Friday, September 30, 2011

Faith-based movie, Courageous, is done right

As of yesterday, September 29, TriStar Pictures and Sherwood Pictures announced that more that they have made over $2 million in sales for the new picture, Courageous, and it only begins to play in theaters today. These figures are pre-sale ticketing of course, but it looks they have another hit on their hands.

Sherwood Pictures are the brains and brawn behind the Christian-based films, FlywheelFacing the Giants and 2008's Fireproof. Unlike the big movie studios, Sherwood Pictures is a movie-making ministry of Sherwood Church of Albany, Georgia. The ministry is headed up by brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick. Together the pair have co-written the four movies. Stephen also serves as the producer and Alex as director. Maybe what is truly “courageous” is entertaining the idea of producing a full-fledged movie with a spiritual message to compete with the “big guys” on their own playing field. Time and again, the Kendrick brothers have proven that it can be done 

I have to admit, unlike most of the Christian community, I wasn’t a big fan of Fireproof. The story and acting were both uneven. The humor was too “on the nose” and there was a preachy tone to it. The guys seem to have learned from their mistakes and have struck a better balance this time around. Their last film was story that featured firemen, but was really about marriage. This time around, Courageous features police officers but is really about being better husbands and fathers.

Four officers, Adam, Nathan, David and Shane serve together during the week and socialize on the weekends. They give their best while on the job, but their families receive the leftovers when they get home. They are not jerks or bad guys. They are you. They are me.

In addition to writing and directing, Alex Kendrick uses his acting chops as Adam Mitchell, married with a young daughter who only wants to dance with her daddy and teen son who desperately needs some “man” time with his dad. Ken Bevel (also featured in Fireproof) plays Nathan Hayes who struggles being a father without having a role model to follow. Kevin Downes plays Shane Fuller, a divorced dad and Ben Davies plays David Thomson, the youngest of the bunch and single. After a tragic event, all four begin to re-access their lives.

Courageous is by far the Kendricks best film yet. You can tell the brothers are more confident with their material. As with their previous films, Courageous features professional and non-professional actors. However, this time, they smartly give the better actors the larger roles and leave the volunteers to bit parts. Alex Kendrick does an amazing job with his own material showing true emotion. The Christians featured in this movie are not perfect which is refreshing to see in a faith-based movie. The film also features some incredible stunt work (especially the very first scene which can watch below) and some comedy bits that are actually very funny. In previous films, the crew didn’t seem to know how to deliver a punchline. This time, they get it right. There is even a few surprises. Although, not a perfect film, it certainly can show Hollywood a thing or two.

On the downside, Courageous probably features too many story lines and tries to cover too many themes in one movie (salvation, grief, honesty, integrity, prayer, fatherhood, husbandhood, etc.) Sometimes the music tries to manipulate your emotions making the scene appear false and there is a section where the movies seems to stop completely and a sermon is inserted then the movie resumes. There are also a few “touches” to the sets that could have been left out. Like the chalkboard in one scene that says “Jesus Loves You” for no apparent reason or the woman who stops to help after an accident just happens to be wearing a gold cross around her neck. These are minor annoyances to an otherwise great film. Like Fireproof, bookstores are selling a companion guide to the movie called “The Resolution of Men” to help audience members live out their lives like the men in the film. I am sure that a new wave of “Courageous” small group forming in church across the country cannot be far behind.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Surprise! Dolphin Tale is actually good!

MOVIE REVIEWSo, let’s just cut to the chase. I didn’t have my hopes set high with Dolphin Tale. The story sounded intriguing enough, but trailer looked trite. What a surprise. Not that the film doesn’t have its flaws, it does, but it is a solid family movie.

While not completely based on a true story, Dolphin Tale is inspired by one. The dolphin’s story is true, the human characters’ stories are not. The blending of fact and fiction actually melds into an engaging story. It is sort of like Lassie in fish form.

Kyle (Austin Stowell) is a award-wining swimmer with his sights on the Olympics. Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is his cousin and biggest fan. But first, Kyle needs to join the service to earn the money he needs for professional training. Sawyer is sad with his cousin’s leaving and the fact that he has to spend his summer at summer school. While walking by the beach, Sawyer spots a young dolphin tangled and stuck in a crab trap and helps to release her. Later, Sawyer decides to check in on the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and forms an instant bond with Winter, (the name given to the mammal)  as well as Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the daughter of the aquarium’s leading vet, Clay (Harry Connick Jr.)

Clay sees the value of the boy/dolphin connection and encourages to the boy to visit her often while they treat her injured trail. Unfortunately, the tail needs to be amputated and the fate of the Winter is quesionable at best. Meanwhile, Kyle is injured in service and is sent back home in a wheelchair. His physical therapist is Dr, McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) who likes a challenge. Sawyer talks McCarthy into creating a prosthetic appendage to replace the dolphin’s tale. The rest is history.

The film starts out a little rocky. Stowell is good looking, happy and the BEST cousin EVER to little Sawyer. Zuehlsdorff is engaging as Hazel, but says almost every line with a smile that shows every one of her teeth. Gamble is the polar opposite with a sad sack personality. It’s all a little too perfect to be believeable, but the story improves quite rapidly.

Harry Connick Jr. wouldn’t have been my first choice for this story, but he does surprisingly well with the role and Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mother doesn’t disappoint either. Morgan is featured promintely in the trailer and is always a pleasure to watch, but is only in the second half of the movie. But the film really relies on the strength of child actors and their interactions with the real Winter, playing herself. (Footage of the actual events is shown at the end of the film and you see just how tiny Winter was when the event happened.)

Despite already knowing the ending, the movie effectively creates tension but it all wraps up neatly at the end. This isn’t Oscar bait, but a movie parents will be happy to take their children to as it features no language, sex or violence. Although there is some dolphin nudity.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Artist Profile: Hawk Nelson

The guys of Hawk Nelson
Hawk Nelson

Many music bands have interesting stories on how they came up with their band’s name. This is not one of those stories. Beginning in 2002, three musicians from Ontario, Canada, (Jason Dunn, Davin Clark and Matt Paige), formed a pop punk band called SWISH. A little later they changed it to Reason Being briefly before landing on the name, Hawk Nelson. To the un-initiated, one would think that with a name like that, someone in the band would actually be named, “Hawk” or “Nelson.” But you would be wrong. Turns out, frontman Dunn was playing a video game and he named his avatar character, Hawk Nelson and the name just sort of stuck. So, if you’re trying to find a spiritual meaning behind the name, look no further.

This isn’t to say that the group itself isn’t spiritual. They are. And after a little shuffling of the deck (Clark and Paige moved on while Jonathan Steingard, Daniel Biro and Justin Benner signed on), and  nine years of playing together, they still have a lot to say. Recently, the band released its 5th album, Crazy Love.
Crazy Love focuses on the living and the need for truth. “Part of this truth talk is about growing older and us wanting to sing about what’s real to us,” says bassist Biro on the band’s website. “The truth topics make Crazy Love the most different from past records; we are definitely more overt about our faith this time. It’s satisfying to be real like that.”

Even if you are unfamiliar with the band, you might know them better than you think. A few years ago, the squeaky-clean-looking band got the chance to portray the legendary group, The Who, in an episode of American Dreams television show for NBC. Asked how the band got that gig, Dunn explains that the group was still young at the time. Many of the other bands who tried out for the role, were more seasoned and polished. Dunn thinks they got the job because they appeared more fresh and excited to play music. From there, their music has been featured in television shows, movies and even a video game including SmallvilleYours, Mine and OursMelrose Place and an album featuring music inspired by the movie Charlotte’s Web of all things.

While the group has been nominated many times in America for the GMA Dove Awards, Grammy Awards and Juno Awards, they have achieved more actual “wins” in their native country’s GMA Canada Covenant Awards including “Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year” 2006 and “Modern Rock/Alternative Song of Year” in 2009 for “Live Life Loud,” “Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year” in 2010 for “Live Life Loud” and “Song of the Year” in 2010 for “Never Enough.” The song, “Live Life Loud” is currently being featured as part of the promotion for Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play 2011 which will be held on Saturday, September 24th in Washington D.C.

Crazy Love, inspired by Francis Chan’s book of the same name, Hawk Nelson continues the call for action heard on the band’s last studio album Live Life Loud. “This record has got some old-school punk rock feel to it, as well as some songs my mom would appreciate. Overall it is one of our most well-rounded albums dealing with truth,” says frontman Jason Dunn. “Sometimes submerged in a Christian environment, we lose perspective of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We need to wake up and grasp the meaning of what he did; Jesus made something completely unattainable, attainable, and we are called to live in and practice that same ‘crazy’ love."