Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Box Office Report: 'Fast 6' No. 1 With $300 Million Globally; 'Hangover III' Sputters

Thanks to an engine more powerful than ever, Fast & Furious 6 topped the Memorial Day box office with $120 million for a worldwide total of $317 million -- a franchise best and the biggest debut of all time for Universal. The action pic has taken in $197 million internationally, including $17 million earned since opening last weekend in the U.K. and Ireland.

The victory was made sweeter by the fact that Fast 6, costing $160 million to produce, had no trouble zooming past The Hangover Part III, the final installment in Todd Phillips' R-rated comedy franchise.

Hangover III, opening Thursday in North America to get a one-day jump on Fast 6, grossed $51.2 million for the four-day holiday weekend and $63 million for the Thursday-Monday stretch -- a tepid showing in comparison to the $135 million earned by The Hangover Part II during the same stretch in 2011.

From Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, Hangover III still turned in the second-best best Memorial Day showing for an R-rated film after Hangover II and, along with Fast 6 and a group of strong holdovers, helped drive ticket sales to a historic $314 million, the best ever for the holiday and outpacing the record set in 2011 with $276 million. Fox's animated toon Epic, the third new film of the holiday, also contributed to the boom with a solid $42.6 million bow.

Warners president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman didn't try to hide the studio's disappointment that Hangover III didn't do more domestically. The studio and Legendary spent $103 million to make the film.
"Tracking had us a lot closer. It was a little surprising that we didn't reach the $80 million mark, but I can't look at a $63 million or $64 million opening and say it wasn't solid," he said. "Obviously, the first choice was Fast 6, but hopefully people will get a dose of that film and then come back to us."

Boosting Fast 6's stellar performance were an A CinemaScore and the strong turnout among minorities, while Hangover III could have been hurt by a B CinemaScore (the last film received an A- CinemaScore) and poor reviews.

Many had questioned the decision to open Fast 6 and Hangover III on the same weekend, since they both target males. Fast 6 benefited mightily from Hispanics, who made up 32 percent of the audience and are the most frequent moviegoers in the U.S.

"This isn't just a car racing movie anymore. It's an action pic with broad appeal," said Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco, noting how unusual it is for a franchise to gain such strength with time. "And it played to a tremendously diverse audience."

Costing $160 million to make, Fast 6 returns stars Van Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez.

Universal's previous best domestic opening was Jurassic Park entry The Lost World, which debuted to $90.2 million over Memorial Day weekend in 1997.

Overseas, Fast 6 has placed No. 1 in each of the 60 territories where it has opened. The pic earned $160.3 million over the weekend proper, and $180 million for the four-day weekend (Monday is a holiday in many countries). Fast 6 nabbed the biggest opening of all time in the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East and Argentina.

Hangover III also did strong business overseas as it opened in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, taking in a promising $19 million for a worldwide bow of $82 million. Hangover III beat Fast 6 in the U.K. with $9.2 million, including $1.6 million in previews (Fast 6 opened there last weekend).

Paramount and Skydance's Star Trek Into Darkness enjoyed an impressive hold in its second weekend, grossing $47 million for the four-day holiday to place No. 3. The J.J. Abrams-directed sequel has now grossed $155.8 million domestically and $102.1 million internationally for a worldwide total of $257.9 million. And on Saturday and Sunday in North America, it narrowly beat Hangover III in North America.
Into Darkness is only playing in half the international marketplace. Next weekend, it opens in China and South Korea, both crucial markets.

Epic, from Fox Animation Studios and Blue Sky Studios, placed No. 4 with its $42.6 million opening. Featuring a female heroine, the 3D pic earned an A CinemaScore and a coveted A+ among kids. Overseas, the toon opened in another 20 markets over the weekend, taking in $23.1 million from a total of 36 territories for an international cume of $44 million and worldwide total of $86.6 million.

"I think it's a fantastic start. We have a four week run before Monsters University opens, and I'm very bullish on where Epic goes," said Fox president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson.

Disney and Marvel's Iron Man 3 rounded out the top five, with four-day earnings of $24.4 million. The tentpole has now earned $1.15 billion worldwide to become the No. 5 grossing film of all time.

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby has jumped the $200 million mark at the worldwide box office, earning $117.7 million domestically and $85.6 million internationally for a total $202.9 million.

Richard Linklater's final franchise entry Before Midnight shone at the specialty box office as it opened in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Austin, grossing $321,914 for the four-day holiday weekend for a location average of $64,383. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the film, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, in the U.S.

Among other specialty offerings, Mud continued to impress, grossing $2.4 million from only 712 theaters to place No. 7. The movie, from Roadside Attractions, has now grossed $15 million, the top showing ever for the indie distributor.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Inspiration Pop 2929 Red Carpet Premiere at TBN

Posted by By , Christian Movie Connect

It was a beautiful day in Hendersonville, Tennessee for the red carpet premiere of “Inspiration Pop 2929″ held at  the TBN Studios, known as Trinity Music City. This faith-based film is filled with country and gospel music performers, seasoned actors and newbie actors as well. The production team was present, including writer, director and producer Ryan Ramos, producer, Rochell Simmons. Tim Enochs, author or “The Street Sweeper,” the book that inspired the movie,  was also in attendance.

Trinity Music CityI arrived at 3:30 for “marching orders” and then left for dinner, arriving back at 5:00 for backstage interviews. My role was as the official reporter for the production company’s behind the scenes, as well as for TBN who will be featuring the movie on PTL in August, and for Christian Movie Connect.

My crew consisted of my own sister, Leah Ariaz Waite who was my personal assistant and my 15-year old niece, Miranda Waite, who was my social media photographer. Tim Romero of TBN was the videographer. We had a great time. I was so impressed with Leah and Miranda’s work; I am ready to take them on the road with me!

There was a tremendous turnout for the movie. A crowd of anxious attendees lined up in advance in order to get a good seat to see the movie. The auditorium was packed so I’m sure the producers were happy about that. Fans Waiting for Premier

The movie has such a huge cast, so there were lots of interviews to do…but what fun it was! We visited backstage and in the green room with some of the cast before moving to the red carpet. The red carpet was lined with videographers, photographers and reporters from all over the region. CMC was stationed next to Homecoming Magazine.

Our red carpet interviews started with Jason Crabb, followed by Larry Gatlin. It ended 45 minutes later with the Mandrell sisters–Barbara, Louise and Irlene. The Mandrells were there to support Barbara’s daughter-in-law, Christy Sutherland, an award-winning Christian singer-songwriter who has appeared on the 700 Club and Hour of Power as well as taped her first Gaither & Friends video. This was her film debut. 

Some of the more highly credited actors include: Jackie Stewart, who has appeared in 25 motion pictures and TV shows; Whitney Goin who may be recognized by Christian film fans from her role in “Letters to God” and “Renee;” Britt George who has appeared in numerous feature films and TV shows, including “From the Shadows,” which he also produced and faith-based film; “Faith Happens;” Joshua Childs, who is also a writer, producer and director of “The Nothing” and appeared in “Blue Like Jazz” and “Hannah Montana: The Movie;” and Regina McCrary, who has performed on stage with Tyler Perry.

It was a delightful movie set in a small country town that shows the lives of several characters in
difficult times whom each has learned invaluable lessons through the 7 Revelations shared by a street sweeper.

It was a long but exciting night. All I can say is that I’m just glad I had my sister around because after 2 hours in 4 inch platforms, we had to resort to the ole “sister shoe switch.” (Sorry I had to pawn the agonizing silver foot killers on her but that’s what sisters are for, right?)

The film will be shown in select theaters and on DVD. For more information on Inspiration Pop 2929, go to the website:

Building a Better Mouse Trap - Part 2

When talking about the media, Laura Ingraham and other commentators seem focused on nudity, sexuality, bad language, and violence.They see this as the main problem. Unfortunately, they are only highlighting the symptoms of a greater disease. And, as we know, treating the symptoms will not cure the disease. There’s an underlying issue that they are missing.

What’s driving today’s media culture is the relationship between corporations, big business, media companies, producers, directors and writers who have a hidden agenda. They have created a business model where everyone profits whether you’re conservative or liberal. Media and entertainment has one primary message that is essential in making this business model function. The viewer must believe he or she is more important than anything else. “You” are the center of your own universe, and you deserve to have anything you want. This is a powerful message and, most often, is deliberately hidden within the media and entertainment we view.

What’s different today is we have a force that is capable of defining and creating culture unlike anything we have ever seen in human history. And it has tapped into the human condition as an energy source. It has reinforced three principles within our society.

First, media is teaching us that there is no right or wrong. Everything is relevant to the person and the situation; therefore, the concept of sin no longer exists. In the past, people may not have gone to church nor done the right thing, but they knew they were sinning. The things they were doing were against God’s law. They had a conscience. Today, we are developing a society without a conscience. This allows us to do hideous things and not give it a thought or lose a moment of sleep over it. We are being conditioned to believe that we must define our own right or wrong.

The second thing is today’s media has created a sense of entitlement. Whatever we see or want we should have it regardless of the consequences. It is our birthright to have it. This entitlement concept goes well beyond the government providing for us. We don’t care if it’s our employer, credit card, bank account, our parents, or our society in general. We are entitled. It’s somebody else’s responsibly. The media has been very successful in weaving this entitlement mentality through the distortion of the so-called American dream. We have become a nation that loves material things because that’s what brings happiness. Our value is determined by the pursuit of the American dream through possessions and products that define our lifestyle.

The third thing is our mass media is creating a self-centered society. It’s all about “me”. When you can convince an individual that he or she is the most important thing in his or her life, that individual becomes a good consumer. You don’t think about anybody or anything else except what can make you happy. Forget about your family, society, or you fellowman. It’s all about getting yours. A self-centered attitude is the perfect recipe to fuel today’s mass media culture, and everybody is profiting. I’m not saying that consumerism is bad, but the model that we have built is out of control and has the ability to take our society down.

Laura Ingraham might blame Hollywood or the Left for what’s happening to America. But the truth is everybody is participating. While each party is blaming the other, the checks keep rolling in, nobody cares about the consequences. Big business and corporations are making money hand over fist because consumerism and materialism are fueling the American dream.

Final Thoughts

Western civilization, as we know it, probably will not collapse tomorrow. There are still plenty of people who believe in morals and values. Christianity continues to have a strong influence in our society; however, there’s no question that we are facing enormous obstacles. It remains to be seen if future generations will continue to follow Christ or some other type of belief system. As the bible says, there is nothing new under the sun. The “cheese” is the same. We just have more of it these days. What is different though is we have built a better mouse trap thanks to the expansion of mass media and the emergence of today’s media culture

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Building a Better Mouse Trap - Part 1

Are things as bad as they seem? Are we living in the worst of times? According to radio host and political commentator, Laura Ingraham, America is experiencing a total cultural and moral collapse. She highlights this in her new book, Of Thee I Zing. She believes the media is the source of America's decline. Of course, she’s not the only one who is pointing this out. Many social commentators believe morals and values are at an all-time low. Is this true?

Is there something different about today’s culture? Just like all complex issues, you’ll find no simple answer. How you address these issues will depend on your worldview. If you are a Christ follower, you have reasons for concern. On the other hand, if you identify yourself as a secular humanist, you probable believe we are living in the age of enlightenment.

Getting back to the question, what’s different today? Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new (NLT) and in Ecclesiastes 1:13, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.” NLT

The Bible makes it clear that we’ve seen it all before, and we’ll see it in the future. Human activity and the human condition have not changed over the years. Since the dawn of time, we’ve seen murder, jealousy, greed, corruption, sexual impurity, lust, etc.—the same things we see today.

Laura Ingraham and other commentators would have you believe that sin and bad behavior all started somewhere in the 1960s with the counter culture revolution. I’ve heard many argue that America in the 1950s was something like a utopian society. Most people went to church, believed in God, prayed, and always did the right thing. We believed in morals and values and expressed them in our daily lives. Does anybody really believe this? Perhaps, Ingraham’s concept of America is based on TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s and movies from the 1940s and 1950s that depicted America as a wholesome, family-friendly, and God-centered nation. I somehow doubt we were ever the society that Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best would have us to believe. It’s a nice myth.

Sin didn’t just pop up out of nowhere; it’s been with us a long, long time. But Laura is right about one thing in her new book. The media is playing a significant role in helping to advance the moral and cultural decline of mankind. What’s different today is sin in increasing and becoming more public and more acceptable. Laura points to the media as the source of the problem and blames Hollywood elitists for polluting American culture.

But it’s more than just the media. Media is no longer just media, and entertainment is no longer just entertainment. They have become something greater than their sum. That something is difficult to express in thought or words. The best way I can describe it is as a media culture or a force where media and culture have combined as one. This force is now capable of creating, shaping and defining a reality that we all accept as normal. In other words, what we see and heard in the media, we accept as truth and thus becomes important in our lives. The things that we don’t see become unimportant even though they could hold the greater value.

We no longer think about faith, Christianity, and belief as important and valuable because they are no longer reflected in any significant form in our media. The mass media acts as a giant amplifier helping to increase the effects of sin. It communicates the importance of wealth, power, sex, influence, materialism and consumerism as the things to desire and aspire to. Mass media therefore is the perfect vehicle or delivery system to highlight the human condition. That’s what’s fundamentally different today. Media is only a conduit. I believe in the power of media and that it can be used in a positive fashion to lead people to the truth. Unfortunately, in our society, it’s primarily being used in a destructive manner.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weekend Report: 'Into Darkness' Boldly Goes Where 2009's 'Trek' Went Before

Star Trek Into Darkness easily opened on top this weekend, though it wasn't the kind of box office sensation that many—including distributor Paramount—were expecting it to be.

The J.J. Abrams-directed sequel took in an estimated $70.6 million for the three-day frame; add in its grosses from Wednesday night and all-day Thursday, and the movie has to-date earned $84.1 million. In comparison, 2009's Star Trek grossed $75.2 million for the weekend, and $86.7 million through its first four-and-a-half days.

While it's usually unfair to knock a movie for opening in line with its predecessor, it certainly feels like the "disappointment" label is applicable in this case. All signs suggest the 2009 Trek is very well-liked (it has a strong 8.0 rating on IMDb) and Paramount's marketing did a decent job walking the sequel tightrope (a balanced approach of promising more-of-the-same and offering something new). Additionally, there was four years of ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D and IMAX premiums. Based on historical comparisons, this should have added up to around $100 million for the four-day weekend, which was what Paramount was publicly forecasting going in to the weekend.

A few theories have been thrown out regarding the underwhelming opening, including the lack of definition surrounding the villain and the lengthy time between sequels (four years is generally too long). It seems more likely, though, that it fell victim to the incredibly competitive May schedule. There's only so much money to go around, and following the strong performances of Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby—and a week ahead of a jam-packed Memorial Day—Star Trek Into Darkness just wasn't a compelling enough proposition for casual moviegoers.

Trek's demographics tell an interesting story that contributes to that theory: the audience skewed heavily male (64 percent) and older (73 percent over the age of 25). In comparison, the first movie did a better job reaching women (only 60 percent male) and younger audiences (only 65 percent over 25).

This was also the latest weekend in which 3D took a hit—while IMAX 3D accounted for an impressive 16 percent of the weekend gross, non-IMAX 3D only made up 29 percent (for a 45 percent total). Last weekend, The Great Gatsby only had a 33 percent share, and one would have to go back to March's Oz The Great and Powerful to find a movie that had an opening weekend 3D share over 50 percent.

Even with good word-of-mouth—definitely possible, given the strong "A" CinemaScore—Trek is facing insanely tough competition from Fast & Furious 6 (and, to a lesser extent, The Hangover Part III) over Memorial Day weekend. As a result, there's no way that it ultimately matches its predecessor's $257.7 million total, though a final tally north of $200 million should still be achievable.

In second place, Iron Man 3 fell 52 percent to an estimated $35.2 million. Through 17 days the three-quel has earned $337.1 million, which exceeds the final gross of the previous two Iron Man movies. Even with the very competitive marketplace, it should still have enough juice to get past $400 million by the end of its run.

On lukewarm word-of-mouth, The Great Gatsby plummeted 53 percent to an estimated $23.4 million. Still, it's already banked $90.2 million, and remains on pace to match or exceed past Leonardo DiCaprio hits The Departed ($132.4 million) and Shutter Island ($128 million).

Pain and Gain dipped 38 percent to $3.1 million for a total of $46.6 million. In its ninth weekend, DreamWorks Animation's The Croods was back in the Top Five with $2.75 million for a total of $176.8 million. While it will disappear quickly from theaters following the opening of Epic next weekend, The Croods is undoubtedly a major early year success at the domestic box office.

On another light expansion, indie hit Mud added $2.16 million from 960 locations. Its $11.6 million total makes it the highest-grossing movie ever from the Roadside Attractions label, and if it continues to hold well it could eventually get close to $20 million.

In its second outing, Tyler Perry Presents Peeples was off 53 percent to $2.15 million. While that's a solid hold for a Perry movie, it doesn't do much to make up for the fact that the movie's 10-day gross ($7.9 million) is lower than Perry's average opening day.

Around-the-World Roundup

Following its debut at the Cannes Film Festival this week, The Great Gatsby opened in 49 international markets and earned a very strong $42.1 million.

Its top market was Russia with $6.2 million, though a close second was the U.K. ($6.1 million despite opening in the shadow of Fast & Furious 6). It also performed well in South Korea ($4.3 million), Germany ($3.7 million) and Spain ($2.2 million). Gatsby expands in to Australia and Mexico at the end of the month and in to Brazil and Japan in June.

According to Warner Bros., the movie was up 38 percent over director Baz Luhrman's Australia across the same territories; if that holds up for the remainder of its run, Gatsby would ultimately wind up with well over $200 million.

Worldwide sensation Iron Man 3 extended its phenomenal run with $40.2 million this weekend. To date, its earned $736.2 million overseas, which ranks ninth all-time. It also ranks ninth on the worldwide chart with $1.07 billion, and by the end of next weekend it should pass Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($1.12 billion) to claim fifth all-time. Its biggest market by-far is China with $109.5 million, though South Korea has also been particularly impressive ($61.1 million).

Coinciding with its domestic debut, Star Trek Into Darkness expanded to around half of its foreign potential and added $40 million. It's only major new market was Russia, where its $8 million opening was double the total gross of the first movie. On average, Into Darkness tripled the last movie's debut across its 34 new markets. Still, including last weekend's territories its only trending up 80 percent over its predecessor, which earned a terrible $128 million in 2009. To date, Into Darkness has grossed $80.5 million overseas.

As usual, two of next weekend's U.S. releases opened early overseas. Blue Sky Animation's Epic earned $14.1 million from 15 markets including Mexico ($3.5 million), Brazil ($2.5 million) and Germany ($2.3 million). These are fine figures, but still suggest that the movie will wind up being an average animated effort ($200-$250 million overseas).

Meanwhile, Fast & Furious 6 opened to an excellent $13.8 million in the U.K.—that's the highest debut ever there for Universal Pictures. Fast 6 adds most of its other markets (including, of course, the U.S.) next weekend, and seems well positioned to ultimately earn at least as much as its predecessor ($626 million worldwide).

Finally, The Croods continued its outstanding foreign run with an estimated $10.6 million haul this weekend. To date, its earned $373.3 million overseas for a worldwide total of $550 million, which is a very high figure for an original animated effort

Friday, May 17, 2013

Forecast: 'Star Trek' Sequel Targets $100 Million Four-Day Start

Thursday AM Update: Star Trek Into Darkness earned an estimated $2 million from 8 p.m. screenings at 336 IMAX locations yesterday. It also earned $1.3 million at midnight; while that figure is very low, it's likely due more to the confusing last-minute date change than to a lack of interest or awareness.

Forecast: With Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby still drawing crowds, the Summer movie season should continue at warp speed this weekend thanks to the opening of Star Trek Into Darkness. The highly-anticipated sequel is reaching 3,762 locations on Thursday, and by Sunday it should amass at least $100 million at the domestic box office.

Star Trek Into Darkness
is the 12th Star Trek movie, and the first one since director J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise with 2009's Star Trek. The brand actually got its start as a TV show which ran from 1966 to 1968; while it wasn't hugely successful, it did become one of the earliest forms of a "cult hit." With interest in intergalactic sci-fi renewed following the success of Star Wars in 1977, the show's crew was brought together for 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While it didn't do Star Wars-level business, it was still a hit with $82.3 million (or $260 million adjusted for ticket price inflation).

That crew stuck around for five more entries lasting in to the early 1990s; from there, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew (anchored by Patrick Stewart) took over for another four movies. That came to an ignominious end in 2002 with the disastrous Star Trek: Nemesis, which earned a series-low $43.2 million. At the time, it appeared as if the theatrical franchise was over.

A few years later, J.J. Abrams, a director best-known for his work on TV shows Lost and Alias, came onboard to reboot the franchise as an accessible, big-budget Summer action spectacle. Abrams revived the original characters (Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc.) but cast fresh young faces in the roles. The movie wound up opening to a very good $79.2 million (including Thursday showings) in May 2009, and held well throughout the Summer on its way to $257.7 million. That was over twice as much as any other Trek movie, and it also set a record for ticket sales. The success was largely due to the perceived quality of the product, which was universally praised by critics (95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (it still has a spot on IMDb's Top 250 list).

It took four years, but Abrams and company are finally back with Star Trek Into Darkness. Previews for the movie pull pretty directly from the sequel playbook—they show that the key elements of the first movie are still in place (the crew, the action, etc.), while also raising the stakes by introducing a new, formidable terrorist threat personified by Benedict Cumberbatch's villain character (who may or may not been updated version of a classic Trek foe). The campaign has also centered around an impressive-looking sequence that has a beat-up Enterprise fall from orbit in to the San Francisco Bay, which helps differentiate this entry from the previous one.

Reviews have been solid so far—the movie is hovering around the high-80s on Rotten Tomatoes—and reaction from its overseas debuts have been positive as well. Early ticket sales have been strong as well: Fandango reported that the movie was accounting for 71 percent of ticket sales on Tuesday, while reported a 60 percent share.

Just last week, Paramount made the last-minute decision to move the official release date up to Thursday; combined with the Wednesday evening IMAX shows, this makes it difficult to come up with a specific weekend prediction. For the best comparisons, it may be necessary to go all the way back to 2003 and 2004, when anticipated sequels The Matrix Reloaded and Shrek 2 opened on the weekend before Memorial Day. Including their pre-weekend releases (Shrek opened on Wednesday, Matrix on Thursday), the movies earned $134.3 million and $129 million, respectively, by Sunday. With a decade of ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D/IMAX ticket pricing, it's possible that Star Trek Into Darkness winds up at a similar level. Paramount is currently forecasting $20 million on Thursday and $80 million over the weekend for a $100 million four-day tally.

Outside of the U.S., Star Trek adds 33 new territories this weekend (including Russia) for a total of 40, which represent 50 percent of the foreign marketplace. This past weekend, it earned $31.7 million from seven markets, which was up an average of 70 percent ahead of the first Trek movie. Unfortunately, that movie only earned $128 million overseas (Star Trek isn't traditionally a worldwide brand), and the mega-budget sequel is going to need to do better than a 70 percent increase to ultimately be considered a success.

Forecast (May 17-19)

1. Star Trek Into Darkness - $89 million ($117 million 4-day)
2. Iron Man 3 - $33.2 million (-54%)
3. The Great Gatsby - $27.6 million (-45%)

Bar for Success

With goodwill from the first movie and the support of a monster marketing effort, Star Trek Into Darkness needs to noticeably improve on its predecessor's opening—around $100 million for the four-day start is good enough


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Christian Movie Connect Episode 72 - Wes and Amanda Llewellyn

Film Producers, Wes and Amanda Llewellyn are the founders of 4LFilms, a production company with the vision of bringing cutting-edge technology to film and television. Wes has been a filmmaker for more than 25 years, with 100’s of productions to his credit. He has also received numerous awards for his documentary shorts, TV and music videos. As a director, cinematographer, writer and producer, Wes, has produced and directed six seasons and over 100 episodes of the syndicated television show, “Sid Roth’s, It’s Supernatural” along with Amanda. Wes and Amanda’s feature films, “The Moment After”, and “The Moment After 2” have received critical acclaim and are currently in distribution with Sony Home Video.

In this interview, the Llewellyns talk with CMC host, Cheryl Ariaz Wicker, about how
film is used to depict the reality of adversity and the experience of persecution for faith in Christ.

Wes and Amanda’s current project, “Sid Roth’s, It’s Supernatural”, is a weekly television program that investigates and reports on people who have experienced extraordinary healings, miracles and personal encounters with God.

Finding Normal Premieres May 18 on GMC

Monday, May 13, 2013

Weekend Report: 'Gatsby' Great, But 'Iron Man' Leads Again

Thanks to an excellent marketing effort and a complete lack of competition for female audiences, The Great Gatsby opened to an excellent $51.1 million over Mother's Day weekend. However, that wasn't enough to claim first place from Iron Man 3, which followed up its record-breaking debut with another very strong outing.

Even with this impressive one-two punch, overall box office was still down a bit from the same weekend last year when The Avengers scored a second weekend record with over $103 million.

Iron Man 3
fell 58 percent to an estimated $72.5 million, which is the fourth-highest second weekend ever behind The Avengers, Avatar and The Dark Knight. The decline is much steeper than that of The Avengers (50 percent), but is about even with Iron Man 2 (59 percent). To date, Iron Man 3 has earned an excellent $284.9 million, and if it continues to follow Iron Man 2's pace it will ultimately wind up over $400 million.
The Great Gatsby's $51.1 million debut ranks as the third-highest second place debut ever behind The Day After Tomorrow ($68.7 million, behind Shrek 2) and Sherlock Holmes ($62.3 million, behind Avatar). It's easily the best start ever in director Baz Luhrmann's career, and it's on pace to become his highest-grossing movie ahead Moulin Rouge! ($57.4 million) by Tuesday. This opening also ranks as the second-highest ever for star Leonardo DiCaprio behind 2010's Inception.

's challenging path to the big-screen has been extensively documented, and one has to think that Warner Bros. collectively let out a big sigh of relief when the great numbers started coming in this weekend. In hindsight, of course, the movie's strong opening shouldn't have been such a surprise. Thanks to its place on high school curriculum, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is one of the most widely-read books of the past century, and Luhrmann's stylish direction kept the movie from looking like a stuffy literary adaptation. It also had superstar Leonardo DiCaprio in a role that's right in his wheelhouse, and an vibrant (albeit anachronistic) score put together by perpetual hitmaker Jay-Z. Perhaps most important, though, was the complete lack of movies targeted at women right now (despite the fact that the finer sex makes the majority of movie-going decisions).

Exit polling confirmed that the audience skewed female (59 percent) and older (69 percent over the age of 25). They gave the movie a "B" CinemaScore, which suggests word-of-mouth won't be great; still, without much direct competition, the worst-case scenario for the movie is about $120 million total, which is a very good performance for a romantic drama.

The only noticeable negative for Gatsby was the poor 3D performance—only 33 percent of the weekend gross came from 3D showings, which is an incredibly low figure for a live-action movie. While the fact that it was a 3D drama was part of the very early story, Warner Bros. basically abandoned it in the movie's main marketing effort.

Pain and Gain
took third place with an estimated $5 million, which is off a light 33 percent from last weekend. To date, the Michael Bay-directed crime flick has earned $41.6 million, and could ultimately wind up over $50 million.

Tyler Perry is one of the most consistently successful filmmakers working today, but that didn't stop Tyler Perry Presents Peeples from tanking hard with just $4.85 million at 2,041 locations this weekend. Among 2013 movies opening in more than 2,000 theaters, this is the third-worst start behind Bullet to the Head ($4.55 million) and Movie 43 ($4.81 million). The debut is also less than half of producer Tyler Perry's previous low, 2007's Daddy's Little Girls ($11.2 million).

With Perry's strong brand and an accessible marketing effort, this awful start is a bit baffling. As many readers have pointed out, though, the "presents" label historically doesn't go all that far—look no further than the performance of The Man with the Iron Fists (presented by Quentin Tarantino) or Sanctum (presented by James Cameron) to see that even the best brand names aren't a lock when they aren't actually directing the movie. Peeples received a "B-" CinemaScore, and will probably be disappearing from theaters by Memorial Day.

rounded out the Top Five with $4.65 million, which is down a very light 23 percent from last weekend. To date, the Jackie Robinson biopic has grossed a very good $84.7 million.

After two successful weeks in moderate release, Mud expanded nationwide to 854 theaters and added $2.34 million. The well-reviewed coming-of-age story has now earned $8.36 million.

Around-the-World Roundup

While Iron Man 3 is having a great run at the domestic box office, the movie continues to do its most-impressive business overseas. The movie added $89.3 million for a total of $664.1 million, which ranks 14th all-time. Iron Man 3's top market is China with a fantastic $95.3 million total (more than The Avengers), followed by South Korea ($54.1 million) and the U.K. ($48.3 million).

Add in the movie's domestic haul, and it's now at $949 million worldwide. By Friday, it should be over $1 billion; even if it falls hard from here on out, it's still guaranteed to ultimately earn over $1.1 billion by the end of its run.

A week ahead of its U.S. opening, Star Trek Into Darkness opened to $31.7 million from seven foreign markets this weekend. According to Paramount, the movie was up an average of 70 percent on its predecessor across those markets; while that sounds great, it's worth noting that the first Star Trek only earned $128 million overseas. The movie's top market was the U.K. with $13.3 million (up 50 percent), and it was also great in Germany ($7.6 million, up 80 percent), and Australia (up 50 percent).

One major highlight for Star Trek Into Darkness: in markets where Star Trek hasn't been a particularly strong brand—Mexico, New Zealand, Austria—the movie was up 250 percent from its predecessor. Extrapolate that in to expanding markets like Russia (May 16th), China (May 28th) and Brazil (June 14th), and Star Trek Into Darkness could be on course for a foreign total north of $300 million.

The Croods
continued its great run this weekend by adding $17.3 million for a new total of $360.7 million. It has now earned $47 million in China, which makes it the biggest non-franchise animated title ever in that market.

expanded in to China this weekend and grossed a decent $8.5 million. To date, it's earned $160.9 million overseas, and should get over $200 million with the addition of Japan and Venezuela at the end of the month.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Christian Movie Connect Episode 71 - Nicole Abisinio

Actress and producer, Nicole Abisinio, is the founder of Gabriel’s Messenger Films, a production company dedicated to making inspiring true stories for worldwide distribution. Nicole started her career in investment management while simultaneously working as an actress. Her producing career was born out of the merging of both fields. Eventually, Nicole worked in film funding as an Executive Producer for agencies and producers with packaged projects, bringing multi-million dollar deals to the table for films with actors including Terence Howard, Jack Black and Samuel L Jackson. Nicole’s producing, writing and acting projects include the films “Kid’s CafĂ©”, “Prime of Your Life”, “Gutter King”, “Broken Flowers” with Bill Murray and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”. Her latest film, “The Investigator” is due for theatrical release in the fall of 2013.

In this interview, Abisinio talks with CMC host, Cheryl Ariaz Wicker, about the experience of spiritual dynamics during the making of a faith-based film.

“The Investigator” is the true story of a man, who becomes so wrought with grief from personal and professional tragedy, that he gives up his faith in God. Forced into retirement from his job as a veteran police detective, he finds himself taking a job as a high school criminal justice teacher and baseball coach, leading to the most important investigation of his life…the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Forecast: 'Gatsby' Poised for 'Great' Second Place Opening

While Iron Man 3 will remain in first place at the box office, The Great Gatsby will be a big draw among women and should score a strong opening over Mother's Day weekend. Meanwhile, Tyler Perry-produced romantic comedy Peeples seems poised for one of the lower debuts for a movie from the prolific filmmaker.

Iron Man 3 opened to $174.1 million last weekend, which was the second-highest debut ever behind last May's The Avengers ($207.4 million). If Iron Man 3 has a similar second weekend drop it would add $87 million, though word-of-mouth isn't quite as strong. Still, it should hold better than the poorly-received Iron Man 2, which means it will gross a minimum of $70 million.

Guaranteed to take second place this weekend, Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby has endured a tumultuous path to the big screen. After what was reported to be a very extravagant production—especially for a romantic literary adaptation—the movie was bumped out of the 2012 awards season when it was moved from December 2012 to its current May 2013 date. Recent reviews have basically confirmed the suspicion that the movie wasn't up-to-snuff for awards contention, and it's currently hovering around 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

For general audiences, though, none of these details (including the poor critical reception) are going to matter much, because Warner Bros. has shrewdly framed The Great Gatsby as Summer popcorn entertainment, not as a prestige movie. The marketing effort has highlighted the movie's colorful imagery, its modern pop soundtrack (courtesy of executive producer Jay-Z) and its star-studded cast, most notable of which has been Leonardo DiCaprio working within his wheelhouse as the enigmatic title character. One downside is that the previews have been extremely light on story, though the romantic overtones combined with general familiarity with the source material should help negate that minor obstacle.

With the exception of 2009's Star Trek reboot, the second weekend of May is historically a tough place to release a major movie. There are a few examples of moderate hits, though, that Gatsby could mirror this weekend; 2004's Troy opened to $46.9 million, while 2010's Robin Hood scored $36.1 million. Those are more action-oriented movies, though similar to Gatsby they each starred a charismatic male lead (Brad Pitt/Russell Crowe) and were new renditions of well-known stories.

All signs point to Gatsby at least matching Robin Hood—Fandango reports that the movie is accounting for a whopping 65 percent of ticket sales right now, which is impressive considering Iron Man 3's dominance—and 3D ticket prices should help the movie get to around $40 million.

Peeples is the first movie produced by, but not written or directed by, filmmaker Tyler Perry, though similar to the rest of his movies it does have his name in the official title. Ironically, it also appears to be one of his more broadly-accessible outings—it has a classic Meet the Parents-type premise, and features recognizable and likeable stars Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington. It also makes sense to release a Perry movie over Mother's Day weekend given his appeal among older women.

Still, Perry's name hasn't been pushed as hard as usual, and it feels like Peeples is going to have a tough time standing out against Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby. An opening below Perry's standard $20 million looks likely at this point.

After earning around $6 million through two weeks in moderate release, Mud is expanding nationwide to 853 locations this weekend. It should add another $2 million or so, and could be on its way to as much as $15 million by the end of its run.

Forecast (May 10-12)
1. Iron Man 3 - $71 million (-59%)
2. The Great Gatsby - $42.4 million
3. Peeples - $14.2 million
4. Pain and Gain - $4 million (-47%)
5. 42 - $3.2 million (-47%)

Bar for Success

With a huge marketing effort and a prime Summer release date, The Great Gatsby gets a pass if it earns at least $30 million this weekend. Meanwhile, Peeples is in great shape if it debuts north of $15 million.

Hallmark Channel - Beverly Lewis' The Confession - Premiere Promo

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Christian Movie Connect Expands Reach with Syndication

Known for its podcasts on Christian entertainment, Christian Movie Connect now aims for a larger audience by providing content for a number of online venues, including Parables TV,, and

Since 2011, Cheryl Ariaz Wicker of Christian Movie Connect (CMC) has been interviewing Christian film personalities and keeping film lovers informed about the latest faith-based, family-friendly and redemptive films, gaining a foothold as the industry’s premier interview podcast. Now, with several syndication deals finalized at the 2013 National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Convention in Nashville, CMC will be thrust into a much expanded audience through syndication with Parables.TV, and

The 24-hour Parables TV Christian movies network has been keeping an eye for some time on Wicker’s Christian Movie Connect. “We’ve been looking for short segments like this for filler content,” said Isaac Hernandez, Parable TV’s General Manager. “I expect our audience to find CMC’s segment informative and entertaining.”

Meanwhile, Jared Geesey, Sr. Vice President of has decided to tap Wicker’s CMC content to keep their readers informed about the latest Christian news. “Cheryl has been very visible in Christian film festivals, conventions and events. We are excited about adding the perspective she brings to the news we provide to Christian film fans," says Geesey.

Christian Press’ Russ Jones also acquired CMC's content during the NRB convention. is an award-winning, nondenominational Christian website providing news and information from a biblical worldview.

“I think of myself as a Christian film advocate. It is something I am passionate about, whether I’m playing the role of producer, publicist or media personality. Interviewing people is a way I can help to promote films in the faith-based genre while doing something I love to do at the same time,” exclaimed Wicker, who also owns Premier1 Studios, an entertainment media and public relations agency specializing in Christian media. “I am very excited to see these interviews get out to a larger audience.”

Aside from the podcasts on her website, Cheryl also posts articles for as the National Christian Movie Examiner, which will also be picked up by and

About Christian Movie Connect: Christian Movie Connect (CMC) is an interview podcast venue that showcases the major voices in Christian movies. Hosted by media personality Cheryl Ariaz Wicker, CMC interviews Christian filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, and other Christian film industry newsmakers in the country and worldwide. Podcast interviews are filmed at leading Christian industry events such as National Religious Broadcasters Convention, Biola Media Conference, Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival, International Christian Visual Media (ICVM) Catalyst Conference as well as movie premieres, set visits, and other Christian media events.

About Cheryl Ariaz Wicker- Cheryl Ariaz Wicker is an award-winning film producer, publicist, and celebrity interviewer with more than a decade of experience interviewing celebrities, including recording artists, authors, speakers, political leaders, filmmakers and actors. As an entertainment publicist, Cheryl is also the owner of Premier1 Studios, an entertainment media and public relations agency based in Monroe, Louisiana. She specializes in promoting and producing redeeming movies, having most recently co-produced the film "Finding Normal" by Pure Flix Entertainment, starring Candace Cameron Bure, which will air on CMC.

Media Contact:
Cheryl Ariaz Wicker
Premier1 Studios

Christian Festivals 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Can Inner Peace be Misleading?

By Zac Northen

Many Christians feel the Church has a corner on the market when it comes to inner peace. Many see it as the mark of the abundant life that Jesus came to bring. But did we miss the message of Jesus as the suffering servant, showing us the way to life?

If the Gospel is continually comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, we need to understand pain and its place in our lives. At times, I wonder if our hunger for peace has allowed us to neglect our own pain as well as the pain of others, and so miss the road to freedom and redemption that we are all aching for (Romans 8:22-25).

If most of us are honest, we tend to believe that God will give us a special peace before we discern what His will is.

I remember activist and author John Perkins one talking about pain, suffering and the will of God with a group of curious students. He said, “God either calls us from pain or to pain to minister to others in our calling.” To some of the folks around the table, this was bad news—and certainly the opposite of where a college degree is “supposed” to take you-a passport to the American dream.

If most of us are honest, we tend to believe that God will give us a special peace before we discern what His will is. We say things like, “I just didn’t have a peace about it,” or, “I’m really waiting on God’s peace before I make that decision.” I fear that this approach is more closely linked to our deceitful desires than we are willing to admit. We want to believe that God is good, but have a hard time hearing him when we’re not at peace. C.S. Lewis says it this way in The Problem of Pain,
“We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful ... the full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain.”
It’s not wrong to long for peace, but it is theologically incorrect to use it as a compass to discover God’s will. We cannot follow Christ faithfully unless we are following Him into the world’s pain, tension and aching complexity. We must remember we follow a King who enters a broken world, then willingly chooses the Cross (John 10:17-18). And for us, this means tension is normal and comfort may be concerning. Living in the hard places of life exposes one’s faith and character, and can allow it to deepen or cause it to die away. Sometimes waiting for peace can keep us from where God is asking us to be.

The paradox of peace is that if you long to have it you may never find it without walking through some uncomfortable terrain. And actually, when we stop desperately and idolatrously longing to find peace and fulfillment around every corner, in every relationship, and in all aspects of our work, we will be free to healthily engage the troubles, problems and pains in our life. We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian on the straight and narrow.


The Real Center of Power

It is impossible to deny the power, size and scope of today’s media institutions. They are the pillars of today’s media and entertainment church. Five multimedia conglomerates dominate and control the cross-promotion and selling of today’s media culture to our society. CBS Corporation, formerly Viacom, Time Warner, NBC Universal, Walt Disney and News Corp produce over 80% of media and entertainment produced in North America.

Each company has its own film, broadcasting, news cable outlet, publishing, internet, and music interests. Combine that with over 700 motion pictures being produced in Hollywood yearly and 300 broadcast and cable networks and you can understand the magnitude and power of today’s media. In fact, the real center of power no longer resides in Washington D.C. It can be found in the boardrooms of these five multimedia conglomerates. They can dictate what is important as well as what is not important. Their decisions not only influence culture but also make culture.

Our society and culture have created a symbiotic relationship with media and entertainment. They are dependant on each other. In some ways, we find our value and purpose in the media we consume. It helps to define who we are as a person. Our identity is therefore a part of the relationship that we have with our entertainment and media choices. We are what we consume. The real nature of this relationship can be found in the roots of consumerism.

Media and entertainment are tied to the marketplace of ideas. However, in reality, there is only one idea that fuels this relationship. That is the buying and selling of media and entertainment produced by the five major multimedia conglomerates. This idea becomes a religion because it promotes a lifestyle and a belief system that enables us to see the need and the desire to embrace whatever entertainment and media they market and promote

It was all clean wholesome entertainment

I was born in 1956 smack in the middle of the baby boomer generation. To put it another way, I’m a full-pledged member of the TV generation. In my house, the television was always on. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on. It started in the morning through game shows into the afternoon when my grandmother watched soap operas and all the way into the evening programming, ending with the 11 o’clock newscast.

For my generation, television was our baby sitter. It was a real bargain. Our parents put us in front of the tube. We were happy, and they were happy. Nobody asked any questions. Nobody thought about whether or not there would be repercussions. It was all clean, wholesome entertainment. Remember, these were the days of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best.

Recently, I started to think. Did our parents really understand what was going on? Did they realize there were consequences for our society? The TV generation learned well. We grew up with television and wanted to be part of the industry. Later on, we would perfect the use of television by learning how to control and manipulate our audiences. By doing so, we would change the course of culture. Our parents were just looking for a cheap babysitter.

I have a number of friends who work in ministries that are addressing the issues that impact our society from drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, sexual addictions, pornography, and the abortion issue. Most of these issues started to emerge in significant numbers during the 1960s and exploded throughout the 1970s. It kinda makes you wonder. Could there be a connection between television and the rapid increase of social problems?

Stay with me on this one. Think about it. What happened when television came into our homes? I know that if you weren’t there firsthand, this may be a difficult concept to understand. But overnight television became our friend. Our pal. We made it the center attraction in our living rooms. Although a television was expensive to buy, by 1960 practically every American family had one. As I said earlier, in my house the television was always on. Maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make—not that television is either good or evil, but the fact that it became a dominating and controlling factor in our lives. We couldn’t stop watching. We became addicted to the tube. And whatever the tube said was truth and all important.

Furthermore, we stopped interacting with each other. We had less family time. Less time to throw the ball in the back yard. Less time to check in on our daily lives. Less time for help with homework. Less time to be creative. Our lives became separate. In some families, even during the dinner hour, the television would still be on. Do you see a pattern here?

If the family unit doesn’t know what’s happening in each other’s lives, will we be able to see issues that could become problems? Our ability to connect and be united as a family started to disintegrate. Perhaps, this helps to explain why the family today is in critical condition.

If anything, with the acceleration of technology and mobile media devices, we now live a world in which you can access your media any time, any place, any device. What do you think that’s doing to further break down the family unit?

There’s one other point to consider. As baby boomers, our parents bought into the message that television was communicating. They determined to have it all no matter the cost. What they saw on their shiny TVs was The American Dream. A new house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The finest automobiles Detroit could build. Modern appliances. A swimming pool. Dream vacations. Fashionable clothes and a lifestyle that only their parents could dream about. Who wouldn’t want it? That’s what television was selling. And we were buying.

But what about the cost? How much time would our parents have to spend away from home working long hours and sometimes weekends. In some households both parents had to work to achieve the American Dream. And what was the effect on the children? My generation. The TV generation. Our babysitter taught us well. Perhaps we learned too well. And we have passed it on to our children. And they have mastered it.

It’s never too late to change our course and the course of our children and grandchildren. We still have time. But in this media-saturated culture, we have to learn how to create some space so we can once again connect as a family

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Why are Artists So Disconnected from the Church?

Can you imagine a world without art? Think about it. No poetry. No paintings. No color. No books. No music. No Dance. No sculpture. And no films. It would be a grey and unimaginary existence. Art helps us connect with our humanity. Ultimately, it can reveal the divine which exists all around us. In many ways, I think that’s exactly the purpose of art—to reveal God’s glory and majesty.

I believe that when we create art it’s through the creative process that we are closest to God. God is a creator. And if we are made in the image of God, at least at some level when we create we are mimicking the very nature of God. After all, isn’t God the supreme artist? He created an amazing canvas—the world you and I live in. And I have no doubt that he is asking each of us to follow his lead.

However, over the years, the subject of art and its relationship to the Christian community has often been controversial and problematic at best. I describe it as a love/hate relationship. I’m not sure the Church completely understands the heart and the mind of the artist.

For over 30 years, I’ve been involved with artists. I’ve come to realize that they often don’t think like most of us do. Not wishing to speak in generalities, I have come to some conclusions. Artists tend to be sensitive, fragile, and wear their emotions on their sleeves. They are easily hurt and offended. They are free-spirited and open to new ideas. They are unconventional and don’t fit into neat categories. The bottom line is creative people just think differently and are more likely to think out of the box. And sometimes that scares the Christian and faith-based community.

As a result, through mistrust and misunderstanding of the artist, the Church has not provided the type of support and encouragement that I think is necessary in helping our artists grow and mature. In fact, I think we are losing our artists at an alarming rate.

Recently, The Barna Research Group published some groundbreaking research. They concluded that 84% of 18–29 year olds that identify themselves as Christians do not understand how their faith has any relevance to their vocation or career. Amazingly, 20% of all young people in the church feel they have a calling to the arts. But if they feel there’s no relevance between and their faith and their vocation as a writer, musician, or filmmaker to name a few then we are missing the best opportunity we have to fulfill the Great Commission, build the Kingdom of God, and be a witness for Christ. What a tragedy! Then the world gets the brightest and the best artists. Think about it, their talents could have been used for for a higher purpose.

One of the major mistakes the Church has made over the years is to force artists to create art that conforms to the image of what the Church believes art should be. In other words, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s a sad story. But the Christian community prefers its art to be explicit, leaving nothing to the imagination. They would prefer art that can be best described as an instruction manual with detailed diagrams, with no possible discussion about its meaning or origin, and with nothing left to the imagination.

Case in point: The Contemporary Christian music industry is a great example. I worked as a television producer for years on a Christian music video show. There was a joke in the industry that if your song didn’t contain at least three references to Jesus, it wouldn’t play on Christian radio. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But I do know that most Christian radio stations had stringent requirements as to what constituted a Christian song. And if you didn’t meet those criteria, you didn’t get on the air. As a Christian recording artist, that meant you wouldn’t sell records or tickets to your concerts. In short, you wouldn’t have a career in contemporary Christian music very long.

Off the record, I met many Christian recording artists who felt they were being held back and who also felt they had to conform to somebody else’s standard as to what they thought art should be. They had no freedom to be the artist they were called to be. Their creativity was cut short.

But this goes on all the time in the Church. If it’s outside of the orthodox of what we think is acceptable, it gets rejected. Now I know in some places in the faith community things have gotten better over the past few years; however, there is still much work to be done. If a young person who felt a calling to go to Hollywood and be a filmmaker went to their mission’s board and asked for support, would they get it? Can you be an artist and go into the secular mainstream world of media and entertainment? Can your art reflect God’s majesty without being explicit? Is there a way you can express the heart of God that connects people to his love and forgiveness that’s totally outside of what we would expect to see in the Church. I think we can do that. And that can be done through art as long as we allow the artist to tap into the divine no matter what that looks like

Weekend Report: 'Iron Man 3' Takes Off with Second-Highest Opening Ever

Kicking off the Summer movie season this weekend, Iron Man 3 lived up to sky-high expectations with an estimated $175.3 million haul. That ranks second all-time behind last year's The Avengers ($207.4 million), and is way up on the previous Iron Man outings. The movie also continues to do phenomenal business overseas, and is on its way to earning well over $1 billion worldwide.

Iron Man 3
's $175.3 million debut is a huge leap over Iron Man 2's $128.1 million. That's a remarkable achievement given the dodgy history of three-quels—nearly all of them decline from their predecessor—and Iron Man 2's questionable reputation. The main reason for this is simple: audiences viewed Iron Man 3 more as follow-up to The Avengers, which is almost universally beloved, than as a sequel to Iron Man 2.

The Avengers
was a cultural phenomenon, though, and it took an exceptional marketing effort from Disney to retain so much of that movie's audience. The centerpiece of the campaign was the destruction of Stark's Malibu home, which managed to up the personal stakes while also showcasing some impressive action. The marketing also emphasized Stark's conflict with the elusive Mandarin, which is typically a good strategy with superhero movies (a hero is most interesting when juxtaposed against a strong villain). Add in a marketplace devoid of competition, and this was a perfect recipe for a blockbuster opening.

It's worth noting that the other Avengers follow-ups (Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) aren't going to earn anywhere close to this—from a box office perspective, Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man is the cornerstone of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the entries that don't feature him are going to gross noticeably less.

Compared to The Avengers, Iron Man 3's audience skewed a bit older (55 percent over 25, compared to 50 percent) but was about even gender-wise (61 percent male vs. 60 percent). 3D ticket sales accounted for 45 percent of the weekend, which is noticeably lower than The Avengers (52 percent). Thanks to an increased screen count, though, Iron Man 3's $16.5 million IMAX haul was a slight improvement on The Avengers.

While some fanboys aren't thrilled about the movie's twists, general audiences dug it, giving it an "A" CinemaScore. From here on out, if Iron Man 3 performs like Iron Man 2 it will close with $427 million; if it holds up like The Avengers, though, it could earn over $500 million. While word-of-mouth will be more Avengers and less Iron Man 2, a particularly competitive May could keep it closer to Iron Man 2.

The box office was all about Iron Man 3 this weekend—it accounted for over 82 percent of the Top 12's business—and the rest of the lineup suffered as a result. In its second weekend, Pain and Gain tumbled 63 percent to an estimated $7.6 million. Through 10 days, director Michael Bay's poorly-received bodybuilder thriller has earned a modest $33.9 million.

Jackie Robinson biopic 42 had a decent hold, easing 42 percent to $6.2 million for a new total of $78.3 million. Oblivion, on the other hand, got obliterated by Iron Man 3: the Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure plummeted 67 percent to $5.8 million. To date, the movie has earned just $76 million, and it's on track to be Cruise's latest outing to fall short of $100 million.

The Croods
rounded out the Top Five with an estimated $4.2 million, which is off 37 percent. Through its seventh weekend, the DreamWorks Animation hit has earned $168.7 million.

After an awful start last weekend, The Big Wedding dropped 49 percent to $3.9 million in its second frame. Through 10 days, the poorly-reviewed wedding comedy has earned a terrible $14.2 million.

expanded to 576 locations and took seventh place with an estimated $2.15 million. With $5.2 million in the bank already, the movie appears on pace to earn at least $10 million by the end of its run.

Around-the-World Roundup

While its domestic debut was the big story this weekend, Iron Man 3 is doing even better overseas so far. The movie added $175.9 million from overseas markets, and in just 12 days has already earned over $500 million.

Since opening on Wednesday, the movie has amassed an incredible $63.5 million in China; that's more than recent comic book movies The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man earned in their entire runs. Other top territories for Iron Man 3 include South Korea ($42.6 million), the U.K. ($38.3 million) and Mexico ($35.8 million).

Iron Man 3
should be in for another good outing next weekend, though Star Trek Into Darkness could provide tough competition when it opens in the U.K., Australia, Germany and Mexico. Still, a final total north of $800 million seems like a guarantee now, and it could even match The Avengers ($888 million) eventually.