All posts from “movies”

May 14, 2012

'God Bless America' . . . With a Bang

Bullet points from Bobcat Goldthwait’s new gunpowder black “comedy”

Satire is a loaded gun. In the hands of a skilled marksman, it is an effective weapon. When wielded by an amateur, it is dangerous.

When aimed by acclaimed filmmaking iconoclast Bobcat Goldthwait, well, everyone had better dive for cover.

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In his new black comedy God Bless America, now playing in limited theaters, Goldthwait wages a vigilante vendetta against the worst elements of the pop-modern American lifestyle. The title is pure irony, twisting the patriotic phrase to highlight the moral and cultural shallowness of our national consciousness. The film is a bleak and bloody fever-dream of suppressed rage. In the middle of the cultural carnage, however, lingers a profound question: What’s a thoughtful person to do when confronted with the banal insanity of a selfish and shallow culture?

Following Frank, a middle aged office drone recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and Roxy, an exuberant, bloodthirsty teenage girl, we witness a spree of trigger-happy murders that take us from the home of a spoiled Virginia Beach starlet to a massacre of the studio audience of an American Idol type game show. Along the way, Frank and Roxy leave a trail of corpses. Their victims include anyone unfortunate enough to merit the pair’s annoyance: snotty teens in a movie theater, a hate radio DJ, “anyone who wears crystals,” and even that guy who double parks in a full lot. They even target a preacher and his flock holding up protest signs that read “God Hates Jews” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”—a clear diss of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church.

But as the body count rises into the high dozens, we see that Frank and Roxy are no different than their victims. Hypocritically, the pair objectifies objectifiers, mocks mockers, and silences the petty and banal with violence that is as shallow and superficial as it is brutal. As Frank and Roxy gun down the cast and audience of that Idol-ish show, we can’t help but feel that they are committing the ultimate indecency, the paramount rudeness. As they are riddled with bullets by a group of police, we see them receive the same “justice” they gave to others. Maybe more.

If their victims are petty, then Frank and Roxy are too—their vigilantism as lacking in class as the most banal of reality television idiocy. While this irony is clearly intentional, it does not save the film. Rather, it muddies its message. While memorable, the satire here is not carefully aimed. Instead, it seems like an extended rant, taking cultural potshots at anything and everything that a “decent person” (read “Bobcat Goldthwait”) would find annoying. It lacks the sharpness, the precision that leaves viewers feeling that they learned something about themselves.

I cannot recommend the viewing of Goldthwait’s film. Nor can I commend its raging polemic against the shallow end of our society. Satire should be a sniper rifle, not a shotgun, and there’s not enough left standing when this film’s smoke clears to justify the persistent, often cruel violence.

Still, I can appreciate Goldthwait’s dark vision of our common American problem. Sometimes it takes blood and bullets to highlight a tough truth. And the truth of our growing cultural bankruptcy is tough.

The real value of the film comes not from Frank and Roxy’s bloody “solution,” but in their eloquent indictment of the worst things in American culture. Their words are memorable, and we ought to listen carefully. (The following quotes come directly from the film.)

• With Frank, we Christians ought to react against the “‘oh no, you didn’t say that!’ generation, where a shocking comic has more weight than the truth.”

• Like him, we need to ask “why have a civilization anymore if we are no longer interested in being civilized?”

• Like him, we should hurt and weep that “nobody cares that they damage other people.”

• With him, we should be genuinely heartbroken that “we reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest. We no longer have any common sense or decency, no sense of shame. There’s no right or wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to, celebrated. . . . We’ve lost our kindness, lost our souls.”

Frank’s right. We have lost our souls.

But for me and my siblings in the family of Jesus, Frank and Roxy’s flipped fingers to these elements is not an option. We follow Jesus, who loved vastly beyond our definitions of merit, sense, or decency. He redeems our common foolishness, our deepest indecencies. We look to him for renewal.

Like Frank realizes, our bankrupt situation demands drastic action. But unlike his selfish and bloody methods, there is hope for healing and redemption through the work of Jesus and the growing life of the church. There’s a more redemptive solution than AK-47s in the hands of a sad man and a foul-mouthed little girl.

Paul Pastor is assistant editor for CT’s Church Management Team and Global Publishing initiatives. You can find him interacting with culture, creativity, and intentional living at his blog Sparks and Ashes.

April 23, 2012

Russell Crowe to Board the Ark

Academy Award winner to play Noah in Darren Aronofsky's film of the same name

Paramount Pictures and New Regency Productions announced Sunday that Russell Crowe has been cast as Noah in Darren Aronofsky's feature film of the same name, to be released March 28. 2014.

In a press release, Aronofsky thanked Paramount and Regency "for backing my team's work to breathe new life into the biblical epic. I rejoice that Russell Crowe will be by my side on this adventure. It's his immense talent that helps me to sleep at night. I look forward to being wowed by him every day."

The filmmakers promise "a close adaptation of the biblical story of Noah's Ark." The screenplay was written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel, and revised by John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo.)

April 20, 2012

Crabb, Grant Clean Up at Dove Awards

Named Male and Female Vocalist the Year, respectively; Jamie-Grace Best New Artist

Jason Crabb was named Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year at Thursday night's 43rd Annual Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, held at Atlanta's historic Fox Theater. And Natalie Grant won her fifth Female Vocalist of the Year award, while hometown girl Jamie-Grace was named New Artist of the Year.

NEEDTOBREATHE won the Group of the Year award, and Laura Story's "Blessings" was named Song of the Year. Story also won Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year, which Switchfoot won Rock Album of the Year for Vice Verses. For a complete list of winners, click here.

The Dove Awards will air Tuesday, April 24, on GMC-TV.

April 17, 2012

What's Up, Docs? Yes, Lots of Them

The Full Frame Documentary Festival had an especially strong slate this year

Celebrating its 15th year, the Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham, North Carolina, provided a wide range of genres and choices, each a great film. Doc lovers were rewarded with an especially strong slate—fifty-seven films in all—of some of the best documentaries from around the world.

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Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles was the highlight of the festival. What begins as a somewhat light-hearted profile of time-share tycoon David Siegel and his third wife, Jackie, as they attempt to build the largest single family house under one roof in America, morphs (post 2009 global financial crisis) into a probing, disturbing examination of the American dream. More than simply a personal indictment of its wealthy subjects, the film chillingly shows the ways that the love of money alters us, sometimes so gradually that we do not realize it. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Greenfield’s documentary is that it does not turn the Siegels into monsters. Because the dream they sold to average citizens—enjoy now, pay later—is so similar to the one they lived, the ways they justify their choices to themselves and try to deal with the consequences of an addiction to cheap money (i.e. easy credit) may sound uncomfortably familiar to many Americans.

Presidential election years usually bring a slate of political movies, and S. Leo Chiang’s Mr. Cao Goes to Washington is a riveting entry into that genre. Featuring seemingly unprecedented behind-the-scenes access, Chiang’s film follows first term Vietnamese-American Republican Joseph Cao as he defends his Congressional seat in an historically Democratic (and largely African-American) Louisiana district. Cao’s willingness to put personal convictions above party loyalties alternately alienates first his Republican donors, when he is the only Republican Congressman to vote in favor of Health Care Reform, and later his Democratic constituents, when he rejects the Senate version of the same bill for reinserting abortion funding. The film advertises itself as an examination of whether or not bi-partisanship is possible in a politically polarized age, but it is really about a more fundamental question: in a representative government, should an elected official vote with his constituents, his party, or his own conscience?

Two strikingly different films depict adolescents thrust into intensely competitive environments, facing long odds to try to attain a dream and build a life. David Redmon’s and Ashley Sabin’s Girl Model begins with a room full of girls in Siberia, most wearing only their underwear while “competing” for a chance to be discovered by a talent agent. As the happy winner is sent to Japan, ostensibly for two pre-arranged photo shoots, she—and we—get a crash course in the realities behind the dream of glamorous cover shoots and luxurious lifestyles. The documentary is intensely disturbing, and the filmmakers have had to answer charges from one subject unhappy with how she was portrayed
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While Girl Model left many in the audience angry at how adolescents are exploited, Bess Kargman’s First Position was the proverbial crowd pleaser. It profiles a half dozen competitors in Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious global ballet competition culminating in scholarships and contracts with the most famous dance companies in the world. With lots of generous dance footage, the film is sure to interest ballet fans, but even those unfamiliar with the intricacies of classical dance will find themselves rooting for kids who have defied stereotypes by working and sacrificing for years in hopes that a few minutes on stage will change their lives forever.

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Under African Skies is part art-process documentary, part political history. Musician Paul Simon celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of his album Graceland by returning to South Africa where he had bucked a cultural embargo a quarter of a century earlier to record his career masterpiece and make what he considered an unassailable anti-apartheid statement. The documentary is at its most fascinating when Simon is willing to listen to those who still question his decision, thus showing how moral decisions, even with more than two decades of hindsight, are rarely cut-and-dried.

Macky Alston’s Love Free or Die evidences the director’s desire to, as he told Christianity Today, “humanize not just gays and lesbians but also Christians” by charitably representing the full range of responses within the Episcopal Church of America to its first openly gay bishop, Eugene Robinson. As the son of a Presbyterian minister who, for much of his life, had objections to same-sex unions, Alston sought to make a film that acknowledged Robinson’s courage without demonizing those who voted against him.

Finally, if there was one sure fire hit at the festival, it was Seth Keal’s CatCam, a short film about Jürgen Perthold, whose curiosity about what his adopted stray cat did all day prompted him to invent a micro-camera attached to Mr. Lee’s collar. The results are both strangely artistic and surprisingly emotional as a rare cat’s eye view of the world makes its owner rethink his relationship with the animal whose love he ultimately cannot resist.

Kenneth R. Morefield, a frequent contributor to CT Movies & TV, is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (Volumes I & II) and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

April 10, 2012

Film to Depict Lewis-Tolkien Friendship

'The Lion Awakes,' due in 2013, will tell how the latter led the former to Christianity

“Christian without being preachy,” is how Louis Markos describes his desire for The Lion Awakes, an upcoming film based on the screenplay he co-wrote about the friendship between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

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Markos told Christianity Today that his hopes to help create a “Christian crossover” film motivated him and his partners to form their own production company, Three Agree Films, in order to maintain as much control over the making of the film, while also working with investors to raise the funds needed for a commercially viable movie. Citing the recent success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Walden Media’s Narnia films, and The King’s Speech (The Lion Awakes depicts Lewis’s wartime radio broadcasts that formed the foundation for Mere Christianity), Markos is confident that interest in Lewis and Tolkien is sufficient to draw both Christian and non-Christian audiences to the film.

The academic turned screenwriter borrowed a phrase from Lewis when he said he hoped the film would be faithful to the faith of its subject while stripping the “Christian” genre label of some of its “stained glass and Sunday school associations.” Markos said it was important to him to depict Lewis’s actual conversion experience, noting that previous works such as Shadowlands have tended to focus on the end of Lewis's life. He also said the film deals with Lewis’s interactions with famous atheist Bertrand Russell in order to emphasize Lewis’s work in apologetics and the effect of that work on the church.

Markos said that the most difficult change for him to make in the screenplay was cutting the character of Owen Barfield, who was influential in Lewis’s shift from atheism to theism. In later versions of the script, Tolkien’s character subsumes Barfield’s. In spite of such changes, Markos remains confident that Lewis scholars will recognize the core truth of the narrative and enjoy several “inside” references. Since much of the film takes place after Tolkien's The Hobbit has been published, lines of dialogue that prefigure what the audience knows is to come should be a source of delight for many familiar with Lewis's story.

Markos said he wants his project to remain true to Lewis’s and Tolkien’s friendship, as contemporary films that depict male friendship are increasingly rare.

Three Agree films is hoping for a 2013 release of The Lion Awakes to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. Here's a "concept trailer" for the film:

Kenneth R. Morefield, a CT film critic, is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University and founder of 1More Film Blog.

April 5, 2012

A Christmas Carol . . . for Gays?

'Scrooge & Marley' billed as a 'modern-day variation' with 'a gay sensibility.'

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A Christmas Carol has already had many film adaptations over the years, including animated versions and even one with The Muppets (a quite awesome version, I might add!). But we're not sure what Charles Dickens would think of the upcoming adaptation called Scrooge & Marley, which filmmakers are billing as "a modern-day variation" on the story. "Recounted from a gay sensibility, with heart, comedy and music," they promise that the production brings "a fresh perspective that will appeal to audiences of every persuasion."

And if you're wondering, yes, Scrooge himself will be gay.

Two-time Emmy winner Bruce Vilanch, a writer, songwriter, and actor, and David Moretti (The Lair) head up the cast. Moretti said, "Christmas movies hold a very special place in my heart as I have a handful of favorites I've watched every single Christmas since I was a little boy. My hope is that Scrooge & Marley becomes that for the gay community. It's a sweet, classic story of redemption ... with a little glitter."

The film will be shot in Chicago next month. Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville will direct. Knight and Neville deliver their pitch for the film (and fundraising) here:



April 4, 2012

'It Would Be a Miracle of God'

'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' expands, and its subtle faith angle gets highlighted

Several publicity and marketing firms have noted the faith elements in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which has expanded over recent weeks from just 18 theaters in early March to more than 500 this week.

Our review noted a subtle "faith vs. science" angle between a Yemeni sheikh and a British scientist. Most of that element is played out in this scene -- a clip made exclusively available to CT:


April 3, 2012

'War Horse,' 'We Bought a Zoo' hit DVD today

Oscar nominee and a family favorite now available for home viewing

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A couple of late 2011 releases are now available on DVD: War Horse, which was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and We Bought a Zoo, which had no Oscar nods but was an inspiring true-story family film. The War Horse 4-disc combo pack (Blu-Ray, DVD and digital) has plenty of bonus material, including producer Kathleen Kennedy sharing photos she took during filming; a behind-the-scenes feature about the making of the movie, with director Steven Spielberg, the production team and cast; and "An Extra's Point Of View," an experience from the perspective of a "background artist."

March 29, 2012

Jesus Comes Back . . . to Primetime TV

Originally a CBS miniseries in 2000, 'Jesus' to air on GMC three times during Easter Week

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It's been almost six years since we posted our list of Top Ten Jesus Movies, but it still gets a surprisingly high amount of traffic every month. Apparently there are a lot of people who want to know what are the best movies about the Son of Man. (FWIW, our Top Ten Movie Robots list, seven years later, also still gets a lot of hits every month.)

One of those Top Ten Jesus flicks was a TV miniseries simply titled Jesus, which aired on CBS in 2000. Starring Jeremy Sisto in the title role, the film was "kind of like The Last Temptation of Christ without the heresy," our top 10 listmaker, Peter T. Chattaway, wrote. "That is, it presents Jesus as a haunted and vulnerable human being who struggles with romantic attractions (to Mary of Bethany, this time) and a growing awareness of his destiny—but instead of fleeing God, he always chooses God's will for his life. Some viewers found Jeremy Sisto's interpretation of Christ a little too casual and buddy-ish, but this is one of the few Jesus films to understand that being human is about more than having emotions and dancing at parties; it is about finding God's will, and following it to the best of our ability. Note also the scene where Satan visits Jesus in Gethsemane and, taunting him with visions of nations and churches committing atrocities in Jesus' name, tries to convince him his death on the cross will be in vain; this is a far more sobering 'last temptation' than anything imagined by Martin Scorsese."

Sisto is joined by an impressive cast that includes Jacqueline Bisset as Mary, Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene, and Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate. The film will air on GMC three times (all times Eastern): April 1 at 7 p.m., April 6 at 9 p.m., and April 8 (Easter Sunday) at 1 p.m.

Click here to watch the trailer.

March 28, 2012

Documentary on Hell Will 'Push Your Buttons'

First trailer of 'Hellbound?,' upcoming documentary about the current debate, debuts

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Writer/director Kevin Miller says Hellbound, due in theaters this fall, is "my attempt to get to the bottom of the debate we're having about hell. . . . And of all the doctrines we could be fighting about, why does hell seem to be at the top of the list?" Miller says he hopes the film will "provoke informed discussion," and suggests that the film will be "somewhat controversial, because no matter what your beliefs on hell, this is gonna push your buttons."

Miller says his team interviewed "all sorts of people who have a dog in this fight, from theologians to pastors to death metal musicians to exorcists to people who claim to have seen hell first-hand."

Here's the trailer:

March 27, 2012

Chick Flicks with Brains

Vermont film festival highlights excellent movies by, for, and about women

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Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation highlighted a group of strong, nuanced, and thoughtful films at the recent Women’s Film Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont. A compelling, persuasive argument about how the media shapes cultural attitudes toward women to the especial detriment of girls, Representation avoids partisan politics—Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi both appear. It deftly mixes personal testimonies from women in the entertainment industry, interviews with academics and social policy makers, and young people who talk candidly (and often heartbreakingly) about how it feels to grow up in a sex-saturated culture.

Two short films, Angel for Hire and Eggs for Later, deal with the moral implications of fertility technology. Partially a biographical sketch of Noel Keane, the Michigan lawyer who drafted the first surrogacy contract, Angel is most interesting when it shows how implicit conflicts of interests between the prospective adoptive parents (who prioritize the life and health of the unborn child) and the surrogate mother (who may prioritize her own financial and health interests) when complications arise in a surrogate pregnancy. Eggs is a bit more introspective, in part because Marieke Schellart is both documentarian and subject. Thirty-five and single, Schellart hears of a new technology that allows women to harvest their own eggs and freeze them for later insemination and implantation. While most of Schellart’s friends and family are supportive of her attempts to extend her fertility window, her father raises questions and concerns that she struggles to answer. Even if science could enable her to become pregnant after she has stopped ovulating, has she considered the consequences of pushing back not just pregnancy but motherhood?

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Pregnancy also plays a key role in Maggie Betts’s The Carrier, the story of Mutinta Mweemba, a Zairian woman who is HIV positive and terrified of passing on her virus to her unborn child. Betts carefully and dispassionately lays out the social and political conditions affecting African women and making it hard for them to protect themselves. Mutinta’s marriage is polygamous; she claims her husband lied about already being married but her parents could not afford to return the wedding dowry. Even as she struggles to keep from passing the disease on to her own child, she faces fears of who will raise her children as one of her husband’s other wives dies of the disease and the other faces an initial diagnosis.

Additional films of note at the festival included Living Downstream, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, Aung San Suu Kyi: Lady of No Fear, and Jane’s Journey, about anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Kenneth R. Morefield, a CT film critic, is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (Volumes I & II) and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

March 11, 2012

Pray for Japan

Documentary recounts disaster one year after the fact, raises funds for relief efforts

The Japanese tsunami of 2011 was a disaster of such epic proportions that the footage looks like something out of an overblown Hollywood blockbuster. The initial earthquake shut down the country’s infrastructure almost immediately: no electricity, no Internet, no cell phones.

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Then the ocean wave hit, washing away entire neighborhoods—along with everything and everyone in them. A mass of houses float away, like some misshapen barge. In the days that followed, gasoline became scarce. Food was severely rationed; at one shelter, a thousand people survived for three days on just four bottles of water. And then there was the Fukushima nuclear near-crisis. In the end, 20,000 were dead or missing, and there was $325 billion in damage.

Details like these help make the first thirty minutes of Pray for Japan compelling, leaving viewers with nothing to say but simply, “Oh my God.” The documentary releases to limited theaters for just one day—Wednesday, March 14, the one-year anniversary of the disaster—as a fundraiser, with all money going straight to relief efforts in Japan.

Pray for Japan recaps the fateful details with amazing footage and interviews. (The film is largely in Japanese with English subtitles.) The tsunami is only a prologue, however, with the film predominantly focused on what happened in the following weeks as people fought to survive and somehow return to a sense of normalcy.

But Pray for Japan starts to falter for its remaining hour, its scope too limited for a tragedy so big. Some might argue that narrowing things helps scale down the nation’s tragedy to a more personal level, but there are too many topics left untouched. There’s no mention of the Fukushima crisis, no stories related to the Japanese government, and no reports of the impact on Japanese industry.

The film focuses on the portside city of Ishinomaki in the northeast, and specifically reduces the tragedy to four topics. After a middle school locates its student body (all miraculously accounted for), the faculty searches for a place to continue the children’s studies and community. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old learns that most of his family didn’t survive, and resolves to honor his five-year-old brother’s death while bringing his community together. A shelter led by a local councilman and assisted by Pakistani volunteers strives to maintain order and civility among its survivors. And in the least focused subplot, domestic and international volunteers assist the community.

Like many documentaries, Pray for Japan settles into a rut, bouncing between the four threads every five minutes with short poetic interludes in between. These stories are good for ten minutes each, but are not enough to sustain a 97-minute film. There’s no question that this film could have told many more stories to better hold the audience’s attention.

It’s interesting that it’s not titled Remember Japan or Save Japan or something else entirely. There’s no spiritual component to this film, aside from a celebratory funeral that is more cultural in tone than religious. But clearly, the film’s content alone is a good reminder that we should indeed continue praying for Japan, and helping in any way possible.

Here’s the trailer:

February 15, 2012

'Blue Like Jazz' Gets a Poster and a Big Gig

Upcoming film, based on Donald Miller's bestseller, gets a spot in the SXSW Film Fest

Blue Like Jazz, the new movie based on Donald Miller's book, doesn't release to theaters till April 13, but its world premiere comes a month earlier, on March 13, at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers let fans vote on the movie's official poster. Here's the winner:

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February 7, 2012

Christian Rock Doc Can't Find Funding

'Bleed Into One,' a documentary on Christian rock, falls short of its fiscal goal

Last month, we noted that filmmaker Tim Hudson was hoping to secure funding to move forward with Bleed into One, his documentary on the history of Christian rock.

Unfortunately, the project is looking less like it's going to happen. Hudson had hoped to raise $60,000 on Kickstarter to finish the project, but fell far short of that goal, raising less than $5,000. Bummer, because it looks like Hudson had done a lot of good research on the project. Here's hoping that someday this film does see the light of day.

February 3, 2012

Dobermans Are People Too!

Scorsese's scorn earns Hugo's snubbed guard dog a nod for the Golden Collar Awards

Uggie is going to be facing some stiff competition after all.

Nominated for two Golden Collar Awards by Dog News Daily, the cute Jack Russell Terrier starred in both The Artist and Water for Elephants. Others nominated for Best Dog in a Theatrical Film included Arthur (who played Cosmo in Beginners), Denver (Skeletor in 50/50), and Hummer (Dolce in Young Adult).

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Conspicuously missing from the list was Blackie, who played the Doberman guard dog in Martin Scorsese's Hugo -- and that was one oversight that the veteran director would not tolerate. In a Wednesday op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Scorsese, who noted that he was grateful for the movie's 11 Oscar nominations, said "we've been severely slighted" with Blackie's omission from the Golden Collar Awards. "How could she not be nominated?" Scorsese wondered.

"Jack Russell terriers are small and cute," Scorsese continued, praising Uggie's nominations. "Dobermans are enormous and — handsome. More tellingly, Uggie plays a nice little mascot who does tricks and saves his master's life in one of the films, while Blackie gives an uncompromising performance as a ferocious guard dog who terrorizes children. I'm sure you can see what I'm driving at. We all have fond memories of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, the big stars, the heroes, but what about the antiheroes? We have learned to accept the human antihero, but when it comes to dogs, I guess we still have a long way to go." Scorsese tongue-in-cheek accused the Dog News Daily folks of "prejudice" against Dobermans and Blackie.

Golden Collar Awards director Alan Siskind agreed to add Blackie to the list of nominees if he received more than 500 write-in votes on Facebook. Blackie reached that milestone in no time flat, and is now a sixth candidate for the award. Winners will be announced Feb. 13.

Justice served! Dobermans everywhere are reportedly quite pleased. So is Scorsese.

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But not everyone is happy. Antonio Banderas says there's another kind of prejudice going on with the Golden Collar Awards: Why is it all dogs? Where are the feline nominations?

Writing his own op-ed yesterday for the Huffington Post, Banderas, who voices the title character in Puss in Boots, notes that "cats wear collars too."

Banderas argues that Puss brought "wit, adventure, dance, and soul to the big screen" and that "his name should become legend. Yes, the dogs have done well this year, but dogs will do anything for a sausage treat, cats do everything out of love." He concludes that "cats have feelings too. Please overcome this anti-feline-ism, Hollywood, and give my dear friend the recognition he deserves. Don't make the cat angry!"

Here's the announcement for the Golden Collar Awards -- prior to Blackie's later addition:

January 27, 2012

Spielberg Goes to the Mountaintop

Long circulated rumors now almost etched in stone: He'll direct a biopic about Moses.

Rumors have circulated for months that Steven Spielberg might direct a biopic about Moses. Those rumors are a lot closer to the truth now, according to an exclusive report from Deadline.com, which says the famed director is "near commitment" to helm the project for Warner Brothers.

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The film, tentatively slated to begin production in the spring of 2013, is titled Gods and Kings. A source told Deadline.com it will be "like a Braveheart-ish version of the Moses story. Him coming down the river, being adopted, leaving his home, forming an army, and getting the Ten Commandments.” Hmm. Braveheart-ish? That could be a good thing, but the "forming an army" part could be blown way out of proportion. (Thank goodness Peter Jackson isn't doing it!)

Deadline.com also notes that Gods and Men is "the second high-profile film Warner Bros is developing on a seminal Jewish hero. Mel Gibson and Joe Eszterhas are collaborating on their pitch to tell the story of Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee. . . . Gibson has the first option to direct, and he will produce the film through his Icon Productions banner."

January 24, 2012

'I Loved You and I Hated You'

Ana Egge's haunting CD captures the feelings of those who have a mentally ill loved one

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Your picture's fallin' like a figurine
Breaking branches in our family tree . . .
I loved you and I hated you
I prayed for you and stayed away from you

So sings Ana Egge on the title cut of her latest album, Bad Blood. Many of the songs were written about coping with mentally ill family members, and I, for one, can certainly relate to the lyrics above.

Our 20-year-old son has bipolar disorder and Asperger syndrome, and his family members have certainly felt all of those things and more. It really can be a love-hate relationship -- intense love for the person, but intense hatred for the illness and the ugly, often hurtful, ways it manifests itself. Kudos to Egge for capturing many of those feelings.

A press release says that the album "conveys compassion and hope for redemption," and while that's certainly true, Egge also noted in one interview that it also captures her raw emotions. "There is some anger on this record," she confesses. "When you have family members suffering, I'm not angry at them. I have had a lot of anger at the illness, wanting it to stop, go away. A lot of the writing freed up for me when I started writing about the illness itself as a character."

Like many of us who love someone with a mental illness, Egge is trying to find that balance between loving the person but loathing the condition. These lines from "Hole in Your Halo" kind of capture that vibe:

Your flowers are growin' wild in the west
They may be pretty but they're poisonous
Behind the bars you're falling apart
It's not the first time you went too far

There's a hole in your halo
Where the darkness don't shine
In the darkness I know
It's a thin line

Egge's country-fied folk tunes, produced by Steve Earle, sound more upbeat than the subject matter they're addressing, but the lyrics are spot on. Watch the music video for "Hole in Your Halo" here:

January 23, 2012

'Between Notes' Strikes the Right Chords

Indie film sort of a cross between 'Once' and '500 Days of Summer,' with lots of great music

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A filmmaker named Christopher Grissom contacted me recently, saying he wanted us to check out his new movie. He said he was a Christian, and . . . Well, let's just say that we get a LOT of e-mails that start out like that, and the films themselves are often quite forgettable. But I asked him to send it along anyway.

I'm glad I did.

Between Notes, now available at Amazon.com, was a delightful surprise. Grissom accurately describes it as a "modern-day musical about two musicians who develop a relationship and have to decide whether they are falling in love with a person or an idea."

It's done reasonably well for an obviously very low-budget film. The lead actors, David Ramirez and Brandi Price, won't win any Oscars, but they bring enough life to their characters to make them interesting. But the biggest draw is the music itself. Ramirez is a professional musician whom Paste magazine calls "the best damn songwriter you don't know yet," and that's just the beginning. The terrific indie score is supplemented by great songs from Summer Ames and Becky Middleton.

The end result is something like a cross between Once (mainly for the music) and 500 Days of Summer (for the quirky romance). Grissom told me he wants to make films that are "not overtly Christian, but that point the direction to Christ." Mission accomplished.

Here's the trailer:

January 12, 2012

Was Elvis the Founder of Christian Rock?

That's one of many questions explored in an upcoming film on 'the story of Christian rock.'

If the list of interviewees for Bleed Into One, an upcoming documentary on the history of Christian rock, is an indication of filmmaker Tim Hudson's ability to piece together a good film, then he's off to a great start.

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Bleed Into One: The Story of Christian Rock, Told by Those Who Survived
, currently in the editing phase and aiming for a late 2012 release, includes interviews with CCM legends like Randy Stonehill, Steve Taylor, Phil Keaggy, John Schlitt, Glenn Kaiser, Charlie Peacock, and many more, including much more contemporary stars like Jeremy Camp, MercyMe's Bart Millard, Relient K's Matt Thiessen, and Skillet's John Cooper. Plus requisite interviews with experts like former GMA president John Styll, Raised by Wolves author John J. Thompson, HM magazine editor Doug Van Pelt, and P.O.D. manager Tim Cook.

It all adds up to what Hudson says (on a blog post) is an exploration of Christian rock's "secret history, one that people think they know but really have no idea, and it's all here, waiting to be put together, watched, and discussed. Hopefully your interested in piqued . . ."

Mine certainly is. But the film may never get finished -- or see the light of day -- if Hudson is unable to fund his closing costs, $30,000 for licenses to play all those great songs, and another $30,000 for post-production costs. That's why Hudson has launched a Kickstarter campaign, but he needs to raise that $60,000 by Feb. 4 -- just three weeks from now. (Heck, I even went to Kickstarter and made a small contribution.) Kickstarter has helped countless projects get off the ground, including the previously dead-in-the-water Blue Like Jazz film, which raised almost thrice its $125,000 goal and will now release to theaters in April.

As for the above title of this blog post, that comes from a video teaser that includes a clip from one of the interviewees -- Mike Roe of the 77s and the Lost Dogs, who says, "I don't like the term 'Christian rock,' but if it did begin somewhere, maybe it began with Elvis Presley." It'll be interesting to hear Roe elaborate on that in the final film.

A documentary on the history of Christian rock is long overdue. Here's hoping Hudson can complete the task and pull it off. That's a movie I'd like to see.

Here's the official website, and the Facebook site. Below, find the teaser, and below that, a longer trailer for the film:

Bleed Into One - Teaser from Eyecue Media on Vimeo.

January 11, 2012

Overcoming the Porn Problem

New documentary wisely shines a light on personal stories, rather than just the 'experts'

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When filmmaker Sean Finnegan first considered doing a documentary on the problem of pornography, he knew he didn’t want to merely cite facts and figures interwoven with sound bites from experts. He thought the best way to tell this story was to, well, tell a story – and in the case of Out of the Darkness, now available on DVD, he found a powerful one in former porn actress Shelley Lubben, who now runs a ministry helping others to escape the sex industry and find hope and healing in Christ.

“Stories matter,” says Finnegan. “Most of the work done on pornography revolves around the issues of free speech and legislation, or the science behind addiction. But films are not essays or treatises. Films, like novels and poems and plays, are here to tell stories. And that is enough. If that is done well, we will, as Conrad said, gain a glimpse into the truth for which we forgot to ask.

“What stories can do for us is put faces on their topics. No matter how intense the debate around pornography becomes, the debate is really about human beings.”

Finnegan aims his camera at four such humans, including two who have come out of the darkness themselves, Lubben (don't worry; this website is safe) and recovered sex addict Mark Houck. Finnegan also interviews family therapist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons and sexual revolution historian Dr. Judith Reisman, who are much more than mere “talking heads” here; Fitzgibbons and Reisman also tell stories, including one Reisman shares about a daughter who was raped. While Lubben and Houck focus more on their personal testimonies, the other two describe the culture and societal breakdown that got America into this mess – and yes, it’s presented as chiefly an American problem. After all, almost 90 percent of all porn sites originate in the U.S.

Reisman gives some fascinating background about how Dr. Albert Kinsey’s post-WWII sex research – including the infamous “Kinsey Reports” – sparked America’s sexual revolution. She disputes Kinsey’s “science” as fraudulent, but says academia, the media, and the general population accepted it as true, including the notion that we’re all just basically sexual animals, so why not just go for it? Fitzgibbons adds that many of us have embraced what he calls a “sexual utilitarian philosophy,” resulting in a breakdown of the family, a collapse of morality, and on a personal level, profound loneliness, sadness, and narcissism. It’s all a recipe for the porn industry to flourish.

But most compelling are the stories from Lubben and Houck. The latter tells how he grew up a “normal” guy, but how, shortly after his father died when he was just 11, he became a loner. He discovered his first Playboy as a pre-teen and got hooked on the magazines, and later on Internet porn, to the point where he was spending up to four hours a day on his habit. Houck struggled with his addiction for 16 years before finally realizing how destructive it was and making the decision to break free. He did so mainly by recommitting to his Christian faith, and while that story isn’t told in great detail here, Houck makes it clear that his disciplined pursuit of righteousness that made the difference – more than his decision to simply avoid the temptation. It was the pursuit of the good more than the mere fleeing of the bad that helped him win the battle.

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Lubben’s (pictured at left) devastating-but-ultimately-redeeming story is told in much greater detail. Neglected by her parents as a child and sexually molested by a teen neighbor when she was just 9, Lubben desperately sought love in all the wrong places. When her father kicked her out of the house at age 18, a pimp offered her solace and quick $35 – if she’d turn a trick. She ended up as a full-time prostitute and stripper, later transitioning to porn films. All along, she says, she was driven by her anger at her parents, her loathing of herself, and her desire to prove her value – worth she found from the johns who hired her and, later, the film directors who praised her. She ended up getting herpes and attempting suicide. When she finally met a man who fell in love with her, and not merely her body and what she could do with it, she was confused. But eventually the love was requited, she left the porn industry, they were married, and started attending church. As she grew in faith – and, like Houck, in her pursuit of righteousness – the old demons began to fall away, literally and figuratively. (Lubben believes that Satan has a field day with people in the porn industry, which she calls “a cult.”)

The film’s most moving comments come, not surprisingly, from Lubben, but this one was perhaps the most powerful: “When people view porn, they are really watching mentally ill and physically diseased people having sex.” Puts quite a perspective on it.

Since Lubben has left the porn industry, she has founded the Pink Cross Foundation, a ministry to reach out to porn stars and sex workers. She has helped more than 50 people leave those fields and find hope and healing.

There’s a lot of hope and healing in this documentary too. While made from a Christian perspective, it’s not preachy. It’s matter-of-fact and story-driven, striking just the right tone. Highly recommended; buy it here. Here’s the trailer:

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.

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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 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.

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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 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.

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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 Amazon.com. And here's the trailer:

November 28, 2011

To Hell and Back Again: That's a Wrap!

Filmmaker finishes shooting 'Hellbound,' a documentary on Hades, coming next fall

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Writer/producer/director Kevin Miller recently announced that he's finished principal photography for his upcoming documentary Hellbound, coming to theaters in the fall of 2012.

The film, to examine the contentious debate over the concept of hell, was shot in over two dozen cities across the U.S., Canada and Denmark, starting with Copenhell, a death metal festival held annually in Copenhagen. The film features a wide variety of interview subjects, including authors, academics, pastors, social commentators, filmmakers and musicians.

“I couldn’t be happier with how production has turned out," says Miller, who also wrote the script for 2008's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. "My team and I have had a fantastic time as we've traveled across North America and beyond seeking to get to the bottom of this debate. It's been a life-changing experience for all of us, and I can't wait to share what we've discovered.”

November 22, 2011

'Love Begins' . . . but Not All That Well

Prequel to 'Love Comes Softly' films, now on DVD, is a predictable Christian romance

Editor’s note: Love Begins, a prequel to the Love Comes Softly film series, releases to DVD today. We asked CT editorial resident Morgan Feddes for her thoughts on the movie.

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Set in the American West, Love Begins is a stereotypical romantic film that describes how Clark Davis, one of the main characters in Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series, first meets Ellen Barlow. Ellen and her sister Cassie are trying to keep their family farm going after their father’s death the previous winter. They’re in need of a hired hand, but all the able-bodied young men have been hit with gold fever and have headed off to California, including Ellen’s childhood sweetheart.

Clark is a wanderer in both body and soul who’s passing through town on the way to California himself. When he gets involved in a fight at the local restaurant, he’s forced to stick around until he can pay off the damages. The sheriff convinces Ellen to hire Clark on as a way to pay his debt and give the Barlow farm some much-needed assistance. Clark gets along easily with Cassie, but his initial relationship with Ellen is much rockier.

The film, which originally aired as part of the Hallmark Channel's "Love Saga," has a number of weaknesses. Though this particular prequel isn’t based off a specific book, fans of the Love Comes Softly series—and most anyone who’s read more than a handful of romance novels—will be able to predict how the plot progresses. On top of that, the most interesting, tension-filled points of the plot happen in the last twenty minutes, making for a slow second act. The actors show signs of skill, but the weak dialogue hampers their performances. And though there are elements of faith woven in throughout, the subtle moments often prove to be stronger than outright mentions of God and church, which feel trite and forced.

Still, even with its weaknesses, Love Begins has a certain charm to it. Its Old West setting is largely responsible, I suspect (being a personal fan of westerns), but the quiet love story that unfolds, while predictable, is still enjoyable, particularly to fans of the Christian romance genre.

Love Begins is available for purchase at ChristianBook.com, and the trailer can be seen here:

November 16, 2011

Muppets! Music! Mayhem! Mirth!

Upcoming movie soundtrack will leave you warm and fuzzy -- sorta like a Muppet

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As if I wasn't already excited enough about The Muppets, opening in theaters everywhere next week, I just received an advance copy of the movie soundtrack (releasing on Monday, Nov. 21, two days before the film), and after one listen, I'm wearing a smile as big as Fozzie Bear's.

Jam-packed with 30 tracks -- 15 songs and 15 brief bits of dialogue from the film -- this disc's a winner start to finish. Highlights include the dance-sequence opener (which reprises as a finale) "Life's a Happy Song," featuring co-stars Jason Segal, Amy Adams, and new Muppet Walter; "Me Party," a sublime disco duet between Adams and Missy Piggy; "Let's Talk About Me," a hilarious rap with Chris Cooper, who plays the villain (yes, Chris Cooper doing the hip-hop thang!); "Man or Muppet," a snicker-worthy duet with Segal and Walter; and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," not with Nirvana but with The Muppet Barbershop Quartet. Shear genius! Many of the new numbers were co-written by music supervisor Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords.

A few old familiars show up, including "The Muppet Show Theme," "Rainbow Connection," and "Mah Na Mah Na," plus a handful from "real" musicians -- Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," Starship's "We Built This City," and Andrew Bird's "Whistling Caruso."

If you can't wait till next Wednesday when the movie opens, get a two-day head start on all the fun when the album releases next Monday. It'll be a great way to start off your Thanksgiving week.

Here's a little preview of "Life's a Happy Song" from the upcoming film:


November 11, 2011

An Unflinching, Compassionate Look at Homelessness

New documentary explores the lives, and complexities, of LA's homeless

The tagline to the new documentary Without a Home says it all: "She wanted to understand their lives. They changed her life forever." The tagline might have also added that she -- budding young filmmaker Rachel Fleischer -- also played a role in changing some of their lives too, at least a few of the 90,000 homeless in Los Angeles.

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As a little girl from a well-to-do show-biz family (her father, Charles Fleischer voiced the lead character in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), Rachel had a sensitive heart for the homeless. So when she grew up, she decided to buy a camera, go to Skid Row, and document their stories. And she found, as many documentarians do, that it was difficult to stay behind the camera and remain an objective observer. Watching Fleischer get to know these folks, and then wrestle with just how much she should (or shouldn't) get involved in their lives is part of this 74-minute film's draw. Any of us who have worked with homeless people have weighed those same things: How much should I get involved, and how do I help without enabling?

It's one thing to see Fleischer give one person a ride to a destination a few blocks away. It's another when one of her subjects asks for $50 to pay rent, or to spend the night at her house because he's out on the street. How will she respond? She wants to do the right thing, but doesn't always instantly know what that is. Fortunately, as Fleischer immerses herself into these lives, she's also meeting professionals in ministries and organizations that have worked with homeless people for years, and she learns the ropes quickly -- including the stark fact that some homeless folks might say they want help, but in the end, they really don't want to put forth the effort to change. Such stories are heartbreaking, and we see a few of them here. But we also see a few stories that are working their way toward a hopeful, redemptive ending.

Along the way, we meet heroin addicts who are high on the stuff, a guy who plays a homemade banjo on the street for a living, and a family that goes through eviction after eviction, just biding time till the dad can find steady work. And we watch Fleischer get involved in varying degrees, always asking herself, "Where do I draw the line?" It's easy to put yourself in her shoes and ask the same question.

Fleischer told The Jewish Journal that her faith definitely influenced the project and the way she went about it: “Tikkun olam, the idea of helping people and repairing the world, has always been, as far as I can remember, a big part of who I am. And one of the things that I really love about Judaism is that it’s so much a part of our culture to help other people and give back. I think it’s a very human idea, but I also think it’s a very Jewish idea to want to give back.”

At the end of the film, it sounds like she's got a pretty good grasp on the sociological and psychological complexities of homelessness:

"I wish it were as simple as putting a roof over everyone's head," Fleischer says in a voiceover. "But with or without a home, many of these people will continue to struggle. We have to be willing to examine the psychological wounds that brought so many of them to the streets in the first place, and then to respond accordingly. The feeling that initially drew me to document their lives ended up pulling me into their lives. And now I understand that as humans, we have a divine privilege to effect change, and when we do, the most extraordinary things happen."

Here's where you can buy the film, and here's the trailer:

November 3, 2011

'Preacher' Gunned Down at U. S. Box Office

Despite its star power, acclaimed director, and compelling storyline, the movie flops

Machine Gun Preacher -- the based-on-a-true-story of Sam Childers, a drug-dealing, gun-toting biker who found God and became an alleged mercenary saving African orphans -- has crashed and burned at the U.S. box office.

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With a reported $30 million budget, the movie, directed by Marc Forster and starring A-listers Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan, was a box office bust, earning only $420,000. At its peak, the film showed in 93 theaters nationwide in its third weekend -- a relatively small release -- but audiences simply were not turning out. Had they been filling up those theaters, the film surely would've expanded to wider release. Such decisions are purely financial -- if it's making good money in limited release, films almost always end up going wider. If it's not, it generally gets pulled after a short run -- which was the case for MGP, which was pulled from theaters on October 18, barely over three weeks after opening.

The film is now opening in the U.K. and other overseas locations; time will tell how it fares in the foreign market.

Why was it such a failure in the U.S.? Bad marketing? Weak promotion? Lack of advertising budget? Spoiled Americans who just don’t care about what’s happening in Africa? Christians won’t see R-rated movies? The subject matter?

Probably a combination of all of the above. We asked a few colleagues -- critics and industry writers -- what they thought. One surmised that fans want to see Butler in action movies, not in a drama -- though this film was quite dramatic. Another thought that Christians are simply turned off by the notion of a Christian carrying a gun. Another said it simply never was in wide enough release to attract a big audience.

We also asked one of the film's producers if she had any theories, but received no response.

We don't think our investigative story -- exposing several of the problems with Childers, his claims, and his orphanage in South Sudan -- had much, if anything, to do with the movie bombing, because readership wasn't very high on that piece, and none of the major wire services picked it up.

Whatever the reason, even though the film itself appears to be packing heat, when it comes to the box office, it's shooting mostly blanks.

November 2, 2011

Jesus Walks into a Wrestling Ring . . .

'Wrestling for Jesus' a compelling exploration of a strange but fascinating subculture

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Wrestling for Jesus, an award winning documentary, follows Timothy Blackmon, a rural South Carolina man who decided the best way to share his faith was to form an amateur Christian wrestling league to spread the Word. Blackmon, who goes by the nickname "T-Money," faces challenge after challenge -- financial, marital, spiritual -- as he tries to work with this rag-tag-team group of grizzled old bikers and young skinny wrestlers.

The film begins as a kind of cultural side-show, introducing you to a small circle of enthusiasts where Christian evangelism intersects a grassroots form of what WWE calls "sports entertainment." But although the wrestling action may be overscripted, the evangelistic mission rings true as the traditional altar becomes an invitation to meet Jesus at the edge of the ring.

Nevertheless, the façade of sports entertainment becomes a metaphor in the false-front marriage of one of the couples involved. When that marriage breaks up, so does the Wrestling for Jesus team. The air of unreality is capsulized first in an early scene in which one wrestler shows off the trophy he won for being the most Christlike wrestler. Behind him is a poster of a scantily clad female model draped across the hood of a sexy car. The unreality is capsulized again near movie's end when a morose little girl uses a home karaoke machine to sing herself a sappy little princess song.

And yet, and yet, there is a genuine good-heartedness that permeates all this unreality: the divorced father becomes more attentive and nurturing than ever. The leader of the fractured team pulls them back together for a benefit exhibition to support a fellow wrestler who has broken his neck. These things tip the balance of human experience in favor of hope.

Filmmaker Nathan Clarke (whom, full disclosure, I count as a friend) has a wonderful eye for detail and for metaphor. In Wrestling for Jesus, he helps us see human imperfection with compassion and hope.

The film is available purchase at the official website, and here's the trailer:

October 28, 2011

Frontman for The Killers Promotes Mormons

Brandon Flowers says he "still has a fire burning" for his LDS background and faith

With Mitt Romney and discussion of Mormons in the headlines, the LDS church has recruited an interesting choice for an ad campaign to "educate the public" about its beliefs: Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the rock band The Killers.

In a 4-minute video, Flowers discusses his faith and his family; it even includes pictures of the singer playing with his infant son. It's part of a larger publicity campaign to make Mormonism look "hip" to a younger generation. Flowers looks into the camera and says, "I'm a father, I'm a husband, and I'm a Mormon."

Check out the video:

October 21, 2011

'They Can Fly!'

A child's awestruck wonder at watching 'E.T.' for the first time

It doesn't get much better than this:

October 20, 2011

Putting 'The Hammer' Down

Inspiring true story of deaf wrestler/fighter hits limited theaters next week

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I'm not a fan of UFC fighting, so I had never heard of Matt Hamill before I recently watched The Hammer, a drama about his life story that opens in limited theaters on Oct. 27. Turns out you don't have to be a fan of UFC fighting to appreciate Hamill's story and this movie, winner of numerous film festival awards, including a Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival.

Hamill, who recently retired from the UFC circuit, was the first deaf person to win a national championship in college wrestling. In fact, he won three NCAA titles while competing for the Rochester Institute of Technology in the late 1990s -- an amazing feat for anyone, much less a deaf man.

The film, starring deaf actor Russell Harvard in the title role, follows Hamill's story from childhood, from his diagnosis as a toddler, through his boyhood -- when his mother wanted to send him to a school for the deaf, but his grandfather, who helped to raise him, insisted on Matt going to a "regular" school -- and then through high school, where he excelled at the sport. He won a full scholarship to Purdue, but flunked out.

After taking some time off, he then enrolled at RIT, which has a large population of deaf students. Hamill initially had trouble adjusting to an environment of almost solely deaf people; having grown up in a hearing world, he preferred to talk and read lips, but at RIT, most of the students preferred to communicate by sign language. For a viewer with hearing, the film doubles as a fascinating look into their world, and director Oren Kaplan uses some nifty editing and audio tricks to help the viewer to better appreciate what it must be like to be deaf.

But what stands out most in the film is Hamill's perseverance and determined focus; he arrived on campus determined to win a national championship, and doggone if he didn't end up winning it not just once, but thrice. If it's coming to your neck of the woods, it's worth checking out -- or at least renting some day on video.

Here's the trailer:

October 19, 2011

Heartland Film Fest Announces Winners

Australian film 'Red Dog' wins $100,000 top prize as Best Narrative Feature

The Heartland Film Festival, held annually in Indianapolis, announced its 2011 award winners recently, with Red Dog, made in Australia, winning the top prize of $100,000 as Best Narrative Feature.

The film's synopsis: "It’s night in the Western Australian outback, a dying dog lies in the backroom of the town's only pub. Slowly, as word spreads, the local community gathers at the pub. Part vigil, part wake, part celebration, they swap stories of Red Dog’s epic life, travels and his rise to fame."

Meanwhile, Crime After Crime won the $25,000 Best Documentary Feature Award, and Thief received the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film.

Here's the trailer for Red Dog:

October 19, 2011

And the (Disabled) Band Played On

Inspiring doc shows there are no 'handicaps' to making beautiful music together

It's hard enough to get 29 people to work together. Harder still when they're of different ages, races, genders, abilities, temperaments, cultures, religions, and more. Harder still to pull such a variety of humankind together and get them working in synch, creating a product -- no, a work of art -- that is nothing short of a masterpiece. Now, add one final challenge: All 29 of those people are disabled.

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But that's just what Javier Pena has pulled off with the Spirit of Goodwill Band, a group of disabled adults in South Florida who truly are making beautiful music together. Pena, the director, is clearly a skilled musical leader, but it's his sensitive, patient, almost magical touch with these differently challenged adults that is a wonder to behold. Pena's story, and that of the musicians in his group, is chronicled in For Once in My Life, which aired earlier this year on PBS's Independent Lens and is now available on DVD.

The band -- which includes percussion, brass, keyboards, guitars, and lead and back-up singers -- is made up of folks with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and blindness. None were skilled musicians when Pena took the part-time, nominally paying position. But he has turned the group into a legitimate performance outfit which has also recorded its first CD, by the same title as the film.

The New York Times hailed the film as "feel-good" and laud its "rare look at a segment of the population, adults with disabilities, that is largely invisible." Veteran Hollywood director Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar)called it "entertaining, inspiring, compelling."

While Pena's leadership is certainly a highlight, filmmakers take us into the lives and homes of several of these disabled adults, where we learn their family histories, some of them quite sad, but always with a note of hope -- especially as they begin to realize their potential with the band. And early on in the film, we learn that they're gearing up for their first major public performance: A stage show in front of thousands at a Miami convention for America's mayors. Will they be up to the task? You can feel the tension as the big day nears, anxiously hoping that they'll come through when the spotlight comes on and the curtain goes up.

The DVD and/or the soundtrack can be ordered here, and here's the trailer:

October 18, 2011

Downey Jr. Pleads: Forgive Mel Gibson

Downey asks Hollywood to "join me in forgiving my friend his trespasses"

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In a passionate speech at Sunday night's American Cinematheque Award Ceremony, Robert Downey Jr. pleaded with Hollywood and the world to extend grace and forgiveness to Mel Gibson, just as Gibson had done for him some years ago when Downey was struggling with addictions and a tainted public image.

In the last several years, Gibson's image has taken a beating as he: was convicted of DUI and then making anti-semitic remarks; divorced his longtime wife and chased after a much younger woman; made heinous threats, taped and publicly released, against that same woman.

As Gibson joined him onstage Sunday night, Downey said, "On this special occasion . . . I would ask that you join me, unless you are completely without sin in which case you picked the wrong f---ing industry, in forgiving my friend his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate you have me, allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame."

When Downey learned that he was going to be given an achievement award at the ceremony, he requested that Gibson be his presenter. In doing so, Gibson called Downey "my friend. When I saw you all those years ago and got all those warnings, I just thought, ‘There’s nothing so much wrong with him.’ You’re a good dude with a good heart.” Gibson had helped Downey make a comeback from his own addictions by paying Downey’s insurance bond so he could star in 2003's The Singing Detective.

Watch Downey's forgiveness speech here:

(image from clip on CBS's Early Show)

October 17, 2011

'Catholicism' Series Comes to PBS

Chicago priest Father Robert Barron takes viewers on a catholic, and Catholic, journey

Half a century ago, Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s weekly television series Life Is Worth Living (and later The Fulton Sheen Program) was watched by millions of Americans of all stripes. Sheen was “America’s Priest,” and since then there has been no comparable figure in American culture—and there may never be.

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That said, Father Robert Barron, a priest of the Chicago archdiocese and the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary, is making inroads into mainstream media in a way not seen since Sheen. On Sunday, October 3, Chicago-based superstation WGN America launched a weekly half-hour television series, Word on Fire with Father Robert Barron—the first regular commercial television show hosted by a priest since Sheen. Then there’s Catholicism, an ambitious ten-episode series, episodes of which are now airing on PBS affiliate in over 85 markets across the country..

Inspired by Kenneth Clark’s groundbreaking 1969 BBC series Civilisation, which ushered in a generation of globe-hopping documentaries, Fr. Barron and his crew employ a worldwide backdrop that includes the Holy Land, Europe, Africa, India, the Philippines—at least 50 locations in 15 countries. Unabashedly a work of advocacy, even evangelization, Catholicism offers a confident, upbeat overview of the scope of 2000 years of Catholic history, belief, thought and practice.

Much of this is the common heritage of all Christians, and Fr. Barron’s approach is catholic as well as Catholic, name-checking C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright alongside Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. Evangelicals will feel very much at home for the first few episodes as Fr. Barron expounds upon the disorienting, challenging uniqueness of Jesus, the revolutionary power of his teachings, and the fathomless mystery of God. Other episodes, particularly those dealing with the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist, will challenge non-Catholic sensibilities, but Fr. Barron’s emphasis on Scripture and reason establishes a broad common ground, and open-minded Evangelicals will appreciate his presentation even when they disagree.

Fr. Barron makes an engaging, appealing spokesman for Christianity and Catholicism, and his method is consistently positive and nonpolemical. He discusses topics like Aquinas’s ways of proving God and Catholic Marian spirituality without going out of his way to oppose challenges like “God is a delusion” or “Catholics worship Mary.” The settings are more than window dressing; Fr. Barron goes to Auschwitz to discuss the problem of evil, and magnificent locations including Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the tomb of Mother Teresa help to bring the Faith alive to the senses and the imagination.

Click here and/or check local PBS listings for Catholicism. The series is also available as a five-disc DVD set at catholicismseries.com.

Here is the trailer for Catholicism:

October 8, 2011

What Happens in Vegas . . . with Christians?

A group of believers "fesses up" to playing the casinos in a fascinating documentary

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A few years ago, the film 21, based on a true story, featured a small group of M.I.T. students who learned the art of "card counting" and took Vegas casinos for millions of dollars while playing the blackjack tables. It wasn't a great movie, but it was fascinating for its topic and pacing.

Fast forward a few years, and now another group of young people is doing the same thing. But they're not from M.I.T. They're Christians, and they call themselves "The Church Team," and they're also taking Vegas casinos -- and others -- for gobs of money, all because they've learned the science of counting cards.

Their story is told in the awesomely titled Holy Rollers, which claims to feature "the most well-funded blackjack team in America -- made up entirely of churchgoing Christians."

Sound shady? Perhaps unethical? You be the judge. They would argue that casinos are robbing people blind, especially folks who are addicted to gambling and/or can't afford it in the first place. They'd say that they're taking from the rich to put the money to better use -- feeding their families, tithing, and keeping the moolah out of the wrong hands.

"It doesn't seem like one of the most noble things a person can do in the world," one member of the team says in the film. "But at least we can liberate the money from the clutches of those who would use it for ill purposes, you know?"

The team includes not just laypeople, but pastors and worship leaders. The filmmakers were subtle and secretive, managing to get unprecedented footage inside casinos, showing the team at work -- and the casino operators who were always on the lookout for card counters, and then "inviting" them (sometimes politely, sometimes not) to leave.

One of the Church Team members, David Drury, was asked in an interview if he saw their work as a form of "social justice." Here's how he replied:

"The social justice side of things is hard to quantify. The first difficulty in this line of work is simply justifying to yourself how you are serving society by playing a game in a way that is largely frowned upon. We are raised in a society that values easily drawn pictures of 'service' that are easy to nail down but often don’t make no sense once you start asking hard questions. If you are a teacher, you bust your ass doing important work for no money. If you are good at dunking a basketball, you get paid millions to provide “entertainment” through the vehicle of a soul-sucking corporate structure. But at least you can draw those lines.

"For me, I decided I was able to provide for myself and my family, which was of first-level importance. I was in a work structure (players and managers) where I was valued, where my goals were honored and were mine to set (as opposed to goals in a corporate environment), and where I was excited to work towards the success of the whole team. I felt supported like I never had before in a career endeavor. [And] yes, liberation, justice, and a good old fashioned sticking-it-to-the-man. He is big and I often felt infinitesimally small. When you have a big losing night AND get kicked out, what have you achieved? I choose to believe that the road is long, and while I am on it I mostly limp along with dark glasses, banging my cane against the curb."

Holy Rollers is a compelling film that explores a world where the answers don't come easy, where there's lots of gray and little black-and-white. It's won awards at several film festivals, and it a provocative discussion starter. "People can't stop asking questions," Drury told CT. "The central paradox -- Christians taking money from casinos -- starts all sorts of conversations."

DVD pre-orders are being taken at the official site. Watch the trailer here:

October 4, 2011

Aronofsky to Bring 'Noah' to the Big Screen

Acclaimed director says he's loved the Bible hero's story since he was a kid

What had been rumored for years became official Monday when Paramount Pictures and New Regency Productions announced that Academy Award nominee Darren Aronofsky will direct the feature film Noah.

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"Since I was a kid, I have been moved and inspired by the story of Noah and his family's journey," Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) said in a press release. "The imagination of countless generations have sparked to this epic story of faith. It's my hope that I can present a window into Noah's passion and perseverance for the silver screen."

Christian Bale is rumored to be the frontrunner to play the title character. Academy Award nominee John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator) will re-write the original script penned by Aronofsky and Ari Hanel. Filming will begin in the spring, with the shoot lasting an estimated 40 days and 40 nights (just kidding on that last part).

Noah was last seen on the big screen looking an awful lot like a heavily bearded Steve Carrell in the 2007 comedy Evan Almighty, a box office and critical bust. There have also been a number of animated versions over the years, and a 1999 TV version starring Jon Voight as the title character.

It's not the first time Aronofsky has tackled religion or spiritual matters on the big screen. The Fountain (2006) was, as our reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet put it, a "science fiction mind-bender (in which) we learn that our sufferings are caused by our separation from the Tree of Life mentioned in the book of Genesis." But ultimately, the characters showed little interest in God himself.

Overstreet also wrote in that review, "Spiritual exploration seems to be Aronofsky's forte, after all. His first film, Pi, told a troubling tale about a headache-prone mathematical genius who began to suspect that God was speaking to him through the numbers. The next film, Requiem for a Dream, portrayed people succumbing to addictions of all kinds, looking for satisfaction and solace in all the wrong places. Each project has been risky, experimental, and uniquely philosophical. In The Fountain, it becomes clear that Aronofsky believes our sufferings stem from both spiritual and physical lack. So his characters take dangerous risks in order to find healing for their bodies and their hearts."

In an interview with CT at the time, Aronofsky spoke about dealing with mortality and "the sanctity of life." He said that The Fountain was "in many ways . . . about science versus art, and religion versus spirituality. You have these [scientific and religious] dogmas that are the languages of a certain type of discovery, but beneath that you have a certain type of acceptance and truth."

But it might be a leap to say that the director, who grew up in a Jewish home, holds to an orthodox Christian view of the world. In that same interview, he said, "At the core of so many different religions is the spiritual truth which unites us all. It's just amazing when you look at the Judeo-Christian/Islamic foundation in Genesis about the two trees in the Garden of Eden—the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life—and man and woman ate from the Tree of Knowledge and were basically banned from Eden. They could no longer eat from the Tree of Life. You think about that, and then you go to the Mayan tradition. Think about how separate the Jews were from the Mayans! They were separated by, who knows, thousands of years—and yet, the Mayans tell a story about 'a first father,' an Adam, who had to make a sacrifice for the Tree of Life.

"To me, that's amazing that there's this unity of spiritual sense between many of the faiths. I think that there is something that makes us all human. From all our different faiths and beliefs, there is something that connects us."

(Photo by Niko Tavernise)

October 3, 2011

'Courageous' No. 1 New Film at Box Office

The latest from Sherwood Baptist beats bigger-name movies . . . on far fewer screens

The makers of Facing the Giants and Fireproof have another winner on their hands: Courageous, the latest film from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., earned more than $9 million over the weekend to finish No. 1 among new releases and fourth overall at the box office.

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The film, which was made for just $2 million, has no movie stars, but did better than new releases starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50), Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz (Dream House), and Anna Faris and Chris Evans (What's Your Number?). The numbers for Courageous are even more impressive considering that it played in less than half of the theaters of those other films -- it opened in only 1,161 theaters, compared to 2,458 for 50/50, 2,661 for Dream House, and 3,002 for What's Your Number? The top three films -- Dolphin Tale, Moneyball, and The Lion King -- all played on 2,300 screens or more. The $7,806 per-screen average for Courageous far exceeded others in the top five; The Lion King earned $4,537 per screen.

The weekend numbers beat Fireproof's opening weekend by $2,2 million, and make Courageous the fifth-best opening of all time for a Christian movie, behind only The Passion of the Christ and the three Narnia movies. Box Office Mojo's Ray Subers writes, "Made outside of Hollywood without any major stars, Courageous managed to fly under most radars (including my own) until very recently. It's unfair to ignore the vast majority of church-going Americans for whom typical Hollywood fare isn't of great interest, though, and Sherwood Pictures has impressively found a way to mobilize this subset of the population. It will be interesting to see if Courageous can hold as well as Fireproof did when it went on to earn $33.46 million, or nearly five times its opening weekend, in 2008."

September 28, 2011

Faith Films Alive and Well in Toronto

Movies with spiritual themes were prevalent at the recent international film festival

Christians may often feel that there are fewer films with faith content or themes than they would like to see. Highlights from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, however, show world cinema continues to explore religion and spirituality in enlightening, challenging, and refreshing ways.

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The Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are two of the most honored and respected directors in the world. The Kid with a Bike is their fourth film nominated for The Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and they are one of six directors to have won the award twice. Their latest film tells the story of a hairdresser, Samantha, who agrees to act as a foster parent for a troubled boy who has been abandoned by his father and who teeters on the brink of juvenile delinquency. While the allegorical connections between the mother’s love and God’s love are understated, they are clearly there. The brothers told the audience at Toronto that Samantha’s motivation for loving the boy unconditionally was left unstated so that, hopefully, viewers would think for themselves what causes such love rather than blindly accept a prefabricated explanation.

Italian director Ermanno Olmi, also a recipient of the Palme d’Or, came out of retirement to helm The Cardboard Village. It’s a beautiful and painful story of a priest who cannot bear to leave his church which has been shut down, and so he transforms it into a shelter for North African refugees. Olmi, who turned 80 earlier this year, is inexplicably underappreciated by (in fact, largely unknown to) American audiences. As America wrestles with its own questions about immigration, The Cardboard Village may hit too close to home, but its setting may be just far removed enough to let its parable-like qualities be heard by those with ears to hear.

Two Iranian films show how people trying to live in increasingly fundamentalist societies can struggle to balance personal integrity with survival in a legalistic society. Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation came to Toronto having already scored the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. What begins looking like it will be a divorce drama—she wants to take their daughter out of the country, he wants to stay and care for his elderly father—quickly spirals into something else. It ends up as a meditation about surviving in a culture so consumed by fear of being labeled anti-religious that a woman must call a religious hotline to get clerical advice over whether it’s a sin to change the pants of a man who has wet himself. Less an indictment of any particular religion as it is an examination of the consequences of rigorous fundamentalism, A Separation gives audiences a taste of what it is like to live in near constant fear of not being able to live up to society’s expectations where the cost of such failures is steep indeed.

Less political (and less religious than its predecessor, Persepolis) Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken with Plums is a whimsical, bittersweet allegory about the pain of exile. Combining live action with animation, it tells how one of the world’s great violinists lost his passion for music and, eventually, life.

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Love taming the hardest of men is a tale as old as Hollywood, but it gets a twist in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. Joseph (Peter Mullan), an alcoholic hitting rock bottom, manages to forge a connection with Hannah (Olivia Colman), a strong Christian who runs a thrift store. After initially mocking Hannah’s faith, Joseph comes to see that she is struggling with problems of her own, her violently abusive husband being the greatest. Tyrannosaur earns every bit of its R rating, with some scenes being downright painful to watch. Hannah’s faith is never cheapened, however, and Colman gives a stalwart performance as a woman struggling to keep her faith in God.

Also getting strong festival buzz, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene features a breakout performance from Elizabeth Olsen as the titular character, a woman whose identity has been so badly fractured by her experience in a cult that even the love and patience of her sister (Sarah Paulsen) and brother-in-law may not be enough to allow her to even verbalize what has happened to her. (Look for CT’s review of this film on October 7.)

Still more challenging, yet in its own way devout, Alexander Sokurov’s Faust gives us a rendering of Goethe’s tale where the titular character (Johannes Zeiler) begins quite literally elbows deep in blood and guts and searches for some hint of the divine that he has been told exists in the world, but for which he has found no evidence.

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Matias Meyer’s The Last Christeros shows a small but determined band of men standing up to their government when its president outlaws their faith and makes ringing a church bell an offense punishable by one to three years in jail. A chapter in Mexican history mostly known to American readers through Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (prettied up for a Hollywood treatment with Henry Fonda as a Mexican priest!) finally gets a telling from a Mexican point of view, where peasants of faith are more than merely obsequious pawns. Though not as successful as last year’s Of Gods and Men, it is still a promising first effort from a new director.

If The Last Christeros is devout in its depiction of Roman Catholicism, Habemus Papam most assuredly is not. A sometimes farce about a Cardinal who verges on a nervous breakdown when his colleagues suddenly and unexpectedly elect him Pope, the film treads carefully—perhaps too carefully—around the questions it raises. Most of the satire in Habemus Papam centers on the Vatican secretary trying to keep the pope’s struggles a secret, but the film becomes more serious when it focuses on the man in the papal chair himself.

In Joaquim Sapinho’s This Side of Resurrection, a young woman is told by her parents that her brother had left the country, but she learns that he has actually been living in a monastery. Confused by his devotion and her parents’ response to it, she resolved to affirm his right to make his own choices and, in the process of interacting with him, begins to question her own.

Two films, while not overtly religious in theme, warrant special notice. Hirokazu Kore-eda continues to explore how modernity pulls families apart in I Wish, a heartbreakingly sweet and sincere tale of children who cling to the faith that if they can make a wish as two bullet trains pass one another, it will come true. They set out on a quest to try to make the impossible happen the only way they know how. And Emmanuelle Millet’s Twiggy tells the tale of a woman who is shocked to find herself pregnant. Unable to have an abortion because of the stage of her pregnancy, she resolves to give the child up for adoption, only to wonder about her—and her culture’s—attitude toward pregnancy as she falls into a subculture of expectant mothers who hold very different hopes and expectations about what motherhood will mean.

Kenneth R. Morefield, a CT film critic, is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (Volumes I & II) and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

September 25, 2011

A Cinematic Salute to War Heroes

'Flag of My Father' a portrayal of heroism, PTSD, family, and the peace of Christ

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There are far too many film festivals to keep up with these days, but one of the most unique is the G.I. Film Festival, with movies solely dedicated to the service of the American Armed Forces.

The winner of this year's Best Narrative Feature, Flag of My Father (R2 Productions), is a thoughtful and occasionally stirring look at what it means to be a war veteran, to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, to negotiate the land mines of family feuds and jealousies, and to share a bond with other vets that only vets can understand. And finally, to walk such a difficult road as a Christian, with that "peace that passes all understanding" in the face of all difficulties, whether it's an ambush in Iraq or a personal attack from family members.

Former TV star John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard) stars in yet another faith-based film, but he's not the one touting Christianity this time. He plays one of four brothers -- the smarmy, sarcastic, heavy drinking one, at that -- to Judith (GiGi Erneta), an Iraqi vet who served as a nurse and army captain. The four guys just don't "get" their younger sister, who shares a bond with their father (William Devane), a Vietnam vet, that their brothers just don't understand.

When a difficult event strikes the family, the tension intensifies until another situation opens the eyes of all involved to the truth of the matter. It's not a great movie, but it's not bad either, and I would say it's almost a must-see for families with a vet in their midst.

To order the film, click here. And here's the trailer:

September 6, 2011

Documentary Examines 9/11 Cross at WTC

Chaplains, police, firemen remember finding the cross in the wake of the attack

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As the World Trade Center cross makes the news again in recent weeks -- atheists suing to keep it from being displayed at the memorial, and a NY lawmaker wanting it to be called a national monument -- it's a good time to revisit a 2006 documentary that tells the story of that cross.

The Cross and the Towers, winner of a Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival, looks back at 9/11 and the ensuing days through the eyes of seven people, several of whom were on the scene and digging through the rubble in search of survivors. The 54-minute documentary follows their stories through the finding of the steel beams intersecting to form a perfect cross, a symbol of hope that remains at Ground Zero today. It's definitely worth a watch as we remember that historical, horrible day.

The film is available to stream for $3.99 here. And here's the trailer:

September 1, 2011

Are Youth Groups Biblical?

New documentary 'Divided' says they’re not only unbiblical, but dangerous to families.

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Every Wednesday night during the school year, I join other adults to meet with high school students to study the Bible. According to the new documentary Divided, now showing for free online, this practice is unbiblical, worldly, and dangerous to families—not to mention an extension of evolution and paganism.

From my 12 years as a volunteer youth worker, I know that just as churches are flawed, so are youth ministries. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve course corrected; pizza and eating goldfish are no longer the meat and potatoes of youth discipleship. And these kinds of conversations must continue; we have to challenge what we do and ask tough questions including: Why are so many church kids leaving their faith behind?

Divided is supposedly asking the same question. It’s billed as a “journey to discover the truth about modern youth ministry, with this question in mind: ‘Is it an issue with the church, the kids, the parents?’” But this 60-minute film isn’t interested in fair exploration or discussion. Instead, it is propaganda, a commercial for the Family Integrated Church movement, an association of interdenominational churches which view age-segregated, peer-oriented youth ministries as “family-fragmenting” and unscriptural. The movie both begins and ends with the logo for producing organization The National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC).

The movie begins with a young filmmaker, Philip Leclerc, saying he’s seeking answers to his questions about youth ministry. But by the end, that quest feels like a ruse—a fake journey for answers he already knew. (Leclerc, who made the movie with his brother, admits his father pulled him out of high school youth ministry.) By the time Leclerc delivers his final verdict—“God didn’t ordain youth ministry. He didn’t create Sunday school. He did create the church and the family”—it’s obvious he’s been toeing the company line from the start.

The most striking evidence: Almost every Divided interview is with supporters of the movement, including extended time with NCFIC director Scott Brown (who is credited as an executive producer). Other interviews (like those with youth pastors at the National Youth Workers Convention) are truncated and used strategically—to the point that they can feel as if they are used out of context.

This is not the only questionable methodology. The film is filled with scare tactics, vague overstatements, experts with random credentials like “Jake’s Café,” broad-brush painting and sketchy statistics like this from Britt Beemer of America’s Research Group: “90 percent of kids had so many doubts before college you could drive a semi-truck through.” How many doubts create such a hole? Are we talking an 18-wheeler?

While some featured adherents of the movement present welcomed nuance (aka “this approach doesn’t work in all contexts but it does in ours”), most draw a black-and-white picture that youth ministry is not mentioned in the Bible—and is therefore categorically dangerous. They go on: Age-segregated programs date back to paganism and are actually schemes to get evolution into churches. (Get it? Students advance from first grade to second just like Neanderthals to humans). All nuance is tossed aside in the thesis that youth ministry must be eradicated wholesale in favor of fathers, and fathers alone, instructing and mentoring young people.

We as a faith community must continue discussing how we reflect the model of church and ministry in Acts and the epistles. Unfortunately, the video equivalent of an angry letter-to-the-editor doesn’t extend that conversation.

Watch the trailer here:

Divided Trailer from NCFIC on Vimeo.

August 19, 2011

'Machine Gun Preacher' for Two Audiences

Studio releases "secular" and "faith-based" versions of poster for film; see trailer below

Coming to theaters next month, Machine Gun Preacher is a movie that will appeal to some Christians because of its subject matter. It will also turn off some Christians . . . because of its subject matter.

The movie, opening in limited release on September 23, is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a drug-dealing hell raiser as a teen and young man who began to turn his life around after finding Jesus. Today, he spends much of his time in Sudan and neighboring countries, allegedly fighting pockets of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) with his own band of gun-toting rebels while sweeping up orphans who have been left behind -- and then putting them into orphanages that he has built in the area.

Some Christians will love the film for showing Childers' path from rebellion to redemption. Others may avoid it for the same reason; the first 15-20 minutes are as in-your-face and gritty as anything you'll see in an R-rated movie (which it is), with a sex scene, drug dealing (and taking), brutal violence, and foul language. Even after Childers -- played terrifically by Gerard Butler -- finds God, he's still got some rough edges, and his flaws stick with him through the rest of the movie. Sounds pretty realistic to me, and I appreciate the filmmakers' boldness in showing those character flaws. But it's also a bit much for the "safe-for-the-whole-family" folks who prefer their "Christian" movies to be G-rated fare.

Relativity Media, which is distributing the Marc Forster-directed film, realizes this, but knows it's also got a film on its hands that can have terrific crossover appeal -- for Christians because of the redemptive arc of the tale, and for secular audiences who appreciate character development woven into what is in many ways an action movie, with Childers as its real-life action hero.

In an attempt to reach both audiences, Relativity has released mainstream and faith-based versions of the movie poster. They also plan to release "exclusive" clips for the faith-based market in a week or so. Stay tuned.

Here are the two posters -- "secular" on the left, "faith-based" on the right. Both include the phrase, "Hope is the greatest weapon of all." In the latter, the cross motif is evident, but seems forced, especially as it cuts off Butler's forehead. But there seems to be a clear focus on the children -- the main motivation for Childers' work -- in the background.

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Finally, here's the trailer:


August 2, 2011

An Unexpected Tale of a Priest

'The Least of These' avoids cliches, takes some surprising plot twists along the way

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There are all sorts of directions one might take a screenplay about abusive Catholic priests, but writer-director Nathan Scoggins takes his story along unexpected paths in The Least of These, a drama/mystery releasing to DVD today.

Made four years ago, the just-now-to-video release stars Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy) as Father James, an African-American priest who steps into a new role as a teacher at a Catholic boys’ school—but he’s got some emotional baggage. Figuring out just what that baggage entails is part of the mystery—and it’s not as cut-and-dried as you might think. Meanwhile, Father James’ predecessor at the school has gone missing . . . and watching that mystery unfold is another compelling element.

The school’s head priest (played by former Oscar nominee Robert Loggia) welcomes Father James, a former student, into the fold, but another priest (Bob Gunton) is suspicious of the newcomer. And yes, the film’s title plays a vital role in how events ultimately unfold in the end.

It all adds up to a “Christian movie” that rises above cliché, predictability, and agenda. There are no in-your-face sermons here, just realistic men trying to live their lives according to the cards they’ve been dealt. They all sin and make errors in judgment, some more serious than others. But grace and forgiveness also have their place in the story. It's worth a watch.

Here’s the film’s official website, here’s where to buy it, and here’s the trailer:

June 27, 2011

'Abstinence Never Felt So Good'

Christian sex comedy, 'The Waiting Game,' even features Ted Haggard in a cameo

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Saying that Christians are "just starving for anything comedy," faith-based filmmakers are making a movie called The Waiting Game, a pro-abstinence film -- featuring a cameo from disgraced pastor Ted Haggard -- which writer-producer Emilio Martinez says is a response to crass comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.

“I love all the Judd Apatow movies," adds Rich Praytor, another writer-producer on the film. “So we wanted to take something like that into the Christian arena.”

The Colorado Springs Gazette describes the film as "basically a sexless comedy about sex. In it, a lovable loser gets dumped by his bride at their wedding. Heartbroken, he dives back into the dating scene with a vengeance, determined to lose his virginity before he walks down that aisle again."

Ha ha, yuk yuk. Seriously? The laughs are cringe-worthy -- including the one involving Haggard. After the film's protagonist says he's sexually frustrated and that he's "just going to do what I want. It's not like it's going to wind up on the front page of the newspaper," Haggard, crippled by his own sex scandal, overhears the conversation from nearby and says, "Hey buddy, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Are we ROTFL yet?

At least a blogger at Friendly Atheist thinks it might be funny -- though not necessarily as intended. "The trailer makes it seem like the guy is getting married for the sole purpose of getting laid," writes Hemant Mehta. "Great moral lesson, right?" And then: "If they really intend for this to be a movie with the moral lesson that everyone should wait until they’re married to have sex, then I predict it’ll be unintentionally hilarious and atheists will have viewing parties just to mock it."

Judge for yourself here, and watch the trailer below:

June 20, 2011

'Blue Like Jazz' Teaser Trailer Released

Catch some glimpses from the Steve Taylor film, based on the Donald Miller book

June 7, 2011

Can Rapists and Murderers Be Forgiven?

That's the question behind the amazing true-story of 'Heaven's Rain'

Heaven’s Rain recreates an amazing true story of forgiveness with a so-so movie treatment. For sure, this independent film—now available on DVD—has some strong qualities and is far better than most you’ll see from the faith-based market. I just can’t help thinking such a powerful tale deserves an equally powerful production.

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At the age of 27, Brooks Douglass, the son of a missionary pastor, was the youngest state senator ever elected to office in Oklahoma. But eleven years earlier in 1979, his family suffered a horrific tragedy. Two drifters arrived at their home, bound 16-year-old Brooks and his parents hand and foot, then led 12-year-old sister Leslie upstairs and raped her. Afterward, the men shot the four family members before escaping, leaving them all for dead. Brooks and Leslie survived and drove to a neighbor’s home for medical attention.

The story doesn’t end there, of course. Brooks and Leslie both dealt with deep emotional scars in the years that followed (and to this day, undoubtedly). If Heaven’s Rain focused more on that, it might have yielded deeper resonance. What helped these siblings along in the ’80s? Faith? Friendship? There’s reference to Brooks working his way through college and then joining Special Forces before eventually taking office, and Leslie surely found psychological care to aid in emotional recovery over time. But Heaven’s Rain skirts most of that, breaking the cardinal rule of “Show, Don’t Tell” in a film that needed to better share these details.

Instead the movie relies on heavy—and disjointed—use of flashbacks to detail Brooks’ life in the Amazon rainforest bonding with his father (played by none other than the real-life Brooks, who also co-wrote). These scenes are sometimes touching, but the flashbacks are too frequent without always justifying their relevance to the present day scenes surrounding them.

Muddled storytelling and pokey pacing aside, the filmmaking is still strong, on par with most independent productions seen in art house theaters today. Director and co-writer Paul Brown has a strong TV resume that ranges from The X-Files and Quantum Leap to Pacific Blue and the recent Camp Rock movies. It also helps that the film relies on experienced unknowns for actors rather than amateurs. And the filmmakers handle the difficult subject matter with great sensitivity. Though rated R for some disturbing violent content, there are only brief flashes to the night of the murder—it’s not much worse than what is shown in TV crime procedurals these days.

Without giving too much away, Heaven’s Rain is strongest in the final thirty minutes when Leslie recollects her side of the ordeal to a reporter and Brooks makes a brave confrontation. These scenes are positively electrifying in content and acting. If only the rest of the movie was equal to the task, but Heaven’s Rain still serves as a loving testament from son to father, and an impactful testimony about loving our enemies while forgiving ourselves.

Here's the trailer:

June 2, 2011

Farewell, David Crowder Band

DCB, one of CCM's brightest spots for the last decade, to call it quits after fall tour

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The David Crowder Band announced on its website that its next album, due in September, will be its last, and that the group will go out with a bang with a farewell tour this fall.

"This is why we've so cleverly named it The 7 Tour," DCB explained in the online statement. "The number 7 has often been used to represent completion, and that feels exactly where we are as a band."

The statement went on to imply that they might have known for a long time that their next album -- their sixth -- would be their last one. They say they thought from the beginning (the band formed in 2000) that they would do a 6-album set, with the second three albums "loosely associated with the first three. . . . The problem, or the beauty, is that we've never been able to see past album 6."

The final album will follow 2005's Collision, their last full-length, and will likely be called Mass -- a play on words as another physics term and as a religious service. "Fittingly enough," the statement said, "it seems our little Mass has turned into a Requiem. We'd love your prayers as we endeavor to put at period at the end of this sentence."

Read the whole statement here.

May 30, 2011

New Documentary: 'Beware of Christians'

Four young Christian men take their big questions to the world, but there's nothing new here

The new documentary Beware of Christians is being marketed as a major revelation but plays as old hat.

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It follows four young men across 10 European cities as they explore how the Jesus they were brought up to believe is different from the one depicted in the Bible. Every 10 minutes of film time is spent in a different city (London, Paris, Rome, etc.) while pondering a different topic that college students wrestle with (premarital sex, alcohol, pop culture idolatry, etc.). The guys ask some questions among the (English-speaking) locals while posing some (semi-thoughtful) questions in a roundtable discussion and turning to some Bible passages.

The points made are good, but all too familiar. Christians fail to live out all of God’s Word on a daily basis? No way! Christians need to emphasize relationship over religion? Do tell! Most young adults plugged into Christian culture already know this stuff.

The movie fails to draw any new conclusions, though it comes close to a key point: The guys note how many non-Christians view Christians as hypocritical, yet how can believers live the Christian life publicly without coming across as pious or sheltered? If only the movie followed this thinking through to its logical conclusion: the need for Christians to walk the fine line of being holy and being cool—“in the world, not of it.”

There’s nothing special about their hipster style of filmmaking with out-of-focus shots, quick intercuts, etc.—think The Real World gone Christian. Nor is this a clever movie, or particularly funny, though not from want of trying. I felt like I was on a trip with four slightly irritating Christian frat boys. They share the usual anecdotes of losing their wallet and passport or getting lost in Switzerland on the way to Italy.

Two of the guys “help” their lovelorn friend by intercepting all his postcards to his girlfriend—which of course only makes him mad and doesn’t seem particularly Christ-like. For that matter, watching two of the guys smacking each other’s bare backs as some sort of fraternal prank is like watching an episode of Jackass. Or how about when two of them dress up like gladiators in Rome with cheap gift shop toys and proceed to smack each other in public like little boys? Way to represent America, guys.

Still, by the time the movie was over, it occurred to me that I had maybe fifteen years of spiritual maturity on these four. These “old” conclusions they draw might have been new to me when I was their age. As much as I want Beware of Christians to be an insightful and informative documentary for all ages, it may still be a worthwhile film for teens and young adults. Especially those who need to see a film that ultimately concludes that 1) Christians don’t have it all worked out, and 2) God loves us anyway.

The DVD is available for purchase here. See the trailer below:

May 25, 2011

The Muppets Are Coming!

They return to the big screen in November, and this new trailer makes me green with envy.

May 17, 2011

Brad Pitt: 'I've Got Issues' with Christianity

'Tree of Life' star says he grew up in the faith, and questioned it even at a young age

Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, one of the year's most anticipated movies, made its international debut at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, and Brad Pitt, one of the stars of the film, said that he questioned his own Christian upbringing from a young age.

"I grew up with Christianity, and I remember questioning greatly some things that didn't work for me, [and] some things did," Pitt said at a press conference, as quoted by TheInsider.com. "I grew up being told that God's gonna take care of everything and it doesn't always work out that way, and when it doesn't work out that way, then it's God's will. I got my issues man, don't even get me started...I got my issues."

Pitt also said, "Many people find religion to be something inspiring. . . . I myself find it very stifling as an individual." (CT has requested an interview with Pitt; stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, the reviews are beginning to come in, with mixed results, and even boos!

Others:

IndieWire: 'A Universe-Spanning Search for God'

Variety: "Inescapably divisive picture could captivate the zeitgeist for a spell."

The Guardian: "An unashamedly epic reflection on love and loss."

MovieLine: "It's all about life, but does Malick care much for people?"

Huff Post: "It's brilliant."

Hollywood Reporter: "A beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables."

Slant: "Malick's ultimate doctrine on light, sound, religion, rage, regret, guilt, promise, and memory."

NY Times: "A cosmic head movie of the most ambitious order."

May 16, 2011

Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement

PBS documentary 'Freedom Riders' spotlights the courage of a little known group

Martin Luther King Jr. might be the most well known face of the civil rights movement, but a small group of blacks and whites who boarded two buses—one Greyhound, one Trailways—in May 1961 may have been the most courageous.

Freedom Riders, an excellent American Experience documentary airing on PBS stations tonight, tells the story of those brave souls, who intended to ride the buses through the deep South, deliberately but non-violently violating prejudicial Jim Crow laws along the way—by sitting together in “whites only” establishments.

They were met with racism and mob violence, but continued their brave quest in a saga that ultimately pulled in the police, governors, the National Guard, the Kennedys, and a watching world—and, in the end, was a major victory for civil rights.

Here's the trailer.

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

May 9, 2011

Hey, Boo!

New documentary explores Harper Lee, 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and the classic film

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Mary Murphy’s Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ which opens in limited theaters this week, is more celebration than investigation . . . and I’m perfectly fine with that.

Few works in the history of American literature are more universally beloved than Lee’s bildungsroman. Add to the novel’s immense popularity the fact Richard Mulligan’s film adaptation consistently tops lists of fan favorites and the task of a documentarian covering this material is simultaneously daunting and alluring. Finding people willing to talk about what the book means to them is seldom a problem. Harnessing that enthusiasm to deepen the appreciation of the work about which every reader thinks he is an expert can be a difficult task indeed.

The key to Hey Boo’s success lies in director Murphy’s ability to balance critique and appreciation, providing both historical and biographical context -- including insights into Lee's friendship with Truman Capote, and how that plays into the story and the film -- to explain the novel’s importance and testimonials to attest to its timeless qualities. Lee Smith, Scott Turow, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, and James McBride read from and express admiration for Mockingbird, and, for the most part, eschew the temptation to use the forum to try to make themselves look smart, keeping the focus on Lee’s work.

That’s not to say that the film is superficial. It has plenty of insights for people who know the novel, not just for new fans. Two elements stood out upon reflection. Murphy chronicles how Lee worked with her publisher for approximately two years after the book manuscript was accepted, honing, polishing, and revising the text. Fifty years later, it’s a lot easier to get one’s work into print -- but has this relative freedom led to a decline in quality? It’s hard to imagine a book from an unknown artist getting that kind of detailed attention today, and by and large we tend to buy into the Romantic notion that masterpieces are fully-formed offsprings of the minds of creative geniuses rather than hard polished products of sweat equity.

The other element of the documentary that is truly enlightening is Murphy’s putting the novel in its historical context. The further we get from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the more we tend to misremember To Kill a Mockingbird as a postscript rather than a preface to it. Written in the late ’50s and published in 1960 (the film adaptation was released in 1962), Mockingbird often doesn’t get the credit it deserves for speaking out against racism before doing so was fashionable in white America.

Several of the white interviewees speak out about the complicated, at times even subversive, cultural work performed by the novel. If, as Shelley said, the imagination is the moral instrument, then the book instructs us how to read it when Atticus tells Scout that we must walk in another man’s shoes to truly understand his point of view. For many of us, Tom Robinson’s shoes were the first we walked in that belonged to a man of a different color. Once we took Atticus’s advice, it was hard, if not impossible, to go back to the old ways of thinking.

Here's the trailer for Hey, Boo:

This review originally ran on Ken Morefield's 1More Film Blog.

May 6, 2011

Caviezel "Rejected in My Own Industry"

'Passion of the Christ' star says that offers have decreased since playing Jesus

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In a recent speech at First Baptist Church of Orlando, actor Jim Caviezel said he's been "rejected in my own industry" since playing Jesus in 2004's The Passion of the Christ.


The Orlando Sentinel
reported that Caviezel said that director Mel Gibson actually encouraged Caviezel not to play the role, because it could ruin his career. Caviezel: "He said, 'You'll never work in this town again.' I told him, 'We all have to embrace our crosses.' ''

Caviezel also talked about how Gibson's personal life has been in a very public tailspin in recent years; the director has been labeled an anti-Semite and has threatened and cursed at the mother of his youngest child.

"Mel Gibson, he's a horrible sinner, isn't he?" Caviezel said. "Mel Gibson doesn't need your judgment, he needs your prayers."

The Sentinel story also reported that Caviezel, a Roman Catholic, "has never shied from films with religious subtexts, sometimes controversial ones, from The Passion of the Christ (2004) and The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) to I Am David (2003) and Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004).

Also:

Caviezel has said his faith is his guide, both personally and professionally. He speaks of being "called" to the acting profession and says it was no coincidence that "in my 33rd year, I was called to play Jesus." He even joked about his initials — J.C. — with Gibson at the time of his casting, which "freaked him out a little."

Caviezel and his wife have adopted "special-needs" children from China, and one has cancer.

"Maybe God, through my son's death, is going to teach me something."

May 6, 2011

Norma McCorvey Appears in Pro-Life Film

The woman who was Roe in 'Roe v. Wade' has a small part in abortion-themed movie

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Norma McCorvey, who was "Roe" in 1973's landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, plays a small role in Doonby, an upcoming film that addresses abortion and pro-life issues.

McCorvey, who switched positions and became a pro-lifer about 20 years ago, has appeared in documentaries before, but this is her first feature film. The estimated $2 million movie, which stars Jon Schneider in the lead role, is scheduled to release in September.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that writer/director Peter Mackenzie wanted McCorvey for the part, and the way he found her is a fascinating story -- if not divine intervention. According to THR:

Before researching her whereabouts, the director chose to shoot his film in Smithville -- population 3,902 -- where McCorvey lives. "I guess you could say the project chose me," she says. "God told me to move there two years before but didn't really tell me why. So I obeyed. I had no family there, no friends. I just obeyed." Says Mackenzie: "I tried to find Norma, and that's where it got a little spooky. Out of the blue, during some random conversation, I discovered that Norma actually lived there."

Here's the trailer:

May 3, 2011

Bruce Marchiano Plays Jesus . . . Again!

Straight-to-DVD film, 'The Encounter,' would've worked better as a Sunday morning skit

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Many plays have been successfully adapted into movies (A Few Good Men, 12 Angry Men), though some are better suited for the stage (Doubt, Sleuth). The Encounter, a direct-to-DVD movie releasing today, feels like it would translate better as a Sunday morning skit or a production at some church-related event.

Part of the problem is the supremely clichéd premise—essentially a redemption story set in an old Twilight Zone episode. On a dark and stormy night (naturally), five travelers take refuge at the Last Chance Diner, where the food is free and the sole proprietor wears a nametag that says “Jesus.”

Is this guy for real? It’s hard to build any mystery considering this is the fifth (!) portrayal of Christ by Bruce Marchiano, best known as “the smiling Jesus” from The Visual Bible: Matthew. But The Encounter is less a supernatural thriller than a drama and modern parable, as Jesus confronts each traveler with their secrets and heartaches.

Teenage Kayla is running away from an abusive father and considering suicide. Melissa (Christian pop star Jaci Velasquez) is a young woman considering an “unequally yoked” marriage. Spineless Hank and spiteful Catherine comprise an annoyingly bickering couple headed for divorce. Smug businessman Nick (wrestler Steve ‘Sting’ Borden) is angry with God over his difficult childhood. Jesus takes turns with each character, politely listening to their anger and fear while challenging them to trust in God’s love.

Like many disappointing play-to-film adaptations, The Encounter feels stagey, set in a single room for most of the movie. The unimaginative story lacks creative direction from Christian producer/director David A. R. White (though there is a somewhat clever surprise toward the end). Still, aside from the amateur characterizations of Hank and Catherine, the acting isn’t half bad. Velasquez does all right with a role that any competent actress could pull off, and Borden actually shows some emotional range and timing. This is ultimately Marchiano’s vehicle, though. Say what you will, but the guy excels at portraying a wise and personable Jesus.

It’s the writing that sets The Encounter apart from lesser Christian movie fare. Sean Paul Murphy and Timothy Ratacjzak (Sarah’s Choice, featuring Rebecca St. James) have devised a thoughtful script that smartly plays both sides of arguments with timely insight, biblical wisdom, and sprinklings of humor. Why does God allow bad things happen to good people? If God loves us so much, why doesn’t he answer our prayers when we need him most? The movie’s answers may not completely satisfy everyone, but it handles the questions well enough to spark discussion.

This is a case where the right script is matched with the wrong production. The Encounter is corny and derivative, for sure, but not unwatchable. It carries the potential for stronger impact on stage, where actors work without a net, a thoughtful script shines, and audiences are more forgiving of a limited production.

Buy the movie here, and watch the trailer below:

April 29, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Warner Herzog’s latest documentary is an immersive 3D experience

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The Chauvet Cave in southern France, discovered in 1994, contains the oldest cave paintings ever found, going back more than 30,000 years. (Think, roughly, of the timespan between Moses and us, then multiply by ten.) Access to the cave has been severely limited, but filmmaker Werner Herzog is a very persuasive man. Thanks to his efforts, the good graces of the French Ministry of Culture, and the marvels of 3D technology, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (now showing in limited release) takes us inside this time-capsule, littered with bones, where the tracks of cave bears are still visible, and where the presence of our distant yet not-so-distant ancestors is uncannily strong.

I saw this film with my wife, Wendy, who tends toward claustrophobia. The 3D experience is so immersive, I was afraid she might flee the theater. But it turned out that she was entirely absorbed by the images on the walls of the cave: horses, bears, panthers, rhinos, and many more. There are handprints, too, made by a man with a crooked little finger (his inadvertent signature). The film shifts at intervals to locations outside the cave: views of the ruggedly beautiful surrounding terrain, glimpses of the nearby lab where researchers studying the cave are based, and conversations with a few of these scientists—even a quick trip, late in the film, to Germany, where parallel investigations are going on. (Here we see a flute made of bone, discovered in Swabia in 2008, dating to a period contemporary with the paintings at Chauvet, and hear a tune played on a copy of it.)

As usual, Herzog himself, who narrates the film and engages in dialogue with researchers, is an intrusive presence, often charming, quirky, sometimes exasperating. Meditating on the paintings, he soars from eloquence into hyperbole, then lurches into jokeyness, as if embarrassed by his own effusions. (The accompanying music tracks the narrative, one moment over the top, the next moment hauntingly evocative.) The film concludes with a bizarre postscript that is pure Herzog.

Throughout the narrative, but especially toward the end, Herzog dances around the numinous. We come to an altar-like stone on which the skull of a cave bear was carefully placed many thousands of years ago, facing what was then the entrance to the cave. It requires conscious effort to talk about such matters without mentioning God, whose unacknowledged reality is nevertheless palpable here, where people like us painted by torchlight 30,000 years ago.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one of the year’s best documentaries, was recently named a Truly Moving Picture by Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. Here’s the trailer:

John Wilson is editor of Books & Culture.

April 29, 2011

Just for Fun: Movie Mashups

What do you get when one film collides with another? Bedlam. Chaos. And fun.

These are troubled times, so here's a little chance for some fun -- but it all depends on YOU. It's Movie Mashups, where you take two recent film titles, smash them together, and provide a brief synopsis. For example:

Water for African Cats, in which Rob Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon try to assist thirsty lions while on safari . . . and are never seen again

The Bieber, in which Mel Gibson wields a menacing hand puppet that looks like a teen pop star with a bad haircut

Rangorio, in which Johnny Depp’s chameleon turns into an exotic blue bird and flies to Argentina. (Caution: some scenes are quite macawbre)

Red Riding Hoodwinked, in which superbad grannies save the day by killing off all the werewolves

OK, readers. Your turn.

April 27, 2011

The Best Films You've Never Seen

'Official Best of Fest' now airing on selected public TV channels

For every great movie you've seen or even heard about, there are probably five more fantastic flicks you've never seen or heard about. That's where Official Best of Fest can help.

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Founded in 2008 by film buff Rick Stevenson, OBOF takes pride in "finding gems among the rubble," as Stevenson says. "We're the ultimate international grapevine fed by the world's best film festival programmers." Indeed, the best movies at film festivals -- especially short films -- never make it to theaters, find distribution, or even hit the retail video market. You can only hear about them by word of mouth -- or through something like Best of Fest.

Now OBOF is airing on American Public Television, starting this month and running through the end of March 2013. Some 120-plus stations -- including in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit, and Miami -- are airing the show (look for your local station here), and more are added every week.

OBOF also sells boxed sets of the films, in categories such as Chick Flicks, Laugh, Inspire, Real People, Family, and more.

Here's Stevenson describing Best of Fest in more detail:

April 20, 2011

'Useless' Gets Useful at 168 Competition

Short film about justice vs. mercy wins top prize in Christian speed-filmmaking event

One of America's more fascinating film fests is the annual 168 Project, in which entrants must shoot a movie from scratch in just seven days time.

The Christian-themed event, held in early April in Glendale, Calif., chooses a different Scripture passage each year as its theme. This year's theme was Philemon 1:10-11: "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me."

Fitting that a film called Useless would win Best Film and several other awards -- and prize money totalling $12,000 -- at the 168 Fest. The 11-minute fictional film features a U.S. Marshal seeking revenge for his father's murder, but then is forced to consider the possibility of forgiveness.

You can watch the film below or at its official website:

Useless (2011 168 Project Winner) from Brandon Adams on Vimeo.

April 20, 2011

Full Slate at Full Frame Fest

Documentaries galore included several that explored issues of faith and spirituality

The 2011 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, held April 14-17 in Durham, NC, had one of its strongest lineups ever, with over 90 documentaries—including several of particular interest to Christian viewers.

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Jane McAllister’s 17-minute short film Caretaker for the Lord (pictured here) won the fest’s President’s Award for best student film. Eschewing narrative for montage, the film deftly interweaves snippets of activities at St. Luke’s and St. Andrew’s Parish in Glasgow, where fewer than 30 people typically attend services and the caretaker is paid five pounds a week to try to keep the building functioning. McAllister told Christianity Today that some social observers have cautioned that if the rate of church closings remains constant, the church in Scotland could virtually cease to exist by 2033.

Allard Detiger’s The New Saint chronicles the attempts by the mother of slain border guard Yevgeny Rodionov to have her son classified a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church. A cultural portrait of the overlay between television entertainment, folk legend, and church tradition, the film provides a glimpse into a world that is simultaneously alien to most American viewers and yet, in many points, disturbingly familiar.

Julia Haslett’s An Encounter with Simone Weil works both as an introduction to an undeservedly marginalized moral philosopher and social activist and as a mediation on how the director grapples with Weil’s thoughts as she attempts to apply it to her own life.

To Be Heard, about students growing through “power writing” courses in the Bronx, is deeply informed by co-director Edwin Martinez’s Mennonite upbringing, particularly its emphasis on the power of community. Martinez told CT that unlike Waiting for Superman, his project “isn’t overtly an educational film” and that the filmmakers’ goals were “not to scream out policy issues” but to tell the story of three kids who find hope and empowerment through community. He opined that the film does, in its way, preach “salvation” of a kind.

Several other films dealt with world religions. Jed Rothstein’s Oscar-nominated Killing in the Name follows a Jordanian Muslim who speaks out against Jihadist violence, emphasizing how often those who are victimized by it are other Muslims and challenging its adherents that they are misrepresenting the Koran. Natalie Braun’s and Avigail Sperber’s The Hangman interviews the Jewish man assigned to guard and, eventually, execute Holocaust organizer Adolph Eichmann. Daniel Goldberg’s 27-minute, single-take Steps to Eternity is a wordless observation of one man’s routine yet inspiring struggle to attend religious services.

Political and social issues were front and center in many of the event’s films. Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams, previewed The Interrupters, a look at Chicago’s CeaseFire organization and its attempts to curb inner-city violence. Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA; Shut Up and Sing) screened Gun Fight, an examination of America’s love affair with weapons. The line between terrorist and activist was meditated on in If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front and Better This World, which tells the story of two Texas teens arrested for domestic terrorism at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Laura Israel shows how the prospect of wind turbines divides a town in Windfall, while Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee generated strong festival buzz by using the famous Liebeck vs. McDonald’s case as a lens to examine the politics of tort reform.

Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. He is the editor of and a contributor to Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema.

April 15, 2011

'Why Are Christian Movies So Awful?'

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir asks the question, but he's picking on the wrong movie

A few months ago, we ran a blog post titled, "Why Are Christian Movies So Bad?", prompted by a thought-provoking article of the same title over at Relevant magazine.

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The title above this blog post is taken directly from a new essay by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon; the only difference, of course, is that "bad" has been replaced by "awful." Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, and to an extent, I agree with the writers of both essays. There are a lot of crummy Christian movies; ugh, I've certainly seen enough of them.

What I completely disagree with, however, when it comes to O'Hehir's article, is his "hook": He's jumped on Soul Surfer as an excuse to write his opinions, and for that, I think he's wrong. O'Hehir calls the film "a trite, sentimental puddle of sub-Hollywood mush, with mediocre photography, weak special effects and an utterly formulaic script. . . . [T]his one is pretty awful."

I don't think Soul Surfer is a great movie; I'm pretty sure it won't be considered for our Critics' Choice list at the end of the year (though it'll be a strong candidate for our Most Redeeming list). It's not great, but it is very good. And if, as O'Hehir suggests, it is to be labeled a "Christian movie" -- and frankly, I could argue either way on that point -- I would say it's one of the best ones we've seen in years.

Our critic gave it three stars (out of four) -- somewhere between a B-minus and a B, if this were a grading scale. (3.5 stars would be B-plus to A-minus, 4 stars would be A to A-plus, for comparison's sake.)

Let's try to look at things a bit more objectively than O'Hehir does. Soul Surfer has a 53 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes -- meaning that 53 percent of the 74 critics compiled so far gave it a positive review, and 47 percent gave it a negative. ("Positive could mean anything from barely making the cut to thinking it's the best thing since sliced bread; I think the film falls somewhere in between. Conversely, "negative" means anything from barely missing the cut to "I hated it.")

Some of the nation's top critics liked the movie (Entertainment Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times), but many did not. But why didn't they like it? I don't have time for a full analysis here, but here's what Roger Ebert wrote in his 2.5 star (out of four) review:

My problem with "Soul Surfer" is that it makes it look too simple. Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) has a loving family of professional surfers and a big, friendly dog. She lives in walking distance of the beach. She was and is a committed churchgoer and got great support from her spiritual leaders. She was an indomitable optimist with a fierce competitive spirit.

But there had to be more to it than that. I applaud her faith and spirit. I give her full credit for her determination. I realize she is a great athlete. But I feel something is missing. There had to be dark nights of the soul. Times of grief and rage. The temptation of nihilism. The lure of despair. Can a 13-year-old girl lose an arm and keep right on smiling?

The flaw in the storytelling strategy of "Soul Surfer" is that it doesn't make Bethany easy to identify with. She's almost eerie in her optimism. Her religious faith is so unshaken, it feels taken for granted. The film feels more like an inspirational parable than a harrowing story of personal tragedy.

Ebert's skepticism is understandable. I've asked many of the same questions myself, even when I interviewed Bethany Hamilton, the title character: Didn't you get angry at God? Didn't you struggle with your faith? How could you and your family make it look so simple? Ebert is right to wonder about these things, but he can't blame the movie for them. I have spent time with the Hamiltons and with Bethany, and it IS uncanny how "simple" they've allowed this incredible experience to play out. A rock-solid but "simple" (er, childlike) faith somehow kept Bethany from experience those "dark nights of the soul" and "times of grief and rage" that Ebert wanted to see. I know I certainly would've have experienced those things. But again, don't blame the film -- those are questions for Bethany and her family, not for the filmmakers or scriptwriters. They're not making this stuff up.

Also, I think Ebert oversimplifies. If he were to watch the movie again, he'd see the scene where Bethany tearfully asks her youth pastor how this could possibly be a part of God's plan. She is downcast and troubled in the hospital (a scene which Bethany says was trumped up a bit, because she wasn't really all that sad). She worries that people will see her as a freak. She storms away from one competition, so upset about her circumstances that she says she'll never surf again (also fictional -- apparently the filmmakers tried to find those "times of grief and rage," and couldn't find them!)

Anyway, I'm not picking on Ebert. I'm picking on O'Hehir. Soul Surfer is a good, maybe even a very good, movie. And it is definitely NOT the place to start picking on "Christian films." I could name at least a dozen (or 50 or 100) places to start, but this ain't it.

April 11, 2011

'Soul Surfer' Catches a Box Office Wave

New faith-based film finishes in top five with a strong per-theater average

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Soul Surfer, the inspirational true-story movie about surfer Bethany Hamilton, exceeded studio expectations by pulling in $11.1 million over the weekend -- good enough for fourth place overall at the box office, but finishing first in the per-theater average ($5,014, compared to $3,848 for Arthur, $4,861 for Hanna, and $3,438 for Your Highness) among new releases.

“We’re thrilled with the response," said Rich Peluso, vice president of Affirm Films, a branch of Sony Entertainment, the film's distributor. Peluso noted that a rare A+ CinemaScore, strong exit polling (96% rating the film Excellent or Very Good, 92% saying they will recommend it), and strong Facebook and Twitter activity all point "to a strong and long theatrical run. What’s most exciting about all this is that the inspirational message of Bethany’s life and faith is impacting people all across North America, and we’re looking forward to expanding the release in other territories in the coming weeks and months.”

Blogging for the WSJ's Speakeasy, Anthony Kaufman said the film "exceeded expectations" and is "poised to go the distance in the marketplace." Kaufman's story also noted that the promotional team behind Soul Surfer had done a good job reaching out to Christian opinion leaders and church groups, while also trying to make it "a crossover film" and to "achieve a balance and not to make it seem like only a faith movie," according to Berney. "I think it was effective. Given the Cinemascore and exit polls, we think it’ll hang around for a long time.”

Deadline.com analyst Nikki Finke wrote that an exec from distributor Sony had said, "If we do $10 million this weekend (or close to it), it would be a home run for Sony and FilmDistrict." Finke went on to write: "Mission accomplished. A strong Christian message sometimes works at the box office, sometimes falls flat. This one worked, helped by the strong appeal and personal promotion of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. Soul Surfer played incredibly well all around the country as Sony had been screening the title aggressively -- 350 previews -- especially for church groups who arranged for buses to bring in audiences all day Friday.

"The film was marketed extremely well by FilmDistrict by emphasizing the upbeat, positive message although not overtly its religious undertones even though Soul Surfer is the only mainstream movie with a faith-based message during the Easter holidays. Key targets were tweens, teens and moms, and the film tracked well with these groups, and direct engagement was made with Underwood’s fan base, extreme sports enthusiasts and athletes who had overcome personal obstacles."

Box Office Mojo analyst Brandon Gray noted that Soul Surfer's opening "was solid considering that surfing movies tend to wipe out. It was enough to land within the average range of inspirational sports dramas. Distributor Sony Pictures' research showed that 80 percent of the audience was female and 56 percent was under 25 years old."

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 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

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.

February 28, 2011

Emilio Estevez on new film: 'It was the divine'

Writer/director says 'The Way,' starring father Martin Sheen, had providence on its side

When asked after a recent screening about the making of The Way, which stars his father in the lead role, writer-director Emilio Estevez told Catholic New Service, "I've stopped using the word coincidence" to describe the process. "It was providence. ... It was the divine."

The film, slated for limited theatrical release this fall, stars Martin Sheen in the story of four Westerners who walk the 500-mile pilgrimage route from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where tradition says the remains of the apostle St. James are buried. It is named after what is known as The Way of St. James.

I've heard good things about this film, including from CT critic Ken Morefield, who saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall.

February 28, 2011

The Anti-Social Network?

Winklevoss twins, star characters in 'The Social Network,' continue their legal battle

The Social Network may not have picked up any major awards at Sunday night's Oscars, but the film's main characters continue their battle for awards of another kind -- in the courts.

The Los Angeles Times reports that twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who maintain that Mark Zuckerberg ripped them off to build Facebook, are contesting an out-of-court settlement reached three years ago. The Winklevosses have already accepted a $160 million settlement, but feel they're entitled to more -- while also insisting it's not about the money. They say it's the principle of the thing.

"If it was about the money, we would walk away right now," Cameron Winklevoss said. "Mark Zuckerberg wouldn't be sitting where he is if it weren't for us. They think it's over. We believe there is another chapter to be written."

Zuckerberg's response? "After all this time, I feel bad that they still feel bad about it."

February 22, 2011

Narnia Producer Found Dead in NY

Perry Moore died last week of an apparent accidental overdose of a painkiller

Perry Moore, who played a critical role in bringing the Narnia stories to the big screen, died of an apparent accidental overdose of OxyContin last week, it has been reported. He was 39.

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Moore, an executive producer on the three Chronicles of Narnia films that have released since late 2005, was found unconscious by his partner, Hunter Hill, in the bathroom of his Manhattan home on Thursday and died later in hospital, according to police, who do not suspect foul play. Moore apparently had chronic severe back pain, and was scheduled for back surgery later this spring.

Moore's 2007 book, Hero, about a gay superhero, won a Lambda Literary award. He also wrote and directed the 2008, Lake City, starring Sissy Spacek.

Moore played a key role in bringing the Narnia films to the big screen, starting with a 2001 letter to the C. S. Lewis Company seeking film rights to the Chronicles for Walden Media. He was just 29 at the time. Five years later, the self-professed "Narnia geek" saw his dream come true when The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe hit the big screen. Moore chronicled his journey in, The Official Illustrated Movie Companion for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (HarperSanFrancisco).

"I'm just the ultimate fanboy living out a fan's dream, because this was my favorite book as a kid," Moore told CT in 2005, just before LWW released. "Narnia kicked off my lifelong relationship with storytelling, with wanting to read everything I could get my hands on—certainly fantasy, though I like to call it 'literature of the ideas.'"

February 21, 2011

'The Washed-Up Geezer Redemption Film'

A pastor opines on 'Gran Torino,' 'The Wrestler,' 'Crazy Heart,' and 'Red' -- but no 'Get Low'

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In a brief essay on what he calls "washed-up geezer redemption films," Charles Hambrick-Stowe, pastor of the First Congregational Church, Ridgefield, Conn., writes for Faith & Leadership wonders if such movies "teach us anything about what they might be looking for from the gospel?" He also asks, "What kind of 'redemption' do we find in these movies?"

By "these movies," he's specifically referring to Gran Torino, The Wrestler, Crazy Heart, and Red, and yes he does find redemption in each -- and, unfortunately, in far too spoiler-ific description. Glaringly missing from his list is Get Low, which releases to DVD this week and features the great Robert Duvall in the lead role, playing an aging hermit who has hid in the woods for more than 40 years to pay -- in his mind -- for a specific sin of his youth. To him, grace isn't an option; he wants to pay his penance. But as he encounters others along the way, he begins to consider the possibility of forgiveness. Duvall should've received an Oscar nomination for the role, but was unfortunately overlooked.

Check out our review of Get Low, my interview with Duvall (who knows a bit about geezer redemption), and the trailer:

February 21, 2011

Well Beyond 'Skin' Deep

New on DVD, 2008's 'Skin' is a stirring look at South Africa's apartheid era

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No wonder Roger Ebert called it "one of the best films of the year." I just watched Skin, a 2008 film based on the true story of Sandra Laing, a dark-skinned girl born to white Afrikaner parents in 1955 South Africa. The film, which released to DVD a few weeks ago, follows Sandra's remarkable journey -- expelled from school and shunned by white society despite her father's efforts to have her officially classified as "white," and the sociological implications that her pigmentation wrought.

Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) is brilliant in the lead role as Sandra, torn between her feelings for her family and the black man with whom she falls in love. Sandra's father (played by Sam Neill) is an old-school racist who sees blacks as a lower class, but her mother (Alice Krige) is a bit more tolerant. But Sandra is forced into a position where she must choose between family and the man she loves, resulting in a difficult journey through hardship, racial intolerance, familial rejection, and a society in which she can never quite find her place.

It's ultimately a story of perseverance, redemption, and forgiveness, and well worth putting in your rental queue. Here's the trailer:

February 18, 2011

Producer Wanted to Cut Bible from 'Soul Surfer'

But after Bethany Hamilton's family complained, the Word made it to the final cut

The Hollywood Reporter notes that a producer had requested that the words "Holy Bible” be digitally removed from the cover of the book in a scene of Soul Surfer, the upcoming film depicting the journey of surfer Bethany Hamilton. Hamilton lost her left arm to a shark attack at the age of 13, but has since come back -- through perseverance and her Christian faith -- to become one of the world's greatest surfers. The entire Hamilton family is strong in their Christian faith.

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According to THR, "When religious leaders were shown an early version of the Sony movie, set for release in April, the words “Holy Bible” had been digitally removed from the cover of the book in a scene depicting [Tom] Hamilton reading in a hospital where his daughter was fighting for her life. Hamilton says producer David Zelon, an executive at Mandalay Pictures, had lobbied to tone down the film’s Christianity in an effort to broaden its appeal to non-Christian audiences. But the Hamilton family objected, and when they attended a subsequent screening, they were pleasantly surprised with what they saw.

"I could see the words bright and clear," Hamilton told THR. “I looked at my wife and whispered, ‘Thank you God, they put it back.’ ”

Fox News reported that Tom Hamilton and the production team "didn’t always see eye-to-eye," but that he's pleased with the end result.

“This is the first movie I’ve ever been involved in, and what really counts is what ends up on the screen,” Hamilton told FOX411. “And we are absolutely thrilled with the way the film turned out, and the wonderful way it portrays Bethany’s and our family’s story and faith."

February 8, 2011

Has Your Pastor Caught Bieber Fever?

New movie, out this week, has Christian undertones -- and even a Bible study guide!

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Your preteen daughter surely knows that Justin Bieber’s first feature film is opening this Friday, Feb. 11, in theaters everywhere. But does your pastor know? Or your church’s youth leaders?

There’s a subtle-but-fascinating marketing campaign going on for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, accentuating the faith angle of the movie. Well, maybe not so much the movie as Bieber himself. Other than a quick pre-show prayer or two, the film is not overt about Bieber’s faith; one publicist clarified that “while Justin and his mother [also prominently featured] are Christians . . . this is a secular film about Justin and his music. However, it is clean, safe, wholesome entertainment that parents and grandparents can take their kids to.”

Still, due to the faith angle — however subtle — a relatively new division of a large marketing agency is pitching the movie to faith-based media and audiences. Allied Faith & Family, an arm of Allied Integrated Marketing, is working the faith angle for the movie, which is being distributed by Paramount. Allied IM (the parent company) is an established marketing agency that works a myriad of projects with well-known clients — including many of Hollywood’s major studios. (CT works regularly with the Chicago branch of Allied for movie screenings for our local film critics.)

In conjunction with the new Bieber film, Allied Faith & Family has put together a 12-page Bible study discussion guide titled, “Never Say Never: For Nothing Is Impossible With God,” based on the film and Bieber’s own faith journey. The guide bills itself as “an opportunity to teach our children about the power of hope, prayer, faith and family.” It includes sections on “Discerning God’s Plan for Your Life,” “The Power of Prayer,” and “The Importance of Godly Friendships.”

We already knew that Bieber was a Christian, but Allied Faith & Family’s efforts — which include a video interview with Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette — have helped members of the media learn even more about his faith journey. Cobbled from press releases, videos, and the interview with Mallette, we learn that:

> Bieber, in his own words, is “a Christian. I believe in God. I believe that, you know, Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I have a relationship with him. And he’s the reason I’m here.” (A few more "you knows" were edited out here.)

> Mallette wanted her son to be “a youth pastor or a worship leader,” and when Justin’s pop star began to rise so rapidly, she didn’t think it was God’s plan because so many entertainment celebs “are getting into trouble. It’s not the best environment to raise a child from.” But she says God “said” to her that he’d called her son “to be a light in the world, and how are you supposed to be a light in the world if you’re not in the world.”

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> The prayers of many surround Bieber, his family, and his traveling entourage. “You can never have enough prayer,” Mallette says. “I have a group of people that I ask to keep us covered in prayer.” She also notes that many fans she’s never met regularly pray for them. (At left, Bieber and tour members pray before a show.)

> “Justin is still discovering who he is and who God is,” according to Mallette. “He has faith in God, and God has hooks in his heart. . . . He definitely knows he is not here on his own merit. He can’t deny the unprecedented favor of God in such a short period of time. And he knows it’s for a purpose and a plan.”

> Justin’s “Pray” is his mom’s “all time favorite song. It’s so full of life and hope.” In the song, Bieber notes some of world’s woes (“children are crying, soldiers are dying, some people don’t have a home”) before praying “for the broken hearted, for the life not started, for all the ones not breathing, for all the souls in need.” It’s not great poetry, but it’s a catchy pop song with a good word from a nice kid who believes in Jesus, you know?

And here's the movie trailer:

January 27, 2011

'Soul Surfer' Trailer Premieres

Inspirational story of Bethany Hamilton coming to the big screen in April

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Jan. 28 update: And we now have the trailer embedded below.

Entertainment Weekly has the premiere of the new trailer for Soul Surfer, coming to theaters in April. It's the inspirational story of Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm to a shark attack at age 13 but has gone on to become one of the world's top surfers, thanks to her courage, perseverance, and Christian faith.

AnnaSophia Robb plays Hamilton, while Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt play her parents. The faith angle is clear in the film, but it's not at all "preachy." It's a pretty good surfing movie, with beautiful people and places throughout, and based on one of the most inspirational stories I've ever heard. (Seriously? Losing an arm to a shark attack and not only having the courage to get right back in the water, but going on to become one of the best surfers in the world anyway? I find that, and Hamilton's story, astonishing and incredibly uplifting.)

CT visited the Soul Surfer set last year and interviewed Quaid and Robb; my interview with Bethany Hamilton will post shortly before the April 8 release of the film.

January 26, 2011

A Few Effing Cuts for a PG-13 Rating?

Weinstein considers dropping profanities from 'King's Speech' to reach wider audience

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According to The Los Angeles Times, Harvey Weinstein, producer and distributor for The King's Speech, is considering making a few edits to the film to knock it down from an R rating to PG-13 or even PG.

The story notes that Weinstein "aims to rope in more movie-going commoners who normally wouldn’t go near a historical drama about a British king. The plans involve a potentially risky decision: re-editing the movie to excise coarse language and secure a lower rating that will open The King’s Speech to a broader audience."

Weinstein apparently noted the success of the movie in Great Britain, where a 12-and-over rating has helped it to top the box office chart for the last three weekends. "The British numbers are huge because the rating lets families see the movie together,” said Weinstein. “Tom and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie.”

The film was rated R because of a brief string of f-bombs spoken by King George VI (played by Colin Firth) during a speech therapy session with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). It's played mostly for humor in the film, and is for the most part inoffensive.

January 24, 2011

New Film Explores Intersection of Science & Faith

Ambitious 'Genesis Code,' made by Christians, has strengths and weaknesses

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A new film, The Genesis Code, is beginning to make its way to theaters over the coming weeks and months. The movie, made by Christians in Grand Rapids, Michigan, tackles three main themes—the compatibility of science and faith, sanctity of life issues (especially at the end of life), and academic freedom in the classroom (particularly for students of faith to be able to voice their beliefs).

The $5 million film is an ambitious project spearheaded by Jerry Zandstra, a pastor and college prof in Grand Rapids (he teaches economics at Cornerstone University). Zandstra, a conservative activist in Michigan and the head of that state’s Pro-Life Federation, unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2006.

Zandstra has said that he hopes The Genesis Code stirs up political waters, which is why he scheduled its first two non-local screenings in Iowa and New Hampshire – to be the first two states to voice their preference for the 2012 GOP presidential nominee. The first screening, Wednesday night in Des Moines, will be hosted by the Iowa Christian Alliance Education Fund and The Patriots Fund. Expected to attend are several well-known Iowa GOP politicos such as Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Christian Alliance and Kim Lehman of the John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute – both members of the Republican National Committee.

The film itself has its strengths and weaknesses. There’s a 30-minute documentary-style segment that’s especially fascinating, explaining the compatibility between science and faith as it relates to the Genesis timetable (God created everything in six days) and the cosmic timetable embraced by science today (about 16 billion years).

But sandwiched around that is a mediocre film with a relatively cheesy story about a Christian college student journalist who falls for the star of the men’s hockey team, who is not a believer. The young woman is wrestling with expressing her Christian beliefs in the context of academia, and the hockey dude is wrestling with Big Questions because his mom is dying. Good ideas, but not very good execution, with less-than-believable plot developments including an over-the-top conclusion that wraps up far too neatly.

I wish they’d developed the best 30 minutes of the film into a 90-minute documentary, focusing on the “code” itself – the idea that God’s six days of creation are quite compatible with the cosmic time of 16 billion years since the Big Bang. That’s the good stuff in this movie.

Here's the trailer:

January 24, 2011

'Bella' Star to Build Huge Pro-Life Clinic

Eduardo Verastegui pledges to build largest pro-life women's clinic in U.S.

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Mexican actor Eduardo Verastegui, who co-starred in the beautiful pro-life film Bella, recently announced that his organization, Mantle of Guadalupe, is planning to build the largest pro-life women's clinic in the United States.

“I will not use my talents except to elevate my Christian, pro-life and Hispanic values,” Verastegui said at an event where he made the announcement. "We are compelled to step up our efforts and will power of the soul to help the unfortunate, the sick and the poor, strengthen family ties, practice charity and live with integrity. This all will make Christ enter our heart, allowing him to become part of our soul."

Verastegui is active in the pro-life movement, often standing in front of abortion clinics to try to talk to pregnant women, offering life-affirming solutions to their situation. At the recent event, Verastegui introduced guests to some of the babies saved from abortion thanks to his organization's work.

January 18, 2011

A One-Sided Attack on Zionism

The many problems with the documentary 'With God on Our Side.'

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Editor’s note: Several months ago, we reviewed a pair of documentaries about Christian Zionism. Our reviewer found one of the films, With God on Our Side, to be a balanced look at the situation. Guest blogger Gerald McDermott, the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Virginia’s Roanoke College, offers a different viewpoint.

The documentary With God on Our Side is anything but balanced. It does not give “both sides their due” but instead interviews only Israelis on the far left and ignores Christian Zionists who defend the rights of Palestinians. The result is a one-sided attack on Israel that treats social and political realities with the same ideological insouciance which the documentary assigns to John Hagee and his band.

One interviewee in the film claims—without rebuttal—that Jews did not live in the land for two thousand years. The truth is that Jewish communities have lived in the land through all this time, flourishing in Jerusalem, Galilee and coastal cities in the 9th and 11th centuries, and then rebounding after being massacred by Crusaders in the 12th century. By the early 19th century, long before the rise of Zionism, more than ten thousand Jews lived in what is now Israel.

Viewers are told of Jews expelling Arabs from villages in the 1948 war for independence, but not that the war was started by Arabs, or that Arab armies from neighboring countries targeted Jewish civilians, or that the war was unnecessary because the UN had offered a two-state partition that the Jews accepted and Palestinians rejected.

Continue reading A One-Sided Attack on Zionism...

January 13, 2011

'King's Speech' Tops Heartland's List

'Secretariat,' 'Waiting for Superman' also named in year's top 10 "Truly Moving Pictures"

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The King's Speech is the No. 1 choice in Heartland's Truly Moving Pictures Awards, it was announced. Secretariat and Waiting for Superman were named No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

"This top ten list represents the best of our Truly Moving Picture Award-winning films from 2010," said Jeffrey Sparks, President and CEO of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. "We feel it is important to highlight these standout films and the positive impact they have on audiences."

To see the entire list, click here.

January 13, 2011

King David Headed for Big Screen . . . Twice!

Separate movie projects, both by Christian directors, are in the works

Directors Scott Derrickson and David Cunningham, both Christians, are in the early stages of helming major films about King David.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Derrickson is "getting his slingshot ready" to helm Goliath, about the popular Bible story of David and Goliath.

Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still) will helm the film that THP reports will have "a modern vibe that harkens to the spirit of films such as 300 and The Bourne Identity." The film is being produced by Temple Hill, which also was behind 2006's The Nativity Story.

Meanwhile, Cunningham (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, To End All Wars, The Path to 9/11) told CT he will helm Day of War, the first in a series of 3D films based on the Lion of War franchise, which tell the story of King David and his "mighty men." (Concept art from the studio is pictured here.)

Grant Curtis, who produced the three recent Spider-Man films, will produce the Lion of War movies. Cunningham's GiantKiller Pictures (get it?) has optioned rights to all five Lion of War books, to be released by Zondervan, starting with April's Day of War.

Cunningham tells CT that Day of War will be a “major motion picture in the vein of Lord of the Rings.” And his GiantKiller Pictures website says the films "will be realized in 3D with the supernatural aspects of the film literally hovering in the audience."

Stay tuned to CT Entertainment for further developments on these films.

January 3, 2011

Turning into Gods?

Upcoming documentary explores quest for immortality and 'our ultimate potential'

TV host and filmmaker Jason Silva is working on a documentary called Turning into Gods in which he explores "mankind's journey to 'play jazz with the universe' ... It is a story of our ultimate potential, the reach of our intelligence, the scope of our scientific and engineering abilities and the transcendent quality of our heroic and noble calling."

The film proposes to investigate "the texture and color of our next refined and designed evolutionary leap," suggesting that we will someday become what philosopher David Pearce calls "Paradise Engineers." Silva quotes Stewart Brand: "We are as gods, and we might as well get good at it."

Interestingly, our latest cover story, "Chasing Methuselah," explores some of the same ideas, while asking if we who believe in eternal life should even care about such possibilities.

Here's a teaser trailer for Turning Into Gods:

TURNING INTO GODS - 'Concept Teaser' from jason silva on Vimeo.

December 13, 2010

Where's the Dawn in 'The Dawn Treader'?

New Narnia film overlooks one of the book's main themes, falls short on others

CT film critic Steven D. Greydanus, writing for The National Catholic Register, clearly articulates a number of the problems with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which opened to a weak $24.5 million over the weekend -- a much weaker opening than for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe ($65.6 million) and for Prince Caspian ($55 million).

Analysts and studio heads will come up with all sorts of theories for the weak opening, but certainly one of the reasons is that the film got all sorts of things wrong, when compared to the book. Greydanus does a nice job in describing the challenges of converting a beloved book to the big screen, that it rarely can be a perfect adaptation, and that some changes are inevitable. That's well enough, but some of the changes are head-scratchers -- starting with the title itself.

The Dawn Treader is supposed to be sailing always east, toward the world's edge, the eternal dawn, toward Aslan's country. But the film completely overlooks that. Greydanus asked two key people about the that -- Walden Media president Micheal Flaherty and co-producer Douglas Gresham. Flaherty understood and acknowledged the validity of Greydanus's point; Gresham blew it off.

"Narnia has an interesting geography: The world is flat," Flaherty said. "And there is something beckoning about the utter east. That would have been a good shot. … That’s an interesting point.” But Gresham, C. S. Lewis's stepson who calls himself the "Narnia police" to make sure the films get the main things right, said, “I don’t think that’s the least bit important, to be honest. That they sail eastward, in Narnia? A flat world, theoretically? I don’t think it is, no.”

Read the rest of Steven's insights here. He voices all of my own concerns about the film, but much more articulately than I ever could.

December 11, 2010

Hobbit Auditions: Dark-Skinned Need Not Apply

Debates abuzz after 'Hobbit' casting agent turns away a dark-skinned woman

A couple of weeks ago, a casting agent for Peter Jackson's upcoming Hobbit was fired for telling a woman she was too dark to play one a hobbit.

It's caused quite a stir, with people weighing in on both sides of the issue. Some say the agent deserved to be fired for her "racist" attitude, but others contend that the hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, rooted in Anglo-Saxon, Northern European lore, should be Caucasian.

Atlantic Wire has a nice summary of the discussion. Check it out, and let us know what you think in the comments section.

December 11, 2010

Bah! Humbug to Christmas Movies?

LA Times story claims that 'Hollywood scraps its Christmas spirit'

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Noting that there are no Christmas movies releasing this year -- except for the critically panned Nutcracker in 3D -- and none planned for 2011, an article in the LA Times business section begins by saying that Hollywood is now playing the Grinch.

"The release of new Christmas movies long has been as much a tradition of the season as the annual late-night TV showing of It's a Wonderful Life and shoppers stampeding stores on Black Friday," the article notes. "But this year, there's hardly a holiday movie in sight."

The Times says the trend "reflects a change in traditional Hollywood thinking. Family films are as popular as ever . . . but the film world thinks Yuletide themes are getting a bit long in the whiskers."

The story quotes producer Joe Roth (Home Alone, The Santa Clause), a former chairman of Disney Studios: "The way to do a big-budget film these days is to take stories that everyone in the world knows and take them in a new direction. But no one's come up with a fresh way to do a holiday movie, so we're all doing it with other kinds of stories."

In a separate piece, Times columnist Steven Zeitchik flat-out asks, "Is Hollywood mounting a war on Christmas?" He concludes his op-ed with these words: "Hollywood executives' assumption is that Americans would rather come to theaters to see stories about pretty much anything other than Christmas. Are they right?"

Meanwhile, AWR Hawkins at Big Hollywood says the Times is playing loose with statistics, and that the Christmas movie is alive and well.

What do you think?

December 8, 2010

And Another Silly Quote from Narnia Land

Neeson not alone in denying Christ as obvious source of story; now a producer joins in

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In a story in today's Hollywood Reporter, Mark Johnson, producer of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which opens tomorrow), says, "Whether these [Narnia] books are Christian, I don't know."

Seriously??

Presumably in the name of political correctness -- and trying to avoid having the film pigeonholed as a "Christian movie" -- one of the chief producers says he doesn't know if C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are "Christian"? Yowzers. That's astonishing.

Johnson's full quote includes a reference to Aslan's clearly Christ-like death-and-resurrection scene in the first book and movie, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: "Resurrection exists in so many different religions in one form or another, so it's hardly exclusively Christian. We don't want to favor one group over another ... whether these books are Christian, I don't know."

Even more astonishing is that Johnson's words come just a couple of days after Liam Neeson, the actor who voices Aslan, denied that his character solely represents Christ. Neeson said that Aslan "also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries."

Narnia fans around the world have been voicing their dismay at the comment ever since. Many of them are weighing in on Johnson's and Neeson's comments at Big Hollywood. "They are absolutely killing this movie for me," wrote one commenter. "C'mon, can't they even read the Cliff Notes . . . before talking about the movie?" Another: "How exactly do people in charge of making a movie not actually know what the movie is about?" And yet others are undeterred by the remarks: "I'm still going to see it. Nothing will deter me from this movie. NOTHING!"

Meanwhile, the film is clearly being marketed to Christian churches and leaders at NarniaFaith.com, a joint effort between Fox, Walden Media, and Grace Hill Media. In the section on sermon illustrations, evangelist Luis Palau calls Dawn Treader "a powerful story" about "discovering the risks, surprises, and revelations of life with Jesus Christ." Palau goes on to refer to Aslan as "Lewis' depiction of Jesus Christ."

Another pastor, Ken Foreman, refers to the story and film as "a wonderful analogy about our spiritual growth as Christians" and that Aslan's name "in our world is Jesus."

Palau and Foreman are absolutely right, of course. Even C. S. Lewis said as much: "The whole Narnian story is about Christ," he wrote. Lewis pictured Jesus as a lion partly because he's called "The Lion of Judah" in Scripture.

So, on the one hand, those behind the film are clearly unashamed to associate their product with Jesus and Christianity, as evidenced at NarniaFaith.com. But on the other, with the recent comments from Neeson and Johnson, it's quite a different story.

I'm not saying that Neeson and Johnson are obliged to shout from the housetops that Narnia is a Christian allegory. But to say things that essentially deny that fact seems like a foolish strategy at the other extreme. It miffs the core audience -- Christians who've loved these books for decades -- and confuses everyone else.

December 8, 2010

Young Director Shows Promise with 'The Trial'

Gary Wheeler's second movie, now on DVD, a positive step in Christian filmmaking

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It's been several weeks since a review copy of The Trial landed on my desk, and I haven't been able to find the time to watch it till just this evening. It was a Christian film by a young director, so I admit I wasn't trying terribly hard to make the time, either. I feared it might be another one of those heavy-on-agenda-but-weak-on-story flicks for the flock.

I was wrong.

Wheeler and a strong cast have come up with a good-but-not-great film about a 40-something attorney (Matthew Modine, Full Metal Jacket) who is considering suicide after surviving a car accident that killed his wife and kids. But just before he pulls the trigger (literally!), the phone rings . . . and he ends up taking on one last case, defending a young man accused of murder.

It's a decent courtroom drama, based on a book of the same title by Robert Whitlow. (Wheeler's directorial debut, The List, was also based on a Whitlow novel.) The film's title obviously refers to the story in the courtroom, but also in the heart and soul of the main character's life as he struggles to find a reason to live and a purpose for pressing on. It unfolds in a way that feels mostly natural, never hitting the viewer over the head with a sermonizing agenda. Faith and biblical principles are part of the story, but organically, never forced.

Wheeler's directorial restraint is to be commended in a genre (inexpensively made indie Christian films) that often lacks such restraint. Ironically, that leads to my main complaint about the movie: Methinks there's too much restraint, because many of the characters lack, well, character. I only kinda sorta cared about them as people; the story kept my attention more than the people did. And Wheeler had some good talent to work with -- not just Modine, but veteran Bob Gunton as the prosecuting attorney, Robert Forster as an investigator, and TV veterans Clare Carey (as a psychologist) and Randy Wayne (as the defendant), the latter most recently seen in the lead role of To Save a Life.

But that's a mere quibble. Overall, it's a fine effort, and I look forward to more from Wheeler. The film is now available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment. Watch the trailer here:

December 6, 2010

Here's One 'Code' Worth Checking Out

New documentary explores the 'imaginative DNA' behind the Chronicles of Narnia

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When the book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis released a couple years ago, with its claims of discovery of a “secret layer” of meaning behind The Chronicles of Narnia, I remember thinking, “Seriously??”

But it was released by Oxford University Press, giving it some instant cred. Still, on the heels of The Da Vinci Code movie and The Secret and all sorts of hooey with This Code and That Code coming out, I pretty much ignored the book. In the years since, I’ve heard others say it was a good read, but I still haven't gotten around to reading it.

Well, shame on me.

Leave it to a 60-minute documentary – called The Narnia Code, no less! – to pique my interest. The film, which released to retail outlets just before Thanksgiving (and, conveniently, only a couple weeks before The Voyage of the Dawn Treader hits theaters), is an overview of the ideas that Planet Narnia author Michael Ward put forth in his book.

And they are fascinating ideas. Ward says that Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia include a deeper, never-before-discovered “imaginative DNA” behind the seven books, with each book representing one of the seven planets of medieval astronomy—one of Lewis’s great interests. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, for example, represents the planet Jupiter, while Dawn Treader represents Sol, or the sun. (The sun and moon were considered “planets” in medieval astronomy.)

Think it sounds a bit weird? I would’ve thought so too, till watching this documentary, which builds a compelling case, especially since it includes interviews with many top Lewis scholars, who all give credence to Ward’s discoveries. (And most of them also thought the idea sounded wacky when they first heard it too – till they read the book.) All to say, the film has encouraged me to find a copy of the book and give it a read. Check out the trailer for the documentary below:

December 5, 2010

Aslan Represents . . . Mohammed and Buddha?

The 'stupid' comment is from Liam Neeson, who voices the Lion in the films

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On the next-to-last page of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy wonders how they shall live in their world without meeting Aslan, the Great Lion, again. But Aslan reassures her, saying she will meet him again: "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name."

Any Christian lover of these C. S. Lewis books knows full well what that Aslan's name is here in our "real" world: It's Jesus himself. I mean, there's even a death-and-resurrection scene in one of the books in which Aslan must shed his blood to pay for the sins of another. Aslan as a Christ figure is almost as well-known a fact as, well, Jesus himself was a Christ figure in The Passion of the Christ. It's a no-brainer.

But now there's a low-brainer of a comment from actor Liam Neeson in today's London Daily Mail that already has Narnia and Lewis fans seething. Neeson, who does a fine job providing the voice of Aslan for the Narnia movies -- Dawn Treader releases worldwide later this week -- said in an interview with the Daily Mail that Aslan is also based on other religious leaders like Mohammed and Buddha.

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"Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries," said Neeson, a practicing Catholic. "That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me."

The Daily Mail then cites a couple of Lewis experts who note how "stupid" Neeson's comment was.

‘Aslan is clearly established from the very beginning of the whole cannon as being a Christ figure," said William Oddie, a former editor of The Catholic Herald and a lifelong fan of the Chronicles of Narnia. "I can’t believe that Liam Neeson is so stupid as not to know."

Walter Hooper, Lewis’s former secretary and a trustee of his estate, said the stories have "nothing whatever to do with Islam. Lewis would have simply denied that. He wrote that the 'whole Narnian story is about Christ.' Lewis could not have been clearer."

Lewis himself once wrote of Aslan's character: "He is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?'"

Meanwhile, advance reviews of the film haven't been very kind, either.

December 1, 2010

The Dawn Treader Sets Sail . . . for Your Church

'Narnia Night' created for local congregations to learn about the film and Lewis

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The ever-expanding Narnia Faith website -- "Narnia-Inspired Resources for People of Faith" -- recently added a "Narnia Night" section to the site, chock full of materials for churches to host their own event while gearing up for next week's release of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third film in the Chronicles of Narnia series.

"Narnia Night" is being billed as "an exclusive event just for churches" that includes a documentary on C. S. Lewis, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of the movie's scenes, “Un-Dragon Your Life” testimony from Jim Burgen of Flatirons Church, and exclusive look inside the new film. It's all available at no cost.

That all can be found in the "Engage" section, which also includes "Operation Narnia," a partnership with Samaritan's Purse and its annual Operation Christmas Child event.

The "Teach" section, introduced by Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, includes sermon outlines, study guides, and other goodies. And the "Learn" section includes the trailer, a gallery, info on Lewis, and an essay from Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson.

December 1, 2010

There's Something About That Mane

Is it Aslan? Or is it just a bloodthirsty African predator? You make the call . . .

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One of these is the top half of the poster for the upcoming movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, opening Dec. 10. The other is the top half for the DisneyNature film African Cats, coming in April. Can you tell which is which? (For the answers, click here and here.)

December 1, 2010

Have the Coen Bros. Gone Family-Friendly?

Directors of 'True Grit' remake say it's 'tonally' different from previous projects

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Saying they grew up on Disney movies as kids, the Coen Brothers note that their new film, True Grit, opening Dec. 22 with a PG-13 rating, is "tonally different than what we've done before," Joel Cohen told USA Today.

The brothers told the newspaper they wanted to make the kind of movie that they enjoyed as kids, and they say the holiday release date -- typical of more family-friendly fare -- is appropriate. "We thought that seemed to make sense, because it is a young-adult adventure story," Ethan Coen said.

Their version is darker than the 1969 version, starring John Wayne, but still has a "winking playfulness," according to the newspaper, with much of the film playing as a comedy. "That's something people do associate with our movies," says Joel Coen, "the fact that there is a humorous element." The brothers said they took much of the humorous dialogue straight from the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. "There's a formality to it," Ethan says. "And no one uses contractions."

November 26, 2010

Harry Potter Is 'A Good Christian'

So says a former Yale University theologian who has taught courses on HP

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Despite being a wizard, Harry Potter is also a good Christian, says Danielle Tumminio, who taught a course on HP at Yale and is author of the upcoming book, God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy in an Ivy League Classroom, which explores how readers often overlook Christianity in J.K. Rowling's work.

"I firmly believe that we need to read the [Potter] books with an eye beyond witchcraft," Tumminio says. "I don't have the sense from the books that the witchcraft is designed to make us want to be witches and wizards. I think it's designed to teach the reader about fighting for one's values and fighting for love."

Tumminio says she structured her forthcoming book the way she did her class: by exploring Christianity's influence on Rowling's themes of evil, sin and resurrection.

When Tumminio, who holds three degrees from Yale and is an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, taught Christian Theology and Harry Potter at the Ivy League university during 2008 and 2009, the course drew a religiously diverse group of students, including an Indian Christian, a Kenyan Episcopalian and a Chinese atheist.

November 19, 2010

Trading Faith Healing for Sex, Drugs, and Fame

That's a big part of the plot in 'Sympathy for Delicious,' coming to theaters next spring

Actor Mark Ruffalo (Collateral, Zodiac, Shutter Island) and good friend Christopher Thornton have walked -- metaphorically speaking -- a difficult journey together for some 20 years. Thornton had been a paraplegic since 1992, when he fractured two vertebrae after a fall while rock climbing; Thornton still can't walk. Ten years later, Ruffalo was diagnosed with a brain tumor; it turned out to be benign and was surgically removed, resulting in temporary partial facial paralysis.

With that history, the two men teamed up to write (Thornton) and direct (Ruffalo) an edgy indie film about faith healing titled Sympathy for Delicious, which was just picked up by Maya Entertainment and is slated for a theatrical release next spring. Thornton plays the role of a recently paralyzed DJ who attends a faith healing service. But instead of being healed, he awakes the next day to find that he has the power to heal others simply by laying hands on them -- a power he quickly abuses.

"He basically takes his God-given gift and prostitutes it for sex, drugs, rock & roll, and fame," Ruffalo said at the Sundance Film Festival, where the film screened. In the same interview, Thornton said that the main character was so down about his circumstances that he "had to at least entertain the possibility of faith."

Earlier this year, Thornton told the LA Times that about 18 months after his accident, he had done the same thing -- going to faith healing services and seeing holistic healers, often dragged by friends. "You're ready to believe in miracles," he said. But when he wasn't healed, he later resented the experience and was angry at himself "for having been duped."

Ruffalo, who grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools, says the film is "very personal. I was there, watching [Thornton] struggle with being paralyzed. A lot of that struggle comes with, 'Why? How do I make sense of this?'"

See more of their interview in the video below. (Caution: There's a clip from the film that includes a couple f-bombs):

November 11, 2010

Narnia: Coming to a Mall Near You!

'Ice Palace' to magically appear in 16 shopping centers for holiday season

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As anticipation builds for the Dec. 10 release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third film in the Chronicles of Narnia series, shoppers at malls across America can get a little taste of Aslan's world starting Friday, Nov. 12, with the grand opening of 16 "Narnia Ice Palaces."

Georgie Henley (who plays Lucy) and Will Poulter (Eustace) will give Narnia fans a look at the upcoming film with a live, streaming broadcast from LA's Beverly Center mall at 4 p.m. Eastern Time. The palaces will be available at 16 Taubman shopping centers nationwide from November 12 through December 24.

According to a press release from Fox and Taubman, the exhibits "feature a color changing 30-foot Ice Palace, encircled with a series of majestic arches and smaller globes that appear to be carved from ice. . . . [G]uests will encounter life-like figures portraying scenes from the film and movie footage integrated in an exciting video show. When visitors enter the Ice Palace's largest dome, they will be greeted with falling snow and a captivating light show."

And if that weren't enough, even Santa -- 16 versions of him! -- will be on hand for pictures when you sit on the Ice Palace throne "that's cool to the touch," according to the press release. Santa in Narnia? Well, we'll just pretend he's Father Christmas.

The exhibits will be at the following shopping centers:

The Narnia Ice Palace will be available the following Taubman shopping centers:

> California: Beverly Center (Los Angeles), Sunvalley (Concord)
> Colorado: Cherry Creek (Denver)
> Connecticut: Westfarms (Farmington)
> Florida: Dolphin Mall (Miami), International Plaza (Tampa), The Mall at Wellington Green (Wellington)
> Illinois: Woodfield Mall (Schaumburg)
> Michigan: Fairlane Town Center (Dearborn), Great Lakes Crossing Outlets (Auburn Hills), Twelve Oaks (Novi)
> New Jersey: The Mall at Short Hills (Short Hills)
> North Carolina: Northlake (Charlotte)
> Texas: The Shops at Willow Bend (Plano)
> Virginia: Fair Oaks Mall (Fairfax), MacArthur Center (Norfolk)

November 11, 2010

Ja Rule Takes Lead in Faith-Based Film

Rapper with a rap sheet plays lead role in 'I'm in Love With a Church Girl," due in 2011

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Ja Rule, a foul-mouthed rapper with a history of gun and drug charges, is playing the lead role in an upcoming film about a troubled man who finds faith and turns his life around. Rule is so proud of the part, he says it's got a "shot at winning awards and sh*t." Hoo boy.

I'm in Love with a Church Girl recently finished filming and is slated for a 2011 TBA release. The film is based on the true story of Galley Molina, a former music industry exec who was involved in drug trafficking and did prison time before finding God; he's now a youth pastor at Evergreen Valley Church in San Jose.

In an interview on the film's official website, Ja Rule said "I almost felt like I was that character" -- and it's easy to see why. Rule has been in trouble with the law numerous times with drug and gun charges, though he's never served time in jail; a gun charge is still pending. And his potty mouth is notorious; all seven of his studio albums come with explicit language warnings. In a recent interview, he ripped fellow artists -- using the term "n*ggas" -- for what he perceives as misuse of the phrase "keeping it real." Rule said, "You know what keeping it real is? Feeding your f*cking family, taking care of your f*cking kids, that's what's keeping it real. All that other frivolous bullsh*t is just that." Hmmm, okay.

Rule, who has acted before (The Fast and the Furious, Scary Movie 3), is clearly proud to be part of a faith-based project: "I just shot this real ill movie, this Tyler Perry sh*t called I’m In Love With A Church Girl, with Adrienne Bailon. They talking about taking it to the festivals and sh*t. So we can get a shot at winning awards and sh*t. It’s like everything is moving in the right direction for me right now." (Note: It's not a Tyler Perry film.)

I wonder if they'll be sending Rule to pastors' conferences and churches to plug the film, and other sh*t like that? Good Lord.

The film also stars Stephen Baldwin, Michael Madsen, and former Cheetah Girl Adrienne Bailon, Christian rappers TobyMac and T-Bone also appear in the film.

Molina says that “the message of this film is really simple but profound. Sometimes God needs to use extreme measures to deal with extreme circumstances. I was that extreme circumstance. This film is simply about the power of God in a man’s life. The unique part of this story aside from being based and inspired on my real-life experiences is that I wrote it while I was incarcerated in a federal prison on drug trafficking charges.”

The movie will be the first release from Reverence Gospel Media. Here's a video of Molina talking about the film:

November 11, 2010

Hilary Swank Visits Prison Fellowship

Star of 'Conviction' was present for screening at evangelical ministry

Hilary Swank, who plays the lead role in Conviction, recently visited the Washington headquarters of Prison Fellowship for a screening of the film. She is working with the ministry to spread the word about prisoners wrongly convicted of crimes.

In the film, she plays the role of Betty Anne Waters, whose brother Kenny spent 18 years in prison after wrongfully being convicted of murder. Betty Anne went to law school and spent almost two decades trying to prove his innocence before DNA evidence cleared him in 2001, and he was released.

Just before her appearance at Prison Fellowship, Swank told The Washington Post that since the film released, she had met 12 former inmates who had been exonerated, and that all of them spoke of "having found faith in prison, that it was what got them through their ordeal and the circumstances.”

Swank said she regards the film and Waters' story as "such a story of faith. Faith in this other person, the faith that Kenny had in his sister that made her feel loved, to continue on. It was this beautiful circle that they gave each other, this unshakable love. And you know, that faith can be compared in myriad ways: to having faith in a higher power, faith in trusting your future, having hope." She also mentioned "the power of faith" and that the film "is a great way to continue to spread the word" about those wrongly imprisoned. She has worked with Waters and The Innocence Project to that end.

Here's a video of highlights of Swank's visit with Prison Fellowship:

November 2, 2010

Why Are Christian Movies So Bad?

One writer at 'Relevant' addresses, and tries to answer, the question

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In a reasonable rant over at Relevant magazine, Scott Nehring asks the question, "Why Are Christian Movies So Bad?"

The brief essay, excerpted from his book, You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens is long on stating the problem in terms we've heard before: Christian movies are "intellectually vacant," "disconnected from reality," and are known for "substandard production values, stilted dialogue and childish plots." He blames it not only on the filmmakers themselves, who are guilty of mediocre art (at best), but also the Christian audience, which he says should be more discerning and more demanding -- of excellence, that is.

His concluding paragraphs, entitled, "So what can we do?", include a few platitudes that sound great -- "we need great films," "we must demand quality" -- but are short on practical suggestions and application. Nehring likely offers more detail in his book (which I haven't read), so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt; I'll assume he gets more specific in those pages.

He's right that Christians "must demand quality," but what's that look like? Does it mean that we shouldn't pay $10 to see a lame Christian film in the theater, or $18 to buy the DVD? And that we should spend our money on excellent films instead? Perhaps, but box office statistics alone don't really tell us much about excellence, or whether films are worth our while (no matter how some folks might interpret those numbers).

To me, the main thing goes back to something that producer Ralph Winter (the X-Men and Fantastic Four movies) told me a couple of years ago: There's simply no substitute for a great education at a first-rate film school, years of hard labor in the trenches with the best in the business (and yes, that likely means working side-by-side with pagans in Hollywood), and paying one's dues with lots of sweat, heartache, trial-and-error, failure, and dogged, unwavering persistence. There's simply no substitute for it.

True, God might clearly be leading you to make a movie, even a "Christian" movie. But without such a background, it's unreasonable to think you can make a great one. It's hard work, arguably the hardest of all the arts to master. And it takes time. Prayer and God's leading are great, but alone, they're no substitute for mastering the craft. That takes years.

October 27, 2010

Pandora-monium! 'Avatar 2 & 3' on the Way!

James Cameron, Fox agree to move forward with pair of sequels

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According to a press release from 20th Century Fox this morning, director James Cameron has agreed to make Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 as his next films. Cameron will begin working on the scripts early next year, and hopes to begin production later in 2011. He will decide whether he will shoot the films back-to-back after completing the scripts. The first sequel is scheduled for December 2014, and the second for December 2015.

Avatar is the biggest money-making film of all time, earning nearly $2.8 billion worldwide at the box office. It is also the top-selling Blu-Ray disc in history.

Cameron said, "It is a rare and remarkable opportunity when a filmmaker gets to build a fantasy world, and watch it grow, with the resources and partnership of a global media company. Avatar was conceived as an epic work of fantasy – a world that audiences could visit, across all media platforms, and this moment marks the launch of the next phase of that world. With two new films on the drawing boards, my company and I are embarking on an epic journey with our partners at Twentieth Century Fox.

"Our goal is to meet and exceed the global audience's expectations for the richness of Avatar’s visual world and the power of the storytelling. In the second and third films, which will be self contained stories that also fulfill a greater story arc, we will not back off the throttle of Avatar’s visual and emotional horsepower, and will continue to explore its themes and characters, which touched the hearts of audiences in all cultures around the world. I'm looking forward to returning to Pandora, a world where our imaginations can run wild."

October 21, 2010

Another Award for Melissa Leo

Oscar nominee's latest film picks up top prize at Heartland Film Festival

The Space Between, starring 2009 Oscar nominee Melissa Leo, won the $50,000 Grand Prize as Best Dramatic Feature at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis on Saturday.

Leo, who was nominated for an Academy Award last year for Frozen River, was not present at the ceremony, but filmmakers Travis and Kristine Fine were there to pick up the award for The Space Between, which does not yet have a distributor. Other big Heartland winners were Freedom Riders ($25,000 for Best Documentary) and The Butterfly Circus ($10,000 for Best Short Film). Freedom Riders will air on PBS's American Experience next May, and you can view The Butterfly Circus in its entirety here.

A total of $150,000 was awarded at this year's festival, bringing Heartland's total over the years to more than $2.3 million in prizes.

Meanwhile, Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, co-founders of Alcon Entertainment and producers of The Blind Side, My Dog Skip, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, won the annual Pioneering Spirit Award "for their creative spirit in filmmaking and their contribution to Heartland's mission to support filmmakers in their quest to create films that bring out the best of the human spirit," according to a press release.

See a complete list of award winners here.

October 19, 2010

Christian Film Fest Slated for Korea

'X-Men' producer Ralph Winter to be keynote speaker at Seoul event

The 8th Seoul Christianity Film Festival (SCFF) will be held Oct. 21-26 in Seoul, "with a solemn goal to touch viewers and heal them from the emotional stress and burden in their everyday lives through movies," according to an article in The Korea Times.

Ralph Winter, a Christian and producer of the X-Men and Fantastic Four films, is the keynote speaker. Winter will "give a lecture on movies and his Christian faith," according to the article.

The fest, with the theme of "Touch You, the Healing," will include 20 full-length films and 17 shorts from 10 different countries. SCFF chairwoman Bae Hae-hwa said, "As so many people use touch phones these days, the meaning of human `touch' has vanished, making people feel more lonely and depressed. We wanted to heal those souls (through SCFF)."

The opening film Korogocho Hakuna Matata: A Story of Jirani" by Korean director Lee Chang-gyu documents a Korean priest and conductor who teaches despairing African children how to sing by creating a choir, and their journey to stage a performance in the United States. The 80-minute documentary will have its world premiere at the festival.

October 19, 2010

'The Hobbit' Gets the Green Light

Peter Jackson to direct the two-part film; shooting begins in February

The Hollywood Reporter says that the on-again, off-again films finally get the go-ahead, but labor issues could still affect where the movies are shot.

October 13, 2010

Signs That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

Studio plans bigger budget remake of original Left Behind film

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An e-mail just arrived in my inbox with that header at the top. So I clicked. And read this: "The wait is over! Loyal fans who have been waiting five years for the next LEFT BEHIND film, will be thrilled by the news that Cloud Ten has re-gained its rights to continue their LEFT BEHIND film series franchise."

We'll let the press release do all the talking. For now.

October 13, 2010

Rousing Music Coming to 'Church'

New indie film about an African-American congregation big on gospel music

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Church, a faith-based independent film opening in limited release on Oct. 16, focuses on the experiences of a typical African-American congregation -- in this case, "The Glorious New Life Greater Faith Tabernacle Church of the Living God in Christ, or as some like to call it, The Church on the Hill," as a voiceover on the trailer proclaims.

"Everyone has a story about the church they attend," says executive producer Tommy Ross. "What we have done is taken those funniest stories, blended them with some original music and unforgettable characters to create a cinematic experience that will not be forgotten.”

Gospel greats Daryl Coley and Blanche McAllister Dykes lend their voices to the film.

October 7, 2010

'Blue Like Jazz' Movie Back on Track

In just three weeks, project went from dead in the water to moving forward with production

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(Updated 10/11; see below)

On September 16, three weeks ago today, Donald Miller wrote on his blog that the Blue Like Jazz movie, which he and filmmaker Steve Taylor had been trying to make for several years, was essentially dead. "The book that swept the country will not sweep theaters," Miller blogged that day. The main culprit was a lack of funding, especially after a key investor had decided to back out of the project.

Less than two weeks later, the film received a breath of fresh air -- and possibly new life -- when two young men from Franklin, Tenn., launched SaveBlueLikeJazz.com, a grassroots effort to raise $125,000 by October 25 to keep the film on track. The money was being raised through Kickstarter.com, an online fundraising site.

They had 30 days to raise the money; they did it in ten. Miller announced the news on his blog today with a post titled, "YOU DID IT!", writing, "I’ll blog more about all of this soon, but for now, raise your glasses friends, because WE ARE MAKING A MOVIE!"

Taylor recently told CT that once the money is raised, shooting would begin within a few weeks, mostly in Tennessee (where Taylor lives) to save significantly on costs. Originally, the entire film was to be shot in Portland, where Miller lives and where much of the story is based. Now, only portions of it will be shot in Portland.

In a later e-mail to CT, Miller said, "It’s become a bigger and better story, and a story I think God stepped into the middle of. Some thoughts:

"We had so much trouble raising the money for the film that I wondered whether God wanted us to make it. . . . This is a very honest movie, a very raw movie, but it’s a movie that presents faith as it intersects with a fallen humanity. So I think God answered my doubt in a way only God could. That’s been the most amazing part for me.

"We all get to tell this story together now. It’s our story. It’s not a story for the church to consume, it’s a story for the church to tell.

"The gospel is about rescue, and in a very real way, we got rescued on this. Our brothers and sisters swooped in to help us out.

"Another feeling I didn’t expect . . . is fear. We’ve got to make an amazing movie now! We’ve been pushing so hard to get the finances, and now we’ve turned a corner and are making it, and that let loose a lot of fear. Fear is a good thing, for sure, but it has to be overcome. The only way to overcome this fear is to make a heck of a movie. So here we go."

10/11 UPDATE: Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard, who launched the SaveBlueLikeJazz website, report that contributions came from almost 1900 backers, with donations ranging from $1 to $5,000, and that most donations were between $50 and $100 -- "which is great," they note, "because it proves that this was truly a groundswell of smaller donations that made the difference."

Director Steve Taylor weighs in on the good news: "I've been overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. We reached the end, then God provided a very unexpected turn via a couple of very dedicated fans of the project. It hit me at the end of the third day of the campaign, 'Hey - we're making a movie. Time to stop saying "if" and start planning "when."' Not since the Apostle Thomas has anyone been so happy to be proven wrong." Taylor said that shooting would start in late October and run through November.

Here's an updated video from the team behind SaveBlueLikeJazz, including thank you's from Taylor and Miller:

Let's Make History! from Save Blue Like Jazz on Vimeo.

October 5, 2010

The Faith-Based Version of 'Crash'?

That's how 'I AM,' which opens in more than 2,000 churches Sunday, is being described

Billing itself as "the faith-based Crash," the new film I Am opens in more than 2,000 churches this Sunday -- 10/10/10, an apt release date for a story based on the Ten Commandments.

The drama, set in Los Angeles, features 10 disparate stories ultimately connecting together -- similar to the model and ensemble cast in Crash. Characters include "a desperate heiress, a beautiful reporter, a vengeful detective, a charismatic district attorney," and more, each wrestling with one of the 10 commandments.

The film was made by Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Sunday night's screenings will be free, and the film will release to DVD on November 2.

The trailer:

October 5, 2010

The 'Upside' to the Down Side

New faith-based film focuses on finding the light . . . even on the blind side

Randall Bentley of NBC TV's Heroes plays a young athlete who has the world in his hands until an accident changes everything in the new faith-based film Upside, releasing to DVD today. Bentley's character, lacrosse star Solomon White, has his world literally turned upside down after a vicious hit leaves him with an unusual perspective. And that's just the beginning of his problems. When a new girl, the blind Wren, enters his life, Solomon gets the chance to see things in a whole new light. Check out the trailer here.

September 29, 2010

'Superman' Highlights U.S. Educational Needs

And Christians can help meet those needs, says Teach for America's Nicole Baker Fulgham

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Guest blogger Nicole Baker Fulgham is vice president of faith community relations at Teach for America. CT featured Fulgham in a profile earlier this year.

* * *

Waiting for Superman, the new documentary by Davis Guggenheim, opened in select theaters last week to rave reviews (including CT’s), and expands to more cities in the weeks ahead. The film opened amid much anticipation from the education reform community and is already getting lots of buzz. (Despite opening in just four theaters, the film earned an astounding $34,758 per theater, far above the nation’s top two films, Wall Street 2 and Legend of the Guardians, which earned $5,333 and $4,507 per theater, respectively.)

Waiting for Superman follows five families desperately seeking a quality education for their kids. The neighborhood schools simply aren’t measuring up, so the families apply to a handful of successful public charter schools as alternatives for their children. A highly competitive lottery decides who is admitted—and who goes back to the neighborhood school. One charter school, for example, received 767 applications for just 35 spots.

As a native Detroiter fortunate to attend a high-performing public magnet school, and who went on to teach in urban public schools, I found these scenarios hitting close to home. The reality is that by the time children in poor communities enter the fourth grade, they’re already three grade levels behind their peers in wealthier communities. Of children from these communities who do graduate, they perform, on average, at an 8th grade level. Waiting for Superman confronts these tragic realities.

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For those who hope the movie offers a simple solution to this complex problem, prepare to be disappointed. The issues surrounding our nation’s struggling schools are deep-rooted and complicated—and there is no silver bullet to fix them. Change will take a lot of hard work from a broad constituency—including parents, teachers, community and faith-based leaders, teachers’ unions, the business community and policymakers.

But the film illustrates that we actually do know what success looks like when we do the hard work. Across the country, schools featured in the documentary, such as the KIPP Academies and the Harlem Children’s Zone, offer exciting proof points that every child—regardless of where they’re born or the extra challenges they may face—is capable of achieving success on an absolute scale.

In our work at Teach For America, the national corps of young leaders who teach in urban and rural public schools around the country, we see examples of possibility every day in our teachers’ classrooms. Research shows that teachers are the single-most important factor for a child’s academic success. The key is learning from and replicating effective teaching and overall success of high-performing public schools.

As people of faith, we live out the biblical principles of equity and service by getting involved to advance solutions. Students in low-income communities need tutors, policy advocates, and classroom resources. The producers of Waiting for Superman created a website to help churches take action: WeAreNotWaiting.com

The U.S. has the resources, talent, and collective potential to drive real solutions on behalf of our kids. Waiting for Superman illustrates that the millions of children caught in the cycle of struggling schools deserve better. So what are we waiting for? As people of faith, it’s time to take action.

September 28, 2010

'Blue Like Jazz' Movie: I'm Not Dead Yet!

Film based on Donald Miller's popular book could be getting another chance

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Less than two weeks ago, we blogged that the Blue Like Jazz movie was all but dead, based on blog posts from author Donald Miller and director Steve Taylor that said that they just didn't have the money to make the movie.

Turns out a couple twentysomething guys in Franklin, Tenn., Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard, are among many who didn't want to hear that news. So Frazier and Prichard launched SaveBlueLikeJazz.com, a grassroots effort to raise $125,000 by October 25 in hopes of keeping the film alive. All funds are being raised through Kickstarter.com, an online fundraising site. If $125,000 isn't pledged by October 25, no money will exchange hands.

Frazier and Prichard write on the site that "since the book itself is so unique, why should the funding come traditionally? We submit that the funds for this movie should come from the people who the book actually impacted. It should come from the more than a million people who bought the book. It should come from the fans.

"We are just a couple of normal guys who decided to take a chance. When we heard the news about the film being halted, we thought to ourselves; “There’s got to be another way.” We dreamed big and now here we are. We know this is possible. Blue Like Jazz has reached a massive amount of people, and if it were to become a film, it would reach even more. Most importantly, we believe that this is going to be an incredible story. Think about it… investors back out, the movie's put on hold and the fans step up and say; “No, we will fund this movie.” That is a story we want to be a part of. Will you join us?"

Here's a video from the site:

Save Blue Like Jazz from Save Blue Like Jazz on Vimeo.

September 27, 2010

Does It HAVE to Be a Sing-a-Long?

'Sound of Music' returns to the big screen in October as an audience participation event

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The first movie I ever saw in a theater was the Rodgers & Hammerstein masterpiece, The Sound of Music. I had just turned 6 years old, but it stuck with me -- and still does. The film has long been in my personal top 10 list.

To celebrate its 45th anniversary, the film is re-releasing to theaters for two nights only next month -- October 19 and 26. That's the good news. The bad? It's being billed as a sing-a-long event. I suppose that's fine for folks who WANT to sing along. But I want to hear the divine Julie Andrews, not the tone-deaf schlub I happen to be sitting next to in the theater that night. I don't even want to hear myself singing (because I'm a tone-deaf schlub myself). I want to hear Maria, Mother Abess and the nuns, and Liesl (confession: I was crushing on Charmian Carr as a pre-teen) and the children singing these songs. Heck, I even want to hear Christopher Plummer quasi-croak his way through "Edelweiss," which makes me tear up every single time.

Can't we have the best of both worlds -- a sing-a-long release one week, and an "art-appreciation-so-just-shut-up-already" release the next?

September 21, 2010

The Power of a Hymn

Upcoming movie, 'Alone Yet Not Alone,' tells a true tale of faith and redemption

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I just finished an interview with T. David Gordon, author of Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, about the power of hymns vs. the relative mediocrity of most of today's modern worship and praise choruses. That conversation came right after a call from my friend Ken Wales, a Hollywood producer who wanted to let us know about a new film he's working on -- a film which, coincidentally, also recognizes the power of hymns.

Alone Yet Not Alone, a true story, began shooting this week in Roanoke, Virginia, with Wales and Michael Snyder as producers, George Escobar as director, and Oscar-nominated composer Bruce Broughton (Silverado) handling the music. Wales says it's a cast of talented but mostly unknown actors, except for Jenn Gotzon, who played Tricia Nixon in Frost/Nixon.

The story is set in the mid-1700s in western Pennsylvania, where European settlers and Native Americans aren't quite getting along. When natives raid one village, they kidnap two young sisters, Barbara and Regina Leininger, who are later separated. The young girls cling to the hope instilled by their family's Christian faith, especially by remembering the words to a German hymn their family often sang together, "Allein, und doch nicht ganz allein." The first stanza is translated:

Alone, yet not alone am I, Though in this solitude so drear,
I feel my Saviour always nigh.
He comes the very hour to cheer,
I am with Him, and He with me
E'en here alone I cannot be.

The hymn ends up playing an instrumental role not only in sustaining the girls during their captivity, but even in reuniting them with their mother.

Wales says the film, tentatively slated for a fall 2011 release, is "an Amazing Grace type of movie," another project he produced. He says it will be a family-friendly flick that accentuates the faith angle in the story.

September 21, 2010

Live at CT: Sean Tuohy of 'The Blind Side'

You loved the movie; hear the story behind the story in a free webinar coming soon

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Sign up today for a free webinar with The Blind Side’s Sean Tuohy, as he discusses and answers questions on “Living the Giving Life” on Tuesday, September 28 at 6 p.m. Central. Tuohy is the husband and father depicted in the film. Register today to take part in this unique opportunity.

Click here to learn more about CTI's Web Campus, which offers courses and webinars to Christian leaders.

September 20, 2010

A Birds-Eye View

Owl City's theme song for 'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole' soars

Last month, we noted that Adam Young, aka Owl City, was writing the theme song for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, opening Friday in theaters everywhere. Young has now released a video of the song (see below) -- and it's just as catchy as his earlier tunes. Check it out and try to resist a smile:

September 20, 2010

'A Near Encounter with the Gospel'

Southern Baptist theologian Russell Moore finds the deeper story in Duvall's 'Get Low'

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On a recent Sunday afternoon, Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, caught a screening of Get Low and was quite moved.

"Get Low is not a 'Christian movie,'" he writes. "The point of view is decidedly non-Christian, as is most of the mode of discourse. And that’s just the point. The film portrays something the Christian Scriptures insist to be true. Guilt isn’t something society foists upon us. There’s something primal, something real, in the guilty conscience . . .

"Get Low isn’t Christian, but it’s Christ-haunted. In an often animalistic culture, it reminds us that even the Gentiles know that guilt is real, and that it burns. It also reminds us that, no matter how deep the exile, where there is still a conscience there is still the God who put it there. That’s not the good news, but its a step toward acknowledging the bad. It’s not the whole truth, but it’s the truth, the (almost) gospel truth."

September 20, 2010

Asking the Beautiful Questions

'Reparando' shows Guatemalans 'embracing the pain of their past to help the next generation'

Joel Van Dyke, a missionary in Guatemala's slums and prisons, wrote a throughtful essay for CT and The Global Conversation earlier this year entitled, "Asking the Beautiful Question," exhorting believers to consider new ways to bring the gospel to people in other cultures and lands.

It's a question he often asks himself as a missionary in Guatemala, where his work with gang members has resulted in a new documentary, Reparando, now showing in limited release and available on DVD. The film's tagline almost says it all: "Embracing the pain of their past to help the next generation," The film focuses on two people, Shorty and Tita, who grew up as victims of their nation's 36 years of civil war. Shorty, a former gang member who is now a pastor, and Tita, a woman who started a school in Guatemala’s most notorious slum, have joined forces to repair their community.

The film also explores the practical applications of the "theology of the cross," while also daring to ask those new, beautiful questions that make ministry more effective.

Here's the trailer:

Reparando - Trailer - 01 from Athentikos on Vimeo.

September 18, 2010

'Thirty Three' Picks Up Where 'Passion' Left Off

Upcoming film to depict 18-month time period after Christ's crucifixion

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A few years ago, Kirk Berendes had taken his children to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. As the credits rolled, one of them turned to Berendes and asked, "Daddy, what happened next?"

Berendes and several business partners aim to answer that question by making a new movie, Thirty Three, The Story of Hope, with plans to shoot the film in Israel in 2011. 33 Hope LLC has signed a co-production and distribution deal with the UK's Spice Factory. The film will be based on the Edward L. Flom book of the same title, which chronicles the 18-month period following the Crucifixion, examining the Resurrection, the 40 days up to the Ascension, and what happened to the disciples and early church after that.

Berendes and Flom formed 33 Hope LLC was formed in 2008. One of the company's partners is Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion. The company estimates that the film budget will be about $25 million. Cristobal Krusen (Final Solution) has written the script and will direct.

September 16, 2010

Sigh: No 'Blue Like Jazz' Movie After All?

For lack of funds, Don Miller's book likely won't see the big screen. At least for a while.

"The book that swept the country will not sweep theaters," author Don Miller wrote on his blog today. "It’s a sad day amongst many of my friends. After spending a year writing the screenplay, and another year trying to raise money for the movie, everything seems to be on hold indefinitely."

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Miller gave three updates on the film's status:

"1. It’s really hard to raise money for movies right now. In fact, it’s worse than it’s ever been in the history of Hollywood. On one hand, that’s terrible for us, but on the other it would have been great because Blue Like Jazz would have had much less competition at the box office.

"2. Blue Like Jazz is a very hard film for church-going, evangelical Christians to get behind. The folks who invest in Christian movies were scared to death of Blue Like Jazz. While it has a PG-13 rating, there is language, drug use and a scene where the protagonists put a giant condom on a steeple. To me, it’s the only movie that takes an honest look at a Christian kid coming of age in America, a story experienced by tens of millions of students each year. But students don’t fund Christian movies, older white guys do, and they find it hard to relate to the theme.

"3. Our lead in the movie is Marshall Allman. Marshall had a stint on Prison Break before passing through Mad Men and now has a recurring role on HBO’s True Blood. Marshall goes back to work filming True Blood in December, so we’ve missed our window to shoot this fall. That means we have to wait even longer, and too much can change if we wait."

Miller jokingly added, "There is a possibility we can sell the screenplay to a studio for a huge amount of money and I can finally buy that water slide I want that goes from the balcony of my condo to the coffee shop across the street, but studios often buy screenplays and never make them, and even if they did, they’d probably turn it into a religious sex romp.

"I still hold out hope that the movie will some day be made, and that you’ll get to see it. I think you’d have liked it. Thanks for your support and interest over the past couple years."

On the film's official website, director Steve Taylor wrote that "making a feature-length movie based on a bestselling book is not a micro-budget enterprise. And there’s the rub." He also noted the poor economy, the edgy content, and that BLJ fans aren't typically "flush with cash."

Clearly disappointed, Taylor went on: "I regret ever telling Don that I could get this movie funded. He has never even hinted at his disappointment, but I have most certainly let him down.

"I’ve worked under the broad rubric of the 'entertainment industry' since college. Most of the projects I’ve worked on would be considered successful, and some have been extraordinarily so. But I’ve never had a project that had more going for it than the Blue Like Jazz movie. This has easily been the biggest professional frustration of my career.

"I don’t presume to know the mind of God in this matter. I’ve always believed that the will of God has much more to do with the state of our hearts than the path of our careers, so I don’t presume to know if it’s the Almighty, the Devil, or any of the above (or below) that don’t want this movie made . . .

"I’m a fortunate and blessed man. My life doesn’t depend on getting this movie made. I am willing to abandon this dream. But, at least for now, I continue to ask God to provide the resources to make it."

September 14, 2010

Calvin College: No P***ographers Allowed!

Christian school cancels New Pornographers concert because of the band's name

Saying that "the irony of the band's name was impossible to explain to many," Calvin College officials have canceled an upcoming concert by The New Pornographers.

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A school statement released Monday noted that "the band makes good, thoughtful music, and we invited them here based on their artistic merit. However, after weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band's name was impossible to explain to many. The band's name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography."

On the surface, the decision seems to go against the grain of the mission of Calvin's Student Activities Office, which schedules concerts. The SAO aims to "change the conversation about popular culture" and "seeks to help students engage with popular culture and to discern the positive and negative messages contained within. We attempt to perform this critical Christian service by equipping our students with the tools and experiences necessary to begin discerning culture." That includes bringing in guest lecturers and musicians of all stripes -- Christian and non-Christian.

Ken Heffner, Calvin's director of student activities, said the decision to cancel The New Pornographers was solely over the band's name, and not its spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) or the message of its music. Heffner wouldn't comment on who made the final decision to cancel the show. When asked if alumni pressure had anything to do with the decision, he wouldn't comment.

Heffner told CT that the decision was made last week, but wasn't announced until Monday so the school could relay the news to the band before going public with the announcement. Heffner said the band "didn't agree" with the decision, but there was "no anger" and "they were pretty understanding." He also said that the band agreed not to "say anything disparaging" about Calvin as a result of this situation.

Heffner said that he didn't believe that the SAO's mission has been compromised, and that school officials reiterated their support of the SAO. "The college is committed to this work," he told CT. "Their message is to continue on with what we do. I don't feel that our hands have been tied at all."

Indeed, the SAO has 16 shows planned for this fall, including Over the Rhine, Blitzen Trapper, Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken, The Weepies, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Colour Revolt, and Van Dyke Parks.

On its website, the SAO noted that "we will continue to do our best to feature artists who will challenge, delight and inspire our audiences, artists whom we discern, from our Reformed perspective, are getting something right. At Calvin, students and the general public experience the work of international touring artists in the context of Christian examination and evaluation. Concerts are, and will continue to be, part of a carefully crafted context that encourages serious critical engagement of popular culture."

September 14, 2010

'Amish Grace' Releases to DVD

Lifetime TV's record breaker depicts Amish forgiveness in wake of 2006 shootings

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More than 4 million viewers tuned in to the Lifetime TV channel on Palm Sunday to watch Amish Grace, setting a number of viewing records for the network. The film, which chronicled the tragic 2006 school shootings -- and the deaths of five young Amish girls -- in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, releases to DVD today.

The movie, starring Kimberly Williams-Paisley in the lead role, shows how the Amish community struggled in the aftermath of the tragedy -- how their faith sustained them, and how they forgave the killer and his family. But for some, forgiveness didn't come easily; it shows some honest wrestling with the concept, as we noted in our blog review when it first released.

But how honest? Two New York papers argued about that: The Daily News said the film "gets to the heart of faith," while The Post said it "gets fiction treatment." The Kansas City Star went so far as to say that the film "gets everything wrong."

And yet there's no denying the power and redemption of the true story that really happened in Nickel Mines four years ago -- the power of faith and forgiveness. Perhaps the film gets some of the details wrong, but that powerful truth, and the amazing love and grace behind it, is world-changing.

September 13, 2010

'The Way' Puts 'Christian' Films to Shame

Emilio Estevez directs his dad, Martin Sheen, in a film about grief, love, faith, community

(Editor's note: Ken Morefield is at the Toronto International Film Festival. This post originally appeared at his 1More Film Blog.)

I became acquainted with grief at a very young age. As a result, for significant periods of my childhood and even into young adulthood, I felt I knew something my peers didn’t. Now in middle age, I understand intellectually that more of my peers have had what is a very common life experience, but because of the experience of formative years, I’m still always surprised when the representation of grief in art–particularly art from those who are not yet in their twilight years–rings true.

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There’s not a whole lot about Emilio Estevez’s The Way that doesn’t ring true. Given the fact that the film tackles some of life’s deepest emotions and largest themes–grief, love, faith, community–that’s quite a compliment.

Martin Sheen plays Tom Avery, an American ophthalmologist who receives word that his son has been killed while walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trail in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain sometimes referred to as The Way of Saint James. Perhaps impulsively or perhaps in desperation, Tom decides to walk the pilgrims’ trail himself, to finish the journey his son began.

Obviously, such a role calls for an actor of immense talent, both to convey the depth and layers of feeling of a parent mourning his child and to eschew the more melodramatic histrionics that would cause such material to become overly and overtly sentimental. Sheen, one of our national acting treasures, is perfect for such a part, bringing it gravity but also dignity. I love that in introducing a movie about fathers and sons, rituals and traditions, Estevez chose to describe Sheen by borrowing from another famous director, John Huston, talking about his own father. “He never tried to sell you something.” The film needs that kind of iconic confidence at its center, because for long periods Tom, in his grief, goes inside himself, and the film must have the confidence to let him, to allow us to be one of the community with him, each broken in his or her own way, each striving for understanding, light, and hope.

Do you want to know one thing that is true about grief? Movies tend to think that what we remember and treasure in our hearts are the big gestures people make to acknowledge the hugeness of our loss. But that’s not the case. What stays with you are scores of small kindnesses from people that remind you that life is worth living, that in our sadness, our emptiness, and our poverty, most people can be very, very decent. “To be kind,” George MacDonald once wrote, “neither hurts nor compromises.” It may be the only thing that doesn’t.

Estevez talked rather self-effacingly at the Toronto International Film Festival of not directing his father, of surrounding himself with talented people and “getting out of the way.” He did direct, Sheen insisted. It’s easy enough to see how both descriptions are true. In a post-Cahiers film world, we take certain theories of auteurship for granted. Our picture of the director is of someone who, Hitchcock-like, plans and controls every detail of the film in his head. Estevez spoke of making a film about community by making a community, using natural light, shooting in Super 16 and making technical choices appropriate to the thematic content of the film. These are directorial decisions that shape the film and were appropriate, but the creation of a community of like-minded people pursuing a goal should not be underestimated. The care and compassion these people have for each other reaches beyond performance and says something about the material’s and location’s ability to affect actors and not just vice-versa. I wish he hadn’t used the device of having the father occasionally “see” his dead son, but–as one viewer stressed to me–that (hearing/seeing those who are absent) is an experience, hinted at by other characters in the film which is not uncommon to those who are grieving.

In circles in which I sometimes converse, there have been, for as long as I can remember, discussions about Christians in the art, about how to get more films that are faith friendly and about the corrosive moral effects of “Hollywood” or the “Hollywood culture.” Every now and then, though, I’ll run across a song like Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will” or a film like The Way, that not only puts “Christian” films to shame but that makes me exasperated at the whole notion of “Christian” as an identity politics genre. If you want more great Christian art, go find great artists and support them in their desire to speak, write, and represent the truth. Hollywood is made up of people–many of whom, it turns out, are more complex, interesting, and thoughtful than we might guess based on nothing more than a quick glimpse of their IMDB filmography.

One audience member at the Toronto Film Festival who had done this pilgrimage himself spoke glowingly of how the film’s latter scenes captured perfectly the experience of arriving in Santiago de Compostela. The Way is the first non-documentary film granted permission to film inside the church, and the scenes of the pilgrims arriving, how each responds to the rituals, to each other, and to the dawning realizations that they are neither the first nor the last to walk the path they’ve walked or bear the burdens they’ve borne, is as deeply moving and passionately spiritual a moment as you are likely to get in commercial, narrative film. You know what would be a little miracle that would make me happy? If Christians who wanted to “send Hollywood a message” with their pocketbooks would eschew boycotting the next “R” rated slezefest that gets them all tied up in knots and try the reverse for once. Pick up the phone and call your favorite studio and say, “I’ve got $10 and I really want to see this movie.”

Hey, it’s worth a try. Turns out The Way–here’s the kicker–doesn’t yet have a major distribution deal.

The Way is funny, sad, somber, and, above all, true. It is life-affirming in most of the best senses of the phrase. It’s easily one of my favorite films of the year thus far. If you get an opportunity to see it, seize it. You won’t be sorry. It you don’t, that’s okay, too, just so long as you promise not to complain that there’s nothing but sex and explosions at the multiplex these days.

(Photo by David Alexanian, Copyright 2010).

September 13, 2010

Aretha Wants Halle Berry to Play Her in Biopic

The Queen of Soul knows who she wants, but will Berry take the part?

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Aretha Franklin announced recently that she wants Halle Berry to play a young Aretha in a planned biopic on the life of the Queen of Soul.

Franklin said she'd soon be reviewing the script for the film, to be based on her autobiography, Aretha: From These Roots, a best-seller a decade ago.

The 68-year-old Franklin also wants Denzel Washington to play her father, the late C.L. Franklin, a prominent Baptist minister and civil rights leader in Detroit. And she wants Terrence Howard as Motown star Smokey Robinson.

September 11, 2010

Thumbs Up! Ebert Launches New Review Show

'Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies' to run weekly starting in January

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Legendary film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times is reviving his weekly half-hour TV show, At the Movies, it was announced on Friday.

"This is the rebirth of a dream," Ebert wrote. The show will return to its original roots on PBS, prompting Ebert to write, "I believe that by returning to its public roots, our new show will win better and more consistent time slots in more markets. American television is swamped by mindless gossip about celebrities, and I'm happy this show will continue to tell viewers honestly if the critics think a new movie is worth seeing."

Ebert himself will not co-host the show; throat cancer in recent years has robbed him of his voice. But he will act as co-producer and use a computer voice to appear on every episode with segments titled Roger's Office devoted to classic, overlooked and new films. The show will be co-hosted by Christy Lemire, film critic of The Associated Press, and Elvis Mitchell of National Public Radio.

Watch a brief video about the new show here:

September 10, 2010

Reagan Biopic to Come in 2011

$30 million film will explore former President's spiritual roots, says producer

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It's surprising that there hasn't yet been a biopic of Ronald Reagan, one of the most-loved Presidents in U.S. history. But that's about to change, thanks in much part to a pair of Christian producers in Hollywood.

Ralph Winter (X-Men and Fantastic Four movies) and Mark Joseph are co-producing the film, simply titled Reagan. An actor has not yet been chose to play the part, but speculation has already begun here.

Joseph, who worked on Ray, Holes, and The Passion of The Christ, says that much of the tone and script will be based on two Reagan biographies by historian Paul Kengor, God and Ronald Reagan and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Triumph Over Communism.

Joseph tells CT that "it'd be impossible not to" focus on Reagan's spirituality, given the source material of those two books. "You can't understand Reagan if you don't understand where he came from. . . . Kengor went to the church Reagen grew up in and asked to see the sermons he would have heard as a child. They were in the basement, and previous Reagan biographers hadn't exactly kicked down the door to read them.

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"Those sermons, a book he read as a child called That Printer of Udell's, and the influence of his mother Nelle set him on a course for, as he might have said, a rendezvous with destiny. It would be impossible to understand Reagan without understanding his spiritual roots.

"At the same time, we balance that with Kengor's other book, The Crusader, which is about foreign policy intrigue and the nuts and bolts of how Reagan accomplished what he did. Taken together, the two books address both the spiritual and the temporal."

Jonas McCord wrote the script despite not being a gung-ho Reagan fan. "I was of the opinion that at best he was a bad actor and at worst a clown," McCord told The Hollywood Reporter. But after doing his research, McCord saw the possibilities.

Joseph defended his choice of writers: "Jonas wasn't a rah-rah Republican. But over time he came to understand what a consequential man and president Ronald Reagan was. He came to the material open minded. And when I sent him to Reagan's old haunts in Dixon, Illinois, and Eureka College he discovered a deeper appreciation for the man. But I'm not afraid to have people involved who may not be dyed-in-the-wool fans but nonetheless appreciate the man and his contributions. But ultimately it's my job to make sure the film stays true to who he was and lives up to the expectations filmgoers will have."

McCord told The Hollywood Reporter that Reagan's childhood was like "a surreal Norman Rockwell painting with his alcoholic Catholic father, devout Christian mother, Catholic brother and ever-changing boarders the family took in."

Joseph says he was drawn to the project because Reagan "lived a fascinating life and he looms large over the American landscape in ways that we don't even think about. He was also an enigmatic person. His official biographer called him 'inscrutable.' All of which makes for a great movie. There are very few stories that have near 100 percent name recognition and this is one of those special American stories.

"He was much more than a President to a lot of people like me. He was one of the only public figures who didn't let my generation down. I came from a generation of the anti-hero: Nixon had Watergate, Carter had malaise. Religious leaders like Swaggart and Bakker couldn't live up to what they professed. But Reagan never wavered."

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The only thing close to a Reagan biopic so far was a 2003 TV miniseries, The Reagans. That less-than-reverent project, starring James Brolin as the President (pictured at left), was supposed to air on CBS, but a controversy over alleged left-wing bias erupted, and it was shifted to Showtime instead, and seen by only 1.2 million people, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Only in Hollywood could you make an insulting, condescending movie about a much-loved historical figure," Joseph told The Hollywood Reporter. "Hire an actor who loathed the man. Watch it flop and then somehow conclude that Americans don't want to see a movie about him. I watched Americans line up and wait for 10 hours for the simple privilege of passing by his closed casket. They loved this man."

Brolin disagreed with Joseph's assessment of the miniseries, and says he admired Reagan: "He's literally our best icon in recent years. He represented America quite well. There were some clandestine things going down, but for the most part I think he was a good president."

September 7, 2010

Do Yourself a Favor: Check out This Movie

'That Evening Sun,' one of the year's hidden gems, releases to DVD

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Early this year, I heard about a film called That Evening Sun that looked intriguing. Starring Hal Holbrook, it was a Flannery O'Connor-esque Southern folk tale that was helmed by a director I'd never heard of: Scott Teems. When I heard that Teems was a Christian, I was even more interested in the film.

So I checked it out -- and suffice it to say it's one of 2010's hidden gems, certainly one of the best indie films I've seen this year. Holbrook is terrific as an old man who flees the confined life of a nursing home and tries to recover his old farmhouse -- only to learn it's already been sold. Bad blood and feuding ensues, but so do grace and redemption. It all adds up to a winner.

I had an interesting conversation with Teems about the film, about working with Holbrook, and about what makes for a "Christian" movie (and just as importantly, what doesn't). Anyway, good stuff.

That Evening Sun releases on DVD and Blu-Ray today, and is worth checking out.

Here's the trailer:

September 2, 2010

Another Church Gets in on the Moviemaking Act

Mariners Church to release 'I Am' to 3,000-plus churches in October

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In any given week, only the biggest of the big blockbusters release to more than 3,000 movie screens across the U.S., but a new film from Mariners Church in Irvine, California, hopes to hit that number -- and more -- when it releases I Am on October 10.

According to the film's official website, the movie "offers an insight into the true nature of our God, and fights the damaging stereotypes of His character through a gritty, non-linear drama with a plot weaving around average people violating the Ten Commandments -- one by one. We see that these commandments were not edicts from a jealous God, but a love letter to humanity -- a warning to those who don't understand the massive consequences of even the smallest sins upon ourselves and the world around us."

Mariners is offering the film for free screenings to churches on October 10 before releasing it on DVD through 20th Century Fox at a later date. Mariners says the film is meant to "start a conversation. It's a movie that doesn't do the talking, but instead tries to compel others to want to talk after they've seen it. What better place to HOST conversations about God than at church?"

Learn more about the film at their Facebook site, and see the trailer below:

September 2, 2010

Bollywood Jesus

India's film industry to tackle the life of Christ. Yes, there will be singing. But no dancing.

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Cecil B. Demille, Martin Scorsese, and Mel Gibson have all made movies about the life of Christ. Now Bollywood is getting in on the act.

The as-yet untitled biopic -- claimed by studio Aditya Productions as a first for the Indian film industry -- is expected to start filming soon, with versions planned in four Indian languages. Pawan Kalyan will play the lead role in the Telugu and Malayalam language versions, with an announcement expected soon on the stars of the English and Hindi adaptations.

The $30 million, 195-minute epic, to be shot in India and Israel, will release in late 2011. It will include seven songs, but no dancing -- a typical element of many Bollywood movies.

Producer Konda Krishnam Raju, speaking in Jerusalem, said, “This is the first time in the 79-year history of the Bollywood film industry that a film on Jesus Christ is being made. Our dream is finally coming true.”

Director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao said, "We are enriched, enthralled and thrilled. We are getting the necessary inspiration." He added that he hoped the film's central message would be heard by Israelis and Palestinians: "Wherever there is conflict, pain, war, we would like to take the message of peace and love."

August 24, 2010

Why We Love Atticus Finch

On the 50th anniversary of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' we celebrate a true American hero

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The 50th anniversary this year of the beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird has many of us remembering the Oscar-winning film and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch—voted the greatest American hero of 20th century film by the American Film Institute. One key scene shows why this character has become enshrined as an iconic hero and a model of courage: Atticus, alone, facing down an angry, drunken lynch mob late at night with nothing but a newspaper.

Yet when you view Atticus Finch in light of many of our culture’s heroes, something doesn’t add up. Our society reveres success and power. Our heroes prevail in court cases, survive the island, win the big games. Christians seem just as determined to see our view recognized as correct, our argument heard, our sense of entitlement satisfied. Even the heroes of Christian culture seem to be winners these days.

So it’s remarkable that a half century after the publication of Harper Lee’s novel, we still celebrate this small-town lawyer who works out of a meager office and spends his time helping people who can’t afford his services. By today’s standards, Atticus Finch is no winner. We learn at the beginning of the novel that his last two criminal clients were hanged, and —spoiler alert!—his attempt to defend the innocent Tom Robinson (an African-American man falsely accused of rape) doesn’t work out well either.

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Sometimes when watching that landmark would-be lynching scene in the movie, I forget that in the book, Atticus’s daughter Scout tells us that her father’s hands were shaking. Plain fear was shooting out of his eyes when she approached him in front of the mob. How could we forget that he allows the bad guy, Bob Ewell, to spit in his face and curse him in public—he simply wipes his face and walks away.

Certainly, onlookers may have made assumptions about Atticus’ ability to handle himself. In the courtroom, he steadily draws out the truth without raising his voice, always treating Tom’s despicable accusers with respect they certainly did not deserve. He tips his hat in kindness to the old lady, Mrs. Dubose, who curses and taunts his children day after day. Known as the “best shot in Maycomb County,” he refuses to pick up a gun to protect himself. He takes on a court case that sets him at odds with his community and places his children’s well-being in jeopardy, but tells his daughter that no matter how bad things get she should always remember that these people are their neighbors. His actions aren’t expedient, clearly aren’t in his best interests, and on top of it all—Atticus does not win. Not the day, the argument, the fight, or even the court case.

So why are we so drawn to this character as a hero?

I believe it’s because his courage is so grounded in faith. When Scout asks him why he must defend Tom Robinson, he simply responds, “I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t defend that man.” Atticus grasps something that I often forget in my own life—that my daily choices have an eternal impact. This is why Atticus can place himself between the mob and an innocent man—teaching us that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the absence of self. It is where he draws the inner resolve to walk away from Bob Ewell’s assault. It is why he understands the importance of maintaining a connection to his neighbors—even when their views are despicable.

Atticus teaches us that courage has nothing to do with winning. “I wanted you to see what real courage is,” he tells his children. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Such heroism is evidence of something divine running through the DNA of humanity. A God-given courage that recognizes our actions might impact eternity more significantly than they ever will in the here and now—that we may lose the argument, the day, even the trial—but we have still advanced the kingdom. This kind of courage isn’t about winning, but making the decision to do what is right—no matter the cost.

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Matt Litton, author of The Mockingbird Parables (Tyndale), lives in Cincinnati with his wife Kristy and their four children.

August 24, 2010

James Cameron Backs Out of Debate

'Avatar' director wanted a "shoot-out" with climate change dissenters . . . then didn't show

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Ann McElhinney of NotEvilJustWrong.com reports this week that James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, backed out of a planned debate with those who disagree with his views on climate change.

In March, Cameron had said of those who are skeptical about global warming, “I want to call those deniers out into the street at high noon and shoot it out with those boneheads.”

McElhinney responded immediately: "James Cameron I accept your offer, I’ll even drive myself to your gigantic gated Malibu double mansion to shoot it out."

Turns out she didn't have to drive to Malibu, but a debate was planned for the recent AREDay conference in Colorado. In the end, Cameron was a no-show, prompting McElhinney to write: "Does he genuinely believe in man made climate change? . . . Or is it just a pose? The man who called for an open and public debate at 'high noon' suddenly doesn't want his policies open to serious scrutiny.

"I was looking forward to debating with the film maker. . . . But that is not going to happen because somewhere along the way James Cameron, a great film maker, has moved from King of the World to being King of the Hypocrites."

Ouch.

August 19, 2010

The Dude Replaces the Duke

Jeff Bridges to reprise John Wayne's role in Coen Brothers' update of 'True Grit'

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Rooster Cogburn is about to get an overhaul. John Wayne played the iconic character in the 1969 film True Grit, for which he won his only Oscar. Now Jeff Bridges is stepping into those shoes in a Coen Brothers remake, coming to theaters on Christmas Day. The Dude channels the Duke, whaddaya think of that?

Here's the first full image from the new film -- Bridges as Cogburn, and 14-year-old Haile Steinfeld as Mattie Ross:

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August 18, 2010

'Avatar: Special Edition' Coming to Theaters

Eight minutes added to epic, re-releasing August 27 in limited engagement

Whether you loved it, hated it, or thought it the most satanic film of all time, James Cameron's epic film Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time, is comin' back at ya.

With more than eight minutes of never-before-seen footage, the expanded version -- brilliantly titled Avatar: Special Edition -- will release to a limited number of 3D theaters on August 27. A press release from 20th Century Fox notes that the number of digital 3D screens has "exploded" since the film originally released last December, and this re-release will give more fans an opportunity to see it in that extra dimension.

Here's a 15-second video promo for the re-release:


Official Avatar Movie

August 14, 2010

Always Winter and Never Christmas?

Not if Operation Narnia and Samaritan's Purse can help it . . .

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As Walden Media and Fox gear up for the holiday release of the third Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, they're announcing a new initiative with an ambitious goal -- to partner with Samaritan's Purse to deliver more than 8 million boxes of toys and supplies to impoverished children all over the world.
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Operation Narnia is a partnership with the Samaritan's Purse program, Operation Christmas Child, to bring the joy of Christmas to needy kids in more than 130 countries. The shoe boxes are typically filled with things like toys, stuffed animals, school supplies, hard candy, and hygiene items. These boxes are then delivered to local collection centers around the country and shipped in time for the Christmas season. It's a great program -- and an easy way to make a kid's day.

Learn more about Operation Narnia from "Lucy" here:

August 13, 2010

'Letters to God' on DVD

Inspirational film explores faith of a boy dying of cancer, and how he helped a hurting postman

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Letters to God, based on the true story of Tyler Doughtie, a boy who died of cancer in 2005, released to DVD this week and is available here.

August 12, 2010

Immigration: And Justice for All . . .

Upcoming film fest to highlight films about immigration, social justice

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The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) will hold its first Justice Film Festival Sept. 8-10 at the National Conference in Chicago. The festival theme is immigration, which CCDA Founder Dr. John M. Perkins says is “the most critical human rights issue of our day.” Featured films expose the stories of human struggle, providing a window into the worlds of perpetrators and those affected by injustice, transforming the way we view the people behind the issues. A facilitated discussion will follow each showing.

The lineup includes such films as The Visitor, God Grew Tired of Us, Return to El Salvador, and more. Click here for more information.

August 5, 2010

Hints of C. S. Lewis in 'Despicable Me'?

You bet: When Gru gets the girls, he gets the moon too

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My good friend Frank Smith of Charlottesville, Virginia, is a big fan of Despicable Me. (Me too, by the way.) Frank has seen it three times now, and after his most recent viewing, he came away with a pretty cool observation, comparing one of the film's main story developments with a passage from C. S. Lewis. Here's what Frank wrote in a recent e-mail (spoiler alert):

I'm always moved to tears at the end. And you know, there's something pretty good in there. When Gru gives back the moon to save the girls, ostensibly he gives up his lifetime dream -- for something much better, of course, but still it's a loss. Pearl of great price stuff. But that scene at the end where he and the girls ride the platform to the roof and stand looking at the moon in the sky, silhouetted against it, enjoying it . . . I realized that he ended up getting the moon too, in the right way -- untarnished, unstained by violence or greed, to enjoy forever. Like Annie Oakley in the musical, he "has the moon at night" to share with his beautiful girls. It brought to mind CSL's dictum (from a 1942 essay titled "First and Second Things"): "Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, almost always ends with the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got his pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first."

Despicable and delightful, all rolled up into one.

August 5, 2010

Second 'Dawn Treader' Mini-Trailer Appears

There's lots of Lucy, but where oh where is Eustace Scrubb?

A new mini-trailer (a little over a minute long, about half the length of a "normal" trailer) for the upcoming Voyage of the Dawn Treader film appears on the new DVD for Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It looks fine, but it's SO "Lucy-centric" (she's the only human we see for more than half of the trailer) and totally lacking in Eustace Scrubb, arguably the most important character in this particular story. Still, I have high hopes for this one after Prince Caspian was such a letdown. See the new trailer below (and read more details here), and see the original full-length trailer here.

August 3, 2010

Finding Faith in the 'Holy Wars'

Filmmaker moves from fear and frustration to faith in making religious documentary

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Holy Wars, a compelling documentary now showing in Los Angeles and opening in New York this week, explores the spiritual journeys of a couple of religious fundamentalists -- one a Christian, one a Muslim -- and their views on the war on terror, global religion, and the end of the world.

I've seen the film and found it fascinating, especially an unexpected twist near the middle of the film where both main characters face a defining moment in their respective journeys. It's riveting to watch how their faith affects their actions throughout the rest of the film, but that's all I'll say for now. When the film becomes more available (either showing in wider theatrical release or coming to DVD), CT will post a full review.

But what's also fascinating is the journey behind those journeys -- for writer/director Stephen Marshall, an award-winning filmmaker who simply couldn't find a buyer or distributor for his movie. Some wrote it off as too "Christian," when it absolutely wasn't. Others shunned it for other reasons. But when it caught some good buzz at June's AFI/Silverdocs festival, others began to take note. Now that it's screening for the International Documentary Association's DocuWeeks, it might even end up getting some Oscar buzz.

Marshall wrote an interesting commentary for The Huffington Post the other day, chronicling his behind-the-scenes journey. He notes how he "conceived a film driven by fear and ended up with one grounded in faith. And, as the wise men like to say, it has made all the difference."

He concludes, "I wrote at the start that this became a film about faith, and that certainly is true for the two characters, Khalid Kelly and Aaron Taylor, whom I followed for four years. But it was also about my faith. I am always a little weary of describing my 'religious' beliefs. I have traveled all over this planet and seen so many forms of evidence for what I call God, an all-seeing force who helps shape the narratives of our lives so that we can learn and evolve as immortal souls. But no experience has been more challenging to this belief in a "God" than the making of this film. . . . I don't know what to call that thing that moves through us and makes us all characters in a wonderfully (or dare I say perfectly) crafted three-act drama, but I don't believe it's random. And I know it wasn't all to do with me -- because that is what I call 'God.'"

Watch the trailer here:

Holy Wars (Trailer) from ®evolutiontheory on Vimeo.

August 2, 2010

'To Save a Life' Releases to DVD

Popular with youth pastors, the home version includes lots of bonus materials

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To Save a Life, the little-youth-group-movie-that-could, made a bit of a splash in theaters last winter, earning $3.7 million (on a $500,000 budget) in an 11-week theatrical run.

It got mostly poor reviews from critics, but youth pastors appreciated its story (it was written by a youth pastor, after all) and multiple (too many, IMHO) messages directed at teens -- of caring for others, school violence, abstinence, guilt, cutting, grief, and more. And now that it's available on Blu-Ray and DVD, it'll likely be shown in many churches to youth groups, helping teens to grapple with various issues. Various curriculae and study guides are even available at website for leaders -- just in time for National To Save a Life Week in December, where leaders are encourage to screen the film for their students.

Bonus materials on the home version include a filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, a behind-the-scenes feature, and a couple of music videos.

July 29, 2010

'Hatred Will No More Imprison Me'

15-year-old's project shines in Tony Blair Faith Shorts film competition

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When 15-year-old Dolly Deeb of Jordan lost friends and neighbors to a terrorist attack, she says she was "filled with hatred. I was thinking of revenge, until I learned the meaning of forgiveness."

Dolly chronicles her journey in a two-and-a-half-minute film, Forgiveness, that won the under 18 age category recently at the Tony Blair Faith Foundations global film competition Faith Shorts.

A Christian, Dolly says that "forgiveness purifies the body and soul. To forgive is to set a prisoner free. Hatred will no longer imprison me."

Shiv Tandan, a 19-year-old university student from Haryana, India, won in the 18-25 category for The Guide, and Esteban Pedraza, a 20-year-old at New York University Film School won the Filmmakers category for his entry People I Know, featuring his mother and best friend who have overcome struggles of single motherhood and drug addiction through their faith.

Watch all three films below:

Dolly Deeb (Jordan), Forgiveness:


Shiv Tandan (India), The Guide:

Esteban Pedraza (USA), People I Know:

July 26, 2010

Why I Can't Boycott Mel Gibson

Our sister blog, Her.meneutics, explores how 'divine beauty' in art overcomes fallen celebs

Anna Broadway, a guest blogger at Her.meneutics, CT's women's blog, explains why she won't boycott Mel Gibson's movies despite the recent spate of scandals and less-than-flattering news about the actor/director -- the creator behind The Passion of The Christ.

"Gibson’s rant is not the main issue here," Broadway writes. "The issue is, what do our opinions of him and those like him — and our decisions of whether to support or shun them — say about our beliefs about humanity? If it were the case that The Passion were a praiseworthy film, and that Gibson were a racist, violent man, need acknowledging the one fact entail denial of the other? It shouldn’t."

Click here to read the entire post.

July 6, 2010

Gerard Butler to Play 'Machine Gun Preacher'

Biopic to portray Sam Childers, who rescues Sudanese kids while packing heat

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Gerard Butler, last seen onscreen in The Bounty Hunter) will be hunting a bounty of another kind in an upcoming film that begins shooting this month: Machine Gun Preacher, the true story of Sam Childers. Childers, allegedly a Christian preacher, literally lives up to the film's title by carrying a machine gun into Sudan to rescue young children from that nation's war atrocities -- including rape, murder, and forcing them to become child soldiers.

Childers, author of Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan, told The Christian Post last year, "I don’t condone violence at all . . . but at the same time I don’t believe that children should be raped, murdered, or cut up. I would have to ask the American people that you take a person that cuts up a child, or kill a child, or rape a child, if you catch a person doing that do you think that person would just stop if you just say stop? Or do you think you are going to have to fight that person? You would definitely need to fight that person or else they are going to kill you.

"I look at it as a self-defense and I look at it as I’m helping God’s children. I’m not a person out to murder. But at the same time these people need to be stopped.

"As far as a pastor with a gun, what would you call David? What would you call all the prophets in the Bible that were soldiers?"

June 28, 2010

'HolyWars' Documentary Getting Some Buzz

Film depicts two 'religious fundamentalists' -- a Christian and a Muslim -- on their journeys

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A compelling new documentary called HolyWars made its world premiere at the SilverDocs film festival last week, where it caught the eye of IndieWIRE magazine. IndieWIRE asked director Stephen Marshall about what they called his "unusual approach to the subject of religious extremism in a post-9/11 world after his film completed both of its Silverdocs screenings," adding that Marshall had set out to make a film about end-of-the-world rhetoric.

“The inception point was in 2006; Bush was still in power," Marshall said. "The zeitgeist was focused on apocalyptic thinking. This was the original idea that got me the money to make the film. The question was: Could they make it happen? Could they make a self-fulfilling prophecy?”

More info here.

June 25, 2010

Pope Joan Film Sparks Catholic Outcry

The Roman Catholic Church debates the merits of whether she even existed

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According to the UK's Telegraph, a new film based on the legend of Pope Joan – an Englishwoman who purportedly disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female pontiff in history – has sparked debate in the Roman Catholic Church.

Peter Stanford, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and the author of The She-Pope: a quest for the truth behind the mystery of Pope Joan, said, "It's perfectly feasible that Joan existed. A monk's cowl is baggy and well suited to covering up a woman's body. We know that some women bound their breasts and cut their hair to pass themselves off as men."

June 22, 2010

'Great Divorce' Gathers More Steam

Mpower Pictures joins with Beloved Pictures to give the project more clout, reach

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When it was announced last October that Beloved Pictures had picked up the rights to make a movie of C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, many reacted with a "huh?" Who is Beloved Pictures? Though respected director David L. Cunningham (To End All Wars) had signed on to helm the project, some still wondered if it would ever see the light of day.

Now it has been announced that Beloved is partnering with Mpower Pictures to produce the film, with Mpower founder Steve McEveety to lead the production team, moving the movie one critical step closer to reality. McEveety is best known for producing a number of Mel Gibson films, including The Passion of the Christ, Braveheart, and We Were Soldiers.

Beloved Pictures president Caleb Applegate says that McEveety and Empower are "keen on the project. It's definitely going to happen." He said the release date is still to be determined; the script hasn't even been written yet, but acclaimed children's writer N.D. Wilson (Leepike Ridge, 100 Cupboards) will tackle that task. "He's a phenomenal writer," says Applegate. "He's a Christian, and he's red-hot right now. I've got nothing but great things to say about him."

June 21, 2010

Coming Out in Smalltown USA

Documentary explores a Pennsylvania town's attitudes about homosexuality

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When Joe Wilson got married, he put an announcement in his hometown newspaper in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Nothing unusual about that, except that Wilson had married another man--and a picture of the two of them appeared in the paper. Angry, even hateful, letters to the editor poured in; one said that it would've been better for Wilson not to have been born. Wilson responded not in anger himself, but by revisiting his hometown, with his partner and a couple of camcorders, to look into the town's attitudes.

The result is Out in the Silence, a 65-minute documentary that ends up following four main subplots in Oil City. First, a gay teen who was verbally and physically abused at the local high school, and the quest that he and his mother take to confront those attitudes and the school district's refusal to make things right. Second, a lesbian couple that buys a crumbling downtown art-deco theater and renovates it into a functioning civic showcase again. Third, a woman representing the American Family Association who seems to be on a crusade against gays, more anxious to speak out against their "agenda" to take the time to meet or listen to any of them.

Fourth -- and likely most interesting to CT readers -- a local Christian pastor and his wife who had written one of the letters to the editor decrying homosexuality, only to later show tolerance and love toward the filmmakers as they got to know them in the months ahead. The pastor didn't compromise his biblical beliefs at all; he continues to believe that homosexuality is a sin. But, for the first time in his life, he actually gets to know gay people, and by the end of the film is calling them friends. There's some interesting dialogue between the two "sides" as their unlikely friendship unfolds throughout the film. It's really a Christlike response from the pastor.

Though the film is made by two gay men, it doesn't seek to promote a "gay agenda" or to stereotype the "religious right." It's simply a matter of trying to understand attitudes in small-town America. The filmmakers end up advocating for the teenager to the school board and in a civil rights lawsuit, and the local school board ends up admitting they should've done more to help the boy who was abused; they incorporate staff training as a result. Despite some initial opposition, the two women end up re-opening the theater to a warm reception of both gays and straights. The AFA rep never changes, and refuses to look the gay men in the eye or even have a conversation with them. And the pastor and his wife seem glad to have made new friends, though they clearly disagree with their lifestyle.

The film is showing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York today, followed by broadcast on New York's two largest public television stations, WLIW (June 26, 3 p.m. ET) and WNET (June 27, 11:30 p.m. ET). For more on the film, click here. Watch the trailer here:

June 16, 2010

'Dawn Treader' Trailer Premiere: Right Here!

Check out the new trailer for 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader,' and let us know what you think

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Thanks to Walden Media and 20th Century Fox, CT is among several select outlets pleased to bring you the world premiere of the trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Let us know what you think.

June 12, 2010

An Unbreakable Bond

Documentary 'Mine' looks into the lives of displaced pets and owners after Katrina

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If you weren't already a believer in the saying that a dog is man's best friend, you will be after watching Mine, a 2009 documentary about the pets that survived Hurricane Katrina, their subsequent journeys, and whether or not they were reunited with their owners.

Distributed on DVD by Film Movement (a terrific indie movie "club" chronicled by our friend Jeffrey Overstreet here), Mine has been hailed by various critics as "a must see" and "Oscar material." I'd add words like "tearjerker" and "heartwarming" and "a testament to passion and compassion" -- especially pertaining to the people who rescued these animals from New Orleans and tried desperately to reunite them with their owners . . . or at least get them placed into good homes.

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It's that last effort -- placing the pets in good homes -- that's the most gut-wrenching of all in this film. Those who took on the "orphaned" pets were doing a very good thing, sometimes as "foster parents," sometimes as permanent new homes. But then, when the original owner would finally find out the whereabouts of his/her old pet, they of course would want them back. The new families, already attached to the new pet (sometimes a year or more had passed), were sometimes reluctant to give them up -- and that subplot plays out as one of the film's most stirring, because there are no easy answers.

The filmmakers follow a handful of journeys here -- of Katrina survivors both human and animal -- and several of the storylines have happy endings. But, since this is real life, some of them don't, and that's the hardest part of this film. But it's an eye-opener to a situation that could happen again in the wake of a disaster -- natural or not. What laws and mechanisms are in place to take care of the pets left behind when people have to flee so quickly -- and their pets are not allowed to come along?

A highly recommended film. Check out the trailer here:


May 14, 2010

First 'Dawn Treader' Poster Revealed

Aslan, Reepicheep, and a reflection of the ship highlight the film's new one-sheet

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Fox Walden has released the first one-sheet poster for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third film in the Chronicles of Narnia series, coming to theaters this December.

The image here pretty much speaks for itself -- Aslan's face, the mouse Reepicheep standing atop the title, the Dawn Treader reflected in Aslan's eye. And the text: "Return to Magic. Return to Hope. Return to Narnia." All well and good, except for one thing, IMHO: The heavy emphasis on 3-D. The type size for those letter is almost as big as the word "Narnia" itself.

Sigh. I knew this film was going to be in 3-D, and have just kind of ignored that point for months. But now that I see the term so prominent on the poster, it's right there, in your face, and there's no getting around it. I agree wholeheartedly with Roger Ebert's essay -- about why he hates 3-D -- which we posted earlier today.

Narnia doesn't need a gimmick. Just tell the story and show us the characters -- who are already quite three-dimensional -- and by Aslan's mane, everything else will take care of itself.

Despite that gripe, I have high hopes for this movie, after being somewhat disappointed by The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and quite disappointed in Prince Caspian. I think Walden has righted the ship, so to speak, with a renewed commitment to the source material, and based on some early buzz, I've got a good feeling. And, of course, I don't have to see it in 3-D; I'll enjoy one of my favorite fictional worlds -- and some of my favorite characters -- in two dimensions just fine, thank you!

(Hat tip to Rachel at NarniaWeb.)

May 14, 2010

'Why I Hate 3-D (and You Should Too)'

The always spot-on Roger Ebert nails it in an essay for Newsweek

"3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension," film critic Roger Ebert writes in last week's issue of Newsweek. "Hollywood's current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for. That's my position."

Preach it, brother. Read the rest of Ebert's essay -- including his nine well-stated arguments against 3-D movies -- here.

May 10, 2010

If It Blesses Me in a Great Way Financially, Amen!

So says Stephen Baldwin on a new website that is raising money for the actor

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Actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of the Baldwin brothers, has been teased, even ridiculed, for his outspoken Christian beliefs (he became a believer in 2002). Of course, one might argue that anybody who has claimed that Bono was in league with Satan, gets Hannah Montana's initials tattooed on his shoulder, and gives bizarre interviews like this one ("Wow. What's sloth?") deserves a bit of ribbing.

As a result, and in the wake of Baldwin's declared bankruptcy, some of his supporters have launched the Restore Stephen Baldwin website with the vision "to see Stephen Baldwin publicly restored in front of millions." And if that means raising millions for the actor (the website solicits donations), well, the more the merrier.

In what he says was his only interview about the website and campaign, Baldwin tells PopEater that he's not involved in the campaign, but that "it's a charitable situation and whatever God's going to do, God's going to do. If it turns out to be something that blesses me in a great way financially, then Amen." He says he could "easily" earn up to $2 million a year, but doesn't because his faith prevents him from accepting roles that would earn him that type of money. (No mention about what might have happened to the $2 million/year he earned for 15 years before becoming a Christian.)

Baldwin concludes the interview with this: "Let me be very honest. I don't want to paint some picture of myself where I'm a normal born-again Christian. I'm Stephen Baldwin. I'm opinionated, I'm a bold personality, I know how to light a fuse and cause trouble here and there if I want to, and I've publicly made statements in regard to my faith and conservative point of view that people aren't going to agree with. And God bless America that we have the freedom to do that."

May 6, 2010

Movies that Christians Love to Hate . . .

. . . but there might be more to these flicks than initially meets the gut reaction

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Longtime friend (and former CT film critic) Jeffrey Overstreet recently was asked to compile a list of "Five Movies Christians Hated for All the Wrong Reasons" for Seattle's CityArts magazine.

Top of the list: Monty Python's Life of Brian, which many Christians think mocks Jesus. "Not true," writes Overstreet. "It makes us laugh as we watch gullible, fickle, arrogant humans chase a false messiah, exploit religious teaching for their own gain and misunderstand Jesus."

The piece written partly in response to Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll's well-publicized rant against Avatar as the "most demonic, satanic movie I've ever seen." In response to Driscoll, Overstreet told CityArts that Christians should know movies in the way that St. Paul knew and quoted pagan poetry in Athens. “And what’s the place where Paul did this?” Overstreet asks. “Mars Hill!” Driscoll's church name? Mars Hill.

May 5, 2010

Do R-rated Movies Make Kids Want to Drink?

Recent study suggests a link between viewing R movies and early teen drinking

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Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School recently announced the results of a study that suggests that middle schoolers (ages 10-14) who aren't allowed to watch R-rated movies are far less likely to start drinking alcohol than their peers who are allowed to watch such films.

Among those children whose parents let them watch R-rated movies "all the time," almost a quarter had tried a drink without their parents' knowledge, compared to just 3 percent who tried a drink among those who were "never allowed" to watch R-movies.

There are plenty of other good reasons to keep kids that young from R-rated movies, but now here's some more solid, quantifiable evidence that such decisions fall into realm of wise parental discernment.

May 5, 2010

Let the Children Bippity Boppity Boo

A thoughtful essay explores the positive aspects of exposing kids to magic in movies

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"Parents, let's admit it," writes film critic Rebecca Cusey for SixSeeds.tv. "Some of us don’t quite know how to handle magic in stories and movies. Maybe we don’t want our kids to be frightened by wicked witches that turn into dragons or by mean teachers that turn into Greek Furies. Maybe we want to answer their questions truthfully and magic seems like a cop-out. Or maybe we practice a faith that is deeply uncomfortable with magic. There’s no escaping it. Magic is everywhere in culture these days."

But Cusey doesn't advise parents to run from it, or to aggressively shield their kids. Instead, she suggests that magic in such movies as Harry Potter, The Princess and the Frog, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and others, "we sell our kids short. I say, let them bippity boppity boo."

She goes on: "We sell our children short by thinking they’ll somehow absorb paganism from magic in books and cinema. Kids know what is imagination and what is not. What little girl hasn’t longed to be transformed by Cinderella’s fairy godmothers, usually while she’s resenting doing chores? She knows, inside, it won’t happen. Children don’t really believe they can mix effective potions or use wands any more than they believe Spiderman is a real person or that toys come to life when our back is turned."

And finally, Cusey quotes C. S. Lewis (who included quite a bit of magic in his own Narnia books) as an excellent guide to discernment on such matters:

“Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the…atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

May 3, 2010

More Details Emerge for 'Dawn Treader' Movie

Super trailer shown at Biola Media Conference includes a few key scenes from the film

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Walden Media's Micheal Flaherty was at the Biola Media Conference over the weekend, showing attendees a "super trailer" of the upcoming film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, coming to theaters in December.

NarniaWeb includes some observations from the trailer, including a scene-by-scene rundown which includes a number of spoilers. One attendee wrote, "Our overall first impression was extremely positive … if the little we saw is any indication, I think this will be the best movie of the three so far." The Lion's Call also has a rundown of the trailer -- and again, spoiler alert.

April 27, 2010

Sex + Money = New Documentary

A full-length film, slated for October release, examines America’s sex industry

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From September through December 2009, five young filmmakers and a camera crew traveled across the United States to explore the problem of prostitution in America. They interviewed political figures, authors, porn stars, experts, and former prostitutes, just to name a few.

Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth, a documentary tentatively scheduled for fall release, is being made in partnership with photogenX, a ministry of Youth With A Mission. PhotogenX equipped students to use forms of media to raise awareness of injustice around the world and seek social change. While Sex + Money is not being touted as a Christian film, several of its participants are believers.

Last December, I spoke with some of the Sex + Money filmmakers while they conducted interviews and research in Washington, D.C. Photojournalist Tim Dyk explained that as Christians, “We need to be willing to go to those areas, be willing to have conversations about sex, about prostitution, about helping people who are coming out of prostitution, because even Jesus wants to [reach out to] prostitutes. He recognized that they are needy people just like anyone else, just like we are.”

The film aims to expose viewers to the problem of prostitution in America, specifically the sexual exploitation of minors, and to guide people to resources for fighting sex trafficking in America. “There’s so many different ways that we can work [against trafficking],” Dyk said. “I just think a lot of this requires the church, as followers of Christ, to walk out in what he’s calling us to do, [and] it can look different for each person. I think people just need to see how the Spirit leads and to see how they can use their gifts.”

Check out Sex + Money webisodes on YouTube.

April 27, 2010

What Does the Bible Really Say About Being Gay?

That's the premise of 'Fish Out of Water,' but the filmmaker doesn't explore it thoroughly

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Our friend Ken Morefield has written a thoughtful commentary on the new documentary Fish Out of Water, which asks the question, "What does the Bible really say about being gay?" But it doesn't really explore it from an objective point of view, and certainly not from an evangelical point of view. The filmmaker, who is gay, seems to assume that Scripture, if it doesn't condone homosexuality, then at least it doesn't outright condemn it.

Writes Ken, "While the film did not persuade me of the truthfulness of the director’s thesis—that an accurate and impartial investigation of the Bible shows that true Christianity does not condemn homosexuality—it does, perhaps, more than most films in this vein provide some hope that a reasoned, substantive debate about the issue might be possible." And: "The film effectively prods the viewer (especially the Christian viewer) to confront the question of how well he or she really knows the Bible. I’ve certainly been around my share of evangelicals who will adopt the rhetoric of 'the Bible says' . . . without being able to specifically expound on a particular passage, much less explain what sort of consistent, coherent interpretive strategy governs their approach to the whole text. If some of rebuttals in Fish Out of Water appear all over the place, some might argue that this could be because so too are the traditional cultural interpretations that frame the argument."

The DVD is now available at First Run Features.

April 26, 2010

Bo Duke: No Hazzards in This Upcoming Film

John Schneider to star in 'Doonby,' sort of a modern version of 'It's a Wonderful Life'

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, John Schneider, who played Bo Duke in the 1980s TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, will play a modern-day George Bailey in Doonby. Schneider has played roles in a number of Christian films in recent years.

The title character, Sam Doonby, is a happy-go-lucky drifter who takes up residence in a small Texas town but seems suspiciously immune to the misfortunes that beset the other townsfolk. The film, described as a cross between It's a Wonderful Life and Crazy Heart, is written and directed by British filmmaker Peter Mackenzie.

Tommy Warren is producing with Mark Joseph, a marketing veteran whose campaigns included The Passion of the Christ and Facing the Giants. Joseph also is co-producing the film's soundtrack, which includes music from AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson.

"Doonby" is written and directed by British filmmaker Peter Mackenzie and will be shot at Spiderwood Studios near Austin.

April 20, 2010

'Lord Save Us' Now Available on DVD

Thought-provoking documentary hits video shelves today

Lord Save Us From Your Followers, one of the more thought-provoking films of 2009, releases to DVD today.

In the film, director/star Dan Merchant, a Christian, wonders aloud why believers he'd met in Africa were so full of kindness, joy, and grace—often the opposite of what he'd encountered with Christians in America, who are often full of antagonistic rhetoric. If our faith is the same as theirs, Merchant wonders, "Why is the gospel of love dividing America?" He takes that question to the streets and to notable personalities, and the answers he gets are revealing.

Learn more about the film, and the DVD, here.

April 19, 2010

A Woman Blesses the Day Her Brother Shot Her

And other fascinating storylines from the flicks at the Full Frame Documentary Film Fest

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A woman blesses the day her brother accidentally shot her (Family Affair). An intersection in Florida houses an abortion clinic and a pro-life pregnancy care clinic on opposite sides of the street (12th and Delaware). An eighty-year-old man in Japan boasts he has patented 3,357 inventions (The Invention of Dr. Nakamats), while an eighty-year old man in Appalachia makes a single chair (Chairmaker). A town in Slovakia wakes one morning to find that half its citizens now live in the Ukraine (The Border). An island in the South Pacific loses its residents, who become the world’s first climate-change refugees (Sun Come Up).

A taxi driver in Yemen regrets once working as Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard (The Oath). Two men in Sweden regret having sex change operations—and so they change back (Regretters). A half-Jewish teenager dares to try to assassinate Adolph Hitler (Surviving Hitler: A Love Story), and the denizens of a bar in Greenwich Village dare to stand against the police trying to arrest them for being gay (Stonewall Uprising). A Boston journalist sets out on an epic quest to reunite The Kinks (Do It Again), and a strange assortment of executives and artists set out to revive the slumbering giant that is Disney animation (Waking Sleeping Beauty).

As in years past, the 2010 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival provided a rich and varied mix of major, studio-backed (or purchased) films, and smaller independent works deserving of an audience’s time and attention.

While a great documentary is different in many ways from a great narrative film, at its heart it tells a gripping story. Sometimes it can be a story about a person or place you think you already know: Allen Iverson, Glenn Gould, or Daniel Ellsberg. At other times a great documentary can be about a person or event so gripping you can’t help but wonder, “How could I have not heard about this until now?”

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz goes to the world’s largest landfill to make works of indescribable beauty out of garbage (Waste Land). An Israeli baby broker flies frozen embryos from the United States to India, where the surrogate mothers charge less than their Western counterparts to carry a baby to term (Google Baby). One film follows soldiers on a fifteen-month deployment in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan (Restrepo). Another follows a boxing champion turned Buddhist monk on a single night through the city of Tokyo (Ito—A Diary of An Urban Priest).

Rob Lemkin’s and Thet Sambath’s Enemies of the People took both the Anne Dellinger Grand Jury Award and Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award, while John-Keith Wasson’s Surviving Hitler: A Love Story took the Full Frame Inspiration Award. Directors Rory Kennedy and Liz Garbus received career achievement honors.

Other films to keep an eye out for include Chico Colvard’s Family Affair, which has been purchased by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Channel, Google Baby (HBO), and Stonewall Uprising (PBS).

Ken Morefield is an Assistant Professor of English at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. He is the editor of and a contributor to Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (2008, Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

April 14, 2010

John Ratzenberger: An Angel Who Packs a Punch!

In trailer for Dallas Jenkins' new faith-based movie, the former Cliff Clavin plays an angel

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Filmmaker Dallas Jenkins, son of Left Behind co-writer Jerry, has just finished the official trailer for his upcoming movie, What If . . ., starring Kevin Sorbo (the title character in TV's Hercules) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin on TV's Cheers and a voice in every Pixar movie).

Sorbo plays a man who turns his back on his high school sweetheart and chases a life of wealth and materialism instead . . . and then an angel (Ratzenberger) appears to show him "what if" he had opted for the simple life of faith, family, and the love of his life.

There's a funny moment in the trailer where Ratzenberger gives Sorbo's character the option of closing his eyes and counting backward from 100, so he can make something clear to him. When Sorbo's character says no, Ratzenberger says "Fine, have it your way," and throws a right cross to knock him out!

Check out the trailer for the film, which is now in its final production stages, here:

What If Theatrical Trailer from Pure Flix on Vimeo.

April 12, 2010

Movie Watching Advice From Flannery O'Connor

Sister Rose Pacatte has good counsel for film discernment -- courtesy of O'Connor

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My friend Sister Rose Pacatte, director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, loves movies, and is a fine film critic for the National Catholic Reporter and other outlets.

In a recent interview with NCR, Sr. Rose gave what I thought was a great answer to a question about watching movies that are rich in meaning but also include potentially objectionable content:

"I think it is futile to approach films by content only, unless parents are checking for what may be appropriate or not for children of different ages," Sr. Rose said. "When we are adults, as Flannery O'Connor said so often in her letters and lectures, we do not need to be treated like 15-year-old girls. The problem, Flannery would say, is that in many 75-year-olds there lingers the mind of a 15-year-old girl."

She went on to cite The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Up, Up in the Air, Precious, The Cove, Food, Inc., District 9, The Blind Side, and Crazy Heart as films that "have depth and provide an ample 'space' for reflection and conversation from the perspective of human and Gospel values, and in particular Catholic social teaching beginning with human dignity. ... We experience films through the filters of our life experience, education, faith and family formation -- and no one sees the same thing in the same way."

Amen, sister.

April 7, 2010

Former Disney Prez to Be Honored

Mark Zoradi to receive Briner Award for 'significant contributions in the world of media'

Former Walt Disney Studios president Mark Zoradi will be the 2010 recipient of the Briner Impact Award, given semi-annually "to recognize those who have made significant contributions in the world of media," according to a recent press release.

Zoradi will receive the award May 1 at CBS Studios during the 15th annual Biola Media Conference, which will "explore how technology and the current economic recession have set the stage for the collision of traditional media models and new digital possibilities."

Briner, author of Roaring Lambs, was an Emmy-winning TV producer who encouraged believers to greater participation in arts and media. Mark Joseph, co-creator of the Briner Award, says Zoradi "has carried forth Bob's ideas over nearly three decades of service at Disney. He's a great example to young people of how far hard work and a commitment to excellence can take you."

April 7, 2010

New Documentary Explores El Savador's Woes

Despite a new democracy and alleged peace, human rights violations still abound

Return to El Salvador, a new documentary by Jamie Moffett and narrated by Martin Sheen, looks at the reconstruction of a nation torn by civil war (1980-1992), trying to rebuild but still facing human rights violations and other injustices. The film, according to its website, "explores the hopes of the Salvadoran people and helps find significant ways to walk with them in their journey. Return to El Salvador represents the power and audacity of solidarity and challenges North Americans to question the global impact of their government on struggling nations."

Watch the first seven minutes of the film here, and see the trailer below:

April 5, 2010

'I'd Do What Jesus Would Do'

Exclusive clip from 'Letters to God,' faith-based film opening this week

Letters to God, which opens Friday, is a based-on-a-true-story film about a cancer-stricken boy who works out his faith and feelings by writing letters to God -- and the mailman who is changed forever as a result. You can watch the trailer here, and check out the following exclusive clip, in which the boy, Tyler, wonders if he'll be teased at school for his chemo-induced bald head:

March 24, 2010

Is 3-D Spinning Out of Control?

'Avatar' set box office records in 3-D, and now 'Alice' is doing the same. Is it overkill?

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The first time I saw Avatar, on opening weekend, was on a regular 2-dimensional screen. The second time, a few weeks later, was in 3-D in an IMAX theater. I can't say that the second viewing was any "better" than the first, though there were a few things that definitely looked cooler in three dimensions on that giant screen. And you just can't beat the audio in an IMAX theater -- it sounded great.

Still, I regarded that viewing as a rare event, a break in routine from watching movies on typical screens in the usual two dimensions. "Rare" for two reasons: 1) It's just a bit too much stimulation to take in too often, and 2) IMAX averages a good $5 more per ticket, meaning your usual $60 movie night for a family of four ($40 in tix, $20 in treats) is now an $80 movie night, and seriously how often can anybody afford that -- especially in a recession?

But Hollywood, it seems, is banking on it, with at least twenty 3-D films to be released in 2010. After Avatar's incredible success -- between 2/3 and 3/4 of its worldwide $2.6 billion haul has come from 3-D sales -- and now the smashing run of 3-D Alice in Wonderland ($570 million worldwide, and counting), two more 3-D films (How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans) are slated to release in the next two weeks.

In an informative story titled "The Future Will Be in 3-D," Entertainment Weekly recently asked, "Are there enough screens for all of them?" And the answer began, "Not even close. . . . [T]heater chains are racing to meet the demand, installing 100 to 150 new screens a month."

Even films that weren't planned in 3-D -- like Clash and the final two Harry Potter films -- are being converted to include the third dimension. Jon Landau, one of Avatar's producers, tells EW that every movie will some day require us to don those funky glasses: "I'm going back to the black-and-white-to-color analogy. You had color films in the 1930s; it took until the late 1960s/early '70s for color to become ubiquitous, but it did. I think there's no reason that an intimate drama won't be in 3-D in the future."

But is that a good thing? Even if you don't have to pay IMAX prices, even if they're shown for "normal" prices, do we really want everything in 3-D? I think I'd prefer it to be the rare treat, instead of the norm. And now it looks like it's going to be coming into our homes more and more, especially as the price of 3-D TVs begins to drop in the years ahead.

What about you? What do you think? Leave your comments below.

March 19, 2010

'A Wrinkle in Time' to Get Movie Script

Madeleine L'Engle's classic story to be made into a film

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The Hollywood Reporter writes that A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle's beloved children's story, is about to get a script and later to be turned into a feature film.

Jeff Stockwell, who penned the screen adaptation of A Bridge to Terabithia for Disney in 2007, will write the Wrinkle script.

According to THR, "the BBC made a film version of the young-adult novel, and Dimension produced a telefilm for ABC in 2004. Disney carried remake rights from that deal and is developing the new feature iteration with Bedrock, which had negotiated rights to the property from the L'Engle estate."

March 19, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Eat That 3D Apple . . .

'In the Beginning,' an upcoming movie about the Genesis creation story, to be filmed in 3D

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Deadline.com recently reported that two filmmakers -- including one co-founder of Walden Media, no longer with the company -- are planning to make In the Beginning, "a 3D telling of the creation story. The film is using The Book of Genesis as its primary resource."

The report noted that Walden co-founder Cary Granat, who left the company in 2008, will produce the film, while TV veteran David Cunningham will direct. Cunningham also recently signed on to direct a film version of C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

New York magazine weighs in on the news, giving more background on Cunningham, the son of YWAM missionaries, and the bigger picture of Hollywood marketing to the Christian audience.

Deadline.com's Mike Fleming writes that $30 million has been budgeted for In the Beginning, which "will use 3-D visuals to transform the oft-told tale into a spectacle that the filmmakers hope will attract family- and faith-based audiences that flocked to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, that first Chronicles of Narnia installment made on Granat’s Walden watch. I hear Granat pitched the film by claiming that the Adam And Eve story has never really been told by a feature film. (At least not since John Huston.)"

March 16, 2010

Is It 'Family-Friendly'? Or 'Discrimination'?

When it comes to a Florida bill to attract filmmakers, it depends on whom you ask

When Florida's House of Representatives drafted a $75 million bill to entice "family-friendly" filmmakers to make movies in the Sunshine State by giving them a tax break, some equal rights groups cried foul.

Why? Because movies and TV shows depicting gay characters may not be eligible for the tax break, according to The Palm Beach Post, which reports that "the bill would prohibit productions with "nontraditional family values" from receiving a so-called family-friendly tax credit."

"Think of it as like Mayberry," state Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, told The Post. "That's when I grew up — the '60s. That's what life was like. I want Florida to be known for making those kinds of movies: Disney movies for kids and all that stuff. Like it used to be, you know?"

But the head of a coalition of 80 groups that advocate for equal rights said the bill would "subsidize discrimination" and marginalize gay and single-parent families.

"Instituting 1950s-style movie censorship does nothing to support real-life families or help Florida's struggling economy," said Ted Howard, executive director for Florida Together.

March 7, 2010

Oscars 2010: And the Winners Are...

The Hurt Locker takes home the night's top honors and Sandra Bullock wins big for The Blind Side.

The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar for the top prizes at tonight's 82nd Annual Academy Awards. The film – a fictional account of the Iraq War – took home awards for Best Picture and Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow, who was only the fourth woman ever nominated in this category, and the first ever to win) as well as those for Best Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Avatar dominated the visual categories, netting three Oscars for Visual Effects, Art Direction, and Cinematography.

Sandra Bullock won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Touhy, the real-life Memphis mom and devout Christian in The Blind Side. The other major acting awards went to Jeff Bridges (Best Actor, Crazy Heart), Mo’Nique (Best Supporting Actress, Precious) and Christopher Waltz (Best Supporting Actor, Inglourious Basterds).

Up – which was only the second animated film ever nominated for Best Picture – won statues for Best Animated Film as well as Best Original Score.

Click here for a complete list of winners.

March 3, 2010

Catholic Church Sues Columbia over '2012'

Rio's archdiocese upset over destruction of Christ statue in apocalypse movie

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According to The National Post, Brazil's Catholic Church is suing Columbia Pictures for using unauthorized images of Rio's famous giant Christ statue in its disaster movie blockbuster 2012.

Columbia had requested to show the statue being destroyed by a giant wave, but Rio de Janeiro's archdiocese, which allegedly owns a copyright on the statue, apparently said no, according to their attorney, Claudine Dutra,

"The archdiocese refused the use of the religious symbol during pre-production of the movie, but Columbia Pictures did not respect the prohibition," she said. Dutra added that "many faithful have said they are shocked and offended by the images of the destruction of this sanctuary that the archdiocese wanted to preserve."

No word yet on whether anyone has sued Columbia for just making a lousy movie in the first place, costing millions of customers ten bucks.

March 3, 2010

'Ordet' Tops Arts & Faith's New Top 100

Danish film, a meditation on faith, is No. 1 in the online community's best movies of all time

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After "years of discussion and debate within the Arts & Faith online community," A&F has posted its new Top 100 Films list, with Ordet (The Word), written and directed in 1955 by Carl Dreyer, in the No. 1 position.

In an Image blog post announcing the new list, Jeffrey Overstreet, a former film critic for CT, says the list is "characterized both by artistic excellence and a serious wrestling with questions that at the root might be called religious or spiritual.”

The list will certainly generate conversation, if not controversy, for omitting such beloved films as The Ten Commandments and The Passion of The Christ -- which might be surprising for a list compiled by film lovers and critics who are all Christians.

Writes Overstreet, “Many Christians have become so concerned about the usefulness of art as a tool of ministry and evangelism, they’ve forgotten—or never known in the first place—what art really is, and how it works.”


Check out the entire list
, and let us know what you think. What did they get right? What did they miss? Please leave your comments here, and on the A&F site. They'd certainly love to hear from you.

March 3, 2010

Another 'Slumdog'-ish Film Up for Oscar

'Kavi,' about a boy slave in India and directed by a Christian, nominated in short film category

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On a mission to help end slavery worldwide, young filmmaker Gregg Helvey has directed a short film, Kavi, a story about a boy slave in India. The film has been nominated for an Academy Awards in the Best Live Action Short Film category.

The lead character is fictional, but the situation is all too real -- not just in India, but worldwide. Helvey, a Christian, filmed Kavi as his thesis project as a film student at USC. The short has gone on to win a Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards and a Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival.

Helvey told Plywood People, "I hope Kavi will touch audiences in a way that moves them to take action to end slavery. I want this movie to be an experience that transports you to another world, but allows you to identify with the characters in a way that reminds you how close they really are. Kavi is going where no documentary could go: straight into the heart of a family who is trapped in the middle of slavery."

Helvey talks more about the making of the film here.

The trailer:

Kavi (www.KaviTheMovie.com) from Gregg Helvey on Vimeo.

February 26, 2010

Avatar: 'The most satanic film I've ever seen'

So says Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll of James Cameron's sci-fi adventure

In a recent sermon, Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, denounced Avatar as "the most demonic, satanic movie I've ever seen."

Driscoll denounced its "demonic paganism" and its portrayal of a "false Jesus" and a "false heaven." He also took issue with the film's depiction of "connecting, literally, with trees and animals and beasts and birds." Driscoll also said, "That any Christian could watch that without seeing the overt demonism is beyond me."

Well, count me and many of my friends among them. Did James Cameron take a "Christian worldview" into this imaginative, fictional world? Nope. But did I find it "overtly demonic"? Heck no -- and even on the contrary. I saw some distinctly Christian themes in the ideas of self-sacrifice, unconditional love, incarnation, and even a model for missions. (Driscoll even takes our review to task in his sermon.)

Taking Driscoll to task, Houston Chronicle faith-and-art blogger Menachem Wecker, in a post titled "Does God Hate Blue People?", writes, "I don't think that Driscoll is correct that the Na'vi are demonic or that the film is demonic. If anything, Avatar should be applauded for celebrating a spiritual approach to life." He also notes that he was "struck" by the film's "Christian undertones."

In a post titled "How Not to Exegete Culture: Driscoll, Satan, and Avatar," the Children's Ministry and Culture blog elaborates on four mistakes that Driscoll made in his attack:

1) Misunderstand or Oversimplify What the Author is Saying; 2) Not Letting the Author’s Universe Exist on Its Own Terms; 3) Choose Combat Over Conversation; and 4) Failing to Find the Redeemable in the Movie. Read their explanations of these mistakes here.

Here's the part of Driscoll's sermon that is drawing so much attention:

February 25, 2010

'Blind Side,' 'Up' Big Winners at Christian Gala

Movieguide's 18th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala lauds 2009's best films & TV

Handing out more than $300,000 in prize money -- including $100,000 each to The Blind Side (Most Inspiring Movie) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (Most Inspiring TV Program) -- Movieguide's 18th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala was held Tuesday night in Beverly Hills.

The Blind Side was also named the best movie for mature audiences, while Pixar's Up was the best movie for families. Meanwhile, The Stoning of Saroya M. and Invictus tied for winning The Faith and Freedom Awards for Promoting Positive American Values.

Read more about the awards and the event here.

February 24, 2010

When a Film Practices What It Preaches . . .

The filmmakers of 'As We Forgive' encourage others to help reconciliation efforts in Rwanda

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Laura Waters Hinson's excellent documentary, As We Forgive, examines radical forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda, a nation still healing from the 1994 ethnic genocide that took the lives of as many as 1 million of its citizens. (I heard several amazing stories of forgiveness in my own trip to Rwanda last year.)

For Lent, Hinson and her team have launched a 40 Days of Forgiveness campaign, encouraging people to "join us this Easter season to build a village of reconciliation" in Rwanda -- through hosting a screening of the film, buying the DVD or other merchandise, and/or making a contribution to Living Bricks, a partner with Prison Fellowship in building homes for those Rwandans who have reconciled . . . and encouraging others to do likewise.

They've also launched a 40 Days blog, where various artists and writers are weighing in with their thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation. (So far, myself and musician Sara Groves are the first bloggers, but more are to come in the weeks ahead.)

February 23, 2010

Sci-Fi Movies Ask 'What It Means to Be Human'

With 'Avatar' and 'District 9' up for Oscars, are sci-fi films finally being taken seriously?

An excellent USA Today article this morning explores the question of whether sci-fi movies are entering "a new realm," in the wake of Oscar Best Picture nominations for both Avatar and District 9.

The story notes that sci-fi films are typically slighted by the Academy; only three sci-fi movies (A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars, E.T.) have ever been nominated for Best Picture before now.

"We seem to be witnessing a geek ascendancy [with] the appreciation of sci-fi entertainment," sci-fi author John Scalzi told the newspaper. "It's a great time for the genre. . . . Sci-fi lovers should be excited."

The article goes on to note sci-fi's traditional strengths in storytelling and using metaphors as social commentary; both trademarks are clearly evident in Avatar and District 9.

"Story, story, story," District 9 director Neil Blomkamp said. "Ours is a simple human tale, [Avatar] is an epic, Kiplingesque narrative. But both offer characters you can relate to."

But Sigourney Weaver, one of the co-stars of Avatar, probably got it most right when she said, "To look at these movies with [the sci-fi] label is to miss the points they are trying to make. These movies ask us to look at what it means to be human."

February 23, 2010

'Praying That Jesus Would Knock Me Down'

'Shutter Island' co-star Mark Ruffalo faked his conversion for Jimmy Swaggart as an 8-year-old

Mark Ruffalo, who stars in the No. 1 film Shutter Island, tells talk show host Tavis Smiley that he faked his conversion at 8 years old when Jimmy Swaggart was a guest preacher at his church. The episode will air tonight (check local listings).

Ruffalo said he agreed to "go down" to the altar to please his grandmother, who had been asking him to get "saved." He says that as Swaggart touched the heads of other children who had approached the altar, each child fell out, as if slain in the Spirit. But when Swaggart touched Ruffalo's head, he didn't feel a thing, but decided to fake it by falling backwards to the floor: "And that was my first acting gig."

2/24 UPDATE: Ruffalo talks more about that experience in this interview with The Hollywood Reporter, and his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious, in which he plays a priest, is reviewed here.

Watch him tell the story -- and watch Smiley crack up as he hears it:

February 23, 2010

'A Truly Scary Christian Film'

Cloud Ten Pictures says 'Dangerous Calling' is "definitely not for children or for the faint of heart"

Cloud Ten Pictures, the studio that produced the Left Behind movies, is distributing an indie flick that it claims is "bound to stir up controversy."

"Dangerous Calling is going to shake things up," says Cloud Ten CEO André van Heerden says of the studio's first suspense/thriller release. Adds owner and chariman Paul Lalonde, "It's not everyday you come across a truly scary Christian film. Dangerous Calling may raise some eyebrows, but we're proud to be distributing it."

The movie, with the tagline "Church politics can be deadly," depicts a new pastor in a small-town church who stands up to a few members who oppose his ideas. As a result, the pastor and his wife face dire consequences. Cloud Ten says the movie gives "a nod to films like Psycho and Misery."

Dangerous Calling can be purchased here. The trailer:

February 22, 2010

30 Chick Flicks in 30 Days

What one guy learned about women while conducting that very experiment

Is it possible for a man to be more understanding of women after watching a marathon of chick flicks? Nick Waters, an Average Joe from Southern Oklahoma who has been married for seven years, would say the answer is a definite yes.

"Love is tender," Waters told Asylum.com after his recently concluded experiment, "30 Chick Flicks in 30 Days: One Guy’s Exploration of Romance Through Movies Loved by Women." "And any real relationship is based on forgiveness, compassion and vulnerability."

Sounds very 1st Corinthians 13-esque, doesn't it? He also says he learned a lot more about the "lost art of romance," and he tells The Toronto Star, "My wife has told me she notices I have changed. I am much better at picking up her body language and she notices an improvement in the way I read her. I have learned what not to do in our marriage from watching these movies."

Check out all of Waters' observations here.

February 20, 2010

Films for Religious Study in the Classroom

Andrei Rublev, The Apostle, Babette's Feast top suggested list of 43 movies

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M. Leary, co-editor of the excellent online publication Filmwell, has compiled a list of movies with religious themes that he believes would make great fodder for classroom discussion.

"When teaching courses on basic concepts in religious studies and comparative religion, I often find myself wondering what resources the history of cinema has to offer the classroom," he begins. "I often wish I could . . . integrate more cinema into the learning experience."

To that end, he has compiled a list of 43 suggestions, beginning with Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966), saying "This challenging film tracks a Russian Orthodox iconographer through the turbulent history of Russia, suggesting some complicated things about religion and history along the way. It is a virtual treasury of thoughts on iconography, politics, and religion."

Others on his list include The Apostle, Babette's Feast, Ghandi, Lilies of the Field, The Passion of the Christ, and last year's Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man.

Check out the list, and let us know what you'd add to it -- or subtract from it -- and why.

February 19, 2010

Catholics to Laud The Hurt Locker, Glee

17th Annual Mass and Awards Brunch will also honor author/critic Sr. Rose Pacatte

The Catholics In Media Associates 17th Annual Mass and Awards Brunch, to be held February 28, will honor The Hurt Locker with the CIMA 2010 Film Award, and Glee with the CIMA 2010 Television Award, it has been announced.

The CIMA 2010 Board of Directors Award will be presented to Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP, MEd Media Studies, director, Pauline Center for Media Studies (PCMS) and media literacy education specialist, film and television journalist and author.

February 17, 2010

Faith Bigger Than a Peanut

In recognition of Black History Month, documentary celebrates George Washington Carver

Long before he earned fame as a scientist and for his work with peanuts, George Washington Carver had endured slavery and the reconstruction era as a man of Christian faith.

His story is told in a new documentary, George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Way, now available on DVD.

"Carver's greatest overlooked contribution . . . was his love and appreciation for creation and creativity," says Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr., who narrates the film. "He was a true scientist who was more than a lab coat and a microscope."

The trailer:

February 17, 2010

Evangelicals Applauding Scenes of Fornication?

So claims a panelist at a Southern Baptist panel discussion on film and pop culture

In an otherwise often commendable panel discussion on Christians and cultural engagement, one participant spouted off a real head-scratcher when discussing Avatar, James Cameron's remarkable film that has broken all the box office records and is nominated for nine Oscars.

Russell D. Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's School of Theology, was quoted in The Christian Post as saying, "Keep in mind this is the same guy (James Cameron) who had evangelical Christians standing up and applauding to scenes of fornication in Titanic."

Say what?? I know a lot of Christians who liked Titanic, and as far as I know, every single one of them wished that the film had not included those rather explicit scenes. To what Christians is Moore referring? Sounds like such a flippant comment.

On the bright side, the panelists did encourage better discernment for Christians when watching films or otherwise engaging pop culture.

Mark T. Coppenger, professor of Christian Apologetics at the seminary, said, "We've become so cool about [culture] that we don't realize the dangers. We probably need to take a deep breath and back away from being so enculturated that we don't have any critical distance now."

Panelists acknowledged that Avatar depicts an Eden-like world that makes viewers -- religious and secular -- long for something more, something better. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of SBTS, said that universal longing yields a potential mission field for evangelicals.

"If this is the story that millions of people are paying so much to see, those millions of people are looking for a story," he said. "And that gives us the opportunity to speak of the story of stories – the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

February 17, 2010

'It's not a Christian film. It's a journey.'

So says Allen Hughes, co-director of The Book of Eli, where the Bible is a central character

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In an interview with The Final Call, the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam, Allen Hughes, co-director of The Book of Eli, says the film was made to "speak to everybody—Muslims, Christians, Native Americans, Buddhist, Hindus. I call it a oneness. That was the approach we took in filming it, editing it, creating a sound, a score, creating a oneness that if you came in as a Christian or a Muslim you could relate and could see what you wanted to see in it. . . . We both believed it would be great if Christians would embrace it but it's not a Christian film. It's a journey. It's about one man's personal faith and his journey to fulfill his mission in life."

Read the whole interview here.

February 16, 2010

Film Explores Link Between Faith & Science

Indie flick to open in Grand Rapids, MI, and go wider in the weeks ahead

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With Academy Award winners Louise Fletcher and Ernest Borgnine playing small roles, a new film shot in Grand Rapids, Michigan, allegedly explores the relationship between faith and science.

The Genesis Code, opening in Grand Rapids, asks, "Is the six day story of Genesis true or is what science teaches us about creation true? The Genesis Code explores the idea that perhaps they are both true and science has 'caught up with' the truth of the Bible."

Here's the trailer:

February 8, 2010

'Dorky' Billy Graham Film on DVD in March

Evangelist's son, Franklin, provided that assessment of the movie that bombed in theaters

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Billy: The Early Years, a film about Billy Graham, bombed at the box office and was panned by critics and even by his own son, Franklin, who apparently told his sister the movie was "dorky."

Despite those shortcomings, filmmakers will look to recoup some of their losses through DVD sales when the movie hits the video shelves on March 16. "This film will make you thankful for the life of Billy Graham," the Dove Foundation said in a press release. Actually, Graham's preaching made me thankful for his life, but that's another story. The DVD can be purchased here.

February 4, 2010

Finding Common Ground in Abortion Debate

Documentary 12th & Delaware, from makers of Jesus Camp, apparently shows both sides

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One flick that got a lot of buzz at the recent Sundance Film Festival was 12th & Delaware, made by the same filmmakers who brought us Jesus Camp a few years ago.

The movie is about an intersection in a small Florida town, with an abortion clinic on one corner and a crisis pregnancy center -- which encourages expectant mothers to have their babies rather than abort them -- across the street. The film includes footage inside both establishments, and intimate interviews with the women who head to both places.

HBO has picked up the film, and plans to air it in July or August TBA. Cinematical calls 12th & Delaware "fantastic," noting that directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (who are both pro-choice) did a fine job maintaining objectivity and really getting at the hearts of the women caught in the middle of the abortion issue: "Most impressive about 12th & Delaware are the numerous frank and touching moments with the potential mothers. I can only assume that Ms. Grady and Ms. Ewing are warm and trustworthy people, because their camera is privy to some powerfully personal moments. I don't know many women who'd open up to a documentary film crew on their way to an appointment at an abortion clinic, but it's a testament to the co-directors that their film is so damn ... real."

In this interview
, Ewing and Grady describe the filmmaking process and say that their goal was ultimately to go "beyond being into their heads. We're inside their hearts."

I'm looking forward to seeing it.

February 4, 2010

Has Gibson Moved on from Anti-Semitic Remarks?

An innocuous question prompts Gibson to get agitated and to curse at the interviewer

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Four years ago, in a highly publicized incident, Mel Gibson was arrested for DUI, an incident during which he became belligerent and made anti-Semitic remarks to the police officer, who was Jewish. Many fans who had embraced Gibson for his fine movie The Passion of The Christ were in turn disgusted by his behavior. Gibson's later divorce and affair with a much younger woman -- with whom he has fathered a child -- didn't endear him to audiences much either.

So when Dean Richards of Chicago's WGN-TV simply asked Gibson if he thought fans had "moved on" from those past incidents, Gibson -- who certainly should be prepared for such questions -- got visibly agitated and said, "Well, I certainly hope so. That was a while back, and I've done all the necessary mea culpas, so ... let's move on, dude." Richards thanked him for the interview, and, thinking he was off the air, Gibson said into a live microphone, "A--hole."
Gibson later said the remark was directed at his own publicist. Hmm.

Richards later blogged his impressions of the incident, noting, "The true measure of a person is how they act when they think no one is looking. More than the content of the interview, here we get a crystal clear view of a man who claims to be sorry for his actions and claims to be a changed man. Apparently, that's only if he thinks that no one can see the 'real' him."

January 30, 2010

Why Make a Movie About Fatherhood?

Pastor of church behind Fireproof and Facing the Giants answers that question

Michael Catt, Senior Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and executive producer of Fireproof and Facing the Giants, explains why the church's next film, Courageous, will focus on fatherhood.

"There's a difference between a good idea and a God idea," says Catt. "It is our sense that God has given us a God idea to address fathers in this country."

See Catt's comments on this 79-second video:

January 28, 2010

Jesus to Be Resurrected Next Easter! (In a Movie!)

The Resurrection of the Christ to film this summer; but it's not a Passion sequel

Ever since Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ struck box office gold ($612 million worldwide in 2004), Hollywood has been looking for the Next Big Thing in Christian movies. Mostly, they've struck out, but they're still trying.

Variety reports that preproduction is under way for The Resurrection of the Christ, but it's not a sequel to Gibson's epic, nor is it made by the same studio or filmmakers. Filming will take place this summer in Israel, Morocco, and Europe, and the film will hit theaters around Easter 2011.

The movie is being produced by Bill McKay, who was also behind the 2008 movie, Billy: The Early Years, a film about Billy Graham that was a bust at the box office and among the few critics who saw it.

Here's hoping McKay does a better job with the most important event in the history of Christendom. At least he's got the money this time: $20 million to spend, according to Variety, compared to about $5 million for Billy). Jonas McCord, whose only other feature film was 2001's The Body (an Antonio Banderas film that was critically panned), will direct.

McKay told Variety that The Resurrection will focus on the power, greed and ambition of those involved in the crucifixion -- Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas and Judas. "It's as much about the key players as it is about Jesus," McKay said. "We want to bring in the 'Gladiator' dimension of the first century against the political milieu of the time."

Samuel Goldwyn Films will handle U.S. distribution.

January 28, 2010

'To Save a Life' Opens Strong

Christian indie film finishes in top 15; teens responding to its message

The Christian film To Save a Life, aimed at teens and about showing compassion for others who are shunned or hurting, grossed $1.5 million on its opening weekend to finish 15th at the box office.

Opening on just 441 screens (wide-release blockbusters typically open on 3,000 or more screens), the indie film averaged an impressive $3,586 per screen -- a higher average than several films that finished above it, including The Lovely Bones and Sherlock Holmes.

Teens are responding strongly. On the film's Facebook page, which has an impressive 90,000 users, a girl named Nicole wrote (sic): "This movie saved my life, last night i attempted suicide but didnt succeed and my confirmation sponsor asked if i wanted to go see it today and as much as i didnt want to i did, and it made me think so much. I have been where jake was on top of everything and no matter what was happening in your life i always had a smile on my face but i have also been in jonny's position too, i used to cut, people just dont no peoples breaking points and i wish people could just be who they want to be without being judged or doubted on your abilities. i was, and now i realize if you trust in the lord and just do the right thing, you will be just fine."

To find a theater, click here.

January 27, 2010

Protesters Object to Prop. 8 Doc at Sundance

8: The Mormon Proposition greeted by chants of 'Separate church and eight'

About two dozen activists showed up recently for the Sundance Film Festival screening of a documentary depicting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' efforts to pass Proposition 8, the successful 2008 California ballot initiative that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

"We think it's a shame -- a very big shame," demonstrator Joe Baker-Gorringe said. "If [Mormons] would have channeled [their time and money] into something more constructive, they would have helped a lot of people."

Of the film itself, Matthew Lyon, who is gay and grew up in the LDS Chursh, said, "I felt like I was going to bawl the entire time. Mormons say that I can't be something I was born innately [as]."

January 20, 2010

How Movies Shape Our Image of Jesus

Jesus of Hollywood explores how films tweak and nuance Christ's story

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In her book Jesus of Hollywood, Adele Reinhartz, a professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, takes an objective observer's view -- she's Jewish -- of how Christ is portrayed in more than 40 films over the last century.

Jesus of Hollywood is a "critical evaluation of similarities and differences found in the interpretations" in those films, writes Wayne Holst in a review in the Toronto Star.

Holst, who teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary, goes on to write, "Movies – rather than the scriptures and the churches – shape and define a lot of our contemporary cultural awareness of Jesus. This interesting and accessible book unpacks and elaborates upon that reality." He also notes that because the author is Jewish, "she doesn't readily adopt the clichés of an almost too-familiar Christian story. She critically yet sensitively assesses the Jesus of Christian scripture and of the cinematic portrayals.

"Reinhartz uncovers many of the foibles and flaws in both the familiar biblical texts and the popular movie scripts that might otherwise elude the unsuspecting. This is done with clarifying skill and is especially evident in the book's latter parts. . . . The author writes as a film critic and a religion specialist. She is expertly conversant in both cinematography and theology. This helps her to view Jesus movies in ways unmatched by those limited to only one discipline."

January 19, 2010

GodFilms: Videos for Group Discussion

Ministry creates series of 'digital diaries' to spark conversation in group settings

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We recently heard about a video ministry called GodFilms, which creates short films for express purpose of helping small groups discuss relevant issues.

Producer-director Steve Horswill-Johnston explains the series like this: “We set out to create a never-before-seen type of Christian discussion-spurring film. These films are about exploration, not explanation. There are no experts here—no spoon-fed theology. Rather, the films are mysterious, open-ended, often dream-like . . . and they invite us to unwrap Jesus’ teachings and see their application in our lives in a whole new way.”

But does it work? I watched one of them (a "digital diary" on a fictional character named Christine), and found it a bit weird and trippy at first, and then bluntly cliched and didactic in the end. Something between those extremes might have worked better. Perhaps their discussion guides help the viewer to process the films better.

Anyway, for more info, watch the video below, or check their website.

Trailer for Digital Diary series from GodFilms from GodFilms on Vimeo.

January 19, 2010

Avatar 'What Moviegoers Want to See'

Ralph Winter, a Christian producer, says blockbuster delivers more than most 'religious' films

Our friend Ralph Winter, producer of the X-Men and Fantastic Four films, recently checked out The Book of Eli and Avatar in the theaters. And though he notes that one (Eli) is more intentionally religious than the other, he found more depth and meaning in the more secular film.

"Avatar, with no religious intentions, displays a world where the hero discovers an after life of sorts, finds a way to not just replace his destroyed legs, but receive a whole new body and existence," Winter writes at The Bully Pulpit. "Much is made of how Avatar is pantheistic, is anti-conservative, etc. But notice the yearnings in the storytelling – the desire for something more than just conquering, and experiencing a world we can barely imagine. . . . I think that is what audiences are responding to – a world where they want to go and live, and explore. They want to be around Jake, who figures out what is important and how the world works. Remind you of anything?"

January 18, 2010

The Hangover??? An Award Winner? Seriously?

Golden Globe Awards yield more than a few head scratchers.

They say the Golden Globe Awards are often a precursor or predictor of what might happen at the Oscars. If Sunday night's ceremony is indeed the shape of things to come, yikes.

Even though the night mostly belonged to Avatar, it was the choice of The Hangover as Best Musical or Comedy Film that was the biggest head-scratcher, beating out other--and much better--nominees as (500) Days of Summer, It's Complicated, Julie & Julia, and Nine.

E! called it a night of "upsets galore." And as host, Ricky Gervais could not have been more out of line with his crude jokes, leading off the show -- while the kids are still watching -- with jokes about his penis and masturbation. Ha ha, Ricky. Save it for the locker room.

But the night belonged to Avatar (Best Drama and Best Director), Meryl Streep (Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for Julie & Julia), Sandra Bullock (Best Actress in a Drama for The Blind Side), and Disney/Pixar's Up, which won two awards -- Best Animated Feature and Best Score.

Here's a complete list of winners.

January 14, 2010

Eli: Action Movie Dud? Or Christian Flick?

Maybe a little of both, surmises Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times

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Los Angeles Times blogger Patrick Goldstein surmised, from the looks of the previews, that The Book of Eli was just another post-apocalyptic action flick.

Then he adds, "But wait. It turns out that the movie may end up being a huge hit in the heartland, since to hear the New York Post's Kyle Smith tell it, the film is actually a "Christian blockbuster." Smith, one of the few openly conservative critics at work today, . . . sees Eli as being "like The Road Warrior as rewritten by St. Paul."

Denzel Washington, who stars in the title role (as "Eli," not "The Book," in case you were wondering), is a Christian, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

January 14, 2010

Eli: Action Movie Dud? Or Christian Flick?

Maybe a little of both, surmises Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times

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Los Angeles Times blogger Patrick Goldstein surmised, from the looks of the previews, that The Book of Eli was just another post-apocalyptic action flick.

Then he adds, "But wait. It turns out that the movie may end up being a huge hit in the heartland, since to hear the New York Post's Kyle Smith tell it, the film is actually a "Christian blockbuster." Smith, one of the few openly conservative critics at work today, . . . sees Eli as being "like The Road Warrior as rewritten by St. Paul."

Denzel Washington, who stars in the title role (as "Eli," not "The Book," in case you were wondering), is a Christian, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

January 12, 2010

Newsflash: Sex Doesn't Sell!

That's the conclusion of a psychology journal that studied more than 900 films

"Although it is commonly assumed that “sex sells” in mainstream cinema, recent research indicates a far more ambiguous relation between strong sexual content and financial performance."

So goes the first line of the abstract for a new article in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

"All in all, it appears that sex may neither sell nor impress. This null effect might suggest most cinematic sex is in fact gratuitous," write the authors. "It is manifest that anyone who argues that sex sells or impresses must be put on notice."

"Initially, I assumed that more sex would equal higher box office, since everyone said 'sex sells' and I believed them," researcher Anemone Cerridwen told The Vancouver Sun. After analyzing the data, Cerridwen questions why so many scripts are so heavy on sex.

"It makes you wonder why it's there at all," she says.

Indeed. And it helps to quantify what is really meant by the word "gratuitous." It just ain't necessary.

(Hat tip to Phil Cooke.)

January 12, 2010

Go Ye into All The World With a Projector . . .

The recent Urbana student missions conference emphasized evangelistic films

The JESUS film has been going around the world for three decades, successfully bringing millions to Christ through thousands of screenings globally. So while the notion of "film as evangelism" is nothing new, it's taking on a new look -- and a new urgency -- among young Christians who are interested in international missions.

At the recently concluded Urbana 09 student missions conference, more than 1,000 students attended sessions devoted solely to the concept of evangelistic films, according to a recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The story noted that "younger filmmakers are turning away from using their craft as an element of the conversion process itself. Instead, they are taking the skills they've learned in film schools and using both documentary and fictional narrative techniques to change the direction in which their movies find an audience.

"Rather than making a movie that shows the story of Jesus to a Third World nonbeliever . . . today's Christian filmmaker might target an American audience and dramatize the dangers for those leading the underground church in China, or examining the role of the prosperity Gospel in Ghana."

January 11, 2010

The 50 Most Important Religion Films of All Time

Film Snobbery has compiled what it believes is the ultimate list

The Ten Commandments and The Passion of the Christ are no-brainers for anybody compiling a list of The 50 Most Important Religion Films of All Time, as Film Snobbery recently did on its website. Both are appropriate in their top 10.

But Fiddler on the Roof, Life of Brian, and The Blues Brothers are also near the top of their list. Seriously. Check it out. And let us know in the comment below what you think of the list.

January 9, 2010

Who Killed The Golden Compass Sequels?

Co-star Sam Elliott blames it on the Catholic church; author Pullman is miffed

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Several British newspapers ran a series of stories over the holidays about the demise of The Golden Compass movie trilogy. The first film hit theaters in 2007 amid protests from Christians, especially Catholics, claiming the stories and movies were a slam against the church and an invitation to children to turn to atheism.

When asked what happened to the film trilogy, Sam Elliot, one of the actors in the first movie, told London's Evening Standard, "The Catholic Church happened to The Golden Compass, as far as I'm concerned. It did 'incredible' at the box office, taking $380 million [worldwide]. Incredible. The Catholic Church ... lambasted them, and I think it scared New Line off." (New Line Cinema was the studio behind the film.)

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights took some of the credit for shutting down the franchise, citing his call for a boycott of the first film: "I am delighted the boycott worked," he told the Evening Standard.

In response to Donohue's comments, Golden Compass author Phillip Pullman, an atheist, told Wales Online, "It’s disgusting, but only the sort of behaviour I expect of these people."

Pullman went on to tell the publication about his new novel, coming out this spring -- The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, in which he denies Jesus was the son of God. He also recently finished writing his own version of the New Testament in which he imagined Jesus being given a fair trial and walking free instead of crucified.

Finally, London's Guardian isn't so sure the Catholics are to blame for the demise of The Golden Compass. Their film blog recently concluded, "Maybe The Golden Compass wasn't given any sequels because it didn't deserve any. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 42%, ranking it alongside such masterpieces as Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, with reviewers calling it "bland," "patchy," and "a crushing disappointment." . . . It's a little sad that Elliot has to blame a shadowy religious conspiracy for [its] failure, especially since he was just about the film's sole redeeming feature, but the truth is that not many of us could bear to sit through any more sequels if there was any chance they would be as ropey as the first film. Nice try, though."

January 7, 2010

Casting the Vision for New Jesus Movie

Actor Bruce Marchiano shares his passion for Jesus . . . No Greater Love

A few months ago, we blogged about how the filmmakers behind Jesus . . . No Greater Love were soliciting 4.5 million "producers" -- everyday folks pitching in $10 apiece -- to make the film a reality.

Actor Bruce Marchiano, the main impetus behind the film, made a recent pitch while on a trip to South Africa, stressing how the film won't be just for North American audiences, but for the whole world -- as an evangelistic too. Check it out:

January 6, 2010

Human Frailty in Avatar

Film depicts man's weakness, but also his oppressive, dominant, empirical mentality

CT Movies critic Todd Hertz, who reviewed Avatar for us, originally wrote this blog post for ThinkChristian.

The image that has most stuck with me since seeing Avatar—and there are a lot of amazing visuals—is one of a human’s weak and broken body cradled in the arms of a giant, strong and healthy alien. It’s a stirring and powerful juxtaposition. Struggling to breathe and crippled from the waist down, this body is the model of human frailty—useless, expiring and fragile—held in the powerful arms of a 9-foot Na’vi like a diminutive child.

This moment highlighted for me how inadequate, brittle and broken the humans are in Avatar. They bleed. They die. Almost every main human faces some physical limitation in the movie’s runtime. But what is fascinating is how they all compensate for their bodily deficiencies and mortality by hiding within other bodies: giant metal attack ships, robot suits and even genetically-altered Na’vi bodies. These examples are just the physical ways in which Avatar’s humans compensate for their frailty. They also compensate with insatiable needs to possess more, know more, gain more and mean more. Ironically, it seems to be this reaction to weakness that spurs their violent aggression. For instance, Colonel Quaritch refuses to cosmetically fix his visible and brutal scars. Those scars prove to this tough solider that he is mortal. And like any classic Napoleon complex, that reminder fuels him to overcompensate with rage and hostility.

Despite all the political messages that might be seen in Avatar, this universal—and possibly unintended—truth lingers behind the action: Humans are frail. Humans will die. And they try to do anything to erase those truths. That is exactly why the film shows such a contrasting view of humans: They are weak and dying but yet are the oppressive, dominant, and seemingly unstoppable empirical force bearing down on creation. I can’t help but think of Job 14: 1: “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (NIV).

The image of the broken man in the arms of a strong Na’vi got me thinking about the frailty of man (and verses like Psalm 39:5 and James 4:14) and so, in Avatar’s ending, I saw the hope of our new heavenly bodies. No, I’m sure it was not intended. And yes, there are Pantheistic and New Age overtones clouding the issue, but still, as that weak and crippled character finds a new home, I couldn’t help but think about the day when we turn in our fragile bodies. For, as 1 Corinthians 15: 42-43 reads, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” And it won’t just be computer generated.

January 5, 2010

Denzel's Scripture Memory Program

First, recite the 23rd Psalm by heart. Then chop off somebody's hand. Hey, it's The Book of Eli!

There's yet another post-apocalyptic film on the horizon, which should be reason enough for skepticism: Haven't there been enough already? But The Book of Eli , releasing Jan. 15, looks pretty interesting, if for no other reason than its central character: The Bible.

Denzel Washington plays a man named Eli who has allegedly been instructed by God to deliver the Bible -- apparently the last one on earth -- to some unknown recipient "out West."

Our friend Phil Cooke recently had Washington in his studio to film a promo for the movie (see below). In it, Washington says that his character "hears voices from God" to take the Bible "across the country, and to deliver it, out West. In following his mission he's been given by God, he becomes more and more violent in order to get the job done."

Washington, a Christian, says the film is "a story about faith. . . . We're all a work in progress. I think we're all on a journey on this earth to be better human beings and to hopefully follow the Word of God."

Check it out:

"The Book Of Eli" Movie Promo from Cooke Pictures on Vimeo.

December 26, 2009

Avatar and the Gospel According to James

NYT says it's 'capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message'

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New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis really likes Avatar, gushing that the film depicts a new "Eden" while giving it the prestigious "NYT Critics' Pick."

But her colleague, op-ed columnist Ross Douthat, apparently doesn't share those feelings, saying that James Cameron's sci-fi epic is, "Like the holiday season itself . . . a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James."

And that's just his opening paragraph. Douthat goes on to call the film "a long apologia for pantheism" that merely reflects the results found in a recent Pew Forum report -- that "many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the 'spiritual energy' of trees and mountains."

Hmm, interesting observations, and quite possibly on target. But I simply say, relax. Avatar isn't forcing anything down anyone's throat, no more than any other movie -- and less so than many agenda-driven films made by Christians -- with a message. It's a fantasy film about an alien planet.

Can't we all just chill out and enjoy the cinematic ride? I haven't hugged any trees since seeing Avatar -- though they sure are beautiful outside my window right now with today's fresh snowfall -- and I can't wait to see it again.

December 23, 2009

Mormon Films, Evangelical Audience?

That seems to be the strategy of Bridgestone Multimedia Group

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A recent story in The Mormon Times reported that LDS filmmakers invited the Bridgestone Multimedia Group to Salt Lake City in an apparent effort to get some of its films into Christian bookstores.

David Austin, vice president of sales and marketing at Bridgestone, told the newspaper he was "looking for films that don't have any direct denominational connections, that won't exclude or cause any group within the Christian community to be adverse to them. The better job we can do to make them have ecumenical appeal, the better chance they have for commercial success and a regional larger audience."

Mormon filmmaker Lyman Dayton is working with BYU on a remake of 1975's Against a Crooked Sky, and sought Austin's advice on making it appeal to a wider audience.

December 18, 2009

Carman Gets Biblical with Ruth

Christian music icon returns to acting, playing Boaz in The Book of Ruth

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Eight years ago, he played an aging boxer in The Champion, a cheesy-but-decent family-friendly film about a retired boxer who finds his mojo and goes back into the ring to settle a few accounts.

Haven't heard much from Carman since then, but now he's making another comeback -- not as a pugilist, but as an Old Testament farmer named Boaz in the new DVD, The Book of Ruth, one of two new releases this week from PureFlix.

PureFlix, which bills the movie as "a biblical Cinderella story from the archives of the royal Jewish bloodline," specializes in producing and distributing Christian and family-friendly films.

Of his latest cinematic venture, Carman says, "To work on a film that takes an in-depth look at conflicting relationship issues has been a great experience. From an acting perspective, it required each of us to take our performances to a new level, and artistically challenge anything we’ve done before. I believe everyone involved did just that. This film will be around for a long time."

PureFlix's other new release is A Greater Yes, the true story of high school girl Amy Newhouse and her battle with cancer.

PureFlix recently signed a distribution pact with EMI/CMG to expand their reach.

December 17, 2009

'Letters to God' Trailer: A CT Exclusive

Preview for faith-filled film, from the producer of Facing the Giants and Fireproof, debuts here!

Letters to God, a true story directed by David Nixon (one of the producers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants), is about an 8-year-old boy's brave battle with cancer and how his letters to God affect the local mailman.

The film doesn't hit theaters till April, and the official trailer doesn't debut until next week. But Vivendi Entertainment and Possibility Pictures have given Christianity Today exclusive dibs on the debut. Check it out:

CT Movies previous did an on-the-set story in Orlando. For more on the film, check out the official website.

December 15, 2009

Robin Hood: Men in Fights (Very Bloody Ones)

Braveheart meets Gladiator meets Ridley Scott meets Russell Crowe. Whence the merry men?

By the looks of the brand-new trailer for Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, opening sometime in 2010 and starring Russell Crowe in the lead role, we've got another blood-fest on the way. Robin Hood and his Merry Men? Errol Flynn's amusing banter with his fellow rogues? Ha!

This is swords and axes and stabbings and blood and . . . Well, you get the point. Pun intended.

Check it out. Heads will roll:

December 15, 2009

The 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nominations

And the nominees are...

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This just in!

HOLLYWOOD FOREIGN PRESS ASSOCIATION
2010 GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS
FOR THE YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2009

NOMINATIONS PRESS RELEASE

Continue reading The 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nominations...

December 14, 2009

Film Seeks 'Honest Debate' on Abortion

South Dakota, opening in 2010, seems to take a pro-life stance in the end

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An upcoming "dramumentary" -- part drama, part documentary -- called South Dakota: A Woman's Right to Choose is beginning a round of "townhall" screenings and discussions regarding the abortion debate.

The film, according to its website, tells "two dramatic stories about unplanned pregnancies along with sound bites of passionate pro choice and pro life advocates. . . . Through fast paced clips from documentary interviews with a wide range of political, scientific, legal and cultural experts who passionately share their views, [director Bruce] Isacson assembles sound bites like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to accentuate the labyrinthine nature of the situation faced by each young woman. The emotional conclusion of each story leaves audiences with a profoundly new understanding of a woman’s right to choose."

Director Isacson says, "I made the decision not to manipulate the audience with my personal opinions, but to allow moviegoers to reach their own conclusion about a 'woman’s right to choose' after viewing the film."

At a recent screening for 1,000 high school girls in Los Angeles, the majority spoke out against abortion, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The film, which is eyeing a 2010 release but has not yet found a distributor, is being promoted by Motive Entertainment, which previously has handled promotion for such films as The Passion of the Christ, Expelled, and the Narnia films.

Here's the trailer:

December 11, 2009

A Film That Gets You Thinking About Heaven

The Lovely Bones got at least one of its stars to consider the afterlife

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Saoirse Ronan, who was so brilliant in Atonement (for which she earned an Oscar nomination), is, from what I've heard, similarly stellar in The Lovely Bones, now showing in very limited release. (It's scheduled to go wide in January.)

The film, based on Alice Sebold's novel of the same name, centers on the brutal murder of a young teen girl (Ronan), who now finds herself looking down on earth from some sort of "in-between place" which she also calls her "personal heaven."

Sebold's book and the film, directed by Peter Jackson, take a theologically inaccurate view of heaven and the afterlife, but at least it's started discussion about what comes next--and not just among moviegoers. Ronan herself is thinking about it.

"It was the first time I looked at a heaven as a possibly real place," she told USA Today recently.

December 11, 2009

Coming Soon: A Lifesaver of a Movie

To Save a Life addresses faith, friendship, and suicide among teens

Coming in January, To Save a Life, a church-made film for teens. It addresses, among other things, faith, friendship, cliques, self-image, depression, and suicide. Here's the trailer:

December 2, 2009

The Babies Are Coming!

Now here's a newborn trailer with a lot of promise . . . -

As the official website says, "From Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo, Babies joyfully captures on film the earliest stages of the journey of humanity that are at once unique and universal to us all." Can't wait. Check out the trailer:

December 2, 2009

Radar Love

Gary Burghoff, who played Radar on TV's "M*A*S*H*," making a Christian movie

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There's no Father Mulcahy to be found anywhere on the set of Daniel's Lot, the latest Christian movie to join the lineup of church-made films. But there is a Pastor William Mahoney played by none other than Radar himself -- Gary Burghoff, who won an Emmy in 1977 in his signature role on the TV comedy M*A*S*H*.

Burghoff, shown here with Daniel's Lot co-star Dominick Shaw, is a Christian who says that after reading the script for the film, "I prayed and the Lord told me to do this. I respect what they (the Faith and Power Worship Center of Apopka, FL) are doing very much."

The filmmakers describe Daniel's Lot as "a love story of faith, obedience, redemption, and salvation." It's the story of "a down-and-out office worker and his struggle to come to terms with his loyalty to his late father, personal problems within his own family, and a newfound obedience to God which provides the deliverance he needs."

Sounds like something right up Father Mulcahy's, er, Hawkeye's, er, Radar's alley.

December 2, 2009

I Need More Expensive Designer Shoes!

New documentary asks, "What's the one thing you can't live without?"

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Aussie filmmaker Lincoln Fenner wanted to know, in the wake of a global economic crisis, where people might consider curbing their spending by asking, "What's the one thing you can't live without?"

In his new documentary, More 4 Me, Fenner gets answers ranging from designer shoes from well-heeled babes on a city street (one respondent says she has "about 50" pairs) to the simple life-giving necessity of water, from a person in the slums of Nairobi.

Fenner, who is looking for a distributor, visited seven countries on five continents to interview everyone from actors and models to orphans and street sweepers. New York, London, Los Angeles, Singapore, Perth and Tokyo are juxtaposed with a Kenyan orphanage, the slums of Nairobi, and remote Cambodian villages.

Looks like a great lesson in what we value most. Here's the trailer:

December 2, 2009

Darwin Fever Making Us Sick?

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The Mysterious Islands, a new documentary shot on the Galapagos Islands, was recently released in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

But the new film isn't a celebration of the anniversary, but instead a debunking of Darwin's theories of naturalism and evolution. A film crew, including Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, visited the Galapagos earlier this year to make the movie.

"The world has Darwin fever, and we think it's making our culture sick," says executive producer Doug Phillips. "Because of the implications of his famous theory of evolution, Darwin was perhaps the most influential man for evil in the last 200 hundred ideas. His ideas have contributed to the rise of Nazism, the proliferation of racism, Marxism, the horrors of eugenics, and abortionism."

The Darwin-Nazism connection was also explored in Expelled a couple years ago.

Watch a trailer for The Mysterious Islands at the official website. And you can order the DVD here.

November 30, 2009

A Glimpse into Narnia

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Can't get enough of Narnia? Well, the official Narnia Facebook page posted the first images from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader over the holiday break. Check them out here.

The film hits theaters on December 10th, 2010.

November 30, 2009

Bring Donald Miller to Your Small Group!

New DVD series, with Miller and guests, sparks good questions and discussions

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I recently received three DVDs called "Convergence" -- not movies or TV programming, but helpful discussion starters featuring Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) holding conversations with a number of thoughtful Christians (Phyllis Tickle, Lauren Winner, Tremper Longman, Dan Allender).

The videos are meant to be used in small-group settings, and I've already "beta" tested the first one -- "Breaking the Ice: Learning to Share Our Stories" -- with our own couples Bible study group. Other than Miller's interesting interview with Tickle (see image at right) on what makes a good story (and what doesn't), the DVD does a nice job of encouraging groups to share their own stories with one another -- stories that go beyond the superficial and dig deeper beneath the surface. There are also a handful of thoughtful discussion questions with each. Our group will be implementing some of their tips as we tell our own stories to one another in the weeks and months ahead.

Learn more about the Convergence series here.

November 30, 2009

Empowering Girls & Women

Six flicks that address 'the girl effect' -- the payoff of investing in women worldwide.

Radical Womanhood blogger Carolyn McCulley is impressed with the recent book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. So she is compiling a list of documentaries "in order to help us all understand the plight of women in other nations."

Her initial list includes these six films: A Walk to Beautiful, Lumo, Mrs. Goundo's Daughter, Afghan Star, As We Forgive, and At the End of Slavery.

To that list I would add Pray the Devil Back to Hell (mentioned here) and The Stoning of Soraya M. What other films would you recommend?

November 23, 2009

Are you Mooning over "New Moon?"

Are you a Fan?

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The Twilight Saga: New Moon had the best open of 2009, beating out last year’s The Dark Knight for highest opening night, though it did not beat The Dark Knight’s weekend numbers.

Our review of the film wasn’t especially favorable, but we’re curious what you thought. Much has been made of author Stephanie Meyer’s devout Mormonism and the manner in which her worldview, especially that of abstinence until marriage, has become a crucial (if unconscious) theme for the series.

Do you let your teenagers watch Twilight? Perhaps you are a fan. Do you take issue with the world Twilight has created—like many who find Harry Potter unsavory—or do you find Twilight resonates with a greater spiritual dimension like the universes of Tolkien and Lewis?

November 19, 2009

Drew Barrymore, Welcome to the Fight Club!

Blu-Ray release of cult classic includes gag menu by director David Fincher

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Fans of 1999's Fight Club have been anxiously awaiting the Blu-Ray version, which released this week. They were in for quite a surprise when they first popped the disc into their player, when up comes a menu that looks nothing like the hard-edged film it's introducing:

It's a cute/cuddly Drew Barrymore, with LOTS of pink lipstick all over the menu . . . for her 1999 film, Never Been Kissed.

It's no error; the real menu pops up after a few seconds. Fincher himself orchestrated the prank. Read more about it here.

November 16, 2009

'Fireproof' Filmmakers Announce Next Movie

'Courageous' about fathers 'rising with courage.' Plus other religious movie news.

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Sunday's evening service was anything but "regular" at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. An air of expectancy and members of the media were on hand to hear about the next film from Sherwood Pictures, which had already made Facing the Giants and Fireproof.

At Sunday's service, filmmakers Alex and Steven Kendrick announced that the next film will be called Courageous. Production will begin in March; no release date has been announced.

“The movie is about fatherhood,” Alex Kendrick said at the announcement.

Keep reading for further details about the film . . .

Continue reading 'Fireproof' Filmmakers Announce Next Movie...

November 16, 2009

'Your lies and tactics are odious to me'

So said Anne Rice to a producer who was supposed to turn her Jesus story into a movie

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David Kirkpatrick, who once partnered with George Barna to form a fledgling film studio called Good News Holdings, had announced to the world in 2006 that his company was going to turn Anne Rice's first Christian book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, into a major motion picture.

Turns out he was wrong. GNH never really got off the ground, and then Kirkpatrick--who had been an exec at Disney, Touchstone, and Paramount--announced he was taking the company to Massachusetts and changing the name to Plymouth Rock Studios. Turns out he was wrong again.

In a recent in-depth story, The Boston Globe reports that Kirkpatrick and the venture never had any legitimate financial backing.

Rice, the former vampire novel writer who became a Christian some time ago, had agreed to let GNH turn Out of Egypt into a film, but withdrew that offer when she never got paid. The Globe obtained a stinging e-mail that Rice sent to Kirkpatrick, voicing her concerns and her disgust with the way he had handled things.

In the 4-page document, Rice tells Kirkpatrick, "You were not paying me as you had agreed to do, and you did not have the funds to make good on your promises, and you did not have the funds to make a film. . . . At no time did you reveal to me that you were having financial problems." Late, after noting her disappointment that Kirkpatrick had threatened legal action to get Rice to cooperate, she writes, "David, you broke my heart" and "Your lies and tactics are odious to me." She notes that she will never relinquish the book's rights to Kirkpatrick.

The Globe story is fascinating, essentially exposing a man for grand promises that he had no means to fulfill, regardless of his optimism, passion, and ambition. But the bottom line is that he had no bottom line, and that is the main reason the studio still essentially is only a thought.

Check out the newspaper's 7-minute video on the situation:

November 6, 2009

'Hollywood picking on us Christians'

So says one blogger about 2012; another says the director lacks, er, gumption (sort of).

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A week from today, Roland Emmerich's apocalyptic epic 2012 hits the big screen, and the trailer clearly shows such iconic Christian sites as the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (in the poster at left) all come a-tumblin' down when all heck breaks loose on doomsday.

What you don't see getting smashed to smithereens are any Islamic holy places -- and that has at least a couple of bloggers mad.

Calling director Emmerich a "coward," a blogger for The American Catholic writes, "This is just another example of Hollywood picking on us Christians. 'Us' Christians call this behavior bigotry in the form of Christophobia. More commonly known as anti-Christian or more specifically anti-Catholicism in the case of this film." The blogger goes on to note that Emmerich was concerned about having a fatwa (essentially a Muslim death threat) on his head.

Meanwhile, at Big Hollywood, Greg Gutfield writes, "Where are Roland Emmerich’s balls?" He notes that Emmerich had said "he hoped to destroy the Kaaba, an Islamic holy site, but his fellow screenwriter Harald Kloser persuaded him not to" -- again, out of the fear of fatwa. Gutfield writes: "Hollywood screws with Christians because Christians don’t behead people. But tweak Islam, and you could end up like director Theo van Gogh – dead on a street with a flag impaled on your chest. Roland picks the safe target because he’d rather live . . . [This] proves that Roland has the gonads of a shrimp."

As for Emmerich, here's his explanation, in his words, for not destroying anything Islamic: "We have to all, in the western world, think about this. You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have ... a fatwa. So it's just something which I kind of didn't [think] was [an] important element, anyway, in the film, so I kind of left it out."

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For what it's worth, the early teaser trailer for 2012 shows some sort of Himalayan holy man -- presumably a Buddhist -- biting the dust first. (He's pictured in the screen capture at left.) So, it's not like Emmerich was just picking on the Christians.

Here's the latest trailer:

November 5, 2009

Megachurches Get a Movie!

Also: 'Friends for Life' lauded; 'Love Comes' in a boxed set; and capitalism saves the planet

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We've got movies about the end of the world, about wild things, about paranormal activity, about criminals, and now about . . . megachurches? Whassup with that?

That's exactly what Morgan Mead, a young Christian filmmaker from Indiana, wanted to know. Why are there so many megachurches, what's the phenomena all about, and just what is their role in American Christendom? Mead pursues answers to these questions, and more, in The Alpha and the Mega, now available on DVD.

In a recent interview, Mead explained why he decided to look into the megachurch mythos . . .

Continue reading Megachurches Get a Movie!...

November 4, 2009

LOTR Producer to Make Biopic on Muhammad

Barry Osborne, who produced The Lord of the Rings films, wants to 'bridge cultures'

The producer who brought us messiah types in The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings films now plans to make a major film about the prophet Muhammad, London's Guardian reports.

Osborne says the $150 million biopic will be "an international epic production aimed at bridging cultures. The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam."

Qatar-based Alnoor Holdings is footing the bill for the film, to begin shooting in the first quarter of 2011, said Raja Sharif, Alnoor's vice-president for international affairs. Sharif also said the movie will respect Islamic traditions forbidding images of the prophet, so Muhammad himself "will not appear," Sharif said.

According to Islam Online, Ahmed Abdullah Al-Mustafa, chairman of Alnoor Holdings, told the Doha-based Al-Jazeera television that the film "will highlight the humanity of Prophet Muhammad.”

Big Hollywood blogger John Nolte isn't all too thrilled with the news, saying this about the film's respect for Islam by not picturing Muhammad: "If only such respect was extended to every major religion. Which isn’t to say religion, including Christianity, is above satire, but what we have here is another example of the mindset of those who control the most powerful propaganda machine ever created. Think about it: The Passion remains one of the most profitable films ever and yet an industry frequently ridiculed for reproducing ad nauseum anything resembling a hit will have none of it."

Nolte's post prompted this retort from LA Times blogger Patrick Goldstein: "The news has aroused a storm of derision from conservative bloggers, who always find a way to be offended by any high-minded Hollywood project."

Stay tuned.

November 3, 2009

'Wings of Desire' Hits Criterion Collection

Wim Wenders' artful masterpiece gets Criterion's royal treatment in a new release

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Somewhere in Seattle, my friend Jeffrey Overstreet -- a longtime critic for CT Movies -- is drooling: His favorite film of all time, Wings of Desire, is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today by the classy Criterion Collection, with all sorts of bonus features.

Anybody who knows Jeffrey, who had to step away from CT Movies a few months ago, knows that he can gush for hours about Wings and its brilliant director, Wim Wenders. You can read some of Jeffrey's thoughts in a Filmmakers of Faith piece he wrote about Wenders here, and his more recent thoughts on the new version here. (Re: that last link to Filmwell -- some fabulous stuff at that site, very thoughtful commentaries and reviews on film. I encourage you to check it out.)

Criterion has posted a few interesting pieces about the film too, including a commentary by Wenders himself, and musings by Michael Atkinson. They've also posted the original trailer from the film (caution: brief nudity).

The special edition of the movie includes a new, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by Wenders; audio commentary featuring Wenders and actor Peter Falk; The Angels Among Us (2003), a documentary featuring interviews with Wenders, Falk, actors Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander, writer Peter Handke, and composer Jürgen Knieper; deleted scenes and outtakes; and much more.

October 30, 2009

One for the iPod

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In this podcast, Dick Staub speaks with Jeffrey Overstreet, film critic and author of Through a Screen Darkly, Jennie Spohr, producer of The Kindlings Muse, and Gregory Wright, managing editor of Hollywood Jesus.com about the three best movies about God they suspect many people have never seen: Wings of Desire, The Decalogue and Babette’s Feast.

October 28, 2009

Lessons from the Cinema: How NOT to Preach

Blogger spotlights 'Three Amigos,' 'Ferris Bueller,' and 'Princess Bride' among examples

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Gospel coalition blogger Kevin DeYoung says preachers should turn to movie clips for their sermon illustrations -- er, for illustrations on how NOT to preach, that is.

He starts with some Steve Martin silliness from Three Amigos, then Ben Stein's droning ways in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, followed by (bad) examples from The Karate Kid, Star Wars, and The Princess Bride.

Funny stuff -- and instructional. Pastors, take note!

October 27, 2009

Forgive Someone Who Murdered Your Family?

Yes, it's possible. And it's happening all over Rwanda, as shown in upcoming documentary.

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I spent almost two weeks in Rwanda earlier this year with my good friends Troy and Sara Groves and a team from Food for the Hungry. While there, I met a man named Marc who in 1994 had killed 15 people during that nation's genocide. I also met a woman, Felicita, who lost many family members in the killings, including her father -- all of them at Marc's hands, which were wielding a machete.

When I met Marc & Felicita, they shared beers and laughter over lunch while telling me their amazing story of how hatred and murder had transformed into forgiveness and reconciliation -- and how they're now sharing their story with others throughout Rwanda, riding a bike together (see picture) from village to village with their incredible true tale.

You'll be able to see their story soon on a new documentary, Wounded Healers, which premieres Dec. 3 at the Seattle International Film Festival. It's a production of Rwanda Partners, which was very helpful in assisting me in my reporting in Rwanda, and introducing me to Marc and Felicita and their incredible story.

I can't wait to see this documentary. Watch the trailer here. And while you're waiting for this film to arrive, be sure to check out another great documentary about reconciliation in Rwanda, As We Forgive.

October 23, 2009

Wanna Be a Movie Producer? Now You Can!

Marchiano seeks 4.5 million 'producers' for Jesus movie . . . and other Christian film news.

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Remember Bruce Marchiano and his winsome performance as Jesus in 1993’s The Visual Bible: The Gospel According to Matthew?

For years, Marchiano has wanted to do something similar with the Gospel of John -- a word-for-word adaptation of the book to the big screen. Finding deep-pocketed investors, however, has been another story. So Marchiano has recently changed his strategy: He's now calling the hoped-for film Jesus . . . No Greater Love, still a verbatim adaptation. But how's he going to pay for it? That's where you come into the picture . . .

Continue reading Wanna Be a Movie Producer? Now You Can!...

October 23, 2009

'Letters to God' Gets a Date, Distributor

Directed by Fireproof's David Nixon, film to hit about 800 theaters in March

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Several months ago, we visited the set of Letters to God, an upcoming Christian film directed by David Nixon, who was a producer for the indie hits Facing the Giants and Fireproof.

The film, based on the true story of a 9-year-old boy with cancer who writes his prayer letters to God, was recently picked up by Vivendi Entertainment for U.S. distribution. The movie will open in about 800 theaters on March 12.

Vivendi's Mark Kristol told Variety that Letters can tap into the same market as Fireproof, the Sherwood Productions feature that grossed $33 million for Samuel Goldwyn last fall, after being made for a mere $500,000.

See the Letters to God trailer below:

October 20, 2009

Heartland Gives Big 'Welcome' Gift

Indianapolis film fest honors French flick with $100,000 grand prize

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The Heartland Film Festival, now in full swing in Indianapolis, held its annual awards banquet on Saturday, Oct. 17, giving the French film Welcome, directed by Philippe Lioret, its $100,000 Grand Prize Award for Best Dramatic Feature.

P-Star Rising by Director Gabriel Noble was the winner of the $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature, and Bicycle (Jitensha) by Director Dean Yamada was the winner of the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film.

Heartland also honored Dr. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, with the Pioneering Spirit Award for his creative spirit in filmmaking and his contribution to Heartland’s mission.

October 19, 2009

OMG!

A new documentary ponders the nature of God

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The new documentary Oh My God, due out next month, interviews men and women from all walks of life, from atheists to devout believers of a myriad of faiths, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the age old question, "What is God?" Director Peter Rodgers, frustrated over how God is increasingly politicized in our culture, spent more than two years making the film in a journey that crisscrossed 23 different countries.

Continue reading OMG!...

October 12, 2009

'Love Boat' Captain Finds Reel Love

Gavin MacLeod (aka Captain Stubing) finds Jesus, stars in new film -- and other tidbits of interest

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Remember that cheesy '70s TV show, The Love Boat? And its lovable pilot, Captain Stubing? Of course you do.

These days, Stubing -- er, actor Gavin MacLeod -- is making family-friendly movies with Christian themes, including The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, now showing in limited theaters. Set in 1970, it's a story about a young boy who befriends an old man.

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"The film is about forgiveness," MacLeod, a Christian, told Fox News. "Forgiveness is one of the greatest tools God has given us."

> The Great Reverse is a compelling documentary about nine students who take a months-long missions trip to West Africa, experiencing culture shock and God's grace along the road. It's worth watching for anyone considering a short-term missions trip. The soundtrack features artists as diverse as MercyMe, Seabird, Sara Groves, Jars of Clay, Sleeping At Last, Jon Foreman, Lori Chaffer and more.

> The Fabric of Time, a docudrama which examines physical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is being re-mastered in 3-D by Grizzly Adams, gearing up for an April 2010 release. The European release is timed to coincide with the first public viewing in more than a decade of the Shroud of Turin, believed by millions of Christians to be the burial cloth of Jesus.

October 12, 2009

'The Ten Commandments' to be remade as "300"?!

Fox also to add info not from the Bible, but from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources

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Variety is reporting that 20th Century Fox is remaking Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments!

Sorta.

But wait, it gets weirder...

Continue reading 'The Ten Commandments' to be remade as "300"?!...

October 12, 2009

'The Ten Commandments' to be remade as "300"?!

Fox also to add info not from the Bible, but from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources

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Variety is reporting that 20th Century Fox is remaking Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments!

Sorta.

But wait, it gets weirder...

Continue reading 'The Ten Commandments' to be remade as "300"?!...

October 6, 2009

'The Great Divorce' to Get Movie Treatment

Film rights to C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy secured by Beloved Pictures

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Heaven has been depicted on the big screen before, but never quite like this -- as the most beautiful landscape you've ever seen, but every blade of grass is so hard it actually hurts your feet to walk on them, and a single leaf so heavy you can't lift it.

Such is the creative depiction of heaven by C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce--great fodder for a filmmaker with a rich imagination and a love for the work. And now it appears that the story has found just that.

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Beloved Pictures announced Monday that it has secured film rights to the story, and that David L. Cunningham (To End All Wars, Seeker: The Dark Is Rising) will direct. Cunningham, 38, is a Christian and the son of Youth With a Mission co-founders Loren and Darlene Cunningham.

The Great Divorce tells the story of one man's journey--on a bus!--from the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a grey town to the outskirts of heaven.

"We are tremendously excited to bring one of Lewis's most profound stories to the screen," said Beloved Pictures CEO Michael Ludlum. "We believe that this story, much like the Chronicles of Narnia, will resonate with a global audience."

Beloved is currently seeking investors for the film, which may begin filming sometime in 2010. A release date has not yet been determined.

September 25, 2009

Terrible Yellow Eyes!

Website, artists celebrate Sendak and 'Where the Wild Things Are'

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The film I'm most looking forward to this fall is Where the Wild Things Are, opening October 16. I'm hardly alone in my anticipation; there are millions of fans of the book and the wonderful, whimsical art of Maurice Sendak.

Cory Godbey is one of them. A professional animator and illustrator in Greenville, S.C., Godbey launched TerribleYellowEyes.com, what is being called "a curatorial online project and ongoing blog with original works honoring Maurice Sendak."

If you like Sendak's art, you'll love this website, which features work from over 100 artists from around the world. And if you, like me, can't wait for this movie, spending a little time at TerribleYellowEyes will help to tide you over till the wild rumpus starts.

September 24, 2009

Creation gets an American distributor after all.

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A few days ago, Brandon mentioned that the producers of Creation -- one of a few movies about Charles Darwin that have been produced this year in honour of Darwin's 200th birthday -- were claiming it had been difficult to find an American distributor for their film because evolutionary theory is "still a really hot potato in America."

Now, the Hollywood Reporter says an American distributor has been found for the film after all -- and it is Newmarket Films, the same distributor that handled Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ nearly six years ago. If anyone in this business would know how to handle a "really hot potato", it would seem to be them.

Newmarket is reportedly thinking of releasing the film in December. (If they really want to stir up some controversy, they could try releasing it Christmas Day.)

Meanwhile, the film opens in its native Britain tomorrow, and in conjunction with that release, the Christian outreach organization Damaris has posted some movie-related resources at their website "to help churches, schools and community groups make the most of this film."

September 23, 2009

Now He's REALLY Informed!

Marc Whitacre, Matt Damon's character in 'The Informant!', found Jesus in jail

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The Informant!, No. 2 at the box office last weekend, features a future Christian as its protagonist, played by Matt Damon.

Marc Whitacre, the title character, apparently found Jesus (or the other way around) while doing a prison term for embezzling millions from his former employer.

WORLD magazine has an interview with Whitacre here.

September 21, 2009

Darwin Film: Not Showing in a Theater Near You?

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As Mark indicated last week, things are beginning to heat up around the Darwin biopic, Creation, in which a young Charles Darwin (played by Paul Bettany) struggles between faith and reason, particularly after the loss of a cherished daughter. In his post, Mark discussed Roger Ebert’s reaction to people who walked out of the film, possibly for theological reasons.

What the piece didn’t mention is that Creation may not be seen in a theater near you.

Continue reading Darwin Film: Not Showing in a Theater Near You?...

September 18, 2009

Ben-Hur's Roots in . . . Indiana??

As the classic film turns 50, writer's home state remembers him

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Ben-Hur, one of the greatest Bible epics of all time, is 50 this year.

And while one Indianapolis journalist remembers the writer, Indiana native Lew Wallace, in a quiet way, the O2 in London remembers the story in a bit louder fashion with an extravagant stage show that its promoter calls "an opera for God."

Watch the teaser video for the production below, and learn more about it at the official site.

September 17, 2009

Fallen Angel Finds a Home

Documentary about Larry Norman to hit theaters, festivals in 2010

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David DiSabatino, director of a new documentary about the late Larry Norman, said in a recent e-mail that his film, Fallen Angel, has "obtained a commitment from a documentary niche-marketing specialist" to bring the film to "a number of theaters in early 2010."

The company, Abramorama, most recently distributed Anvil: The Story of Anvil, which received high critical marks.

Critical response to Fallen Angel is somewhat lacking, except for a few things that had been written about earlier versions of the film -- which I saw about a year ago. DiSabatino took some of those early criticisms to heart and apparently has done some heavy editing on the film, and says the new version has a much different vibe than the original. (The first version -- available here -- was a choppy and a bit too dark, though there were certainly some dark sides of Norman that had to be explored. DiSabatino says the edited version is lighter, but doesn't gloss over Norman's problems, many of which he brought on himself.)

DiSabatino also reports that "the legal wranglings that went on behind the scene are over and we have prevailed. For those of you that do not know, after the Cinequest festival [where Fallen Angel screened in March] we were threatened with a copyright infringement lawsuit by the Norman family. We responded by petitioning the courts to judge whether we had fairly and legally used the materials in the film. We prevailed in the case and found out that much of what was contested wasn't even owned by those protesting."

CT Movies plans more coverage, including a review, of the film in the months ahead, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, learn more about Fallen Angel at the official site, and watch the trailer here:

September 16, 2009

Saved! + Helter Skelter + South Park=Leslie

Observations from Day 7 of the Toronto International Film Festival

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My getaway day film at TIFF was Leslie, My Name is Evil, a camp-kitsch satire I described on Twitter as a cross between Helter Skelter, Saved!, South Park, Carrie, and Forrest Gump. With maybe a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show thrown in for good measure. "Just because I want to make out with her," one of the jurors says of the titular Manson girl, "doesn't mean I wouldn't vote to put her to death." You get the idea.

Continue reading Saved! + Helter Skelter + South Park=Leslie...

September 15, 2009

World Films and the Buzz About Town

Observations from Day 6 of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Despite my emphasis thus far on sneak previews of commercial studio releases, I am conscious of the fact that TIFF stand for the Toronto International Film Festival. My Tuesday, through a fluke of scheduling more than a conscious choice, had a heavy international flavor. Clare Denis returned to Africa with White Material, Amos Gitai frets about war in Israel in Carmel, and Jessica Hausner follows believers on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

The day began, however, with Alain Renais's Les Herbes folles (Wild Grass).

Continue reading World Films and the Buzz About Town...

September 14, 2009

Ends of the World (as We Know It)

Observations from Day 5 of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Since it would take me more time and space than I have at the moment to fully explain why I disliked The Road as much as I did, I will save that for another place and another time and instead elucidate here who I think will like it, and why.

Continue reading Ends of the World (as We Know It)...

September 13, 2009

Brilliant Star; Drab Gray

Observations from Day 4 of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Jane Campion's Bright Star is a heartfelt, carefully drawn, masterpiece of a love story, It contains all the fire and penetration one would expect from a Campion film, but there is also a surprising--and welcome--tenderness as well. "They were so young," Campion said of John Keats and Fannie Brawne when introducing the film. There is a protectiveness that she clearly felt about the love story at the heart of the biography, one that shields the film from the dull hagiography that permeates so many biopics and the more strident polemicizing that gets conflated with passion in some of Campion's earlier works.

Continue reading Brilliant Star; Drab Gray...

September 12, 2009

Places--and Horrors--in the Heart

Observations from Day 3 of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Films by and about Iranians have provided some of the highlights of the Toronto International Film Festival in recent years. Offside, Persepolis, When Buddha Collapsed From Shame, and Two Legged Horse (set in Afghanistan but directed by Iranian Hana Makhmalbaf) have each offered glimpses into cultures that few Americans know much about but which, in light of recent post-election protests, continue to garner the world's attention.

Continue reading Places--and Horrors--in the Heart...

September 12, 2009

The Invention of Lying, take two.

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The Invention of Lying premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival next week, so now's as good a time as any to follow up my earlier post on that film.

As Mark noted in his newsletter last week, my earlier post was flooded with comments after Ricky Gervais, the star and co-writer-director of that film, linked to it from his own blog with the simple comment: "And so it starts..."

The "it" in question was, presumably, the "big controversy" that fellow co-writer-director Matthew Robinson hinted the film would cause in an interview with the MTV Movies Blog. My post was an attempt to track the clues, contained in interviews and official publicity materials, as to what that "big controversy" might be -- and rather than spell everything out, I presented the clues and hoped the reader would be intrigued enough to put the pieces together for themselves.

Continue reading The Invention of Lying, take two....

September 11, 2009

A Puzzling 'Face' and a Non-Story Nun Story

Observations from Day 2 of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Tsai Ming-liang has thrice directed films that were nominated for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival. Face lost out on this year's prize to Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon (more on that film this weekend), but its subject matter (a loose retelling of the Salomé story) and setting (much of it was shot at the Louvre) could attract some viewers not normally game for a 140 minute art film in French and Malaysian.

Continue reading A Puzzling 'Face' and a Non-Story Nun Story...

September 11, 2009

Things That Caught My Eye This Week

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What do John Wayne, aliens, hobbits and Japanese anime have in common? They all caught my eye this week...

Continue reading Things That Caught My Eye This Week...

September 10, 2009

Toronto International Film Festival: Day 1

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The first day of the Toronto International Film Festival is usually very lightly programmed, presumably so that other films are neither competing with nor overshadowed by the opening night gala. The prestigious first Thursday slot at the Roy Thompson Hall was given to the Charles Darwin biopic, Creation, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. If you're anxious enough to get to Toronto on the first day but not quite ready to spring for tickets to walk the red carpet, your best bet is usually the Ryerson theater which will generally have a premiere of an anticipated, studio-backed film--something capable of selling out one of the larger venues without overshadowing a marquee event. (If the adrenaline has really got you going, the first midnight madness show is usually a film with a tad more name recognition. This year, Karyn Kusama's Jennifer's Body got the nod.)

Continue reading Toronto International Film Festival: Day 1...

September 10, 2009

'Bella' Actor in New Role . . . for 20 Minutes

Eduardo Verastegui in short film about hope as part of Doorpost Film Fest

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Eduardo Verastegui, the Hispanic actor who turned his life around and starred in the 2007 gem Bella, now has another starring role -- albeit in a short film that will likely never make its way into theaters.

Verastegui plays a ringmaster in The Butterfly Circus, one of ten finalists in The Doorpost Film Project, an annual competition of short films whose purpose is "to encourage truth-seeking visionaries by honoring their creativity as filmmakers, serving them in the context of building community and sharing their discoveries with the world so that others may have hope."

Also starring in the film are Doug Jones, who has played fantastical characters in Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and will also be playing a yet unannounced role in the upcoming Hobbit movies. And making his film debut is Nick Vujicic, a real-life evangelist who has no arms or legs.

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It's a pretty cool thing, this Doorpost deal. I served as a judge for the final films a couple years ago, and was very impressed with what I saw. I have only seen a couple of this year's finalists so far, and haven't yet been wowed, but hope to be as I watch more in the coming days.

I'm not serving as an official judge this time around, but I am "judging" the films as a viewer -- and so can you. All you have to do is log in to the site, watch all 10 films, and you too can play a role in deciding which film will win the $100,000 grand prize. But hurry -- online viewing and voting ends on Sept. 16, and the awards banquet will be held Sept. 19 in Nashville.

September 4, 2009

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2009 Preview

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The week before the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival is one of the longest of the year for the North American cinephile. Imagine getting an e-mail nine days before Christmas with a list of all the gifts you got--but not being able to open any of them yet. Add to the mix a trickle of early reviews for many of these films now playing at festivals in Venice and Telluride--The Road appears to be getting hammered, Life During Wartime is getting a lot of advance praise--and you can turn normally taciturn, middle-aged adults into giddy school boys marking days off their calendars.

Continue reading Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2009 Preview...

September 4, 2009

MPAA Change a Concern to Parents

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My colleague and dear friend Nell Minow of Beliefnet.com, wrote a story in today’s Chicago SunTimes about a policy change at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that many parents will want to be aware of, all the more so because that change has gone unannounced and unrecognized…until now.

Continue reading MPAA Change a Concern to Parents...

August 30, 2009

The Invention of ... "blasphemy"?

MTV Movies Blog reports that writer-directors Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson are "planning big controversies" with their upcoming film The Invention of Lying.

The film, which comes out October 2, takes place in a world where everyone believes everything that everyone says because no one has ever lied -- until, one day, the character played by Gervais figures out not only how to lie, but how to manipulate everyone else's gullibility for his own ends.

And what sort of "big controversies" do Gervais and Robinson have in mind?

Continue reading The Invention of ... "blasphemy"?...

August 28, 2009

Rob Zombie to remake Christian movie!!

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Well, not exactly. But Variety does report that the rock musician turned horror-movie director plans to direct a remake of The Blob. And CT sister publication Books & Culture did run an article last year exploring how the original 1958 version of that film was produced by a Christian film company determined to make a "wholesome horror film." (One of The Blob's producers, Russell S. Doughten Jr., went on to produce, write and act in a number of explicitly Christian films, including the end-times series that began with 1972's A Thief in the Night.)

And the Christian connections don't end there! The original movie spawned a sequel, 1972's Beware! The Blob, which featured Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill in bit parts. And the movie has been remade once before, by director Chuck Russell (The Mask, The Scorpion King), in 1988; and while I don't know anything about Russell's own religious persuasions, I do know that he was attached to direct the film version of Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness in the late 1990s, until 20th Century Fox pulled the plug on that project.

I certainly wouldn't expect Rob Zombie's version of The Blob, which will reportedly be R-rated, to follow in the "wholesome horror film" mode of the original movie. (The 1988 version was R-rated, too.) And I wouldn't necessarily expect Rob Zombie's film to feature Christian musicians in bit parts or whatever, either. But you never know.

August 24, 2009

A Few Films of Note

News on flicks that could be of interest to a Christian audience

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A few movies recently released to DVD that Christian audiences might want to check out:

> Journey Films (Bonhoeffer, The Power of Forgiveness) has released Albert Schweitzer: Called to Africa , which it is billing as "the compelling story of a theologian, musician and philosopher who abandoned a life of fame and comfort in Europe at the age of 30 to dedicate his life to the medical care of Africans." (See the trailer here.)

> Sherwood Baptist (Fireproof, Facing the Giants) isn't the only church in the movie-making business. Others are also making their own films, including Bethesda Baptist Church of Brownsburg, IN, which recently released The Board to DVD. A press release says the film "captures the elements of life transforming films such as Chariots of Fire and Fireproof, telling the poignant story of how God speaks to each person’s soul. The Board explores the personal conflicts within, as represented by a board of directors, Mind, Emotion, Will, Memory, Conscience and Heart as it introduces difficult questions that lead to eternal consequences, exposing the board’s hypocritical foundation." (See the trailer here.)

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> A "family version" of Henry Poole Is Here -- one of my favorite indie films from 2008 -- will be available Sept. from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The original PG version had some mild language, so there wasn't that much to edit in the first place, but if this means more people will see this gem, that's a good thing.

> The Biblical Dinner, self-described as "a Last Supper documentary," is now available on DVD.

> Christian music star Rebecca St. James has been doing a bit of acting lately. She plays the lead role in a pro-life film called Sarah's Choice, slated to release in November from PureFlix. She also recently wrapped filming in the comedy Rising Stars, a take-off on American Idol.

> The second in the Nomad Reality Films series, The Great Reverse, will be available Sept. 15 through INO Records/Provident-Integrity. The film follows nine young missionaries in their travels through west Africa. The first in the series was a documentary on Christian musician Sara Groves.

August 20, 2009

Dungy Kicks off HS Football . . . in Theaters!

Former NFL coach presents a one-night special in theaters August 25

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I love high school football, even though I never played the game. (Well, one year in youth league.) I've probably been to 300 high school games in my life -- you just can't beat it on a fall Friday night.

Tony Dungy, the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Indianapolis Colts, loves high school football too, so he's helping America's 1.2 million players kick off the season with Tony Dungy's Red Zone '09, showing in theaters across the country for one night only -- Tuesday, August 25.

The live event, beamed via satellite into all those theaters, promises to "bring together some of the premier NFL players and coaches who will encourage high school players to step up their game. With highlights from NFL, college and high school games in HD on the 40 foot screen, this high impact setting puts everyone IN the game."

Dungy's RedZoneLive website adds that the event will "provide inspiration" and teach athletes to "play with passion and personal character development." What's just beneath the surface of those words is the fact that Dungy, one of the classiest coaches in NFL history, is a devout Christian who is serious about mentoring young men in character development, and always looking for opportunities to share his faith.

Watch the trailer:

August 17, 2009

Group Wants to End MPAA Ratings

Conservative 'Movieguide' launches petition to drop system and adopt another -- but what?

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Movieguide, a very conservative Christian organization, has launched a petition to urge the MPAA to drop what it calls a "failed" ratings system and "return to a 'standards-based' Code of Decency," according to an article on its own site.

"The MPAA's ratings system never worked really well, but it has gotten much worse since it added the ambiguous PG-13 rating," said Movieguide founder Ted Baehr said. "Parents, especially mothers, can no longer trust the ratings for movies, especially in light of the PG-13 ratings for movies like THE LOVE GURU and LAND OF THE LOST, and the R ratings for pornographic movies like BRÜNO." (Just an aside here: Especially mothers. Huh? That's an insult to dads like me who care very much about teaching our children how to be discerning. Just the realm of "especially mothers"? Come on.)

Baehr claims that the MPAA ratings system is not "based on standards." Well, that's not exactly true . . .

Continue reading Group Wants to End MPAA Ratings...

August 16, 2009

Committed actor wrecks pastor's antique cabinet

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Pastors beware! If you're a clergyman and you're thinking of letting a film crew into your home or office, be prepared for the odd bit of property damage -- at least if the film stars Hugh Dancy, the star of this summer's acclaimed romantic drama Adam.

In the film, Dancy plays a man with a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, and in one scene he throws a fit that causes him to get a bit violent with the furniture -- and apparently Dancy got so carried away that he accidentally kicked his foot through an antique cabinet.

Writer-director Max Mayer tells WENN: "It was actually the pastor's apartment in the church on the Upper West Side (in Manhattan). That was awful because from my standpoint with our limited budget we were using somebody's house and I had pointed out to Hugh things that he could destroy and the things he couldn't, which included this antique cabinet, and he put his foot through it on the first take. I'm thinking, 'How much is that gonna cost? Can I cut a scene out tomorrow to make up for it?'"

Continue reading Committed actor wrecks pastor's antique cabinet...

August 9, 2009

Newsbites: The religious women edition!

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1. Mary Mother of Christ has a new director, and a couple new cast members as well. The last time we heard about the film, which will feature Al Pacino as Herod the Great and is based on a script by Benedict Fitzgerald and Barbara Nicolosi, it was going to be directed by Alejandro Agresti; now, however, the director is James Foley, who previously directed Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and Two Bits (1995). In other news, Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado (pictured here) has been cast as Joseph, and Julia Ormond has also joined the cast in an as-yet-undisclosed role. Principal photography, once set to begin a few months ago, is now slated for October. -- Hollywood Reporter

Continue reading Newsbites: The religious women edition!...

August 5, 2009

Cliff Clavin, Hercules in Christian flick

John Ratzenberger, Kevin Sorbo in film made by Dallas and Jerry Jenkins

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Jenkins Entertainment recently finished shooting for its next film What If..., starring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin on Cheers).

According to a press release, the movie, the sixth film from the father/son duo of Jerry and Dallas Jenkins, "tells the story of Ben Walker (Sorbo) who 15 years ago left the love of his life . . . and ignored his ministry calling in order to pursue a business opportunity. Now, as a high-powered investment banker with a trophy fiancée, he has little or no interest in faith or building a family.

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"But . . . Ben is visited by a mysterious (divine, perhaps?) tow truck driver (Ratzenberger) who knocks Ben into an alternative reality -- the life he should have had. Ben awakens on a Sunday with his wife Wendy and two daughters getting ready for church, where Ben is scheduled to give his first sermon as the new pastor. If Ben wants to escape this What If... scenario, he must first learn the value of faith and family."

What If ... is the first in a two-picture partnership between Jenkins Entertainment and Pure Flix Entertainment. Jenkins Entertainment is owned by New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins and operated by his son Dallas Jenkins.

August 5, 2009

Dem Bones

Trailer for Peter Jackson's 'The Lovely Bones' is a stunner

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The new trailer for The Lovely Bones is now up at Apple. It's pretty awesome.

The film looks ripe for great discussion, based on the official synopsis: "The Lovely Bones centers on a young girl who has been murdered and watches over her family – and her killer – from heaven. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal."

Between that and a sensational cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, and the immensely talented Saoirse Ronan, who made such an auspicious debut in Atonement that she was nominated for an Academy Award.

August 3, 2009

And the biggest cartoon of all time overseas is ...

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For proof, if you needed it, that the animation business is no longer owned by Disney or any of its subsidiaries, look no further than Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the third film in this prehistoric series has now passed Finding Nemo to become the top-grossing cartoon of all time overseas. Variety even notes that IA:DotD is poised to become only the ninth film ever -- live-action or otherwise -- to gross over $600 million in the "foreign" market.*

It's a much different story in North America, where IA:DotD currently ranks 21st among animated films and 117th among movies in general. And when you combine the "domestic" and "foreign" grosses, IA:DotD currently ranks 5th among animated films worldwide, behind Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, Shrek the Third and The Lion King.

Still, however you look at it, the success of this film is a striking example of how computerized animation has taken over the business and, in some sense, levelled out the playing field. As I noted in my review of the original Ice Age seven years ago, successful animated films at that time had largely consisted of movies that were produced in partnership with Disney (e.g. the Pixar films) or in explicit rivalry with Disney (e.g. the DreamWorks films) -- but Ice Age and its sequels, which are produced by 20th Century Fox, don't appear to have given Disney a moment's thought. They're just there -- and audiences have been turning out for them in droves.

Continue reading And the biggest cartoon of all time overseas is ......

July 31, 2009

Newsbites: The biblical spin-offs edition!

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1. The Lion of Judah is the first computer-animated feature to be made in South Africa, and it happens to concern a bunch of barnyard animals who witness the events surrounding the first Easter. The eclectic cast includes Ernest Borgnine, Sandi Patty and Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in the Visual Bible adaptations of Matthew (1993) and Acts (1994) and will apparently do so again for this film. The Lion of Judah doesn't seem to have either a distributor or a firm release date lined up just yet, but in the meantime, you can watch a trailer for the film at its official website. -- Variety, Cartoon Brew

2. Universal Pictures, having scored a major international hit with the Abba-themed musical Mamma Mia! last year, is now developing a remake of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). One director the studio has spoken to -- though they're not in active negotiations with anyone just yet -- is Marc Webb, whose credits include numerous music videos as well as the current indie hit (500) Days of Summer. -- Hollywood Reporter

Continue reading Newsbites: The biblical spin-offs edition!...

July 30, 2009

Most Easily Offended by Movies: Mormons

Jehovah's Witnesses second, evangelicals third, according to poll

Just recently, we posted a blog bit about the top "faith-offending" films. Now we've learned which faith group is most easily offended: Mormons.

According to a recent Religion News Service story, "Mormons are the faith group most likely to say Hollywood threatens their values, followed by Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelicals, according to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life."

The story also noted that "more than two-thirds of Mormons (68%) rebuffed the entertainment industry, followed by 54% of Jehovah's Witnesses and 53% of evangelicals. Less than half (42%) of the general population said Hollywood threatens their values."

July 28, 2009

Newsbites: The children's literature edition!

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader began principal photography yesterday ... and it sounds like the filmmakers may once again be adding more unnecessary peril and more gratuitous World War II footage to C.S. Lewis's story. The film's press release suggests that King Caspian and the others are embarking on their "entirely uncharted journey to Aslan's Country" in order to "save Narnia, and all the astonishing creatures in it, from an unfathomable fate." And last month, a casting agency was looking for actors to play English soldiers and nurses bidding farewell to each other. Somehow these bits don't jibe with my memory of the book.

Continue reading Newsbites: The children's literature edition!...

July 28, 2009

Yet another Darwin drama in the works!

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Last week, I mentioned that there were one and maybe two new movies about Charles Darwin coming up in the near future, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Now comes word that yet another movie in that vein is in the works.

National Geographic Television, which is best known for producing documentaries, announced a few days ago that they have just finished principal photography on their first-ever dramatic production, a two-hour movie called Darwin's Darkest Hour that will air on the PBS series Nova October 6. Like Creation, the upcoming Jon Amiel film based on a book by one of Darwin's descendants, Darwin's Darkest Hour will focus on Darwin's relationships with his dying daughter and his devoutly Christian wife as he struggles to write his famous book.

Incidentally, Charles Darwin himself will be played in this film by Henry Ian Cusick, who is probably best known these days as one of the co-stars on Lost but previously got good notices for his performance as Jesus in The Visual Bible's adaptation of The Gospel of John. Darwin's wife Emma will be played by Frances O'Connor, who has starred in such films as Mansfield Park and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

July 26, 2009

Sand dunes in three dimensions, please!

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Last year, in my review of Journey to the Center of the Earth, I wrote:
Many of the more impressive scenes involve computer-generated backgrounds and other kinds of special effects, such as a sequence involving a loose bridge of levitating rocks that stretches across a deep, deep chasm. But there is wonder and awe to be had in some of the natural scenery, too. As Trevor, Sean and Hannah hike up an Icelandic volcano near the beginning of the film, we can see the other mountains and the landscape stretch for miles around them, and it's almost enough to make you wonder what an epic, scenic film like, say, Lawrence of Arabia could have looked like if it had been produced in 3D.
I am happy to report that Jeffrey Wells now shares my curiosity.

July 25, 2009

Archangels with machine guns at the end of the world

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It's getting to the point where you could almost base a small theology course on Paul Bettany movies.

The actor has already played an albino assassin monk in The Da Vinci Code, a priest on the lam who joins a medieval morality-play troupe in The Reckoning, and a famous scientist who wrestles with his doubts in the upcoming biopic Creation, and he will soon star in the comic-book adaptation Priest as a man of the cloth who turns against the church to track down some vampires who have kidnapped his niece.

Right now, however, the religion-themed movie of his that's getting all the attention is Legion, in which Bettany will play the machine-gun-toting archangel Michael; director Scott Stewart appeared with co-stars Bettany, Tyrese Gibson and others at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote the film yesterday, and they unveiled a new poster for the film and a few clips, besides.

Continue reading Archangels with machine guns at the end of the world...

July 24, 2009

Nicky Cruz film update, and more

'Run Baby Run' slated for 2010, Emmy nod for 'Soldiers,' and more

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A new movie about former gang member Nicky Cruz, whose story was told in The Cross and the Switchblade (the book and the 1970 film starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada), is on track for release next summer.

Run Baby Run, with a $12 million budget, will be intended for mainstream audiences, not just Christians, David Urabe, president of Convolo Productions, told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Cruz told The Gazette that it won't be a "cheesy" Christian movie.

> Soldiers of Conscience, a documentary about soldiers who are reluctant to shoot to kill (some because of their Christian faith), has been nominated for an Emmy. We wrote about the film last year.

> Cloud Ten Pictures, the studio that made all the Left Behind movies, announces it will be releasing the DVD version of The River Within in November. The press release says the film "explores relationships between father and son, pastor and congregant, and God and man; and broaches head-on the age-old human dilemma of discerning God's plan for each of us."

July 21, 2009

The Top Faith-Offending Films

LA Times includes 'Passion,' 'Da Vinci Code,' 'Golden Compass' on list

The Los Angeles Times recently put together a feature called "Faith-Offending Films," starting, interestingly, with Falling, the latest film from Richard Dutcher, the former Mormon who had already alienated LDS fans with edgier and edgier movies. (LDS Review refused to review Falling because of its R rating, prompting quite a spirited debate in its comments.)

Included in the Times list was The Passion of The Christ . But why?

Continue reading The Top Faith-Offending Films...

July 20, 2009

Blue Like Effing Jazz?

The filmmakers behind 'Blue Like Jazz' ask: How much cussing is too much?

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Steve Taylor, director of the someday-upcoming Blue Like Jazz movie (based on the Donald Miller book of the same title), wonders just how many bad words to include in the film. Since the story is set on what the book calls "the most godless campus in America," Taylor and his co-writers--including Miller--believed that truthful storytelling would include at least a bit of bad language, leaving some to wonder just how "blue" the script might be.

Writes Taylor on the BLJ website: "While the CussCount for Blue Like Jazz is lower than Al Pacino's shootout scene in Scarface, it is considerably higher than all the Pixar movies combined.

"For most of you reading this – No Big Deal. . . . [You] expect, in a movie like ours, to hear a certain number of ****s, ****s, ***es, and possibly even the judicious use of ******* when spoken solely as an adjective."

Taylor went on to write that his posting was an "olive branch" to fans who want the language "scrubbed," adding, "We're open to your suggestions. Really. Please post a reply with your favorite non-curse word or phrase, use it in a sentence, and we'll try out the best ones as alternate takes."

July 18, 2009

The Exorcist comes to Blu-Ray ... sort of.

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High-Def Digest reports that Warner Brothers plans to release The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen on Blu-Ray later this year. There is no official word yet on whether the disc will include the original 1973 version of the film, but given the announced title -- which was given to the film when it was re-issued in 2000 with extra scenes and special effects -- it doesn't seem likely.

If the original version of the film is left off the disc, then that would be a pity, since the revised version, despite a few improvements, is basically inferior to the original version, thanks to some cheesy bits that I discussed at my blog three years ago. What's more, the original version of the film is long overdue for a remastering as it is; the only edition of it on DVD, at least in North America, is a single-layer disc produced for the film's 25th anniversary in 1998. (The revised version was released on a dual-layer disc in 2000.)

But an even bigger potential problem lurks in the shadows here. What if the Blu-Ray contains not the second version of the film that was released in 2000, but some brand-new third version? What if it really is a version that we've never seen? There would certainly be a precedent for this: director William Friedkin caused a huge controversy earlier this year when he produced a rather ugly-looking version of The French Connection (1971) for Blu-Ray, and there's no reason to assume he wouldn't do the same thing to this film. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

July 18, 2009

Darwin biopic to open Toronto film festival

It has been 200 years since Charles Darwin was born, and 150 years since he published his revolutionary book On the Origin of Species. So, naturally, filmmakers are marking the occasion by making rival biopics.

The higher-profile of these, by far, seems to be Creation, starring real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles Darwin and his wife Emma; the Toronto International Film Festival announced last week that its opening gala presentation this year will be the world premiere of this film, which was directed by Jon Amiel and based on a book by Randal Keynes.

(Trivia note: Keynes himself is the great-great-grandson of the Darwins, and he is also the father of Skandar, who plays Edmund in the Narnia movies. So one of the "sons of Adam" who sits on one of the thrones at Cair Paravel is also a "son of Darwin"!)

Continue reading Darwin biopic to open Toronto film festival...

July 18, 2009

Expelled co-writer tackles Christian Zionism

Kevin Miller must like controversy. Last year, the screenwriter and occasional actor co-wrote the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which provoked a lot of debate about creationism, evolution, Intelligent Design, and the social ramifications thereof. And now, this year, he has a new documentary coming out that just might offend some of the conservatives who rallied to his previous film's defense.

As Miller puts it at his blog:

It's called "With God on Our Side," and it examines a phenomenon known as Christian Zionism. This theology teaches that the Jews are God's chosen people and that they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians. This leads to great suffering for Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatens Israel's security as a whole.

Our film suggests that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn't favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for Jews and Palestinians.

The filmmakers hope to release the movie sometime later this year, and it should be interesting to see what kind of debates this movie provokes.

July 18, 2009

Can a New Breed of Indie Romcoms Save this Summer?

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In an upcoming review of the movie Adam, I write, "This has been a surprising summer for a number of reasons, one of which is how dreadfully dull most of the big popcorn films have been. The other is the extraordinary ability of a handful of tiny, independent films to redeem the season utterly. These films, from Away We Go to (500) Days of Summer and now Adam, are the antidote to the summer blight, delivering smart, hilarious, moving and cosmically life-affirming stories."

According to my latest copy of "Entertainment Weekly," they would seem to agree.

Continue reading Can a New Breed of Indie Romcoms Save this Summer?...

July 18, 2009

Will the Real Bilbo Please Stand Up

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Other than impending litigation, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson have been doing a marvelous job keeping an information black hole on both real news and rumors regarding The Hobbit. Which is probably why I feel the need to mention this:

Continue reading Will the Real Bilbo Please Stand Up...

July 17, 2009

An Anti-Adoption Film?

That's how critics of upcoming 'Orphan' are responding

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"Adoption advocacy groups are criticizing the soon-to-be-release horror movie Orphan for fueling harmful myths that could turn people away from the idea of adoption," reports The Christian Post.

The story continues: "A coalition of more than 50 orphan advocate and adoption organizations recently launched a national grassroots campaign centered around the website www.OrphansDeserveBetter.org. Through the site, the coalition aims to educate, dispel adoption myths and prompt response to the needs of orphans."

July 15, 2009

Stryper merchandise on the big screen!

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You didn't have to be a Christian to know about Stryper back in the 1980s. Unlike most other Christian rock bands of that era, Stryper, which supposedly got its name from Isaiah 53:5 ("by his stripes we are healed"), toured with secular bands and released its albums on a secular label. But for all their mainstream exposure, I don't believe they ever got played or mentioned in any of the movies made back then.

The filmmakers of today certainly haven't forgotten about them, though. If you look very closely at a couple of recent films, you can see that bits of Stryper iconography have begun to pop up, here and there, on the big screen.

Last year, in Wendy and Lucy, we saw a card or sticker bearing the Stryper logo in the office of a grocery-store manager who sends a woman's life spinning in an unfortunate direction after she is caught shoplifting by an employee who happens to be wearing a cross around his neck. The images are very subtle, but they do suggest that the woman is being judged, in some sense, by religious people who, for whatever reason, have refused to show her mercy.

And now we have the trailer for Whip It!, the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore and the first film to star Ellen Page since her breakout role in Juno. Note the T-shirt that Page's character wears in what seem to be at least three different scenes, in the final minute of the trailer below:

Continue reading Stryper merchandise on the big screen!...

July 8, 2009

God, Gays, and 'Bruno'

Alabama youth pastor shares faith in new film . . . sorta

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The outrageous Sacha Baron Cohen pulled one over on an Alabama youth pastor while making his new comedy, Bruno, which opens in theaters on Friday.

Cohen, best known for playing the title role in 2006's Borat, plays a flamboyant homosexual Austrian fashionista in his new film, in which he dupes many into playing along with his con game--including Jody Trautwein, youth pastor at Point of Grace Ministries in Birmingham.

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In an interview with Religion News Service, Trautwein admits he was duped, thinking that Cohen really was a gay man seeking counseling. In their time together, Trautwein told Cohen that faith in Christ could help lead him out of homosexuality, and even asked Cohen if he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. Cohen's smarty-pants reply: "Are you hitting on me?"

Trautwein says he doesn't mind being the brunt of a joke as long as his message ends up in the movie: "It obviously turned out to be just deception and perversion, but the message in my heart is actually going to be shared with millions. It's turning out to be a positive thing. If nothing else, people will hear me sharing Jesus."

July 8, 2009

Facebook: The Movie

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Every so often Hollywood comes up with an idea that sounds too harebrained, too ridiculous, too microscopically focused to be of any possible popular good.

If you haven't already heard, they're making a movie about, of all things, Facebook!

Continue reading Facebook: The Movie...

July 7, 2009

Jimmy Stewart and God

The actor discussed his faith and 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1977 article

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Remember the scene near the end of It's a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart, playing the role of George Bailey, breaks down in a pub, crying out to God in utter despair? (Watch the scene here; fast-forward to the 5:30 mark.)

Apparently Stewart wasn't really acting; those tears were real.

In this 1977 article that Stewart wrote for Guideposts, the actor recalls that George "is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey's life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and following the script, plead, 'God...God...dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if You're up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God...'

"As I said those words, I felt the loneliness and hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless had reduced me to tears."

In the article, Stewart further discusses the making of the film, his faith, and how his dad held him accountable to attend church once he moved to LA from little Indiana, Pennsylvania. A good read about a fine man and a classic movie.

(Hat tip to Eric David.)

July 7, 2009

Christianity, Witchcraft, and the Movies

Mix 'em all up, and you've got the fast-growing Nigerian film industry

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Did you know that Nigeria cranks out 2,500 films per year? Or that most of them are made for less than $10,000? Neither did I. But those are among the statistics we learn about the growing "Nollywood" film industry, as depicted in the documentary Nollywood Babylon.

The film's fascinating trailer (at the end of this post) depicts a director laying hands on a camera and praying over it "in the name of Jesus Christ." One interviewee states that "the films have been taken over by born-again Christianity. . . . Nollywood has become the voice of Africa." Another says, "In a country like this, if you don't have Jesus, you can't survive."

Continue reading Christianity, Witchcraft, and the Movies...

July 7, 2009

Taking another look at Knowing

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Knowing comes out on DVD today, so now is as good a time as any to take another look at this bizarre but intriguing sci-fi thriller, which was widely panned when it played in theatres (it currently rates a mere 32% at Rotten Tomatoes) but also earned raves from none other than Roger Ebert, who gave the film a four-star review, expanded on the movie's themes in a thoughtful blog post, and then wrote a follow-up piece wondering why so many of his colleagues had gone negative on the film. (Just for the record, I gave it three stars in my own review for CT Movies, and my colleague Brandon Fibbs gave it three-and-a-half.)

There's not a whole lot that can be said about the film without getting into serious spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the film concerns prophecy, on some level, and it uses biblical imagery at key points, in a way that some critics found awe-inspiring and other critics found cheesy beyond belief. Sonny Bunch of the Washington Times wondered at the time if the film got so many negative reviews because of the religious content itself -- though it should be noted that the film takes these images in directions that are quite different from what the Bible itself does with them.

Continue reading Taking another look at Knowing...

July 4, 2009

Ctrl Z to become webisode series

Last week, I mentioned that a filmmaker named Rob Kirbyson is currently directing a family film called Snowmen for Mpower Pictures, the company created a few years ago by Passion of the Christ producer Steve McEveety. I also mentioned that Kirbyson, who happens to be a Christian, had previously directed a number of short films, including Ctrl Z (2007), which features Zachary Levi of the TV show Chuck in a supporting role.

I learned afterwards that Ctrl Z is currently being spun off into a series of webisodes for NBC Universal, under the slightly shorter title Ctrl. Following in the footsteps of last year's sci-fi series Gemini Division, the new series will give prominent placement to a commercial product, in this case Nestea Red; in the original short film, a man discovers that he can manipulate reality using his computer keyboard after it has been hit accidentally by a football, but in the series, the man will spill a can of Nestea Red on the keyboard instead.

The series, like the film, is being written and directed by Kirbyson; there is no word yet on how many, if any, of the original cast members will be involved, but presumably Levi, at least, is rather busy with his TV show right now. The Los Angeles Times reports, via its 'Technology' blog, that Ctrl will be distributed this summer "through a variety of channels, including Hulu.com, cable video-on-demand services and a dedicated website."

July 4, 2009

Karl Malden, 1912-2009

Karl Malden, who passed away this week at the age of 97, is well-known for many roles, from his Oscar-winning performance opposite Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to the cop he played opposite Michael Douglas on the TV show The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977). But the first movies of his that I remember seeing as I was growing up were, appropriately enough, movies in which he co-starred with children.

One of those movies was Captains Courageous (1977), an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story about a spoiled teenaged boy who falls overboard and learns a thing or two about maturity and growing up when he is picked up by a "crusty old sea captain" (as the IMDb puts it) played by Malden. I haven't seen this film in decades, but to this day, I'm pretty sure I can remember how Malden's character -- named Disko Troop, of all things, which makes him sound like a refugee from the Village People -- reluctantly takes the boy under his wing and barks the words, "Right hand, starboard! Left hand, port!" When I started taking canoeing lessons at summer camp a few years later, I credited this film with giving me a head start on the terminology.

The other movie was Pollyanna (1960), the first of several films that Hayley Mills starred in for the Walt Disney studio. Here, Malden played the Rev. Paul Ford, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who changes his ways when the title character, an irrepressibly sunny girl played by the 13-year-old Mills, compels him to look up all the "happy texts" in the Bible. So in some ways, this character was the opposite of Malden's role in Captains Courageous: in the Kipling story, the child learned from Malden, but in the Disney movie, Malden learned from the child.

Continue reading Karl Malden, 1912-2009...

July 2, 2009

'Sources of Spiritual Power Are Not in the Cinema'

So says John Piper in a blog post about no TV and rare movie watching

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Are pastors more "relevant" when they refer to contemporary movies and/or include clips in their sermons? John Piper, for one, doesn't think. Matter of fact, he suggests that pastors--indeed most of us--should pretty much stay away from movies altogether.

In a recent post at his Desiring God blog, Piper wrote:

"I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power - which are what we desperately need - are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies."

Piper went on to say, "If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don't watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.

"There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them."

What do you think? Is Piper right? Partly right? Does it "depend on the circumstances"? Weigh in with your opinion in the comments section below, and/or let us know at CT Movies.

July 2, 2009

God in a Rom-Com?

'Never the Bride,' by 'Ultimate Gift' screenwriter Cheryl McKay, now in development

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A few years ago, a little movie called The Ultimate Gift didn't get much attention, but it was one of my favorite "hidden gems" of 2006. The film starred Abigail Breslin (now carrying one of the main roles in My Sister's Keeper) as a young girl dying of cancer, part of the plot about a young man who had a lot to learn about what really matters in life.

Cheryl McKay, the screenwriter of that film, has written her next screenplay, Never the Bride, which has also been turned into a novel just released by WaterBrook Press. The film adaptation is scheduled to release sometime in 2010.

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Here's how McKay, a Christian, describes the storyline in a recent interview: "It’s about a girl, Jessie Stone, who accuses God of being asleep on the job of setting up her love story. God shows up to face the charges. He tells Jessie that he can’t write her story until she surrenders the pen. The purple pen she’s clutched for many years, penning her own ideas for how her love life should go in her 109 journals. The story is a tug-of-war between God and Jessie and who is really writing this story. Is she too afraid to trust God because he may not write what she truly wants? Or can she surrender that pen to God and let him write the best love story for her?"

July 2, 2009

God in a Rom-Com?

'Never the Bride,' by 'Ultimate Gift' screenwriter Cheryl McKay, now in development

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A few years ago, a little movie called The Ultimate Gift didn't get much attention, but it was one of my favorite "hidden gems" of 2006. The film starred Abigail Breslin (now carrying one of the main roles in My Sister's Keeper) as a young girl dying of cancer, part of the plot about a young man who had a lot to learn about what really matters in life.

Cheryl McKay, the screenwriter of that film, has written her next screenplay, Never the Bride, which has also been turned into a novel just released by WaterBrook Press. The film adaptation is scheduled to release sometime in 2010.

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Here's how McKay, a Christian, describes the storyline in a recent interview: "It’s about a girl, Jessie Stone, who accuses God of being asleep on the job of setting up her love story. God shows up to face the charges. He tells Jessie that he can’t write her story until she surrenders the pen. The purple pen she’s clutched for many years, penning her own ideas for how her love life should go in her 109 journals. The story is a tug-of-war between God and Jessie and who is really writing this story. Is she too afraid to trust God because he may not write what she truly wants? Or can she surrender that pen to God and let him write the best love story for her?"

July 1, 2009

Gives New Meaning to 'Family Film'

Homeschool families pool resources to make action adventure epic

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Cousins Chad and Aaron Burns know a little something about the term "family film." The 20-something former homeschoolers got their families together to form Burns Family Studio, scraped together $250,000, and took three years to make Pendragon: Sword of His Father, which won a "2009 Indie Best of Show" award at the Indie Film Festival.

We haven't seen the film yet, but we have seen the trailer--and for a production made by amateurs, for so little money, it looks surprisingly good. It caught the attention of execs at Trinity Broadcasting Network, which broadcast the film last month and may air it again.

Chad Burns, 27, directs the film, and Aaron, 21, plays the lead role of Artos, a young man in A.D. 411 who feels he has been called by God to defend his people from the marauding Saxons.

"Our family seeks to inspire Christians to embrace God's purpose for their lives," says Chad Burns. Their film is being distributed in Family Christian Stores, and is also available to order online.

The trailer:

June 28, 2009

'Stoning' Actress Gets It Wrong

Aghdashloo makes false claims about stoning: 'nothing to do with Islam'

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Robert Spencer of American Thinker calls out Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (pictured here) for statements she made when publicizing her new film, The Stoning of Soraya M.

Spencer cites of few of Aghdashloo's comments in an interview with the Staten Island Advance, in which she says that stoning "has been happening since the Stone Age, in Judaism, Christianity, Islam." Spencer replies, "In fact, no," and goes on to state his case, showing where Aghdashloo gets it wrong.

Continue reading 'Stoning' Actress Gets It Wrong...

June 24, 2009

Shia Seeking Something?

'Transformers' star clearly doing some soul-searching these days

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Right now, Shia LaBeouf has an eye on the box office stats, where monster numbers are already piling up for the Transformers sequel, which opened everywhere at midnight last night and in which the young actor plays a starring role.

But LaBeouf might just have an eye on something else too--something a bit more ethereal, maybe even spiritual. Check out these quotes from a recent article and photo shoot in PARADE magazine:

Continue reading Shia Seeking Something?...

June 24, 2009

Stephen McEveety -- the "deleted quotes"

My interview with Steve McEveety and Jim Caviezel, the producer and co-star respectively of The Stoning of Soraya M., went up at CT Movies yesterday.

The article focuses pretty narrowly on that one film, but I also asked McEveety about a couple other films that his company, Mpower Pictures, is working on -- so here are a few "deleted quotes" from the interview.

First, I asked about Left to Tell, a movie currently in development about the Rwandan genocide that is based on a book by a woman who survived the genocide and attributes her survival to her Catholic faith. I asked if Mpower was especially interested in films with religious content, and McEveety replied:

Continue reading Stephen McEveety -- the "deleted quotes"...

June 24, 2009

Jesus, Spartacus, and Monty Python

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Peter Bradshaw makes a very interesting point about Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960), which recently returned to British movie screens for one day only:
The story of Spartacus reverses the Jesus myth: instead of getting sold out by his followers and dying a terrible death on the cross, Spartacus is protected by his troops, who are prepared to endure crucifixion rather than reveal the leader hidden in their ranks.
And then Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) came along and put the two stories together. At the end of that film, Brian is crucified along with dozens of other Jews (and at least one Samaritan), but then a soldier comes along, asking who Brian is so that Brian can be taken down from the cross. And whereas the extras in one movie all yelled "I'm Spartacus!" as a sign of self-sacrificial solidarity with their leader, the extras in the other movie all yell "I'm Brian!" as a way of selfishly trying to save their own skins, at the expense of the genuine Brian's life.

Continue reading Jesus, Spartacus, and Monty Python...

June 22, 2009

Go Ask Alice

Burton's 'Wonderland' weird and wonderful; Depp is Mad!

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USA Today gives readers a "first look" at some images from Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland, including the image at right of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Could be Depp's most eccentric character since . . . well, he's been eccentric a lot. But certainly his most visually colorful since playing Willy Wonka in Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Check out more images from the film (due March 2010) here and here.

June 19, 2009

Read. And. Weep.

Reason No. 673 why Pixar is the greatest studio on the planet.

Ten-year-old Colby Curtin was dying of a rare form of cancer, but she had one last wish before her death: To see the new Pixar/Disney movie Up.

But she was too ill for a trip to the theater, so when Pixar heard about it, they flew a rep to Colby's house in Huntington Beach, CA, for a private screening in her home. Colby died seven hours later.

"When I watched it, I had really no idea about the content of the theme of the movie," Colby's mother, Lisa Curtin, told the Orange County Register. "I just know that word ‘Up' and all of the balloons and I swear to you, for me it meant that (Colby) was going to go up. Up to heaven."

(Hat tip to Joel Storey.)

June 18, 2009

Miley to Play the Teen Rebel Role

Cyrus to star in adaptation of Sparks novel; possible faith elements

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For the most part, Miley Cyrus -- aka "Hannah Montana" -- has been an upstanding and outstanding role model for young girls, with only hints of "scandal" here and there. Cyrus attributes her good behavior to her Christian faith, as she discussed in our recent interview.

Now Cyrus really gets to play the teen rebel role in her next film, The Last Song, a coming-of-age-drama based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe). The film, to be released in January 2010 by Touchstone Pictures (Disney's "grown-up" division), begins production this week in Savannah, Ga.

A recent press release from Touchstone describes the story as being "set in a small Southern beach town where an estranged father (Greg Kinnear) gets a chance to spend the summer with his reluctant teenaged daughter (Cyrus), who'd rather be home in New York. He tries to reconnect with her through the only thing they have in common - music - in a story of family, friendship, secrets and salvation, along with first loves and second chances."

Salvation? Hmm. We're intrigued. Another online description states that Cyrus's character remains angry about her parents' divorce three years after the fact, and is especially alienated from her father, "a former concert pianist and teacher [who] is living a quiet life in the beach town, immersed in creating a work of art that will become the centerpiece of a local church."

A local church? Hmm, again. Sparks is a Christian, and so is Cyrus, so it'll be interesting to see what faith elements might be included here. Cyrus impressed critics with her acting chops in the recent Hannah Montana movie, but this will be her first chance to truly stretch herself into more dramatic range.

June 18, 2009

Fresh, Rotten, and Everything in Between

What's in a consensus of opinions, anyway? Depends on your source.

When Star Trek hit theaters last month, I wrote that the film was getting "pretty good, though not great" reviews across the board. One of our critics dashed off an e-mail asking, "Do you and I have a different definition of 90-plus percent at Rotten Tomatoes?!"

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Well, yes we did. All Rotten Tomatoes tells us is that 90-plus percent of critics liked the movie, but didn't necessarily love it. Once some analysis was done on the actual ratings at RT, the consensus was much closer to 3-star reviews than 4 -- so yeah, pretty good though not great.

Statistics don't necessarily tell us everything, and the websites that are in the business of compiling a consensus of movie reviews -- like Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and the new Movie Review Intelligence -- all have different systems for determining what the numbers really mean.

A fascinating story that ran in The Chicago Tribune this week explores these "review aggregators" in depth, shedding more light on their methodology -- and why major studios covet a "fresh" rating from the consensus. (Studio execs have even called RT urging them to reconsider certain reviews to change them from "rotten" to "fresh.")

Here's the sentence that stood out most to me: "But as rivals Metacritic and Movie Review Intelligence point out, Rotten Tomatoes can give its coveted 'fresh' rating to films that any number (and hypothetically all) of its counted reviewers don't really love. And though all three sites present numerical averages in their ratings, the calculations involve subjective scoring by the aggregators themselves, not just the critics."

It's an interesting read. And while you're checking out Rotten Tomatoes, be sure to stop by the CT Movies area while you're there.

June 17, 2009

Genesis at the movies

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Year One -- the "biblical comedy" in which a couple of prehistoric dudes stumble across several characters from the Book of Genesis -- opens this Friday, so now is as good a time as any to take a look at how other films have treated the first book of the Bible.

Alas, time does not permit any deep analysis here. But at the very least, we can say that Genesis-themed movies have been all over the map: the list includes edgy arthouse movies and bloated Hollywood epics, films that offer compelling insights into the characters and cultures that lie behind these stories and films that have sometimes been downright dopey.

Personally, I am drawn to the movies that go beyond the neat-and-tidy Sunday-school versions of these stories, and that sometimes means I am drawn to the movies that explore some of the darker and more neglected elements of the biblical narrative. But even here, it can be fascinating to see just how different the treatments are, at times. Just compare, for example, how Roger Young's Joseph (1995) and Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Genesis (1999) -- both of which are very good, in their own ways -- handle the rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah and the sacking of Shechem by her brothers (as described in Genesis 34).

Continue reading Genesis at the movies...

June 16, 2009

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Inevitable Sequel

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It was inevitable. Despite massive fan disappointment with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steven Spielberg has apparently "cracked" the plot for a fifth movie and is "gearing up" to make it a reality.

Continue reading Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Inevitable Sequel...

June 15, 2009

Newsbites: The fantasy edition!

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1. Taylor Kitsch will play the title character in John Carter of Mars, and his X-Men Origins: Wolverine co-star Lynn Collins will play the Martian princess Dejah Thoris. Thomas Haden Church has also indicated that he, too, may have a part in the film, which will be the first live-action movie directed by Pixar stalwart Andrew Stanton. Two months ago, it was reported that Michael Chabon had been hired to rewrite the script, but there is no indication of that in this week's reports, which credit the script to Stanton and Mark Andrews. Filming may start as early as this November, in Utah. -- Variety, Hollywood Reporter, ComingSoon.net, The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay, Hitfix, Salt Lake Tribune

2. The Hobbit director Guillermo Del Toro has confirmed that Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving will all be back as Gandalf, Gollum and Elrond, respectively. Del Toro also says he is "very close" to announcing who will play the young Bilbo Baggins; the older Bilbo was played in The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) by Ian Holm. And while The Hobbit is being split into two films, Del Toro says he will not direct any so-called "bridge" film, i.e. a film that would bridge the gap between the two Hobbit movies and the three Rings movies. -- BBC Radio, MTV Movies Blog (x2)

3. A lawsuit filed by J.R.R. Tolkien's heirs against the studio that made The Lord of the Rings will go to trial before a jury as planned in October, now that a state court judge has turned down the studio's request that she alone should consider the lawsuit's claims. -- Variety, WENN

Continue reading Newsbites: The fantasy edition!...

June 15, 2009

Newsbites: The medieval edition!

1. Rob Cohen, director of the original Fast and the Furious (2001) and the most recent Mummy (2008), has signed on to direct Medieval, an action film that Cohen describes as "The Magnificent Seven in the Middle Ages." When the studio bought the script three months ago, it was compared to The Dirty Dozen. This would not be Cohen's first trip to the Middle Ages, since he also happened to direct the fantasy pic Dragonheart (1996). -- Variety, Ain't It Cool News

2. Ridley and Tony Scott are co-producing an eight-hour German-Canadian TV mini-series based on Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth; it will concern "the building of a cathedral in 12th-century England" and involve "war, religious strife and power struggles as well as two interwoven love stories." Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane and Donald Sutherland are topping the cast. -- Variety, Hollywood Reporter

3. Natalie Portman will play a "warrior princess" in Your Highness, the medieval comedy starring Pineapple Express co-stars Danny McBride and James Franco. -- Variety

Continue reading Newsbites: The medieval edition!...

June 8, 2009

Newsbites: The Pixar edition!

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1. Rumours of a sequel to Monsters Inc. (2001) have been circulating for months now, ever since a Pixar staffer clicked on a blog devoted to Pixar while Googling the terms "monsters 2013 pixar" back in January. (Actually, the rumours arguably go back even further, to an interview that Monsters Inc. director Pete Docter gave last summer in which he said he could "neither confirm nor deny" that a sequel was in the works.) Now comes word that Disney officially revealed the existence of this film-in-the-making to potential buyers at last week's Licensing Expo -- and while the buyers were sworn to secrecy, some of them apparently couldn't help themselves. Docter, who also directed this year's Up, is reportedly going to direct the new Monsters Inc. as well. -- Jim Hill

Continue reading Newsbites: The Pixar edition!...

June 7, 2009

Newsbites: The religious history edition!

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This is a few weeks overdue, but better late than never, right?

1. Benedict Fitzgerald's lawsuit against Mel Gibson and several film companies has come to an end, now that the two sides have reached a settlement, the details of which have not been disclosed. Fitzgerald had sued Gibson for allegedly underpaying him for his work on the screenplay for The Passion of the Christ (2004). -- Associated Press

2. Josh Brolin is thinking of producing a movie about John Brown, an abolitionist who killed several Southern slave-owners and tried to start a slave rebellion in the years leading up to the American Civil War; he was regarded by Abraham Lincoln and others as a "misguided fanatic" and he remains a controversial figure to this day. -- ComingSoon.net

3. Alejandro Amenábar's Agora premiered at Cannes a few weeks ago, and various critics, rounded up by The Daily's David Hudson, have discussed how the film casts certain fourth-century Christians, including St. Cyril of Alexandria, in a very negative light. The filmmakers themselves have talked about how their film portrays the philosopher Hypatia (played by Rachel Weisz, pictured above) as a martyr for science, but at least one observer has said that this is a distortion of the historical record. -- The Daily, Associated Press, Tim O'Neill

Continue reading Newsbites: The religious history edition!...

June 7, 2009

Halle Berry looking at a potential Surrogate

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The Surrogate is turning into something of a reunion party for producer Ralph Winter.

Last week, I mentioned that the pregnancy thriller -- currently being developed by director Paul Verhoeven, and not to be confused with the upcoming Bruce Willis sci-fi flick Surrogates -- is based on a book by Kathryn Mackel, a Christian novelist and screenwriter who worked with Winter on the film versions of Left Behind (2000) and Hangman's Curse (2003).

This week, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter revealed that Halle Berry, who co-starred in the X-Men trilogy (2000-2006) produced by Winter, is "in talks" to play the wife who is so desperate for a child that she turns to a surrogate mother, only to discover afterwards that the woman carrying her baby is insane.

Continue reading Halle Berry looking at a potential Surrogate...

June 5, 2009

Avid for Avatar

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After years shrouded in mystery, details about James Cameron’s Avatar (the director’s first film since the colossal Titanic) are finally leaking out.

Continue reading Avid for Avatar...

June 2, 2009

Newsbites: The prequels edition!

1. A bunch of Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) fans got together and made a 38-minute short film called The Hunt for Gollum, the events of which coincide with the early scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring. It's actually pretty good for a low-budget, volunteer-based production; you can watch the trailer for it here, to the right. -- Entertainment Weekly, BBC News

2. Sir Ridley Scott and his brother Tony are producing a "prequel" to the Alien series (1979-1997); the original film was, of course, directed by Sir Ridley himself three whole decades ago. There is no word yet on whether the prequel will take place before or after the Alien Vs. Predator movies (2004-2007), which are set in the present day, but those films are arguably non-canonical and thus don't matter anyway. The new film will be directed by someone called Carl Rinsch. -- Bloody-Disgusting (x2), Collider

3. Boom Studios will publish Die Hard: Year One, a comic-book prequel to the original Die Hard (1988) in which John McClane will be a rookie cop who "deals with a catastrophe during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration." Die Hard itself was based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever, which in turn was written as a sequel to the Frank Sinatra movie The Detective (1968) -- but presumably this comic will have nothing to do with that earlier story. -- MTV Splash Page

Continue reading Newsbites: The prequels edition!...

May 30, 2009

Glass doors and the loneliness of Kirk

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The first two Star Trek movies are very different from one another, in many ways. But despite these differences, they do have some interesting parallels.

For example, both films depict Kirk not as a captain -- at least not at first -- but as an admiral who takes command of the Enterprise when a crisis arises; and in both cases, the captain who relinquishes command of the ship is dead or "missing" by the end of the movie, due to an act of self-sacrifice.

But watching the two films back-to-back last night, I was struck by one other thing they have in common: namely, their use of glass doors to symbolize the loneliness of Kirk. You can see it, for example, in the shot above, from The Motion Picture.

Continue reading Glass doors and the loneliness of Kirk...

May 30, 2009

Newsbites: The hiding-in-Canada edition!

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1. Vancouver-based artist Stan Douglas is developing a film based on Raymond Chandler's Playback; it will take place in the 1950s and concern "an American woman who crosses into Canada to escape imprisonment for a murder she didn't commit, only to find herself in the same situation - prime suspect in a murder - in Vancouver." Douglas plans to shoot against a green screen and fill in the backgrounds -- including the downtown Granville Street strip -- with computer-generated locations based on archival photographs. -- Hollywood North Report, Globe and Mail

2. Paul Gross is starring in Gunless, a comedy Western in which he'll play "a notorious American gunslinger who turns up in a rural British Columbia town" that has "no working weapons" and is "populated by sundry eccentrics." The film is currently being shot in Osoyoos, B.C. -- Hollywood Reporter, Globe and Mail

May 29, 2009

A Childhood Reimagined

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Hollywood would be hard pressed to deny it is in a creative slump. For every original film that hits your theater, half a dozen clones of past films wait in the wings.

Hollywood has always stolen from itself to keep the masses entertained. Remaking popular films is hardly new. The idea is that if it was a hot property once, it might be so again. In the early days of cinema, films like Ben-Hur were rolled over again and again.

But it seems that lately they’ve gone overboard. Or maybe it’s just that they’ve finally begun mucking about on my sacred ground.

Continue reading A Childhood Reimagined...

May 29, 2009

Paul Verhoeven to direct a Christian thriller?

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Paul Verhoeven is known for many things. Gory sci-fi movies like RoboCop (1987), Total Recall (1990) and Starship Troopers (1997). Trashy oversexed thrillers like Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995). And trashy, gory, oversexed sci-fi thrillers like Hollow Man (2000).

But an interest in Christian fiction isn't one of them.

Oh, sure, he has long wanted to make a movie about the "historical Jesus", and he has often discussed how the imagery in his films makes critical or subversive use of religious themes. And who can forget that pious member of the Dutch Resistance in Black Book (2006) who is reluctant to use his gun ... until he hears someone take the Lord's name in vain?

But nothing in Verhoeven's oeuvre would necessarily lead you to think that he'd be interested in directing an adaptation of a Christian novel, under the supervision of a Christian producer.

Continue reading Paul Verhoeven to direct a Christian thriller?...

May 29, 2009

Nine does not always equal 9

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Similar titles. Similar posters. (As far as Apple's movie trailer page is concerned, at any rate.) Similar release dates. (Well, they both open in the fall, at any rate.) But two very different movies. Nine is a live-action musical about moviemaking directed by Rob Marshall, while 9 is an animated post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick directed by Shane Acker. Fortunately, these movies are scheduled to open two months apart, so there shouldn't be any opening-weekend confusion, at least; but keeping them straight when they go to the second-run theatres, to say nothing of video, could be interesting. Hat tip to Sara Stewart of the New York Post.

May 27, 2009

Another Post-Apocalypse Flick . . .

USA Today grants a "first look" at Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli

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With one post-apocalyptic thriller on the big screen, another is in the works.

The Book of Eli, set in America after the apocalypse, stars Denzel Washington as a man with a mysterious book that might hold the key to man's salvation. USA Today brings us a first look at the film, with five images.

Co-director Allen Hughes told the newspaper, "This is the first time I can remember where it feels like America is, at its core, vulnerable. We're mortal. After 9/11, the reaction showed how thin that line is between order and chaos. It feels like we're at a boiling point. That's why these themes of redemption and salvation are so powerful now."

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The description and images remind me of The Road, the film adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy book of the same title which was supposed to release late last year before being shelved indefinitely. USA Today also gave us a first look at that film last summer. IMDb says The Road is now slated for an Oct. 16, 2009 release, but the official website still says "Coming Soon."

May 27, 2009

'Dogma,' 'Life of Brian': Best Movies for Christians!

At least that's what one online list would have you believe

If you were making a list titled "100 All-Time Best Movies for Christians," where would you start?

Probably not with the blasphemous Dogma, in which one character, a woman working at an abortion clinic, is allegedly the last living descendant of Christ. And probably not with the scathingly satirical (some would say heretical) Life of Brian.

And yet ChristianColleges.com has posted a list with those two films--and many more head-scratchers--at its site. The posting goes on to say that its list includes movies that "are a great way to affirm faith," going so far as to call the films in its list "Christian movies."

Huh? Dead Poet's Society, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Last Temptation of Christ are "Christian movies"? Yowza.

Check out the whole list here.

May 21, 2009

A Newt, a Pope, and a Doc

Gingrich making a documentary about Pope John Paul II's role in bringing down Soviet Union

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Former House speaker and Newt Gingrich is shooting a documentary about Pope John Paul II's 1979 trip to Poland and how it helped to lay the groundwork for bringing down the Soviet Union, writes Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report on his God & Country blog.

Nine Days That Changed the World will release this fall under Gingrich Productions. Gingrich also discussed his conversion to Christianity with Gilgoff, saying the influence of popes JPII and Benedict affected him deeply.

May 18, 2009

How Sarah Connor made the war worse.

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I watched The Terminator (1984) from start to finish for the first time in years last night, and I was amused by the opening title card's declaration that this film would show us "the final battle" in the war between humans and machines. "The final battle"? Tell that to the sequel-makers.

But what really struck me were the deleted scenes, which I don't believe I had watched since I first got the DVD in 2001. And why did they strike me? Because they make it fairly clear that, on some level at least, Sarah Connor is responsible for the war.

That's right, Sarah Connor is responsible for the war.

How can this be, you say?

Continue reading How Sarah Connor made the war worse....

May 17, 2009

Newsbites: The classic tales reimagined edition!

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1. Kings, the TV series that puts a quasi-modernized spin on the biblical story of Saul and David, has definitely been cancelled, according to producer Bradford Winters. Only five of the show's dozen-or-so episodes have been aired so far, but the DVD containing all of them is already listed at Amazon.com, albeit without a release date. -- Image, Bible Films Blog

2. Jim Caviezel (pictured) will star in William Tell: The Legend, which promises to be a "fact-based" film that shows how Tell "challenged the Hapsburg monarch Hermann Gessler" and thereby "ignited an uprising against the Austrian government which led to the formation of Switzerland." It is not clear whether this is the same movie that was announced six months ago, under the title Ironbow: The Legend of William Tell, or a different movie altogether. -- Hollywood Reporter

3. Speaking of possibly rival productions, two different films based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were announced in the last couple weeks. One, simply titled Jekyll, will star Keanu Reeves. The other, called Jekyll and Hyde, will star Forest Whitaker and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and will be directed by Abel Ferrara. But wait, there's more! Universal, the studio behind the Keanu Reeves movie, is also developing another version of the story with Guillermo Del Toro -- but he'll be so busy with The Hobbit and various other projects for the next few years, these other films will almost certainly be out of his way by the time he finally gets around to putting his own spin on this tale. -- Hollywood Reporter, Variety

Continue reading Newsbites: The classic tales reimagined edition!...

May 15, 2009

Passion producer making 'religion-inflected' Rwanda movie

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Stephen McEveety, who may be best-known for producing a number of films with Mel Gibson including The Passion of the Christ, is developing a movie about the Rwandan genocide, says the Hollywood Reporter. McEveety's production company, Mpower, has
acquired Immaculee Ilibagiza's religion-inflected autobiography, titled "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust," that tells of the author's return to spend Easter with her Catholic family in 1994 when the Tutsi massacre took place.

The author witnessed a number of her family members killed. She survived by hiding in the bathroom of a Hutu pastor for three months, and attributes her survival during that brutal time to her faith.

The film will join a growing list of movies that have dealt with the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath over the last few years, including Hotel Rwanda, Shooting Dogs (released in the United States as Beyond the Gates), Sometimes in April, A Sunday in Kigali, Shake Hands with the Devil and Munyurangabo -- the last of which was produced by a YWAM team and was released this month on DVD to Film Movement subscribers.

May 12, 2009

Rating Woes

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I have a friend, a young film critic, who is incensed that the upcoming Terminator: Salvation has been given a PG-13 rating. And he's not the only one. I understand where he and others like him are coming from, yet I cannot identify with their anger, nor my friend's assumption that the more family-friendly rating is an automatic reflection of the film's assumed poor quality.

Doubtless the rating decision is a marketing move - the film will take in far more money the wider an audience it can attract. That's basic economics. Playing to those economics, at the expense of artistry and the creative process is, unequivocally, shameful. But is that what's going on here?

Director McG has stated that he cut very little to bring Terminator: Salvation within the PG-13 guidelines - one scene of violence and another of nudity. Losing both scenes, he said, in no way impinged on the holistic, structural integrity of the story. If that is indeed the case - and what more do we have to go on right now than his word - the gratuity he describes won't be missed by anyone other than those who go to movies seeking little more than titillation.

Condemning all R-rated films simply because they are R-rated is misguided. Some stories, in pursuit of the truth of their narrative, naturally incur an R-rating. Would The Passion of the Christ have been nearly as effective had Christ's torture and crucifixion been sanitized? Tragically, we do not live in a G or even PG world. Ours is a fallen world and, struggle as we might to bring the light, we harm our witness and make a mockery of the truth if we claim otherwise. When a film reflects the world as it truly is, oftentimes an R-rating is inevitable. (I am in no way implying that Terminator: Salvation throbs with a message of Christian redemption, no matter what the title may imply.)

In the same way, we cannot decry films that mange to relay this truth (or simply entertain) without gratuitous sex and violence as a necessary prime mover for their plot. Good drama (or comedy for that matter) is hardly beholden to body counts and bare breasts. As another, older critic friend recently said, "Wantonness doesn't equal quality."

May 12, 2009

Ben-Hur, Jesus, and water bottles

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Simon Vaughan, one of the producers of the upcoming Ben-Hur mini-series, has created a blog devoted to the production; most of the entries there so far consist of pictures from the Morocco set. (Hat tip to Matt Page.)

Today Vaughan posted this picture of a crew member lighting the actors who play Judah Ben-Hur and Jesus. I don't recognize the actor playing Jesus, but I wonder if this version of the story will show his face, or if it will merely show the back of his head, like the films made in 1925 and 1959 did.

Note also that the actor playing Jesus is holding a water bottle. That's kind of funny, since it looks like the scene they are working on is the one in which Jesus gives Judah a drink of water -- but presumably out of a gourd or some similar vessel, and not a plastic bottle!

Although, come to think of it, this wouldn't be the first film to show Jesus offering someone a water bottle ...

May 12, 2009

Weisz to play Lamarr -- and maybe Delilah too?

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The Hollywood Reporter says Rachel Weisz has been tapped to play Hollywood legend -- and noted scientist! -- Hedy Lamarr in Face Value, an indie film to be directed by Amy Redford, daughter of Robert. The Reporter also notes that Lamarr was "most famous" for co-starring in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), the first of the post-war Bible epics. (Samson was played by Victor Mature.) Will the new film depict the making of DeMille's film in any way, shape or form? Will Weisz have to wear a Philistine costume? Obsessive Bible-movie buffs need to know.

May 12, 2009

Star Trek -- at the box office, on the charts

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There were ten Star Trek films before the reboot. Two of them made over $90 million, two of them made less than $60 million, and the rest all made between $70 million and $80 million, roughly speaking.

As of Sunday night, the reboot had grossed $79.2 million in its first weekend alone -- which is better than all but three of the previous films did during their entire theatrical runs. But of course, they've been making these films for 30 years now, and ticket prices have gone up, up, up.

Perhaps, instead of looking at the raw, unadjusted dollar figures, we can get a sense of how well these films have done -- or haven't done, as the case may be -- by comparing the grosses for each film to those of other films that were released in the same year.

Continue reading Star Trek -- at the box office, on the charts...

May 10, 2009

Newsbites: The ancient characters edition!

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1. The international trailer for Year One is now online, and it gives us our first glimpse of Abraham and Isaac (at the 1:19 mark). -- YouTube

2. Movies often seem to come in twos: two volcano-based disaster movies, two asteroid- or comet-based disaster movies, two Truman Capote movies, etc. And now ... two John Milton movies? Scott Derrickson has been developing a big-screen version of Paradise Lost for the past few years already, but now comes word that Martin Poll will produce an "indie version" of the Milton poem based on an otherwise-unfilmed screenplay that was published in book form in 1973. Two "unknown young actors" named David Dunham and Patricia Li Bryan have been hired to play Adam and Eve "as part of a multiethnic cast." -- Hollywood Reporter

3. The TV mini-series version of Ben-Hur now has a cast: Joseph Morgan -- no stranger to sword-and-sandals flicks, having played Philotas in Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004) -- will play the title character, while Kristen Kruek will play his sister, Emily VanCamp will play his girlfriend Esther, Ray Winstone will play his adoptive father, and Stephen Campbell Moore will play his treacherous former best friend Messala. Hugh Bonneville is also on board to play Pontius Pilate. -- Hollywood Reporter

Continue reading Newsbites: The ancient characters edition!...

May 10, 2009

Newsbites: The imaginary friends edition!

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1. Jim Carrey may star in The Beaver, an "offbeat comedy" that "centers on the relationship between a man and a beaver puppet he wears on his arm, which he talks to and treats as a companion." Those who have read Kyle Killen's script are comparing it to Being John Malkovich (1999) and Lars and the Real Girl (2007). -- Hollywood Reporter

2. Russell Brand is set to star in a remake of Drop Dead Fred (1991). The original film "starred Phoebe Cates as a wallflower who loses her job and husband during the course of a lunch hour. Forced to live back home, she's reunited with her childhood imaginary friend (Brit actor Rik Mayall), who promises to help but causes more havoc." -- Hollywood Reporter

3. Leah Meyerhoff is writing and directing Unicorns, an "indie drama" about "an awkward teenage girl who escapes to a fantasy world when her first romantic relationship turns increasingly abusive." For the moment, I am assuming, based on this synopsis, that the "fantasy world" in question exists only in the character's head and has no objective Narnia-like reality. -- Hollywood Reporter

May 7, 2009

Vatican Newspaper: 'Angels & Demons' Harmless

L'Osservatore Romano calls upcoming film 'harmless entertainment'

It's not quite an endorsement from The Vatican itself, but Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano says Angels & Demons, which releases next week, is inaccurate in areas but otherwise "harmless" and not a danger to the church.

The movie, which had its world premiere in Rome on Monday, offers "more than two hours of harmless entertainment, which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity," L'Osservatore's reviewer wrote. It's "a videogame that first of all sparks curiosity and is also, maybe, a bit of fun."

In a reference to Dan Brown's books, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, the L'Osservatore writer continued, "The theme is always the same in both novels: a sect versus the church, even though the parts of the good and the bad are distributed differently. This time, with 'Angels & Demons,' the church is on the side of the good guys."

A Hollywood publicist working the film to the religious press sent an e-mail Thursday noting the differences between some Christian responses to the film and what the Vatican paper is saying now. Here's the entire body of that publicist's e-mail:

Ted Baehr of Movieguide in a fundraising letter on Angels & Demons: "A clear anti-Christian message that not only are Christians evil and murderers but also that science has proven faith in Jesus Christ to be outdated! In the end, it is the highest echelon of the Catholic Church who is the villain!"

The official Vatican newspaper review of Angels & Demons:
"Two hours of harmless entertainment, which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity."

There's an old Irish saying, "when everyone tells you you're drunk, you better sit down."

I'm not familiar with that Irish saying, or even exactly sure what it means, but I'll simply reiterate what's been said by many: Angels & Demons is fiction -- no more true than Wolverine or Star Trek or Terminator Salvation, the other big fiction flicks releasing this month -- and as Christians, there's really no need to join the angry mob and yell that it's a "smear" campaign or that Tom Hanks is a "pawn of Satan." Nobody's forcing anybody to watch the movie, or even believe anything that's being portrayed. If it's not your thing, skip it. If it is, then enjoy it for what the Vatican's newspaper is calling it: "harmless entertainment."

Jesus is still standing strong. The Rock ain't gonna budge.

May 5, 2009

Angels & Demons & Prelates, Oh My!

Controversy escalates over the upcoming prequel to 'The Da Vinci Code'

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The news surrounding the upcoming release of Angels & Demons is beginning to feel more like a bunch of children yapping at each other at recess on a grade-school playground. I'm beginning to wonder when somebody's going to stick out their tongue and say, "Neener nonner nooner!"

We've already had plenty of lively banter between Ron Howard and Bill Donohue. Then we had some shmoe calling Tom Hanks a "pawn of Satan."

Now the Vatican has joined the fray, ironically without commenting.

Howard is saying that Vatican officials obstructed his efforts to shoot the film in Rome, saying he couldn't shoot scenes anywhere in the city with churches in the background.

"Was I surprised? No. Am I a little frustrated at times? Sure," said Howard.

A Vatican spokesman wouldn't comment, but apparently said enough to imply that Howard was just spouting off to "drum up publicity," according to the AP. That's a pretty feisty "no comment."

CNN would disagree, noting that the film is not drawing the Vatican's "ire," while quoting an Opus Dei priest as saying, "I don't think that anyone at the Vatican is paying much attention to the premier of 'Angels & Demons.' . . . I think the church's attitude has been, from the beginning, 'hands off.'"

Meanwhile, Tom "I'm Not the Pawn of Satan" Hanks told the German publication Bild, "I am a very spiritual guy. I do believe in God. We go to Church. My children are baptised. But I don’t know a lot about the condom ban. I have been happily married for 21 years!" Of Angels & Demons, he said, "It’s fiction but has amusing facts."

In India, Christian protests have resulted in a decision to show the film only after certain parts have been deleted, according to the Hindu News Update: "The Censor Board has assured them of deletion of some of the portions before release of the movie, which will also have a disclaimer saying that it is a work of fiction."

A work of fiction. Good to remember that, and not get too worked up about it. Eh?

May 4, 2009

Doug TenNapel + Hugh Jackman = Ghostopolis

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Doug TenNapel -- animator, graphic novelist, video-game designer and occasional collaborator with one of my favorite musicians of all time, Terry Scott Taylor -- continues to rack up the movie deals. The Hollywood Reporter says his newest graphic novel, Ghostopolis, has been picked up by Disney -- and Wolverine star Hugh Jackman is set to produce and star in the film version:
The story centers on a man who works for the government's Supernatural Immigration Task Force. His job is to send ghosts who have escaped into our world back to Ghostopolis. When a living boy accidentally is sent to the other side, the agent must team with a female ghost (and former flame) to bring him back.
This would be at least the fourth movie deal that TenNapel has made in the last few years -- Paramount has Monster Zoo, New Regency has Creature Tech and Universal has Tommysaurus Rex -- but this marks the first time that an actor has been attached to one of them, as far as I can recall.

Continue reading Doug TenNapel + Hugh Jackman = Ghostopolis...

May 4, 2009

Year One -- the set-visit reports begin

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The "biblical comedy" Year One comes out next month, and at least two websites posted new stories last week describing their visits to the set last year; one of them also posted several interviews with the director and members of the cast.

The main report at ComingSoon.net focuses on costumes, production design and the like -- though it also notes, without quite saying so, that the film seems to have shuffled the chronology and geography of the Book of Genesis somewhat. Describing what they saw in the city of Sodom, they note that the set included something that was "meant to represent the Tower of Babel," with scaffolding and extras playing slaves who are working on the tower's construction.

The individual interviews bring up some interesting subjects, too. For example, co-stars Jack Black and Michael Cera talk about how their improvising has been affected by the fact that they aren't allowed to use certain words and expressions that might sound too "modern", like "textbook" and "bathroom" and "dodged a bullet".

Continue reading Year One -- the set-visit reports begin...

May 1, 2009

Movie Hatch--New Social Site for Filmmakers

MovieHatch is a new website with a great pedigree. Billing itself as a social network for film people--professional and aspiring--you can upload your work and vote on other people's work. There are blogs and contests, pitching tips and news stories. Partners and judges come from Hollywood and Indiewood alike.

Sign up and let us know what you think in the comments below--does Hollywood need its very own Facebook?

May 1, 2009

Newsbites: The Marvel Comics edition!

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1. Just as comic books sometimes come out with multiple covers, to take advantage of the collectors who absolutely must buy each and every version, so too there are at least two different versions of X-Men Origins: Wolverine out there, each with a different "Easter egg" at the end that will "push the storyline forward." Fans who want to see both versions will have to pay to see the movie twice -- or they could wait for YouTube, I guess. Expect to see the studio's lawyers playing whack-a-mole with that and other online video sites over the weekend. -- Patrick Goldstein (x2), FirstShowing.net, David Poland

2. But what does this reference to "pushing the storyline forward" mean? Will Wolverine lay the groundwork for X-Men: First Class? We already know that Wolverine features new actor Tim Pocock as a younger version of Cyclops, the laser-eyed character who was played by James Marsden in the original trilogy -- and in a recent interview, producer Lauren Shuler Donner said young Cyclops would be featured in First Class, along with young Jean Grey and young Beast: "It is the first class of Xavier's school, way back when . . . hopefully First Class will become its own franchise and we can follow them as they grow up." -- Comics Continuum

Continue reading Newsbites: The Marvel Comics edition!...

May 1, 2009

Human vs. machine = spirit vs. body?

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John Connor has an interesting line in the newest TV spot for Terminator Salvation:
Victory lies in the soul of the human spirit, not in the hands of the machines.
A phrase like "the soul of the human spirit" sounds a little redundant at first, but when you hear it contrasted with "the hands of the machines", it sounds more emphatic than anything else -- and its meaning seems clear enough. As far as John Connor is concerned, machines are defined entirely by their physicality, their material qualities, their bodies, but humans are defined by something more invisible, something more intangible, something more spiritual.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time John Connor has referred to the "hands" of his opponents. In a trailer that was released late last year, John Connor remarks, "The devil's hands have been busy," and then proceeds to say some not-very-friendly things to a man who may or may not be a Terminator.

Continue reading Human vs. machine = spirit vs. body?...

April 28, 2009

SpeedCine

Veteran indie publicist Reid Rosefelt is launching a site called SpeedCine, which will launch in July as a database of all the movies that are legally available for viewing online. This will be a great resource for anyone who has moral issues with the so-called "free" content that the internet makes available.

Until then, Reid is blogging about the industry. He's a fount of information on the movie business, and a great writer as well. So if you like to read about Hollywood and Indiewood, check out his blog here.

April 27, 2009

Tom Hanks: Pawn of Satan?

So says author in reference to 'Angels & Demons.' And the Donohue-Howard feud continues.

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"It's sad that a great actor like Tom Hanks has become a pawn of Satan and is aiding the cover-up of the existence of the Illuminati today and is a part of Dan Brown's fraud."

So says Mark Dice, author of The Illuminati: Facts & Fiction, of the movie star's role in the upcoming film version of Angels & Demons, based on Brown's book of the same title. A&D is a prequel to The Da Vinci Code.

Dice went on to say that "Brown's book, as well as the film, serves only as disinformation and a whitewash of the real Illuminati."

Dice is founder of something called The Resistance, which on its website calls itself "a conservative political and media watchdog and activist organization focused on preserving family values and upholding the Constitution of the United States."

Take Dice's words with a grain of salt. A loose cannon who also goes by the pseudonym "John Conner" (a la the Terminator saga), Dice has called the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. "an inside job" by the U.S. government. He has also demanded that demanded that Duke University change the school nickname of "Blue Devils" because it's "offensive to the Christian community." (No report on whether he has a problem with Wake Forest's "Demon Deacons" or Arizona State's "Sun Devils" or . . . Oh, nevermind.)

It's not the first attack on Angels & Demons. The Catholic League's William Donohue dissed the film, prompting director Ron Howard to respond last week. And now Donohue has responded to Howard's response:

"Ron Howard must be delusional if he thinks Vatican officials are going to like his propaganda - they denied him the right to film on their grounds," says Donohue. "Moreover, we know from a Canadian priest who hung out with Howard's crew last summer in Rome (dressed in civilian clothes) just how much they hate Catholicism. It's time to stop the lies and come clean."

Somehow, I don't think Howard is waiting in the batter's box to step up and take the next swing. But I also bet we haven't heard the last of this, either.

April 26, 2009

Newsbites: The '80s live forever edition!



1. Arnold Schwarzenegger has confirmed that he may very well appear in Terminator Salvation when it opens May 21 ... but because the Governor of California is busy with other things at the moment, he has done no acting for the new film. Rather, his performance will be an entirely digital creation, based on a body-cast mold that was made for the first movie in 1984. If you ask me, this is all for the good, as Schwarzenegger's physical appearance did change somewhat over the course of the first three films -- which, when you think about it, is a little odd, since all three of his characters were supposed to have come off an assembly line at the exact same time in the future. -- Los Angeles Times, Variety, WENN

2. Robert Rodriguez is developing a "reboot" of the Predator franchise called Predators. The original film came out in 1987 and spawned either one sequel or three, depending on whether you count the Alien Vs. Predator cross-overs (2004-2007) as part of the original canon. At