The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

Posted on January 19, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Copyright BH Tilt 2016

A spoiled former child star makes some bad choices and ends up sentenced to 200 hours of community service as a janitor in a church, where he is cast in the annual Easter passion play — as Jesus — in the light-hearted Christian romantic comedy “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.” Handsome “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” star Brett Dalton stars in the title role, with stand-up charmer and “MADtv’s” Bon Qui Qui Anjelah Johnson-Reyes as Kelly, the by-the-rules preacher’s kid who directs the play.

We get a glimpse of Stone in his cute sit-com years, catch phrase and all, and then a look at some wild partying with a side of mayhem when he happens to be back in his home town. And so, with the sentence of community service and not being in demand any more as an actor, he has no choice but to move in with his estranged dad (“The Middle” and “Scrubs” star Neil Flynn) while he works it off, with the 200 hours counting down on his phone.

He shows up at the church, looking dissolute and louche, and asks the man fixing the furnace where to find the pastor. Of course that is the pastor (“The Cutting Edge” star D.B. Sweeney). He not unkindly hands Gavin a mop and bucket — the sharper sting is that he doesn’t recognize Gavin or know anything about his fame. The 200 hours seems like forever.

But then Gavin sees the auditions for the play and suddenly he is at home. He explains that he knows about acting and wants to try out for the lead role. It’s a lot easier than mopping, and, at heart, he really is an actor, as we see when he chooses a surprising speech for his audition — a monologue from “Hamlet” — and performs it surprisingly well. He lies and says he is a believing Christian. Kelly is pretty sure that is not true but casts him in the role of Jesus because he is a good actor and because her father reminds her that they believe in second chances.

Gavin is humorously ignorant about the details of the story and at first impetuously offers to improve the script. But as he plays the role and is inspired by the faith and kindness of the people around him, he reconciles with his father, makes new friends, begins to fall for Kelly, and looks forward to the performance — until his dream job offer comes in and in order to take it he has to leave right away.

The sweet story has no surprises, but the humor and the very capable and appealing cast — including Shawn Michaels from the WWE, which co-produced the film — make it fun to watch, and make it touching as well.

Parents should know that this film includes some bad behavior and mayhem and a passion play with a bloody crucifixion image.

Family discussion: Why did Gavin make so many bad choices? What surprised him about the people in the church?

If you like this, try: “Brother White” and the church/study guide resources made available for the film.

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Comedy Date movie Romance Spiritual films

Southside With You

Posted on August 25, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, reference to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 26, 2016
Date Released to DVD: December 12, 2016 ASIN: B01LTHMFPK
Copyright 2016 Miramax
Copyright 2016 Miramax

People who make movies know that we are eager to see couples falling in love. If they throw in a chirpy pop song over a montage of the highly attractive pair walking on the beach and laughing together at a street fair, we are happy to believe that they are in love and we can move on to the (short-term) complication before the happy ending.

“Southside With You” is a rare movie that shows us what it is really like to fall in love, over the course of an all-day first date. It would still be utterly witty, charming, and captivating even if it was not based on the real-life beginning of the romance of Barack and Michelle Obama. The historical context is primarily significant because we start off with information the characters do not have. We know what they will do and who they will become. But it also is especially meaningful as we come to the end of the Obama administration, and only the most partisan opponents can fail to appreciate their graciousness, elegance, and family values — and the true partnership and romantic spark that is evident in their relationship.

We begin with the amusing contrast of their preparations for the date. Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter, who also co-produced) is put together so meticulously that her father (Phillip Edward Van Lear) teases her: “Can’t you at least run a comb through your hair?” She insists to her parents, as she will to Barack, that this is not a date. She is just accompanying the law student she has been assigned to supervise for the summer to a community meeting.

Then there is a glimpse of his “preparation” for the date — smoking and reading a book. And losing track of the time. “You’re late,” she says when he arrives at her home. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.” She points out that she is his supervisor and she has noticed his lateness at work as well. She also notices, but does not mention, that the floorboard of his car is rusted through. One of the pleasures of this film is listening in as two extremely intelligent people uncertain about where they are going but certain they want to improve the lives of the people in their communities, getting to know one another through a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and above all honest conversation, especially as we see the growing pleasure each of them feels in finding someone who can both understand and challenge them.


Their first stop is an art show. As they look at paintings by Ernie Barnes, Barack asks Michelle if she ever watched the television show, “Good Times.” She says the Robinsons were more of a “Dick van Dyke Show” family, and we can tell she is a bit defensive. Perhaps some of her Princeton classmates assumed that “Good Times,” set in the projects of Chicago, was based on families like hers. But then he tells her why he asked, and we can see her relax and start to appreciate his curiosity, depth, and knowledge. Despite all of her insistence that this is not a date, we can see her begin to get captivated. Each kindly, if not gently, pushes the other, she on his bitterness toward his father, he on her joining a corporate law firm rather than pursuing her goal of working for the community. Each bristles at first at being pushed, but then we see both of them genuinely grateful for being able to engage so honestly.

The talk is superbly written and performed. But some of the moments where nothing is said are just as moving, thanks to the performances of Sawyers and Sumpter, who do not impersonate the First Couple but give portrayals of great sensitivity and wisdom.

The POTUS and FLOTUS we see on television are more polished and self-assured than they were in their 20’s. Sawyers shows us a Barack Obama who was a long way from the understanding and forgiveness toward his absent father he would convey in his book. And yet, when he gets up in front of the community group, people who are disappointed after a setback and ready to give up, we see for the first time some of the cadences and mannerisms and ability to inspire that are so familiar to us now. Sumpter is lovely, with an exquisitely calibrated performance, first less, than more, then much less reserved. She is careful, and professional, and then we see her sense of fun and adventure when she gets up to dance with a group performing in a park. We we see how, despite her resolve, she cannot help being drawn to Barack.

This is a movie that understands that love is a conversation you never want to end, with someone who instinctively understands you and unreservedly supports you but who doesn’t let you get away with being less than you are capable of, someone who earns your absolute honesty. As we see them fall in love, dropping their defenses, allowing themselves to be hopeful, moving together toward a life of service, it renews our faith in love and purpose as well.

A PERSONAL NOTE: The First Couple met when they were both working in my dad’s office, and characters loosely inspired by my parents appear in this film. While I completely support the decision of writer/director Richard Tanne to create a scene with an interaction that is a bit awkward and uncomfortable, in real life my parents are far cooler (and more attractive!) than the characters in the film, and the interaction was warm and supportive. My parents and the Obamas became good friends.

Parents should know that this film includes smoking, brief strong language, drug reference, and some discussion of family dysfunction.

Family discussion: How did the difference in Barack’s and Michelle’s relationships to their parents affect their perspective? What did each of them say to change the other’s mind? What did Michelle learn about Barack at the community event?

If you like this, try: “Before Sunrise” and “Medicine for Melancholy”

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Based on a true story Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Race and Diversity Romance

The Choice

Posted on February 4, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues
Profanity: Some mild language, someone gives the finger
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Serious car accident, character critically injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2016
Date Released to DVD: May 2, 2016 ASIN: B01D1JDCB0
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate

Nicholas Sparks is one of the rare authors who has become a brand of his own, bigger than any of his movies. One reason is their predicability; fans know what to expect and they won’t be disappointed. The other reason is his genuine gift for creating characters audiences immediately like and want the best for.

In “The Choice,” with a script by “Demolition” screenwriter Bryan Sipe, we meet easy-going Travis (Benjamin Walker, last seen as the bad captain in “The Heart of the Sea”) as he meets his new neighbor, a peppery med student named Gabby (Teresa Palmer). In the midst of studying, already furious because of his loud music, she discovers that her dog is pregnant and she goes next door to let him know how angry she is. He is captivated by her because she is different from the other girls he has known, who came to him with little effort and left with little fuss. “You bother me,” he tells her, intrigued and a little surprised.

They both discover that their initial conclusions about one another may have been wrong, but the chemistry between them is increasing in intensity, even though Gabby has a serious boyfriend, a handsome doctor (Tom Welling). Gabby likes challenging Travis and he likes having to work to get her affection.

Their side-by-side homes both look out onto the water of North Carolina’s Inner Banks, and the images of sky, water, and coast are exquisite, somewhere between travel brochure and screen saver. Sparks has to be the MVP for the North Carolina tourism bureau. All of his stories are set in this spectacularly beautiful (if plagued by storms) region. And it is certainly easy to believe that the glow from this enchantingly glorious setting makes this a sublime place to fall in love. Director of Photography Alar Kivilo and the setting itself are as important to the film as the storyline, and more important than the dialogue. Some lines are arch or cheesy: “Look who’s sassypants!” “You’re a dork!” “There you go again, bothering me.” We never find Travis or Gabby as appealing as we are asked to believe they find each other.

Sparks seems to have taken in some complaints about the formulaic nature of his stories, or maybe he just wanted to try something different (but thankfully not as different as the awful “twist” in Safe Haven). We still have a body of water, a letter, and someone who has to be taken down a peg or two. The surprises are not as surprising to us as they are to the characters. But there is something gentle about the story that is undeniably captivating.

Parents should know that this film includes a serious auto accident and questions of when someone should be taken off life support, along with some strong language, mild crude references, social drinking.

Family discussion: What small choices in your life have made the biggest difference? Why does Travis like to be bothered?

If you like this, try: other Nicholas Sparks films like “Nights in Rodanthe” and “The Lucky One”

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Based on a book Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Romance

Trailer: Me Before You

Posted on February 3, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Me Before You, the international best-seller by Jojo Moyes, is the story of a wealthy young man paralyzed in an accident and the happy — if sometimes hapless — girl who takes a job as his caregiver. Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) and Sam Claflin (“The Hunger Games” series), star under the direction of Thea Sharrock, making her feature film directorial debut.

While you wait for the movie, fans of the first book can read the sequel, After You.

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Based on a book Date movie Illness, Medicine, and Health Care Trailers, Previews, and Clips


Posted on November 25, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

“Brooklyn,” based on the book by Colm Tóibín, is exquisitely lyrical, the story of a young woman who immigrates from Ireland to New York in 1952. She is sad, homesick, and lonely at first, then just as she begins to feel at home she is called back to Ireland.

Movies can show us monsters and aliens and explosions but none of that will ever have the quiet power of Saoirse Ronan in close-up. The breathtaking intimacy of being so close to her face, her sky-blue eyes, the lift of her chin, is a story in itself. For once, the Irish-raised actress is using her own accent, and the lilt of it is pure and poetic.

She plays Eilis (pronounced EYE-lish), who lives with her mother and sister Rose in a small town. Rose has helped her make arrangements with a priest in New York (Jim Broadbent) for an apartment and a job. Eilis loves her family. But she is stuck in a part-time job working for a shrew in a grocery store. Ireland in the post-WWII years has little to offer her by way of love or work. And so she takes a voyage. The reason she is the only one at dinner the first night out is revealed when she gets very, very sick. But a sympathetic roommate helps her through and advises her about how to pass muster at Ellis Island — to act like an American, which means looking confident.

Eilis moves into an all-Irish boarding house, owned by the formidable Mrs. Keough (Julie Walters), a sharp-eyed but not unkind woman who can tell the difference between the simpering giggles of the other girls and the shy but steady Eilis. Soon Eilis is working at a department store, where the complexities of the transactions (payment sent to a central location via vacuum tube) and inventory are not as challenging as learning to chat pleasantly with the customers. It is an amusing change from the store in Ireland, where the owner barked at someone for wanting shoe polish on a Sunday, and “Mad Men’s” Jessica Paré is excellent as the manager.

Eilis slowly begins to feel at home.  Ronan’s performance is precise and sensitive.  She shows, not tells us how Eilis begins to bloom through taking some bookkeeping classes and meeting a nice guy, an Italian boy named Tony (the piercingly sweet Emory Cohen).  There is believable magic in their sweetly developing relationship.

And then, there is a tragedy at home and Eilis has to go back to Ireland.  But is that her home anymore?  Can she fit into her old place?  Does she want to?

Director John Crowley is a careful observer, and every moment rewards careful observation from us.  A yawn in church.  The faces of the people at the dock saying goodbye to their emigrating family members.  The look on Eilis’ face as she struggles to tell Tony how she feels — it is a wonder, and one of the year’s best films.

Parents should know that this film includes a non-explicit sexual situation, sexual references, some strong language, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Did Eilis make the right choice? Why or why not? Who was most helpful to her?

If you like this, try: “In America,” another story of Irish immigrants in New York

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Based on a book Date movie Drama Romance
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