Rock Band and Guitar Hero are two of the most popular video games and many parents like them because they do not involve shooting anyone or blowing things up. Instead they encourage cooperation and build an understanding of music and harmony. But some parents are concerned by the songs, which have the usual rock and roll issues — bad language, sexism, references to sex, violence, and substance abuse.
So I was very pleased to hear about Guitar Praise, It has a song list of over 50 devotional rock tracks from groups like Flyleaf, Skillet, Stellar Kart, tobyMac, Newsboys, Petra, 12 Stones, Spoken, Whitecross, Thousand Foot Krutch, Paul Baloche, David Crowder, and Red and will be a welcome option for many families this Christmas.
“Leverage” is old-fashioned entertainment, a little bit “Mission Impossible,” a little bit “A-Team,” a touch of “It Takes a Thief,” and a lot of fun. It premieres tomorrow night on TNT at 10/9 Central.
Tim Hutton plays Nathan Ford, a former top insurance investigator turned agent of justice, who has assembled a crack team of experts who can turn the tables on any bully or big shot. It plays into the audience’s fantasies about the ability to use all kinds of cool skills, from breaking and entering secured locations via bungee cord or breaking and entering secured data banks and computer systems via hacking. And of course each of the characters has some attitude and some issues along with the skills. I spoke to producer Dean Devlin (“Independence Day”), who created the series, and Aldis Hodge, who plays Alex, the team’s master tech guy.
One of my favorite parts of the pilot episode was the scene filmed in Chicago’s magnificent Millennium Park. How did that come about?
Devlin: When Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech we were all watching it together and going “Hey! That’s where we shot the scene!” When I was young I worked on a film my dad made in Chicago called “My Bodyguard.” I always wanted to go back. We were filming there and had a scene that was supposed to be set in an intersection, but when we saw Millennium Park we had to move it there. It is such a great space. We shot the pilot in Chicago and the rest in LA but we go everywhere in the show.
I liked your episode about the disabled Iraqi war veteran.
Devlin: The actor is a real Iraqi war veteran, stoplossed for years of duty. His manager also manages my wife and James Franco and he said, “I have the real guy.” He was great in the role. I think he will be very successful as an actor.
How did this series come about?
Devlin: I created The Librarian for TNT and when we finished the second one, they asked, “When do I get a series out of you?” I immediately told them I wanted something not heavy, dark, cold, and procedural, which is what we have a lot of on TV right now. I wanted to do very smart, mainstream con stories like “The Hot Rock” and the original “Oceans 11.” I always wanted to do a show about high tech thieves who become modern day Robin Hoods. Coincidentally, John Rogers, who is a top writer, said he was thinking of doing something like those kinds of shows, too.
Aldis, you play a member of a team where everyone has skills that almost amount to a super-power. Which are the most important?
Hodge: One thing I’ve learned is that every skill gets used equally, On some shows some are more necessary than others but everybody is vital. Beth’s character (the fearless, athletic break-in artist) is absolutely crazy. She will jump off any building any time. You also have to have the classic grifter, someone who can convince anybody of her reality. And Eliot (expert in defense and hand to hand combat played by Christian Kane) saves me many times.
How are your tech skills?
Hodge: I can type. I can also do graphic design, art and architecture, super geek, but don’t know how to hack into anyone else’s computer.
Devlin: We hired Apollo Robins to teach us how to be thieves, not just how to steal but to think like a thief. It was so much fun. When he came in everyone would be holding their wrists or checking their wallets, and you could see the actors react start to adopt the pattern of thinking. Beth was the best at pick pocketing. If we don’t get picked up, she has a new career.
This was your first time directing, right? How did you like it?
Devlin: It was an absolute ball. The trick is to surround yourself with good people. We had one of the best scripts ever, an amazingly talented cast, talented director of photography, a phenomenal editor. So all I had to do was say, “Okay, do it again!” “Are we done?” “Can I go home?” “Thank you!”
What did you look for in assembling the cast?
Devlin: Talent! Well, you might say, duh, but these days it is against the trend. More often they want to know who had a sex tape and is really famous. Celebrity has trumped talent. But Michael Wright from TNT is a former actor and I am a former actor and we know what matters is who can act.
We needed people who were going to be outstanding. I had someone else in mind for the role, but the agent kept saying, “You should see this kid.” He knocked it out of the park, really redefined the character for me. And he got the word that he had the part on his 21st birthday.
What was your idea of the character that was so different?
Hodge: I didn’t see him as a geek, He is a nerd, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t see the general geek outlook, to me he was just a person not a character. What I wanted to show was that he loves his job and he loves his life.
You certainly see that in the brief flashback showing him living it up on Mick Jagger’s credit card!
Devlin: Yes, and a shout-out to George Lucas, who gave us permission to put the girls in the “Star Wars” costumes!
At last, albeit imperfectly, the extraordinary story of the rise and fall of Chess Records has been given the loving attention it deserves. Magnificent performances and soul-shaking music make up for some narrative stumbles and dubious fictions in this, the higher profile of two films this year about the legendary Chicago record label.
Adrian Brody plays Leonard Chess, a Jewish immigrant who was one of the first to record and market the work of black artists in the 1950s, when it was still called “race music.” With talent like Mississippi Delta blues player Muddy Waters, harmonica virtuoso Little Walter, powerhouse vocalist Howlin’ Wolf, the silky soul chanteuse Etta James, and proto-rocker Chuck Berry, Chess recordings established the foundation for “race music” to become blues, then rhythm and blues, and then rock and roll.
That is a lot to get through in one movie, and if at times it descends into VH1 “Behind the Music”-isms, muddled chronology (the Rolling Stones show up before the early Elvis), and distortions of fact, it is understandable. The movie touches on some of the difficult issues of race and gender without much depth, as when the performers, limited by lack of education and the bigotry of the day, begin to resent the paternalism — and sloppy bookkeeping — of Chess. Generations of oppression and naivete about business make them suspicious that he is keeping too much of their money. And dramatically it falls victim to what I call the “and then” syndrome, piling events on top of each other without a strong narrative arc.
Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Gabrielle Union as his significant other Geneva, and Mos Def as Berry are outstanding as always; they are among the finest actors and most mesmerizing performers in Hollywood. Columbus Short, an appealing presence in “Stomp the Yard” and “This Christmas” is a revelation as Little Walter. And Beyonce Knowles (who also produced) gives James a gritty authenticity this glossy pop star has not reached before. What matters here is the characters and the music and in both categories the performances really deliver.
Trailer: Song from the Forest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekirhw2MMwQ
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