Category Archives: film

Searching for Songs with Shakespeare in a Troubled Time


Today’s NY Times Front Page

A time of paranoia. A time of threats within and without. An old way of life has been discarded in favor of a new world of new ideas, sacred and profane. Burning convictions, resentment, plots, a controversial leader, terror and Holy War. Being on the wrong side of the state is ruin, and the wrong side of your faith, damnation. A time of darkness and confusion desperate for a light.

Welcome to Elizabethan England. The treacherous world inhabited by William Shakespeare. The man who reinvented a nation on the edge of destruction.

“You can take away cricket, you can lose the last night of the Proms, you can even lose an empire, but if you lose Shakespeare — as far as I’m concerned — there is no England anymore.” Declares historian Simon Schama in the opening of his series Shakespeare and Us.

This two-part BBC series (available on Curiosity Stream) places us in the fraught world of Shakespeare. A time when the Pope had granted a ticket to paradise to whoever would kill the “bastard” and Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. Barely a generation after her father Henry VIII had made his separation with Rome, his son had smashed the ancient stained-glass windows of the churches, and his first daughter had attempted to reinstate the old religion through terror; Elizabeth replaced the worship of the Virgin Mary with the cult of the Virgin Queen. Meanwhile, her spies instituted a security state to stave off rebellion from within, as the Catholic monarchs of  Europe eyed her crown from abroad.

If ever Joseph Campbell’s insistence that all ages need their unifying myth were true, then Shakespeare’s was such an age. And he had a powerful new means to communicate his vision: the stage.  The subject he chose was England herself. The time, the Wars of the Roses, the bloody civil wars over the crown of England. And by turning those exhausting slog-fests of names and dates into exciting drama, unforgettable characters and thrilling action, he created a new vision of England. One that the  English have relied upon through the centuries, whether during the Blitz or to this day.

But for the heroic patriotism of the cry “For Harry, England and St. George!” Shakespeare’s vision was not one of blind nationalism nor of cynical criticism. Instead he used his history plays “to hold a mirror up” to his own times. To reveal both the heroes and the villains, the high and the low, the centers of power and the landscape of the sceptred isle in its honest glory.

With infinite compassion, Shakespeare laid before his audiences themselves, their land, their leaders. A vision as wide,  gentle yet crude, loving and base, comic and tragic, as all-encompassing as old Jack Falstaff himself. And, in doing so, he created an idea that could touch all of England’s people, caution its leaders and comment on his times.

We live in times like Shakespeare’s. A similar moment.  The old myths of our nation may be dead, but they haunt us daily in the victim’s of mass shootings by the disaffected and deranged who cling desperately to an older vision of the world. They’re in our desire to protect both our selves, our nation and our liberty. Present in our fear of war, of our neighbors and nations, of immigrants, of pretenders, of tyrants, of our past, of this ever-changing world.

Our national dialogue has devolved into two choirs endlessly preaching to themselves. The only interaction between the two camps of this new civil war exist online in nasty Facebook memes and hateful comments, and in confrontations between the armed and unarmed on our streets.

Everyone deplores the chaos, cries out for it to end. But we don’t know how to even begin.

In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell warned about the chaos of a culture without a unifying myth. Shakespeare responded to the hero’s “call to adventure”, traversed the “dark forest”, faced the dragon and returned with a boon to mankind. Today we must all respond to this call. We must all be heroes.

We must search for the raw materials from which to reconstruct our myth of America, liberty, fraternity and equality, the West, the world.  Learn to transform our hatreds and fears into understanding and empowerment. Discover how to use that great force of communication of our day, the internet, as Shakespeare used the stage.

Whether the subject be in space, or fantasy, modern drama, our own history or a combination, I am unsure. But I am certain we all need to look for that thing that will the hold the mirror up to ourselves, to allow us all to laugh and weep and thrill and, finally, to heal.

That other “Great” man of England, King Alfred said, “In prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him…In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated…in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling.”

In this time of hardship, no matter how unwilling or afraid, we must force ourselves to reflect, to accept the hero’s call like Shakespeare. And we must do it in the manner of Shakespeare: with exacting honesty, unflagging commitment and all-soothing compassion. We must use our new great medium as Shakespeare used his stage, to spread what our reflection teaches us. The time of the “Great Man” who changes history may be past, but today, with the internet, we can all be great. Billions of heroes, billions of great people, singing their portion of a great song of a great people.

What will your verse be?

Thranduil Has it All

It's good to be the King of the Woodland Realm.

It’s good to be the King of the Woodland Realm.

Trouble Loves Robocop: Bullets, Breaking Glass & Falling


Because the internet would not be complete without a video containing all of the breaking glass, extended death scenes, explosions and epic falls in the original Paul Verhoeven masterpiece Robocop, starring the inimitable Peter Weller.

There’s some story in there, too.

And I set it to Morrissey. Don’t like Moz? Make your own Robocop tribute.


Having trouble with the video? Click here. 

Lord of the Things

Lord of the Things

The Godfather BC

Take the cannoli

Too soon?

BEISBOL First Seven Pages


by, Jessica Lakis



A large and expensive resort hotel suite decorated in dark tropical wood. Well partied in. Empty bottles with big red labels announce ‘Cacique’ guaro with an Indian chief head. Male and female clothing intermingle, mixed with carved iguanas and turtles and pamphlets that read ‘Pura Vida’ and ‘Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!’

The room’s bar has a large statue on it. It’s a trophy: a giant gold ‘V’ with a right fist holding a baseball. It reads: ‘Cy Young Award, 2007, Brian Leppzinger, National League.’


MAN’S VOICE What the hell are you doing in there? Look, can you go now? Go? You know, vamos?

Outside the hotel bathroom stands BRIAN LEPPZINGER. Brian is a young, fit man. His beard is scrubby and his hair needs a cut. He’s wearing boxers and a t-shirt.

The bathroom door opens. A PROSTITUTE wobbles out.

PROSTITUTE Vamos mean we go.

BRIAN No, you go.

PROSTITUTE I need taxi.

BRIAN Alright fine, hold on.

Brian goes to his wallet by the bed and pulls out several thousand colone notes.

PROSTITUTE No colones. Dollars.

BRIAN Right.

He flips a couple of hundred dollar bills at her.

PROSTITUTE Taxi cost more.

BRIAN Damn those Costa Rican taxis. He flips her another couple hundred.

PROSTITUTE No party more?

BRIAN No. Not for you. You go home.

He corrals her towards the door as she stumbles over the furniture and trash. She kisses her finger and places it on the trophy then puts her finger on his right arm.

PROSTITUTE Big ball player.

Brian opens the door and forces her out.

BRIAN Wrong arm.


Brian goes over to the trophy.

BRIAN Pura vida baby.


Brian speeds along the beach in a golf cart. He gulps Cacique from the bottle.

BRIAN Pura vida, baby! Yeah! Pura vida! Cy Young baby! Right here!

He CONTINUES SCREAMING and drinking as he veers the golf cart sharply towards the parking lot. It hits a parking barrier and flips.

Brian’s shoulder hits pavement. The rest of the cart falls on top of him as THE BOTTLE SHATTERS.


A different hotel room. Looks like someone vomited pink and gold on it in the 60s. An empty Cacique bottle on the nightstand. FROM OUTSIDE LOUD REGGATON MUSIC.

Brian pulls himself up from the pillow and sits on the side of the bed. His beard is longer. He looks ragged from late nights and drink.

BRIAN Trumpets and airhorns.

He makes his way to the shower.


The Del Rey Hotel Bar & Casino is a large old building in the grand style of Spanish imperialism. The interior looks one part Costa Rican tourist trap, one part ‘gentleman’s lounge’ if the ‘gentleman’ in question were Donald Trump on the low-point of a ‘Fear and Loathing’ bender.

There are large screen TVs playing news and sports channels. Their din of Spanish and English echoes the conversations of the mix of seedy gringos in loud tropical print shirts, well-dresed Ticos, and the occasional business man. They are all drinking in the middle of the day.

TOM sits at the bar reading USA Today. Tom is an older man. He has white hair and the flushed face and stomach of a man who likes good drink and good food, but he’s tan, well-groomed, with white shiny teeth, and wears a neat, subdued print, button-down shirt with pressed khakis. He could 50 or 80.

The headline of the sport’s section reads: ‘Leftie Zinger Leaves Phils: Cy Young winner walks one year into contract.’ There is a picture beneath. It’s of Brian.

TOM (TO NO ONE) Goddammit! Just…Goddammit!

Tom folds the paper and looks generally annoyed at the world for a moment. He motions the DEL REY BARTENDER for another drink. He’s having Johnny Walker neat.

Brian enters and takes a seat across from Tom.

BRIAN Hey, uh, key-er-oh…Bloody Mary…with Cacique…con Cacique.


Tom looks over at Brian.

TOM You really drink that local rot-gut?

BRIAN Yeah, I kinda got used to it.

TOM You could get used to gasoline too. Doesn’t mean you should drink it. Hey chief! (to the Bartender, LOUD AND SLOWLY) MAKE IT WITH VODKA…CON VODKA…GREYGOOSE. YO COMPRO.

DEL REY BARTENDER Bloody Mary with Grey Goose and you’re buying. Con gusto, senor.

Tom turns to Brian.

TOM There fixed you up.

BRIAN Didn’t have to.

TOM I know. I wanted to. I wanted to buy The Zinger a drink.

Tom taps the sports page.

BRIAN Oh. Yeah, well thanks…

TOM Thomas O’Mallory. I’m Italian. Call me Tom.

BRIAN Brian Leppzinger. Half German, half Polish.

TOM Does the German half try to take over the Polish half?


TOM Nothing.

Tom extends his hand. Brian takes it. Tom has a vice-grip handshake. Brian extracts his hand as his drink arrives.

TOM You drink that and tell me if it isn’t better than that guaro shit. It’s better right? Right?

Brian gulps some down.

BRIAN Yeah, I guess it is.

TOM Goddamn right it is. ‘What is, is, and what ain’t, ain’t.’  You know I’ve been following you since you were drafted? Right outta high school. You come from Philly right?

BRIAN Yeah, the Northeast.

TOM Hate Philly. Dead town. Never could make anything stick there. Not even my second wife. Gotta kid there too. Probably stupid like his mother. She was from the Northeast. You staying here?

BRIAN I’ve been in San Jose for about four months…since the accident and all…

TOM Revisiting the scene of the crime, eh? You staying here, at the Del Rey?

BRIAN Yeah, just sort of..

TOM Drinking. Whoring. Feeling sorry for yourself. Jesus. This is no place to stay. Fucked up, son. You fucked up. But ya gotta put it behind you. Can’t carry the past around with you. Weighs ya down. At some point you gotta put that gunny-sack down and walk on.

BRIAN Gunny-sack?

TOM Look, I can see you’re a nice young man. But you’re stuck on a position. You gotta get off it. I’ve got a good little business going on here. I gotta nice house and a girlfriend, well, you know. Anyhow, how about you come out to dinner with me tonight at the White House. They have real American steak there. Not that rubber they eat here. I’ll bring my girl and her sister. You’ll like her.

BRIAN Oh, I don’t know. I’m kind of tired of…

TOM Oh, no, the sister’s not one of those! She speaks English. Wants to go to school in the States. Look it’s just a good time, good company, good food.

BRIAN Yeah, OK, sure.

TOM Great. Meet you here around six. Then we’ll go get the girls.


TOM Great. I gotta check in at the office. I’ll see you at six.

Tom makes the “check” sign. Puts some money down and waves away the change.

TOM See ya, son.

BRIAN Wait. What’s the girl’s name?

TOM Yours is Vanessa. Mine’s Roberta. Goddammit I hate that name! Tom turns to leave then turns back.

TOM And get a shave. Jesus. You look like shit.

Tom exits.

Brian is left alone at the bar.

Phighting Rocky When You’re Phrom Philly

록키 발보아 Rocky Balboa

With Rocky, language doesn’t matter

I love the term “curse-bless.” I think I first read it in a Dylan Thomas poem. And there’s no better way to describe being from Philadelphia than as a curse-blessing. I call it “The Rocky Syndrome.”

Philly is a great town to learn the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.” Sandwiched between our nation’s capital and the inimitable New York City, Philadelphia must struggle to define itself. A struggle that often manifests in the town’s well-publicized “addy-tood.” And I’ve spent my  life struggling to reconcile myself to it.

Part historical treasure, part post-industrial collection of neighborhoods and failed factories; travel where I will I find two names associated with the place: Ben Franklin and Rocky Balboa. But everyone mentions Rocky first.

And I can’t blame them. Rocky is a truly great film that transcends culture and language to touch people on a gut level of existence. And while the language-crossing may be down to Rocky’s own struggle with English, who can’t help but feel like and for Rocky?

The film itself is a series of body-blows, and it all comes down to one man’s ability to take those blows and remain standing at the end. He loses the fight, but earns his own respect.  Two hours of pain and struggle for one moment of glory and release. Like life. A lot like life in Philadelphia.

Rocky, like every “filu’fian,” is obsessed with being a “bum.” In case you don’t listen to sport radio, that’s what Philly fans call their teams or players whenever they stop living up to their potential. When they lose heart they become a bum.

No one likes a bum. No one wants to be a bum. Rocky shows us how not to be a bum. And there’s no better place to learn that most difficult of lessons than in Philly. And yet it’s so easy to slip into.

Philly’s a tough, gritty, depressing town. For all the advertisement, unless you’re in medicine or pharmaceuticals, it’s a great place to become a bum or, if you’re ambitious, get out of. And even if you do, it’ll haunt you, well, Rocky will.

You can learn to enunciate, you can even do well for yourself — go back in the ring against your personal Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang — but deep down inside you wonder if you haven’t lost heart. . . if you have, indeed, still wound up a bum.

Like the curse-blessing he is, Rocky himself shows us the way out. Think of Rocky’s training compared to Apollo Creed’s. Rocky gets up,  puts on his Chuck Taylor’s and old grey sweats and drinks raw eggs before he goes out to run the Art Museum steps. It’s about doing what you can with what you have at hand, not the spiff accessories of success.

It’s also about loving Adrian. About taking the girl in the glasses out ice-skating after hours. About telling her that she’s beautiful until she believes it. It’s when she loves you even though you may lose.

Nobody is guaranteed some big win in life. But if we can have the heart to take the punches, to fall and get back up and to be standing when that final bell rings, we don’t have to be bums. As much as it pains me, here’s one Philadelphia intellectual whose glad to claim Rocky. And now I’m going to go beat up a side of beef…

Current Projects by Jessica Lakis

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - Saturn Devouri...

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes – Saturn Devouring One of his Children – WGA10109 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recent screenplays by 

Jessica Lakis:

THE BLOOD DHARMA weaves an exotic tale of love, betrayal and revenge during the terror of the Indian Mutiny against the British.

BEISBOL tells a Rocky-like tale of a young American ex-pat living in Costa Rica, who discovers personal redemption through baseball.

CHILDREN OF SATURN focuses on the struggle of a small community to maintain their humanity through a desperate fight to stay alive in the cold isolation of a shipping outpost on Saturn’s moon Titan.

BLOCK, “The Human Equation” Pilot for hour-long series. When broke and lonely Marine Clayton Forrester moves to Los Angeles, he discovers more than just a room-mate in the mysterious, super-nerd extraordinaire, Catherine Kincaid (CK) Block.

Dear Sir, (Letters to a Union Soldier)

Dear Sir, (Letters to a Union Soldier)

20 minute non-traditional narrative. 

by, Jessica Lakis & Michael Mullan

DEAR SIR traces the interconnected stories of a Civil War soldier and a modern young man who shares his name as they struggle with both their common dreams and individual fates.

The impetus for DEAR SIR began when film-maker Michael Mullan discovered a gravestone at the Gettysburg National Cemetery that bore his name. Further research into archives revealed the historical Lt. Michael Mullin to be an Irish immigrant who once lived in Mullan’s old neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Finding this coincidence too great, Mullan and Jessica Lakis set out to create a way for the two men to communicate over time. This resulted in the creation of a “journal” for Lt. Mullin. Writer and co-director/producer, Jessica Lakis, based her writing of his fictitious “journal” on available biographical information, research into the Irish experience of emigration and  the American Civil War, and contemporary writing samples.  The result of this effort often misleads viewers as to the journal’s authenticity.

Filmed mainly in Pennsylvania on a shoe-string budget, DEAR SIR went on to become the only selection of an under-graduate film at the 2000 Student Academy Awards. Among other honors, as well as local and national airing, “Dear Sir,(Letters to a Union Soldier)” continues to catch the attention and hearts of all who watch it. A fitting tribute for a true labor of love.


The Blood Dharma: Synopsis

By, Jessica Lakis

Genre: Action-Adventure/Period

Logline: THE BLOOD DHARMA weaves an exotic tale of love, betrayal, and revenge set against the terror of the Indian Mutiny against the British.

Synopsis: Rajput warrior IKSANDER is left for dead at the foot of his beloved’s funeral pyre. Saved by a mysterious stranger, and aided by an unlikely band of confederates — he seeks vengeance on those responsible. THE BLOOD DHARMA is part John Ford/Kurosawa yarn and part David Lean period adventure. The main drama and conflict arise from the clash of the worlds of the native rajputs and that of the British East India Company.

Iksander is a military leader from a noble line He lives to serve his lord, THE RAJAH, but his heart belongs to the Rajah’s sister RADHA. His preordained world is torn from him when the fearful Rajah agrees to sacrifice Iksander’s  life for a treaty with an ambitious East India Company agent to ensure his title. With Iksander left for dead, Radha kills herself in grief. An Untouchable and a mysterious man who live in the mountains rescue Iksander from death. Iksander’s life as a dutiful servant is replaced by the desire for revenge. But Iksander’s journey will do more than test his strength; his beliefs, views on duty and caste, and even his selfish quest must all be challenged if he is to achieve vengeance.

JAMES STUART CAMPBELL is an agent of the quasi-military British East India Company. Unlike the nobly born Iksander,  James has relied on his intellect and cunning to rise to his position in life. He is tasked to make favorable trading terms with the Rajah’s opium-rich kingdom or annex it. From his residence, complete with British-style furnishings and rose bushes, capturing the kingdom is a chess game with the reward of advancement and wealth if he wins. His only human care — frighteningly so — is for his niece and ward, YOUNG ALICE, who he calls his “pet.” But Young Alice is seventeen, and as she begins to become aware of life outside her isolated world with her Uncle, grows harder for James to bend to his will — the first crack in shattering his illusion of control.

Framed as NARRATOR/ALICE’s reminiscences to her daughter later in life, Alice is the bridge, the frame, and our access to both worlds. A chance encounter at a train station brings up disturbing questions about her past and experience of the horrific Indian Mutiny against the British. Alice mixes the legend of Iksander with her own first-hand knowledge to weave the stories, the fates of the characters, and their worlds together — a tale of love, betrayal, destiny, and revenge in the lost world of colonial India.

%d bloggers like this: