Hunger Games movie was a hot topic in our house for months before its premiere.   My kids found Suzanne Collins’ trilogy exciting, smart, and intuitive (especially compared to the monotony of Twilight).   Katniss Everdeen struck them as a strong, intelligent young woman who sees that there’s more to life than sparkly boys.   Director Gary Ross makes movies with mass appeal that are timely and intelligent (like Big, Dave, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit).    The Hung … [Read more...]

Chad Johnson and HBO’s School of Hard Knocks


The gap between news headlines and reality TV continues to shrink.  Just days after Miami Dolphins’ wide receiver Chad Johnson was arrested for domestic battery, HBO’s series Hard Knocks had inside footage of Johnson being released by Coach Joe Philbin.   While a high profile performer like Johnson is always bound to attract attention, never before have cameras caught the likely end of a Pro Bowl career.   A private moment of great sensitivity, awkwardness, and importance is broadcast just days a … [Read more...]



Are you planning to see The Bourne Legacy this weekend?  As much as I’d like to muster some enthusiasm to see the series Bourne Again, I find the trend to reboot movie franchises so dispiriting.    As a screenwriter, I recognize how rarely Hollywood now dares to shoot an original story idea.    The economics of the industry (and audiences’ viewing habits) mostly reward sequels.   I discussed this ongoing reality with the Vice-Chairman of Paramount Pictures, Rob Moore.   Here is a quick peek into … [Read more...]