Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

Faith/Media Fall Preview: What’s ahead in movies, TV, music and books

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Prepare to be inspired! Media publications like Entertainment Weekly and others are known for compiling Fall Preview issues that focus — and laud praise upon — the latest in so-called “edgy” entertainment. To the extent that inspirational content is mentioned at all, it’s usually accompanied by some sort of supposedly sophisticated aside indicating that such “schmaltzy” and “manipulative” fare isn’t worthy of being taken seriously by smart viewers. What makes inspirational and/or faith-themed storytelling any more manipulative than its darker counterparts is beyond me. They are both, after all, putting forth a world view of how to respond to the world. Is it hipper to be kind or snarky? Your answer will likely track very closely with the type of entertainment you are drawn to. In any event, all effective storytelling influences our world view Game of Thrones is no less “manipulative” than Touched by an Angel. And being darker, no matter many critics tell us, is not necessarily synonymous with being smarter.

In any event, my point — and I do have one — is that, in general, inspirational movies, TV show, music and books just don’t get the attention and respect they deserve. With that in mind, here’s your fall preview entertainment between now and New Year’s Day that will at least aspire to inspire. How successful they’ll be in that goal remains to be seen — but I, for one, applaud the intent.


Tuesday 9/2: Moms’ Night Out (DVD) The light-hearted film that follows three stressed-out mothers as they attempt to have one relaxing night on the town, only to have it turn into complete chaos. The Christian-themed comedy starring Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle), Sarah Drew (Grey’s Anatomy), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Rudy) and country music superstar Trace Adkins premiered at the box office earlier this year. An exclusive Blu-ray™/DVD combo pack at CBA retailers features bonus content—including blooper reels, special featurettes and commentary from filmmakers and stars.

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Friday 9/5: The Identical (in theaters) A faith-themed tale of musically-gifted twin brothers (both played by Blake Rayne) who, after being separated at birth, are thrust into divergent paths — one as a Elvis-like rock star, the other struggling to please his adopted father (Ray Liotta) who happens to be a minister. Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano also star. I’ve seen it. It’s good and Blake Rayne is an up-and-coming star to watch.

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Friday 9/5: The Remaining (in theaters) The Apocalypse interrupts a wedding. I have to admit my taste in faith-based films tends not to veer toward End-of-Days scenarios but there are two out this fall (the other being Left Behind in October) that may make some box office noise.

Saturday 9/6: Holy Ghost (Special Digital Premiere) The documentary in which filmmaker Darren Wilson shines a light on the power and love of the Holy Spirit raised a record-breaking $360,000 in just 45 days to become the #1 most-funded faith-based film in Kickstarter history. Rather than pursuing a traditional theatrical or direct-to-home entertainment release, Wanderlust Productions is staging a one-time, World Premiere Experience on September 6th during which fans from all over the world will have the opportunity to view Holy Ghost directly on any digital device, free of charge. Wanderlust believes that the one-time 48-hour event will attract viewers from all over the world and drive subsequent VOD and DVD purchases, resulting in strong profitability for the project. This, it is hoped, will enable instant reinvestment for the company’s next project which is due out in the fall of 2015.

Saturday 9/6: My Best Friends’ Dogs (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/9:00 PM ET) Based on the popular novel of the same name  (written by Dandi Daley Mackall). Erika Christensen (Parenthood) stars with Joyce DeWitt (Three’s Company), Teryl Rothery (Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove), Emily Holmes (Snakes on a Plane), Jeremy Guilbaut (The L.A. Complex), Tyron Leitso (Being Erica) and Jesse Hutch (Arrow).




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Thursday 9/9: Veritas (Music)
The self-titled album will be the first full-length offering to fans from the powerhouse contemporary classical vocal group made up of Jeff Anderson, James Berrian, Andrew Goodwin, Jordan Johnson, and Lucas Scott Lawrence. With a unique musical style fashioned from a fusion of artistic excellence and creative pursuit with performances that promise to inspire an audience of any distinction, Veritas brings a fresh approach to the contemporary classical genre.

Friday 9/12 Dolphin Tale 2 (in theaters) Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment’s “Dolphin Tale 2” continues the story of the brave dolphin Winter, whose miraculous rescue and recovery—thanks to a groundbreaking prosthetic tail—made her a symbol of hope and perseverance to people around the world and inspired the 2011 family hit movie Dolphin Tale. The film reunites the entire main cast, led by Harry Connick, Jr., Oscar® winner Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”), Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell, and, of course, the remarkable dolphin Winter as herself. Charles Martin Smith, who directed “Dolphin Tale,” wrote the sequel and is again at the helm. Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who reprises her role as Hazel from the original Dolphin Tale, says she was so moved by the themes of the film that they helped inspire her to write (and perform) the song Brave Souls (below).
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Sunday 9/14 Coffee Shop (UP Premiere Movie/8:00 PM ET) A romcom that follows the story of  Donavan Turner (Laura Vandervoort), a smart, independent, twenty-something woman looking for just the right blend of happiness in her life.  She owns a hip neighborhood coffee shop in a quaint, scenic beach town and her specialty is matching people to their perfect, new brew.  While she’s been less than successful fixing her love life, Donavan enjoys her work and has the robust support of her sister Becky (Rachel Hendrix), Becky’s boyfriend Kevin (Jason Burkey) and the wonderful, eclectic family of her coffee shop regulars.  Unfortunately, she’s keeping a secret from them all.  The new bank owner, Frank Miller (Jon Lovitz), won’t extend her loan and she’s facing immediate foreclosure.  Things get further complicated when Donovan’s ex-boyfriend Patrick (Josh Ventura) returns to declare his love just as her clashes with Broadway playwright — and tea-drinker – Ben Carson (Cory M. Grant) get interesting.  Ben is in town writing his new play for his producer (Kevin Sorbo).  With love brewing and financial ruin bubbling around her, Donovan realizes that her identity and self-worth are not defined by what she can accomplish alone.  Instead, Donovan – and her community – can accomplish more together, which leads her to make choices she may not have before.

Monday 9/15: The Evolution of Gospel – Gospel Music Heritage Celebration (John F. Kennedy Center Music Event in D.C.)
September is Gospel Musical Heritage Month. The Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation was established September 2008 to celebrate and educate people everywhere about the rich heritage of the gospel music. In each year since its establishment, both local and global celebrations have been held to educate and entertain diverse audiences with the rich history and legacy of gospel.  UP TV plans to a tape a special tied to this year’s event with this year’s Evolution of Gospel honorees including Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin and Senator Blanche Lincoln.  The special airing on UP will be taped from Washington, DC.  More details will be released as they become available.

Friday 9/19: The Evolution of Gospel – Gospel Music Heritage Celebration (Texas State University Sawyer Auditorium Music Event)
A second live musical extravaganza honoring the history of Gospel music. 

Sunday 9/20 My Other Mother (UP Premiere Movie/8:00 PM ET) Candace “Candy” Meyers (Essence Atkins) is a successful anchor on a top-rated national magazine show.  Fiercely independent and committed to her job, Candy doesn’t make many friends with her demanding, gruff nature.  In fact, her only true friend might be her long-time manager Lewis (Kendrick Cross).  Candy discovers that an anonymous fan she’s had for years has passed way – and he was her biological father, Freddy Nelson.  Content with the love and support of her adoptive family, Candy has never been curious about her biological parents.  That all changes when she travels back for her father’s funeral, meets the Nelson family – including biological uncle Abner (GregAlan Williams), Freddy’s wife Delores (Angie Stone) and her two step-brothers – and discovers that her reclusive, angry and stubborn birth mother, Mary Jo (Lynn Whitfield) is going to be a challenge.  The journey these two surprisingly similar women take getting to know each other will break down walls and open them up to a life they never knew was possible.  Photo from UP TV.


When gruff and independent Candy meets her angry and stubborn birth mother, can the two open their hearts to each other? – See more at:

Sunday 9/20 Perfect on Paper (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/9:00 PM ET) Morgan Fairchild portrays author Beverly Wilcox, a powerful, glamorous and intimidating figure straight out of The Devil Wears Prada. Lindsay Hartley (Passions, All My Children) is Natalie Holland, a book editor from Portland who unfortunately hasn’t had good luck in relationships. But when Natalie accepts a job offer from a publishing friend in Los Angeles, she finds herself moving to the West Coast metropolis and working alongside Beverly. As if that weren’t enough, more complications arise when she meets a handsome surfer (Drew Fuller of Charmed) and a charming, successful LA attorney (Kieren Hutchison of One Tree Hill). As tensions mount at work and in romance, the young editor learns a lesson about judging a book by its cover and finds out that guys who look Perfect On Paper may not always be the better choice.

Friday 9/26: The Song (in theaters) Aspiring singer-songwriter Jed King (Alan Powell of Anthem Lights) struggles to catch a break and escape the long shadow of his father, a country music legend. After reluctantly accepting a gig at a local vineyard harvest festival, Jed is love-struck by the vineyard owner’s daughter, Rose (Ali Faulkner of Twilight: Breaking Dawn)  and romance quickly blooms. Soon after their wedding, Jed writes Rose The Song which becomes a breakout hit. Thrust into a life of stardom and a world of temptation in the form of fellow performer Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas of Nashville), Jed’s life and marriage begin to fall apart. Inspired by the Song of Solomon (known for its poetic language about love and lovers), The Song features 11 original songs with an American Roots flavor.

Friday 9/26: Believe Me (in theaters/on demand) Sam (Alex Russell) stands on stage as thousands of fans go wild. Smart, charismatic, handsome, he moves them with his message, and when he calls for donations to his charity, the money pours in. Only thing is, Sam doesn’t believe a word he’s saying.

When gruff and independent Candy meets her angry and stubborn birth mother, can the two open their hearts to each other? – See more at:
When gruff and independent Candy meets her angry and stubborn birth mother, can the two open their hearts to each other? – See more at: 9/20: Perfect on Paper (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/9:00 PM ET) Portland book editor Natalie Holland (Lindsay Hartley) has chosen the wrong guy – another underachiever – once again. With her life going nowhere fast, she accepts a job offer from publisher and friend Avery Goldstein (Haley Strode) and moves to Los Angeles. A woman of depth and principle, Portland chic Natalie is a fish out of water in LA. Things only get worse when she learns she’s been hired to edit the latest romance novel from bestselling author Beverly Wilcox (Morgan Fairchild), a powerful, glamorous and intimidating figure straight out of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Warily taking this assignment, Natalie struggles to maintain her integrity as she contends with Beverly’s criticisms and threats. Along the way, complications arise when she meets a handsome surfer (Drew Fuller) — who mentors a young boy (Bryce Clyde Jenkins) — and a charming, successful LA attorney (Kieren Hutchison). As tensions mount at work and in romance, the young editor learns a lesson about judging a book by its cover and finds out that guys who look “perfect on paper” may not always be the better choice.Friday 9/26: The Song (in theaters) The fictional story aspiring singer-songwriter Jed King (Alan Powell of Anthem Lights) as he struggles to catch a break and escape the long shadow of his father, a country music legend. After reluctantly accepting a gig at a local vineyard harvest festival, Jed is love-struck by the vineyard owner’s daughter, Rose (Ali Faulkner of Twilight: Breaking Dawn)and romance quickly blooms. Soon after their wedding, Jed writes Rose The Song which becomes a breakout hit. Thrust into a life of stardom and a world of temptation in the form of fellow performer Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas of Nashville), Jed’s life and marriage begin to fall apart. Inspired by the Song of Solomon (known for its poetic language about love and lovers), THE SONG features 11 original songs with an American Roots flavor.
Saturday 9/27: Midnight Masquerade (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/9:00 PM ET) Young businesswoman Elyse Samford’s (Autumn Reeser) life takes a turn when she inherits Samford Candy, a multi-billion dollar corporation, from her retired father (Richard Burgi). A trademark infringement lawsuit against a rival company brings Elyse to Higgins Attorneys and Sons, where Rob Carelli (Christopher Russell), a young, too-nice-for-his-own-good lawyer, is bullied by his boss, firm founder Carter Higgins (Chris Gillett), and his two arrogant sons (Damon Runyan and Danny Smith). Despite his workplace woes, Rob becomes instantly smitten with Elyse.
With Halloween just around the corner, Elyse invites the Higgins law firm staff to an opulent masked Halloween costume ball. Rob obeys an order to remain in the office working that night, but has a change of heart when his spunky, 12-year old niece, Ruby (Helen Colliander), convinces him to attend the ball wearing a prince costume. After a magnificent waltz and magical exchange with the handsome “prince,” Elyse yearns to locate this mysterious man and hopefully find the romance her life has been missing.  (Photo from Hallmark Channel)


Wednesday 10/1: Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (formerly Hallmark Movie Channel) officially launches. What does a channel that focuses largely on murder mysteries have to do with faith and inspiration? Personally, I find the focus on timelessly clever cat-and-mouse shows in the vein of Columbo, The Rockford Files and Murder, She Wrote over sexual predator-of-the-week fare like SUV and CSI and the other alphabet salad crime dramas currently in vogue at the broadcast networks. Those classic were diverting without being sleazy. And there is, actually, something inspirational in seeing oh-so-clever villains being brought down by actual good guys like Lt. Columbo, Jim Rockford or Jessica Fletcher.

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Friday 10/3: Left Behind (in theaters) Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) is piloting a commercial airliner just hours after the Rapture when millions of people around the globe simply vanish. Thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic, Rayford is faced with a damaged plane, terrified passengers, and a desperate desire to get back to his family. On the ground, his daughter, Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson) is among those left behind, forced to navigate a world of madness as she searches for her lost mother and brother. The movie is based on the New York Times bestselling book series of the same name, co-authored by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Based on the Bible and published in 32 different languages, the series has sold more than 65 million copies and is one of the best-selling fiction series of all time. Kirk Cameron headlined as earlier film adaptation of the book series in 2000.

Sunday 10/5: Nowhere Safe (UP Premiere Movie/7:00 PM ET) After two teen girls cruelly impersonate her online in a “reverse cyber bullying” plot, Ashley’s reputation is ruined. She and her mother Julie are ostracized, forcing them to flee an escalating threat to their lives. Starting over at a new school miles away, romantic interests and the poignant lessons from an eccentric history teacher draw them out of seclusion until they realize confronting a hurtful past is essential to ensure a brighter future. Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Jamie Kennedy, Danielle Chuchran.





Tuesday 10/7: Lights Out (Book)
Travis Freeman, the inspiration for the theatrical film 23 Blast (premiering 10/24), joins with co-author Rebeca Seitz to share his story in his own words. Plunged into a world of darkness at the age of 12 when illness stole his sight, Travis, whose dream of success on the football field obscured by darkness, held on to his belief that  God was still the light for his life. (Book cover photo from The Freeman Foundation website)

Tuesday 10/7:  St. Paul’s Choir School Christmas Album (Music)
As part of their initiative for The New Evangelization to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the school, the boys of St. Paul’s Choir School of St. Paul’s Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA have signed a recording deal with AimHigher Recordings. The first recording will be a Christmas album. The album can be pre-ordered here.

Saturday 10/11: Recipe For Love (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/9:00 PM ET) When Lauren Hennessey is assigned to ghostwrite a cookbook for TV chef Dexter Duran, she uncovers that he is not the bad boy that he pretends to be for his fans. Lauren falls for Dexter and is able to convince him to show his roots, but the TV network has other plans and the two of them must work to save their jobs and their relationship. Stars Danielle Panabaker, Shawn Roberts, Pascale Hutton and Amos Mitchell.

Sunday 10/12: Heavenly Match (UP Original Movie/7:00 PM ET) Life would be perfect for Reverend Casey Hart if it weren’t for parishioners who keel over during her sermons, steal money from the collection box and don’t believe a woman should be a minister.  Not to mention the very inconvenient feelings she is suddenly having for her long-time friend, fellow seminarian and verbal sparring partner, David Swenson.  It isn’t until Betsy is thrust into the position of senior minister for her church, however, that she discovers the real cause of her discontent: her fear of failing has become stronger than her faith in herself.  Stars Samaire Armstrong, Brendan Penny and LeToya Luckett.

Sunday 10/12: Along Came a Spider (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries/9:00 PM ET) When an upscale neighborhood is hit by a string of burglaries, an undercover cop poses as a nanny to investigate the crimes and finds himself falling for a beautiful, fellow nanny. Cameron Mathison (The Christmas Ornament) and Sarah Lancaster (Chuck) star with Valin Shinyei (Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle), Marcie Juiles (Along Came a Nanny) and Tom McBeath (Supernatural).

Tuesday 1/14: Here’s to the Ones (Music) The Rhett Walker Band’s sophomore album (via Essential/Sony). The title track, and theme of the album, is an All-American ode to the hard working middle class. The value of Faith will be celebrated in the song Love Like Jesus which, according to Walker “explores what it looks like to make the most of each day inside the context of our faith…It’s about living life to the fullest but I don’t believe we can unless we choose in every avenue of our life to always love like Jesus.”

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Wednesday 10/15: Mary of Nazareth (DVD/available for pre-order)
An epic motion picture on the life of Mary, mother of Christ, from her childhood through the Resurrection of Jesus. Shot in High Definition in Europe, the ambitious film seeks to capture the essence of Mary’s profound faith and trust in God amidst the great mysteries that she lived with as the Mother of the Messiah, as well as her compassionate humanity, concern for others and the deep love that she and Jesus shared for one another, her special role in God’s plan for our redemption, the tremendous suffering that she endured in union with his passion and death and as her serene joy at His Resurrection. Directed by acclaimed European film director Giacomo Campiotti (Bakhita, Doctor Zhivago, St. Giuseppe Moscati), and written by Francesco Arlanch (Restless Heart, Pius XII, Pope John Paul II). Alissa Jung plays Mary. Andreas Pietschmann portrays Jesus. For information on arranging parish and school screenings click here. For info on the companion book click here.

Saturday 10/18:  My Boyfriends’ Dogs (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/9:00 PM ET) Bailey Daley has wound up single and the proud owner of her boyfriends’ dogs. What went wrong? As Bailey recounts her failed quest to finding the perfect guy, she discovers the secret to true love might have been right under her nose all along. Stars Erika Christensen, Teryl Rothery, and Joyce DeWitt.

Sunday 10/19: If I Had Wings (UP World Premiere Movie/7:00 PM ET) Seventeen year old Alex Taylor dreams of flying. He also dreams of running for his high school’s cross-country track team. Both dreams seem equally out of reach as Alex has been blind since the age of two. Alex, determined to run, practices with his father, probation officer Geoff Taylor. Geoff, with additional girth and age working against him, finds that he no longer can keep up with his son, a gifted runner. He must find a running partner at the school fast enough to help Alex make the cross-country team. This help comes from the unlikeliest of sources. Brad Coleman, a schoolmate of Alex’s, spends most of his time running from the law. Brad is caught in a pathetic daytime robbery attempt and faces incarceration for repeat offenses. Geoff makes a deal to keep Brad out of jail and back in school. He pairs the two boys, opposite in many ways, together. And despite a rocky start because of their many differences, an unlikely friendship forms.  Stars: Richard Harmon, Jaren Brandt Bartlett, Jill Hennessy (Law & Order, Crossing Jordan), Craig Bierko (Cinderella Man).  American Idol 2009 finalist Scott MacIntyre, who is also blind, was recruited to write the words and music to the theme song.

Sunday 10/19: Wedding Planner Mystery (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries/9:00 PM ET) A young wedding planner is framed for a crime and struggles to clear her name as she learns that love does not always arrive in a pretty package. Based on Deborah Donnelly’s novel Veiled Threats.

Thursday 10/23: The 17th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (PBS/check your local listings)
Taped Sunday 10/16 at The Kennedy Center,  Jay Leno will be honored by his Tonight Show successor Jimmy Fallon and his longtime band leader Kevin Eubanks, as well as Jerry Seinfeld, Betty White and others.  

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Friday 10/24: 23 Blast (in theaters)
Inspired by the true life events of Travis Freeman (see Lights Out above) who played football for Corbin High School in the mid 1990’s despite being blind. The film stars Stephen Lang (Avatar, Terra Nova), Alexa Vega (Spy Kids, Machete Kills), Mark Hapka (Day of Our Lives, Criminal Minds), Max Adler (Glee), Bram Hoover, Kim Zimmer (Guiding Light, One Life to Live), Becky Ann Baker (Men in Black, Freaks and Geeks, A Simple Plan) Timothy Busfield (Field of Dreams, thirtysomething), Dylan Baker (who also directed) and Fred D. Thompson (Sinister, Law & Order, Die Hard 2).

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Friday 10/24: Return to the Hiding Place (in theaters) The multi award-winning World War II action-packed drama portrays the rescue of Dutch Jews during the Holocaust and shares the compelling story of a young band of passionate teens that form their own Resistance Army. In May 2014, Return to the Hiding Place opened in select cities as part of a highly successful limited release and ranked in the Top 5 for per screen average reaching $7,338.40 per screen (3-day) in its opening weekend.  The 3-day weekend concluded with the film garnering an impressive box office total of $49,692 on only six screens. For the record, I reviewed the film then and loved it.

Sunday 10/26: Garage Sale Mystery: All That Glitters (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries/9:00 PM ET)
The adventures of Jennifer Shannon continue. Lori Loughlin (When Calls the Heart, 90210) stars with   Steve Bacic (When Calls the Heart), Sarah Strange (Motive), Brendan Meyer (The Christmas Ornament) also star in the second installment of the Garage Sale Mystery movie series with Loughlin as a sleuthing yard sale treasure hunter who uses her keen eye to solve crimes.  The Garage Sale Mystery movies are based on the book by author Suzi Weinert.

Jennifer Shannon (Loughlin) has a gift for finding rare treasures hidden in garage sales that she can resell at her consignment store, Rags to Riches.  But her keen eye for finding valuables also gets her involved in the criminal investigations that happen at the very second-hand sales she frequents.  When Jennifer’s friend and self-storage facility owner Martin (Michael Kopsa) turns up murdered—just hours after auctioning off an abandoned storage unit full of unique items to Jennifer—she is immediately pulled on the case as a key eyewitness.  Working with Detective Lynwood (Kevin O’Grady), Jennifer helps single out a disgruntled customer as the Prime Suspect, while she and her business partner, Danielle (Strange), sift through boxes from the auction.  As her husband Jason (Bacic) worries about her safety, Jennifer starts to get over her head when there is a break-in at her store, and a run-in with Martin’s angry wife.  Then, Jennifer and Danielle discover their new merchandise contains the sparkly evidence they needed all along to nail the surprising real culprit, and they must race to save a life—and put their own on the line. (Photo from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries)
Thursday 10/30: The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards 2014 (Hallmark Channel Special/9:00 PM ET) Hosted by Terry Bradshaw and Beth Stern. Heroes + Dogs + What’s not to love?
Friday 10/31: God the Father (in theaters) Per Variety: “God the Father,” produced by Moshe Diamant and directed by Simon Fellows, documents the life and spiritual transformation of Michael Franzese, son of Colombo underboss John “Sonny” Franzese…Franzese followed his father’s profession as a mobster, making his reputation in schemes such as an elaborate gasoline bootlegging scheme that involved collecting gas taxes and not paying the government. He renounced the life of crime in 1987 and began seeking redemption as a Christian. “God The Father” includes graphic novel-style animation, re-enactments, archival news footage and interviews. Franzese co-wrote the script with Moshe Diamant.
Also in October
The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot by Jay Richards & Jonathan Witt (Ignatius Press)
As the Ignatius website states “Anyone who has read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings can gather that their author hated tyranny, but few know that the novelist who once described himself as a hobbit “in all but size” was—even by hobbit standards—a zealous proponent of economic freedom and small government. There is a growing concern among many that the West is sliding into political, economic, and moral bankruptcy. In his beloved novels of Middle-Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien has drawn us a map to freedom.”

Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from Saint Thomas Aquinas (Ignatius Press)
Also from the Ignatius website: “From a lifetime of studying the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, popular author Peter Kreeft says that his amazement has continually increased not only at Aquinas’ theoretical, philosophical brilliance and sanity, but also at his personal, practical wisdom, his “existential bite.” Yet this second dimension of St. Thomas has usually been eclipsed by the other. Kreeft wrote this book to help bring that sun out from its eclipse. He provides easily digestible samples of the religious wisdom of Aquinas.”
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Saturday 11/15: Northpole (Hallmark Channel Original Movie/8:00 PM ET) Santa (Robert Wagner) and Mrs. Claus’s (Jill St. John) magical home, Northpole, has grown into a huge city powered by the magic of holiday happiness around the world. Yet the city is in trouble, as people everywhere are too busy to enjoy festive time together.  One of these stressed-out souls is Chelsea (Tiffani Thiessen), a single mom who is trying to get noticed at her new reporting job while helping her ten-year-old son Kevin (Max Charles) adjust to a new school. When he starts talking about real elves and actual sleigh rides, she worries that his imagination has gotten out of control. With a little added help from Kevin’s charming teacher Ryan (Josh Hopkins), a mysterious elf, Clementine (Bailee Madison), and a gospel singer named Josephine (Candice Glover), Chelsea may learn that even chasing down the facts can lead to holiday magic.

Sunday 11/16: Paper Angels (UP Original Movie/7:00 PM ET)* In Paper Angels, abused wife Lynn (Josie Bissett), leaves her alcoholic husband Darryl (Russell Porter), with her two kids, Thomas (Rustin Gresiuk) and Sara (Farryn Van Humbeck) and move to another town where she works as a waitress to make ends meet.  In that same town, we meet Kevin (Matthew Settle), whose Marketing & Design company is on the brink of shutting down due to the economy.  Plus, Kevin’s wife Jenny (Kendra Anderson) is in a difficult pregnancy with twins.  Thomas starts a new school and becomes the target of a bully who is threatened by how well he plays basketball.  Unable to join the high school team, Thomas goes to the community center where he meets Kevin and the two of them become unlikely friends through pickup basketball games.  Little do they know the tremendous impact they will have on each other’s families this Christmas through The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program.  Inspired by the hit holiday song by country star Jimmy Wayne and book by Wayne with Travis Thrasher.* Tentative date & time

Date/Time TBA: Nativity! (UP Premiere Movie)This Christmas, primary school teacher Paul Maddens is charged with producing the school’s nativity play. Competing against the posh rival school for the honor of best reviewed show in town, the stakes are raised when Paul idly boasts that his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, a Hollywood Producer, is coming to see his show with a view to turning it into a film. The only trouble is – they haven’t spoken in years. With eccentric assistant Mr. Poppy fueling his ‘little white lie’, Maddens suddenly finds himself a local celebrity and at the center of quarreling parents and over-excited children desperate in their bid for fame and fortune. Maddens’ only hope is to get back in touch with Jennifer and lure Hollywood to town so that everybody’s Christmas wishes come true. Stars Martin Freeman, Marc Wootton, Jason Watkins.

Date/Time TBA: Naughty & Nice (UP Original Movie)
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Los Angeles and commuters have Pepper Sweeney, a cynical and funny radio comic to keep them entertained. When Pepper’s latest radio antics anger an important advertising executive,  he gets shipped over to sister station, KBRG, in Idyllwild, Colorado to serve out his suspension until the dust blows over. Samantha McCoy, following in her father’s footsteps, loves radio and came home to Harrison to host her own talk show. She is unapologetically romantic and nostalgic, especially at Christmastime. She is immediately at odds with Pepper who never met a sentiment he couldn’t twist into a punch line and has no use for Christmas. When Samantha and Pepper’s “war of words” catches the attention of the small town, their joint show becomes a hint and they start to see something in each other brought to the surface by the romantic holiday season.  Stars: Haylie Duff, Tilky Jones, Maureen McCormick.

Date/Time TBA: 12 Dog Days of Christmas (UP Premiere Movie) When a foster teenager, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble, is assigned to work at a no-kill animal shelter for his community service, he finds a sense of responsibility  and real connection for the first time in his life and the true spirit of Christmas.  The shelter’s owner finds that she can no longer afford to fund the shelter and the clock begins to tick to get all the dogs placed in loving homes before Christmas. Filming in Marion, SC (near Myrtle Beach, SC) Stars: Reginald VelJohnson, Vincent Giovagnoli, Lexi Giovagnoli, Lunden D’Leon (Somebody’s Child).

Date/Time TBA: The Tree That Saved Christmas (UP Original Movie) Imaginative, hard-working Molly Logan (Lacey Chabert) grew up on her family’s generations-old The Tree That Saved Christmas  in rural Vermont and would often write stories about individual trees as they shipped out, her favorite being a “Charlie Brown” tree struggling to grow.  One day, after hearing the roar of buzz saws used to clear the woods of sickly saplings, nine-year-old Molly (Olivia Steele-Falconer) ran to save her favorite – even after her father Gordon (Eric Keenleyside) and his crew had made a gash in its trunk.  She knew that someday this little tree would have a story to tell.  Now 29, Molly lives in Manhattan and is pursuing her dreams of a writing career.  Unfortunately as an assistant to Pendant Publishing CEO Walter Dunlap (Jim Thorburn), Molly has no life and little chance to write.  Buried with work and Mr. Dunlap’s personal Christmas plans, Molly is devastated to learn from her architect brother Ryan (Matthew Anderson) that the bank is foreclosing on her parents’ heritage tree farm.  This will be her family’s last Christmas at the farm as all the trees will be cleared to make way for a golf course.  However, a frustrated Molly can’t make it home thanks to obligations to her boss and his young daughters Victoria (Yasmeene Lily-Elle Ball) and Sofia (Alisha Newton).  Much to her shock, Molly discovers that the Christmas tree she ordered for the Dunlap home is that same one she saved years ago, down to the distinctive gash on its trunk.  Certain that it is the same tree from her youth – and a sign – Molly drags the tree back to her Vermont home and embarks upon a plan to save the family farm – with some surprising, inventive help from her brother and former boyfriend Lucas (Corey Sevier), who now works at the bank for his father Elliot (James Kidnie).


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Wednesday 12/12: Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters) Director Ridley Scott‘s epic take on how Moses (Christian Bale) and the Israelite flights from Egypt.

Tuesday 12/25 (Christmas Day): Unbroken (in theaters): Angelina Jolie directs the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who overcame great odds after being Japanese forces during World War II. Based on the biography Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Giver” producers to donate 50¢ of each Labor Day ticket sale to children’s literacy campaign

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

I’m officially on a break until next Tuesday but this time-sensitive item popped into my in-box is worth noting.

Giving back.  As part of its continuing efforts to promote literacy and in order to provide books to those children in America most in need, Walden Media and the Weinstein Company (TWC) have partnered with the National Education Association’s Read Across America to launch the “Ticket to a Better World” initiative.  Fifty cents of each The Giver movie ticket sold during Labor Day Weekend will be donated to the Ticket to a Better World initiative to raise up to a quarter of a million dollars to buy books for those children most in need.

 Walden Executive Francis X. “Chip” Flaherty stated, “The Giver affirms our belief that individuals must have the freedom to pursue and fulfill their dreams.  That freedom is precisely the gift that reading and literacy provide.  Every time you put a book in the hands of a child, you unleash the power of imagination and hope that can change the world.  We are honored to partner with Read Across America to launch the ‘Ticket to a Better World’ campaign and get books into the hands of kids who need them the most.”

 “Books open the floodgates to understanding and to learning,” says Anita Merina, national coordinator of NEA’s Read Across America. “This generous initiative will help us bring books like The Giver, onto the shelves and into the lives of so many children. At a time when access to books is so critical in the learning life of a child, this initiative is very exciting indeed.”

Commented TWC Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein, “Behind this incredible movie that TWC and Walden are so proud of is one of the most beloved books of our time. Joining forces with the NEA’s fantastic Read Across America initiative is a perfect opportunity to support the cause for literacy behind the powerful name of The Giver.”

 To help support please visit:

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 Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Game” stands tall + a director to watch + Edward James Olmos and Grant Goodeve back in the TV saddle

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Touchdown! Coming on the heels of last weekend’s excellent The Giver, the quality winning streak of faith-themed films continues with When the Game Stand Tall (opening tomorrow, 8/22). Both films — while totally different in genre and tone — are remarkable and noteworthy examples of how to tell stories that touch on positive themes of faith without being didactic or preachy.  Anyone who aspires to make movies that advance the values faith should watch these two movies for pointers on finding the balance between getting a message across and telling a compelling story.

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Synopsis (from Sony Pictures): Inspired by a true story, When the Game Stands Tall tells the remarkable journey of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport. (Rated PG)
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Clancy Brown and Laura Dern
Directed by: Thomas Carter
Screenplay by: Scott Marshall Smith
Story by: Scott Marshall Smith and David Zelon (based on the book by Neil Hayes)

Review: Imagine if Rocky III was the first Rocky movie and was about football instead of boxing and you pretty much have the basic plot of When the Game Stands Tall which, unlike those Rocky movies, is based on a true story. But I gotta tell ya’, like Rocky III, the movie scores big time.

Just as the original Rocky debuted in the midst of the troubled and cynical 1970′s, When the Game Stands Tall stands out as a beacon for this generation that heroism (and real-life heroes like Bob Ladouceur) do exist and that coming back in times of adversity is possible. That’s a message this county certainly needs to hear right now.

And, yes, the Catholic faith of Ladouceur (who, besides coaching, is a religious studies teacher) is presented in a positive (as opposed to ham-handed) style. It’s just there and part of who he is. Jim Caviezel, who, of course, is known for playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and for his current hit TV series Person of Interest,  is just so right for the part.

I’m also a big fan of Michael Chiklis who has had one of the most interesting acting careers out there. Perhaps best known as the corrupt cop in The Shield,  he also played the mobster in the 2012 TV series Vegas, the superhero dad in No Ordinary Family, The Thing in the Fantastic Four movies and “Curly” Howard of The Three Stooges.  Still, he’ll always be The Commish to me — one of the most-underrated of TV sleuths.  Now, he can add the real-life role of Assistant Coach Terry Eidson to his diverse array of credits. And, like Caviezel, he inhabits the part to such a degree that it seems like it was written specifically for him.

Laura Dern is also good as Ladouceur’s loyal wife who helps bring him through dark times that, beyond the snapping of a winning streak, include a near fatal heart attack and the senseless killing of the team’s beloved linebacker Terrance T.K. Kelly (Stephan James).

Along with James, the young actors portraying the young Spartans are all appealing without being bland. Subplots include a talented running back (Alexander Ludwig) with a father (Clancy Brown) whose dreams for his son’s promising football career crosses the border of obsession.  Another subplot involves a player who is determined to remain celibate until marriage — but that’s handled as more of a character detail rather than a subject of a sermon.

Much of the creative success of When the Game Stands Tall belongs to director Thomas Carter who is equally adept as staging thrilling football sequences and small character-revealing scenes that provide the basis for actually caring about who wins and who loses — both on and off the field.

Carter’s credits include the TV movie Gifted Hands, about the brilliant and compassionate brain surgeon (and, I hope, future presidential candidate) Ben Carson. BTW, I’d love to see Carter do a TV series based on Gifted Hands, even if, for political reasons, the protagonists name had to be changed. The idealistic character is a great relief from TV’s decade-long fixation on House-like snarky physicians.  But I digress.

The bottom line is When the Game Stands Tall is Highly Recommended.


Newly-released on video: Creed of Gold

Synopsis (from the Crystal Creek Media website): (An) unlikely (of college students) trio faces off against the entire international monetary system in a saga that takes them from the Red Square in Moscow, Russia to the streets of New York City. Father-son team, Producer Mark Knudsen and Director Daniel Knudsen bring an intellectually-based, family adventure drama to the big screen with the story of Adam Smith, a college student who against all odds must clear his father’s name and protect the interests of the world from those who would exploit it.

Review: Creed of Gold has a very intriguing plot that sort of plays into the conspiratorial zeitgeist of modern times and is endorsed by the Dove Foundation for delivering a “gripping drama makes a statement that God has laws which must be obeyed or consequences will follow.”  But, while director Daniel Knudsen definitely knows how to wield a camera and delivers an amazingly sweeping saga on a less-than-epic budget, the script suffers from some wooden dialogue that would have benefited from some polishing. It, of course, doesn’t help that the unnatural dialogue is delivered by largely unseasoned actors.  Moreover, as if to qualify as a faith-based film, what is essentially a political thriller is weighed down by periodic sermonizing that seems forced and weighs down the story. Plus, National Treasure-esque plot lines sort of require rousing sequences — particularly in the climaxes — that this movie, for obvious budget reasons, can’t quite deliver.

Still, as a director, Daniel Knudsen shows visual flair and promise. Keep an eye on him.


Web Short House of the Righteous debuts on INSP’s on Monday (8/25)

Western stars Edward James Olmos and Grant Goodeve. The ten-minute film from respected cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos tells a Twilight Zone-like story of citizens of a small western town who must face down evil in the absence of their sheriff. features original scripted and documentary that celebrate love, hope, faith, valor and other timeless truths in action. Previous offering have featured the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, Kirk Cameron and the late Ralph Waite. The MOMENTS video series has won a Telly Award, a Summit Creative Award, a New York Festivals Film & Television Award, a CBC Media Award and special recognition from the Department of Defense for “service to our country.”

Note: I’m taking off until after Labor Day. Till then…

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Summer Snow” lands on UP TV

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Summer Snow on UP TV tomorrow night (8/17) @ 8:00 PM (ET)

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Synopsis: 8-year old Hallie Benson (Rachel Eggleston) has a heart that’s bigger than she is. She’s always thinking of creative and unconventional ways to help those around her. Whether it’s baking cookies for cranky neighbors or selling toothbrushes to raise money for a needy friend, Hallie’s acts of kindness always seem to leave a terrible mess for her Dan Benson (David Chisum). Dan is a dentist who is struggling with suddenly becoming a single father following the recent death of his wife. Besides Hallie, Dan is also raising Hallie’s high school-age brother David (Garrett Backstrom). Older sister Julie (Cameron Goodman), meanwhile, is newly engaged and has an unmarried roommate who is considering an abortion.  

Produced by American Family Studios and filmed in Lexington, Kentucky, Summer Snow stars Rachel Eggleston (Bereave, House MD), David Chisum (Flight of the Living Dead, Black Box), Cameron Goodman (Benjamin Troubles, 90210), Garrett Backstrom (The Motel Life, Lab Rats), Matthew Alan (The Surrogate) and Brett Rice (Moms’ Night Out, The Blind Side). The film is written and directed by the brother/sister team of Jeremy White and Kendra White. Executive producers are Dave Johnson, Tim Wildmon and Jeff Chamblee.

Will Summer Snow melt your heart? The short answer is yes — at least if, like me, you believe life to be edgy enough and find warm-hearted dramedies like this a good reminder that people can make the choice to be kind. Still, I have to admit a couple of scenes tested even my sugar capacity.

My first minor bone to pick the film is what the heck does the title mean? It’s touching and all, perhaps I missed something, but I really didn’t really get what it had to do with anything that was actually going on in the story. The title would have made a lot more sense to me if instead of Hallie Benson the girl at the center of the story was actually Summer Snow — you know, with Dr. Dan Snow being her father.

As to the story itself, it veers between being very believable in some scenes to a little over-the-top with the cutesiness in others. Most of the latter scenes actually involves Hallie and her friendship with Isabel, a shy immigrant classmate who needs — but cannot pay for — dental work. The storyline is fine but the execution was a little forced. Also, the relationship between Hallie and her grumpy neighbor Mr. Jenkins (a character similar to Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace) seems to switch from “Don’t bother me, kid” to sweet and touching in an unnatural flash.

If the cute-o-meter on those scenes were just dialed back from an 11 to say a 9, Summer Snow would have been a more consistently-real family comedy-drama in the vein of the classic family series Eight is Enough. Like that show (one of my all-time favorites), the writers balance multiple storylines involving each member of the Benson family with finesse. There’s also a nice balance between warm-hearted family drama and genuinely-witty dialogue (even amidst some serious situations).

While there’s no denying the cuteness and screen presence of young Rachel Eggleston, to me the best-written scenes actually involved Cameron Goodman as her older sister Julie and her concern for the life of her roommate’s unborn child — a concern that threatens her own upcoming marriage. That storyline rings completely true — with the scenes between Julie and her father and Julie and her fiancé providing what I found to be the real meat of the story.

Like many of UP’s films, the characters in Summer Snow are the type of people I wouldn’t mind following in a series. In any event, Summer Snow is recommended.

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posted 2:46:06pm Sep. 02, 2014 | read full post »

"Giver" producers to donate 50¢ of each Labor Day ticket sale to children's literacy campaign
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. I'm officially on a break until next Tuesday but this time-sensitive item popped into my in-box is worth noting. Giving back.  As part of its continuing efforts to promote literacy and in order to provide books to t

posted 3:15:19pm Aug. 29, 2014 | read full post »

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posted 10:15:58am Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

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posted 12:57:12am Aug. 17, 2014 | read full post »

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