Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

“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: www.Walden.com/TicketToABetterWorld

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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.

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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 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.

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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

Previous Posts

"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 »

"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 »

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