All posts from “March 2011”

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March 29, 2011

Film Explores Human Rights in El Salvador

'Return to El Salvador,' narrated by Martin Sheen, can be seen in entirety on Hulu

Return to El Salvador, narrated by Martin Sheen, explores the reconstruction of El Salvador, post-civil war. The 12-year conflict (from 1980 to 1992) killed over 75,000 people and displaced nearly one-fifth of the population. the documentary brings the struggles of this beleaguered country back into view and examines what drives over 700 Salvadorans to flee their homeland each day, often risking their lives to illegally enter countries in search of a better life for their families. It also profiles a Salvadoran couple who fled death threats in the 1980s, finding asylum and a political platform in the United States. We meet another couple who, after escaping during the war, returned to El Salvador to work with churches and poor communities. And a family speaks out about their continued hunt for the truth about a murdered anti-mining activist.

This film explores the hopes of the Salvadoran people and walks with them in their journey. The film can now be seen in its entirety on Hulu. Here's the trailer:

March 29, 2011

Discovering ‘The Human Experience’

Two brothers travel the world in search of the meaning of life

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Jeffrey Azize grew up in what he describes as an abusive home, so as a young man, he decided to travel the world in search of goodness—and perhaps find a bit of the love he missed out on as a child. In the documentary The Human Experience, which releases to DVD today, Jeffrey and his older brother Cliff embark on three distinct adventures in their quest—first living for a week with New York City’s homeless, then visiting disabled orphans in Peru, and finally traveling to Ghana to meet people who are dying of AIDS (including an infant) and to visit a leper colony.

Along the way, they interview a number of experts on culture, beliefs, and “the human experience,” and while the brothers never say much about their own spiritual convictions, there’s a fair amount of Christian commentary throughout. Among their interviewees are Makoto Fujimura, a Christian artist, speaker, and founder of the International Arts Movement, and William B. Hurlbut M.D, a physician and Stanford prof who serves on the President’s Council on Bioethics. When asked about the nature of human suffering, Hurlbut brought up the Crucifixion as the example of the ultimate suffering.

In the end, the Azize brothers discovered what they had hoped to find—hope and goodness amidst pain and suffering, all over the world. It’s worth a watch.

Check out the trailer below:

March 25, 2011

'Expelled' Writer Tackles One Hell of a Movie

Kevin Miller explores questions about hell in a new documentary, due sometime in 2012

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Kevin Miller apparently isn't afraid of controversy. A few years ago, he co-wrote the script for Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary which examined "academic freedom" -- specifically, why college profs who believed in intelligent design weren't allowed to teach it, or even mention it in some cases.

Now, in the wake of the Rob Bell conversations about free will, destiny, universalism, and the existence of hell, Miller is tackling the underworld itself in an upcoming documentary called Hellbound? (And yes, the question mark is part of the title.)

“While recent challenges to the traditional view of hell are grabbing headlines, most people recognize this controversy is nothing new,” Miller says in a recent press release. “For centuries, people have wondered, if God is our pure, all-loving Creator, how can he allow billions of sinners to suffer for eternity in hell? Is it possible we’ve got hell wrong? Or are recent attempts to find a way around traditional teachings on hell a vain attempt to avoid the inevitable? These are the questions I want to explore.”

Miller adds, “Rather than endorse or exclude a particular position, I’m interested in talking to leading voices on all sides of the debate to discover how the various perspectives on hell developed and what our beliefs about hell reveal about God, the Bible and, ultimately, ourselves.”

The film will go into production this summer, wrap in the fall, and likely be released sometime in 2012,.

March 24, 2011

Meet the New Movie Marathon Man

Man ran 75 marathons in 75 days to call attention to the challenges of single parenting

When Terry Hitchcock lost his wife to breast cancer, he was suddenly faced with the incredible difficulties of single parenting. At the age of 57, the modern-day Forrest Gump decided to make his life incredibly harder -- by running 75 marathons on 75 consecutive days, covering the distance between St. Paul, MN, and Atlanta, about 2,000 miles. All in the name of calling attention to the challenges of single parenting.

Hitchcock, whose own faith was challenged when his wife died, and son Christopher chronicled the journey, now coming to theaters as My Run, narrated by Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton. The film will show one night only, March 31, in about 500 theaters nationwide. Click here to see if it's playing near you, and check out the trailer below:

March 23, 2011

Third Day Plugs Adoption in New Video

'Children of God' clearly illustrates how we're all adopted into God's family

"Children of God," the latest hit single from veteran rockers Third Day, talks about our adoption as God's own sons and daughters, but the video takes the concept a step further with footage of actual adopted kids (including that of Third Day’s lead vocalist Mac Powell, who recently welcomed adopted son Emmanuel and daughter Birdie). Good stuff. Check it out:

March 23, 2011

Former SNL Star Slammed for 'Homophobia'

Victoria Jackson takes 'Glee' to task for airing a kiss between gay young men

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Former Saturday Night Live star Victoria Jackson, writing for the hyper-conservative World Net Daily, said that last week's episode of Glee, which featured a kiss between gay characters Kurt and Blaine, was "sickening" and that "besides shoving the gay thing down our throats, they made a mockery of Christians – again! I wonder what their agenda is? Hey, producers of "Glee" – what's your agenda? One-way tolerance?"

The comments came near the end of an article titled "The Muslims Next Door," in which Jackson had ridiculed Muslims on a number of fronts: "Why do liberals embrace Shariah law even though 'beheading your wife' seems to go against the feminist movement's mantra? Why do liberals embrace Islam knowing it frowns on homosexuality? Because they have the same goals. Progressives, communists, liberals, globalists and Muslims want to destroy America. When that goal is reached, they will fight for top billing. It will be bloody."

But it was Jackson's comments about Glee's gay kiss that really stirred the pot on Tuesday. The Huffington Post and E! Online both called it a "homophobic rant." Popeater.com called it an "anti-tolerance crusade." Perez Hilton urges Jackson to "keep your homophobic, narrow-minded, tea-party babble to yourself, 'kay?!"

Showbiz Tonight ostensibly gave Jackson a chance to defend her comments on the air, but the report was hardly objective and was clearly meant to tear Jackson down. The webpage, after all, is titled, "Victoria Jackson blasts 'Glee,' gays while waving Bible," and the video carried such blurbs as "Glee Kiss Outrage!" and "Lip-Lock Lashout!" And while interviewing Jackson, Showbiz Tonight showed the kiss eight times in less than five minutes.

On Showbiz Tonight, Jackson dismissed the accusations of homophobia by saying "that's a cute little buzz word of the liberal agenda," adding, "The Bible says homosexuality is a sin." See the entire video here:

March 16, 2011

Behind the Scenes of 'Soul Surfer'

Just Jared releases an exclusive look at some of the actors behind the film

March 16, 2011

Japan, Tsunamis, Nukes, Godzilla, & the Movies

A few thoughts, and some news, connecting all of the above

As we continue to pray for, worry about, and send aid to Japan in the midst of their crisis, I can't help but be reminded of Godzilla, the classic 1954 monster film that in some ways is comparable to current events. Like the tsunami, Godzilla was a devastating creature who rose from the sea, trampled everything in sight, and wreaked havoc on the land and its people. There was a nuke angle as well: The giant creature was born from nuclear materials, a mega-mutation from atomic radiation, with radioactive breath, no less. The parallels between that film and Japan's current crisis are eerie, as evidenced in the original Japanese trailer

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But here's where the parallels end: Godzilla wasn't merely a "force of nature"; he was an imaginary product of American nuclear devastation. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in Japanese minds, and writer/director Ishiro Honda came up with a film that is more cultural commentary than it is monster movie. A recent New York Times editorial, titled "Japan's Long Nuclear Disaster Film," notes that in 1954, Japanese audiences reportedly watched the film "in somber silence, broken by periodic weeping."

The anti-nuke message of the film means little today, of course, when Japan, which powers one-third of its electricity with nuclear power, is struggling to prevent a meltdown crisis. If only the fictional Godzilla were real today -- over the course of the films, he actually changed "sides" and became a defender of Japan. Perhaps he could think of a way to protect them from the meltdown. But in his absence, Japan's nuclear officials and engineers -- with offers of help from around the world -- are scrambling to contain the mounting threat.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is considering the plight of one of its greatest sources of revenue. According to a story in yesterday's LA Times, Japan is the No. 1 foreign market for Hollywood films, generating $2.5 billion in box office receipts last year, $700 million ahead of No. 2 foreign market France. The story reports that "Hollywood studios are undoubtedly counting on Japan to play an important role in the success of their big budget summer tentpoles such as Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon." The story says that Hollywood execs are now reconsidering their release plans, depending on how quickly the nation recovers.

The recovery may take some time, and along the way, Japanese people may or may not be interested in going to the movies. Something as trivial as a movie seems like the last thing you'd want to do if you've lost loved ones, your home, and more. On the other hand, trends show that people sometimes flock to the movies to escape the harsh realities of life, so it's hard to say how our friends in Japan might react in the weeks and months -- and maybe years -- ahead.

In the meantime, at least one American film distributor is moving forward with plans to show a movie in Japan: Campus Crusade for Christ, which for decades has shown the evangelistic film Jesus to billions of viewers around the world. Japanese Campus Crusade teams are already on the ground, as staff and volunteers deliver aid, food, and more to the displaced and the devastated. The ministry's Japanese teams are asking for 50,000 DVDs of the Jesus film (in Japanese, of course) to share with their countrymen.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a bit tacky -- because while there are people all over the world who certainly need Jesus, what the Japanese need right now is food, shelter, warmth, medical aid, and comfort. But there are so many with no place to go, nothing to do, but just sit and wait for help to come. And as noted before, hurting people often like to escape to the movies; why not show a film that offers the greatest hope of all? Between that and knowing that the Japanese teams are asking for the film -- and the decision isn't just being made at CCC's Orlando headquarters -- I'm good with it. (If you're interested on donating to help get those DVDs to Japan, click here.)

March 16, 2011

The Day the Movies Died

Hollywood's first question is not 'Will the movie be good?' but 'Can it be sold?'

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Check out this awesome analysis -- by GQ writer Mark Harris -- on the overall decline of smart movies coming out of Hollywood, where execs are more interested in whether an idea can be marketed rather than whether it's good, intelligent, unique.

Some highlights, directly from the story:

> I don't mean that there are fewer really good movies than ever before (last year had its share, and so will 2011) but that it has never been harder for an intelligent, moderately budgeted, original movie aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide.

> How did Hollywood get here? There's no overarching theory, no readily identifiable villain, no single moment to which the current combination of caution, despair, and underachievement that defines studio thinking can be traced. But let's pick one anyway: Top Gun.

> The guys who felt the rush of Top Gun because it was custom-built to excite them is now in its forties, exactly the age of many mid- and upper-midrange studio executives. And increasingly, it is their taste, their appetite, and the aesthetic of their late-'80s postadolescence that is shaping moviemaking.

> Such an unrelenting focus on the sell rather than the goods may be why so many of the dispiritingly awful movies that studios throw at us look as if they were planned from the poster backward rather than from the good idea forward. Marketers revere the idea of brands, because a brand means that somebody, somewhere, once bought the thing they're now trying to sell.

> If you were born before 1985 . . . well, it is my sad duty to inform you that in the eyes of Hollywood, you are one of what the kids on the Internet call "the olds." To the studios, which have realized that the closer you get to (or the farther you get from) your thirtieth birthday, the more likely you are to develop things like taste and discernment, which render you an exhausting proposition in terms of selling a movie.

> More often than not, these collectively infantilizing movies are breeding an audience—not to mention a generation of future filmmakers and studio executives—who will grow up believing that movies aimed at adults should be considered a peculiar and antique art. Like books. Or plays.

That's enough teasers from the story. If you like movies, and are concerned about the lack of intelligent stories hitting the big screen, this is your kind of essay.

March 11, 2011

'I Can Do All Things . . .'

Watch a scene from 'Soul Surfer,' coming to theaters April 8

Soul Surfer, the inspirational story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, releases to theaters next month. Check out this scene from the movie -- shortly after Bethany (played by AnnaSophia Robb) lost her left arm to a shark attack, her father (Dennis Quaid) comforts her in the hospital.

March 10, 2011

Palin to Be Portrayed by . . . Julianne Moore?

Despite Tina Fey's spot-on impersonations, Moore will play Palin in upcoming HBO film

HBO Films announced this week that 4-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore will play former VP candidate Sarah Palin in an upcoming movie for the cable channel.

Moore will play Palin in HBO's adaptation of the 2008 election book, Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Yet-to-be-announced cast members will also play Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

As the Huffington Post noted, "It will take quite an acting job for Moore to play the role -- she's an outspoken liberal, and backed Obama during the election."

March 4, 2011

Owl City Announces New Album Release

'All Things Bright and Beautiful' slated for May; Young calls it a 'dreamy' album

Owl City, an overnight sensation less than two years ago when his album, Ocean Eyes, went platinum in just eight months, will release a new full-length studio album, All Things Bright And Beautiful, on May 17 with Universal Republic.

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Adam Young, the Minnesota man who is the one-man band Owl City, recently blogged, "I’m so very excited about this new album. Much time was spent imagining, daydreaming, exploring and discovering, and I believe the result is that much more dreamy. When all is said and done, I think I’m most excited to hang up the brushes, take a deep breath and whisper, Thank You. Thank you, dear God, for allowing me to do this. I am so undeserving, and thus, so very humbled.

It's not known if Young, a Christian, actually covers the Anglican hymn that the new album title shares. recently covered a couple of hymns ("In Christ Alone" and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us"), but it's unknown if they will be on the album.

Produced by Young and recorded at Sky Harbor Studios in Owatonna, MN, All Things Bright And Beautiful features twelve new songs and was mixed by Young along with Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer Jack Joseph Puig whose credits include Beck, Mary J. Blige, Green Day and John Mayer to name a few.

MARCH 7 UPDATE: We have since learned that the two hymns mentioned above are not covered on the new album. Meanwhile, Spin magazine has more info about some of the tracks that will appear on the album.

March 4, 2011

Going Gaga over the Gospel?

"Lady Gaga is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, whether intentionally or not"

Writing for Busted Halo: An Online Magazine for Spiritual Seekers, Helen Lee, a theology student at Fordham University, claims that Lady Gaga is spreading the gospel in her music. She says that Gaga's new single, “Born This Way,” is "an anthem for the different. The song offers words of encouragement for everyone on the margins of society, including gay people, members of racial minorities, and even the 'broke.' She insists that 'God makes no mistakes.'"

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Lee goes on: "Gaga is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, whether intentionally or not. Her views on celibacy, personal strength and individuality are certainly laudable; and far more compelling is what she has to say about human nature and human suffering."

And this: "Because Lady Gaga is able to embrace the ugly, and in so doing embrace the beautiful, she has a sensitivity and appreciation for inevitable human suffering. She acknowledges that people struggle constantly with their fallen nature . . . From her attention to human suffering, I’m reminded of the Christian theme of uniting your sufferings with Christ’s suffering. Gaga is demanding that the marginalized be seen as the valuable, beautiful, Christ-like people they are.

"Lady Gaga is eccentric for sure. She can be grotesque. She can be vulgar. But she is a role model of Christian virtue precisely because it seems unlikely that she would be. She has the potential to introduce God to so many people precisely because it doesn’t seem like she is doing so. Lady Gaga is telling a huge, devoted audience that God loves them."

I would agree that, at least in this song, Gaga is communicating some biblical truths. But to call her a "role model of Christian virtue"? A self-professed bisexual who shows off more of her body than almost any entertainer in history, who says she stays in shape on the "drunk diet," who walked into the Yankees' locker room after a game last summer while swilling whiskey and groping her own breasts, who believes she has two souls, who gave the finger to Mets fans, who . . .

Point made. If she's singing Christian truths, fantastic. But "role model of Christian virtue" doesn't exactly fit the situation.

March 3, 2011

Making the 'Most' out of a Short Film

Acclaimed Czech film, now out on DVD, tells a moving, redemptive story

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The wonderful news is that Most, an acclaimed 2003 short film from Czechoslovakia that was nominated for an Academy Award, is at last going to get a bigger audience, thanks to the efforts of Provident Films. It's a soul-stirring film (its titled means "The Bridge" in English), with a lot of story packed into its 33 minutes. It just came out on DVD this week, and I highly recommend it.

The not-so-good news is the way Provident is promoting it; I applaud them for marketing it to Christians -- with a ringing endorsement from Luis Palau, no less -- because it's a film with themes that will resonate with believers. But their synopsis and descriptions give so much away that the viewer can guess the outcome long before it happens. I had not seen the film until Provident sent me a screener, and looked forward to viewing it. But I knew within 10 minutes how it was going to end, thanks to Provident's descriptions.

You could learn more about the film at Provident's site here, but if you're serious about watching it, I'd avoid reading much about it there. I'd even avoid the trailer there, which also gives too much away. The best advice is to go into this film "cold" -- or, as our critic Ron Reed put it in his review eight years ago, "To reveal much at all of a story this concise and beautifully constructed would be to rob the viewer of some of the film's greatest power."

March 3, 2011

TWLOHA Story Coming to Big Screen

Kat Dennings in title role for 'Renee,' who sparked To Write Love on Her Arms ministry

The trivia section on Kat Dennings' IMDb webpage says that "most of the characters she plays tend to be 'rebellious daughters' around 15 or 16." Dennings, 24, will tackle that role yet again in the upcoming Renee, a film about the troubled teenage girl who sparked the ministry To Write Love on Her Arms.

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According to a press release from TWLOHA, the movie, which began filming on February 23, "is inspired by the true story of Renee Yohe (at right), a young Florida woman whose commitment to cease her cycle of chaos from drug addiction, alcohol abuse and self-injury motivates many teenagers and young adults today." The film follows Renee's spiral into addiction, depression and self-injury. In a creative blend of artistic fantasy balanced with harsh reality, the movie follows Renee on her courageous journey toward recovery."

TWLOHA founder Jamie Tworkowski is a friend of the real-life Renee. He and others came to her side during her troubles in early 2006; Tworkowski wrote an essay about the situation titled, "To Write Love on Her Arms," which ultimately became the name of his organization. TWLOHA is a non-profit movement "dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. [It] exists to encourage, inform, inspire and to invest directly into treatment and recovery."

CT did a brief profile on Tworkowski several months ago.

March 1, 2011

'You Don't Have to Break the Lord's Rules'

Jane Russell, sex symbol and Christian, died yesterday. We interviewed her two years ago.

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Movie star Jane Russell, who died Monday at the age of 89, may go down in Hollywood history as a sultry sex symbol, but what's less known about her is that she was a pro-life Christian and adoption advocate.

Peter T. Chattaway did a nice interview with Russell for us two years ago. In that conversation, Russell said she came to Jesus as a young girl, was taught Scripture by her mother (and later in Hollywood by Henrietta Mears), had an abortion as a young woman that almost killed her, and then later became an adoption advocate, adopting three kids of her own. As for her image as a sex symbol, she says she naive about the whole thing, only to later learn that "all it was about was some cleavage!" She also had some advice for young Christians looking for Hollywood work today: "You don't have to break the Lord's rules."

March 1, 2011

Jesus Walks on Water!

Well, that's hardly breaking news, but a new movie by that title combines surfing and faith

We featured Bryan Jennings, a former surfing star who found Jesus and later founded Walking on Water, a Christian surfing ministry, as our Who's Next subject in the October 2010 issue of Christianity Today.

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Part of WOW's ministry includes making films that typical include testimonies from surfers and lots of incredibly cool surfing footage and music. WOW's newest film, titled Walking on Water, releases to DVD today in a special edition version from Sony Pictures and Affirm Films. (Sony and Affirm have also teamed up for Soul Surfer, releasing to theaters next month.)

In Walking on Water, Jennings takes two promising young surfers on a world tour to meet some of the planet's best surfers, to see life in various cultures (including third-world countries), to take part in various outreach ministries, and to experience life in a variety of settings. Jennings himself had taken a similar journey when he was 14; he wanted to "pay it forward" by doing the same for others. This film is that result. I've seen it, and it's definitely worth checking out to see how these boys are affected by what they see, hear, and learn.

Here's the trailer.

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