Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 11/19/21

Season’s Greetings. This weekend sort of unofficially kicks off the movie holiday season. From a faith and inspiration perspective, there’s actually a quite a bit to choose from. Here are some options.

tick, tick…BOOM! (in theaters and on Netflix now)

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his feature directorial debut with this adaptation of the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), creator of the stage phenomenon Rent. The story picks up the young theater composer’s story while he’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before a make-or-break showcase of his work and amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, the clock is ticking as Jon prepares for the presentation while feeling the pressure from everywhere, including his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City and his friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) who has moved on from his artistic dreams to a life of financial security. The stellar cast also includes Joshua Henry, Mj Rodriguez, Tariq Trotter, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgens and Bradley Whitford as legendary Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The film is written by Tony Award winner Steven Levenson, and produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Julie Oh, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Rated PG-13)

IMHO: Characters that are real, relatable and likable with relationships that ring true and feel authentic, on-the-mark acting, brisk pacing, fantastic music and a message that is both joyous and cautionary, tick, tick…BOOM! has everything you can ask for in a movie. Producer/director (and Hamilton creator) Lin-Manuel Miranda obviously connects with Larson’s story and his empathy combines with his own passion and talent to create a masterful celebration of artistic vision while shining a light on the natural strain the pursuit of it can place on real-life relationships. In doing so, it holds you from beginning to end and has you caring about and feeling for the characters. This is a film with something serious to say about things like balance, perseverance, the importance of words of encouragement, appreciating the people in your life and making every day count.
Bottom Line: Highly Recommended.

King Richard (in theaters and on HBO Max now)

Driven by faith and a clear, optimistic vision of their future, Richard Williams (Will Smith) has a plan that will propel his daughters Venus and Serena Williams (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) from the streets of Compton, California to the global stage as legendary tennis icons. The film also stars Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk), Tony Goldwyn (Divergent), Jon Bernthal (Ford v Ferrari), Andy Bean (IT Chapter Two), Kevin Dunn (Transformers) and Craig Tate (Greyhound). Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) directs off a screenplay written by Zach Baylin. The producers include siblings Tim and Trevor White under their Star Thrower Entertainment banner, and Will Smith under his Westbrook banner. Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Jada Pinkett Smith are among the executive producers. (Rated PG-13)

IMHO: I’m disappointed that a technical glitch on my end prevented me from previewing the film which actually looks like a great companion piece to tick, tick…BOOM! as both movies are based on real people and focus on the challenge of balancing real life and relationships while keeping faith in big, seemingly out-of-reach God-given dreams.
Bottom Line: This looks like a winner.

The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland (in theaters and Amazon Prime now)

The independent family Christmas comedy about a romance between a famous model and a farmer with a young daughter lost out on its planned theatrical release last year due to the COVID pandemic. Ever resourceful, married producers/stars Jenn Gotzon and Jim E. Chandler (whose true love story inspired the film’s premise) released the film digitally, reaching over 100,000 households on Amazon and charting among the top 10 of the service’s new romance releases for six weeks. The Christian Post named it one of the top 10 Christmas films of 2020 and Salem Web Network’s Crosswalk had it as one of its top 15 films of the year. Besides Gotzon and Chandler, the impressive cast includes Corbin Bernsen (Psych), John Schneider (Smallville), Natasha Bure (Fuller House), Robert Amaya (October Baby) and nationally-syndicated radio host Delilah. Directed by Les Llewelyn, executive producers include Joe Battaglia, Raymond Chen and John Schneider. (Rated TV-G)

I interviewed Jenn and Jim last year about the movie and followed up with them recently after a NYC premiere event for the film last week.

JWK: So, going from a streaming and DVD release to a theatrical release is kind of the reverse order of what usually happens.

Jenn Gotzon: It definitely is in reverse order. We are releasing in handpicked movie theaters that are struggling to stay open because of COVID. We are bringing a Christmas festival to them. We are having Christmas shopping and Christmas caroling along with the movie…to usher in the spirit of Christmas. We begin (today) for a week until Thanksgiving in about ten theaters. Then we roll out throughout December in a total of seventeen theaters and counting. If we do very well this opening weekend, there are film buyers (that may) release in more of their theaters. So, we’re encouraging people to come this weekend and…help those movie theaters get back into business and remember what it feels like to go to your small hometown and experience that family tradition together.

JWK: Is it different to experience the film on a big screen?

JG: Yes. It’s incredible. We saw it for the first time on the big screen at the movie premiere…in Times Square on 42nd Street at the Regal. As we sat there, Jim and I…were like “Omigosh! This looks really good!” It feels like it’s supposed to be on the big screen.

Jim E. Chandler: It was really, really good to see the product up there on the big screen (along) with the high quality of the sound. We had it mastered, edited and formatted for the theater…While it was disappointing not to be able to do a theatrical release last year – we understand that it was just not doable – it was really kind of cool to have our Premiere 2020, if you will, this fall. Like the Olympics had their 2020 labeling, we did the same thing. If all the big companies are gonna do streaming and also release theatrically, we figured – you know what? – we can too. So, we did it.

JWK: That’s right. That’s the way now, isn’t it? So, considering the success you’ve have with the film already, are you planning a sequel?

JG: We are planning a sequel. It’ll be about how to have a fulfilling marriage…It’ll be based on Jim and my true story just as the first one was inspired by (our courtship).

Note: To find a theater showing The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland go here. To learn more about Jenn and Jim go here.

Clifford the Big Red Dog (in theaters and Paramount+ now)

When middle-schooler Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) meets a magical animal rescuer (John Cleese) who gifts her a little, red puppy, she never anticipates waking up to find a giant ten-foot hound in her small New York City apartment. While her single mom (Sienna Guillory) is away for business, Emily and her fun but impulsive Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) set out on an adventure to take a bite out of the Big Apple. Based on the beloved Scholastic book character. (Rated PG)

Hudson & Rex (streaming now on UP Faith & Family)

I discovered this action-packed but family-friendly Canadian cop series while up north a couple of years ago. I immediately thought the adventures of Detective Charlie Hudson (John Reardon) and his K9 partner Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald) who work within the St. John’s Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit should be imported to the US. Now,  UPtv’s streaming service UP Faith and Family is doing just that. As good old-fashioned TV escapism, it’s worth catching. (Not Rated)

Coming in December

Christmas with the Chosen: The Messengers (in theaters beginning Dec. 1)

The Chosen TV series completed its second season in the spring continuing as the No. 1 crowd-funded television project of all time. The free-to-watch episodic drama about the life of Jesus has been translated into 50 languages and counting and has consistently ranked in the top 20 entertainment apps on iOS and Android. Building on the global phenomenon, Fathom Events is bringing Christmas with the Chosen: The Messengers to movie screens. The ticket offering shattered Fathom’s previous record with $1.5 million in sales in the first 12 hours. The special episode depicts the birth of Christ through the eyes of Mary and Joseph. The event also features musical performances from Christian artists such as Phil Wickham, Maverick City Music, For King and Country, Brandon Lake and others. The Chosen is produced by Loaves & Fishes Productions and distributed by Angel Studios. For information on tickets go here. (Not Rated)

Small Town Christmas (premiering Sunday, Dec. 5 at 9:00 PM ET on UPtv)

Megan Alexander (Inside Edition) crisscrosses the United States visiting small towns at Christmas time and shares the festive ways the charming locales celebrate the holiday with traditions as diverse and special as our country itself. The show will feature small businesses throughout the country owned by hometown individuals who are essential to making America a great place to live all year round. (Not Rated)

American Underdog (in theaters Christmas Day)

Based on the true-life story of Kurt and Brenda Warner (Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin), the faith and family-friendly film recounts how Kurt went from stocking shelves in a grocery store to support Brenda and her two kids from a previous marriage while holding onto his apparently fading dream to be an NFL quarterback. The film also stars Dennis Quaid as St. Louis Rams Coach Dick Vermeil. (Rated PG)
For info on Fox Nation‘s and UPtv’s holiday programming plans click here.
I’m taking off for two weeks. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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

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