Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Chris Dowling: Christian Horror Writer?

posted by jtotey

Chris Dowling on the set of “Produce.” (C. Dowling)

One of the most pumped up movies about the rapture and end times is coming to theaters this weekend and chances are you’ve never even heard of it. The film is called The Remaining and it is not your father’s A Thief in the Night movie.

Affirm films has been experimenting with their faith-based films division, trying hard not to do a “bait and switch” on the audiences attending these films. People who went to see Mom’s Night Out saw a true comedy. People who saw When the Game Stands Tall saw a true football film. Now, those who see The Remaining will see a true horror film. Not an axe-murderer movie with a message, but something just as scary.

“It has everything people love about horror films but with some meat,” says Chris Dowling, the co-writer for the film. “Most horror films, you walk out of the theater and completely forget about. You and your buddies are already talking about if you want to grab coffee or how late Buffalo Wild Wings is open by the time you hit the parking lot. The Remaining is not that movie. It stays with you. It’s a conversation starter. You don’t just walk away from it.”

(Affirm Films)

(Affirm Films)

I got a chance to talk Chris earlier this week about the project and was pleasantly surprised by what I learned. While similar in concept to other “rapture movies” like the upcoming re-make of Left Behind, this one attempts to stand out among the crowd with some impressive names attached to it. The movie is written and directed by Casey La Scala (executive director of Donnie Darko and A Walk to Remember), Doug Emmett (cinematographer of Paranormal Activity 4) and Brian Stultz (production designer for Iron Man 3).

The Remaining begins with a group of friends attending a wedding when a series of catastrophic events rains on their parade. People suddenly drop to their death with no explanation. In a matter of minutes, the group goes from celebrating to scrambling for safety. Has Mother Nature gone mad or is there a more sinister enemy behind the death and destruction?

The supernatural thriller centers on the extreme and horrific circumstances surrounding the biblical accounts of the end times, but not in a way that most of us are familiar with. So, how is The Remaining different from other end time films?

“I’ve heard of a Thief in the Night, but have never seen it and I made a specific choice not to see any of the Left Behind series when working on this film,” says Chris. “I didn’t want to be influenced either knowingly or subconsciously by the ideas they had in their films. So, with that said, I can’t speak on specifics on how different they are, but I can make some guesses.”

Scary stuff. A scene from "The Remaining." (Affirm Films)

Scary stuff. A scene from “The Remaining.” (Affirm Films)

“First off, (spoiler alert), when the rapture goes down, we don’t have people disappearing with a bunch of empty clothes laying around. Here, bodies drop. Everywhere. It’s the souls that get taken up. We wanted to do something different and it definitely makes for a much more terrifying and confusing event where there are thousands of “dead” bodies littering the city. It’s not gory or slasher stuff, but there are demons chasing people and some seriously bad stuff is going down. This is Revelations after all!”

The trailer does look pretty scary so it will be interesting to see how audiences will react to it. Chris says that he watched the reactions of filmgoers at a screening recently and he couldn’t be prouder of the end product. “I think it’s really fun to operate on the fringe of something where there is little precedent. I’m really proud to be on a team that is pushing the edge of faith films and testing the waters.”

This led to my next question, “So, are you hoping to scare the “hell” out of people with this picture?”

"The Remaining" (Affirm Films)

“The Remaining” (Affirm Films)

“From both a literal sense and figurative sense I suppose so,” says Chris. “But only by the nature of what the film is: a horror. As far as working akin to a “Hell House” or something where we as filmmakers are trying to scare you into accepting a faith with Jesus Christ…that’s not really the angle I was going for. I really wanted this to be about checking yourself and questioning where you are at with your faith. I think it’s really tough to scare someone into a relationship with God. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but usually if your “come to Jesus moment” is built on being scared into it…I don’t know…I feel like those are the people that do an altar call or say a sinner’s prayer or something…and then four weeks later, they are already over it and you never see them at church again. I think faith needs to be rooted in something more than fear. I hope this leads people to examine their own faith in a more comprehensive way.”

Before my interview, I did some research on Chris and took note that he has also been an actor in the past. “Ha! Acting was a brief moment in time. It was cool. I did a couple little things and had a character with a small (blink and you miss it) run on the soap Days of Our Lives, but ultimately I knew I really wanted to write. It’s been a long, strange trip, but things are really coming together. I’ve worked some odds and ends jobs like everyone else in L.A., but at the end of the day, I get to work from home doing what I love and have time to hang out with my wife and little girls. There is nothing better than that!”

And Chris has been busy. In tandem with The Remaining, Chris has written and directed his next movie, Produce. “It has secular appeal with a faith vibe,” says Chris. “It’s about an ex-major league baseball player whose life is turned upside down when he becomes friends with a teenager with Down Syndrome that has a child-like faith in God. I’m also producing a documentary about a comedy troupe that is made up entirely of actors with autism called, Asperger’s Are Us.”

Opening in theaters on September 5, 2014, The Remaining is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror, violence and destruction throughout, and thematic elements.

‘Dancing with the Stars’ Season 19 Cast is Announced

posted by jtotey
The new cast of Dancing with the Stars made a group appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning. (L-R) Erin Andrews, Emma Slater, Michael Waltrip, Jonathan Bennett, Allison Holker, Antonio Sabato Jr., Cheryl Burke, Witney Carson, Val Chmerkovskiy, Janel Parrish, Alfonso Ribeiro, Tony Dovolani, Betsey Johnson, Derek Hough, Bethany Mota, Tom Bergeron, Tommy Chong, Petra Murgatroyd, Karina Smirnoff, Randy Couture, Lea Thompson, Artem Chigvintsev, Lolo Jones, Keo Motsepe, Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas. (ABC/Ida Mae Astute)

The new cast of “Dancing with the Stars” made a group appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on September 4, 2014. (L-R) Erin Andrews, Emma Slater, Michael Waltrip, Jonathan Bennett, Allison Holker, Antonio Sabato Jr., Cheryl Burke, Witney Carson, Val Chmerkovskiy, Janel Parrish, Alfonso Ribeiro, Tony Dovolani, Betsey Johnson, Derek Hough, Bethany Mota, Tom Bergeron, Tommy Chong, Petra Murgatroyd, Karina Smirnoff, Randy Couture, Lea Thompson, Artem Chigvintsev, Lolo Jones, Keo Motsepe, Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas. (ABC/Ida Mae Astute)



















Dancing with the Stars long established the idea of finding celebrities outside of TV or movie stardom to create a variety of “stars” including sports icons, models, comedians, etc. This is no doubt due to the fact that many big name movie stars are either too busy or not interested in doing the show. For the most part, this works out fine, but not everyone will be on board calling every celebrity on the show a “star.” For instance, this season they bring on a Duck Dynasty family member – Sadie Robertson. Don’t know who that is? She’s the 17-year old daughter who usually doesn’t get much screen time on the show. It is as if the producers of DWTS started asking the top stars of DD and worked their way down to Sadie. Sadie is a delightful young woman and will probably do very well on the show (her partner is Mark Ballas), but is Sadie really a ‘star’? This season also includes the YouTube “beauty expert” Bethany Mota. She is one of the most popular celebrities on social media. But is she a star? Perhaps this season’s biggest stars are known for their previous works: Lea Thompson (Caroline in the City), Alfonso Ribeiro (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and Tommy Chong, (the “Chong” in “Cheech and Chong” comedy duo). However you choose to spell celebrity, each season of DWTS is always a huge ratings hit despite the fact that the creators keep messing with the formula. Last year the show went from two nights a week to just one, which was a welcome change from the “results show” which was filled with more fluff than substance. However, for this season, ABC has brought the one hour episode back and for this, I am holding a paddle with the number “2” on it. Another issue I have with changes for this year includes the decision to permanently add a fourth judge; former dancer on the show, Julianne Hough. She is the sister of multi-winner dance star Derek Hough. Does that seem fair? Maybe this is to help attract and keep younger viewers watching the show, but how many judges does the show need? I like all of the show’s judges just fine, but they already get too much face time in front of the camera. They are not the reason people watch the show and their commentaries on every single dance becomes tiresome rather quickly. At least DWTS has kept its most important feature of the show, host Tom Bergeron, who is just professional enough and has an amazing quick wit about him. He will be sharing hosting duties again with Erin Andrews and will be conversing with judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba and Hough.

Carrie Ann Inaba, Julianne Hough and Bruno Tonioli.  (ABC/Adam Taylor)

Carrie Ann Inaba, Julianne Hough and Bruno Tonioli. (ABC/Adam Taylor)

This seasons 13 celebrities and dance partners are:

  • Jonathan Bennett (actor) and Allison Holker
  • Tommy Chong (comedian) and Peta Murgatroyd
  • Randy Couture (mixed martial artist) and Karina Smirnoff
  • Betsey Johnson (fashion designer) and Tony Dovolani
  • Lolo Jones (track athlete) and Keo Motsepe (new dancer this season)
  • Bethany Mota (YouTube fashion star) and Derek Hough.
  • Janel Parrish (actress and singer) and Valentin Chmerkovskiy
  • Alfonso Ribeiro (actor and director) and Witney Carson
  • Sadie Robertson (reality TV star) and Mark Ballas
  • Antonio Sabato Jr. (actor and model) and Cheryl Burke
  • Tavis Smiley (author and talk show host) and Sharna Burgess
  • Lea Thompson (actress) and Artem Chigvintsev
  • Michael Waltrip (racecar driver) and Emma Slater

Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars debuts on Monday, September 15 at 8:00 p.m. with one couple being eliminated the following night, Tuesday, September 16 at 8:00 p.m. as well.

‘The Identical’ is Not as Good as the Original

posted by jtotey
Blake Rayne, Ashley Judge and Ray Liotta star in "The Identical." (City of Peace Films)

Blake Rayne, Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta star in “The Identical.” (City of Peace Films)

I used to think that Elvis impersonators didn’t arrive on the scene until late in the King’s career, but apparently they have been around since the mid ‘50s. The first was Carl ‘Cheesie’ Nelson who did his own versions of “That’s All Right, Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and even sang with Elvis in 1954. It’s all documented in the book, “Elvis in Texas” by Stanley Oberst and Lori Torrance. Oh, the things you learn on Wikipedia.

The above story might have made for a better story than The Identical did. That movie has a similar-themed story. In real life, Elvis was born with a twin brother, Jesse who died shortly after childbirth. Or did he?

The Identical is a pretend story of “what if.” All of the names have been changed, but it is basically a story about what would have happened if Elvis’ brother had lived and had been raised by another family.

This story begins during the Great Depression with the Hemsley’s, a poor couple expecting their first child. However, it is during the birth that the new parents learn that they have two sons, Drexel and Ryan. Convinced that they would not be able to afford to raise both boys, the Hemsleys offer up Ryan, for adoption to a traveling pastor and his wife. They make Rev. Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and Louise (Ashley Judd) promise that they will not tell Ryan that he was adopted until his natural parents have passed away.

As time goes on, Reece is convinced that his son is destined to further his ministry. Ryan (Blake Rayne) tries to follow his father’s plan, but it becomes clear soon on that he has a gift for music and singing. It doesn’t help that this new rock star comes on the scene, Drexel Hemsley (also Rayne) looking and sounding exactly like himself. Ryan becomes Drexel’s #1 fan and ends up pursuing a career where he imitates the singing legend and becomes known as The Identical.

Despite the fact that the story is far-fetched, it starts out pretty good. In fact, the first third is probably the best section of the movie. Liotta and Judd are fantastic as the preacher and his dutiful wife. One scene in particular is priceless where the pastor is interrupted in his study by Louise who comes in with the latest copy of Drexel Hemsley’s  new record. Without saying a word, she purses her lips, puts her hand on her hip and tilts her head to say, “What do we do now?” The two age gracefully throughout the film and are reason enough to see it.

However, star power isn’t enough to make a good story great. The film does all right when it keeps a light-hearted tone, but begins to flounder when it insists on becoming a drama. In addition, as the characters age and the fashion styles start to look out of control, so does the story. The movie puts all its energy in Ryan’s character and we only see glimpses of his brother’s life. The two DO meet, but it is only for a moment, and that is a disappointment.

Seth Green really plays the drums in "The Identical."

Seth Green really plays the drums in “The Identical.”

Rayne, who is an Elvis impersonator in real life, does okay for this first feature film and having Seth Green play his best friend was an inspired choice. He actually plays the drums himself in the movie, which is pretty impressive. Also impressive is the fact that the film, which is not a musical, features over 20 original songs, all sounding like they were written by Elvis.

Promotion for the film has been odd as well. All over the internet there have been ads that will feature a character from the movie and say, “Ashely Judd…in a Christian movie!” or “Seth Green…in a Christian movie!” Apparently the Marcellino family who wrote, directed and produced the movie thought that promoting the stars instead of the story was the way to get Christians to see a faith-based movie. We’ll see if it works, but I suspect Christians would be more interested to know that the film has a few good messages in it including that you can be a singer and still be following the will of God.

Thursday is National Ghostbusters Day

posted by jtotey
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man came for a surprise visit to honor Al Roker's 60th Bithday. (NBC)

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man came for a surprise visit to honor Al Roker’s 60th Bithday. (NBC)

It has been 30 years since Ghostbusters hit the movie screens and to celebrate, the marketing team at Sony has big party plans. The festivities began a little early on August 20th as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man made a visit to NBC’s Today show to honor Al Roker’s 60th birthday. (How the two connect is a mystery), but the biggest news is that a restored and remastered version of the original 1984 film will return to theaters this Labor Day weekend in over 700 locations in the United States and Canada for a limited engagement starting August 29. Other marketing…er…party plans include:

  • A bunch of new merchandise from Sony Pictures Consumer Products will be released including products from Lego, Mattel, Funko, Mad Engine and others.
  • Sony Pictures Consumer Products has partnered with Gallery 1988 to create a once-in a lifetime experience, displaying original paintings, limited edition prints, and sculptures inspired by the film.
  • Legacy Recordings / Sony Music Entertainment will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the iconic Ghostbusters soundtrack with multiple collectible vinyl LP releases this year.
  • Finally, on September 16 the Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary Edition and the Ghostbusters II 25th Anniversary Editions will be released on Blu-ray. The releases will also be available in a two-disc anniversary edition Blu-ray™ Digibook including both films, as well as a limited edition gift set that includes an exclusive collectible Slimer figurine and the two-disc Digibook.

Directed and produced by Ivan Reitman (Meatballs, Stripes), with the screenplay written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters is listed as No. 28 on the AFI’s List of America’s Funniest Movies. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver star, along with Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis. Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts also star in the films.

To learn more about the Ghostbusters celebration, visit the official Facebook page.

Related: Who Ya Gonna Call…Again?

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