Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

“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, as is 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.

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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 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 it to qualify as a faith-based film, what is essentially a political thriller is weighed down by periodic sermonizing that that seems forced and weighs down the story. Plus, National Treasure-esque plot lines sort of require rousing sequences — particularly in the climaxes — that 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.

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Web Short House of the Righteous debuts on INSP’s MOMENTS.org 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.

MOMENTS.org 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.

Support “The Giver”

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

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The Giver is in theaters nationwide.

Synopsis: The Giver (Jeff Bridges) is designated by a future society that confuses conformity with peace to be sole bearer of the violent truth of human history.  Now, the time has come for him to pass his knowledge on to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a teenager who has been chosen by the authoritarian government to be the next generation’s truth keeper. Give The Giver a look. I’ve already reviewed The Giver but my strong endorsement bears stressing.  The Giver is powerful storytelling that successfully combines action, heart and thought-provoking subject matter with excellent performances (particularly by Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep but also by Brenton Thwaites and the younger cast). The Giver is that modern movie that is genuinely cross-generational in its appeal and makes a great case for exercising caution when it comes to making trade-offs between security and liberty. Plus, there’s the absolutely gutsy way the filmmakers take on the issue of language manipulation. People with physical imperfections, for example, aren’t murdered by the state, they are “released.” The Giver combines the best of the classic Twilight Zone TV series and current YA blockbusters (i.e.  The Hunger Games and Divergent). It is big, it is deep and it is worthy of audience support.

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

Inside Story: How and why Walden Media and The Weinstein Company joined forces for “The Giver”

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

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What will you take from The Giver? As I noted in my review, The Giver — which open in theaters tomorrow (8/15) — is quite simply a great film. Its thought-provoking themes involving privacy, security versus freedom, the manipulation of language for social ends and the value of all human life will speak to virtually everyone regardless of age, religion or politics.

In a nutshell, the film, which is based on the 1993 Newbery Medal-winning book by Lois Lowry, tells the story of The Giver (Jeff Bridges) who is designated by a future society that confuses conformity with peace to be sole bearer of the violent truth of human history, and his teen protégé Jonas (Brenton Thwaites). When Jonas begins to question the ultimate wisdom of the authoritarian government (as personified by Chief Elder chillingly played by Meryl Streep) he finds himself putting his own life in danger to save a physically-imperfect infant due to be “released” from the burden of existence. A captivating scene in which Bridges’ and Streep’s characters debate how far the government should go in providing stability and security for its people is alone worth the price of admission.

The film is co-produced by The Weinstein Company and Walden Media. I just spoke with Walden Executive V.P. Chip Flaherty who spoke with me about the box office outlook, how and the co-production deal with Weinstein came about what he personally hopes people take away from The Giver.

JWK: The Giver is getting a lot of good reviews.

CHIP FLAHERTY: We’re getting great reviews…We’ve made a lot of book adaptations over the years. We’ve been successful with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Holes, Bridge to Terabithia, Charlotte’s Web…In terms of its quality, in terms of its all-star cast, in terms of being faithful to the book, I would say this movie is one of the best, if not the best movie, that Walden has ever done. 

JWK: The Giver, of course, is based on a popular YA novel from the nineties. What attracted you — and Walden Media — to this particular story?

CF: It’s funny, John, because…when Walden started14 years ago, it was the first book property that we ever went after. We just loved it…Jeff Bridges had optioned the rights and we tried to do something with him but we couldn’t get the script that we thought did the book justice. And then it went away and eventually Nikki Silver, who is the producer and Jeff Bridges were able to get it landed at The Weinstein Company. The Weinstein Company, as all distributors do, they looked for a production partner and they came to us first because they knew we loved it. We jumped at the chance because we always felt like this was the one that got away.  It worked out great.   

JWK: The Weinstein Company and Walden Media is an interesting pairing. I wouldn’t necessarily think of you guys as being attracted to the same property.

CF: Harvey Weinstein had a great quote the other night at the premiere. He said this movie reminds us that there’s a lot of common ground in America. There’s more that we have in common, that unites us, than separates us. I think that’s why The Giver speaks to so many people…Even like the government surveillance thing.  One way in The Giver that the government is able to keep control is that they are able to keep surveillance on everything. I think all of us want to feel safe (but) we don’t want to trade away all of our freedom for safety. I think that’s just one of the points of common ground that the film brings out.

On its face, you might not think the two companies would hook up but look at the pedigree of stuff that The Weinstein Company has done over the years…the high quality that they do. This (The Giver) is a Newbery Award-winning book that sold 11 million copies.  Walden’s stock and trade for over a decade has been book adaptation. You start to dig down a little deeper and think about it, the more you’re like “Wow! This is a pairing that makes all the sense in the world!”

JWK: Besides the idea drones and government surveillance which, of course, is extremely timely, I like the way the story touches on issues of freedom of thought — the idea that for there to be peace everyone has to agree about everything.

CF: Exactly. You know, I think the great thing about The Weinstein Company and Harvey is that they practice classic liberalism. They ask the big questions and they produce movies that make the audience ask the big questions. What does it mean to be free? How much would you trade of your freedom in order to get a sense of security? What is the role of free will (with regard to) the individual and the government? All of these things that are big ideas.

(In your review) you nailed a lot of the key points. To be able to get profound, big questions like that — you know, asking what kind of communities we all want to live in and things like that — to ask those big questions through such an entertaining film with an all-star cast is a great thing.

JWK: With the success of the Hunger Games films and Divergent, The Giver seems to be poised to hit with the same young adult audience that made those movies hits.

CF: Great point! You know, the ironic thing is Lois Lowry’s book The Giver came out in 1993. So, it’s really the first of these dystopian books…Others have beaten it to the screen which reminds us a lot of the (situation) we had with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe…A lot of these kind of fantasy type movies — like Harry Potter — had done so well on film — and then The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out and everyone was like “Oh, it’s a lot like Harry Potter.” We’d remind people “Well, actually, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out four decades before Harry Potter came out.

JWK: I think one of the most controversial aspects of the movie may be its subtle — but there — pro-life theme. On the other hand, from what I hear about polling of younger people, they are trending pro-life.

CF: At its heart, the film is a celebration of free will in life (and) love. There is no poverty and there’s 100 percent employment. One way that the government is able to do that is that the sick and the old are “released.”  You’ve seen the film, so you know that term “released” means killed. So, it really raises those questions of when things get difficult. When (person is old) or a person who is sick, what responsibilities do families and even the government have to watch out (for them) and take care of them rather than to do what, on the surface, seems the easier thing…I really think in that way it’s a celebration of life. As individuals, it really asks us (as) family people and (as participants in) the government, (what) role we have in protecting the most vulnerable — the old, the sick in our society.

JWK: That terms “released” is sort of Orwellian.

CF: I think if you look at Animal Farm — if you look at a lot of great, great books — and if you look at a lot of totalitarian regimes it is very reminiscent of the fact that a culture or those in power can use the language and use words to control messaging and control the people. This thing is just a treasure trove of big questions and big concepts (including) the way that language can kind of control the way people think about a given thing. I think when you look at those little girls at the beginning of the movie it’s so interesting because they talk about who was caught and “released” to Elsewhere and the little girl goes “I want to be released and go to Elsewhere” and they’re like “Oh, no, honey, you’re too young.” But it goes to show that she was already embracing the concept. Because of the language, she didn’t understand what it meant.

JWK: How is the film tracking?

CF: The tracking is as strong as it’s been for any Walden film. The other thing too that’s interesting is that tracking usually measures typical moviegoers who go a number of times in a year. I think with this movie — and the kind of publicity and press we’ve gotten when you see Cal Thomas and Michael Gerson and a number of people — there was a great article in The Wall Street Journal — when you look at all of the favorable press that we’ve gotten from non-traditional movie outlets, we really think we have a chance to have something special here this weekend. Even the non-typical moviegoer — lovers of the book and lovers of these huge themes — I think will show up as well.

JWK: I know Laura Ingraham is among those supporting the film.

CF: Yeah, she saw it just like you did…She was blown away. Again, the nice thing is people are blown away by the star-studded cast and the fact that it’s based on a book that sold 11 million copies. It’s still read in schools and is on basically every state’s summer reading list for kids to read over the summer or to read during the school year. To get all those (big questions) into a so-called typical Hollywood movie is (amazing). It reminds me of a Transformers meets The Twilight Zone.  It’s a huge summer movie with a great cast but, just like The Twilight Zone used to do, it really tells a great story (that) really makes us reflect upon the much bigger issues and questions of the day.

JWK:  If even said that in my review — that it reminds me of the classic Rod Serling/Twilight Zone style of storytelling which, of course, is a compliment.

CF: Exactly! You’re dead-on on that. That’s one of the things I think Lois’ book did so well that is one of the things we really tried to hold onto. I thank the Lord the film accomplishes that.

JWK:  Any possible sequels?

CF: Lois did sequels. There is book source material to do so…You know, it’s an interesting dystopia because it really starts with the best of intentions. You have people in authority trying to end pain, trying to prevent poverty, trying to prevent starvation. So, it really starts for all of the best reasons and then, like anything, when you try to control the individual that much it leads to bad things. I always thought a great movie would be like a prequel where see how they got to this point.

But, yeah, if this does well, the concepts are so big and the characters are so interesting, (we would) certainly look and see if we could do another.

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


Previous Posts

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

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

"Summer Snow" lands on UP TV
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) [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck0fkslZ0sc[/youtube] Synopsis: 8-year old Hallie Benson (Rachel Eggleston) has a heart that's bigger than she is.

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

Support "The Giver"
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvp6FnYWRZU[/youtube] The Giver is in theaters nationwide. Synopsis: The Giver (Jeff Bridges) is designated by a future society that confuses conformity with peace to be sol

posted 3:33:35pm Aug. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Inside Story: How and why Walden Media and The Weinstein Company joined forces for "The Giver"
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvp6FnYWRZU[/youtube] What will you take from The Giver? As I noted in my review, The Giver -- which open in theaters tomorrow (8/15) -- is quite simply a great film. Its thoug

posted 10:03:26am Aug. 15, 2014 | read full post »

At the movies: "The Giver" is great!
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNNugNe0Wo[/youtube] In theaters Friday (8/15) Synopsis: The Giver (Jeff Bridges) is designated by a future society that confuses conformity with peace to be sole bearer of

posted 12:57:39pm Aug. 12, 2014 | read full post »


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