Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The Town That Came A-Courtin’ premieres this Sunday (1/19) @ 7:00 PM ET on UP TV
Main Cast: Lauren Holly, Cameron Bancroft,
Lucie Guest, Iris Quinn, Toby Hargrave and Valerie Harper
Produced by: Odyssey Media (in association with The Cartel, Paulist Pictures and Five Smooth Stones Productions)
Directed by: David Winning
Screenplay by: Sheryl J. Anderson (based on the novel by Ronda Rich)
Casting by: Bim Narine

Synopsis (adapted from the UP press release): Abby Houston (Lauren Holly) is a smart beautiful, successful author and fiercely independent southern woman. We  meet her, she is curiously being kept captive in a remote cabin by an obsessed fan named Walter (Toby Hargrave).

Days earlier, Abby and her publicist (Lucie Guest) were visiting the lovely — and amazingly-friendly — town of Bliss, Mississippi on her most recent book tour where Charlotte (Valerie Harper), owner of the local Magnolia Blossom B&B, and her well-meaning prayer chain were concocting big plans for the author — who they see as the perfect for their beloved Mayor Spencer Alexander (Cameron Bancroft). The mayor is also the widowed father of two children.

After a rocky first meeting, Abby agrees to have dinner with Spencer who she finds to be both handsome and earnest. Eagerly encouraged by the entire town, they embark on a whirlwind public romance. But just as they are about to share a first kiss, Spencer is reminded of his late wife and abruptly pulls back. Hurt and sad, Abby is determined to leave Bliss behind but, instead, she’s kidnapped by an obsessed fan. That’s when the town, led by the mayor, mobilizes to find her.

Review: This is, IMHO, UP’s best movie yet. Though its plot may resemble a gender-reversed version of Misery — director Rob Reiner’s 1990 thriller in which a male writer (James Caan) was kidnapped by a crazed female fan (Kathy Bates) — it’s actually nothing like that. The tone, in fact, is more reminiscent of The Andy Griffith Show.  Like that classic sitcom, it’s set in a small town. Bliss, Mississippi is a lot like Mayberry, North Carolina in that it’s populated by offbeat and endearing characters you can’t help but enjoy spending time with. The main difference is that that our focal point is the town’s mayor rather than its sheriff. And Bliss’ widowed Mayor Alexander (Bancroft), it turns out, is a lot like Mayberry’s widowed Sheriff Taylor — except he has two kids (a boy and a girl) as opposed to just one.

What’s more Abby Houston (Holly) makes for a very attractive Helen Crump and the chemistry between Holly and Bancroft is palpable. In fact, the casting of this film is so spot-on as to be worthy of note.  All the colorful, quirky characters of Bliss are interesting just to look at. And Lucie Guest strikes just the note as Abby’s big city-bred publicist who finds herself amazed to discover a town where people care about their mayor — and each other — so much. This may be an idealized view of small town life (like Mayberry was) but it resonates. If it’s not exactly as life is, it’s a relatively believable version of what it could be if people were just a bit nicer to each other.

And, of course, it’s good to see that Valerie Harper who actually terrific in the role of Charlotte, the kind and encouraging of the town’s bed and breakfast.

The kidnapping plot which really kicks in toward the end has as much actual a sense of terror as those Mayberry episodes where would-be bank robbers would arrive only to be thwarted by Andy (with questionable assist from Barney).

When the movie ended, I actually wouldn’t mind spending more time with lovable character. If you ask me, A Town Called Bliss would make a pretty good TV series. Highly Recommended.

Song of praise. Congratulations to Enthuse Entertainment. Its faith and family friendly period drama Alone Yet Not Alone — produced outside Hollywood’s mainstream — surprised some show business prognosticators by landing a 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. The title song (written by Bruce Broughton with lyrics by Dennis Spiegel) is performed by Joni Eareckson. The film’s original soundtrack is currently available to audiences digitally through iTunes.

Alone Yet Not Alone tells the inspirational story of Barbara and Regina Leininger whose faith in God sustained them when they were by Delaware Indians during the French & Indian war in 1755. (Read my review of the film here.)

In limited theatrical last September, Alone Yet Not Alone became the highest-grossing film in its opening weekend in terms of per screen average (combining theater ticket sales with Seatzy ticket sales), garnering $13,396 per screen and ranking Alone Yet Not Alone as one of the highest per-screen-average independently-released faith-based films to date.

The 86th annual Academy Awards will be broadcast by ABC on Sunday, March 2 from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.  Ellen DeGeneres will host.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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