Friday, July 29, 2011

Movie Review: Zookeeper - PG

Griffin Keyes is the head zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo.  He loves caring for the animals,  and they love him because he is kindhearted.

Griffin keeps thinking about Stephanie, the girl who rejected him 5 years earlier. When he gets a second chance with her, the animals break their silence to help him get her back.

It was really cool how the animals talking was made to look so realistic. A lot of humorous moments, and lots of fun.  It was all about being yourself, and appreciating what you have.

Overall, a very entertaining movie.  The only part I didn't like was about peeing to mark your territory.  Aside from that, a very family-friendly movie.  My nephews, 11 and 13 loved it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Music Review: "I'm All In" by Robert Pierre

.  I'm All In"  will be released July 26.

This is Robert's second album

After listening to the first few tracks, the overall theme of total commitment to the Lord, as evidenced by the title "I"m All In", becomes apparent.  The first track, "I'm All In",  talks about total commitment to Christ.
I especially like "Who R U",  where he says "you're either hot or your cold, either yes or no";  there is no halfway commitment to Christ.

Other songs such as "Greater is He" and "I Trust in You" focus more on acknowledging the greatness of God.
The music and tempo of  each song seem to be particularly  well suited for its lyrics and its message.  Overall, this makes "I'm All In" an effective evangelization tool.  It is very uplifting to listen to.

I think Robert has very noticeably improved since his first album "Identity"

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger - PG13

Steve Rogers is so eager to serve his country during WWII that he volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into a super soldier known as Captain America.  At first, he is mostly symbolic, inspiring patriotism during the war,  but he soon finds himself battling the NAZI HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.

Unlike other super heroes, Captain America doesn't really have a 'secret identity'...everyone knew he is Rogers.  This may seem a minor point, but I found it significant because it blended his real identity and his Captain America identity in a way that I haven't seen in other super hero movies.

 I found Captain America more nostalgic than I expected, and I wish that Americans still had the level of patriotism I saw in the movie.

There was more story than I expected, but also plenty of action.

A very good movie.  My nephews, 11 and 13, also liked it a lot.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review of "Be an Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children".

Review of “Be an Amazing Catechist; Inspire the Faith of Children”
By Lisa Mladninich
Our Sunday Visitor Press, 29 pages
     I have been a catechist and a teacher for over a dozen years. When I began my career as a catechist, I was an enthusiastic high school student who had helped her mother teach CCD for years. My years of experience and Master’s in Education, taught me a lot about how to reach the hearts and minds of children with the timeless truths of our Faith, teaching them how to love Our Lord and Our Lady, and live a life of grace through the sacraments.
     How much trial and error could I have been spared if I had been given this wonderful book at the outset of my journey as a catechist! It’s not necessary to have a Master’s Degree or twenty years in the classroom to reach the hearts and minds of children.  If you love the Faith, and are eager to learn how to impart it effectively, read this book, which should be given to every new catechist along with their textbooks. Its easy to read, engaging from beginning to end with a good mix of visuals, and many specific ideas of how to use what every catechist has at their disposal; a Bible, their Catechism books, and  a computer.
     In a concise yet conversational style, Mrs. Mladninich discusses basic pedagogy; from learning styles to classroom management. She helps the catechist understand her particular student’s age and educational needs, while employing her God-given gifts to impart the love of God. No two catechism classes are alike, says Mrs. Mladninich, but they can all be amazing as they train up young souls to know, love and serve God.
    “Be an Amazing Catechist” helps the catechist know what to do when the inevitable challenges arise, for example when the students ask those pointed questions we all fear and how to lovingly handle challenging students who disrupt the class She shares secrets to getting the students personally engaged in the lesson whether they are kinesthetic learners who must keep moving, students with special needs. She offers ideas to get all one’s students parents engaged in the process, how to teach them to pray, and how to use celebration of the Church’s celebration of the Liturgical Year (Christmas, Easter, etc) in lesson plans. She suggests how to tie in craft, dramatic and musical activities to keep the children’s interest, and most importantly, how the catechist must nourish her own soul with the grace necessary to give so much to others
     This handbook can be helpful to seasoned catechists as well, for there are many new resources, like the website Catholic Mom or the USCCB’s online Bible which are relatively new, and can offer new approaches to teaching the Faith which respect the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church while employing the latest technology. My favorite aspect of this book is Mrs. Mladinich’s enthusiastic tone as she encourages her reader in their mission;
     “With daily attention to prayer and the sacramental life, you and I can revolutionize            the teaching of the Faith. We can thrill our students with the Truth, protect them against sin, and set them on fire with the knowledge of the Faith!”
     Being a catechist is a wonderful means of participating in the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."With this booklet in your hands, and Christ at your side, you can consider yourself well prepared to make your students into disciples, and know that, through them, you are changing the world!
"Be an Amazing Catechist" is available online from Our Sunday Visitor. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: "Stain of Guilt" by Brandilyn Collins

When popular TV show American Fugitive does an update on a 20 year-old murder case, they engage forensic artist Annie Kingston to draw an age-progressed image of the main suspect, Bill Bland. In order to do this, Annie must immerse herself in the mind of Bland.  But there is someone who doesn't want Annie to complete the drawing; she soon finds herself, and her family, in danger.  Annie is determined to finish it, and, after years of non-believing, she turns to God for help.  Will Annie fish the drawing in time for the show?  Who is trying to stop her from finishing it?

This story combines lots of suspense with good character  development, and the result is a captivating story you won't be able to put down. 

Ms. Collins once again proves that it is possible to create a good murder mystery without the sordid content that is so prevalent in today's media.  I especially appreciate the Christian theme that defines her stories.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - PG13

This is the final battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort.   
Knowing that this was the last movie in the Potter saga, there was an undercurrent of excitement and anticipation that added to the exciting battle scenes.  Much of the story focused on a search for three items that, if destroyed,  would help Harry against Voldemort.  There were a couple of unexpected revelations, as well as a couple of positive recurring themes.  The loyalty of Harry's friends Ron and Hermione is admirable. There are also a couple examples of self-sacrifice.  The special effects were stunning.   I won't give away any secrets, but I was very satisfied with the ending  :)

HP7 may be a bit scary for smaller children but my nephews, 11 and 13, loved it..   A very exciting movie and a suitable ending to the series.

Monday, July 18, 2011

WebSite Review: Pen Pal Kids Club

This is a new site which provides a fun, safe, and educational place for kids to interact online.  Here are some of the features it offers: 

  • There are 6 fun games which also teach about other cultures in other parts of the world.
  •  There is a library of articles from Encyclopedia Britannica for kids.  
  • There is a Penpal function which I could not test because I was using a free account to review the site.  It allows you to find a penpal based on common interests (music, sports, food etc)
  • There is a message function (email) which allows you to communicate directly with other users

I created both a parents account and a kids account.  As a parent, I like the ability to control and monitor my kid's account.   As a kid, it is neat to be able to interact with other kids in other countries.

Overall, Pen Pal Kid's Club is an entertaining and educational online environment for kids. It is free for the month of July, and $4.99/month thereafter.

My main concern, and it is a big one, is safety.  Kids are pretty free to interact with each other on Pen Pal Kids Club..  Sadly, pedophiles and hackers can be quite clever.   As with any online activity, I would strongly encourage parents to be vigilant.

Music Review: "Divine Mercy Flood My Soul" by Annie Karto

This is Annie's newest CD, dedicated to the Divine Mercy.  She is joined by Fr. Leszek Czelusniak.  The CD includes both a spoken and sung version of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  There are also 4 excerpts from the diary of Sr. Faustina, the Polish nun who first received both the image and Chaplet of the Divine Mercy.

There are several songs which highlight Annie's beautiful voice, which I would describe as crystal-like.  "Divine Mercy Flood my Soul" is a beautiful song that highlights humility.  The "Divine Mercy Praises"  is spoken praise to Jesus for his Divine Mercy

The diary excerpts added both an historical and authentic aspect to the CD in that it shows the history of Divine Mercy.  Fr. Leszek's Polish accent added even more authenticity :)  

My favorite track on the CD is the sung version of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  It is sung in a captivating chant-like style. 

I think the Divine Mercy devotion is a very important one, and Annie's CD is the best CD  devoted to Divine Mercy that I've heard.  I highly recommend this CD, and I encourage you to check out Annie's site (linked below), which has her store, her blog, and her pages on Facebook and YouTube.  Below is a video of one of one of Annie's songs (not on this CD) to give you a sample of her singing.

Thank you Annie, for the opportunity to review your new CD!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

7 Film & 3 Not Inteview: Dallas Jenkins

Interviews of filmmakers and actors are all the same.  It seems like the journalists all have stock questions and the directors and actors all have stock answers.  When was the last time you read an interview and learned anything new about those who are asking for our time and money?

With this in mind, I am beginning a new interview series I call 7 Film and 3 NotThe premise is simple.  I ask seven film-related questions and three that have nothing to do with movies.  The film-related questions will hopefully be able to give a glimpse into the decisions and drive of the filmmakers.  The remaining three should hopefully shed a light on who they are apart from their profession. 

To start, I posed questions to producer/director Dallas Jenkins (What If…, Midnight Clear and Hometown Legend).

What is it that draws your attention to a project?  How does that change or grow as the production progresses?

I think what I’m most drawn to in a film is “motivated change,” meaning someone who goes from death to life in some way (big or small) and that the story actually justifies it. Nearly every movie includes change of some kind, but in most films the change isn’t motivated properly. I spend most of my films making sure that the changes in the characters happened for a reason, so nearly every scene I shoot is with that in mind. For example, in What If..., I really wanted the audience to buy the fact that this guy goes from having no interest in faith or family to actually liking it based on his experience in the alternate reality (wife and two kids). The film isn’t Shakespeare or Terrence Malick, but I think we did a decent job of showing why a guy like that would appreciate the craziness of family life. My inspiration was It’s a Wonderful Life, which for my money is the greatest execution of motivated change in film history.

What role does your faith play in choosing which productions to work on? How has that changed over the years?

My faith motivates my contribution to or appreciation of the big themes of the film. Good over evil, hope in the midst of darkness, God has a role in man’s affairs, that kind of stuff. And any good filmmaker is a personal filmmaker, so I’m going to steer towards stories that I know, that reflect my experience or worldview. In terms of the surface level stuff, such as the actions of the characters, the storyline itself, I don’t think my faith steers me to any particular settings or genres. However, my films have gotten more explicitly faith-based, and for better or worse, that’s as much as a result of my need to be a smart businessman as it is my desire to be a good artist. That sounds crass, I know, but that’s the market, so I’ve chosen to look for stuff that is more marketable, and right now that’s faith-based stuff. Then I just try to make it as artistic as I can within the genre, and I’ve come to appreciate genre-filmmaking more than I used to.

How do you navigate the actors’ individual talents/preferences during the first days of working together?

Great question, and it’s tough, especially because low budget films don’t have much rehearsal time. I have to learn the actors’ personalities quickly, and they’re all different. The best book on the subject, and it’s not even close, is I’ll Be In My Trailer,” by John Badham. Read it, believe me. To me, the biggest thing is trust; if I can earn the actor’s trust, everything else is easy. I earn that by being prepared and having a strong and clearly communicated vision, while also being willing to listen and let the best idea win, whether it comes from me or not. The rest is just about relationships and communication, and the “tricks of the trade” in directing actors aren’t much different than navigating through any social situation or workplace.

Do you have a specific way you approach scenes before shooting them?  If so, how do you map them out?  If not, how do you work them out?

The #1 job of a director is to find the balance between the technical and the storytelling. Of course they’re intertwined, but no one department on a crew can have their ideal situation, including actors. If the actor walked wherever they wanted with no regard for sound, it would look and sound horrible, but if the sound guys and cinematographer restrict the actor for the sake of technical purity, the scene has no life. So what I do is set the technical boundaries first; how much room do we have to move, what are the sound considerations, what are the best and worst spots for the camera? Once those boundaries are set (and I set them wider than the technicians themselves would), which is something I do the night before so I can come to set with a “shot list,” I’m obsessed with the actors and making sure they’re comfortable and understand the scene and that we’re all on the same page. I’m much more technically conscious than I used to be, but my primary passion and skill is still with the actors. Then we get them on the set, show them the boundaries, and I work with them to figure out how to get the most freedom within that space.

How has making movies impacted your faith in Christ, and vice versa?

My last film, What If..., changed my life because it taught me that I’m not as smart as I think I am. Even the choice to do an explicitly Christian film was something I came into kicking and screaming. From casting to locations to script decisions, so many times I chose what I was convinced was the best idea, only to see it not work out and frustrate me, only then to see God provide something last minute that ended up ten times better than I would have done it. It taught me so much about surrender, which ironically enough, is the theme of the film. And as I alluded to before, any good filmmaker is personal, so whenever I’m re-writing or tweaking a script, I’m always injecting some of my own thoughts or experiences or lessons learned.

How have non-Christians reacted to your work?  Have you been surprised by the reactions?

That’s what’s so funny about What If.... It’s by far my most explicitly Christian film, but also the film that has gotten the best response from non-Christians. I’ve been mildly surprised by the discovery that it’s not explicit faith on screen that bothers people, it’s the quality level of the delivery, or whether or not the faith element is “crowbarred” into the film where it doesn’t belong naturally. Of course there are the message board folks and the artsy bloggers who hate anything sentimental (although I admit there are a few moments in the film that could have been pulled back a little), but overwhelmingly, the response has been “didn’t feel preachy, felt organic, was witty, etc.” Even though it’s about a preacher. But I’ve still got a long way to go. I want to make a great film someday, not just a good film, not just a film that’s great for the Christian market. I’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go before I can make a film that is loved by both my church and Roger Ebert (or the Academy!).

When you get to the end of your career, what is it you want to have built?  What would you like your body of work to look like? 

All I know is that the main theme of my films is likely going to be hope in the midst of darkness...the struggle from death to life. What that looks like artistically is still in progress, but I’d really love to make films that challenge the culture on a spiritual level and make an impact on the pop culture dialogue. I love humor as well as emotion, so filmmakers whose body of work included both include Frank Capra, Rob Reiner, Cameron Crowe, among others. I’d love to end up with a few films that resemble something Capra or Reiner would have admired, with maybe a little Steven Soderbergh and Jason Reitman thrown in.

If you could recommend five non-film related websites, what would they be and why?

Oh goodness. I don’t do a ton of reading on the web, it’s mostly books and magazines; the web is more for news and social networking, but I’ll give this a shot. Any site where you can find JohnStossel’s blogs or columns is great, he’s my economic-political hero. has the widest range of great political articles every day. is where I get all my fantasy sports information. is the site for my pastor’s sermons, blog, etc., and one of the main reasons I came to work for him was that I think he’s one of the best communicators in the country. And there’s this small but growing upstart called Facebook, where you can really stay connected with people; I hate giving that away because I don’t want it to get crowded, but I consider it a nice little gem on the web.

What books have you always wanted to read and yet haven’t had a chance to get to yet?

I’ve got a stack of books that I’m working through. The one that I probably won’t get to for a while is Ronald Reagan’s, My life in Letters, because it’s so long. I also think that someday I should read Mein Kampf, not for enjoyment purposes, of course, but to understand evil better and how to learn from history.

What has been your greatest challenge, thus far, and how have you seen God working in it?

I think my current job (Director of Media at Harvest Bible Chapel) is my greatest challenge. Trying to make movies at a church while also trying to raise the bar for production and media there. I’ve never worked at a church before, I’ve never made videos before, I’ve never done live event production before, and now I’m responsible for all that. Plus, I’d been working for myself and my Dad for ten years, and now I’m essentially in a corporate environment. The lessons I’ve had to learn about myself and my need to learn submission have been massive; I’ve been molded more in one year than in the ten years prior. But God has been so good. He’s taught me patience, submission, and surrender. He’s taught me how to communicate better, how to love better, and yes, even though I haven’t made a film yet, I’ve learned a ton about storytelling and editing.

PhotobucketDallas Jenkins started Jenkins Entertainment with his father, Jerry B. Jenkins, at the age of 25. Within a year, they developed, financed, and produced the feature Hometown Legend.  Dallas then directed two short films, the award-winning Midnight Clear (starring Stephen Baldwin), and co-executive produced the Hallmark Channel original Though None Go with Me.

His feature directing debut, Midnight Clear, based on his short film and won several festival awards gate. His latest feature What If... (Kevin Sorbo, Kristy Swanson, John Ratzenberger and Debby Ryan) was released in 2010.  The DVD for What If…can be purchased in the Good News Film Reviews onlinestore

You can follow Dallas Jenkins on Twitter

Click here to buy your copy of
You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: "Brink of Death" by Brandilyn Collins

When Annie Kingston's friend and neighbor Lisa Willet is killed in her home  by an intruder, Annie interviews the only witness, Lisa's 12 year-old daughter Erin, and draws a composite of the man.    As the investigation proceeds with no arrest, Annie wonders how accurate her composite is...did her inexperience mislead Erin?   Annie, who has been an unbeliever, slowly begins to turn to God for help and strength.   She also asks His help with her children, being a single parent trying to raise two teenagers.

I enjoy a good mystery that is not all that easy to anticipate, and the story  flowed well, being told from different perspectives.

If you are looking for  a good murder mystery without a lot of objectionable content,  Ms. Collins is an author you should try.