Anticipation is rising for the December 14th release of The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey.   Each installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy remains ensconced in the Top 25 films of all time on the Internet Movie Database.   When the Hobbit trailer runs in theaters, fans applaud at the first peek of Middle Earth. Audience interest in director Peter Jackson’s latest adaptation is so massive that J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book will be stretched into three feature films over the next two and a half … [Read more...]


I’m disappointed by the dismal box office returns for Cloud Atlas because it is serious fun.   Those two concepts, “serious” and “fun,” are rarely melded together in movies.   Juggling those disparate tones is particularly tricky when you have six stories in play.   The effort to adapt David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, to the big screen may have been doomed to failure (or at least, misunderstanding) from the beginning.   Yet, I found it both engaging and entertaining, highly deserving of … [Read more...]


Argo is a rousing, nail-biting throwback to the best of seventies cinema:  timely, topical, and tense.    It begins with Islamic protesters burning American flags and besieging the U.S. embassy.   No, this isn’t a study of current events in Syria or Libya.   Argo celebrates spies and the far-fetched plans necessary to get State department employees out of Iran circa 1979.    A religious and political revolution lead by Ayatollah Khomeini had deposed the hated Shah of Iran.   When the United State … [Read more...]


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...]


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?”

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...]