All posts from “December 2011”

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December 21, 2011

'Hobbit' Trailer Makes Critic Cry

Well, almost. Steven D. Greydanus says preview hints at a good movie. Maybe. Hopefully.

Critic extraordinaire Steven D. Greydanus, who reviews movies for CT, the National Catholic Register, and his own website, Decent Films, recently watched the new trailer for The Hobbit, which comes to theaters in December 2012. And Steven, not only a discerning critic but also a "don't-mess-with-my-beloved-Tolkien" fan who had some serious reservations about the Lord of the Rings movies, pretty much likes what he sees, thought with a few caveats.

Writing for the Register, Steven says, "I think it looks fantastic, for the most part. Of course it’s a trailer, and so the material has been carefully selected, but I love much of what we see here." He lauds the casting choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He loves the re-casting of Ian McKellen as Gandalf, a choice which Steven says "is one of the most awesomely right and perfect performances of any literary character I’ve ever seen, and I’m so happy there’s more coming. I … I think I’ll cry now." And he digs the depiction of the dwarves' song about the lost gold.

But Steven also has some concerns. He begs Jackson to show some restraint: "Please, please, no skullvalanche-level tonal atrocities, no drinking-game bathos or video-game culture allusions, no staff-shattering sacrileges." And he thinks Thorin appears too young, because "in my mind is an older figure, stout as an oak tree, beard as imposing as a shield." And he beseeches Jackson to avoid "The Aragorn Effect": "I really hope Jackson’s Thorin doesn’t become in The Hobbit what Aragorn became in the later Rings movies, the all-inspiring hero whose greatness diminishes those around him. (I call this centralizing of awesomeness the Aragorn Effect.) If nothing else, the climax of Tolkien’s story should prevent that—but you never know."

Here's the trailer:

December 13, 2011

An Old Classic for the Occupy Movement

Leo McCarey's 'Make Way for Tomorrow' speaks volumes to today's 'entitled' generation

A couple years ago, we ran a "Filmmakers of Faith" feature about Leo McCarey, a practicing Catholic who directed such classics as An Affair to Remember and The Bells of St. Mary's.

That article included a paragraph about 1937's Make Way for Tomorrow, a sobering Depression Era film which McCarey apparently considered his best movie. "If I really have talent," he told an interviewer, "this is where it appears." Orson Welles once said that Make Way "would make a stone cry." Our writer, Eric David, noted that the film "concerns an elderly couple who, because of tough financial times, are forced to separately move in with their too-busy-to-care five children who pass them around like hot potatoes."

I've just read another essay about the film that makes it even more relevant today, during the worst recession since the Depression, and an age of "entitlement" where many younger people feel they deserve the good life to the point that they'll launch an "occupy movement" to voice their complaints. (Personal side note: I'm all for complaining about how banks and Wall Street are the bad guys responsible for our economic woes, so occupy away. But when "occupy" becomes an "I deserve it" mentality, that's going too far.)

Anyway, David A. King, writing for The Georgia Bulletin, a Catholic newspaper in Atlanta, has penned a thoughtful essay about about McCarey's classic. King, associate professor of English and film studies at Kennesaw State University, where he teaches courses in Christianity and film and Flannery O’Connor, brings a fascinating perspective to this profoundly sad film: Students really like it.

King writes that McCarey "meant it for struggling young people then, and I think he’d be pleased to know that it resonates with the young today. When the film appeared in 2009 as a Criterion Collection DVD release, it became certifiably hip, and students who are today seeing the film for the first time find themselves wanting to see it again. It’s become a popular choice for college cinema society screenings; my own campus film group screened the film this week."

He continues, "The film is heartbreaking. But too many people have focused solely on the anguish, which is perhaps why it went unseen for so many decades after its initial release. Yet students anxious about their future don’t want to wallow in sadness; they want to find a way out. Make Way for Tomorrow has a message, I think, that must transcend pathos."

That message includes a command from Scripture itself: Honor thy father and thy mother. Writes King, "That’s how the film begins, literally, with the onscreen acknowledgment that there exists a gap between the young and the old and that one way to bridge that gap is through attention to the Fifth Commandment."

I've never seen Make Way for Tomorrow, but after reading King's essay, it's going onto my must-see list pronto. Meanwhile, here's an important scene from the film:

December 12, 2011

Joel Osteen Getting a Reality Show

No network slated yet, so it's yet to be seen if the show will, ahem, prosper

Mark Burnett, producer of the Survivor and The Voice reality TV shows, has convinced his friend Joel Osteen to sign on for his own reality TV gig, TMZ recently reported, running the image at left with their story.

A follow-up story in Entertainment Weekly said the show, titled Pack Your Bags, will bring "missionary-style giving to prime time."

According to EW, "the popular Houston megachurch pastor will lead volunteers to a surprise destination to try and make a difference in other people’s lives. For example: To put on a homecoming party for a group of soldiers returning from oversees to their hometown, or bringing holiday cheer to an elderly care home. 'You get on plane, you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what you’re going to be doing,' Burnett says.

"Burnett says our current economic climate makes this an ideal time to launch a show like Pack Your Bags. 'America is the most giving nation on Earth,' says the British producer, who became an American citizen two decades ago. 'One of the best ways to feel better is by doing something for somebody else.'"

Methinks I'll leave the comments -- snarky or otherwise -- to the readers here. The floor is yours.

December 9, 2011

Upcoming Elvis Biopic to Focus on Faith

'The Identical' is one of four Presley pictures in the works, according to 'Hollywood Reporter'

Since the success of Ray and The Man in Black, biopics about Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, respectively, Hollywood execs -- not to mention millions of music fans -- have been clamoring for a major motion picture about the life of Elvis Presley.

The Hollywood Reporter recently noted that at least four Elvis flicks are in various stage of development, but perhaps the most surprising is one titled The Identical, which will have "a faith-based bent," focusing on "Presley's interest in gospel music and his religious roots." That movie, adapted by screenwriter Howie Klausner (Space Cowboys) will star Ryan Pelton (pictured here), a real-life Elvis impersonator, and will include licensed Presley music.

The Identical will be produced by City of Peace films, which has a mission statement to create products with “redeeming value” and "bringing a message of hope, love and encouragement to this generation." Studio president Yochanan Marcellino said that he wasn't planning to say much about The Identical until THP broke its story, but now says, "It's clearly God's timing for word of this film to start getting out."

In a video on his website, Pelton said that he "can't give many details" about the film, but confirmed that it would shoot January through April 2012. "It's very exciting," he said, "and very uplifting. I'm humbled to be involved in the project. It's going to be something very special."

Presley, who died in 1977, was nominated 14 times for Grammy awards, but surprisingly won only three, all for gospel albums: 1967's How Great Thou Art, 1972's He Touched Me, and 1974's live recording of the song “How Great Thou Art.” Elvis recorded over 80 gospel songs during his career. Biographer Peter Ramsey wrote, "“Elvis started singing hymns as a child, attending church with his mother. There are many stories about Elvis’ respect for Christ. . . . One night at a concert fans unfurled a massive banner while Elvis was singing. The banner read: ‘Elvis is King!’ Elvis stopped in the middle of his song and clearly stated in the microphone: ‘There is only one king and He is Jesus Christ.’"

Presley was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Here's a video of Pelton, in Elvis mode, singing "Peace in the Valley" with The Imperials several years ago:

December 8, 2011

Downhere's Marc Martel wins Queen Contest

Lead singer of Christian rock band to play Freddie Mercury role in upcoming tribute tour


It should come as no surprise that Marc Martel, lead singer of the Christian rock band downhere, has won a contest to play the part of the late Freddie Mercury in the 2012 Queen Extravaganza Tour, a grand production celebrating the music of Queen and the classic band's 40th anniversary. A second vocalist, Jennifer Espinoza of San Antonio, Texas, was also chosen, as were two guitarists, a drummer, and a bass player.

"What an amazing and unexpected opportunity to come our way," said Martel, whose audition video earned him an MTV O Award and an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show. "Having gotten to know the other contest winners a bit, I'm confident we have what it takes to gel as a unit and give our best to do justice to some of the best rock music ever recorded. I am so thankful for for the chance to do this. Gonna be fun!"

Queen, one of the most influential rock groups of all time, has sold more than 300 million albums, recorded over 18 No. 1 singles, and have hundreds of millions of fans around the world.

Martel’s audition video (embedded below) of the song “Somebody to Love,” which has been viewed more than 5 million times, has wowed Queen fans for months. His voice is so spot-on, you’d think Mercury himself was singing.

The winners of the audition were just announced at a news conference this afternoon in Montreal. More details, including comments from Martel, to come soon.

Queen founder and drummer Roger Taylor has overseen the audition process, which concluded Monday with a final round of live auditions in Los Angeles. Taylor, who will produce and direct the Extravaganza tour, says it “will not be a traditional tribute show” but “a heart-stopping event. It’s going to be spectacular. It’s going to be very visual. There are going to be some shocks and some tremendous surprises. It will be a rock celebration in the royal tradition."

At Thursday's press conference announcing the winners, Taylor said that the talent "went way beyond my expectations. It was an incredibly difficult decision to choose the final line-up. I wish I could've kept them all, but in the end, I'm very happy with this group of exceptional musicians."

Martel is pictured above singing at the audition in L.A., and here’s a video of Martel at the same gig. And here’s Martel’s astonishing audition video, which posted in late September:

December 7, 2011

‘You Deserve It’ Deserves an Audience

On ABC's new reality-TV-meets-game-show, it truly is better to give than receive

In general, I’m a horrible companion for watching game shows, particularly if you like watching them in peace. I’m competitive by nature, especially when it comes to intellectual challenges. I’m the one that guesses all the answers, quite loudly. I compete against the people on screen, as if shouting answers at the TV faster will result in the sudden accumulation of prize winnings in my bank account. (No luck yet.)


But ABC’s newest game show You Deserve It(Mondays 9/8c) is different for one reason: the contestants on the show aren’t playing for themselves. They’re playing on behalf of someone they care about, someone who could use the money earned on the show for their needs—someone who has no idea what’s happening. As host Chris Harrison (of The Bachelor fame) enthusiastically declares each episode, You Deserve It is a game that believes it’s better to give than to receive.

The game show aspect is fairly simple. Contestants have five chances to earn cash amounts ranging from $10,000 in the first round to $250,000 in the final round. They’re given a category (who, where, or what) and one free clue that describes the answer they need to guess to win the round. Nine more clues are available for purchase, but the amount those clues cost depends on the cash amount hidden behind a number the contestant has to pick. The clue’s cost is deducted from the amount of prize money available that round.

In that aspect, You Deserve It is like most any game show, albeit dragged out a little in its hour-long format. Contestants spend much of their time reasoning aloud as the clues are revealed and angsting over which number to pick to deduct the lowest amount from their winnings. Harrison does a pretty good job here acting as a sounding board. He doesn’t offer (too much) cheesy dialogue, and if contestants get distressed by choosing a high dollar amount for clue, he keeps it all in perspective and gets them back in the game.

The show’s most compelling side centers around the person that each contestant is trying to help. Each episode begins like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, with a montage of footage and pictures submitted by the contestant and other friends and family of the recipient, outlining why this person deserves the money. It borders on being overly emotionally manipulative, but so far You Deserve It has done a good job of keeping the swelling, overdramatic music to a minimum (which is where Extreme Makeover often loses me) and letting the emotional pull of the stories themselves do the work of endearing us to both the contestant and recipient.

There’s also a hidden-camera element; Harrison’s co-host, Brooke Burns, checks in regularly from a location near the unsuspecting recipients, hiding out until after the final round, when she can inform them just how much money they’re about to make. Personally, the hour-long wait is worth it for the expressions on their faces during the big reveal.

All in all, You Deserve It is a refreshing take for the game show genre. It’s currently only scheduled to air two more new episodes, as it was intended to get viewers into the holiday spirit. Whether it will be picked up for a longer run remains to be seen. I hope it gets the chance to continue; it deserves it.

Here's a clip from the show:

Morgan Feddes is CT's Editorial Resident.

December 2, 2011

Inside the Mind (and Sweaty Suit) of Santa

'Becoming Santa' a delightful documentary about what it means to play St. Nick

Now that we're seeing Santas everywhere, you might wonder just what it would be like to grow a white beard, put on that iconic suit and spectacles, and play the part -- even if just for a day. Jack Sanderson wondered the same thing too, especially as Christmas rolled around again after his father's death. Somewhat depressed and disillusioned about facing the holidays for the first time without either parent, the 40-something Sanderson decided that the best way to get into the spirit was to get into the suit and play the role.


Becoming Santa, a delightful documentary recently released to DVD by Cinema Libre, tells Sanderson's story -- from making the decision, to plopping down 600 bucks for a custom Santa suit, to bleaching his hair and beard white, to going to "Santa school" to learn how to play the role, to travels across the nation for gigs ranging from walking down the narrow aisles of "The Polar Express" to quietly entering people's homes in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve (seriously!).

Sanderson makes for a wonderful Santa, and not just visually. He's got a great disposition, a load of patience (mandatory on this job!), a fine sense of humor, and an excellent manner with children -- not kids, but children. Sanderson learned that at Santa School, where the instructor -- an eccentric-but-amusing woman named Susen Mesco -- stressed that kids are "baby goats," and Santa has nothing to do with them. Real Santas, she insists, bring dignity to the process by addressing them as "children." (Every time a wannabe Santa says "kid," he must drop a dime into a jar as a fine. Sanderson ended up dropping quite a few in the jar before getting the hang of it.)

You'll also learn a lot about the history of Santa Claus in this well-made doc, including the true inspiration for the character, the real St. Nicholas. Mostly, the film is devoid of Christian content -- the real "reason for the season" -- opting instead for secular platitudes about the "spirit of Christmas" and "it's what's in the heart that matters" and such. But don't let that stop you from checking out this educational and entertaining 93-minute gem. If nothing else, it's fascinating to meet the men behind the Santa suits from all over the world.

The film can be purchased at And here's the trailer:

December 1, 2011

Doctor Who Takes a Trip to Narnia!

'The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe' to air on Christmas Day on the BBC


My former colleague Trevor Persaud, a Doctor Who geek (read his commentary on the show's spiritual imagery) tells me that the sci-fi cult classic, known for its inventive Christmas specials, is taking quite the yuletide trip this year: To Narnia!

Geeks of Doom confirms what had been rumored for some time: That the BBC's show will take its characters through a "wardrobe" of sorts and into the land that C. S. Lewis built for its annual Christmas special, this year titled, "Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe." The BBC describes the show's plot like this:

Evacuated to a house in Dorset from war-torn London, Madge Arwell and her two children, Lily and Cyril, are greeted by a madcap caretaker whose mysterious Christmas gift leads them into a magical wintry world.

Here's the trailer:

December 1, 2011

Three Grammy Noms for Brandon Heath

Heath leads the gospel music pack as award nominations are announced


Brandon Heath (right) has been nominated for three Grammy Awards -- Best Contemporary Christian Music Album (Leaving Eden), Best Gospel/Contemporary Music Performance ("Your Love"), and Best Contemporary Christian Music Song ("Your Love," co-written with Jason Ingram).

Heath's nominations are deserved -- Leaving Eden is a fine album -- and it's especially good to see indie gems Gungor getting a nod for Best Contemporary Christian Album (Ghosts Upon the Earth), arguably the most creative worship record to come along in years. Three of the other album nominees -- Leeland (The Great Awakening), Mandisa (What If We Were Real), and Chris Tomlin (And If Our God Is for Us . . .) are unsurprising but mostly left me thinking, Meh. But the fifth album nomination, Royal Tailor for Black & White, is a real head-scratcher. Mediocre boy-band pop? In 2011? Seriously?

The Grammy folks were a little more on target with their nominees for Best Gospel Album, with Kim Burrell (The Love Album), Andrae Crouch (The Journey), Kirk Franklin (Hello Fear), Mary Mary (Something Big), and Trin-i-Tee 5:7 (Angel & Chantelle Deluxe Edition). Mary Mary ("Sitting with Me") and Franklin ("Hello Fear") also picked up noms for Best Gospel Song.

Joining Heath in the running for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song were Laura Story ("Blessings"), Jamie Grace ("Hold Me"), Chris Tomlin ("I Lift My Hands"), and Matthew West ("Strong Enough").

Other notable nominations with Christian and spiritual content include Emmylou Harris's Hard Bargain and Levon Helm's Ramble at the Ryman for Best Americana Album; Alison Kraus & Union Station's Paper Airplane, Jim Lauderdale's Reason and Rhyme, and Ralph Stanley's A Mother's Prayer in Best Bluegrass Album; and The Civil Wars' Barton Hollow for Best Folk Album. The Civil Wars, featuring former CCM star Joy Williams, were also nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Barton Hollow."

For a full list of Grammy nominees, click here.