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Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Could ‘Madam Secretary’ be the next ‘Good Wife’?

posted by jtotey
Téa Leoni stars as "Madam Secretary" Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. on CBS. (CBS)

Téa Leoni stars as “Madam Secretary” Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. on CBS. (CBS)

TV dramas that feature strong female leads continue to be popular this fall. First up is Madam Secretary where CBS is hoping to strike lightning twice having the new show be the lead in the award-winning The Good Wife. As with many other pilots, the producers crammed a lot into the first episode in an attempt to introduce us every character. The end result is an un-even performance with good potential to improve.

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Téa Leoni, known more for her comedy work rather than drama, plays the Elizabeth McCord, the former college professor and CIA analyst who becomes the Secretary of State when her predecessor dies suspiciously. Leoni is fairly stiff in the role, but she does get to say a few zingers here and there. McCord is married to the seemingly perfect Henry (Tim Daly), a religion professor. The pair has two teenagers, Alison (Kathrine Herzer) who is obviously hiding something and Jason (Evan row). The family has amazingly made the difficult adjustment to a new life and neighborhood with very little problems. Everyone is super cheery and Leoni and Daly do have a good rapport, but it doesn’t seem real. However, it is nice to a see functional family and marriage thriving on network television. Though, they do call these types of shows dramas for a reason, so don’t be surprised if one of the children gets hooked on drugs or if there is an extra-marital affair. With that said, it would be great if this family could be used as a good example on what to do when things get tough.

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Back in the oval office, McCord doesn’t fit the mold of a person in this role. She is unorthodox in her approach and ruffles feathers here and there, especially toward her superior, Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek) who tries to block her access to the president. The best part of the show, and too little I might add, is the return of Bebe Neuwirth as the Chief of Staff, Nadine Tolliver. (Neuwirth played that part of Lilith Crane on both Cheers and Frasier TV series.) The best line of the night comes from her: “Operation stupid children.” The rest of the cast, speechwriter Matt Mahoney (Geoffrey Arend), press coordinator Daisy Grant (Patina Miller) and assistant, Blake Moran (Erich Bergen) are nothing special.

Madam Secretary airs on Sundays at 8:00 p.m. on CBS. If you missed the first episode, you can watch it online here.

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Does New ‘Fight Church’ Documentary Hit Below the Belt?

posted by jtotey
"Fight Church" Poster (Film Harvest)

“Fight Church” Poster (Film Harvest)

“The first time I ever watched Mixed Martial Arts was on television at a church-sponsored fight night party that my brother-in-law had invited me to while I was visiting family in Michigan,” says Bryan Storkel in a Daily Beast article he wrote earlier this week. “I sat through the first two or three fights, but I couldn’t stick with it. There was too much blood for my liking and in spite of the organized structure and rules; it still seemed a bit too barbaric for me.”

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Storkel is co-director of Fight Church, a new documentary released this week that centers on the topic of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) within the Christian community. Not just Christians who fight, but also pastors who have built their churches and ministries around MMA. If this sounds odd to you, than you are not aware of how popular the sport has become over the years. It might also sound odd for a person initially repulsed by the sport would actually dedicate years of his life to capture it in a documentary, but that is kind of guy Storkel is.

Director Bryan Storkel

Director Bryan Storkel

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Storkel’s last project, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians film played at over 40 festivals and won 10 Best Documentary awards.  For this film, Academy Award winning director Daniel Junge was already working on Fight Church and asked Storkel to jump in. While neither is passionate about the subject matter, the two are passionate about creating well-made documentaries and here they succeeded again.

Director Daniel Junge

Director Daniel Junge

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Storkel and Junge followed a number of fighters for about three years and the stories that they were able to uncover is incredible. In the end, it is a fascinating and riveting work. It starts out pretty plainly showing young men practicing martial arts, praying together and supporting one another. After about ten minutes an interview with an older priest from New York is shown in his church explaining why he is dead set against the sport and explains while he feels that it should be stopped. The contrast between the two couldn’t be any bigger. You begin to wonder what the big deal is and why the priest is so concerned. So far, the fighters say a lot of great things about being strong and courageous with bible verses to match. Many of these ministries are used as an outreach to their local communities. However, the longer you watch, the more unsettling the whole thing becomes.

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Some of the men complain that the American church has become too soft. They claim that men in general do not like to go to church because the institution has become feminized over the years. MMA bridges the gap, they say. They compare themselves to the mighty warriors of the Old Testament, but they somehow forget that these warriors of old actually fought real battles, not scheduled cage fights. They say that they use the sport to share their faith with others, but it is never really shown how.

Pastor Preston Hocker vs. Pastor Nashon Nicks.

Pastor Preston Hocker vs. Pastor Nashon Nicks.

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During the film’s climax Pastor Preston Hocker agrees to fight Pastor Nashon Nicks, but hopes that he will not be injured too much that it prevents him from preaching the next morning. During the show down, thong-wearing beauties carry “Round One” signs, blood is splattered, and one pastor is convinced that the other’s arm will get broken if he doesn’t “tap out” soon. One pastor loses the match and instructs the cameraman to “get that camera out of my face!” Praise God?

A good documentary will pull you emotionally one way and then another not wanting to sway your opinion and that is what Fight Church does. It really tries to get into the mindset of these men and their churches without making a judgment. Good examples are shown along with the bad. A strong case is made that everyone, men or women, who chooses to fight has trained for it and are fully aware what they are getting into. But these are the adults. The most chilling is footage of young boys just starting out in MMA and say things like “I love fighting” and “I’m going to rip his head off.”

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Pastor Paul Burress

Pastor Paul Burress

Storkel himself said that he felt that many of the Christian fighters he talked to have shaped their basic concept of Christianity around their love for fighting. I agree as this is actually pretty obvious in the film. There is no doubt in my mind that every man who is interviewed in the film is a God-loving man.  Many claim that if God can’t be glorified throughout the battles, that they will pull out of the MMA ministry. One of them actually does so. As a whole, these men want to make a difference in their world. The question I have for them is how.

“As for myself, I think I’ve had my share of fighting pastors for a while. And I won’t be accepting invitations to a church fight night anytime soon,” says Storkel.

Fight Church is available now on iTunes, On Demand and Digital HD.

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AGT Awards Mat Franco as This Season’s Winner

posted by jtotey
Pictured: (L-R) Mel B, Howard Stern, Mat Franco, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel (NBC)

Pictured: (L-R) Mel B, Howard Stern, Mat Franco, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel (NBC)

Season 9 of NBC’s America’s Got Talent has proven to be one incredible summer show and just when you thought that the competition would never end, it finally did tonight as it crowned magician Mat Franco as the grand prize winner. NBC states that “Franco won over viewers with his ability to continuously reinvent America’s perception of magic.” In the show’s nine years, Franco is the first magician to win the contest.

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During tonight’s finale broadcast, Franco beat out the acrobat act AcroArmy, singers Emily West (who sang a duet with Cyndi Lauper), Quintavious Johnson (who sang a duet with Jennifer Hudson), Miguel Dakota and foursome of Sons of Serendip. In addition to the one million dollars prize, he has also won a headlining stage show in Los Vegas. The runner up, Emily West took the news like a champ and appeared to be genuinely happy for Franco. Honestly, all of the final acts shouldn’t have any trouble creating careers with their newfound fame.

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‘The Guest’- And You Thought Your Family was Bad

posted by jtotey
Dan Stevens stars as the polite and creepy "Guest." (Picturehouse)

Dan Stevens stars as the polite and creepy “Guest.” (Picturehouse)

After a few minutes of watching The Guest, you’ll swear you’ve seen it before, and there is a reason for that. Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, the duo behind the horror film, You’re Next, were inspired by bad horror/thriller movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s and recreated them here right down to the annoying synthesizer soundtrack.

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The film wastes no time at setting up the story. The Peterson family is grieving the death of their son, Caleb who died while in the service. Spencer (Leland Orser) and Laura (Sheila Kelley), Caleb’s parents, fight a lot more often, sister Anna (Maika Monroe) lies about her whereabouts and brother Luke (Brenden Meyer) is tormented by bullies at school. Within two minutes of screen time, Laura is visited by David (Dan Stevens) who served with Caleb. He is on a mission to visit the family and deliver the message that Caleb loved them all very much. Impressed with his manners, sensitivity and stories of serving with Caleb, Laura invites him in and offers to let him stay the night. The other family members are not as accepting of him at first, but David oozes with Southern charm and soon they all forget that they have just let a total stranger into their home.

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Maika Monroe and Brenden Meyer play brother and sister in "The Guest."

Maika Monroe and Brenden Meyer play brother and sister in “The Guest.”

As one can imagine, David is the model houseguest who begins to weave himself into each of the family member’s lives, but as he does so, it becomes more and more obvious, at least to the viewer, that he is up to no good. Perhaps it has something to do with the long close up shots of him slowly turning a smile into a scowl. Still, the family is not fazed by the fact that they know about nothing about their houseguest. Soon, David is picking Luke home from school, drives Anna home from parties and attends meetings with the school’s principal. And why not? He is a friend of the family for crying out loud. David finds way to “help” his new friends but as he does so, Anna becomes suspicious. She is shocked by what she learns and of course, nobody believes her.

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This is not a movie to take seriously. The set-up of the story is already far-fetched, but as the story goes on, it gets even stranger and sillier. It’s part thriller, horror and sci-fi. Yes, all three. The acting is over the top, the characters do stupid things and the final act is filled with implausible situations. Finally, one question is never answered: what is David hoping to accomplish anyway? Talk about frustrating.

The Guest is not a good movie. There is a lot of violence, profanity and sex. There is nothing redeeming. It should appear at Redbox  in a couple of days.

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