Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Roadside Acquires 'Blue Like Jazz' Before SXSW Premiere

Roadside Attractions has acquired U.S. rights to "Blue Like Jazz," prior to its world premiere in the Narrative Spotlight section at the upcoming 2012 South-by-Southwest Film Festival. The film, directed by Steve Taylor ("The Second Chance") and based on the hit semi-autobiography by Donald Miller, will open theatrically on April 13. Lionsgate will handle DVD, VOD and TV releases.

"Blue Like Jazz" stars "True Blood" star Marshall Allman as Don, a 19-year-old sophomore in Texas, who decides to escape his religious upbringing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And the Winner Is…

The long award season finally came to a conclusion last Sunday with the broadcast of the 84th Academy Awards. Starting with the nomination process back in December, it seemed like every week we had a different award show. The list has grown to include The Golden Globes, Writers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, The Critics Choice, BAFTA Awards, and The Spirit Awards. And that isn’t even a complete list.

This year the big winner was The Artist which is perhaps one of the most unlikely movies to win Best Picture since the surprise 1981 win for Chariots of Fires. I’m sure nobody had their money on The Artist, at least in the beginning. But as the award season rolled on, the critics and, more importantly, the Academy voters began to lock on to The Artist as their choice to take the big prizes.

The Artist won a total of five Oscars. Did I mention, it was in black and white? And not only that, it also was the first silent film to be made since 1929. And wait a minute. Here’s the final kicker. It’s actually a French film. Although it was shot in Los Angeles, it featured a French director and French actors. I’m not sure it’s the type of film that typical moviegoers would choice.

The Oscars is Hollywood’s big night to connect with the movie-going public. The Academy Awards traditionally draws one of television’s largest audiences for the year. Sunday’s broadcast has a 4% increase over last year’s with a 25.5 rating and a 38% audience share. The only programs that get bigger numbers would be the Super Bowl or the season finale of American Idol.

Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars for the 9th time which places him 2nd behind Bob Hope. I’ve always been a big fan of Billy Crystal. He adds a touch of elegance, class, and humor. He made it an overall entertaining night.

Only one film, The Help, which made $169 million, was both a hit with the critics and the movie-going public. In fact, it was the only film nominated for Best Picture that finished in the top 25 money makers. Most of the nominees were only mildly successful in terms of box office profits. In fact, The Artist didn’t even make the top 100. Will the Oscar help The Artist? Only time will tell.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Academy Awards 2012: "The Artist" wins best picture

Academy Awards voters have spoken up for "The Artist," the first silent film to triumph on Hollywood's biggest night since the original Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.

The black-and-white film picked up five awards in all, including best picture, actor for Jean Dujardin and directing for Michel Hazanavicius. The last time a silent film earned the top prize was when the World War I saga "Wings" was named outstanding picture at the first Oscars in 1929.

"I am the happiest director in the world," Havanavicius said, thanking the cast, crew and canine co-star Uggie. "I also want to thank the financier, the crazy person who put money in the movie."

The other top Oscars went to Meryl Streep as best actress for "The Iron Lady," Octavia Spencer as supporting actress for "The Help" and Christopher Plummer as supporting actor for "Beginners."

Streep's win was her first Oscar in 29 years, since she won best actress for "Sophie's Choice." She had lost 13 times in a row since then. Streep also won a supporting-actress Oscar for 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer," and has earned a total of 17 nominations.

The win puts her in a category with other three-time Oscar winners Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Only Katharine Hepburn - with four wins - had more.

"When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America go, 'Oh, no, why her again?' But whatever," Streep said, laughing. "I really understand I'll never be up here again," she continued. "I really want to think all my colleagues, my friends. I look out here and I see my life before my eyes, my old friends, my new friends. Really, this is such a great honor but the think that counts the most with me is the friendship and the love and the sheer job we've shared making moves together."

Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner in history during the ceremony, winning for his role as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in "Beginners."

"You're only two years older than me, darling," the 82-year-old actor he crooned to his statuette at the 84th Academy Awards. "Where have you been all my life?"

Plummer and Spencer dominated the supporting actor and actress categories at previous award shows this season, and were considered virtual locks for their Oscars.

Spencer, who played a headstrong black maid in 1960s Mississippi, wept throughout her breathless speech, in which she apologized, between laughing and crying, for running a bit long on her time limit.

"Thank you, Academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," Spencer said, referring to last year's supporting-actor winner Christian Bale, who presented her award.

Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win an acting Oscar. French actresses have won before, including Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche.

"Oh, thank you. Oui. I love your country!" said Dujardin, who plays George Valentin, a silent-film star who falls on hard times when talking films take over. If Valentin could speak, Dujardin added, "he'd say ... 'Merci beaucoup, formidable!"'

Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo", which led contenders with 11 nominations, won five Oscars, including the first two prizes of the night, for cinematography and art direction. It also won for visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing.

The visual-effects prize had been the last chance for the "Harry Potter" franchise to win an Oscar. The finale, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," had been nominated for visual effects and two other Oscars but lost all three. Previous "Harry Potter" installments had lost on all nine of their nominations.

While "The Boy Who Lived" didn't strike Oscar gold, another beloved big-screen bunch, the Muppets, finally got their due. "The Muppets" earned the best-song award for "Man or Muppet," the sweet comic duet sung by Jason Segel and his Muppet brother in the film, the first big-screen adventure in 12 years for Kermit the frog and company.

"I grew up in New Zealand watching the Muppets on TV. I never dreamed I'd get to work with them," said "Man or Muppet" writer Bret McKenzie of the musical comedy duo "Flight of the Conchords," who joked about meeting Kermit for the first time. "Like many stars here tonight, he's a lot shorter in real life."

Filmmaker Alexander Payne picked up his second writing Oscar, sharing the adapted-screenplay prize for the Hawaiian family drama "The Descendants" with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne, who also directed "The Descendants," previously won the same award for "Sideways."

Payne said he brought his mother to the ceremony, and that she had demanded a shout-out if he made it onstage. "She made me promise that if I ever won another Oscar I had to dedicate it to her just like Javier Bardem did with his Oscar. So mom, this one's for you. Thank you for letting me skip nursery school so we could go to the movies."

Woody Allen earned his first Oscar in 25 years, winning for original screenplay for the romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris," his biggest hit in decades. It's the fourth Oscar for Allen, who won for directing and screenplay on his 1977 best-picture winner "Annie Hall" and for screenplay on 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters."

No fan of awards shows, Allen predictably skipped Sunday's ceremony, where he also was up for best director and "Midnight in Paris" was competing for best picture.

"Rango," with Johnny Depp providing the voice of a desert lizard that becomes a hero to a parched Western town, won for best animated feature, while Iran's "A Separation" won for foreign language film. "Undefeated," a portrait of an underdog high school football team, won for documentary feature.

Billy Crystal got the ceremony off to a lively start with a star-laden montage in which he hung out with Justin Bieber and got a wet kiss from George Clooney. Back as Oscar host for the ninth time, Crystal also did his signature introduction of the best-picture nominees with a goofy song.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Artist Wins Big at Spirit Awards

Silent movie romance "The Artist" on Saturday won four Independent Spirit Awards, the year's top honors among movies made outside Hollywood's major studios, including best film and director in a prelude to the Oscars.

"The Artist," a black-and-white movie from French writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, also picked up Spirit Awards for its star Jean Dujardin, who portrays an actor whose career collapses with the advent of the talkies, in the best actor category and Guillame Schiffman for cinematography.

The film's makers arrived in Los Angeles directly from Friday's Cesar honors in France, and had to be brought to the Spirit Awards from the airport with a police escort. But they shrugged off any jet lag to happily accept their awards.

"Physically it's tiring, but the energy is so good you don't really feel tired," Hazanavicius told reporters backstage about the current awards season in Hollywood and around the world.

About Sunday's Academy Awards, the world's top film honors, he admitted a touch of "stage fright ... (An Oscar) is something that we have had in our eyes for a long time, so I can't say I'm super cool.

"But today, this is important too," Hazanavicius added, pointing to his Spirit Award. "This means a lot because it ('The Artist') is a small movie. It's not expensive."

The nearest rival to "The Artist" for Spirit Awards was family drama "The Descendants," which claimed two honors: best screenplay for Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; and best supporting actress for Shailene Woodley.

The Spirit Awards are given out by Los Angeles-based, non-profit group Film Independent, and are widely considered among the top trophies for low-budget and art house movies.

They come a day before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out the Oscars, where "Artist" and "Descendants" square off for best film alongside seven other movies, including studio-backed civil rights drama "The Help."

Other top Spirit Awards went to Michelle Williams for best lead actress with her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn." Williams, too, is nominated for Sunday's Oscars, but is widely considered an underdog to Viola Davis in "The Help" and Meryl Streep as former British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."

Williams noted the low-budget nature of indie filmmaking when she accepted her Spirit Award onstage, saying the first time she had been at the show that takes place near the beach, she'd arrived in her own clothes and had done her own hair - no glitz and glamour of the Oscar red carpet.

"I still remember the feeling that in the room, unlike others, that was okay, possibly even preferred," Williams said. "I want to say thank you for supporting me and welcoming me and making me feel at home in this room, all the way back then and now, where the only thing that I own, that I'm wearing, is my dignity."

The other key winner was Christopher Plummer, who was named best supporting actor for his role in "Beginners" as an elderly gay man who comes out of the closet to his family.

"It's taken me the longest time to realize the Spirits Awards have nothing to do with booze, so pity that," Plummer quipped about the casual atmosphere at the so-called Indie Spirits that is as much cocktail party as award show.

Film Independent also spotlights first-time filmmakers and others on the rise in the industry. In that arena, financial meltdown movie "Margin Call" picked up two trophies including best first feature film for director J.C. Chandor. Will Reiser claimed best first screenplay for cancer comedy "50/50."

Finally, Iranian divorce drama "A Separation" was named best international movie, and "The Interrupters" picked up the Spirit Award for top documentary.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Christian Movie Connect Episode 27 - NRB with Tracy Trost

Christian filmmaker Tracy Trost of Trost Moving Pictures (“The Lamp,” “A Christmas Snow”) is the featured guest as Cheryl Ariaz Wicker reports on location from the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. Check back weekly for another interviews about Christian, family-friendly and redeeming movies on Also, please LIKE Christian Movie Connect on Facebook

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Road Map to Success

Finding a Road Map for Success in Hollywood is about learning to fully embrace a missional lifestyle. We all are called to be missionaries and reach the people around us whether we’re a plumber, electrician, an accountant, etc. For the media missionary, our mission field is media, TV and film. We’re called to go there and reach the people. It’s always going to be about reaching the people first and creating the product second.

Industry insiders tell me that 10,000 new people arrive each month in Hollywood looking to break into the industry. They also tell me that approximately 10,000 people also leave every month broken and disillusioned. Somewhere in those numbers are 200 individuals who believe they have been called to go to Hollywood and transform the industry. Those Christians who work in various ministries in the industry also tell me that less than 10% have a real chance to make it in the business. Those are sad numbers. So what can you do to improve your chances? How can you have success in Hollywood both professionally and spiritually?

First, you must have a solid relationship with God. If you don’t, the media industry, especially Hollywood, will chew you up and spit you out. If you don’t know who you are in Christ, don’t ever consider pursuing a career in mainstream media. If your relationship with Christ is close and personal, you will know without any doubt if you have been called to Hollywood to pursue a career in media. Don’t move on unless this is crystal clear. A strong relationship with God will also lead you to seek fellowship and support groups who can help you in your spiritual and career development. I’ve talked to a lot of Christians who thought they could make it on there own. We all need help. There are Christians who work in Hollywood who can help and support you.

Second, you must love the people in this industry. People who work in entertainment and media whether in Hollywood or any other town, quite frankly, are different. Artists often don’t fit into the mainstream model. They are a different breed. More often, they will be more liberal in their views on politics, lifestyle choices, philosophy, and religion. You won’t find many Christians working in Hollywood and the mainstream entertainment industry. You will undoubtedly be a minority. They will talk differently, react differently and will be self-centered. Can you deal with that?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Act of Worship

Entertainment is American’s number one export. Throughout the world, Hollywood’s influence can be found in every corner. I consider Hollywood to be the world’s most influential mission field. That’s why it is so important that we discover how God is at work in the entertainment industry. Due to our modern, Western, evangelistic philosophy, we have embraced a platonic separation of the sacred and the secular. We believe that we understand what are and what are not acceptable acts of worship. What if everything we do in our life is an act of worship. The Bible proclaims in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” NLT Therefore everything we do is an act of worship, including making movies or television programs. If we truly believe this scripture, our lives would change and our approach to everything we do would change.

God can use all forms of media including movies to express His glory and power. Almost anything we believe, whether about our culture, our nation, society or about ourselves can be found in our media. And, for many people, how they view God is also found in the movies. Movies express our wants, fears, hurts and desires. Media, particularly films, can shape public perception, educate, and enlighten all of us. They can offer us insight into the human condition and our desire to find truth. They challenge us to consider our life choices as well as the pathway that we are currently pursuing.

Many today consider movies, television shows, and the media in general to be the “new church” for this generation. This new church defines who we are as a people and what we believe to be true about ourselves and our world. It’s power is undeniable, and God is in it. We must learn how to use it honestly and effectively.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is it Time to Get Off the Merry-go-Round?

I can’t believe it was a year ago this month that I released my first book, The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. Although it didn’t make the New York Times best seller list, it did connect with a lot of people and received many positive reviews. To be honest with you, I didn’t see it as a big seller. That’s not the reason I wrote the book. I wanted to write a different kind of media book; not one that attacked Hollywood and the entertainment industry but one that offered a plan that could actually impact and change the direction of our culture.

I wrote The Red Pill from the perspective of a Christian worldview. The book laid out a blueprint on how people of faith could use visual media to fulfill the Great Commission, be a witness for Christ, and build the Kingdom of God. The book makes the case that we need to train and equip future media professionals to think, work, and function as missionaries in mainstream media and entertainment.

I’ve been asked who is a good candidate to read The Red Pill. Obviously it would be anyone who is interested in media and particularly those who are seeking a career in the fields of media and entertainment. For those individuals, at least in my opinion, The Red Pill is a must-read. But I’ve come to understand that The Red Pill is much more than just a media book. I’m convinced that it speaks to a broader audience. I believe The Red Pill will help you to better understand your faith, how God works, and what it means to truly live the principles of Christianity.

First, if you’re ready to get off of the merry-go-round which is what I described as our contemporary American lifestyle, then you are most definitely a candidate to read The Red Pill. In the book, I write about how the media culture has created a “perceived” reality that we have accepted as normal and routine. Our lifestyles reflect this view. What the mass media culture proclaims, we accept without question, and we become a reflection of that reality.

Perhaps, you realize there is something wrong with the world, and you feel uncomfortable with the direction our society is moving toward. Why is it that every minute of our day is filled with some kind of activity? Why do we pursue consumerism and materialism as a religion? To tell you the truth, Christians are just as guilty as nonbelievers. Are you ready to get off the merry-go-round? Reading The Red Pill requires us to examine our lives and the choices we make. I’m convinced this book will challenge you in ways you can’t imagine. Much of Christianity in America today reflects a convenient, comfortable, and safe lifestyle. We are not going to change the world if we continue to cling to those beliefs.

Another good candidate to read the book is someone who believes that God has a unique plan for his or her life. We have all been called to do something in the Kingdom. The Red Pill will help you to better understand how to connect with God and how to find your calling.

If you are motivated to discover how God is at work in the world, then I believe The Red Pill is an essential read. I don’t have any question that God is at work in all human activity, and that includes the media and entertainment industry. This really isn’t a difficult book to read and understand. I make the case that God is at work in the world, and all he wants us to do is to join him in that work. He’s not a distant God but one that is intimately involved in our lives or wants to be.

The Red Pill is for those who believe there is no division between the sacred and the secular. In other words, everything in life is sacred; thus, everything we do is an act of worship. If you embrace this concept, it will change the way you live your life. If you come to understand that your career, job, or art is all a reflection of God’s gifts and talents and that their ultimate purpose is to be an expression of God’s love, majesty, and grace, then I don’t have any doubt that this will redefine how you approach everything in life.

There you have it. If you fall into any of these categories, then I hope you pick up a copy of The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. It is available online through Amazon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Take Shelter

I have been accused of loving every movie that plays at the Sundance Film Festival; however, that’s not true. I only review the movies I like, and there are plenty of Sundance films that I don’t review for one reason or another.

Here’s one that definitely is making my list. The film is Take Shelter and it debuted back in January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival. Take Shelter went on to win high praise not only at Sundance, but it also won the critic’s Grand Prix Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. It received only a limited release back in the Fall. What a shame.

Take Shelter deserved to be nominated for Best Picture of the Year. If there was any justice at the Academy Awards, it would at least have gotten a nomination. If I had a vote in the Academy, it would have gotten mine. It’s just totally ridiculous that it didn’t make the cut.

Take Shelter is an example of a perfect movie at the perfect time. It provides a commentary on contemporary American life. It absolutely plays on our fears—not necessarily an alien invasion, monsters, or zombies, but the real fear is losing our grip on reality. It also plays on our fear of losing the American Dream or what the movie called losing the “good life”.

We see it in our headlines every day—Global Warming, Economic Meltdown, Talk of War, Iran Obtains Nuclear Weapons, Political Unrest and Potential Terrorist Plots. The reason this film works so well is because on some level most of us believe that some looming disaster is forthcoming, whether it’s economic or environmental. And as a result, the life we now live could be a distant memory. For example, on one recent network, a new show debuted called Doomsday Preppers. The show follows the lives of average Americans who are preparing for some unknown future doomsday event. There’s no doubt that something has changed fundamentally within our society.

Take Shelter explores these themes that have crept into our subconscious that “something bad is going to happen”. The film examines the life of Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), an average American who is hard-working and loyal, as well as a faithful husband and loving father. Curtis, his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) live a quiet life in a small Ohio town.

The family is by no means well off. Curtis has a decent job and lives in a modest home. Family life is good, and his best friend and co-worker, Dewart (Shea Whigham), describes Curtis’s life as “the good life”. Unfortunately, all of that is about to change. Curtis starts to experience apocalyptic visions of a huge storm brewing on the horizon. It produces a brownish type of rain that may very well be toxic in nature. Neither Curtis nor the audience really know whether these visions are projections or premonitions. Is he hallucinating or losing his mind?

To make matters worse, Curtis’ mother started experiencing paranoia in her mid-thirties. He is completely aware of his situation and seeks medical help. He wants to know if the visions are real or if his fears have meaning. As the story develops, Curtis enters into a course of action that could have enormous consequences. He decides to build an expensive bomb shelter in his back yard. His wife and friends are convinced that he is becoming delusional and paranoid. His actions may very well cause him to lose “the good life”.

Take Shelter is a complex film on many levels. First, this film is unusual in its honest look at mental illness and the very things that keep us sane. Second, it plays on our fears of the unknown. In some ways, just like Curtis, we are all trying to hang onto the things that are precious to us.

In the film just as in real life, the loss of a job or the loss of health insurance have serious repercussions, which is a subtle theme running through the film. We are all one or two steps away from utter destruction, and most often we are not in control of our future. After all, isn’t life very fragile? I think each viewer will find something different to take away from this film.

Take Shelter is an utterly frightful film. There’s no blood, no explosions, and no creepy things jumping out at you. When we allow our fears to take control of us, I can think of nothing that is more frightening. Take Shelter is a “must see” film. It will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way to the surprising end. It’s one of those movies that has the ability to spark meaningful conversation.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Christian Movie Connect Episode #26 – New Hope premiere

Join host Cheryl Ariaz Wicker as Christian Movie Connect takes you to the red carpet premiere of the faith-based movie “New Hope” starring Ben Davies (the rookie cop in “Courageous” by Sherwood Pictures). Experience the excitement and glamor of the event as you meet the stars and find out what attendees had to say about the movie!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ashland native’s movie debuting at the Derby City Film Festival

By Lee Ward  The Daily Independent

ASHLAND — A movie written and directed by Ashland native Isaac Stambaugh will make its world debut Sunday at the Derby City Film Festival in Louisville.

The comedy, “Smells Like Community Spirit,” was one of 10 feature films accepted into the festival, which accepted a total of 56 feature and short films out of 400 submissions. It will be screened at 2:30 p.m. at the Clifton Center.

The film follows Oliver Stanton on a journey of entrepreneurship: he left corporate American and bought a bowling alley in the tiny town of Scarberry, Ohio, only to learn retail giant Mega Value Mart planned to open a new store in the middle of the town’s park. Ashland native Joe Body, who wrote and directed the movie “Hitting the Nuts,” appears in Stambaugh’s movie.

Stambaugh, a graduate of Ohio University Southern, has produced 72 episodes of the award winning program "The Zone" music video show. He has acted as producer, production manager, first assistant director and editor on Boyd’s movie as well as the feature films “Fenced Off” and “A Strange Brand of Happy” starring Grammy winner Rebecca St. James and Academy Award winner Shirley Jones.

“A few years ago, I had the opportunity where I thought I might be able to write or direct a feature myself,” he said, explaining he took advantage of that opportunity by getting some friends in the film-making business to help him shoot it in a couple of weeks.

Boyd and buddy Brad Wise raised $2,000 for the shoestring shoot.

“We looked at it like an experience to see what we could accomplish in a short amount of time and few resources,” he said. “Our goal was to get enough material that wasn’t horrible.”

He said it turned out much better than expected and he was proud of the end result, so he submitted it to the Cincinnati Film Festival. The film wasn’t selected, he made some changes and then it was accepted into the Derby City Film Festival. He’s awaiting word about the Wet Your Pants Comedy Festival in Indianapolis.

This weekend, “Smells Like Community Spirit” isn’t a finalist for an award, Stambaugh said, but will be eligible for an audience award, which is based on attendance and ratings from the audience during the festival. He will find out Monday if the film received an audience award.

“I’ve heard from a lot of family and friends in Ashland and Cincinnati who are going to be there,” he said.

Don Moore, assistant professor and director of electronic media at OUS, said Stambaugh was fully prepared for movie making when he arrived as a student there.

“What words come to mind when I think of Isaac — creativity, innovation and leadership,” Moore said. “He was an excellent student and person and he opened the door for several of our students to assist on the production. Plans are under way now for a premier to be held here on campus of this current film with portions of the proceeds coming back into the electronic media program, and for that we are truly grateful.”

For more information, visit

Friday, February 17, 2012


I’ve always loved a good fight movie. But one thing I’ve come to realize is a good fight movie is really never about the fight. Usually, the fight or the big match serves as a metaphor or a journey for the main character to achieve some inner peace, reconciliation, or to find redemption with himself, his fellow man, or God.

You remember the movie Rocky, where Sylvester Stalone’s character, Rocky Balboa, was given a chance at the title for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. It really wasn’t about winning the fight but was about proving to himself that he had self worth, value as a person, and that he wasn’t just another bum on the street corner. His quest was to go 15 rounds with the Champ. And, if he was still standing, it would validate his life.

We’ve seen this formula repeated time and time again with other fight films such as The Wrestler, The Karate Kid, Million Dollar Baby, and The Fighter. Now comes along a new movie, The Warrior, from Director Gavin O’Connor that honors the tradition of Rocky and other great fight films. The Warrior contains more emotion, conflict, truth, reality, and honesty than you can find in ten films combined. This film is utterly gripping, blunt, and powerful. It is relentless in the telling of the human condition.

The Warrior may not necessarily be your cup of tea due to the violent nature and portrayal of mixed martial arts cage fighting. It’s hard to believe anybody would want to endure such punishment that could result in life-altering consequences; however, maybe this is why the Warrior is so interesting. Why because the stakes are so high for all the characters we meet in this movie.

Bottom line if you are looking for a film that connects on an emotional level and offers a heavy dose of reconciliation and redemption, then The Warrior fits the bill.

The movie is basically a story about two estranged brothers and their relationship with their alcoholic and abusive father. Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) is fresh out of the marines where in Afghanistan his best friend was killed in action.

Tommy wants to provide financially for his friend’s wife and children. He seeks out the help of his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), to train him for Sparta, a $5 million take-all ultimate fighting championship tournament. The deal is simple. All Tommy is looking for is a trainer and doesn’t want a relationship with his father because he blames him for his past sins. He and his mother were forced to leave, and on their own they struggled for survival. In the end Tommy’s mother dies a painful death. As a result, Tommy is filled with resentment, rage, and hatred. However Paddy is not the man he used to be. He’s now sober and has made his peace with God.

As the story plays out, the other brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgeton), lives in Philadelphia and teaches Physics at a local high school. He is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Tess (Jennifer Morrison). Brandan and Tess along with their children face financial difficulties due to medical bills and face foreclosure.

Brandan, a former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter, is forced to pick up club bouts to make ends meet; however, this doesn’t play well with school administration. Unfortunately, Brandan is suspended without pay. After a series of events, Brandan is given an opportunity to fight in Sparta as well. This sets up a classic battle as the two brothers are on a collision course. But, more importantly, they are locked in an emotional battle with each other. There is a tremendous amount of blame concerning past events that cannot be forgiven. Tommy feels that his brother deserted him and their mother when Brandon decided to elope with Tess. Both brothers are also trapped in their relationship with their father.

Paddy tries as hard as he can to convince them that he is a changed man and desperately wants to be part of their lives. Can these men find a way out of their predicament? Will the families survive? This is gut-wrenching material. It is 140 minutes of intensity from start to finish. And did I mention that the fight scenes are skillfully staged. They look as real as anything I have ever seen in a movie.

I have always been a fan of Nick Nolte’s work. His performance of Paddy is brilliant. In fact, this is the type of role that Nolte excels in. His gravelly voice and broken facial features fit the part perfectly along with the fact that he is a man who’s seen it all. I’m utterly convinced he is a man who desperately wants to find God.

I highly recommend The Warrior. It may surprise you how well a fight movie can be so human and compassionate.

You can find the movie on DVD and Blu-ray.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

What I’m going to write about in today’s blog will come as no surprise to any of you. No great insight or revelations. And I’m sure most of you will agree with the overall concept.

Today, we no longer live in a word-based society. We have transformed into an image-based society over the last few decades, and this has enormous implications for all of us. The world we live in today focuses on the headlines, the sound bite, and, at best, perhaps a paragraph. You remember the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words?, Perhaps today a picture is worth 10,000, 20,000 or 100,000 words. This new reality that we all must deal with is, in part, due to a rapid development in technology that has led to an explosion of Internet usage, which is primarily an image-based medium.

Images projected on video screens can be found in every aspect of life. The end result is we now have much shorter attention spans thanks to the expansion to an image-based society. We cannot concentrate on any one thing for any length of time. Today’s news and sports channels are crowded with multiple layers of information. Why? Because that’s what’s required to keep our attention.

I have witnessed this firsthand. Working with high school and college age students for the past 25 years, I have seen a significant decrease in the ability to focus and pay attention. I can’t count the times I have talked to students while at the same time they were playing around with their mobile media devices. It’s as if an entire generation has been infected with some sort of virus.

Another casualty and perhaps the greatest tragedy is that reading is rapidly declining. Newspapers are practically dead thanks to the Internet. The National Endowment for the Arts reports that young people between the ages of 15 to 24 read only 7 minutes a day. Seventy percent of 13 year olds do not read daily. Their conclusion is the obvious that young people are reading less.

Focusing on images or pictures and reading a headline or two means you will only skim the surface of any issue or current affairs. We live in an increasingly complex society. Without reading and thinking, we will not be able to have the perspective, insight or knowledge to make informed decisions.

Where does all of this ultimately lead to? We are putting ourselves into a position where we can be more easily controlled and manipulated by today’s mass media culture. Believe me when I tell you this. If you are not willing to think for yourself and do your own research, someone is more than willing to tell you what to think. And that someone is today’s media.

The funny thing about images, which are nothing more than pictures, is that they are easily manipulated by skilled media makers. Advertisers for years have used these persuasive techniques to get us to buy their products. Most images, such as the flag (patriotism), family, home, nature, and wealth are buried deep within our subconscious and carry powerful symbolism and meaning to us. By rearranging various images on multiple media platforms, it’s possible to assign new meaning and feeling and create new mythologies (belief systems) around those images, which may or may not be true.

I have written several articles and blog entries concerning these issues in greater detail if you would like to know more. They are also contained in my new book, The Red Pill, a Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. The bottom line is I hope for this new year you make a decision to be more aware of the negative side of living in an image-based world.

I don’t set myself apart or try to pretend that I’m not susceptible to this manipulation and control. I have to make a decision every day to be aware of it and to stay focused. Make this a year that you decide to read more and make your own decisions. Yes, I encourage you to read my blog and website, but the point is just start reading, and especially the Word of God. It will help you to increase your attention span and focus and will also help you decipher what is true, what is not true and what is manipulation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Illusion of Freedom

Unless you’ve been stuck in a different dimension over the past couple of years, you realize there is an enormous debate about the issue of freedom and the direction of our nation. A lot of people have been talking about it. In fact, many are saying we are losing our freedom. It seemed to start with the election of President Obama and the debate over healthcare. Who decides our future? Big government or do we? So the current debate has been framed in terms of choices and our freedom.

The conservative message is clear. Big government means you will lose your ability to choose for yourself as well as your freedom. Liberals believe you will lose your freedom and your ability to choose because big business will make those choices for you.

No matter who wins the argument or dictates public policy, we all have lost our freedom. In fact, freedom is only an illusion. Are we really in control of our lives? Whether it’s big government, big business, or the media conglomerates, there are forces at work within our society that have tremendous influence, power and wealth. And they are determined to stay in power.

Whether by accident or design, today we have a media culture that is capable of dictating and controlling practically every aspect of our lives. Whoever controls the media controls the culture. One of the ways that you control the culture is by defining the American Dream. Has the American Dream been hijacked? At one time, many people considered the American Dream as the pursuit of freedom and the ability to make your own decisions.

Today, I’m not sure that’s the case. Our media culture has led us to believe the American Dream is about getting everything you want whenever you want it. It’s now a self-centered world build on the ever expanding appetite of consumerism and materialism. As we pursue this lifestyle and this new version of the American Dream, we actually lose more of our freedoms. Our choices become limited as we are more closed in. We are encouraged to spend all of our money. And when that is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of a consumer-based lifestyle, we then start borrowing money that we don’t have. Does this pattern seem familiar?

It’s obvious that this is what Washington has done, and it’s the same thing that most of our society has also engaged in. We give up our freedoms for all of these material things that occupy our time and our interests. We no longer have a life of our own. We are forced to work at a job that we don’t like because we have no other choice. Does that sound like freedom to you? Or is it a form of bondage? Who convinced you to live this life? Who says that our society and the way things are ordered are the way they are supposed to be?

Maybe the best way I can illustrate my argument is a speech from Edward R. Murrow, one of the nation’s first pioneers in television journalism. In fact, he wrote the book. The speech was given in 1958 in Chicago before television and radio executives. Historians have called it the wires and lights speech. His words are chilling and prophetic and they should cause all of us to seriously think about the state of our own existence.

“This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse, a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts, but the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television. Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black in white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and compliant. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant and disturbing information. Our mass media reflects this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

You have to remember that Murrow said this over 50 years ago. I’m sure he would be absolutely amazed if he could see the extent of today’s mass media and the rise of our media culture. The question is, are we being distracted from the truth. Are we insulated from the realities of the world we live in? Has it been done by design? Let’s put it this way. Is the media culture a form of a drug? I’m convinced we’re being medicated into compliance. For the most part, we really don’t understand what’s happening around us. We are told what to think in a nice way that suggests that we are making our own decisions. But are we?

I’m not sure who’s in control. Does it matter if it’s big government or big business? The point is your freedoms are long gone. You just don’t realize it. The media culture has made sure of that. There is only one way to exercise your freedom. And it’s not through the ballot box. Nor is it through revolution or political change. The only place you can be free is in your spirit. And you do that by accepting Christ. There is no freedom on earth. There never has been. Your freedom lies elsewhere, outside of this system. In fact, this world and this world system has never been our destination. That’s radical thinking. Are you ready to be free?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Could The Waltons save you ?

I was born in 1956, which places me in the middle of the baby boomer generation. I consider myself an early member of the church of media and entertainment.

Over the years, I have realized that media has defined the person I am today. I don‘t believe I would have become a producer, director, writer or, for that matter, the founder of two media ministries without the influence of The Waltons and The Exorcist. Perhaps, there has never been a greater contrast between two programs. But both clearly shaped the person I am today.

During the 1970s, The Waltons was one of the most successful family dramas on television. I watched it faithfully every Thursday night. I seriously doubt that I was the intended audience or demographic that the producers were aiming for. But I made a connection with The Waltons, especially the character of John Boy played by Richard Thomas. I identified with his character and his aspirations. Although we lived in different times and in different places, there were striking similarities. We were both poor with little prospects for the future. John Boy wanted to make something of his life. He wanted to be someone and go to college. I was the same age as John Boy. I could see myself in him. We were both dealing with the same struggles. I cheered for him to succeed. If he could make it, perhaps I could too. If he could dream and work hard maybe in my life anything was possible.

The Waltons and John Boy inspired me. I was not a Christian at the time; however, I believe God used this television program to give me hope for the future.

In the early 1970s as a teenager, I saw The Exorcist with a few of my friends. At the time, The Exorcist was a big hit. It was provocative and cutting edge. It was the rage, a must-see film. I wasn‘t sure about God. In fact, I had been to church once in my entire life. I knew nothing about the Bible. And I wasn‘t sure if God even existed. In other words, I was a nonbeliever. I did not have the opportunity or the good fortune to grow up in a Christian home. Call me a heathen.

But after seeing The Exorcist, something changed. Yes, it was the scariest movie I had ever seen in my entire life. But it was more than that. Its seemed so real. Perhaps, for the first time, I had the sense of what evil looked like, and it wasn‘t a pretty picture. I could actually feel its presence. It shook the very foundations of how I viewed everything in life. If the devil was real, there had to be a God, right? And if the devil had that much power, shouldn‘t that be something I should be concerned about? And if there was a war between God and the devil, which side did I want to be on?

That was a lot for a teenager to think about. In one sense, I felt like hell had been scared out of me. I‘m not sure that‘s what the filmmakers intended or the message they were sending. But it was clear to me that there was a spiritual world after all. No. I didn‘t immediately give my life to God or convert to Christianity or, for that matter, start going to church. But it did start me on a pathway to seek the truth. And that, my friends, is the power of film. It would be another four years before I would become a Christian and a believer. But I have no doubt that it all started very innocently on a Saturday night at the age of 16 watching The Exorcist at the old Showcase Cinemas in Erlanger, Ky. It was a life-changing moment in my life.

The Waltons and The Exorcist are examples in my life of television and movies that helped change me and put me on a path toward God. Today I believe we can change the media culture and create opportunities for others in the same way that The Waltons and The Exorcist helped me as a youth to discover God.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Do They Know That We Don’t Know

Media and entertainment is America’s number one export. I think it’s safe to say that Hollywood knows a thing or two about how to make movies and television shows. What do they know that Christians don’t know about making movies?

Over the last few years, we have seen an explosion in Christian films.But has the quality increased? Many would agree that there is something lacking in the overall artistic and technical aspects. Is it the writing? The cinematography or the acting?

Perhaps if we had more money, our product would look better. Undoubtedly, the production value would increase. We’d have the time to get more shots. We’d have access to better cameras and equipment, and we could pay for better actors. Maybe, we could bring a writer or two on board to rewrite our scripts.

But I think money is only part of the answer. If we had all of the resources at our disposal, I have a feeling there would still be something lacking, something not quite right. There are many intangibles at work. First of all, are we telling the right stories? Do we really understand the filmmaking process and what films are capable of? Are we so focused on giving all of the answers, that we’re not asking the right questions? What if we focused our attention away from Christian films and concentrated more on redemptive or transformational stories?

Hollywood knows how to tell a good story. And they have been doing it for years. Here are ten secrets they have realized about telling good stories that are capable of impacting the human heart.

Here are 10 guidelines that mainstream filmmakers understand about making redemptive films.

1. Your movie must have entertainment value. People watch films to be entertained. Some Christians have made entertainment a dirty word. When people watch films and television, they are relaxed and more receptive to the message contained within the story. Often, they will reexamine their lives or be challenged to be a better person.

2. Filmmaking is an art form. The art must come first. For most Christians, the message is first. Audiences will not accept this and will see it as a form of propaganda. We must recognize that the divine can be found in art. We understood this for centuries. But, somewhere along the way, we have forgotten this. Film is not a good forum for a 5-point sermon. If we make great art, it has the capacity to move the human heart.

3. Films need to have an emotional impact. Emotions move people; therefore, our characters need to be believable as well as our dialogue. Nobody will accept the redemptive process if you are not successful in taking them through the emotional journey involved in the process of change.

4. Films work better with metaphors and symbolism because you keep the audience engaged in the story. This is a concept that most Christian filmmakers have failed to understand. Metaphors and symbolism help to forge connections between dissimilar objects and themes. We need to realize our audience has the intelligence to figure it out on their own. Stop telegraphing every story element or plot point. Remember, Jesus said in his parables the Kingdom of God is like….

5. Films are a great forum to ask questions. Christians love to ask questions, but unfortunately, we also love to give all the answers. We really don’t want our audience to have to think for themselves. This doesn’t work for film. Jesus used parables as his principle storytelling technique. He often asked questions, but he seldom gave they answers. It was his audience’s responsibility to find the answers.

6. Redemptive films need to illustrate the wonders of God. As Christians we don’t do this very well in film. When it come to miracles, angels, the unexplained, healings or the story of the loaves and fish, our stories seem to be flat, one-dimensional and lacking depth. Perhaps we’re too close to the subject material. NonChristians for some reason seem to be much better at this. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, produced in 1977 for television, is exceptional at exploring the wonders of God. It is a difficult concept to explain, but they do it with simplicity, humanity and the divine in such a way that it moves you.

The wonders of God can also be found in the small things of everyday life which are truly the miracles. We can find the divine patterns of life that exist in the smile of a child and the dawning of a new day. Christian filmmakers often don’t know how to depict the glorious, marvelous and small wonders of God’s grace and love which occur daily in our lives.

7. Redemptive filmmaking requires the ability to question God. We Christians have a tough time doing this. We don’t want to admit we have doubts and are sometimes confused. Perhaps, we think it is a sin to question God. But that’s not Biblical. Jacob’s name meant deceiver, but his name was changed to Israel meaning one who struggles with God. This happened after the all-night wrestling match at Peniel. We have to ask questions. Where is God when we are hurting? Why do bad things happen? As filmmakers, we have to be willing to ask these questions. If our goal is to be authentic, real and genuine, our audience is asking the same questions. Let’s face it. Christian filmmakers paint a world the way they want to see it. Mainstream filmmakers paint life’s complexities and the world as it is.

8. The need for redemption requires us to face sin. NonChristians may not call sin, sin, but they are good at depicting it. There is no redemption in the filmmaking process without the ability to portray sin. Our audience will not accept the fact that our characters have gone through this incredible transformation without seeing what their lives looked like before the transformation. They have to see the ugliness. We have all gone through the same experience. Life isn’t always pretty. That doesn’t mean we offer gratuitous, offensive material just for the sake of showing it. But it is part of the journey to redemption. I know for some Christians, this is a difficult concept to accept. But here is something to consider. The Bible is a story of the human condition without God and does contain content that some may find disturbing. We are afraid that if we show sin we are somehow endorsing it. Most Christian filmmakers want their hero or protagonist to be flawless not at the end of the redemptive process but at the beginning.

9. Filmmaking is a visual medium. The key to making great films is to think visual. How do we visually illustrate the personification of art? How do we express emotions—anger, frustration, indifference, internal struggles? Redemptive stories require expressing the intangible in a tangible, visual form.

10. Redemptive stories do not necessarily offer a convenient and tidy ending. Just as in life, there may not be a fairy tale ending as in “they lived happily ever after”. For example, in Bella, it would have been temping to end the movie with a happy and satisfying conclusion. However, both lead characters had their moments of redemption, which were more reflective of real life. Redemption is a complex process and is different for each of us.

Bottom line

You can be a media missionary wherever God decides to plant you. The most important thing to discover is what God is saying to you. Christian filmmakers don’t necessarily have to go to Hollywood to make redemptive films. When we, as filmmakers, forget about our agenda or what we think a Christian movie should look like, then I am convinced God will be able to speak to us. How God is at work in people’s lives is the best inspiration for making movies and media that can reflect his glory and truth. We do not need to create Christian cinema or a Christian film industry. It serves no purpose. God is already at work in the film and media industry. As always, he requires our obedience to serve his will and his interests