Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

‘Marry Me’ Features Too Much Banter, Too Little Plot

posted by jtotey
Annie (Casey Wilson) and Jake (Ken Marino) star in "Marry Me." (NBC)

Annie (Casey Wilson) and Jake (Ken Marino) star in “Marry Me.” (NBC)

For a couple of years, the ABC and a few choice critics were trying to tell us that the sitcom, Happy Endings was worth watching. It wasn’t. While witty banter will make for a good scene every now and then, a sitcom can’t survive on witty banter alone and for the most part, that is all Happy Endings was. That and loose morals. Giving the audience more than just a hint of plot is so much more with it. With that said, Casey Wilson may have been the best thing from that show. Her timing and facial expressions are spot on. It is surely those qualities is why NBC decided to pick up her latest venture, Marry Me.

David Caspe, writer for Happy Endings is back at work here with director Seth Gordon, director of The Goldbergs. Marry Me actually has a lot of potential to work, but if the pilot episode is any indication for the future, it won’t. Here’s the deal, Annie (Wilson) and Jake (Ken Marino) have been dating for six years. You would think that the two would get married by this point, and so do they, sort of. The premiere begins with the couple just coming back from a two week paradise vacation and Annie was hoping that Jake would have popped the question on the trip. What she didn’t know before she goes off on her 15-minute tirade is that Jake was planning to do just that and then celebrate with friends and family who have been hiding around her apartment. This is fairly funny scene. So is the flashback on how the two met and the proposal redo that Annie springs on Jake at his office. But they are more than just a set up for more clever banter.

To the casual observer, Annie and Jake seem perfect for each other. But the show continues in this vein of frantic bantering without taking a breath except for the occasional bad jokes from other cast members. Like the friend who waited so long in the closet to come jump out and say “surprise” that she wet herself in the closet. I’m sorry, but “humor” like this isn’t funny. It’s just gross and distasteful.

The other problem with this show is that is doesn’t seem to know what show it is going to be. On one hand, it feels like an old-fashioned romantic comedy. Annie doesn’t want her and Jake to live together before they get married, but she doesn’t have a problem with him sleeping over at her place or taking two week long vacations with each other. As a person who still believes that men and women shouldn’t “shack up” but understand that not everyone feels that way, I don’t understand this logic. Wouldn’t a sitcom about a couple dating for six years while abstaining from sex be funnier? Of course then the title would be, “Marry Me…PLEASE!” Instead we get another pair of really likeable characters in a plot-light story. And a lot of banter.

Marry Me airs on Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. on NBC.

Believe Me: Comedy or Cringe-Inducing?

posted by jtotey


Alex Russell stars in the faith-based satire, "Believe Me." (Riot Studios)

Alex Russell stars in the faith-based satire, “Believe Me.” (Riot Studios)

A new kind of faith-based film came to movie screens a couple of years ago called Blue Like Jazz which was based on the book by the same name by Christian author Donald Miller. It featured college kids drinking, some swearing and references to sex and sort of came and went without much fanfare. Currently in theaters is another faith-based film which features college kids drinking, some swearing…and no references to sex, that I can remember. However, those are not the issues that will make Christians cringe while watching it. Believe Me is an ambitious satire about Christians and even though the religious ones in the story are not the villains, their behavior will challenge you to re-think your own.

The story is about Sam (Alex Russell) and his college friends who…surprise…can’t afford college. Sam is ready to graduate and move on to law school when he finds out that his scholarship ran out months earlier. While attending a church service to impress a girl, Sam is mesmerized by a group of short-term missionaries who feel called to serve in…Hawaii. Like sheep going to slaughter, Sam witnesses the congregation giving money left and right for the cause. In no time, Sam has convinced his buddies Baker (Max Adler), Tyler (Sinqua Walls), and Pierce (Miles Fisher – a Tom Cruise look-alike) that the answer to their financial dreams to create their “ministry outreach” where they reach out for other’s people’s money and then keep it for themselves. In no time, the two-week plan turns into two months as a Ken (Christopher McDonald), a leader of the Cross Country ministry team, takes the “God Squad” under his wings to help them raise money for starving children in Africa. They gladly accept, but realize in a hurry that they can’t pass themselves off as Christians without some study. They learn that Christians:

  • Have different body postures during worship
  • Are “okay” with swearing if they shorten the four-letter words to just one letter.
  • Will drink wine and attend bars as long as their drinks are non-alcoholic
  • Will buy the dumbest t-shirts if the shirts talk about God

This of course is funny, but it is also sad because it is true. The cringe moments continue when you see how gullible the church crowd can be. Sam learns early on that just telling a packed building full of Christians and telling them about the woes in Africa is enough to collect coins. When he changes his tune slightly to say that God will bless the people for their generous giving, that’s when they respond. They completely fall for the “what’s in it for me scheme.” Sam is no longer trying to preach the gospel; he is just selling a product.

Even people of Cross Country team are oblivious to their own behavior. Gabriel (Zachary Knighton), the worship leader, sings songs that only repeat the name of “Jesus” over and over again. He says, “I realized if the song is supposed to all about Him, than what are the other words there for?” Other members of the team become inspired about the “work” the God Squad is doing. The guys respond by telling others what they want to hear. Even the tour manager Callie (Johanna Braddy), who is skeptical of the guys at first, fall victim to their lies.

Believe Me is pretty good. The acting doesn’t leave the saccharine flavor you will find in some other faith-based films. NBC’s Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman has a brief role and the best scene in the whole film as a guidance counselor. Hip Hop artist Lecrae also has a cameo role as well. There are a few plot holes and scenes where characters seem to disappear and then re-appear with no real reason for their absence, but these are minor infractions.

The creators of Believe Me may disagree, but I think this film should be used as tool to preach to the choir rather than an outreach tool to reach the masses. Anything that can make us question our authenticity and become more real in the process is a good thing.

‘Alexander’s Bad Day’ is Good for Everyone Else

posted by jtotey
Jennifer Garner, Kerris Dorsey and Ed Oxenbould (Disney)

Jennifer Garner, Kerris Dorsey and Ed Oxenbould (Disney)

Finally, this weekend you can find out for yourself why Steve Carrell is chasing a kangaroo and what that has to do with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. And it will be a good excuse to go to the theater.

Sometimes when the term “loosely based” is used to describe a movie, it means that the film follows the plot of the original book only to a point. Here, Alexander is extremely loosely based on the book of the same name by Judith Viorst, but in a good way. The 32-page illustrated children’s book has very little dialogue and plot to work with for a full-length movie. “The idea for the film adaptation was to use the story in the book as the first act of the movie,” says producer Lisa Henson. “The second two acts of the film had to be a completely original storyline set during a second day that is even worse than Alexander’s first terrible, horrible, very bad day.” The end result is reminiscent to both versions of Disney’s Freaky Friday. Here, Alexander doesn’t feel that anyone in his family understands what it is like to have a bad day and can’t relate to him. On the eve of his birthday, he celebrates at midnight with some ice cream and a candle and accidentally makes a wish.  What follows is crazy hijinks that one expects from a Disney family comedy, but not exactly in the Disney tradition.

Steve Carell and either Zoey or Elise Vargas. (Disney)

Steve Carell and either Zoey or Elise Vargas. (Disney)

Directed by Miguel Arteta, Alexander may be the first Disney movie to utter the word “penis” and to have some literal bathroom humor. In a way, it actually makes this unbelievable tale a little more believable.

Like a well-made recipe, Alexander has the right mix of plot and cast. Over 500 boys tried out for the roll of Alexander Cooper, but it was Ed Oxenbould from Australia who won the role. He’s a character that everyone can relate with. The wonderful Steve Carell, (who could likely end up becoming the next “Disney Dad”) plays Alexander’s stay-at-home-but-not-by-choice pop, Ben. He hasn’t worked in seven months, so he is really looking forward to his big job interview. Kelly Cooper (Jennifer Garner) is the successful business mom working for a children’s’ book publishing company. She feels guilty leaving baby Trevor (played by twins Zoey and Elise Vargas) and going to work. Her boss (Megan Mullally) doesn’t help matters by dangling the carrot of advancement with the distinct possibility of losing more hours away from home. Her big day is centered on a new book release that will be read aloud by actor Dick Van Dyke at a local bookstore. (A fairly tasteless scene that doesn’t honor such a legend).

Jennifer Garner and Dick Van Dyke

Jennifer Garner and Dick Van Dyke (Disney)

Brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) is looking forward to getting his driver’s license and attending the Junior prom with his uptight girlfriend Celia (Bella Thorne) and sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) can’t wait for her big break playing Peter Pan in the school play. And yes, things don’t go as planned for them either.

In Alexander’s family, he is usually the only one who experiences bad days. The rest of them seem to just shrug it off and move on. (Similar to going to church in a bad mood and everyone else appears to be happy.) In this story, they can’t. The movie makes it clear that having bad days is normal and getting upset about it isn’t a sin, but it is how you deal with them that makes the difference. They can choose to blame each other for all the bad things happening or they can work together to just get the day over with and try again tomorrow. It is refreshing to see that all of the story’s craziness is tempered by the message that sticking together as a family is important no matter what.

Hillsong UNITED, Skillet and ‘God’s Not Dead’ Win Big at 45th Dove Awards

posted by jtotey
(GMA Dove Awards)

(GMA Dove Awards)

For an award show, 45 years is a pretty big deal. Last night GMA celebrated its 45th presentation of the Dove Awards. The thing is; getting timely information from GMA (or any source for that matter) is difficult at best. The awards were given out at Allen Arena in Nashville, Tennessee last night and were hosted by Bart Millard of MercyMe and Lecrae and sounds like a good time was had by all, but the event will not be televised until this Sunday, October 12, 2014 on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). Photos from the awards are not yet available and information about the TV special is either not listed or is hidden on the TBN website. Be that as it may, below are the main winners this year. If you want to be surprised, stop reading now.

Hillsong UNITED were the big winners of the night with five awards for their song including Song of the Year, Artist of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year and Worship Song of the Year. “The song ‘Oceans’ has opened so many new doors and so many great opportunities to share the message of Jesus,” Hillsong United’s Jonathan Douglass said backstage as reported on “Only by the grace of God is this song doing what it’s doing. . . People keep telling us the song is doing really well, but the way we gauge it is when we talk to people one on one, either back in Sydney [Australia, the worship band’s home base] or all over the world. People grab me by the shoulders, look me in the eyes and say, ‘I was going through this and that song is what helped me.’ That’s why we do these albums.”

Switchfoot won three Doves, including Rock Contemporary Song for “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” and Rock/Contemporary album and Long Form Video of the Year for “Fading West.” The rock group Skillet won Rock Album of the Year for RISE and Rock Song of the Year for “Not Gonna Die.”

“Have to say it was pretty cool hearing the news about these wins,” remarked lead singer John Cooper in press release statement. “We couldn’t be there since we’re heading to Europe again this week [their third visit in a year], but to have this album recognized in this way is definitely an honor, and we’re really thankful.”

Again, the Dove Awards took time to award Director Harold Cronk and Pure Flix Entertainment an award for Inspirational Film of the Year, God’s Not Dead.

Below is a list of the bulk of this year’s winners. For the complete list and players responsible, click here.

  • Song of the Year – “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” – Hillsong UNITED
  • Songwriter of the Year – Chris Tomlin
  • Artist of the Year – Hillsong UNITED, Hillsong Music
  • New Artist of the Year – Ellie Holcomb, Full Heart
  • Rap/Hip Hop Song of the Year – “100” – KB (ft. Andy Mineo)
  • Rock Song of the Year – Not Gonna Die” – Skillet
  • Rock/Contemporary Song of the Year – “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight” – Switchfoot
  • Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year –  “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” – Hillsong UNITED
  • Inspirational Song of the Year – “You Amaze Us” – Selah
  • Southern Gospel Song of the Year – “Revival” – Karen Peck & New River
  • Country Song of the Year – “Love With Open Arms” – Doug Anderson
  • Contemporary Gospel/Urban Song of the Year – “Every Praise” – Hezekiah Walker
  • Worship Song of the Year – “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” – Hillsong UNITED
  • Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year – Never Land – Andy Mineo
  • Rock Album of the Year – Rise – Skillet
  • Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year  – Fading West – Switchfoot
  • Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year – Overcomer – Mandisa
  • Inspirational Album of the Year – Hymns – Michael W. Smith
  • Southern Gospel Album of the Year – Oh What a Savior – Ernie Haase & Signature Sound
  • Country Album of the Year – Drive – Doug Anderson
  • Contemporary/Gospel Urban Album of the Year – Greater Than – Tye Tribbett
  • Traditional Gospel Album of the Year – Duets – Donnie McClurkin
  • Christmas Album of the Year – Christmas Is Here – Brandon Heath,
  • Praise and Worship Album of the Year – Majestic – Kari Jobe
  • Short Form Video of the Year – “Shake” – Mercy Me
  • Long Form Video of the Year – “Fading West” – Switchfoot
  • Inspirational Film of the Year – “God’s Not Dead” – Pure Flix
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