December 24, 2009

Diamonds from Lumps of Coal

Nine years ago, I attended a Christmas Day service at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore. The minister, Frank Reid, talked about the so-called "Slaughter of the Innocents" - after the three wise men saw Jesus in the manger and lied to King Herod about his whereabouts, Herod decided he couldn't risk the potential threat to his throne from the so-called "King of The Jews". To that end, he ordered the execution of every male child below the age of 2 in Bethlehem.

Rev. Reid's point was that, even something as beautiful and transformative as The Nativity has a cost. Like he said, for some people, this is their first Christmas without their mother. The holidays make the grief that much harder, like a phantom limb that just won't stop aching.

Magic isn't free.

As 2009 draws to a close, I keep thinking about the line Max Cady says to his former lawyer before he begins his campaign of terror in "Cape Fear":

"You gonna learn about loss."

Because, in fact, that was the big lesson of 2009: Loss.

Michael; Teddy; Farrah; Dom Deluise; E. Lynn Harris; Jennifer Jones; Edward Woodward

Personally, I lost a lot. More than I ever imagined.

And, in some ways, the deepest cut was the loss of dreams, in particular about film and writing. The year opened with so much promise, but brought so much profound disappointment in its wake. I'd held to the dreams for so long, they were comforting and reassuring.

But, then again, so was Falstaff to Prince Hal.

See, that's the thing about dreams: no matter how much you want to, you can't live inside them. They're there to inspire and offer visions of all that seems possible.

But, in the end, you have to wake up and live.

Back in February, I had a dream that I was interviewing President Obama for this very blog, and I asked him what was the most important thing he could say to my readers.

He replied, "Keep dreaming. But be ready to do the work."

2009 hurt so much because we finally saw the deep chasm between where we are and where we dream of being.

But the blessing in this year is that it also made me open my eyes, look around, and see the true treasures I had that can more than bridge the gap.

Lost a job? Found a better one.
Lost a home? Prepping to buy.
Lost a friend? Gained a deep & unconditional love.

Lost Nana?


Some holes can't be filled.

But, as my better half said the other day, I don't need to buy my grandmother a gift because now she's everywhere and knows where my heart lies.

And as for that lost dream? Talk to me this time next year. You may be pleasantly shocked. :-) Because the shortest path between two points is sometimes the most crooked and counterintuitive of lines. Sometimes, you need to walk away to get where you're going.

2008 was a magical year. But 2009 was the end of delusions so that we could all see what's necessary to conjure the next feat.

This is the time of year to think about magic. But magic isn't free.

2010 is the year to do the work to make the dream real. And 2009 told us that there are no short cuts. No easy ways out. No quick fixes.

As the joke goes, 9 women can't have a baby in a month.

But we have everything we need. Our loved ones, our faith, our skills, and our will.

Like Obama said, we ARE the ones we've been waiting for.

Stop waiting. Stop crying. Stop stalling. Stop negotiating.

Make the magic.

November 09, 2009

In Memory of Nana

Thursday morning, I got the call that my paternal grandmother had died.

Her real name was Delancy, but all of us among her 12 grandchildren and countless great grandchildren called her "Nana". She was 90 years old.

I'm told that, in the Ashanti language, "Nana" means "grandmother". Life is full of odd coincidences.

I'm reminded of a line from "Cape Fear", where Max Cady tells his former lawyer who condemned him to 14 years in prison by suppressing evidence that could have led to his acquittal "you're gonna learn about loss".

Now, it's not like I'm a stranger to tears these days. Hell, just turn on the last 5 minutes of "Rocky II" and I'm just a gusher.

But until the moment when I got that phone call, I'd never experienced ANGUISH.

I mean, just pure, unadulterated, raw, emotional pain.

It was like someone had stabbed my soul with a jagged knife and was just twisting and twisting and twisting it.

It was just tears. I wailed.

Understand: from the moment I was born, there were 5 people in the house where I grew up: me, Mom, Dad, my older brother, and Nana.

Nana used to tell me that she was the one who brought my mother to the hospital when she was in labor with me. She used to walk me to elementary school. During the summer, we would sit out on the porch, playing War, aka the world's simplest card game, and watching the street lamps turn on. And every weekday that she was home and able, she started cooking dinner for the whole family at 4:30 sharp - watching Oprah, mind you - to make sure it was on the table by 6. She was essentially my backup mother.

My grandfather died 45 years ago. My father tells me that he once asked her why she never remarried. She said, she was afraid that if she took someone else's name, my grandfather wouldn't be able to find her in Heaven.

I miss her laugh. I miss her stories.

She told me she made sure she sent money to my nephew when he was in college whenever she could because of her own experience of going away to school. She was one of 12 children growing up on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, just outside the little town of Cambridge, and she was the first among them to be sent into town to get a formal education. Because it was so far, her parents paid a woman to let Nana use a room in her house near the school. One day, Nana came back from class and found the landlady dead in her bathroom. "So, I know how hard going away to school can be", she summarized.

Clearly she was far from perfect. But, frankly, the imperfections make me love her even more.

After she lost the lower half of her right leg due to diabetes, she almost exclusively got around in a wheelchair, and spent many days sitting at the dining room table in my parents house, watching the TV in the kitchen: remote control and cordless phone constantly by her side.

Nana had long been in the habit of calling, well, everybody. She regularly called her remaining siblings, long distant children, close friends & relatives on routine weekly schedules. Just to see if there was any "Newsy News", as she would say.

Her bedroom is a virtual family museum: literally, wall to wall pictures of kids, grandkids, great grandkids, the children of the wealthy white family she worked for as a domestic servant for nearly 20+ years, or just friends.

Rarely pictures of herself.

I feel like I've been to a million funerals in my lifetime, but this will be the first one in my own house. I wasn't ready for it at all, despite her age and all of the associated health issues that came along with it.

I really, honestly, expected her to outlive me.

Because what kind of world would it be without her in it?

Then again, we're all still here, aren't we? I said to my significant other that I wish she could meet her. And she said, "I already have, because I met you. And when you and your family get together, she's there as well."

As Dad said, it's been a rough week, and it doesn't get any easier.

But Nana is in me always.

A kind of immortality.

In the end, I suppose that's all anyone could ever ask for.

Nana, I love you and miss you so very much.

And I know you'd tell me to stop crying like a baby, so, because you asked, I will.

October 27, 2009

Purple Hearts

Work can make strange bedfellows sometimes.

Case in point: Who knew that my good friend & former co-worker from my very first job back in New York City would turn into the wildly successful West Coast blogger, The Truth Laid Bear?

Now, if you look at, the first thing you'll probably notice that he and I have WILDLY different political views. I'm a die-hard Howard Dean-iac, and he's one of the founders of the "Top Conservatives on Twitter".

But, like I alluded to in a recent tweet about Andrew Sullivan, these are the kind of conservatives I can deal with: they're principled, but rational. We can debate & disagree, while still agreeing that we all have the country's (and, consequently, each other's) best interests at heart.

So, even though I think many, many conservatives hide behind the military as an excuse for any number of, shall we say, questionable decisions, I know my friend is sincere in his beliefs and in his support for the soldiers themselves.

And, as a child of a family with deep ties to the Army & Marine Corps, support for wounded vets is the very definition of common ground.

As our president likes to say, there are no Red States or Blue States, but the UNITED States of America.

That said, Mr. Bear recently brought this project to my attention: Project Valour-IT. It's a charitable campaign designed to raise money to provide laptops & other enabling technologies for severely wounded war veterans. He mentioned to me that they'd gotten a ton of support from the conservative blogsphere, but it's virtually invisible to the left side of the social media universe.

Fellow liberals & progressives - I encourage you all to take a look, spread the word, and make a donation. Regardless of your politics, these are people in need. Show your hearts.

October 02, 2009

Two Americas

Last time I checked, wasn't the City of Chicago and, for that matter, the whole State of Illinois, still part of the United States of America?

So why are all of these conservatives cheering because AMERICA, not just Chicago, but AMERICA, lost the bid for the next Olympics?

Oh, right. I forgot. It's because Obama lobbied for it.

I'm reminded of an incident way back when I was in high school. I was driving home late one night after visiting a classmate who lived in the Northeast corner of Baltimore. Since I lived on the exact opposite side of the city, I had a bit of a drive ahead of me, so I wanted to stop & get some gas. There were no brand name stations around, but I did manage to find one mom & pop-ish full-service station still open at 11PM.

So, I pull up to the pump, and the guy in the station waves to me, saying "I'll be there in a second."

So I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And another car pulls into the station. The guy comes out of the booth, pumps gas for the other car, and then goes back into the booth.

And I wait. And I wait some more. And then the guy looks out of the booth and smiles, saying "Oh, did you want some gas?"

I said "I get the picture" and left.

Do I even need to say that I'm Black and this guy was white?

What I could never fit my head around was this: I was coming to buy gas from him. I was going to literally put money in his hands.

But no. He doesn't want MY money. He doesn't want anything to do with me. He would rather hurt his own business than help me in any way.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Now, am I saying that all opposition to Obama is racial? No, not really.

But what I AM saying is that a lot of opposition to Obama is just as irrational, crazy, and self-destructive as racism.

They don't want him talking to their children so he can tell them to stay in school. They don't want him lobbying for an American city to host the Olympics.

They don't want him anywhere doing anything for or with or about anyone.

It may not be race-based, but, if I can use a computer programming analogy for a moment, it sure has the same methods and interface as racism.

September 29, 2009

Why Roman Polanski belongs in jail

Now, don't get me wrong.

I love "Chinatown".

And I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors that man has experienced over the years. I mean, for one guy to escape the clutches of one crazed white supremacist cult leader, namely Hitler, only to have his wife and unborn child murdered by yet another crazed white supremacist cult leader, namely Charles Manson, 30 years later in a single life time is just unspeakable.

But, let's think about this for a moment:

You're a 40 some year old man who drugs and rapes a 13-year-old girl. The prosecution has a difficult, but potentially winnable case, so they offer you a plea deal that requires you to plead guilty to said rape. The deal is set, but the judge appears to be buckling under public pressure to not honor the deal, so you flee the country.

And you've been living scott free ever since.

Remind me, again, why I'm supposed to feel sorry for you?

I mean, what price has Polanski paid for raping a child? How has he atoned for it?

Moreover, are we supposed to excuse you're living outside the law for over 30 years?

And another thing:

Michael Jackson was investigated twice, tried, and then ACQUITTED of child molestation. And yet, that poor guy was literally scandalized and terrorized by the press to the point that he probably drugged himself to death.

MICHAEL WAS ACQUITTED. But it didn't matter.

Polanski PLEAD GUILTY to RAPE. But that mofo wins a freakin' Oscar, splits his time between France & Switzerland, and, when he finally does get caught, has people organizing letter campaigns to get him off for a crime he's already admitted.


Send that guy to jail. It's time to pay the piper.

And don't even get me started on Woody Allen....

September 28, 2009

Why Kucinich WIll Never Be President

Or, Frankly, Ron Paul, or Tom Tancredo, or Carol Mosley Braun or any number of politicians who are, regardless of what you think of their politics, at some base level, qualified.

It's the same reason why someone as manifestly unqualified as Sarah Palin is still considered a legitimate national figure. Or why John Edwards or even the President himself, Barack Obama, was considered a legit contender after less than a single term at the national level in the senate.

I'm reminded of the very last episode of "The Practice", where Alan Shore was finalizing his relationship with Crane, Poole, & Schmidt, ultimately leading to 5 years of Emmy glory on "Boston Legal". As Shore introduced his assistant/paramour Tara to his new boss Denny Crane, Crane said to her in typical Denny fashion: "We only hire pretty people here. Are you a pretty girl, soldier?"

It's the same reason, apparently, that Kennedy beat Nixon, or why Reagan beat Mondale, or why Clinton beat Dole.

The camera loves them.

And when the cameras love them, the press love them.

More specifically, the advertisers love them.

Yes, there is substance to many of the debates, and, yes, I do truly believe that Obama is far and away the best person for the job. But if he looked like Al Sharpton, he'd never stand a chance.

The modern presidential election has bore more than a passing resemblance to American Idol for quite some time, but it's all behind the scenes, in media focus groups who decide who can best get the American public to keep tuning into 24/7 cable news outlets to drive advertising dollars to support the revenue streams of those networks.

And let's be honest, do you REALLY want to see Dennis Kucinich on your TV every night for 4 years?

I'm just sayin'.

August 07, 2009

On Glenn Beck

One of my most prized possessions as a middle schooler and into early high school was my Sony Walkman Radio. And, unlike most of the young black kids in Baltimore in the late 80's and early '90's, I was a total Top 40 baby. Which, of course, meant that my favorite radio station was WBSB, B-104.

I spent many a night drifting off to sleep to the sounds of Mister Mister and Duran Duran and Bruce Hornsby and YES and all of that stuff.

On the flip side, when I was finally old enough to drive, I listened to Brian and O'Brian's morning show on B104 on the way to school. They were a pretty well-established mainstay - the prototypical morning drive cut-ups. Until they suddenly vanished for no apparent reason.

I was pretty bummed at first, until I got a wiff of the new guy.

The replacement show was called "Glenn Beck and The Morning Guys".

This was 1990.

And Beck was f'n hilarious. I LOVED that show!

While I don't remember all of the various gags they pulled, one particular recurring character stood out in my mind: they'd have a guy call in as "Mr. Stress", and he was basically a guy who was on a hair trigger and would freak out screaming at the least little thing that would upset his fragile little world.

Honestly, I still make jokes about Mr. Stress to this day.

It was all character and performances designed to shock an audience into laughter.

And one of the things that I've always told my fellow screenwriters and storytellers is that the difference between comedy & horror is often just a matter of lighting. They both rely on shock value. And Beck was a master of funny shock craziness.

He's an entertainer. Always has been. Always will be.

Which is why I find it amazing that there are people now hanging on every word Beck says as if he's some sort of sage. Just because he sounds serious and talks about serious stuff doesn't mean that he actually has anything of value or merit to contribute to the discourse in any way whatsoever.

I mean, really. If Ed Lover or Big Boi told you the President was secretly a racist socialist terrorist mole, you would just laugh and say "Man, those guys sure are funny." You wouldn't stop and think, "Man, that Big Boi has a point! I'd better buy a gun!"

If you're going to get serious political thought from Glenn Beck, you may as well write in Dr. Johnny Fever on the next election ballot.

Beck is a professional clown, and the joke is on you if you think he has any agenda beyond being shocking & entertaining.

August 02, 2009

"Real American Heroes"?

If I had to guess, I probably have around 10,000 comic books in my collection right now.

But the very first comic I paid for with my own money was G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #6.

What always struck me about that comic was just how hardcore it was, given that it was ostensibly designed to sell action figures to little boys like me. But the main writer for those original G.I. Joe comics, Larry Hama, was a Vietnam vet who made a point of adding real stakes to the stories. Like when they dropped a bomb on a bunker while our hero, the mute commando Snake Eyes, was still inside. Or when the team's Pentagon liason, Col. Flagg, was killed during a Cobra assault on The Pit. Or the intense creepiness of the Cobra front masquerading as a small town in Illinois.

I've got a lot of military in my family, so I appreciated that, although it was a comic, G.I. Joe was about soldiers, with all sorts of specialties from all different branches of the American military, pooling their resources to defeat a common threat.

American soldiers.

So the minute I heard that the movie version of G.I. Joe would feature, instead, an international team based in Europe.... yeah, I was plenty offended.

Especially since the reasoning was, "well, nobody likes America overseas these days, so we've got to tone down the American-ness of these 'Real American Heroes'".

And, it seems like every day, I get a new bit of news that makes me even more angry about this movie.

"Accelerator Suits"?!?! Come on, man! That's Iron Man, not G.I. Joe! If anything, the fetish in G.I. Joe was authentic, top of the line, military hardware. If you're into that sort of thing, the U.S. Army has some of the coolest, craziest weaponry on the planet. REAL weaponry, man. Not this B.S. made-up sci-fi crap.

And, as I twittered earlier, I knew for sure that this movie would stink because they had no presence whatsoever at Comic-Con.

So, now, I see this L.A. Times article, where the producer, Lorenzo Di Boneventura, says, "well, there's no pleasing those guys at Comic-Con, so why bother?"

Excuse me? Iron Man? 300? Spider-Man? Hell, even flippin' Twilight! As long as you don't crap on what makes the property great, the fans will embrace you. But when you do things like, I dunno, cast Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, well, yeah, you'll have a fan revolt on your hands.

(For the record, I thought Constantine was actually a great movie, and Keanu was quite good, but, if I'd been a hardcore Hellblazer fan, I would have totally boycotted that movie on principle)

And when you loose your core fans, you'd better pray what you've changed will appeal to the general audience, because you'll have no word of mouth support.

Consider Battlestar Galactica - again, fans in full revolt after Ron Moore made Starbuck a girl. Luckily, she was such a kick-ass girl and the level of quality of the show was so high (I mean, they won a Peabody and had a panel at the United Nations dedicated to them), it overrode the fan bitterness.

My point is, G.I. Joe had better be some Nobel Prize winning sh*t to make up for the garbage I've seen so far.

What makes me even more mad about that article is that Paramount has apparently decided the best way to promote the movie was to show it on American army bases.... after they've already decided that the American army is so unpopular that they can't feature them in the show like they were originally in the property.

And why are these soldiers dressed up like Bryan Singer's X-Men?

And what's killing me is there are some amazing actors in this movie, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Christopher Eccelston.

Actually, what's really killing me is that they're releasing this movie on my birthday. That's just salt in the wound. :-)

Now, people are telling me it's a good summer action movie. But I wonder, are these the same people who thought "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" was a good summer action movie"

Maybe I'll finally see "The Hurt Locker" on Friday. THOSE guys are the real American heroes.

As a matter of fact, that sounds like a plan.

Go see "The Hurt Locker" and pay your money to support a movie that's not afraid to show real American soldiers. G.I. Joe's not going anywhere, so they certainly don't need your money opening weekend.

You can get your tickets to see "The Hurt Locker" right here at Moviefone

FUCK "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra".

July 28, 2009

On Comic-Con, or "a finer world"

As I was making my way through the teeming, costumed, merchandise-clutching masses on the exhibit floor at the 40th annual San Diego International Comic Book Convention, better known as Comic-Con, I caught site of something that I'll not soon forget.

A young man in a wheelchair was wearing a t-shirt that said "I'm too sexy for my legs".

Ironically enough, three days earlier, I had the privilege of seeing the very first advanced footage of James Cameron's new film, "Avatar".

In "Avatar", humans are exploring and prospecting on the distant planet Pandora, which has an amazingly beautiful and completely alien habitat that is totally inhospitable to humans. To that end, eschewing traditional environment suits, the humans collect DNA from the indigenous inhabitants and genetically engineer alien/human hybrid bodies into which the human explorers can download their consciousnesses, giving them free reign on the planet. The protagonist, played by Sam Worthington of "Terminator: Salvation", is a paraplegic who becomes the hero of the story once he's freed from the limitations of his wheelchair-bound human form and gains the incredible abilities of his 10 foot tall blue skinned avatar.

Now, not only is "Avatar" a story about a man who is transported to another world as another self, but it's a 3-D film that lets the audience experience the planet Pandora as if it were a living, breathing, glowing, lush environment around them.

Moreover, the reason why it's taken Cameron 14 years to bring this movie to screen is that he's spent that time perfecting what he's called "performance capture", where, instead of just translating the general body movements of an actor to a CG character, they can actually translate the slightest facial nuances of an actor, capturing the emotion inherent in the performance. So, when I see a blue-skinned CG native girl yelling at the stupid humans screwing up her planet, I know just by looking at her face that it was Zoe Saldana on the performance capture stage.

But beyond that, Cameron took it to the next level by building a platform that actually renders the computer-generated landscape and creatures of Pandora for viewing THROUGH THE CAMERA, so that Cameron and his cinematographer can actually SEE Pandora and their actors as Pandora natives in the environment AS THEY'RE SHOOTING.

In short, he's made it possible to actually shoot on location on a planet that doesn't exist.

THIS is the essence of Comic-Con.

I once heard a man say that a reasonable man bends to meet the world, while an unreasonable man insists that the world bend to meet him. Therefore, all progress comes from the unreasonable man.

Those of us who proudly call ourselves geeks are very unreasonable.

Geeks like Jules Verne first dared to dream of poking the Moon in the eye with a rocket, and people laughed at the absurdity.

40 years ago this month, a man planted an American flag on that very same Moon and established a pinnacle of human achievement.

Geeks like Gene Roddenberry insisted on a world where all ethnicities worked together towards a common good and a man could ask a machine a question and expect an answer with complete sanity.

There's a little device on the other side of this room that, after it's finished recharging, I can make diverge every public document about that astronaut just by saying the words "Neil Armstrong" to it.

Geeks like Bob Layton imagined a world where an alcoholic can overcome his addiction and become a superhero.

Next year, Robert Downey Jr. will channel his own struggle with substances into a performance about that very same character in a way that will dazzle, amaze, and, perhaps, in some small measure, give hope to those who struggle in the dark.

We geeks know that just because we may not be the most popular or the most beautiful or the most politically astute or the most financially or athletically gifted, we trump each and every one of those people in faith, passion, belief, and imagination.

And there is nothing in this world, literally nothing that exists, that was not something that someone dreamed of first.

The costumed, fictional, GG-generated and otherwise genre based characters we celebrate at Comic-Con are simply representatives of the qualities we hold most dear, be it Batman's focused determination or Tron's rage against the machine or Green Lantern's fearlessness in the face of the blackest of nights.

And Comic-Con is probably the only place in the world where an entire city can be full of wonder for 5 days straight. Where Green Arrow can share a beer with Luke Skywalker. Where new worlds are revealed moment by moment, be it on a giant movie screen, or through a video game, or just within the pages of an indie comic book.

Part of me worries that all of the non-geeks who come to Comic-Con because they think it can help them make a few more bucks are a bit like the human interlopers on Pandora. But, in the end, if they want to thrive in our world, just like on Pandora, they have to wear our skin, too.

And who knows, maybe they'll take a little bit of that blue skin back with them for the Muggles.

Personally, I can't wait to go back.

Born in the USA

I have, on occasion, been known to indulge in conspiracy theories.

For instance, there's a part of me that still believes that John Kerry struck some kind of deal born of Skull & Bones to basically throw the 2004 election for George Bush. After all, he fought like a hellcat to destroy Howard Dean, robocalls & all, but declined from using similar tactics against the 43rd president.

So, yes, I do buy into some conspiracy theories. But I find the recent Birther phenomenon so amusing for two reasons:

1. for it to be true, you have to assume the complicity of The State of Hawaii, at least two major Hawaiian newspapers, the Federal Election Commission, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and basically the entire Republican political apparatus. And that various elements had been upholding this conspiracy for nearly 50 years (that, or they went back and planted false evidence in the record, 1984-style). To which, I would respond, why? If Sarah Palin had some serious doubt about Obama's citizenship, do you think she would have waited a second to use that in a campaign speech? She was damn near calling the man a terrorist because he'd been in some guy's house. Which gets to the larger issue of most conspiracy theories, namely the presumption that all of the important famous people are out to punk the rest of the world so they can.... do what, exactly? "Control us"? I mean, really, if all of these players were interested in fabricating Obama's birth, wouldn't they have come up with a better cover story.

2. To borrow a line from Rush Limbaugh, the Birther movement is totally about race. The guy who's credited with originally trying to discredit Obama's nationality is a dude who once ran for congress on the promise that he would "exterminate Jew Power in America". The woman who shouted down that congressman in his town hall meeting about the birther stuff ended her tirade with "I want my country back!", because, of course, this can't really be America if a Black man is now president. Lou Dobbs teased the notion that Obama might even be an illegal immigrant. The fact is, these people are looking for anything that would just undo the last election, because that election proves that the majority of America thinks they're a bunch of crackpots.

Barack Obama is an American.

And he's your President.

Suck it up.

July 24, 2009

REVIEW: Ninja Assassin

It's funny: the thought of an American pop star becoming an action movie hero (e.g. Justin Timberlake as Green Lantern) seems just patently ridiculous to most. And yet, here's a Korean pop star who calls himself Rain seems perfectly plausible as the baddest, bloodiest, most hard core Ninja assassin on the planet.

I wonder if I'd feel the same if his music was on continuous rotation on MTV?


Because Ninja Assassin is, far and away, the best martial arts movie I've seen in a big theater.... probably since The Matrix.

Which makes sense, since it's produced by The Wachowski Brothers and directed by their protege, James McTeigue.

The film follows Rain as Raizo, an orphan raised from near birth to be a merciless killer, as he cuts a bloody swath of revenge across Berlin, while an intrepid Interpol researcher (played by Naomi Harris, who opts for the soft & vulnerable play instead of her 28 Days Later she-warrior mode) is trying to uncover the ancient secret of a clan of mythical ninjas who may be responsible for countless political killings over the years. It intercuts between Raizo's youth in the brutal orphanage/ninja factory and the modern ninja war that literally spills out onto the streets of modern Berlin.

Honestly, I couldn't tell you where the actual stunt work and wire work ends and the CGI begins in most places, because the choreography is just seamless, frenetic, and breathtaking.

Oh, and did I mention that the alternate title for this film should be "Buckets of Blood"? When the director introduced the film at last night's extra secret exclusive screening at Comic-Con 2009, he made a point of telling the audience that they shouldn't fear the gore. Yeah, it's pretty violent. Like, half-a-head lopped off in the first 3 minutes violent.

But it's definitely worth it. Beyond the fact that it's action packed, as a viewer, I totally bought all of the emotional relationships in the film that make the action matter. You care who lives or dies, who's betrayed and who outsmarts.

In short, it's bloody f'n good. If you're like me and grew up on a steady Saturday afternoon diet of Bruce Li, the Shaw Brothers, and the like, do yourself a favor and check it out when it's released in November.

July 08, 2009

How to stop Michael Bay from stealing your childhood

Now, it may surprise you to know, given my recent post defending Michael Bay against his detractors, that I have NOT, in fact, chosen to pay my money to actually see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to head out to one of my favorite theaters in town, The Arclight, and, in addition to Transformers, they were showing a really smart little TRUE sci-fi film (i.e. a film based around actual science instead of fantasy) called "Moon", starring Sam Rockwell and directed by David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones.

The theater was also showing what looks to be a really juicy Iraq War film called "The Hurt Locker".

So, that was my choice that day: Transformers, Moon, or The Hurt Locker. Since I was really in the mood for something engaging, both emotionally and mentally, based on my current expectations of Bay and the reactions to the film from critics, I was pretty sure that Transformers was not that movie.

I took an informal poll among my online friends and got really intense lobbying for both Moon AND Hurt Locker. I mean, someone sent me a message from a car that a mutual friend heard about my choice and INSISTED that I had to see Hurt Locker.

In the end, because one of my buddies wanted me to wait to see Hurt Locker with him, I opted to see my original choice, Moon.

Which was a smashing film. Loved it. Absolutely no complains.

Why am I telling this story?

To illustrate that there's no reason for me to be angry or to hate Michael Bay. I suspect his movie might disappoint me, so I stayed away. Other people clearly seem to love it with a near cult-like passion (as evidenced by the reaction Roger Ebert got to his scathing review of Transformers). Good for them.

I think the trick is, we have to learn to resist the mind control.

If it's a small movie that could live or die a quick and humiliating death based on poor box office performance, go see it opening weekend if you can. If it's a movie that you're particularly passionate about (i.e. The Dark Knight or Star Trek, for me), of course, go the opening weekend to see it with the best crowd possible.

But if it's a monstrously huge release that you're not especially invested in, the studio will be OK if you wait until the 2nd weekend. Hear the buzz from actual moviegoers. When people say "it's mindless and has lots of explosions & Megan Fox", and if C4 & a hot girl are all you need for your $14, go for it.

I happen to be a fan of C4, so I'll probably still see Transformers at some point. I'm dying to see how they introduce Devastator and I'm pretty much a sucker for anything involving Ancient Egypt.

If, however, you want a quality film, and you see Transformers, and you find yourself disappointed, don't get mad at Bay. You should have known better.

July 07, 2009

For Michael Jackson, or "walking on air"

When I was on the student council in elementary school, I'd somehow convinced the faculty advisor, Mrs. Wilson, that we should have a dance for the students.

Yes, I was probably 9 or 10 years old at the time. And, yes, that's crazy. Moving on.

I'm not even sure what BS story I made up to convince Mrs. Wilson to let a bunch of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders have a party in the gym on the school's dime. It's not like she was the cool teacher that everybody liked. People hated and feared that woman, and rightly so. She was pretty doggone scary. But she bought it. There were some heavy restrictions put on the dancing, and, in her mind, the big pay off was the unveiling of this god awful paper mache giraffe that was supposed to be the school mascot, but we still pulled it off.

But the REAL highlight of the party was the dance contest.

Or, more specifically, the Michael Jackson dance-alike contest.

One of my best buddies at the time, David, won, even though he had some pretty stiff competition, including a kid who made the bold choice of not dancing like Michael but dancing like one of the slow-motion pop-locking zombies from "Thriller".

David was an active participant in the "Michael Jackson jacket" arms race.

Because, even in elementary school in the early 80's, every kid could tell you the difference between the "Beat It" jacket versus the "Thriller" jacket. And God help you if your mother bought you one made out of "pleather" (i.e. plastic leather). EVERY kid was desperate to get one or all of these jackets.

I remember going to a cookout at my aunt's house after my brother & I had gone to see "Ghostbusters", and my younger cousin was debuting his own take on Michael's moves. My dad dubbed it "The Pain Face".

I remember when my best friend Tito had a birthday party at his house, and the centerpiece of the entire thing was that his family had a video tape of the entire "Thriller" music video, and we'd all sit around and watch it again, and again, and again.

I could do this all day long.

As I said in a previous blog, Michael was magic. Pure and simple.

And magic matters.

It really, really does. Magic is there to remind us that there is MORE.

That WE, as human beings on this planet in this moment in time, are all MORE. MORE than any of us can ever possibly imagine.

That a child in a poor, hard-driving family in a dying industrial city could reach out across four decades and literally touch the souls of hundreds of millions of people in a way that each and every one of them are personally mourning him today as if he was a member of their family.....


People crave magic.

The World? Not so much.

(OK, this is where I'm going to get in trouble).

I can't help but think about Jesus.

Because here was a man who didn't just heal through entertainment, but someone who, if we believe the stories, made the lame walk, made the blind see, feed thousands with next to nothing. But he, too, was still dragged through the streets, tortured, and murdered by the state as crowds cheered and soldiers gambled over his clothes.

I'm not saying Michael was, somehow, the 2nd Coming, or that he was executed.

But The World, or those in power, cannot allow people to believe in magic. If you know that you're MORE, you can't be convinced to bow down and genuflect to the political or financial or military prowess of another man.

Power hates magic.

Which is why, even on this day of mourning, we have people calling him names and spitting on his legacy.

Which is so sad. Because, if those people could actually open their hearts enough to hear the music, maybe they'd remember that they, themselves, are also MORE than a title or a weapon or a dollar bill.

I'm grateful for living at a time where I could witness magic.

Michael Jackson has stepped back into eternity.

Thanks for the visit, MJ. And bless you.

July 02, 2009

Goldman Drinks Your Milkshake

Right around this time last year, I blogged about oil speculators and their willing enablers in the government, based on a report from "Countdown with Keith Olberman".

I got a surprising amount of pushback, and, after seeing a report in the New York Times that offered similar pushback (i.e. "it's not the speculators, it's peak oil that's the real problem"), I had second thoughts.

Well, clearly, Matt Taibbi, the political writer for Rolling Stone and a regular on "Real Time with Bill Maher", has more time & access to do way more due diligence than me. He goes several steps further than Keith: not only does he blame the speculators for last summer's oil spike, and not only does he name the venerable old financial concern Goldman Sachs as one of the biggest offenders.

He points to a larger conspiracy of culture: there's no sneering Moriarty at the center of it all behind the scenes, but the corporate culture of greed at the firm is so pervasive that just about everybody who works there and then takes a job in government later appears to act in the best interests of Goldman to the detriment of the public.

And when I say "detriment to the public", I mean "bankrupting pensions" and "instigating food riots" detriment.

Moreover, he holds Goldman largely responsible for most of the economic bubbles we've seen since thr 1929 stock market crash, and in virtually every case, they make huge amounts of money for their employees and get a slap on the wrist from a compliant government.

And what's the latest Goldman Sachs-backed bubble scam, according to Matt Taibbi?

Two words: "Cap" and "Trade".

The article is superlong, but man, is it worth it. And, if it's true, REALLY f'n scary.

Read this scanned copy at this link:
Zero Hedge: Goldman Sachs: "Engineering Every Major Market Manipulation Since The Great Depression"

June 24, 2009


If this whole expansion of the field of Best Picture contenders from 5 films to 10 is, as Nikki Finke suggests, a ploy by the studios to get more blockbusters considered in the running for the Oscar telecast, I'm not sure that this will work out the way the moguls intend.

I mean, really, do we really think that, say, The Dark Knight would have stood any better chance of being considered Best Picture of the year by the academy if there was one more available slot? I just did a cursory pass over the films released in '08, and I can come up with at least 5 more indie films that got considerable critical love that would probably have just as good a chance, if not more, at Oscar nomination than Batman or Iron Man or Tropic Thunder or any other big studio film. Consider:

  • Revolutionary Road - starring former nominees Leonardo DeCaprio & (now winner) Kate Winslet and directed by former Best Director & Best Picture winner Sam Mendes
  • Gran Torino - starring and directed by perennial Oscar favorite Clint Eastwood
  • In Bruges - starring perennial Oscar contender Ralph Fiennes, nominated for 7 BAFTAs that year and an Oscar for Best Screenplay
  • The Visitor - 3 Independent Spirit Award nominations, plus SAG, Oscar, & Critics choice nominations for Richard Jenkins
  • The Wrestler - 2 Golden Globes, a BAFTA, and 3 Spirit Awards, including Best Picture.
My point is, the studio movies don't need more bites at the apple, because there's plenty of beloved indie fare to take up the slack. The Academy voters have very specific tastes, and, frankly, they rarely coincide with that of the average movie goer.

And, more frankly, they shouldn't intersect. The Oscars aren't a popularity contest, in the strictest sense. That's what the People's Choice Awards are for.

Or the MTV Movie Awards. Or my new favorite, Spike TV's Scream Awards.

The Oscars are supposed to be about art, and art is not necessarily popular.

Now, of course, the Oscars are insanely political, but let's be real: The Dark Knight was an edge case. And anybody who seriously thinks Spider-Man 2 should have gotten an Oscar nomination over The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Finding Neverland, or Ray is smoking crack. Or that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (which I liked) should even be mentioned in the same breath as No Country for Old Men is just tripping.

June 23, 2009

Sounding Reasonable

Within the first month of my freshman year in college, I met a girl at a party. Not a particularly unique occurrence, excepting the fact that I'd spent the previous 7 years at an all boys private school. So Princeton was, at first, a very pleasant bit of culture shock. (Boy, did THAT wear off fast! But that's a topic for another post).

Anyway, I met this girl. She was cute. We danced a bit. And then we settled into a quieter area in the eating club to actually chat. And, initially, I was really impressed because, not only was she beautiful, but she seemed to be so thoughtful and contemplative with every thing she said.

Sadly, it wasn't too long before I realized that she wasn't really as thoughtful or considered as I'd first assumed. It's just that she talked...... really...... slow.

And the moral of this story is that, many times, presentation can trump content. At least, at first.

Which brings me to Dick Cheney.

I know he's sort of gotten off the radar lately, but I think this bears pointing out before the next time he decides to make a media appearance.

I remember during the 2004 Vice-Presidental Debate, Cheney said that, even though he was the President of the Senate and was a regular in the Senate chamber, that night was the first time he'd ever met John Edwards in person. The implication being that Edwards was a sandbagger who was too busy running for president instead of doing his job for the people of North Carolina.

Now, Edwards sandbagging-ness may be more true than not, but that, too, is another blog post.

The point is that Cheney's actual statement was just a flat out lie. Not only was Cheney rarely on Capitol Hill, but, he'd met Edwards at least three years before at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast. See?

And let's not even get into his grotesquely incorrect statements about WMDs or Iraq's non-relationship with Al Qaeda. So I wondered, why were people still listening to this guy? Why does he have any sort of credibility at all?

Again, it's all about presentation. Cheney looks and sounds like a guy who should know what he's talking about. He speaks in the hushed and measured tones of a serious man talking seriously about very serious issues.

Funny. When he was Buch 41's Sec Def, I always thought Cheney reminded me of Lt. Gerard in "The Fugitive".

But just because you sound reasonable doesn't mean that you're actually telling the truth. But I think Dave Chappelle said it best back on his show: if anybody else had said half the crazy shit that George W. Bush had said in his first term (especially, to Chappelle's point, a Black man), people would think he was a crazy man.

Chappelle's Show
Black Bush
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

In short, don't just hear the sounds. Listen to the words.

The Movie Lotto

Here's a lit manager's assessment of the spec screenplay sales market over the last six months. Please keep in mind, these are just the numbers for the scripts that got sent out by the various major agencies & management companies in town. It doesn't account for how many actual writing clients each of these companies rep that they AREN'T sending out, let alone the scores of writers represented by smaller companies, and the multitude of unrepresented screenwriters. And that's just here in L.A.

In short, the odds are VERY long for selling a completely original screenplay to a studio.

This is why I've become a big advocate of independent film. Don't wait for Warner Bros. or Sony to give you permission. There's more money out there than studio money. We all just need to retrain ourselves to sniff it out.

Write it. Shoot it. Screen it.


June 16, 2009

In Defense of Michael Bay

You know, I've written about some controversial things over the years here at Macroscope.

Torture. Election fraud. Katrina. Iraq. Rwanda. "There is no Hell".

Why do I get the feeling that this one will generate the most hate mail?

I didn't realize that my first exposure to the film director Michael Bay was one of the coolest commercials I'd ever seen. It made such an impression on me that I didn't even realize just how old it was, and by that, I mean the original "Got Milk?" commercial:

Just beautiful, right? Simple, fun, and award-winning. And directed by Michael Bay.

Who knew, right? A far cry from what we assume about the director and his filmmaking preferences, right?

Now, the first time I could name Bay was after I and a bunch of brothers back at Princeton had formed a new organization, the Black Men Awareness Group, which was basically a safe haven on campus where we could voice our unique frustrations ("I have no mentors because the professors don't understand me or my culture", "I'm experiencing extreme culture shock in this Ivy covered tower from my predominantly black town/school", "the sisters on campus don't want me, but will crucify me if I so much as look at a white girl", "I barely have time to study & work through school while my roommate is so rich he's ineligible for financial aid", etc.).

So, one weekend, our little group therapy club decided to go out, 30 deep, to have a day just to hang out and feel good. Now, there isn't much to do in Princeton, NJ, and it's too much of a pain to organize 30 dudes to head up to NYC for a weekend, so we just did something silly: we went bowling (yeah, I know), and then we went to see this new movie that had just come out in theaters that weekend.

Yes, it was Bad Boys. And, yes, we all rolled out of that theater charged, pumped, excited, happy. It was like we were seeing some of our own up on screen. It was great.

And it was directed by Michael Bay.

While I was working in New York after college, I went with some of my AC co-workers & buddies to see Bay's next film, "The Rock".

Eh. Kind of fun, especially the Nic Cage/Sean Connery banter, but I didn't buy Ed Harris' character. Did I HATE it? Of course not. I didn't love it. It was pretty forgettable. No big deal.

A few years later, that same crew of mine did a triple-feature weekend. In one day, we saw "Lethal Weapon 4" (which kicked ass. Literally. Pleased to meet you, Jet Li.), "Toy Soldiers" (which, exactly as I predicted, absolutely sucked. Not my choice. My buddy had kids with him), and "Armageddon".

FUN FACT: for those of you who hate "Armageddon" but love, say, "Lost", "Alias", "Fringe", or the new "Star Trek", it was written by J.J. Abrams.

Now, a few weeks earlier, I'd seen "Deep Impact". This was during the time when the studios had a ton of dueling movies. "Deep Impact" had Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States, was directed by one of the regular directors for "ER" and was written by guys who'd done "Jacob's Ladder", "Ghost" and "The Player".

In short, from a dramatic and emotional perspective, it's a vastly superior piece of mature filmmaking in comparison to "Armageddon". "Armageddon" was a shameless summer crowd pleaser.

And, you know what? That's actually OK. My biggest problem with "Armageddon" was that, frankly, it gave me a headache.

Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that it was the 3rd action movie in a row I'd seen that day. Maybe.

The point is, when I look at "Armageddon" on TV now, it's perfectly fine. It's overdirected, but fine.

And that's probably my biggest problem with Bay: he clearly trusts the camera more than his actors to elicit an emotional response from the audience. Hence, the turning, spinning, sweeping, steadicam crane shots of people standing against a blue sky, instead of just holding the frame on the actor giving a performance.

Anyway, Armageddon's OK. Not great, but not horrible either.

Which brings us to "Pearl Harbor". And I'm pretty sure this is where I got on the "FUCK Michael Bay!" bandwagon. I was a film student when "Pearl Harbor" came out, and that was the first time I became acutely aware of the power of film marketing. Because I actually didn't want to see "Pearl Harbor". I knew I wouldn't like it. And, yet, there I was at the El Capitan theater on Hollywood Blvd. on opening day.

And it was exactly what I thought it would be.

Well, let's qualify that a bit:
The combat scenes, and especially the dog fight scenes are dynamite. But the story around it, of the love triangle, was just a complete joke. Not only was it a joke, but they spend all of this time building up the 2nd guy as a sympathetic love interest only to toss him aside in the end. Now, clearly, Randall Wallace (screenwriter) deserves some of the blame, but it's a partnership between the writer and the director.

It's clear that Bay loves the military, so he was a kid in a candy store in making this film (In fact, he's the PERFECT guy to do a real film adaptation of "G.I. Joe" instead of this "Iron Man" knock-off crap that's lumbering it's way to a theater near you this summer, but I digress.). But it's WAY too long, and it fills it's time with a lot of nonsensical fluff.

Pearl Harbor's a bad movie. A super expensive bad movie about a real life tragedy. They were trying to make a World War II version of "Titanic", but even "Titanic" is too long, and Ben Affleck is not Leonardo DeCaprio (who, in 1997, may as well have been the 6th Backstreet Boy in terms of his teen idol status) , and Kate Beckinsale (who I think is a great, fun actress) is definitely not Kate Winslet. It was poorly conceived from the start.

But I knew all of this. I knew it the minute I heard about it in detail, despite the pretty pictures. In the end, I only really have myself to blame.

"The Island", on the other hand, is another matter entirely. In my humble opinion, this is the best, most complete, most fun film Bay has ever made. Smart. Fun. Satisfying. Great cast (Ewan Macgregor, Scarlett Johanssen, Djimon Honsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi). It's biggest problem, sadly, was it's title. It's the anti-Pearl Harbor: a great film with rotten marketing.

More importantly, when I heard that Speilberg specifically reached out to Bay to get him to direct this film, it told me that he sees more in this guy than most. Personally, I think Bay has the ability to do more complete films like "The Island", with the right script and the right producer.

"Transformers"? Hey, I was a fan as a kid. I even had the soundtrack for the animated movie they did back when I was in high school.

So much so that a kid on the intramural soccer team used to make fun of me by calling me "Optimus Prime". And, you know what? For the most part, I enjoyed it. I think it could benefit from more locked off camera shots. And there are some huge logic gaps. But I'll probably go see the sequel. No stress.

So, why this trip down Michael Bay memory lane? Because I simply don't understand the absolute hatred that people have for this guy. I mean, if he's a jerk on the set and you work in the business, I sort of understand. But, whatever - don't work with him.

I think to some people, he's the poster child for a certain kind of filmmaking - the summer blockbuster, critics-be-damned, budget busters. But, at the end of the day, I basically had a good time in most of his films. I rarely walked out feeling cheated or tricked (I'm looking at YOU, M. Night Shymalan!). The money that goes into his films could make 20 indie features, so I definitely can understand that sense of waste. Although, from a studio perspective, would those same 20 little movies have gotten the same rate of return on their investment as, say, Bad Boys II?

The dirty little secret in Hollywood is that popcorn pays for award season gold. Miramax couldn't afford to make "Shakespeare in Love" if it's sister company, Dimension, hadn't made a ton of money on "Scream". And a movie like "Transformers" probably paid for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". So the Michael Bay's make the Slumdog Millionaire's possible.

What I really really don't get is the fanboy hatred.

Well, I suppose, if I think about it, it makes sense. It's not like Bay is Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. He's clearly not one of us. He's a little too cool and too tanned and too tall and too permed, and how DARE a non-geek give Optimus Prime a mouth!

But, then again, Hater-Aid never makes sense.

And it's his obvious disdain for the original material that burns people when it comes to Transformers. But, you know what? The stuff DOESN'T age well. Most Saturday cartoons aimed at kids don't (with the rare exception of "Robotech"). I mean, have you tried watching "Challenge of the Superfriends" recently on Boom or Cartoon Network? It's painful!

I'm not saying that people shouldn't hate Bay. It's a free country. But I would say, take a step back and think about it. After all, the guy did help make Transformers cool again. That's got to count for something.

The sad thing is, when you look at his films, Bay is clearly a fan boy at heart. He should do himself a favor and come to Comic-Con. He'll probably get geek religion.

May 12, 2009

From Wanssee to Gitmo

I interned at HBO Films for a time when I was in film school, and, during that period of time, they produced a great film called "Conspiracy", about the Wannsee Conference.

In short, when Hitler decided he wanted to kill all the Jews, he ordered his military and bureaucratic leaders to get together and figure out how. After all, organizing the apparatus of a nation to systematically murder 6 million people is a helluva thing to pull off. So, they all got together in a mansion in Wansee to work out a plan.

Over dinner.

In short, you can find a lawyer to figure out a way to justify anything. Even a crime against humanity.

In case you were wondering, here's a treaty the U.S. signed back in 1988 (i.e. under Ronald Reagan), and ratified in 1994 (under Bill Clinton) which bans the use of torture under ALL circumstances.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

And, it defines torture as:
"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
Now, with regard to waterboarding, as described by Bent Sørensen, a Senior Medical Consultant to the IRCT and former member of the United Nations Committee against Torture:
'"when water is forced into your lungs in this fashion, in addition to the pain you are likely to experience an immediate and extreme fear of death. You may even suffer a heart attack from the stress or damage to the lungs and brain from inhalation of water and oxygen deprivation. In other words there is no doubt that waterboarding causes severe physical and/or mental suffering – one central element in the UNCAT’s definition of torture”.

“In addition,” he continues, “the CIA’s waterboarding clearly fulfils the three additional definition criteria stated in the Convention for a deed to be labelled torture, since it is 1) done intentionally, 2) for a specific purpose and 3) by a representative of a state – in this case the US.”

“Finally,” says Prof. Sørensen, “it should not be forgotten that the consequences of torture – including waterboarding - are often long-lasting or even chronic. For instance, anxiety attacks, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are very common sequelae after torture, regardless of course, whether the victim is guilty or innocent. So torture is never just a momentary infliction of suffering.”'
Which directly contradicts the conclusions of the Bybee memo, namely that it wouldn't constitute pain equivalent to organ failure or imminent death, or that it doesn't cause lasting pyschological trauma, and, therefore, doesn't rise to the level of torture.

But, let's be honest, wasn't the whole point of using these techniques was because it was torture? It's not just about interrogation and stopping attacks. It was payback for 9/11, right? And it was to send a message to anybody else - here's what happens if you fuck with America, suckers!

Which proves a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of Mr. Cheney and others: Al Qaeda has already been calling us The Great Satan, and this is how they're helping to rally people to their cause. By using these tactics, to try to prove that we're bigger and badder than Saddam or the Soviets or any other bad actors in the world simply proves their case.

And, more to the point, the people who need to prove that they're bigger and badder than everybody else are usually motivated by fear. I'm beginning to believe Larry Wilkerson's evaluation that Dick Cheney is "a profoundly fearful man." I know it's a joke, but I'm reminded of my thoughts on Dark Sidious:

How scared do you have to be if you need to subjugate the universe?

May 11, 2009

Ground Zero

I'd been going back through my old, unfinished drafts here on Macroscope when I came across this old article I'd saved from The Atlantic. It's a letter from a woman who was in Hiroshima on the only day that most of us in the rest of the world know anything about Hiroshima, and how, as Wayne Gale would put it, she lived to tell the tale.

Choice quote:

I rubbed my nose and mouth hard with a tenugui (a kind of towel) I had at my waist. To my horror, I found that the skin of my face had come off in the towel.

This, my friends, is pure, unadulterated horror.

But worth a read when we consider the modern state of nuclear proliferation.

The Atlantic | August 1980 | 'I Thought My Last Hour Had Come...' | Guillain

April 22, 2009

About Torture

It's all very simple:

Before actually having any suspects in custody from the War on Terror, officials in the Bush Administration took a program created to help captured American soldiers resist torture techniques crafted by the Red Chinese in the Korean War to illicit false confessions and reverse-engineered it so that they could APPLY those techniques in a way that would illicit false confessions about a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Anyone who says the techniques helped prevent terrorist attacks on Los Angeles are wrong. That presumed attack was thwarted months before the torture even started.

And, consider this - after being waterboarded 180 times, KSM never gave up Osama Bin Laden.

Effective, huh?

Anyone who says it's not torture is wrong. The United States has prosecuted people as war criminals for using these very same techniques going back as far as the Spanish American War.

Anyone who says that 9/11 was so extraordinary that we had to violate the law is wrong. Is Al Qaeda really more dangerous that the Nazis or Mutual Assured Destruction? Get real.

Or, actually, let me put it to you this way: Let's assume that there is a ticking time bomb. Let's assume you have absolute proof that an attack is imminent and you have a suspect in custody that you are absolutely sure knows how to prevent it but he'll only talk if you break the law and violate him physically in some way. And let's assume, by torturing him, you prevent an attack and save millions of lives.

We are STILL a nation of laws, with a court system where you're judged by a jury of your peers. When the dust has settled, you should still have to stand trial and answer for your crimes. Because if a jury of your peers agrees that you made the right decision, they'll acquit you. The law is upheld with the people kept safe. Problem solved.

And if the jury DOES convict you, but the President knows that you did a great service for this nation, he can pardon you.

But the law is still the law. We don't just pretend that torture is OK. It's not OK. And if you think the circumstances are so dire that you're required to do some awful things, you should be man enough to stand up, say it proudly, and take your lumps because you believe in America and our system of laws.

To do otherwise, to say the law shouldn't apply to you, I'm sorry, that's just fundamentally un-American.

You want to know how you're REALLY supposed to interrogate prisoners? Read "The Interrogators", about the first guys on the ground in Afghanistan and how they got real actionable intelligence without resorting to torture.

But I think my man Shepard Smith said it best:

April 20, 2009

No. 1 on the call sheet

This interview with J.J. Abrams about his process for the new "Star Trek", coupled with a Fast Company article about McG, where he likened directing a big budget movie to being hired as the CEO of a $200 million company that only gets to launch one product, put a new idea in my head.

So, I'm about a month away from starting serious casting for my feature film, and it occurred to me, for as many actors who want to be stars, how many of them are conscious of the responsibilities, from a filmmaking perspective, that stardom brings?

I'm reminded of a conversation Tom Cruise and Jada Pinkett Smith had with Tavis Smiley
just before the release of "Collateral", where Tom said, at the time, "I've never lost the studio money". It struck me at the time because, honestly, it hadn't occurred to me that he, as the star, felt personally responsible for making sure that the people who invested their money in his performance would see a return on their investment.

As a director, I'm reminding myself that it's not just important to cast someone who can give a performance, but someone who can also be a responsible filmmaker: supporting the performances for the other actors, treating onset crew with proper respect, being engaged in the evolution of their character with the director and the writer, using their fan base to promote the film, and, in many, many cases, helping to bring in the money to make sure there even IS a film to make in the first place.

It sounds like J.J. was very blessed by Chris Pine's onset presence. He was the star of the film, and he knew it, and acted appropriately.

I hope other actors are taking note - if you want to be a star, act like one. And that doesn't mean being a diva. It means being someone that a filmmaker and a producer and a studio and your castmates can put their trust and faith in. Being a star is about having broad shoulders.

Anyway, just something on my mind right now.

February 27, 2009

The toughest five minutes you'll ever love

So, as most of you know, I make movies.

That's my true passion. It's the reason I quit an insanely well-paying job in New York and moved all the way to Los Angeles nearly 10 years ago to get my MFA in Screenwriting at the American Film Institute.

Ironically enough, I pursued screenwriting after I took a production class at NYU back in 1998 and realized that I really didn't care enough about F-stops and film stock to devote my energy to cinematography and directing. I figured, if I could learn how to tell a good enough story, I can draw in all of the technical people I needed to make my films happen.

That was, of course, before I moved to Hollywood.

Now, don't get me wrong - you will never see a good movie that doesn't begin with a good script. But, after getting my degree and years of trying to push various feature film scripts in the marketplace, I came to realize that, when all you do is write, you're completely at the mercy of other people's tastes. Certainly, spec sales happen, but, given how many scripts there are out there in the system, selling a spec (i.e. a script you wrote on your own, with out anyone paying you to do it up front) is a lot like winning the lottery. Of course, if we're going to stick with the lottery analogy, going to film school is sort of like living in Montgomery County, MD - there's just an abnormally high number of state lottery winners there, just like you're more likely to know spec sellers if you go to film school.

Anyway, I came to realize that, contrary to popular rumors, scripts are not the coin of the realm in Hollywood. Only actual finished films are the real currency in Hollywood. From a buyer's perspective, buying a script is too big of a risk - WAY too many things can go wrong because of way too many people before you get your money back. There are far more buyers for films - cable networks, foreign territories, film markets, etc. - than for scripts.

Which gets to a piece of advice a lawyer buddy told me he received from his mentor at his first law firm: He told my friend that there were lawyers at that firm who could never understand why they didn't make partner. But making partner had nothing to do with seniority or legal skill. In a partnership, you have to split the pie, and anytime you add a new partner, you have to split the pie a little thinner. So the only reason why they would ever add a new partner is if he or she has something, a client or a relationship or something, that makes the pie bigger.

No one will hand you their equity for nothing.

And, as I thought about it, I noticed that a lot of the screenwriters I really loved were also directors: Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Spike Lee, David Lynch, etc.

In short, I realized that, if I wanted to see my movies made, I had to start making them.

So, I did this:

You like? If so, show "5" a little love: make it your favorite on YouTube, give it 5 stars, leave a funny comment, and, of course, forward it to every single person in your address book. :-)

You'll feel better when you do.

But, back to my original point, I've gotten FAR more traction as a screenwriter from this little short than from any of my feature screenplays. Why? Because it only takes 5 minutes to watch, while I script can take hours.

Which is why, whenever I run into a frustrated actor or writer, I tell them, take control of your destiny and make a film. Give yourself the role you want. Make yourself the producer who loves your writing.

Give yourself your own equity.

In the meantime, I'm planning to make something considerably.... longer. :-)

January 20, 2009

"....proud to be an American..."

"I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America."
- Langston Hughes
I know I've been pretty quiet since the election back in November. A lot has
happened since then - personally, professionally, artistically, romantically.

In many ways, I feel like anything I could write now would really pale in comparison
to the reality of the moment.

But I would like to say a few things:

  • I love that Michelle's mother is moving into the White House, because it is representative of the reality for many Black families here in America. My grandmother lived in my parents' house since before I was born, and there's something to be said for having another adult who is not working a full-time job there to help raise the children. And, let's be blunt, it's much more likely for Blacks to BE the nanny instead of HAVING a nanny. But, even more importantly, having a blood relative to help with your babies is probably always better. So I love that America is going to have a "First Nana".
  • I went to the Martin Luther King Day parade here in Los Angeles yesterday, and I love the weird trick of fate that we get to celebrate MLK the day before we inaugurate our first Black president. There were Obama t-shirts & signs & bootleg merchandise EVERYWHERE. But what's even more cool is how crazy diverse the MLK Day Parade itself was - there was a huge Korean contingent; Brazilian carnival-style dancers & floats, even freakin' Hari Krishnas. :-) A reminder that King's dream wasn't just about Black people. It was, and continues to be, about everybody.
  • Needless to say, I can understand how some on the left are highly pissed off about the whole Rick Warren thing. But, as I think those who oppose things like Prop 8 here in California are beginning to learn, this is a democracy, and the only way to win a majority for your beliefs is to change hearts and minds. And that means you have to talk to people who may believe in things that you hate, and they have to actually be in the room in order to talk to them. I stopped listening to some folks that I like because they believe something different than me, and, frankly, that's a sign of my own weakness. And ours. So, let's be real about this. Rick Warren is a far cry from Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, and he probably represents a very large cross-section of the church-going populace of this country. Even if you're a big believer in separation of church and state, even if you're an atheist or an agnostic, you still have to share the country with the religious people. You can't get rid of them just like they can't get rid of you, no matter how much either of you would like. That, my friends, is what democracy is all about. Just like talking to Iran is not appeasement, giving an olive branch to the Christian middle is not an endorsement. Have faith that the President may just know what he's doing.
  • Don't you just love that last sentence? Above all else, I love the return of a presumption of competence to the Federal government.
  • The last time I was on the national mall was 1995 for the Million Man March. After watching the festivities of the day, I'm suddenly itching to go back and go on all the tours. If I may paraphrase our new First Lady, this may not be the first time I've been proud of my country, but today is definitely the day that I've felt MOST proud to call myself an American.
OK. Now, let's get to work.