Peanuts and Popcorn

Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (Lucasfilm/Disney)

Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Lucasfilm/Disney)

In what has truly felt like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, episode six of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi played in theaters in 1983. Fans have been clamoring for more ever since. And even though director George Lucas tried to comfort fans by presenting prequels to the saga including The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005), it really wasn’t what they wanted. This film is.

Under the careful guidance of director J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings fans what we all really want to see. Our friends. Sure, we can make new friends, but we have been waiting so long to see what happened to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Sola, Chewbacca, R2D2 and C-3PO and in The Force Awakens, they’re all here. Some share more screen time than others – but they’re all here!

Kylo Ren and Stormtoopers

Kylo Ren and Stormtoopers

From the movie’s very first moment and trumpet blast cueing up the tradition theme, The Force Awakens brings you back to the very first time you saw the original Star Wars. With the reboot of Star Trek (2009), Abrams proved that he had a knack for recreating iconic moments in TV and film so that the new franchise feels familiar and yet brings something new as well. Episode seven of Star Wars is filled with callbacks to the original film with great humor, but none of it is overdone. It brings back the classic story of good vs. evil, with no extreme violence, no illicit sex or even swearing. It is truly the adventure film that you can take your five-year-old and grandma to at the same time.

In Episode seven, there is another disturbance in the Force. Luke Skywalker has gone missing and literally everyone in the universe is looking for him. Stormtroopers are attacking villages looking for clues and in a nice change of story, one Stormtrooper, later to be known as Finn (John Boyega), has a change of heart. As fate would have it, his path crosses with Rey’s (Daisy Ridley), an orphaned girl waiting for her family to return home and fighter Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac). (I could tell you how and why, but that would spoil the fun of the film.)

Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

The “new” Darth Vadar of this film is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who, in my opinion, the only weak link in this Star Wars chain. He should be scarier to look at, but he does have the attitude down. Well, sort of. Unlike Vadar who was able to control his temper and channel it, Kylo Ren tends to have a hissy fit.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) looks and acts like he never left and of course, he is aided by the hairy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke (Mark Hamill) look great too. Older, yes, but great. And move over R2-D2 (just a bit) there’s a new droid in town, BB-8 which resembles a beach ball with a hat and acts like a kitten compared to the older, wiser one.

The Force Awakens has everything you want in a Star Wars flick and nothing that you don’t. Jar Jar Binks is nowhere to be found, but neither are any of the ewoks. The characters go from a desert planet to one lush with green trees to the one covered in snow. The pace is faster than the original films and less “talky” too. More action takes the place of exposition. For diehard fans, that might be a disappointment, but for everyday fans of the genre, it is a welcomed change. You’ll, laugh, cheer and maybe shed a tear in this first film of many more to come.

For families of faith, the film represents the human condition. Good and evil are laid out just as striking as black and white and yet, characters that are truly good struggle just as much as those who are truly evil. Yes, there is some grey in the galaxy, but truth always prevails in the end and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

I recently had the opportunity interview musician Christian Davis and while doing research for background information on this man, I naturally “Googled” him. Here is what I found out:

– He’s not the multi Dove Award winning southern gospel singer.
– He’s not the owner of Slydoggie Productions who once opened for acts like Christina Aguilera, ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys.
– He’s not the guitarist for Chloe Dolandis, Beauty to the Moon, Spoke The Za and The FAU Jazz Ratts.
– He’s not related to Chip Davis of Manheim Steamroller fame.

Christian Davis created the music soundtrack for the movie "Christmas Eve" that he worked on with his father/director Mitch Davis.

Christian Davis created the music soundtrack for the movie “Christmas Eve” that he worked on with his father/director Mitch Davis.

So who is he? Christian Davis is a composer for movies with credits on hits such as Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Kevin James’ The Zookeeper and AMC’s The Prisoner.

“Are you aware that they are so many musicians out there using your name?” I asked him and he tells me a list of Christian Davis’ that he has occasionally mix ups happen regarding emails and phone calls. I suggest to him that maybe he needs to add his middle initial to his name like Michael W. Smith. He says that he’ll think about it.
Beginning his career at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Studios, Davis currently works out of his own studio in Los Angeles, CA. where he writes the musical scores for many movies – some of which you have heard of and some you haven’t. He tells me that he’ll pretty much write for anything including TV shows, video games and commercial jingles.

Davis is a gifted musician and composer though relatively unknown but unlike “famous” musicians, he doesn’t have to travel around the country playing the same music over and over again which is something is happy about. Each day brings a new project and new styles to create.

MusicCEHis most recent project was for the current comedy release, Christmas Eve, which was directed by his father, Mitch Davis. It was their first collaboration together. I asked him what it was like working his dad thinking that it might have been stressful. Instead, it was pretty much old hat.

When Davis was going up, it wasn’t unusual for his father to move the family to wherever he was filming. He likes to say that he grew up in the circus. In 2000, while filming Disney’s The Other Side of Heaven, the family lived in the Cook Islands for about six months. It wasn’t usual for Christian to jump in and help out where he could with the film’s lighting crew. However, for Christmas Eve, Davis says that working with his Dad this time around was different in that they were working as two seasoned professionals.

If you visit Davis’ website, you’ll see that he has written for a variety of different genres of film. I asked him if there were any projects that he regretted writing for. He said that there was, but didn’t give any hints on which projects those were. Smart man.

Davis, who is super nice by the way, explained to me how the process tends to work for writing music for movies. I questioned that it must be difficult to “talk” music and he agreed quoting Steve Martin: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” However, I will do my best to pass on what David taught me.

Since every movie, project and director are different, the process is never the same twice, but generally, he receives some sort of outline for the type of music needed for particular scenes. The notes may say something like, “Need a melancholy tune here” or “Music to highlight hilarious comedy stunt goes here,” at least, that is how I understand it. He then puts together a rough draft in musical form using a simple keyboard and then sends the mock up to the director to find out if he is on the right track before he does anything else. There is no need to write music for an orchestra if the director is thinking the scene should feature something a lot more simple like a single guitar.

In Christmas Eve, different groups of people get stuck in five different elevators in New York on the night before the busiest holiday in the U.S. The music featured here is mostly electronic and changes depending on which elevator the movie is focusing on. The exception to this are two scenes that take place in a freight elevator and include a members of a philharmonic orchestra. One song is a rather jaunty version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (and one of my favorite scenes by the way) where each players adds their own “something” to the song. The second is a beautiful version of “Silent Night” that was performed by violinist Jenny Oakes Baker. It is simply incredible. Sadly, the former is not included in the soundtrack release, but “Silent Night” is and is worth a download from iTunes.

When wrapping up my conversation with Davis, I asked him what was something he wished people knew about him. He said, “Tell them that I once had a luscious head of hair.” Instead, I like to suggest that you check out Davis’ website where you can listen to samples of his work.

Are you are already burned out of your Christmas music choices at home or what is available on the radio? Maybe you need a fresh new supply of CDs or MP3s. Here are five of the newest that just might fit the bill.

MusicCTChris Tomlin: Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship
This is the #1 Christian Christmas album selling this year, but it is not your typical Christmas music. It’s a live worship concert recording with music is less traditional and more mellow. You won’t find any Santa tunes here and only a few traditional carols. Most of the music was created new and features carols intertwined. One of the more unique songs on the album is “It’s Christmas” which is mostly a version of “Away in a Manger” with a new chorus, but what makes it unique is that is has a snappy beat –something you don’t usually hear with this song. If you love Chris Tomlin and/or worship music, this is for you.

MusicMMMercyMe: It’s Christmas!
The #2 best-selling Christian Christmas album is also, in my opinion, the best. Unlike other Christmas albums where the singers just sing a sad version of “Jingle Bells” which sounds just every other version of the tune, these guys find a way to make them their own. Their version of “Sleigh Ride” is slow and relaxing, “Do You Hear What I Hear” has a more classical feel to it and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” sounds like it was recorded in a pub. It’s really fun. Their original song, “Newborn,” is hauntingly beautiful but if you want fun, the best is “Christmastime Again” which they have been singing in different appearances including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. However, because the songs are so varied, you will probably love some and not care for others, but it is still a winner.

MusicRCThe Rend Collective: Campfire Christmas Vol. One
There really isn’t any group out there that sounds like The Rend Collective. The Irish bluegrass band’s music is delightfully different and this Christmas release is no different. The music sounds like what you might hear on a youth group outing after a holiday hayride. Like MercyMe, The Rend Collective finds a way to make each traditional carol their own in addition to adding a few new songs as well. Overall, the album is pretty peppy and celebrative. The shortest song is slightly over a minute in length and the longest just over five. The best of the bunch is probably “Joy to the World (You Are My Joy).” I recommend pouring yourself a cup of cocoa and string a garland of popcorn and cranberries while listening.

MusidLSLaura Story: God With Us
If you are a Laura Story fan, this one may surprise you from the very song. Story tends to be more of a mellow, more thoughtful singer known for her worship music. However, unlike Chris Tomlin’s Christmas album, Story’s album is bolder, has a quicker pace and features an orchestra and choir in some songs. The first song of the album, “Love is Here” is a toe-tapper and could be played any time of the year (and probably will). Her version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” sounds majestic with a full choir and bleeds into her own song, “Emmanuel.” The album features two duets: “O Come All Ye Faithful” with Steven Curtis Chapman and “Behold the Lamb of God” with Brandon Heath. Overall, the album is a nice departure from Story’s usual fare.

MusicCEChristian Davis: “Christmas Eve” Soundtrack
Not to be confused with Chip Davis of Manheim Steamroller fame, Chip Davis composed the music to the independent film, Christmas Eve. Overall, the album will appeal to those who love movie soundtracks and most of the music doesn’t sound the slightest like Christmas music. However, the one song you should consider downloading from iTunes is his version of “Silent Night” that was performed by violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, who made her film debut in the film as well. It is simply incredible.

90-minutes-in-heaven-90MIH13_0167_rgbWith hit books and movies like Heaven is for Real, the debate rages on whether or not people can die, go to heaven and then come back to earth to tell others about the experience. The Universal film, 90 Minutes in Heaven, a new DVD release available now, continues to fuel that fire, but to a lesser degree.

Even though that is what the title suggests, the story about Pastor Don Piper’s other-world experience takes second place in order of importance in this true life movie. The set up for the film is simple one. Don Piper was declared dead on January 18, 1989 when his car was struck by a semi-tractor truck while crossing a bridge. It was a gruesome site, but another pastor (who had been attending that same pastor’s conference as Piper) came up to the accident and felt compelled to pray for the person inside of the car. Piper had been lying there dead for 90 minutes but suddenly came to life after the other pastor’s prayers. During those 90 minutes, Piper had experienced a blissful existence in the heavenlies, only to have to return and endure months of pain and physical therapy. Instead of being joyful and full of hope, Piper was depressed and made everyone’s lives around him as miserable as he was. The film chronicles the events that led up to Piper being willing and able to share his heaven experience with others.

The film could has just as easily been called 90 Minutes in a Hospital Room since about 90 minutes of the film takes place there. Okay, maybe not THAT long, but you get the idea that this film is more about talk and less about action. Hayden Christensen does a fine job of portraying Don Piper but Kate Bosworth really shines as the no-nonsense Eva Piper, Don’s wife. In fact, the two almost look like a Christian version of Mad Men’s Don and Betty Draper. When Don’s character “checks out,” Eva rises up. The film doesn’t play her up as a saint, but rather, a supportive wife who is up to her neck in frustration of her husband’s negative attitude, the rising hospital care costs and caring for her kids. One scene tells it all when she arrives at a McDonald’s drive thru and rolls up her window to allow herself to scream, only to roll it back down again to hear the McDonald’s employee state that that item was not on the menu.
While the film begins with this family’s ideal life and some saccharine-sounding dialogue, the story goes on to show that these people are far from perfect, but by going through this trial, they become better people.

The acting in 90 Minutes in Heaven is especially good. Even with the stunt casting decision casting Michael W. Smith (who also wrote the music soundtrack for the film) as one of the church members and a family friend, does a good job. However, the film tends to drag on with little action or much levity and the McDonald’s product placement is a bit much. At least Ronald didn’t visit the good pastor in the hospital. While the film starts out slowly, it finishes up much better.

90 Minutes in Heaven in based on the best-selling book of the same name which has sold over 7 million copies.