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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

I’m taking a couple of weeks off. In the meantime, here are some top choices to keep an eye at the movies and on television.

4/21/17 – Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in Theaters this weekend: Set in 1914 as World War I looms, The Promise is a romantic epic set in Turkey during the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire.  Constantinople, the once vibrant, multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosporus, is about to be consumed by anti-Armenian fervor that leads to attempted genocide. .

Caught up in the chaos are Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian medical student determined to his ancestral village Southern Turkey where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries. Photo-journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), is covering the historic events, accompanied by his love for Ana (Charlotte le Bon), an Armenian artist he has accompanied from Paris after the sudden death of her father.

When Michael meets Ana, a romantic rivalry is sparked between the two men who, nonetheless, share a commitment to saving Armenian Christians from the Turkish government.

Worth Noting on TV:  The 10-episode miniseries Genius debuts on National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, April 25 @ 9:00 PM ET. Geoffrey Rush stars as Albert Einstein in a biography executive produced by Academy-award winners Brian Grazer & Ron Howard.
Regarding faith, Einstein often spoke of a higher power and clearly realized the limits of science alone.
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” — Albert Einstein
If Einstein had a religion, it may have been summed up as relentless humility. He accepted the label of agnostic but said “I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

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

 

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

Stephen Baldwin stars in the one-man show Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night with the Thief on the Cross currently available on Digital HD at ChristianCinema.com.
Unlocking the Bible and Lightbeam Media, a contemporary Christian content provider founded by Baldwin and MyPillow mastermind Mike Lindell,  have partnered to produce the one-hour film Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night with the Thief on the Cross, based on a by Pastor Colin Smith. The narrative features the born-again Baldwin (The Usual Suspects, The Flintstones) offering an emotional posthumous first-person account of a man who wrestled with deep despair and shame while hanging on a cross alongside Jesus. Based on the story of the Crucifixion found in Luke 23, the play imagines the details of the backstory of the thief, a man who hardly seemed a candidate for sainthood but to whom Jesus promised an eternity with him in paradise.

Baldwin also portrays multiple other characters in the production which he initially performed to sold-out crowds of over 5,000 people as a one-man play in 2015 at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Some critics acclaimed that Baldwin delivers  “the performance of his career” as the Thief.

 

5 Questions for Stephen Baldwin

JWK: How did you become involved with a stage adaptation of the book Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross?

STEPHEN BALDWIN: I had been working on a radio show a couple of years back. Through the radio program, the radio ministry of the gentleman who wrote the book, Pastor Colin Smith, reached out to me just to see if Id’ be interested in recording an audio book for Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross. So, as I started talking with them, then came the idea of, well, maybe this could turn in to a larger opportunity .

(They asked) “Would you consider doing this as a one-man show or a staged show?”  I said “Well, no, I really have no interest in doing that, whatsoever.” You know, doing a one-man show live in front of an audience is challenging (and a big commitment). But when I started thinking abut it, started talking about it and, most importantly, started praying about it, I felt God say to me “I want you to do this.” I quite honestly said “I don’t think I want to do this, Lord.”

…For me, at the time I was developing some film projects and was really more interested in doing the movie things and creating some Christian films. So, not Easter last year but Easter the year before, I did the one performance of the live show and as I’m doing the show I’m going “Boy, we should be filming this!” It was just kind of one progression led to the next progression, led to the next, led to the next.

Then last Easter, my new company Lightbeam Media was able to (partner) with that radio ministry called Unlocking the Bible and we were able, through my company, to being in some filmers and set cameras to the theater…S0, we filmed that last Easter and all this last year we’ve been doing the color correction and editing….We filmed six performances.

…The thing that made this (story) so unique is the hook — basically, the thief, now in Heaven, recounting what happened on that day. I’ve been able to talk with folks and share with folks about all the different performances I’ve done  and, to be honest with you, this one was in every way — philosophically, etcetera — the most interesting challenge. There’s a great line in the script that says “On this day, I had breakfast with the devil and supper with the Savior.” Again, it was just a unique piece of content, a great story.

JWK: How did you come to your faith?

SB: To give you the super-condensed version of my testimony, my wife and I had been together for 30 years which in Hollywood is pretty unique but when God’s in the mix you got a chance and part of my testimony which a lot of people know is on a really cool website called I Am Second.

JWK: So, tell me about your production company Lightbeam Media.

SB: We have another movie in the can right now that was in post production before Thief on the Cross. It’s being evaluated by a couple of distributors right now. It’s called Youth Group. It’s a comedy written by a guy named Thor Ramsey who is a stand-up Christian comedian. So, right now one of the larger mainstream distribution companies is looking at it. Were ready to go into movie theaters. It’s a little bit tricky because it’s a comedy and not everyone knows hoe to do comedy well. I’m not saying I’m one of them but I’ve been involved in some fun projects. It also stars Joey Fatone who is one of the original members of Nsync. He was in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a fun movie,along with another very well-known mainstream actor — Donald Faison from Scrubs. And know we’re releasing Thief on the Cross.
All of this is part of a new venture I started called Lightbeam Media with my partner, a guy named Mike Lindell – the My Pillow guy. He’s funding the films and I make them but we do a whole lot of it together, in collaboration. Next week, literally, we go down to San Juan, Puerto Rico to start our third project…Felonies  which is a crime drama.
We just started Lightbeam within  the past year. We’re developing stuff right now…We’re going for the whole world. Again, I’ve been involved in some amazing mainstream projects — The Usual Suspects, an amazing film (and) The Flintstones was a fun film. There’s a list there. I’ve been in over 100 films…You see, I’m not a guy who was a Christian who wanted to go to Hollywood and make a name for himself. I’m a guy who has been functioning in Hollywood for 30 years who became a Christian who now believes Lightbeam Media has a mission to create content that glorifies God but, at the same time, should be just as excellent in its quality as as anything out there by Spielberg or anybody else.
JWK: When it comes to faith-based movies, can you name one that you find particularly well done?
SB:  October Baby was brilliant.
JWK: Finally, you know, I have to ask you about Dnnald Trump and your brothers impression of him.
SB: My brother and I have been going back and forth about these issues for quite some time. I think the Bible says that God allows in politics for these different people to take the position of power and this and that. So, what does that mean? It means that, whatever we’re doing, God’s on the throne. He’s in control.
So, I’m somebody who very early on was supporting Donald Trump because honestly I — like so man other Americans just thought that the country needs someone who’s not a politician. I really thought this guy may do things differently .  It turns out, boy, was I a prophet!
Back in July — even before the primaries last year — I went and did an interview with a guy named Don Lemon on CNN and he asked me what I think (of Donald Trump) . I said “I think this guy would be a great president. (I’m a) Christian who is pro-life and this and that (but) my motivation was more about the economy. It just felt that with the country hurting as bad as it has been, if President Trump could get in that and maybe breathe a breath of fresh air into things it might change the mood of the country — which I think he has to a degree. But, again, there’s tremendous opposition and protest to all that.
Now, all that being said, I think it’s a little bit unique that the protester I deal with in my personal life is my brother pretending to be Mr. Trump on Saturday Night Live.
JWK: Did you see that coming?
SB: No. I knew my brother was talented enough to do something funny but not that funny.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

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

The Case for Christ opens nationwide in theaters today(4/7/17). The Pure Flix drama stars Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Forster. Directed by: Jon Gunn/Written by: Brian Bird. Rated PG (for cigarette smoking and medical descriptions of the Crucifixion). Running time: 112 minutes.

 

Synopsis (from the film’s website): A hard-driving journalist, Lee Strobel was exactly where he expected to be at work: on top. His award-winning investigative reporting recently earned him a promotion to legal editor at the Chicago Tribune. But things weren’t going nearly as well at home where his wife Leslie’s newfound faith in Christ went against everything Lee believed—or didn’t believe—as an avowed atheist.

Utilizing his journalistic and legal training, Lee begins a quest to debunk the claims of Christianity in order to save his crumbling marriage. Chasing down the biggest story of his career, Lee comes face-to-face with unexpected results that could change everything he knows to be true.

Review: Besides making a genuinely strong case for the reality of the Resurrection, Pure Flix, the studio perhaps best known for the dramatically tone deaf God’s Not Dead, takes a giant step forward in resurrecting its film-making credibility. That’s thanks largely to a strong and realistic script by faith-themed go-to guy Brian Bird (Captive, The Shunning, When Calls the Hear, Touched by an Angel) and taut direction by Jon Gunn (Mercy Streets).  Their respective efforts are well served by strong performances from the cast, particularly stars Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen as the couple caught in the crossfire of faith and reason — who ultimately discover that there’s no conflict at all.

The film, of course, is based on Lee Strobel’ bestselling book which would seem to have been more of a basis for a documentary rather than a drama. But the drama works surprisingly well. On a personal note, I worked as one of the producers on Lee Strobel’s PAX TV series Faith Under Fire. He was great to work for and though he sometimes spoke of his conversion experience, the film really helps me appreciate his story in a way I didn’t comprehend before.

The Case for Christ works both as drama and logical persuasion, making it a very successful faith-based film that is Highly-Recommended.

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

3/31/17 – Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

Natasha Bure gets real.

Natasha Bure is known to young adults for her popular YouTube channel which launched in 2014. Traditional TV viewers may recognize from Season 11 of The Voice or her performance with the Grammy Award-winning group for KING & COUNTRY on The View. At the time, the latter program featured her famous actress mom Candace Cameron Bure (Netflix’s Fuller House) as a co-host. 

Now the rising teen star is adding book author to her blossoming resume. Let’s Be Real is geared for teens ages 13-18 and offers insightful, encouraging and sometimes humorous advice on everything from dealing with acne, friends, relationships, body confidence, self-image and struggling with faith. After meeting her, I can tell you that at 18 years of age, she possesses the sort of wisdom and self-assuredness adults — let alone teens — strive for. 

It’s obvious that faith plays a large role in grounding her. She speaks admiringly of the passion that motivates her mom and her entire family (which includes her uncle Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains and evangelical film fame) in a manner that makes it perfectly clear that she’s not into judging others who hold different beliefs.  Her basic outlook comes down to “Be open, honest, and the best YOU, you can be!”

Let’s Be Real is on sale now and would be a great gift for a teen in your life — or maybe even yourself.

John Patrick at New York’s Sheen Center.

If you happen to be in New York City on Monday night, you might want to head over to 18 Bleecker Street where Pulitzer, Tony and Oscar-winning writer John Patrick Shanley will be reading excerpts from his work, including Savage in Limbo, Doubt, and The Portuguese Kid.  A Q&A will follow. Shanley, of course, also had a major hit with the 1987 classic Moonstruck with Cher and Nicolas Cage in the leads. Less successful during its initial box office run was 199o’s Joe Versus the Volcano. That surprisingly-deep romantic fantasy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan has since gone on to develop a cult following and is actually one of my all-time favorite films.  For tickets to the Sheen Center event go here.

Coming Attraction: The Case for Christ (in theaters April 7)
The true story Lee Strobel, award-winning investigative reporter who moved from atheism to belief when he set out to utilize his investigative skills to disprove his wife’s newfound Christian faith. Personal note: I worked with Lee Strobel as a producer on his 2004 TV series Faith Under Fire. He’s the real deal. I’ll also be interviewing him about this film version of his book next week.

UP TV renews Bringing Up Bates
The family-oriented channel has renewed  reality series for a sixth season, ordering 13 new episodes to premiere Thursday, June 1 at 9 PM. The shows follows Gil and Kelly Jo Bates,19 kids (plus spouses) and six grandkids as they live life in  economy-size while staying true to their values. The fifth season finale aired last night on UP. Bringing Up Bates is produced by Figure 8 Films (Kate Plus 8, Growing Up McGhee). Executive Producers are Bill Hayes, Kirk Streb, Deanie Wilcher and Mary Wilcher. Executive Producer and Director is Matthew Hightower. Series Producer is Erin Shockey.

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