Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Review: October Baby

By Mike Parker
courtesy of http://buddyhollywood.com

October Baby opens with college student, Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) stepping onto the stage for her theatrical debut.

Unfortunately, before she can deliver her first line she collapses from an unknown malady. Multiple medical tests point to Hannah’s difficult birth and force the revelation that not only was Hannah adopted, but she was the product of botched abortion attempt. Bewildered, angered, and confused, Hannah hits the road to confront her birth mother and find out who she really is.

October Baby
Provident Films

October Baby, like most films, has good points and bad points. Unfortunately, due to its subject matter, critics and reviewers will tend to focus on one or the other based on their position on the abortion debate. Pro-lifers will tend to support it while abortion advocates will universally despise it, without paying much attention to the actual film. Think I’m wrong? Just read the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and compare them to the positive audience reactions.

Well, I admit I’m just as opinionated as the next guy, and I never claimed to write an unbiased review. Here’s what I think of October Baby.

I liked it. I think it deserves a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Not a bad rating for a low-budget, independent, faith-based film. Let’s face it, a million dollar film is simply never going to be able to compete with a 50 million dollar film, either in quality or marketing.

On the positive side, October Baby featured some really nice performances, not only from Hollywood veterans like John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville), who has become something of a staple in these types of films, but also from the film’s young leads, Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey. Both of these relatively unknown actors deliver polished, nuanced and believable performances. The faith element in the film is evident but nuanced. There wasn’t much sermonizing going on, despite what mainstream critics would have you believe. This is not a Bible-thumping, somebody-has-to-get-saved kind of movie, like Fireproof or Courageous. The cinematography was uniformly excellent. October Baby is a good looking film. Honestly, this is the direction faith-based filmmakers should be going if they really want to build an audience outside the four walls of the church and play to someone other than the choir.

On the down side, the script is a little sketchy at times. Hannah collapses in the opening scene, but even though her plethora of physical problems is alluded to later in the film, it never really is addressed again. There were plenty of opportunities for humor, particularly with Chris Sligh’s character, that were never really fully developed. And I cringed at the scene where Hannah offers a cop money to overlook a traffic violation. I’m pretty sure if I tried that I’d end up in jail. It’s called bribery, and cops tend to take a dim view of it. Then again, I’m not a pretty young girl, but I digress.

Bottom line: October Baby should do well in the faith-based market, which is substantial. It could do well in the mainstream market if viewers gave it a chance, which they probably won’t due to its subject matter. And it is going up against Hunger Games, which I predict will blow every other film out of the water this weekend.

Author Mike Parker edits the popular entertainment site Buddy Hollywood.com. He and his wife, Paula, also an author, live outside of Nashville.

Family-Friendly Theater Takes Stage at New York's New Victory

The Book of Everything
US Premiere
 Belvoir and Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image
Sydney, Australia
April 20 - 29
The New Victory Theater

Neil Armfield, former artistic director of Sydney’s Belvoir and acclaimed director of Exit the King (Broadway, 2009) and Diary of a Madman (Brooklyn Academy of Music , 2010), will direct The Book of Everything, a play for young people and families that will run at The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street, from April 20 through April 29.

Set in post-war Amsterdam in 1951, The Book of Everything centers on nine-almost-ten-year-old Thomas Klopper who imagines tropical fish swimming in the city’s canals, torrential hailstorms raging in midsummer and Jesus stopping by every now and again for a chat. Thomas chronicles his daydreams in the “Book of Everything,” a secret diary that contains his greatest aspiration: “When I grow up, I’m going to be happy.” But happiness eludes Thomas, his sister and his mother as they struggle with a controlling and sometimes violent father. Filled with both humor and hope, the Book of Everything is adapted by Richard Tulloch and based on the Dutch novel by Guus Kuijer, recent winner of the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Award.

Recommended for ages 10 to adult.

Performance Schedule:
Fri 4/20 7pm
Sat 4/21 2pm, 7pm
Sun 4/22 3pm
Fri 4/27 7pm
Sat 4/28 2pm, 7pm
Sun 4/29 3pm

General Ticket Information:
Tickets for The Book of Everything at The New Victory Theater (209 West 42nd Street) cost $25, $18, $12 and $9 for Members and $38, $28, $18 and $14 for Non-members based on seat locations. 

Theater-goers who buy tickets for three or more New Vic shows qualify for free Membership benefits, including up to 35-percent savings. To purchase tickets online, visit NewVictory.org, and to purchase by phone, call 646-223-3010. The New Victory Theater box office (209 West 42nd Street) is open Sunday and Monday from 11am-5pm and Tuesday through Saturday from noon-7 pm.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Being a Good Christian Bit**

WINTER PRESS TOUR 2012 - The cast of ABC's "GCB" posed for a photo op at Disney/ABC Television Group's Winter Press Tour 2012. (ABC/RICK ROWELL) MIRIAM SHOR, BRAD BEYER, KRISTIN CHENOWETH, LESLIE BIBB, ANNIE POTTS, DAVID JAMES ELLIOTT, JENNIFER ASPEN, MARISOL NICHOLS
By Lauren Yarger
Amdist political battles over women's rights regarding access to contraceptives and Rush Limbaugh's apology for calling a woman a slut and prostitute, it's interesting to see the launch of ABC Television's new show GCB. That's Good Christian Bit**es, for those of you who don't know, and it really begs the question of "just when is it OK to use derogatory terms when describing women?"

Wait, some will cry -- they changed the name. When the original title was announced, about a year ago, the network experienced backlash from religious and women's groups who were rightly offended. So for a brief period, they renamed the show Good Christian Belles, since the premise deals with a former "mean girl" who returns with her children to her Texas hometown after her husband dies. Quickly, however, ABC renamed the show and on the show's web page, next to the now just initials title, it announces that GCB is based on the book Good Christians Bit**es by Kim Gatlin who is a writer for the series.

So I'm not stupid. I know exactly what the name of this show is, but I have to wonder about the audience ABC hopes to attract. Is it aimed at Christians? They are, television and the movies have found, a lucrative market if they can be tapped, but there's one problem. How do you define "Christian?" Whether in churches or in the entertainment industry, the term can vary quite a lot in meaning and what it means to you, might not be what it means to me. In the entertainment circles in which I move, defining one's self as a Christian can mean a number of things, including:
-- you aren't Jewish
-- you go to church occasionally
-- you were brought up going to church, but no longer go yourself
-- you were baptised as a baby
-- you are a nice person
-- you are a spiritual person

So if ABC is targeting that crowd, they are going to miss the "born againer" crowd, those who profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If they are targeting this crowd, they probably won't interest the politically correct, all-inclusive, God-doesn't-judge-anyone crowd or those not interested in Christian or religious themes. Take the religious factor out, and the creative team is heavily male, so I wonder whether they even are actively targeting women.

At the very least, using the term "bit**" so casually toward women offends me. I also balk at using new phrases like "pimp my car" or listening to rap music, which through the use of any number of derogatory terms,promotes mistreatment and abuse of women. I am also tired of Christian women being fair game when it comes to attacks by anyone who feels like taking a pot shot (Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, for example, are called everything from stupid to horrible names by people who disagree with their political policies, but I don't hear a national outcry or see FaceBook posts demanding apologies for them.)

To reiterate a point often made about GCB, I doubt very much whether ABC would have considered airing a show about Good Muslim Bit**es, or Good Black Bit**es or Good Gay Bit**es (which of course, would be just as offensive to me.) But because they are women, and Christians to boot, they apparently are fair game.

In a sea of television shows already devoid of positive, strong female characters, I would have welcomed a show about a group of good Christian women. I wouldn't have expected them to be perfect, or for the storylines to be squeaky clean. Life is full of complications, and none of us is perfect (that is, after all, why we need Christ in the first place.) How pleasant would it have been to watch a television show about women dealing with the routine of their lives who drew strength from their faith? I would have watched and been a ready audience for advertisers willing to support such programming, but those making decisions about what we see on television overwhelmingly aren't Christian or women, so they aren't motivated by wanting to put Christian or solid women's programming on TV. They simply want to make money and they think that if Christian is in the title, we'll be happy.

Instead, I was turned off immediately by the title and had no interest in watching, despite the intriguing casting of self-proclaimed Christian Kristin Chenoweth, whose work I know from the Broadway shows I review. The fair and unbiased critic in me balked at dismissing the program without watching it, however, especially after I started getting tons of questions from my readers about whether or not I would recommend they watch the television show.

I did watch the pilot, which premiered last night, and came away unchanged in my offense to the title and to the use of the term "bit**." It was used twice in the pilot. I also have no answer to the question about whom the show is supposed to appeal. The "Christian" parts are rather stereotypical and the women are portrayed as shallow sex objects. I won't be watching again.

Here is a summary (and I am not making any of it up):

The first scene is of a woman beginning to perform oral sex on a male, who is distracted and drives their car off the road. It turns out he was the husband of Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) Carlene Cockburn (Chenoweth) reminds them that they shouldn't be talking like that on the phone -- that they should resume at church.

Carlene, using scripture, falsely welcomes Amanda. Real estate agent Heather Cruz (Marisol Nichols) takes advantage of people's personal tragedies to bolster her business and offers to help Carlene find a place of her own away from the mother she can't stand. Gigi spends her time teaching her young grandson how to mix drinks and her granddaughter how to tease "big hair" and expose her breasts so men will be attracted to her.

The big plot action revolves around a mystery admirer who gives Amanda a new car and $100,000 worth of items from Neiman Marcus. Could it be Zac Peacham(Brad Beyer), husband of former beauty queen Sharon (Jennifer Aspen), who can't stop eating and gaining weight? Zac paws and kisses Amanda at his car dealership, but she rebuffs him. Instead, she gets set up on a date to the Longhorn Ball, the annual "meat market," with a ranch foreman who turns out to be the gay lover of Blake Reilly, who runs a fashion business with wife, Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor), another of the girlfriends.

Carlene encourages Amanda to drink, even though she's an alcoholic, saying that Jesus prefered wine to water. She steals the Neiman Marcus card so they can find out who sent it to Amanda, saying that it isn't stealing, it's research, and that God hates failure, so they have to find out who sent the card. Carlene asks her oilman husband Ripp (David James Elliott) whether she should tell Sharon that Zac and Amanda were kissing at the dealership. He suggests instead that they have sex on his desk. Previously he had told her he was turned on by her lesson about David and Bathsheba in Sunday School.

Carlene uses scripture to threaten one of her friends with a loss of business if she doesn't continue harassing Amanda. Bribery keeps local businesses from hiring Amanda for any job and she ends up taking a waitressing position at Boobylicious, a sort of Hooters place. One of the girls' sons snaps a photo of her bending over and Carlene uses it to confront Amanda. This is a righteous community, she tells her, and Sharon agrees saying they have a moral code.

God's name is taken in vain.

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."

Lifeway: http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169816

Guideposts: http://www.guideposts.com/story/sandra-bullock-blind-side-football?page=0,1

Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at http://www.buddyhollywood.com/.

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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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