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Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

Weekend choices: “Grace Unplugged” in theaters + “The Mystery Cruise” on TV

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

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Grace Unplugged mini-review. In theaters this weekend, the musical drama follows Grace Trey (AJ Michalka), a talented 18-year-old singer/musician who decides that singing at her church under the controlling thumb of her worship leader father Johnny Trey (James Denton of Desperate Housewives), is not enough. Johnny, you see, is a former pop star who shunned show business after the wild lifestyle it afforded him ended up nearly destroying him.

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So, it’s no wonder that he sort of flips out a little bit when he sees his beloved heading off to Hollywood to pursue a record deal put together by Mossy (Kevin Pollak), his own former manager. His fear only grows with her success. And, as he feared, in almost no time the pressure to build on her momentum brings her into direct conflict with the faith values she grew up with.

The makers of Grace Unplugged clearly are on the side its prodigal daughter protagonist rejecting the false allure of fame, fortune and darn-near constant ego gratification in favor of a solid grounding in the time-tested principles put forth in The Bible. But what actually makes the movie works is that it actually lets us see things from her point of view. Johnny Trey is a good and decent man who truly loves his daughter — but he clearly was holding the reins a bit too tightly. Moreover, Mossy isn’t portrayed as an evil guy. By his lights, he is looking out for Grace’s interests — he just perceives to be different than Johnny does.

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So, writer/director Brad J. Silverman manages to shine a light on Grace’s choice without being judgmental of his characters or preachy.  He lets the situations speak for themselves – -and let’s Grace, and the audience, decide what is really in her bests interests.

AJ Michalka is very appealing in the lead. James Denton and Kevin Pollak also shine in nuanced performances that suggest that while one man is essentially right and one is essentially wrong, neither is perfect and neither totally bad. Grace Unplugged is Highly Recommended.

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The Mystery Cruise mini-review. If like me, you fondly remember the days when the broadcast networks would actually program original shows on Saturday nights , you’ll be happy to know that some cable channels continue to take up the slack.  Tomorrow night (10/5) at 9:00 PM ET, Hallmark Movie Channel debuts The Mystery Cruise. Ironically, that’s the same time slot The Love Boat used to air in — but, while there is some romance in the film, it’s murder that’s really in the air.

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The shipboard suspenser brings together crime-solving lottery winner Alvirah Meehan (NYPD Blue’s Gail O’Grady) and P.I. Regan Reilly (Michelle Harrison) — literary sleuths created respectively by Mary and Carol Higgins Clark — in a backdoor pilot. Mary, of course, is Carol’s mother and both women (separately and together) are perennials on bestselling fiction lists. While they’ve paired their popular heroines in previous books they’ve co-authored, this marks the first time they’ve been teamed on screen. If a series results, we’ll follow them as they open a detective agency together.

As to Saturday night’s film (shot in Vancouver),  the plot takes place aboard a cruise ship on which Regan’s  mystery-writer mom (Coleen Winton) is staging one of those  mystery games that has everyone on board trying to figure out the solution to a staged murder. In a twist on what we’ve seen before, the victim of the game does not turn out to be a real victim. Instead, the ultra-intuitive Alvirah begins to suspect to one of the passengers is plotting to off her diplomat husband. So, this really isn’t so much a whodunnit as it is a can-it-be-stopped. I won’t give away the ending but even if I did it wouldn’t exactly qualify for a spoiler alert.

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But that really is the charm of the film. While we don’t really know the details, we do kinda know where it’s going. It’s appeal doesn’t come in trying to shock us. It’s appeal, rather, is in the appeal of its characters and their relationships. And they are quite appealing — and, I suspect, they’d become even more so if allowed to grow and breathe in an ongoing series.

These Partner in Crime (which, given a line in the dialogue, is what I suspect the series would be called) have an easy rapport that is easy to take. And, while I may question the wisdom of a would-be murderer planning a murder aboard a ship of would-be detectives, I found the movie to be good escapist fun. It’s the type of thing TV could use more of. I don’t think I’m alone in believes that TV networks have OD’d us on fading SVU and CSI-type shows where everyone is oh-so-grim and the murders are about as lurid as can be imagined. Give me some likable detectives working their way through a diverting puzzle and I’m happy — especially on a lazy Saturday night. Recommended.

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

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