Searching for Sugar Man--Rodriguez

How could an artist of such originality and vision as Vincent Van Gogh sell almost no paintings in his lifetime?   Groundbreaking television series like Arrested Development and The Wire struggled to find an audience during their initial runs.  Searching for Sugar Man tackles a similar conundrum.   How could a songwriter as deft and poetic as Rodriguez be ignored by radio stations and overlooked by the public?   Moreover, what happened to Rodriguez after his evocative albums failed to sell?   Did … [Read more...]

Clay Morgan’s UNDEAD: A Bracing Wake Up Call


Why do zombies increasingly haunt our pop culture?   From surprise box office hits like 28 Days Later to the breakout cable television hit, The Walking Dead, zombies appear more prominent and problematic than ever.   In Undead:  Revived, Resurrected, Reborn, first-time author Clay Morgan connects our fascination with zombies to our most nagging spiritual questions.   We relate to the survivors navigating post-apocalyptic scenarios, dogged by shortages in supplies and human contact.   We sense tha … [Read more...]


Won't Back Down-Viola Davis

As the Chicago teachers strike played out, I kept thinking of the new film Won’t Back Down.  How rare to find such a topical drama.   Debates about public education continue to bubble up across school systems.   In most cases, parents end up pitted against teacher unions.    Should parents be allowed to choose where their children go to school?   Should teachers’ job security be based upon seniority or effectiveness?    If parents choose to test teachers, then how should effectiveness be measured … [Read more...]

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...]