December 20, 2005

Review: Hostel, or, The Worst Place on Earth

Ask my Dad, and he'll tell you that his favorite movies are "Cowboy Movies" and "Monster Movies".

Needless to say, my mother, who's tastes run somewhere between "Sister Act", "Ghost", and "The Preacher's Wife" is not a fan. She tells me that, not long after they were married, Dad took her to see "Blood Feast" in a drive-in theatre. A fter a girl in the movie answers a knock on the door and summarily has her tongue snatched out of her mouth, Mom declared that Dad was on his own with these films from now on.

I guess it pays to have sons.

When we got our first VCR in the mid '80's, it kind of looked like a humongous boom box, with a handle and everything - it came with a prehistoric camcorder and was designed for shooting on location. In other words, you had to take the VCR with you if you wanted to shoot anything with the camera. Anyway, we soon got a membership at Erol's Video Club, and, as you can imagine, after the 'rents got their obligatory bit of nostalgia watching tapes of the old "Amos n' Andy" show (and, no, I'm not kidding - my folks, venerable old Black couple that they are, LOVED that show), eventually, the man of the house began to assert his tastes.

Dad liked Gladys Knight. My brother? Morris Day. And I was absolutely smitten with Madonna (it's something about the album cover for "Like A Virgin" - what can I say? :-))

The men in our house didn't have alot in common.

But we REALLY bonded over those horror movies. Movies like "Fright Night" and "Creepshow" and "Silver Bullet". I can remember watching "From Beyond", made by and starring the same folks as another household favorite, "Re-Animator", and, in watching Jeffrey Combs' demise at the end, Dad turned to us and said "Man! He hasn't made it through one of these YET!"

Today, I am, among other things, a screenwriter.

And I say that with a bit more pride now because this is the first year that I have actually been paid to write. But that's just one more story about why 2005 has been a banner year for yours truly.

And, although I've written quite alot for TV in the last few years, largely because my agents are TV lit guys, my first love is still feature film.

And I have a special place in my heart for horror movies.

And, as my cousin pointed out, for a kid who used to be scared of George Hamilton in "Love At First Bite", I've come a LONG way.

Which brings us to today. Or, more specifically, last night, where I went to a screening of the new film "Hostel", followed by a Q&A with the writer/director, Eli Roth - the same guy who created "Cabin Fever".

Eli Roth is a horror fan. And, like me, he laments the steady descent into mediocrity of the modern American horror film.

I saw him speak at a panel during the Los Angeles Film Festival back in 2004, along side the likes of fellow directors Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), Joe Dante ("The Howling"), Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm"), and Guillermo del Toro ("Chronos") to discuss the state of horror films. At one point, the moderator, Elvis Mitchell, asked this virtual "Murderer's Row" of horror heavyweights when will horror become a respectable genre.

Dante lamented that many in Hollywood regard horror with just slightly more esteem than porn - they know they can make money from it, but they don't want to admit that they make these kinds of films. And, it occurs to me that what horror has become in Hollywood is an attempt to have it both ways. The major studios are desperate for the horror audience's money, but they want to be respected, too. And no one gained respect in a Brentwood party for being the producer of "I Spit On Your Grave" or "Make Them Die Slowly". So they crank out a bunch of half-assed, PG-13 horror films that, quite frankly, are a waste of time and money because they're simply not scary.

At that same panel, Guillermo del Toro got it right when he said that he hopes horror NEVER becomes respectable, because, at that point, it stops being horror.

Janet Leigh getting stabbed to death while she's buck naked in a shower in "Psycho".

Linda Blair masterbating with a cross while the Devil inside her shouts "let Jesus fuck you!" in "The Exorcist".

A bloody little snake ripping a hole in John Hurt's chest over dinner in "Alien".

A guy gets his foot slowly sawed off with piano wire and the torturer casually tosses it over their shoulder in "Audition".

Horror films are SUPPOSED to offend. They're supposed to shock. They are, by definition, NOT FOR EVERYONE.

They're supposed to be, in a word, horrific.

Why? Because they're cathartic. In Roth's words, "a good horror movie makes you feel like you just had your ass kicked". Kind of like a massage or a good workout.

And because the best of them explore things that might otherwise be left uncovered.

"Psycho's" about the link between sex, abuse, and violence.
"The Exorcist" is about faith - TRUE faith - in action.
"Audition" is about the objectification of women.

All sometimes ugly subjects that require an equally ugly examination to get at the roots.

During the screening of "Hostel", I personally sat next to four people who had to walk out of the movie in horror, and the guy who ran the screening for "Creative Screenwriting" magazine, Jeff Goldsmith, told Eli that he personally had to talk a guy down in the men's room because he was hyperventilating. They literally brought a stage chair into the bathroom because the dude just couldn't bring himself to walk out and face the world.

[On a personal note, I'd like to state for the record that I think those people are kind of stupid - I mean, Eli Roth's last movie was about a group of horny college kids being eaten alive by flesh eating parasites, and that was without a real budget. What kind of movie where they expecting him to make now that he actually has some money?]

When he heard this, Roth joked that he was disappointed. He was hoping he could get a death in the screening, like they had during "The Passion of the Christ". His producer, Quentin Tarantino, had actually encouraged him to shoot for an NC-17 rating. And, in the end, when "Hostel" got an R, he called Rob Zombie to thank him - Mr. Zombie, another old school horror fan, had apparently resubmitted his latest gorefest, "The Devil's Rejects", to the MPAA nine times before they finally gave him an R. Roth figured they were so beaten into submission at that point, they just gave him an R so that they wouldn't have to endure that again.

At some point during the Q&A, a brother up front asked "Can you please talk a bit about the casting process for this film, because I have not seen that many beautiful breasts on a movie screen in a LONG time."

Like I said, I love horror.

So, if you love scary movies, I HIGHLY recommend "Hostel". It's been a while since I have actually winced in horrorified disgust, laughed out loud, cheered, and shout at the screen, all in the same movie. If you can handle the blood, you will NOT be disappointed. Go check it out.

In the meantime, let's see if I can get Eli to produce MY horror movie. :-)


November 04, 2005

Blue States

I have a feeling that I've posted or distributed this before, but, it's worth reiterating.

This article from the Atlantic in 2003 indicates that how you answered the following questions is the single most accurate predictor of whether you vote Democratic or Republican:

1. Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong?
2. Do you ever personally look at pornography?
3. Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married?
4. Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong?
5. Is religion very important in your life?

Generally speaking, someone who's not morally outraged by homosexuality, porn, adultery, or fornication almost always votes for the Blue candidates.

Which gets back to something I've felt for a while about this whole abortion debate that it looks like we're about to get into again as we pick a new Supreme Court justice:

It seems to me that, for religiously conservative Republicans, the issue of abortion isn't just about killing unborn babies. They've already made a moral judgement about a woman who would find herself in the position to even consider an abortion.

And even that hints at something even deeper - they think the woman is amoral, and, therefore, should be punished by dealing with this unintended pregnancy.

And the key word here is "punish". I think there is a VERY pronounced element of sadism coursing through the veins of much of the modern Republican party policy-makers.

How else can you explain the apparent fact that someone extremely high in the executive branch has encouraged, advocated, and promoted the use of torture in the War on Terror? Especially when torture is known to be unreliable at best at uncovering intelligence (because, eventually, the guy will tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear to make you stop - even if it's a lie).

Just a thought.

October 03, 2005

Leading Man

Hollywood Quote of the Day:

"...I'm really lucky. Most people don't get to do what I do, and they certainly don't get movies that I'm trying to get made made. And you know, they'll take that away from me pretty soon. You only get it for a little bit. So when you do it, you might as well do it and get in some trouble."
- George Clooney, in a great interview at

Remember what I said recently, about making movies that matter? Well, a few years back (God, have I really been writing on this blog for THAT long?!?!?), I posted an interview about the film Solaris, starring Clooney, directed by Steven Soderbergh, and produced by Soderbergh & the "King of the World" himself, James Cameron, under the banner of Clooney & Soderbergh's production company, Section Eight. Clooney & Soderbergh founded Section Eight with an eye to produce quality projects, the likes of which you'd probably only find among independent films, but, in this case, with studio money & the security of a studio environment.

Now, while they haven't made much money doing it (Ocean's 12 & 11 were their only big hits), they have managed to make some extremely interesting projects, including:
The talk is that they intend to dissolve the company soon, but, they're definitely going out with a creative bang.

The first project, "Good Night and Good Luck", is Clooney's sophomore effort in the director's chair and details CBS News legend Edward R. Morrow (played by David Straithairn) kamikaze attack on Joe McCarthy & the Blacklist era. Morrow eventually helped McCarthy crash, but largely at the cost of his own career. In light of the mainstream press's recent appetite for speaking a tiny bit of truth to power, it couldn't be more timely.

The other, "Syriana", stars Clooney as real life CIA agent Robert Baer, and his account of the agency's 10 year war against Islamic extremists in the face of government inertia & oil industry resistence.

Both films are coproduced with a company called Participant Productions
, which ties socially conscious, activist marketing campaigns to the films.

For "Good Night", they've created "Report It Now", a site that encourages the audience to go out and actually shoot their own news reports on issues that each individual thinks is important and hasn't gotten enough attention. Then, like the old website, on a regular basis, people will vote on the one they think is the best while giving these neglected issues a voice.

And, for "Syriana", they've sponsored the even more ambitious project called, simply "Oil Change", which continues to draw the link between oil & national security and is intended to promote the means by which we can ween ourselves off of foreign oil.

All and all, not bad. Billy Friedkin said "a movie can change a life". I think these guys have significantly upped the ante on these films. Check them out.

September 30, 2005

Supervillain Quote of the Day

"Well, I've TRIED to be a model citizen, General Lane. I KNOW I promised I wouldn't waste my intellect on Kryptonite robots and elaborate super-death traps. I KNOW that.
But three months ago, I looked in the mirror at those nasty little spiderwebs of lines around my eyes, and I realized something.

I'm getting older and...

...and HE ISN'T.

So, if I want to die happy, it's time to get serious about killing Superman.

Don't you think?"
- Lex Luthor, from Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's "All-Star Superman", coming in November.

Morrison (the writer) & Quitely (the artist) are the same folks who brought you JLA:Earth 2, the sublimely sophisticated New X-Men, and, one of the most revolutionary comics (in terms of visual storytelling techniques) that I've ever had the pleasure to read, We3.

Click the link above to read Morrison's take on Superman and see just a taste of Quitely's mad art-fu.

Oh, and that's Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in next year's "Superman Returns", directed by Bryan Singer, who did "The Usual Suspects" and the first two "X-Men" movies.

[UPDATE] Here's a link to Grant Morrison, talking about the story in a bit more detail, and Frank Quitely's artwork depicting the difference between Superman and Clark Kent.

In the meantime, feel free to snag these comic goodies at Amazon below:

September 21, 2005

Little CREAM

It's late, and I'm tired, but I wanted to get this out while it was still fresh in my mind:

So, the link above is about Micro-Credit, i.e. extending tiny loans to women in Third World countries to help them start basic businesses as a way to lift them out of poverty. When I say "basic businesses", I mean things like lending a woman in Bangladesh $50 so she can buy a cow, milk the cow, & sell the milk for profit. Or by a chicken and sell the eggs.

And, it seems to be working like gangbusters in some countries. The founder of the original MicroCredit bank is a good buddy of Bono's and he's been on Charlie Rose twice.

All very good.

And then I thought about Hurricane Katrina.

Or, more specifically, I thought about how the Hurricane revealed that large chunks of Black America live in conditions, by our standards, are closer to a third world country.

And, yet, the standing joke is how many credit cards and how much bad credit Black americans have.

So, the question in my mind is - if a woman in Bangladesh can borrow $50 and pay it back, plus profit, in a fairly short period of time, what are the barriers to replicating that success among the poor in the U.S.? What would be the urban American equivalent of buying a chicken and selling the eggs?

Bootleg t-shirts & videos?

What obvious opportunity are we overlooking?

September 16, 2005

Mission Accomplished, Part 2

More from Rev. Tillet on his mission of mercy to the Gulf Coast:
The first leg of our journey is over...but there is MUCH left to do. The rebuilding process will likely take several years and our kin in Alabama and Mississippi will need as much help and support as they can get.

In addition to the ministry we will continue to do locally, we must also heed the words the Apostle Paul received in a vision when he heard, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Inasmuch as "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein" then as John Wesley said, "the earth is our parish" and we have a sacred obligation to provide assistance wherever the Lord enables us to go.

It is my prayer that we begin to investigate options for purchasing (or receiving a gift of) a coach bus of our own to facilitate the several trips we will probably make to AL and MS the next 2-3 years to help folks to rebuild. We and many other congregations and organizations will need to be diligent to help people to reclaim their homes lest they lose them to moneyed land developers who will almost certainly try to profit from this disaster by buying discouraged residents out for a fraction of the value of their property near the Gulf. Others might lose their land in tax sales as a result of the economic hardships they experience in the wake of Katrina. Too many times in history African Americans have owned valuable and coveted land and lost them for a lack of resources or vision. We know how that game is played. We have seen it unfolding in Annapolis. We must develop strategies to prevent it both at home and on the Gulf Coast.

I pray your fervor and interest will not wane with the passage of time (another common occurrence) because this ministry effort will not be a sprint, but a marathon ("the race is not given to the quick or the strong, but to the one who endures...")

I want to thank members of Asbury Broadneck and our friends and supporters for the generous donation of your time, provisions and money that made our first trip a success. Special thanks is also due to our sister church in Baltimore, my former congregation Mt. Zion, for the truckload of donations, and money, they brought to Annapolis to send with us on our journey.

I hope to capture some of God's most profound blessings and miracles during this trip in my sermon this Sunday. The Lord truly showed off from beginning to end!

Thank you for your support. Your continued support and prayers are needed!


Pastor T

Mission Accomplished, Part I

As I mentioned earlier, my former pastor and frequent unofficial Macroscope contributor, Rev. Stephen Tillet and his church, Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church in Annapolis, MD, were organizing a trip down to the Mississippi Delta to distribute aid, services, and some grace to those stricken by the hurricane. Here's the trip, in his own words:
We began our journey with the intent to “go and see about our kin.” The reports emanating from the south about the disparities in aid and treatment of Hurricane Katrina’s survivors led us to make our thousand mile journey to see for ourselves how hurricane survivors were doing. During the fours days we spent on the Gulf Coast, we saw and experienced awe at the power of nature and at the power of the human spirit.

After Eric and Joel, our “road dogs” from The Capital were reassigned to New Orleans, we continued our ministry to the hurricane survivors in Mississippi and Alabama. Pat and Tenette, the mother and daughter we brought back from the sewage infected public housing complex the night before, stayed with us that evening and worked along side of us for the rest of our stay. Vivian, Paul and LaTosha, the organizers with whom we were working, were helping as many people as possible to relocate, especially those in public housing in Biloxi, MS whose homes were overrun during Katrina by sewage from the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

Sunday started with a return to the warehouse, an old cotton mill, to load up the truck and bus, again, for more deliveries. We had spent much of Saturday helping to organize the warehouse and it had undergone a tremendous transformation by Sunday. What had once been piles of bags and boxes were now rows of clothes, shoes, water and toiletries. The two tractor trailers had been emptied and were gone. We quickly loaded up the truck and the bus to begin our drive to Mississippi to visit some of the areas hardest hit by Katrina.

As a grandson of Mississippi, I was familiar with the geography of northern Mississippi, but was quickly learning about the geography of the gulf coast. Towns I’d never heard of before became our intended targets for the day: Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Long Beach and Pass Christian. After getting stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour on I-10 West, our bus driver displayed great skill in making a U-turn to get us out of the jam. We passed through Pascagoula, MS, found our way to the parallel state road (Route 90 West) and continued our journey to Bay St. Louis, MS. The closer we got to the coast, the more prominent the devastation. We even passed by a large military ship that was no longer in the water but now rested now on land.

The National Guard was directing traffic in that area and prevented everyone but locals and rescue vehicles from venturing in certain directions. We were allowed, however, to go into Bay St. Louis. Rhonda Labat, a local resident, led us into the heart of what remained of the close knit community. A local congregation was providing services to the community and after several days, the Red Cross was finally on the scene, as well. Residents sat in their carports and driveways, swapped stories of surviving the storm and shared provisions with one another. The hot, dry weather allowed most people to stay outside of their homes, since most homes were now developing mold. Extended exposure to mold can have toxic and deadly consequences, so one of the greatest challenges for residents with nowhere else to go or those who refuse to leave is remaining healthy until reconstruction is completed.

Byron Curry and his neighbor, Eric (who has lived with cancer five and a half years beyond the doctor’s estimate, so far) took me in their car to tour Waveland, the next town over, while the rest of our group talked with the people of Bay St. Louis and gave out a few provisions. I noted the smell of mildew in the car, which also had been overrun with water during the storm. It gave me a headache in the short time I was riding, and I wondered how much damage it was doing to the folks who had to endure it every day with no other options.

Though it didn’t seem possible, Waveland seemed to have suffered more damage than Bay St. Louis. Other conversations would reveal that Long Beach and Pass Christian had suffered even greater destruction and no one except residents and “official” organizations were being allowed in. In spite of the devastation, I was impressed with the resilience and humor of the hurricane survivors. Vera Barnes of Waveland spoke of the large screen TV her grandson had given her. She had always felt it was too large for her and that it took up too much room. During the storm, as her son pulled her to safety on the roof of her house she saw it float away, along with the freezer and other appliances. Yet she was grateful to be alive and glad to see that Byron and Eric had survived, too. There had been losses in these towns, so every time people would see old neighbors and friends who had survived the storm, there was a reason to rejoice. Most residents say they intend to rebuild, so it seems these communities will survive and thrive again.

When we returned to our “home” in Mobile, Alabama on Sunday night, there was a BBQ waiting. Our hosts, Mr. & Mrs. Austin, who opened two of their houses to us, had told us they wanted to do a cook out for us and they waited until we returned from Mississippi at 9 PM. The old adage about southern hospitality is true! They and several of their eight children and twenty three grandchildren served us delicious southern home cooking and fellowship. We are thankful to have met them. As we parted company they reiterated several times that “whenever you’re in Mobile, you have a home.”

Monday our game plan was very clear, to return to Gulfport, MS, locate Katrina survivors in public housing, and distribute more of the provisions we had in the bus and truck. We also wanted to spend some time in fellowship with the residents, so we purchased two grills, some hot dogs and chips and cooked out for them while they gathered necessities for their families and friends. One teen age girl asked me where we were from and when I told her we were from Maryland she asked me why we had come so far and I told her, “to see you.” “Y’all came all this way to see about us? That’s alright!” she said with a big smile. That one conversation made the whole trip worthwhile. A teenager in Mississippi now has a personal understanding about the depths of Jesus’ proclamation that we should “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” People from Annapolis, Maryland and elsewhere around the nation cared enough to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see about their kin. We concluded our first mission trip to the south by dropping off the rest of our bounty at the Freewater Missionary Baptist Church in Bayou Le Batre, Alabama.

If we can somehow learn to maintain this sense of community throughout the rebuilding process and even once it’s completed, our nation will be better for it. At Asbury Broadneck, we will now make plans to buy our own coach bus for return trips to the Gulf Coast. There is much work left to do and it will likely take a few years to get it all done. We will be going back again...and again.

More in a bit....

September 14, 2005


I'm an Ivy-League educated computer scientist.

I hold a Master's degree from one of the most respected film conservatories in the world.

And one of my most prized positions is a cushioned folding chair I took from the 5th row of Safeco Field during Wrestlemania 19.

In case that wasn't clear enough: yes, I'm also a life-long fan of professional wrestling.

Feel free to take a moment to work out that cognitive dissonance you may be experiencing right now.

Incongruous? Of course not, when you consider that pro wrestling isn't a sport, but really theatre - a spectacle somewhere between Cirque DeSoliel & Ringling Brothers. Yes, the outcomes are pre-ordained. Yes, the punches are pulled. But picking up a 300 1bs. man and throwing him somewhere, let alone BEING said flying 300 1bs. man requires a level of strength & agility that, quite frankly, is beyond any human being I have EVER met in the course of casual everyday events.

And, at it's most basic, its storytelling. In many ways, they're in the same business I am: generating emotions for us to experience. They do it in the most stark, primal, pure form: Will he win? Will he get away with it? Will he get the girl? Will that asshole FINALLY get his ass kicked?

You get the point.

Of course, alot of times, pro wrestling doesn't get it right at all.

Case in point - The Shockmaster!

A big huge scary wrestler with a painted Stormtrooper helmet on - the Shockmaster was suppose to terrify his opponents with his grand entrance - the wall would EXPLODE and then he would storm out and give them a piece of his mind! YEAH!

KABOOM! Big explosion!

And then the Shockmaster tripped over the hole in the wall, and his helmet popped off.


"Shock & Awe", huh?

Consider that as you read this article about how the Iranians are viewing America these days? Somehow, between Iraq & Katrina, I don't think they've exactly had the fear of God put in them about "The Great Satan". Money quote:
“How could the White House, which is impotent in the face of a storm and a natural disaster, enter a military conflict with the powerful Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly with the precious experience that we gained in the eight-year war with Iraq?”

September 13, 2005

Films from the Holy Land

As most of you know, I spend a good chunk of the month of June in Israel, attending a class on Film Producing. In addition to praying at the Western Wall and standing on top of the hill where Jesus was crucified, I actually did do a lot of film related stuff there as well. Which included seeing some great films from the region.

Case in point: "The Syrian Bride", from director Eran Riklis, tells the story of a young woman from the Golan Heights who's engaged to be married to a soap opera star in Damascus. The Golan Heights is part of territory that the Israelis seized from Syria during The Six-Day War in 1967, and Syria still considers it part of their country. In fact, the Druze, the ethnic minority who live there, including our bride, also consider themselves Syrian and many of them have refused Israeli citizenship. Her family is hoping she can have a better life in Damascus, and have agreed to this arranged marriage. But, because of the political situation, once she crosses over the border into Syria, she can never come back to Israel to see her family again. So, in many ways, her wedding day is like a living funeral. It's just an incredibly beautiful film that makes the politics of the region deeply personal. I don't know if it has an American distributor yet, which is a real shame. If you manage to catch it on video or at a festival, I highly recommend checking it out.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the intense drama, Paradise Now. Produced by an Israeli, but directed by a Palestinian, it follows two Palestinian men who volunteer to become suicide bombers. You watch them transform from a pair of shaggy, laid-back auto mechanics, into sleek, focused, living killing devices as they prepare for their last day on this Earth. Then, the plan goes totally wrong and the two of them are actually forced to confront their reasons for volunteering in the first place. Again, an instance where the political is simply a manifestation of the violently personal.

When we screened this film during the class, once of the producers came to speak afterwards. Needless to say, a number of Israeli students gave him a real tongue-lashing for glorifying the suicide bombers. One of the Jewish American students even went so far as to accuse the film of being anti-Semitic because she was unsatisfied with how it depicted the impact of the bombers on Israeli society. In the end, all of his detractors felt that the film was unbalanced.

To which, I say, "of course".

Film is not journalism. It has absolutely NO obligation to be balanced. It's a story, and every story is entitled to it's point of view. Personally, I didn't think the film was particularly anti-Semitic because, quite frankly, you never see the Israelis. The Palestinian characters talk about them like they're an abstraction, in much the way a lot of Black Americans talk about "The White Man". The film had no intention to be balanced - it's a Palestinian story. An unpleasant one, I'll grant you. But, let's be honest - it's not like there is anyone who DOESN'T know the impact of suicide bombers.

I'm much more interested in "why?". Why would someone, another human being, with a family and a job and a life, volunteer to die just so they could kill complete strangers? I suspect that the answers lie in a despair that is so pervasive, that one can begin to feel that they're one of the walking dead.

While I was there, I also caught a free screening of The French Connection in honor of the director William Freidkin, who was in Tel Aviv directing an opera version of "Samson & Delilah". And, while that particular film is still fairly popcorn, the opportunity to hear Friedkin talk coincided nicely with these two Middle Eastern films. Freidkin told a story about his first film: when he was a young man working for a local TV station in Chicago, he met a priest at a party who worked on Death Row. Friedkin asked the priest if he thought any of those prisoners were actually innocent. When he told him yes, Friedkin grabbed a camera and a cameraman from his station and marched right down to the State Penitentiary. The end result was the TV documentary "The People vs. Paul Crump". Once that film found it's way into the hands of the Governor of Illinois, Paul Crump was granted a stay of execution.

In Freidkin's words:
"That's when I learned that a film can save a life."

Why am I saying all of this?

I am a filmmaker.

In fact, my first produced feature film could be coming to a theatre near you in 2006. But more about that much, much later.

I love movies, and I've loved them all my life. Perhaps they're why I don't really have a Baltimore accent - because I was spending more time with James Bond and Superman and Indiana Jones and Herbert West and Scotty Ferguson and Mike Church, than with the people across the street. But, I firmly believe that movies matter.

Vertigo matters to me.
Deeply. Emotionally.

Apocalypse Now matters to me.

American Beauty matters to me. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon matters to me. Menace II Society matters to me.

Even genre films like Forbidden Planet and Star Trek II and John Carpenter's The Thing or comedies like 50 First Dates or even a deeply flawed movie like Ali matter to me. They matter in my life.

And they matter not because they're historically accurate or chock full o' facts or a bold indictment of some great wrong.

They matter because they move me. They move me to laugh, or cry, or cheer, or scream, from some place deep inside my heart.

I was asked recently about a film I'd just seen in the theatres, which was #1 at the box office, and I couldn't give it a ringing endorsement. It had it's moments, and the actors were fine and the production was sound.

But, when the credits rolled, the audience simply filed out in silence. No chatter. No applause. Nothing.

In the end, this particular movie simply didn't matter to me. And, I suspect that many of my fellow audience members felt the same way.

The Syrian Bride and Paradise Now matter to the lives of thousands of people I'll never meet across Israel, who's stories may have never been told.

And they remind me that, when I make films, they must matter. First and foremost, they must move my soul first.

September 06, 2005

Taking Care Of Our Own

Shouldn't someone be talking about giving tax incentives for any business that hires someone displaced by the hurricane, or any property owners who offer free room & board for someone displaced by the hurricane?

Yes, these people need health & food & water now, but their city is gone, and so are their livelihoods. Let's start planning now to re-integrate these folks back into society.

I'd at least like to see some bills introduced at the Federal level, and since folks are being shipped all over the country, it would be great if equivalent bills were presented in all the state legislatures as well.

Contact your local politicians here:

[UPDATE]Nice to see I'm on the same wavelength as Howard Dean & the Democratic Party. Their new legislative agenda for the hurricane survivors is here:

The Secret is Out!

And now, a word from my good friend, Rev. Tillet:

Underneath the glittering statistics about “American wealth” there has always been the reality of the bare subsistence of the “have nots.” The fact that only one percent of US citizens control over eighty five percent of her wealth has always been shocking but distant statistical information. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has made that huge imbalance a reality for the entire world to see.

Now the secret is out that despite all of its pretensions of wealth and a fair and open society, a significant percentage of our fellow citizens have been living a third world reality for some time and were only one disaster away from being destitute, desperate and dangerous. The reality that many of our fellow citizens have been living just above squalor for years has been either the best kept secret or the most ignored reality of our economic “boom time” expansion. And now something as basic as the lack of resources to avoid an approaching Category Five hurricane has brought it all to light. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the option to grab their credit cards and hop into their cars or onto a plane to flee the coming storm. As a result, the “least, the last and the lost” are all that remains of a once proud city, and Hurricane Katrina has laid the lie of American opulence bare.

The key question now is: what will our nation do about it? Will she be satisfied to apply a flimsy bandage to a gaping wound and then rebuild the tenement-quality living for her own third world citizenry? Or, worst still, will she follow her historical commerce-first penchant and use this as an opportunity, to commandeer the abandoned land and turn it into high priced condominiums and office buildings? This is the time for the nation to correct a systemic wrong that continues to afflict the descendants of America’s shameful legacy of chattel slavery. Unfortunately, the history and legacy of this nation has always been about commerce before community and profits before people. The chickens have come home to roost. And lest we regard this as a unique or isolated incident, there are countless other urban and rural areas in the nation that are one disaster away from a similar level of suffering, neglect and anarchy.

In spite of our flowery pronouncements, the laws on the books and Amendments to the US Constitution, the shameful legacy of Jim Crow Apartheid in America is always with us and we have nowhere to hide or to hide the problem! And now that the secret is out, the recourse seems to be to blame the victim. One need only surf on the Web to find pictures of hurricane survivors with vastly different, yet telling captions. In two photos with people wading in waist-deep water we read that the African American person was carrying what he had “looted” from a store (who “loots” diapers and water, anyway?) while the white couple was carrying food that they had “found.” Say what? The offending photos and captions have since been removed, but the underlying and constant racist messages they relay remains. I doubt that if a majority of the hurricane victims were white they would be referred to in third-world terminology as “refugees.” I’m sure they would then be proudly referred to as “hurricane survivors.” And human nature being what it is, let any group of people be forced to wade around in putrid, contaminated water with no food, water or relief and anarchy will ensue, whether they are in New Orleans or Kennebunkport, Maine.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a disaster bearing down on you and yet to have no viable option or means to escape it. Most people did not remain in their homes because they wanted to. They remained because they could not afford to leave. The continuing legacy of Apartheid America creates and sustains people who are too poor to leave yet are the most ill equipped to stay. An article written in my own local Annapolis newspaper, The Capital, by a native of Louisiana who is returning home to assist his family, referred to the situation in New Orleans as what happens when “the best” depart a city and leave it to “the worst.” I never knew that being born poor or in challenged family circumstances made one “the worst.” Conversely then, it would seem that living on the wealth built upon the suffering and sweat of people stolen from their native land and abused and neglected for centuries and then left to rot in urban ghettos makes one “the best.” That is curious and dubious logic.

When Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want” (Mark 14:7) he wasn’t saying that it was acceptable for people to be poor. He was saying that unless human beings learn how to overcome their sinful disposition to be selfish, arrogant and greedy, the victims of those sinful attitudes and actions would always be poor and would always be among us. I think Proverbs 28:13 gives us the direction we need to take to move to a new level of community and mutual accountability. It says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Until our entire nation understands that it has committed crimes against humanity – its own citizens, no less – and confesses and seeks forgiveness and makes restitution for those sins, we will continue to remain stuck in a moral quicksand of our own making. There’s no need for further obfuscation, blaming the victim or cover up. The secret is already out. The next step is up to you…and God (and the world) will be watching.

Prepared by Pastor Stephen Andrew Tillett
Of the Asbury Broadneck UM Church, Annapolis MD

I recently read that some of the evacuees didn't want to leave because they were afraid they would have to pay for the helicopter ride out of harm's way.

I think that about says it all.

[UPDATE] when I last spoke to Rev. Tillet, he was organizing a bus trip down to the Mississippi Delta. In talking with my mother this weekend, she told me that he'd collected roughly 4 truckloads of clothes, canned goods, & the like to distribute among the afflicted. I believe they're on their way down there now. If you'd like more information, or, if you're near Annapolis and would like to contribute or even join them for the trip, try contacting him at his church.

September 04, 2005

Survivors Reunited

The name says it all.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, some very good friends of mine created this totally free online database where folks who are looking for their loved ones or loved ones who are looking to be found can post their contact information.

If you, or anyone you know can benefit from this, please do so, and spread the word.

September 01, 2005

A Parable

When I was a boy, we had a new pastor in my church. He seemed good enough, until the day came that we had a special meeting of the entire congregation after service to appoint two chairmen for our annual "Eastern Shore Day" event. It was a weird process - anyone could nominate anyone else, but, if you were nominated, you could always decline before a vote was held. Which is exactly what happened. Lots of people nominated someone else, who immediately declined.

Finally, our new pastor grabbed the microphone and scolded the congregation: "Remember, this is for God."

And the very next person who was nominated sheepishly accepted the position.

I think I was only 13 at the time. But, I think it's safe to say that, in that moment, I knew what evil was.

I complained to my mother and father that our pastor had just manipulated the faith of our congregation to achieve his ends. Granted, we needed someone to head up the program. Yes, it was for a noble cause. But it was the WAY he did it.

A man who'll do anything is, by definition, a man who cannot be trusted.

Roughly 5 years later, I was off to Princeton, but my church was in shambles. The congregation had been reduced to a skeleton crew - many long time members were driven away by the irrational, vendictive, tactics and rank incompetence of the pastor. The parsonage was in disarray. The church was practically bankrupt from extravagant, yet totally unnecessary & irresponsible projects like installing central air throughout a 150 year old gothic cathedral. And the conference refused to heed the cries of those who remained, desperate for a new leader. It was only after those members who were left withheld their offerings and refused to financially support the church or the conference, that the bishop finally got the message and got us a new pastor. In time, the church rebuilt into something even better than it's past glory.

Many years later, my mother (one of the diehards who would NEVER let anyone, not even a whack pastor, run her out of HER church) told me that one of the other members had run into our old, whack pastor. Not only was he completely unrepentent about the damage he'd done to my church. He proudly proclaimed that God had sent him on a mission to break the church down.

Why am I telling this story today?

America lost a city this week.


As my girlfriend often says "everything is for you." It's either for your benefit, or it's for your education.

I think we have alot more learning in store over the next three years, y'all.

Paul Krugman says it best:
I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice.

August 25, 2005

New World Order

Yes, I know, it's been a long time, my friends.

So, just to recap what's happened since I last spoke through the 'Scope:

- I saw premium gas the other day for $3.30/gallon here in Los Angeles.
- Terrorists have attacked my sweetheart's home city of London. Twice.
- approaching 2000 dead American soldiers in Iraq
- did I mention that Iraq is about to become an Islamic Fundamentalist satellite of Iran?
- the President has completely dismissed the Kyoto accords for climate change because he falsely believes it will hurt America economically

In other words, the world's in a bit of a mess right now.

But, as usual, I have imminent faith in the genius of humanity to ultimately get us out of this mess.

Case in point - Brian Schweitzer is a former rancher who was elected the governor of Montana last year as a Democrat in a state where Bush beat Kerry by 20 points. Clearly, this dude has a bit more on the ball than most.

Now, Montana happens to be sitting on top of 120 BILLION tons of coal - nearly 1/3 of all the coal in the entire United States. Looking at ways to jumpstart the post-acrigultural economy in his state, Schweitzer may have just uncovered a potential gold mine.

In the 1920's, a couple of German scientists invented a way to make synthetic petroleum out of coal, called the Fischer-Tropsch process. It was impractical to use in a large scale as long as crude oil cost under $30/barrel.

At the close of business today, crude oil hit an all-time high of $68/barrel.

And Schweitzer is calling everybody who'll listen to say, for $1.5 billion to built a Fischer-Tropsch processing plant, Montana can make 22,000 barrels of synthetic oil a day, for $32 a barrel - and could meet the fuel needs of the entire United States for 40 years.

Did I mention that the process appears to have no negative environmental side effects?

I've been saying for months now that it will take a technological breakthrough to alter the geopolitical framework of the world, i.e. if we didn't need Mid East oil so bad, the Saudis & Co. wouldn't have the money to finance militant Islamic fundamentalists, among lots of other things.

U.S. foreign policy for the last 50 years would be radically different.

And, thus, the world becomes radically different (i.e. war on terror, religious fundamentalism, Israel v. Palestine, neoconservative collapse, global warming, etc.).

Personally, if I was Schweitzer, I'd be having a sit-down with George Soros & Warren Buffet RIGHT NOW.

April 22, 2005

Sacred Texts

The title of the book is "The Sins of Scripture: Exposing The Bible's Texts of Hate To Reveal The God of Love", to be found here at

I'm not going to say too much about it (Yet), but I would recommend that you read the reader comments on Amazon about this book. I'm particularly struck by those who reject the thesis presented by the author, retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong, that sin is much less substantial than most people imagine. These critics feel that, without a concept of sin, we have no need for a savior.

In other words, they NEED their sin before they can allow themselves to love God.

Curious, isn't it?

March 14, 2005

The Conquering Son of Kings


As many of you have read before, Kweisi Mfume is one of my heroes. Another man who's not exactly my hero, but someone for whom I have nothing but respect and gratitude for his decades of service, is Paul Sarbanes, the senior U.S. Senator from my home state of Maryland.

That's "Sarbanes" as in "Sarbanes-Oxley", that bit of Federal legislation that tried to reign in some of the craziness in the Accounting industry in the wake of Enron. Did I mention that Sarbanes' wife, Christine, was my original Latin teacher back at the dear old Gilman Country Day School for Boys?

But I digress.

Senator Sarbanes is a Maryland institution, so it's a big deal that he's decided to retire at the end of his current senate term.

As a Baltimore boy, I'd like to say "Thank you."

And NOW, we can get into the nitty gritty, because Kwiesi Mfume wants to be the NEW junior Senator from the Line State.


Considering that a Black man hasn't sat in the US Senate in, like, ever, before Barack Obama, can the Federal government handle having TWO negroes up in there? 'Cause you know all we do when we get together is plot ways to slit massah's throat in his sleep? :-)

Granted, Mfume has a long way to go. Despite the aberration of its current governor, Maryland, as a state, is practically Navy Blue in its politics. (Observe the smackdown Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley

is about to lay on my fellow Gilman Greyhound, Gov. Robert Ehrlich

in next year's election). Point being, there are ALOT of Democratic congressmen in Maryland who want to change their pay grade.

And, sadly, there are whole counties of Maryland where Mfume might still be called "boy" or worse.

But Kweisi's a true hustler with national appeal. Watch the brother run.