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Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

Film Review: “Little Boy” + Top 100 Christian Leaders in America + Advancing “A.D.”

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

Little Boy premieres nationwide in theaters Friday (4/24).

(Note: This is  slightly altered version of my original post including new impressions from seeing Little Boy for a second time last night with members of my family.)

Synopsis: A seven-year-old Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati), the Little Boy of the title,  is willing to do whatever it takes to bring his father (Michael Rapaport) home from World War II alive. Following the advice of his parish priest Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) regarding how to please God and see his prayers answered, Pepper befriends Hashimoto (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), a generally-shunned uninterned Japanese-American man living in town. David Henrie (TV’s Wizards of Waverly Place) is Pepper’s older brother London who is weighed down by a sense of guilt (his flat feet kept him from becoming a soldier) and a general hatred of the Japanese. Ted Levine (Monk) is a local man who, embittered by the death of his son at Pearl Harbor, takes advantage of London’s hatred to recruit him to harass and threaten Hashimoto.

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The film also stars Kevin James (currently starring in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2) as the town doctor who has an unrequited romantic infatuation with Pepper’s mom (Emily Watson) and whose bullying son (Matthew Miller) is a near-constant thorn in tiny Pepper’s side. Actor/Producer Eduardo Verástegui (Bella) plays Father Oliver’s parish associate, Fr. Crispin. 

Written and directed by Alejandro Monteverde (Bella). Written by Pepe Portillo and Alejandro Monteverde. Produced by Metanoia Films.  Executive Produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (A.D. The Bible Continues).

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Review: Little Boy is essentially a movie-length parable expounding on Jesus’ promise that “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

As young Pepper (I guess they couldn’t actually name him Mustard Seed) takes that verse to heart, Father Oliver poignantly explains that prayer isn’t magic, its power doesn’t come from us and that, in the end, it is God who is moved by humble prayer to move mountains for people — and that God is moved by compassion and good works. Toward that end, he gives Pepper a checklist of things to accomplish based on Church teaching regarding the Corporal Works of Mercy (i.e. feeding the hungry etc.) with one specific addition. He is to befriend Hashimoto, a local Japanese man who is being shunned and harassed by the local community.  Father Oliver isn’t asking Pepper to do something he hasn’t done himself. The true and respectful friendship between Oliver and Hashimoto is indeed one of the most engaging parts of the film — made all the more interesting because Hashimoto doesn’t share Oliver’s faith in God. Both men, and their points of view, are presented with respect and dignity.

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While Little Boy takes a little while to grab you — frankly some of the early scenes regarding Pepper’s rich fantasy life drag on a bit — but, once it does, it may do so in a big way. I, for one, found myself really caring about these people. And, while faith is definitely the theme, it is presented through a story that doesn’t feel preachy. The performances, across the board — particularly by Wilkinson, Hiroyuki-Tagawa and young Salvati — are all first rate.

Honestly, while some mainstream critics who seem uncomfortable with broaching the subject of faith at all (unless it’s in a cynical way), will likely find things to complain about, Little Boy holds up as both a morality lesson (there’s actually nothing wrong with those) and great storytelling. This is not to say any criticism of Little Boy is unfair. Concerns about the presentation of an ironic twist involving the end of the war (the title provides a clue) are particularly understandable.

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There are, it should be noted, a few somewhat intense and violent scenes depicting the war overseas and racism at home that parents should be aware of. Little Boy isn’t without flaws, but, overall, I found it to be a genuinely moving story about the true power of love and faith. I think it will be remembered as a classic.  Little Boy is Highly Recommended.

Christian Influencers. Speaking of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the executive producer of Little Boy, as well as NBC’s current TV hit A.D. The Bible Continues, are listed at No. 3 in Newsmax’s Top 100 Christian Leaders in America. The list, released earlier this week, is topped by Franklin Graham (Samaritan’s Purse) and Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church). Downey and Burnett were noted for their contributions to the Christian entertainment industry.
Other media professionals making the list include CBN Chairman Pat Robertson (10),  author/producer Rev. T.D. Jakes (14), Salem Media Group CEO Edward Atsinger III, Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel Director/Fox News contributor Fr. Jonathan Morris (21), recently-signed Philadelphia Eagles quarterback/ESPN commentator Tim Tebow (37), Christian rocker Michael Sweet (39), author/speaker Eric Metaxas (41), Movieguide founder/publisher Ted Baehr (49), actor Chuck Norris (50), actor/filmmaker Kirk Cameron (54), country singer Carrie Underwood (62), legendary crooner Pat Boone (67), HarperCollins Christian Publishing CEO Mark Schoenwald (74), EWTN host Raymond Arroyo (77), movie producer Ralph Winter (79), rocker Brian Welch (84), actor Gavin MacLeod (91), Cloud Ten Pictures co-founder Paul LaLonde (96), comedians Brad Stine (97) and Michael Jr. (98) and NASCAR driver/Fox racing commentator Michael Waltrip (100).

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A.D. continues. Getting back to Downey and Burnett, A.D. The Bible Continues continues to win its time slot on Sunday nights at 9:00 P.M. (ET) on NBC.  Episode 4, airing this Sunday (4/26), focuses on the early church as it gains momentum and Peter and John emerge from capture to inspire a growing movement of believers.

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

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How you can help bring inspirational “Breaking Tommie Scott” to screen

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

How I got to know Tommie Scott. When I’m not working on this blog, I’m a working writer/script consultant who is always on the lookout for compelling and inspirational material to develop. As a result, I’m involved with a few active projects. One of those, Breaking Tommie Scott, is an elevating true story about a guy who grew up as part of the Southern California gang scene and spent his young life in and out of detention facilities and prisons. His destructive lifestyle placed him on a downward spiral that led to brokenness. Fortunately, rather than being merely a cautionary tale, Tommie’s story is, in the end, one of hope — as his surrender before God, and his growing faith in Christ, provides a true example of how any life can be redeemed and how no one is beyond hope.

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I was seeking a true story to tell when, like an answer to a prayer, Tommie Scott contacted me from out of the blue. He asked me if I’d be interested in working with him to do a screenplay based on his autobiography The Tommie Scott Story. Talking with Tommie, I was struck by his sincerity. After reading his book, it became even clearer to me that he had an amazingly gritty-yet-uplifting story that will make for a great movie — one which, hopefully, will positively touch people’s lives.

With the help of Tommie’s friend and mentor Kleg Seth, an associate pastor Tommie’s friend and  mentor at  Trinity Life Center in Las Vegas, we worked out an agreement and proceeded to adapt Tommie’s book into a screenplay.

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Tommie’s story is currently receiving some encouraging interest from some top-flight entertainment industry professionals. Tommie, meanwhile, has mounted an iPetitions campaign to mobilize grassroots support for bringing his book to screen. It should be noted that Tommie is not asking for production money — just for a sincere expression of intent to see the movie once it is in theaters.

His petition reads:

My book “The Tommie Scott Story” has been converted into a screenplay by myself and scriptwriter John W. Kennedy (who also reports/comments on “Faith, Media & Culture” for Beliefnet and is the author of many narrative book adaptations for Cartoon Network Enterprises).

Currently the script is being considered by various producers & actors. This petition is a grassroots effort to show there are many people interested in seeing “Breaking Tommie Scott” made into a feature film. What I’m asking you to do is to show your support by signing this petition. By doing so, you will b expressing your sincere intention to go out and see the film once it’s produced and to bring at least one other person with you.

With almost 15,000 murders a year and with America being the the drug, alcohol and gang capital of the world THIS FILM MUST BE MADE. With all the riots, racial tension and hate being exploited,THIS FILM MUST BE MADE. Thank you.

If you feel moved to do so, please go to Tommie’s iPetitions page and offer your support for Breaking Tommie Scott. Thanks.

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

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What’s UP @ UP + Lorette Lynn Gospel Festival stars named + God questions answered in 140 characters or less

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

More Love on UP. Building on the solid ratings success of last year’s UP original film Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, UP TV will continue its premiere Love Finds You In Charm (based on the bestselling novel by Annalisa Daughety) on Sunday, June 7th @ 7:00 PM (ET).  The second installment of the network’s Love Finds You romantic anthology franchise tells the story of a beautiful, young Amish woman who visits relatives in scenic Charm, Ohio and finds herself pulled between two worlds and two men.  The cast includes Trevor Donovan (Texas Rising, 90210), Danielle Chuchran (Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, UP’s Nowhere Safe), Drew Fuller (Army Wives, Charmed) and Tiffany Dupont (Greek, The Bedford Diaries). Filmed in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, the film was directed by Terry Cunningham and is produced by George Shamieh and Mission Pictures in association with Guideposts. The adapted screenplay was written by Bryar Freed-Golden (UP’s The Music In Me, Paper Angels and Love Finds You In Sugarcreek).  

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Welcome to the world, Allie Jane. Speaking of UP, Alyssa and John Webster welcomed their first child into the world on Saturday, April 11. The young married couple are featured on the network’s reality series Bringing Up Bates. The baby girl is named Allie Jane and is the second grandchild to Gil and Kelly Jo Bates whose lives, along with those of their 19 kids (aged 2 to 25), is chronicled by the show. Bringing Up Bates begins its second season on Wednesday, June 4th at 10 PM (ET).  p.m. EDT. As a prelude to the new season, season one episodes are now re-airing every Wednesday at 10 PM (ET) following new episodes of the UP family drama series Heartland.

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Initial performers for the 2015 Loretta Lynn Gospel Music Festival have been announced via SingingNews.com. The talent list includes The Martins, Goodman Revival, the McKameys, Karen Peck & New River, Angie Primm, the Freemans, High Road, Dennis Swanberg and the Sneed Family. The 2015 Loretta Lynn Gospel Music Festival will take place on September 12 and 13 at the legendary singer’s ranch in historic Hurricane Mills, TN. More performers will be announced at a later date. Ticket are on sale now. For more information go to LorettaLynn.com or call the ranch at 931-296-7700.

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Book Note: Tweeting with God: #Big Bang, Prayer, Bible, Sex, Crusades, Sin, Career…Author Michel Remery, Catholic priest, isn’t God but he does answer lots of tweeted questions about the Almighty in 140 characters or less. In the book, from Ignatius Press, he also provides expanded explanations based on Catholic teaching.  A free Tweeting with God (#TwGOD) app is also available via iTunes and Google Play. For more info, Click here.

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

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TV Movie Review: “The Music in Me” tonight on UP TV

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

The Music in Me airs on UP TV tonight (4/12) @ 7:00 PM (ET). The musical drama stars singer/songwriter Debbie Gibson (who wrote and performs the film’s original song Promises) and E.R.‘s Gloria Reuben. Others in the cast include Antonio Cupo (American Mary, Bomb Girls), Amy Forsyth (Defiance, Reign), Cedric Smith (Copper, Avonlea), Marcia Bennett (Serendipity, Happy Town), Kim Roberts (The Strain, Lucky 7) and Mike Lobel (Degrassi: The Next Generation, Really Me). John Bradshaw (Catch a Christmas Star, Come Dance with Me) directs. Bryar Freed (Love Finds You in Sugar Creek) wrote the script.

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Synopsis (from the UP press release): Having traded in her dreams of becoming a professional singer to care for her aging parents and their neighborhood hardware store, Jessica (Debbie Gibson) is asked to step in as choir director for a failing church as they prepare for their the big centennial celebration.  When she arrives, Jessica is shocked to discover that the earnest choir can’t sing and that the wary Church Deaconess (Gloria Reuben) is betting on her to fail.  As she dives into rehearsals, Jessica builds a friendship with church handyman Ben (Antonio Cupo) and is challenged by choir member and teen runaway Alice (Amy Forsyth).  Through their friendship and her work with the choir, she rekindles her love of music and finally finishes the song she’s been struggling with for many years – ultimately finding love and a start to the music career she’s always dreamed of pursuing.

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Review: Though the overall premise is promising, unfortunately there are too many false and off-key notes here to be considered one of UP’s better original movie offerings. Debbie Gibson as the choir director and Gloria Reuben as the strict church deaconess are both very good in their lead roles and they play off each other very well.

But I believe the film would liked to have seen more focus on the quirky choir members and less on the budding relationship with the bland church handyman (Antonio Cupo) whose super-supportiveness somehow comes across as more smarmy than sincere (which could be funny if he wasn’t actually presented as sincere).

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Beyond those flat-noted scenes, I think the whole thing would have worked better if the comic potential of getting the motley crew choir ready for their big performance was played up a bit more. That key of F Troop potential is hinted at a bit — particularly with one member who talks and sings in extremely hushed tones but who sounds pretty good through a megaphone — but is never fully realized. The only choir member we learn much at all about is Alice (Amy Forsyth), good as a teenager who (slight spoiler alert) turns out to be homeless.

Despite its flaws, like many UP films, The Music in Me actually lays the groundwork for what could be a pretty good series — if the network and those involved decide to move in that direction. There’s lots of room for the characters to grow and ample opportunity for uplifting music mixed with character-driven comedy and drama. I’d just suggest tilting things a little bit more toward the comedy.

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

Previous Posts

Film Review: "Little Boy" + Top 100 Christian Leaders in America + Advancing "A.D."
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. Little Boy premieres nationwide in theaters Friday (4/24). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9dQ8FWtOoY (Note: This is  slightly altered version of my original ...

posted 12:53:03pm Apr. 23, 2015 | read full post »

How you can help bring inspirational "Breaking Tommie Scott" to screen
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SY9KXEUR-c How I got to know Tommie Scott. When I'm not working on this blog, I'm a working writer/script consultant who is ...

posted 12:39:32pm Apr. 22, 2015 | read full post »

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posted 10:18:59am Apr. 15, 2015 | read full post »

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Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. The Music in Me airs on UP TV tonight (4/12) @ 7:00 PM (ET). The musical drama stars singer/songwriter Debbie Gibson (who wrote and performs the film's original ...

posted 8:13:33am Apr. 12, 2015 | read full post »

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