Faith, Media & Culture

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.

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).

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.

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.

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).

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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