Monday, December 31, 2012

Weekend Report: 'Hobbit' Holds Off 'Django' on Final Weekend of 2012

On the last weekend of 2012, audiences crowded in to theaters to see three very different movies: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey managed to take the top spot for the third weekend in a row, though Django Unchained and Les Miserables also tallied impressive numbers. The Top 12 wound up earning an estimated $167.8 million, which helped push overall 2012 domestic box office to just under $10.8 billion (a new record).

The Hobbit
dipped 11 percent to an estimated $32.9 million. The movie has been holding well over the past week (noticeably better than I Am Legend over the same period in 2007), and $300 million seems like it could be in play again. Through 17 days, the first of three Lord of the Rings prequels has grossed $222.7 million, which is in between Fellowship of the Ring ($189.3 million) and The Two Towers ($243.6 million).

In second place, Django Unchained earned an estimated $30.7 million from 3,010 locations in its first weekend. Including its Tuesday-to-Thursday revenues, Django has already grossed $64 million; in comparison, Inglourious Basterds was at $50.6 million at the same point. Assuming it doesn't completely crash in the next few weeks (and with an "A-" CinemaScore, there's no reason to expect it to), Django will pass Basterds ($120.5 million) to become writer-director Quentin Tarantino's highest-grossing movie ever.

After starting stronger than Django on Christmas, Les Miserables has trailed off slightly over the last few days. Still, the musical did great business this weekend with an estimated $28 million from 2,808 theaters. Through six days its earned $67.5 million, and with a handful of Academy Award nominations on the way it should at least double that amount by the end of its run.

Les Miserables
's female audience (67 percent) awarded it a rare "A+" CinemaScore, and overall audiences gave it an "A".

In fourth place, family comedy Parental Guidance earned an estimated $14.8 million from 3,367 locations. With $29.6 million since Christmas Day, the Billy Crystal-Bette Midler comedy is clearly the top choice for families with younger children this season ahead of Monsters, Inc.'s 3D re-release ($18.5 million with six more days under its belt). Parental Guidance's audience was 52 percent female and 55 percent under the age of 25, and they gave it a solid "A-" CinemaScore.

Tom Cruise thriller Jack Reacher dipped 10 percent to $14 million, which was good for fifth place this weekend. Through 10 days, the Christopher McQuarrie adaptation has grossed $44.7 million, which is off from Valkyrie's $57.6 million total at the same point.

This Is 40
improved 14 percent to $13.2 million, bringing its 10-day total to $37.1 million. Judd Apatow's latest is going to have no problem out-grossing Funny People ($51.9 million), and should even get to Forgetting Sarah Marshall's level ($63.2 million).

continued to impress in its seventh weekend in nationwide release: Steven Spielberg's biopic of the 16th president was up 36 percent to $7.5 million for a new total of $132 million. With awards attention likely to buoy the movie through at least the month of January, Lincoln still has a lot more box office left to rack up.

Thanks to The Avengers, Brave, Wreck-It Ralph and now Lincoln, 2012 is officially Disney's highest-grossing year ever with over $1.53 billion.

Silver Linings Playbook
grossed an estimated $4.1 million in its first weekend in nationwide release. It's still only in 745 theaters, though, and The Weinstein Company will likely expand it much further following Academy Award nominations on January 10. To date, the David O. Russell comedy has earned $27.4 million.

Zero Dark Thirty
remained in the same five theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and as a result it dipped 23 percent to an estimated $315,000. Through 12 days, the controversial CIA thriller has grossed $1.37 million, and will expand to more theaters this weekend ahead of its Jan. 11 nationwide expansion.

Gus Van Sant's Promised Land, which stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, debuted at 25 locations and earned a very weak $190,000. The movie will expand to around 1,500 screens on Friday, though it's unlikely that it will be able to pull many people away from the various other appealing options in theaters right now.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top 100 Christian Movies

Top 100
These are the Top 100 Most Looked at Films on CFDb for the Year 2012!
The Number after the Movie Title are the Page Views according to Google Analytics.

100 – Joyful Noise – 1190
 99 – Doonby – 1191
 98 – Dragons in our Midst – 1196
 97 – There Be Dragons – 1205
 96 – A Thousand Tomorrows – 1223
 95 – The Frontier Boys – 1226
 94 – Anna’s Choice – 1229
 93 – Machine Gun Preacher – 1230
 91 – Elephant Sighs – 1238
 90 – Trade of Innocents – 1241
 89 – My Last Day Without You – 1282
 88 – A Beautiful Soul – 1284
 87 – Saint Rita (Rita da Cascia) – 1288
 86 – Belle and the Beast – 1298
 85 – The Letter Writer – 1303
 84 – Running Inside Out – 1303
 82 – Genesis – 1318
 81 – Lukewarm – 1349
 80 – Thee Blind Saints – 1368
 79 – The Christmas Hope – 1369
 77 – Heaven’s Rain – 1395
 73 – Blue Like Jazz – 1425
 72 – The Lion of Judah – 1452
 71 – Turning Back – 1557
 70 – Heaven is for Real – 1594
 68 – More Than Chance – 1644
 66 – The Vow – 1711
 65 – Trinity Goodheart – 1718
 64 – God’s Not Dead: The Movie – 1728
 62 – The Genesis Code – 1780
 61 – Touchback – 1793
 60 – Superbook: The Series – 1813
 59 – Decision – 1836
 58 – Race to the Finish – 1933
 57 – Alone, Yet Not Alone – 1936
 56 – King David – 1937
 55 – Act of Valor – 2056
 54 – Raising Izzie – 2127
 53 – Finding Hope Now – 2164
 52 – Christmas Angel – 2276
 51 – Beware of Christians – 2286
 50 – Have a Little Faith – 2287
 49 – The Passion of the Christ – 2297
 48 – A Christmas Wish – 2300
 47 – Courageous – 2367
 46 – Your Love Never Fails – 2371
 45 – Grace Unplugged – 2371
 44 – Bully – 2405
 43 – WWJD II: The Woodcarver – 2431
 42 – Suing the Devil – 2470
 41 – A Cross to Bear – 2471
 40 – Cutback – 2594
 38 – She’s Not Our Sister – 2796
 36 – The Mark: Redemption – 2877
 35 – Johnny – 2883
 34 – The Heart of Christmas – 2918
 33 – Paper Dream – 3032
 32 – Brother White – 3256
 28 – The Confession – 3681
 27 – A Mile in His Shoes – 4237
 26 – The Shunning – 4264
 25 – Left Behind:The Remake – 4281
 22 – New Hope – 4800
 20 – Escape – 5557
 19 – Unconditional – 5582
 18 – Me Again – 5664
 17 – Jerusalem Countdown – 5868
 16 – Hardflip – 6078
 15 – The Mark – 6387
 14 – Marriage Retreat – 6434
 12 – Church Girl – 7462
 11 – Loving the Bad Man – 7659

top 10 on cfdbTop 10 Most Looked at Movie Pages on CFDb for 2012
 9 – I Am Gabriel – 8428
 6 – Last Ounce of Courage – 9366
 5 – Heaven is Waiting – 10,386
 4 – The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost – 14,461
 2 – The Encounter – 21,983
 1 – October Baby – 23,722

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Journey – the Downside of Christmas

First, on a personal note, what a year this has been. For those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you know I’ve been on a personal journey to rediscover God and how he is at work in my life as well as in the world. All of that has led me to write a book called A Media Culture, which I recently re-titled, The Red Pill, A Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. I never set out to write a book, but as I have discovered, God has his own plan and purposes. I thank God for giving me the words and inspiration.

I had hoped to have the book published back in September, but the process is much more difficult than I ever could have imagined. However, the delays have been helpful and perhaps even a blessing in disguise. With my wife’s help, the book is now better organized and, frankly, a lot more readable. As this year comes to a close, it appears that the book will soon go to press. With God’s help The Red Pill may be available in early Spring.

What has all of this taught me in light of the Christmas season? It has been a year of ups and downs, valleys and mountains. After losing the ministry that I founded 11 years ago, I have had to learn to make many adjustments in my life. Rediscovering God is one of those adjustments and probably the greatest blessing.

Second, what does the journey have to do with downside of Christmas? After watching several Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel this week, I noticed that in most of the movies, the final shot would be a slow pushback crane shot revealing a happy and content family sharing a bounty of food and gifts, the perfect picture of an old-fashioned Christmas with all of the trimmings. As the shot continued to pull away, it would reveal an exterior wonderland of fresh falling snow. It’s the perfect Christmas with every piece in place. All the problems have been solved and there now is harmony and peace.

Of course, this is the Christmas we want. And somehow we think everybody is living this perfect Christmas except us. It makes us feel depressed and missing out when we look at our situation and realize that’s not the picture of our families. I think the first thing that we need to realize is that there is no perfect situation or family. No matter how perfect you think your neighbors are, trust me, they all have issues that are not noticeable on the surface but nevertheless are present.

Realistically, perhaps you’ve lost a job or a loved one, or you are experiencing financial difficulties or maybe you have no family to celebrate Christmas with. This time of year has a way of emphasizing our loses. Let me put it this way. God never guaranteed us a life that will be comfortable, safe or convenient. However, he did promise to always be with us and be our comfort in grief, our protector and defender in trouble. He is always just a prayer away. Jesus came to earth as a babe, he lived his life here on earth experiencing what we all go through, and He promises there is nothing we experience that he is not able to be a help to us. Dealing with the problems of life help us to grow into the likeness of Christ and move closer to the Savior.

With all of the hustle and activities of Christmas, we often lose sight of the things that are truly important. What’s helped me this year, especially this Christmas season, is to take one day at a time. Remember we’re not promised tomorrow. My goal is just to get through today. Tomorrow will have it’s own issues and problems. What God has also helped me to realize this year is to find joy in the small things. These are the things we often overlook. And it will be different for every person. Perhaps it’s watching the sun rising on a new day and knowing God is with me today. Or, for me, it’s just the joy of having a cup of coffee and reading the paper before the day gets started. The point is to slow down and enjoy what God has put before you. We’re often so consumed with the big issues that we forget to live our lives in the moment.

And, finally, I realize that you know this and have been reminded countless times that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior. He is our only hope for redemption. This life will soon pass, but what we do in it and the decisions we make will have eternal consequences. To truly celebrate Christmas is to embrace what Jesus has taught us and to accept his sacrifice for us so that we may have a future and a hope.

Merry Christmas to you and may you rediscover God on your journey in the coming year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Forecast: Eight Nationwide Releases Crowd Theaters This Christmas

Afraid of opening any of their end-of-year titles ahead of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the major studios instead decided to pack the long Christmas weekend with eight nationwide releases. In comparison, the last time Christmas fell on a Tuesday there were only five new entries.

While the abundance of new material does mean there's plenty for audiences to choose from, it also means that at least a few of these movies are going to get seriously lost in the pack. Coming off its $84.6 million opening weekend, it's a foregone conclusion that The Hobbit will once again lead the box office, though it could yield the top spot on Christmas Day to Django Unchained or Les Miserables.

It's important to remember that around the holidays, movies have very strong multiples and often end up with five to seven times as much as their opening weekend gross, and therefore lower-than-normal grosses this weekend shouldn't be seen as an immediate sign of failure. Because of the staggered release schedule (Dec. 19, Dec. 21, and Dec. 25), we're going to forgo official predictions and instead offer brief analysis in order of release date.

December 19

The first two movies, The Guilt Trip and Monsters, Inc.'s 3D re-release, are also two of the weakest offerings this season.

Monsters, Inc. (3D)
is Disney's third 3D re-release following the enormous success of The Lion King 3D last year ($94.2 million). Unfortunately, that performance seems to be specific to The Lion King's appeal, and Disney has failed to replicate it with Beauty and the Beast ($47.6 million) and Finding Nemo ($40.9 million) this year. Even with the dearth of family-oriented content in the marketplace, Monsters, Inc. 3D seems poised to continue this downward trend; the movie opened to just $778,913 on Wednesday, which is a tiny fraction of the opening day gross for those other 3D re-releases. With kids off from school and little competition, Monsters Inc. 3D will hold well through the end of the year, but its five-day opening weekend is still likely to wind up below $10 million.

Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen mother-son road-trip comedy The Guilt Trip also opened on Wednesday and earned just over $1 million at 2,431 locations. This is the first of Paramount's three brand-new nationwide releases debuting over a three-day period, which is odd to see from a lean studio that's only releasing 14 major movies this year. Thanks to the appeal of the two leads, The Guilt Trip could have been a solid selection for older family audiences over the holiday, but it's getting such a light push that it's not going to really register. Paramount is expecting $8-10 million through its first five days, which seems reasonable given the movie's Wednesday performance.

December 21

After headlining last Christmas's biggest movie, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol ($209.4 million), Tom Cruise is giving it another try in Jack Reacher, which hits 3,352 locations on Friday. While it doesn't have the sequel advantage, Jack Reacher does come with a built-in fan base courtesy of Lee Child's best-selling book series featuring the title character. Unfortunately, Cruise's casting remains controversial among die-hards—Reacher is an imposing force at 6'5", while Cruise is 5'7" on a good day—so they probably won't be rushing out to theaters. Additionally, with its dark palette and 90s-style action the movie's marketing has been generally uninspiring. Paramount is expecting $12 to $15 million for the weekend, which would put the movie on track to possible match Valkyrie's $83.1 million total (a Christmas release starring Cruise and written by Reacher's writer/director Christopher McQuarrie).

Judd Apatow's fourth directorial effort, This Is 40, opens at 2,912 locations on Friday. The movie is the "sort-of sequel" to Apatow's Knocked Up, and follows the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) five years after that movie. The Apatow brand gets tossed around a lot, and while it's been attached to a few major hits (last year's Bridesmaids most recently), it's also been tied in with major bombs Wanderlust ($17.3 million) and The Five-Year Engagement ($28.7 million) this year. Reviews for This is 40 are middling (59 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and the challenges of middle-aged married life isn't going to be remotely appealing to Apatow's younger fan base. Universal is hoping for low-teen-millions for the three-day weekend.

Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away
, Paramount's third nationwide release this weekend, will be playing at noon and 7 p.m. in around 800 locations. By pushing the specific showtimes, Paramount is trying to make it in to a movie-going event, and it is a solid option for families who have seen Monsters, Inc. enough times on DVD. With the light release and very little marketing, though, it's likely going to end up near the bottom of the Top 10.

December 25
Arguably the two most anticipated end-of-year wide releases are going head-to-head on Christmas Day, and odds are that musical Les Miserables tops Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Billy Crystal-Bette Midler comedy Parental Guidance also opens that day, though its potential seems fairly limited.

Musicals are very hit-or-miss at the box office: for every Chicago ($170.7 million) or Dreamgirls ($103.4 million), there's a Sweeney Todd ($52.9 million) or Nine ($19.7 million). At this point, at least, Les Miserables appears poised to wind up closer to the successes: it's based on one of the most popular musicals ever, has a killer cast (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, among many others), and is getting plenty of awards buzz (even if many critics don't dig it). Marketing has been playing up these three areas while also focusing on the movie's most unique attribute: in an effort to get the best performances possible out of the actors, director Tom Hooper had them sing live on set. These various factors have made Les Miserables the top advanced ticket-seller ever on Fandango among Christmas Day releases ahead of 2009's Sherlock Holmes, and an opening day north of $10 million is definitely within reach.

Similar to Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is a revenge tale set during a terrible part of world history (slavery instead of WWII) filtered through the writer-director's violent/comedic lens. Basterds wound up being his highest-grossing movie ever with $120.5 million at the domestic box office, and with an even more-impressive cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and more) and equally strong reviews the hope is that Django can perform similarly. Unfortunately, violent R-rated fare doesn't play great around the cheerful holiday: last year's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started slowly around Christmas before riding strong word-of-mouth to over $100 million. As a result, it's likely that Django winds up lower than Les Miserables on opening day.

Parental Guidance is the final new nationwide release surrounding the Christmas holiday; while 20th Century Fox would prefer Cheaper by the Dozen numbers ($138.6 million and $82.6 million), it's more likely going to get Gulliver's Travels. Fox released that movie on Christmas Day in 2010, and after opening low it ultimately went on to earn a fine $42.8 million, which feels like the best-case-scenario for Parental Guidance.

Limited Releases

As if there weren't enough options in nationwide release, there are also a handful of interesting movies opening in limited release this weekend. The biggest among these movies is easily Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the hunt for, and ultimately the killing of, Osama Bin Laden. The movie is already ginning up strong business ($124,848 at five locations on Wednesday) thanks to incredible reviews and a healthy dose of torture-related controversy, and should continue to put up great per-theater numbers throughout its exclusive New York/Los Angeles run. It is currently set for a nationwide expansion in to at least 2,500 locations on Jan. 11, which is a day after Academy Award nominations are announced.

Other noteworthy limited debuts include The Impossible (15 theaters on Dec. 21), Michael Haneke's Amour (three theaters on Dec. 19), David Chase's Not Fade Away (three theaters on Dec. 19), and On the Road (four locations on Dec. 21).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Best of Christmas - Part 2

6. One Magic Christmas

You’ll have a hard time finding this on cable television or at Wal-Mart or Target. It’s probably one of the least known on my list. But it’s worth the effort to find it. One Magic Christmas takes a tough look at the holidays. Not everything is peachy. In fact, I think many people can relate to this film thanks to the tough economic times we are going through. Mary Steenburgen’s character is dealing with lost dreams and disillusionment during the holidays as her husband is laid off from his job. Sometimes we don’t know what real loss is until we are reminded. One Magic Christmas has the wonderment and magic with a sense of realism that It’s a Wonderful Life offers.

7. Miracle on 34th Street

No way can I leave this one off my list. I’m sure everyone has seen this one. There’s at least three versions available. For my money, I would go with the original 1947 edition. What I find interesting about this film and what I think a lot of people miss is that it is a discussion of the issues of the modern family as the lead character is a single mother struggling to balance career and family. Miracle on 34th Street is based in fantasy in one sense but has a realistic view of life in another sense. The question is how do we balance the two while retaining our childlike ability to dream and to use our imagination to believe that anything is possible?

8. White Christmas

This film is a total joy. Shot in beautiful Technicolor, how can you go wrong with the talent of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney? This is a celebration of all things American. I absolutely love the music of Irving Berlin. The musical numbers are sensational. This film has never looked better because there is a restored Blu-ray edition available. White Christmas is a sentimental journey of song and dance. The plot goes something like this. Two army buddies who have hit it big on Broadway decide to help their former army commander who is danger of losing his Vermont Inn. Of course, along the way, there will be a series of complications and romantic escapades.

9. A Christmas Carol

I don’t know where to start with this one. There has been so many versions of Charles Dicken’s classic over the years, including last year’s offering with Jim Carey and Gary Oldman. I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s any good. But my favorite version is from 1984 starring George C. Scott. He makes the perfect Scrooge. The film is very authentic and the special effects are not over the top. I know you’ve probably seen it a hundred times, but it’s always worth another viewing at Christmas.

10. A Season for Miracles

This film originally aired in 1999 as part of Hallmark’s Hall of Fame. It has developed a rather loyal following over the years perhaps because it’s been difficult to find on television or at your video store. I think it is one of Hallmark’s better offerings. The story is about an aunt who has to take custody of her niece and nephew because their mother is institutionalized after an attempted drug overdose. She’s afraid they will fall into foster care and flees the situation and finds her way to a small town called Bethlehem that offers an opportunity at redemption and a second chance in life. Patty Duke is on hand as the guardian angel. It’s a wonderful story and a very optimistic one at that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Weekend Report: 'Hobbit' Takes December Record, Misses $100 Million

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey set a new December opening weekend record, though its debut failed to reach the inflated levels many were anticipating for director Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth.

At 4,045 locations, The Hobbit earned an estimated $84.78 million this weekend. That's a bit ahead of the previous December record held by 2007's I Am Legend ($77.2 million), and also noticeably up on the three-day start for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($73.3 million). With 3D/IMAX premiums and a bit of ticket price inflation, though, The Hobbit had lower initial attendance than both of those titles (it also likely sold fewer tickets initially than The Two Towers).

3D showings accounted for 49 percent of ticket sales, which is about on par with most major releases right now. Warner Bros. isn't currently providing a breakdown for the high-frame-rate (HFR), though a distribution executive there suggested it had the highest per-screen average among the three main formats (2D, 3D, HFR 3D). That may not sound overly convincing, but IMAX is reporting that HFR did $44,000 per-theater compared to $31,000 at regular IMAX 3D locations. Overall, IMAX contributed an estimated $10.1 million (12 percent) this weekend.

It's hard to rag on a new monthly record, but it does feel like this $84.8 million debut is a slight miss for The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular movie franchises ever, and adapting the prequel story should have been a box office slam-dunk. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. marketing almost exclusively focused on The Hobbit's connection to Lord of the Rings, and therefore failed to show what's special about this movie. Add in confusion about the trilogy situation (which WB didn't make much of an effort to correct) and some middling reviews (65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and many casual moviegoers likely decided to take a "wait-and-see" approach here.

Long-term, though, The Hobbit should be in fine shape. December releases typically have a slow start but hold well through the Holiday season, and that will likely be the case with The Hobbit as well thanks to solid word-of-mouth (it received a strong "A" CinemaScore from audiences this weekend). Ultimately, $300 million at the domestic box office is within reach, though it's entirely possible the movie falls short of The Fellowship of the Ring's $315.5 million total (the lowest-grossing of the three Lord of the Rings movies).

The Hobbit's audience skewed male (57 percent) and a bit older (58 percent over 25). The "A" CinemaScore improved to an "A+" with moviegoers under 18 years old, suggesting this will be a great choice for families throughout the next few weeks.

While The Hobbit accounted for over half of business, there were still other movies drawing attention this weekend. DreamWorks Animation's Christmas movie Rise of the Guardians took second place again, dipping just 29 percent to an estimated $7.4 million. While it's tie-in with the holiday should help it maintain some momentum, it's going to have a tough time holding on to its screens with so many new releases coming out in the next nine days; as a result, there's no chance it makes it from its current $71.4 million to the coveted $100 million level.

Thanks in part to its seven Golden Globe nominations, Lincoln eased just 19 percent to an estimated $7.2 million this weekend. It's now the highest-grossing of the major Academy Award contenders with $107.9 million (ahead of Argo's $104.9 million).

Even with direct competition from The Hobbit, Skyfall still hung on well and only dropped 35 percent to an estimated $7 million. It's now earned $272.4 million, and a total north of $290 million seems like a done deal.

Life of Pi
rounded out the Top Five for the fourth weekend in a row; the Ang Lee-directed adaptation dipped 35 percent to an estimated $5.4 million. To date, the movie has grossed $69.6 million.

In 10th place, Silver Linings Playbook was off just 4 percent to $2.1 million. The movie was once again in 371 locations, which is the level that it's been at for the past four weekends. The acclaimed David O. Russell romantic comedy has grossed just under $17 million; with the upcoming Christmas traffic jam at theaters, it's likely that The Weinstein Company waits until around Oscar nominations (Jan. 10) and Jennifer Lawrence's Saturday Night Live hosting gig (Jan. 19) to push the movie in to nationwide release.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Best of Christmas - Part 1

This past week, I sat down and watched a couple new Christmas movies on television. It got me to thinking what exactly makes a good Christmas film. Without naming names, the ones I watched would not make my list of the best Christmas movies. Here’s what ingredients work best: you need a sense of wonderment, a magical feel, a movie that makes you feel like a child again. I’m looking for something that restores my faith in mankind that we all have the desire and ability to care for each other. A good Christmas film should instill hope for a better tomorrow.

So what are my top ten movies that capture the essence and the spirit of Christmas?

1. National Lampoons 
Christmas Vacation

This one is my guilty pleasure. I know it’s crude, but it’s ridiculously funny. And we are all guilty at some point in maybe going a little bit overboard with the holidays like Clark Griswold. He’s a good guy, and all he wants to do is the right thing and provide a great Christmas for his family. But as you can imagine, complications arise just as in real life. No big message in this film, just a lot of entertainment value. I make a point to watch this movie every year. It’s like an old friend. Somehow it just gets better with age.

2. The Santa Clause

This one is definitely an original. Of course, it’s been copied countless times. But forget about all of the counterfeits. The Santa Clause has heart and passion. It offers a look at the modern family and the difficulties it presents during the holidays. Not everything in this film is sunshine and happiness. Tim Allen’s character is an absentee father who is self-absorbed in his work. He’s in desperate need of an attitude readjustment. The film is magical, funny, and has all of the right elements. Absolutely a perfect holiday film.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

How can you go wrong with Jimmy Stewart. This is absolutely a “must see”. Recently, I talked to someone who has never seen this film. How is that possible? This is a story about a man who thinks his life has been a waste until he gets an opportunity to see what life would have been like had he never been born. Sometimes we never know what kind of impact we make on people’s lives and what a positive influence we can have on the people around us. George Bailey discovers that he really does have a wonderful life. This film offers us a timely message that is still relevant today.

4. The Homecoming, A Christmas Story

You don’t often see this one on television. The Homecoming was the pilot for the successful 1970’s series The Waltons. The Homecoming is a celebration of the joys of family and the struggles that we all must endure. Set in rural Virginia during the height of the depression in the 1930s, The Homecoming feels like a warm memory from our childhood past. At times you feel like you are actually there. It’s amazing considering they shot the exteriors in the Grand Teton National Park and the interiors on a sound stage in Los Angeles. They captured the nuances of this historical period from the 1930’s depression in an authentic manner. There is nothing more universal than the desire to be home with your family at Christmas. I think this is a film everyone can relate to.

5. A Christmas Story

Everybody loves this film except my wife. I don’t understand why she dislikes it so much. I love this movie. Who hasn’t wanted a Christmas gift as a child and schemed on how to get it. Ralphie is determined to get a Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle at all costs. Obviously, mayhem ensues as a result. A Christmas Story has been made famous because of TBS who airs it continuously 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve. There’s no way you can miss this one. A Christmas Story was released in 1983 and feels like it could have come from the 1940s.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christian Movie Connect Episode 51 – Rusty Whitener

Nashville-based, Rusty Whitener, is an expert in topics relevant to popular culture ranging from entertainment to spirituality. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and has worked in professional theatre shows throughout the U.S. Over the past several years, Rusty has appeared in a variety of TV programs and films including “Law and Order,” “Lukewarm,” “Undaunted,” and the GMC TV movie of the week, “Decision.” As a writer, Rusty has gained critical acclaim for his novel, “A Season of Miracles,” which is now in postproduction with Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures.

“A Season of Miracles” is a uniquely compelling drama about a group of twelve year olds and a championship little league baseball season, that is not so much about winning and losing as it is about living and dying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is the Cultural War a Lost Cause?

I think it’s safe to say that most Christians believe the Bible is true and is inspired by God. But, sometimes I think when we read it; we just gloss over it and don’t really look at what it means. Sure, we might think, that’s nice or that’s interesting, however: we move on to the next verse. Case in point, Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.”

Interesting scripture isn’t it? Have you ever thought what it really means? It suggests that we are fighting a war, but one that we cannot see which is fought in a different realm than the physical world we live in. How do we apply this in light of the cultural war that Christians have been fighting for the past two generations? Who is our enemy? And who is the battle against?

Are we fighting against Hollywood? Intellectuals, Democrats? Republicans? Homosexuals? Socialists? Humanists? Atheists? Pick any other group that you care to add to my list. I think we have been approaching this issue from the wrong angle. In fact, I believe the cultural war is a lost cause. To go a step further, I don’t believe it was ever winnable in the first place. We are fighting a spiritual battle, not against people in Hollywood or any other place for that matter.

Here’s where I think we have gone off course. First, we want sinners to act like saints. The last time I checked, sinners are sinners. So why are we surprised when they do things that are in violation of God’s laws? I think that many Christians are committed to a course of action where they want to force their will on nonbelievers to conform to our standards. God gave everyone a free will to make that decision on their own. Let me be clear. I am not endorsing sin. But we cannot obtain the results we want through political, social, or any other means. To accept Jesus as Lord and Savior is a spiritual decision that must be made by each individual. That decision is the kind of change that will be reflected in people’s behaviors, beliefs and attitudes.

Second, many Christians see the world as they want it to be, not as the world is in reality. I hate to break the news, but we no longer live in a Christian society or a Christian nation. If we want to be brutally honest, we live in a secular society or what some people call a post-Christian society. There will never be a heaven on earth no matter how much we desire it. So let’s move on. When you start to see the world as it is, your entire perspective will change. We are foreigners in a strange land with customs, rituals, and beliefs that are in direct contract to ours. In other words, you and I are missionaries. Our goal should be to build trust, relationships and friendships with the inhabitants of this strange land that we find ourselves in. We should be building bridges not burning them.

Finally, we as Americans are not the new chosen people. There’s a fair amount of Christians that believe that America’s purpose is to disperse justice and judgment. I do not see one Biblical reference to support this belief. We are way off course when we incorporate patriotism, love of country, the flag, conservative values, and party politics into the Gospel. In essence, we’re creating a new religion or a new gospel. Jesus was not a nationalist. He saw everybody in every country as his brother.

There is just nothing to gain in continuing to fight the cultural war. It’s time to see it for what it is—a spiritual war, not a physical war. Here’s the best strategy: Love people into the Kingdom of God. Don’t be scared of people who look different, think different, or believe different than you. Engage them in conversation and dialogue. And, as you do, demonstrate the love of God and your willingness to submit to His authority. That will defeat the devil at every turn and will fulfill the one commandment Jesus left us with.—love one another.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Weekend Report: 007 in First, Butler Bombs

Playing for Keeps, the only movie brave enough to open the week before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, tanked this weekend, which allowed box office sensation Skyfall to move back in to first place in its fifth outing. The Top 12 wound up with just $73 million, which makes this the third-lowest-grossing weekend of the year.

eased 34 percent to an estimated $11 million, which brings its domestic total to an incredible $261.6 million. The movie is now a day away from passing The Amazing Spider-Man ($262 million) to become Sony's highest-grossing movie in over five years. It's also the first movie to take the top spot in its fifth weekend since How to Train Your Dragon did so in April 2010*.

If it's not clear enough already, Skyfall is easily one of the biggest box office successes of 2012. It's now on pace to wind up with around $290 million, which is over $120 million more than Quantum of Solace's previous Bond record ($168.4 million). This is a great example of strong franchise management: by bringing in a quality director (Sam Mendes) and allowing plenty of time for script rewrites (due in no small part to MGM's bankruptcy issues), the end product wound up delighting audiences in such a way that word-of-mouth was and continues to be very enthusiastic.

In second place, Rise of the Guardians eased 21 percent to an estimated $10.54 million. That strong hold is due to the movie's Christmas connection, and it should continue to perform well through the end of the month. Unfortunately, it's only made $61.9 million so far, and $100 million is still probably out of reach.

Three-time winner The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 fell 47 percent to an estimated $9.2 million. The fifth and final Twilight movie has now grossed $268.7 million, which puts it $1.4 million ahead of New Moon through the same point.

had another great weekend, dipping 32 percent to $9.1 million. Steven Spielberg's biopic has already earned $97.3 million, and it will pass Argo sometime next weekend to become the highest-grossing movie among the current Best Picture contenders.

For the third-straight weekend, Life of Pi wound up in fifth place. The Ang Lee book adaptation was off 32 percent to an estimated $8.3 million, and its $60.9 million total trails Rise of the Guardians by $1 million.

In sixth place, Playing for Keeps bombed with just $6 million from 2,837 theaters. That's star Gerard Butler's second flop in less than two months following Chasing Mavericks, which has to-date only earned $5.8 million.

With a light, unimpressive marketing effort, Playing for Keeps never really had much of a chance. There was nothing distinguishing about the movie, and it was hard to classify (not in the good way). Was it a romantic comedy? A sports movie? A father-son story? It may be "all of the above," but it's tough to sell that in a 30-second ad.

Excluding movies like Ted (which is first and foremost a buddy comedy), the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the year is April's Think Like a Man with $91.5 million, and the next runner-up is What to Expect When You're Expecting with just $41.2 million. This can partly be blamed on poor offerings, but it's also worth considering whether date night audiences are tiring of this genre.

The audience for Playing for Keeps was 58 percent female and 74 percent were 25 years of age or older. The movie received a "B+" CinemaScore, suggesting audiences liked the movie a lot better than critics did (it currently has a terrible 2 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

In tenth place, Killing Them Softly plummeted 60 percent to an estimated $2.75 million. That steep drop isn't surprising given the toxic word-of-mouth ("F" CinemaScore); with just $11.8 million in the bank so far, the Brad Pitt crime drama will likely be disappearing from theaters by Christmas.

In an attempt to take advantage of the dearth of new offerings (and, hopefully, kick up some Oscar buzz for Michael Pena's performance), Open Road Films expanded End of Watch in to 1,249 theaters this weekend. The movie added a decent $733,000, which helped push its total to $40 million.

Hyde Park on Hudson
debuted to an estimated $83,300 at four theaters this weekend, which translates to a very modest $20,825 average. That's not a particularly good start for a Focus Features release in pricey Los Angeles/New York theaters. With generally poor reviews and next-to-zero awards attention, and with a crowded upcoming schedule, it's hard to imagine this Franklin D. Roosevelt movie gaining much traction.
*This article originally listed Avatar as the last movie to take first place in its fifth weekend. In fact, that honor belongs to How to Train Your Dragon in April 2010

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Five points to consider if you are planning on tackling a low-budget feature

1. Find the right story. The story is always the driving force in low-budget filmmaking. You need a screenplay that can follow the right format. For low-budget filmmaking to work, you need to shoot your feature within a 3-week time span. Essentially, your story needs to be a “dressed-up” stage play. Trust me, everybody is using this format from Tyler Perry movies to movies like Death at a Funeral.

The key to low-budget filmmaking is the ability to move fast. You have to shoot 5 pages a day with the ability to handle 25 – 35 setups per day-- no more than a 6 to 1 shooting ratio. Locations have to be limited to no more than three, with 80% of your film shot in one location. To keep the budget down, have no more than a handful of characters. If you can find a story that meets that criteria, you are in the game. But remember the story has to be solid and have entertainment value.

2. Low-budget is low-budget. Low budget for you is not $1 million. If you want to make a second film, your first film must break even or make money. In order to do that it needs to be “low-budget”. Your rock bottom number has to be less than $150,000.

Recently, someone sent me a script with an $800,000 budget. They have got to be insane. There is no way they are going to raise $800,000. That’s why a lot of film students are not working. They want to start at the top. You have to start at the bottom and prove that you can make a $10,000 feature, then a $50,000 feature. That’s the way the system works.

3. Become an entrepreneur. You’re going to be waiting a long time if you think somebody is going to call you to make your movie. You’re going to have to go out and raise the money. Plus, you will probably have to direct and produce it as well. Most people who make their first movie are able to get the money from their family and friends. However, that won’t work for the second movie. That’s why you have to make Rule Number 2 work for you. If you can build a financial model, you can find investors for your next film as long as you keep the costs low.

4. Make the movie first, then the deal. No one is going to give you a distribution deal without a finished product. Sorry, a script is not enough. For years I read and believed that you get the distribution deal first. It doesn’t work that way. The distributors want you to take all the risks first.

5. Get help. There are plenty of resources available. On our website for free you can check out our guerilla code, guerilla principles and our guerilla guide. There are also lots of resources on line. Just be careful that they are not rip-offs. Buyer beware.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Things Hollywood Won't Tell You

1. "The real nail-biter? Our balance sheet."

Picture it: captains of industry struggling to stay relevant in a world they no longer understand. It may sound like a Citizen Kane-esque cinematic saga, but it's actually the story of today's studio executives, say film-industry watchers. The U.S. box office take dropped almost 4 percent in 2011, to $10.2 billion, marking the second straight year of decline. The root of the problem, of course, is the growing popularity of home viewing via Netflix and other video-on-demand outlets. Last year, consumer spending on video streaming jumped 50 percent, to $3.4 billion, reports the Digital Entertainment Group. The change has as many implications for the movie business as digital downloading did for the music industry. Granted, Hollywood makes some money from streaming sales. But those digital dimes aren't enough. Add it up and you have a potential crisis, says Christopher Sharrett, a professor of communication and film studies at Seton Hall University: "We could well be seeing the end of motion pictures in theaters."

2. "3-D is for suckers."

So what are moviemakers doing to bring more bodies into theaters? They're revisiting an innovation of decades past: 3-D. And not everyone who tracks Hollywood is wild about the trend, saying it's a passing fad. Plus, action films don't always translate well to 3-D. Boston Globe film writer Ty Burr recently carped about the "sins against the visual cortex" perpetrated by 3-D releases Clash of the Titans,Gulliver's Travels and Green Lantern: They "aren't just terribly written, they're terrible to look at, with actors' faces separated from the backs of their heads," he wrote. Of course, Hollywood doesn't quite see it that way. In a 2010 interview, Clash of the Titans director Louis Leterrier praised today's 3-D, saying what viewers see on the screen is "exactly what it looked like on set." But either way, consumers are paying the price for the new-old technology: Admission to a 3-D flick is generally $3 extra.

3. "Movies are thinly veiled commercials."

Many moviegoers may recall how a trail of Reese's Pieces lures the alien out of hiding in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. That's classic Hollywood product placement, circa 1982. Attracting an alien nowadays would require much bigger bait: Hollywood has increasingly come to rely on Madison Avenue for income. Indeed, product placement has doubled in value since 2005, to an estimated $1.8 billion. This blurring of the lines between entertainment and advertising -- a practice consumer advocates condemn -- has become so ubiquitous someone even made a movie about it: Documentarian Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame, spoofed the trend in his 2011 picture Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (he financed the $1.5 million film through sponsorships). But Hollywood argues that it's a necessary part of doing business -- and that ticket sales alone don't cut it: "Somebody has to pay for all this content to be created," says Lindsay Conner, a Los Angeles attorney who has represented film studios.

4. "New York? Chicago? It's all Vancouver."

When Hollywood wants to use a particular city as a backdrop, it faces a choice: scout out settings and deal with potentially pricey or problematic local production crews, or head to a place that has a similar look and is eager to please, particularly when it comes to government financial incentives. Frequently, it chooses the latter, regardless of the possible visual compromise. As a result, some states, such as Michigan and Louisiana, have become hotbeds of production. And Canada -- especially the cities of Toronto and Vancouver -- has become such a hub that it's been dubbed Hollywood North. Even when a specific location is central to a plotline, filmmakers won't hesitate to shoot elsewhere. A case in point: The 2002 Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama was shot largely in Georgia, because it offered scenic locations and a solid crew of film professionals, explains Michael Fottrell, the film's executive producer. An added bonus, says Fottrell: Some New York scenes could be filmed in Atlanta.

5. "We boost sales by limiting your options."

It should come as no surprise that Hollywood times the release of youth-oriented "popcorn flicks" to the out-of-school summer months. But it might surprise people just how far studios take the timing game the rest of the year: If they deem a film unlikely to make a splash at the box office, industry observers say, they'll release it on a slow, off-season weekend -- so it won't have to compete with higher-profile fare, and so it will require fewer marketing dollars. In short, by minding the calendar (as well as the competition) and ultimately limiting options for moviegoers, studios are able to sell more tickets to movies that might otherwise be commercial disappointments, explains Paul Dergarabedian, president of's box office division. "The scheduling of release dates is like a giant chess match," he says.
6. "We scratch Washington's back..."
Yep, even Hollywood has a lobbying arm: the Motion Picture Association of America, which spent more than $2 million wooing elected officials last year. And its positions aren't always popular with either the public or politicians. Recently, the association, under the stewardship of former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, pushed for antipiracy legislation designed to keep films from being easily shared and copied online. But the bills were seen as restricting the overall use of the Internet and failed to garner support. After Congress put the legislation on hold, Dodd warned that "those who count on 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake." That led some critics to charge that the MPAA was bullying legislators and prompted an online petition asking the White House to "investigate this blatant bribery." The Obama administration declined to comment on the petition.
7. "Based on a true story...loosely."
Truth is often stranger than fiction, which explains Hollywood's enthusiasm for telling true stories. There's just one problem: Sometimes reality gets in the way of the narrative or spoils the tone of a film. So Hollywood changes it. Not everyone necessarily has a problem with that, though. Chris Gardner, the homeless man-turned-financial whiz whose story was chronicled in the 2006 Will Smith picture The Pursuit of Happyness, says he understood why the film's creators changed the age of his son. In real life, the events played out when his child was still in diapers; in the movie, he's 5. The reason? It's hard to capture those poignant father-and-son moments without dialogue, so the child had to be of speaking age. Overall, says Gardner, "I could not be more happy" with the film
8. "What you see isn't what you'll get."
If you've ever felt cheated after seeing a movie that failed to deliver on what its trailer promised, you're not alone. Moviegoers are increasingly sounding the alarm that Hollywood plays a game of bait-and-switch, building marketing campaigns that present a false sense of a picture's style or subject matter. And at least one film buff has gone to the courts to make the case: A Michigan woman filed suit in September against a Hollywood distributor, saying that she was led to believe, through advertising, that the Ryan Gosling thriller Drive was about, well, driving. Instead, the film "bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film," the suit alleged. And the reaction from Drive producer Graham King? "It's called marketing, you know?" he said in a 2011 interview. The suit was dismissed in March.
9. "We've got a bad case of sequelitis."
It's not an actual illness, but sequelitis is the term movie critics use to describe Hollywood's obsession of late with pictures that have a numeral in their title. Of last year's 10 highest-grossing films worldwide, nine were sequels. (The lone exception? The Smurfs -- and even that's practically a sequel, since the little blue creatures gained earlier fame as stars of an animated television series.) But if moviegoers are happy to buy tickets to these pictures-cum-franchises, who's being harmed? Movie mavens maintain it's stifling originality and resulting in the further commercialization of an industry that's already overcommercialized. "It's like, 'We can milk anything,'" says Sean Phillips, executive producer of the Yahoo Movies website.
10. "Of course we recycle. It pays."
Sequels may represent the artistic equivalent of recycling, but Hollywood also profits from its real leftovers. As recently as a decade ago, studios extracted silver from the physical prints that theaters sent back following a film's run, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in added profits, according to Edward Jay Epstein, a film-business expert and the author of The Hollywood Economist 2.0. And today, the industry channels used props and costumes to auction houses that cater to the growing market of movie-mad collectors. The only problem with the squeeze-every-penny-out-of-a-picture mentality is that it's part of the "culture of the suits," Epstein says. In that culture, extra pennies go straight into studio coffers or toward blatantly commercial projects -- say, another Smurfs movie. Sure enough, a sequel is already in the works.