Logan vs. The Shack

Watching both films during opening weekend gave me a perspective that I hadn’t expected. Logan had a powerful message about self-sacrifice and unconditional love that many faith-based filmmakers would die for. The Shack on the other hand had a montage of messages that caused me to forget the one that seemed important to me at the time. The convoluted messages weakened the entire story.

Logan had great actors playing at the top of their game. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart both hit grand slams with their multi-dimensional characters. The Shack also had greatness in Oscar® winner Octavia Spenser, but she was limited by playing a one-dimensional character, as was Sam Worthington.

The greatest weakness displayed by The Shack came from the writer breaking the cardinal rule of screenplay adaptation. The main story in the book (plot A) was about Mac’s journey from justified hatred to forgiveness, working through his abusive childhood and the loss of his daughter to a pedophile killer. The secondary story (plot B) was about the search for his kidnaped daughter, the serial killer, and finding closure from the crime.

For a successful adaptation to work on screen, plot-B must become the main story and plot-A must become the secondary story in order to create direction, action and pacing. By not doing this, the audience finds themselves eavesdropping on a man’s slow, methodical therapy session for the majority of the film. Had the writer switched the plotlines the story would’ve turned into a great thriller with multi-dimensional characters.

Instead, the writer decided to stay true to the book, which can’t be done properly in another medium. This decision killed the film from taking off as a general audience hit and confined it to a faith-based audience. When a show like the Lion King is taken from a successful film and turned into a Broadway hit, no one questions the necessary story transformation of the film and stage media.

But, some forget the differences between a book and film, which requires just as much transformation to shift the story from one medium to the other. The physical medium itself requires story changes to keep faithful to the original work.

Logan also held steady to its Marvel canon, while The Shack broke its biblical canon 11 times according to Berean Research. This breaking away from its beloved truths sent some panicking and protesting. Many true faith-based fans avoided the film for that very reason, and who can blame them? No one wants to watch a Star Trek movie that breaks the beloved Roddenberry canon.

Yet, there are plenty of churches that agreed to watch the film in support of the slow growing faith-based pool of films, so it should land around $60-70MM when all is said and done. But, had the story been structured for the medium with multi-dimensional characters, the story would have come in around $200-$250MM based on similar structured stories from the past.

I fully enjoyed Logan because it was a solid story with a Judeo-Christian worldview and phenomenal acting. I did not get my monies worth from The Shack because it was a poorly structured story, its message was an eclectic mix of several religions, and the talent was wasted with one-dimensional characters.

While I would’ve preferred a PG-13 version of Logan instead of its R-rating, I whole-heartedly enjoyed the story. The best part was watching the characters struggle with the human condition. At first Logan took the selfish route to alleviate his own pain, yet deep inside he still chose to help the professor. Then by the midpoint Logan is faced with the reality of love and its true meaning. After fighting with his internal issues, he succumbs to his heart and accepts what is true and right. He charges forward into act 3 demonstrating unconditional love through self-sacrifice for others—dying for his daughter and her friends.

The Shack could have been just as powerful, but the filmmakers chose a different path. It’s too bad people are supporting those bad choices, as the filmmaker will continue to make the same mistakes going forward because of his “success.”

 

 

 

Movies Bring Hope and Direction to Society

Behind the Scenes with CJ PowersSince the Great Depression (1929-1939) the motion picture industry understood their lot in life was to bring hope and direction to society and dove into mass production. This was confirmed and continued during World War II (1939-1945). Even the post war rebuilding years (1946-1952) were palatable thanks to the movies, which only cost a few coins to attend. By the time our country was back on its feet in 1963-64, the cinema’s role in America was labeled the Golden Age of movies (1933-1963, some sources use 1927-1964).

The Hays Motion Picture code was enacted during these early years to make sure films for the general public were appropriate, respectful and encouraging. After all, hope and direction were important causes worth monitoring. But by 1964 the committee that managed the code and approved scripts that made it to the silver screen was pressured by its denominational headquarters to leave the “ungodly world of Hollywood.”

While some films continued to bring hope and a wholesome and unifying direction to Americans, other films brought the opposite. Freedom of speech was challenged beyond what was wholesome. Directional bias toward liberal and aggressive thinking rose in power. The movies moved into a period known as post-classical cinema followed by the angst and spectacle periods.

Today, America is in need of a new hope and a new wholesome direction. It’s the movie industry’s job to provide it, as it did during the Golden Age of cinema. Unfortunately most producers today are looking for message films to support their politics or their religion. Few care about making the types of films that will bring hope and a healthy perspective to the general public.

The more polarized our communities become, the more important it is for the movies to help bring a sense of unity back to the people. But who will heed the call?

Until artists of today find a way to bring unity back into the lives of our beloved characters, stories will continue to divide the population. It’s the duty of filmmakers to reach the general population with new ideas and unifying stories that can emotionally move the audience from our old destructive path to a new thesis world filled with hope.

There is a hungry world waiting anxiously for such films. They long to embrace them, but can’t find any in our noise filled market. Someone must step up and kickoff this new trend that is sure to be supported by people from various walks of life. Where is the first filmmaker ready to take the risk and cross over? When he or she steps forward, will you support that new breed of film? If so, you’ll be a part of bringing a new hope and direction to our society.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Death of Neutrality and the Assertiveness of Wonder

pexels-photo-27802I’ve learned a hard lesson over the past couple of weeks. It started with a memo I wrote filled with facts that executives could ponder for the sake of future consideration and direction. I thought the neutrality of the topic allowed the leadership team to look at the information as raw data without any preconceived filters biasing their vision. Instead they assumed that because it wasn’t slanted toward their predisposed notion, it must be against their directive. I was condemned with a very angry pushback.

A recent blog post on how to filter out facts from feelings received the same negative pushback. Some who saw the post as an opposing view distorted my neutral stance. The result was several personal attacks on me from people who didn’t even acknowledge my point of separating fact from feelings before we make condemning comments on heated issues. They overlooked the entire point for the sake of falsely leveraging the neutral post to their opposition so they could slam their biased statement in retaliation.

Neutrality is no longer neutral, but instead is a tool for the aggressive to use as a launching point of opposition to spread their ideas. They push back off of the neutral to make an exaggerated contrasting statement—making a middle of the road balanced viewpoint look skewed. They disfigure the neutrality until their distorted viewpoint appears to be normal.

Historical writings reveal civil wars rising within similar polarized societies. The volatile aura created by people who push their ideas before understanding the opposition’s perspective fuels that fire. Battles ensue based on the society’s rights to secure their way of life without regard to the rights of others.

Since neutrality is no longer a safe haven, but a tool for everyone to leverage, we are forced to pick sides. Or, are we?

I’m a firm believer that when people focus on the wonders of our world, they are less likely to participate in the destruction of it. Wonder is a healthy and wholesome emotion that cannot live next to the lust for destruction. When we focus on the awesome and humble, there is little room to consider the angry rampages of distorted thinking. We become focused on the inspiring.

Denise Leverton wrote in her statement on poetics, “Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.”

The darker films, television and books are filled with story elements that shock audiences to consider new viewpoints, the more we need art to explore wonders within our world that shifts our focus back to balanced views. The only thing that can bring balance back to society is the illumination of the wonders that we’ve overlooked.

When we as a people are faced with the ugly and painful for an extended period of time, we begin to think hope no longer exists. A recent song by Zayn and Taylor Swift for Fifty Shades Darker reveals the distorted perspective in its lyrics, “I don’t wanna live forever, ’cause I know I’ll be living in vain.”

Our society once treasured that living forever was a good thing because it held the hope for a future utopia that was just around the corner. But with the “church” and the arts conforming to our dark society rather than reminding others of the wonders that surround us, people have lost touch of a hope that can unite those with opposing viewpoints.

Therefore, I’m going to look for ways to bring wonder back into society. I want to find new wholesome forms of entertainment that gives a glimpse into what that hope filled life might look like. I want to give people a taste of a future that is fulfilling and fun, taking them away from our dark society for a time of pondering the possibilities.

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

 

How to Join the Remnant of Fact Seekers

trump_signsThe Internet is abuzz with numerous anti-Trump campaigns designed to leverage people to agree with the media. The information is skewed on purpose to maintain control over the arguments and its outcome, to the extent that it’s controllable.

There is, however, a remnant of people that don’t react to or live by the latest social crisis. They transcend the Facebook arguments and concentrate on more balanced and healthy perspectives. They focus on understanding the real truth beyond the sound bites that we’re all too accustomed to hearing.

When focused on 3 simple steps, individuals can protect their position on border security and immigration enforcement improvements and help others see all sides of the issue.

  1. Test for Bias. The easiest test for bias is this: If you can’t explain both sides of an argument in positive terms you are biased or caught up in someone else’s rhetoric. You are not thinking in a sound manner that will help mankind. Anything you say while biased will only add to the unfiltered noise in social media and muddy the true issues.
  1. Seek Two Sets of Facts. Gather the facts on both sides of the issue without bias. Create two lists with the most important facts at the top. Make sure there is a real human benefit associated with each fact, otherwise strike it from the list.
  1. Triangulate Facts from Sound Bites. Facts will come in many forms, shapes and sizes. By seeking out multiple unrelated sources you can quickly learn which facts are more likely real. The key is the word “unrelated.” Any information coming from various “outside” sources that use the exact same wording as a television networks or political party’s remarks is most likely planted rhetoric. Paraphrased wording that interjects the sources own perspective and culture is more likely to be factual. Always find three unrelated genuine sources for your information before sharing your newfound “facts.”

Okay, let’s try these three points out using the recent issue related to President Trump’s executive order on border security and immigration enforcement improvements.

First, test for bias by listing the issues using positive (from the perspective of the group’s viewpoint) statements from both sides. Here is a sampling of the bullets I found:

Media…

  • The countries band by the order is Muslim and therefore racist.
  • Families have a right to stay with their loved ones and the program is separating some.
  • Businesses have a right to have their employees return back into the U.S. from business trips and some are being stopped at the border.
  • A Federal Judge in Brooklyn, NY blocked part of the order so saying that refugees and others being held at airports across the United States should not be sent back to their home countries. Three other states did the same.
  • The implementation of the orders and corrective orders were not clearly followed by the Customs and Border Protection, and Citizenship and Immigration Services.

People Directly Involved in the Executive Order…

  • The list of countries selected was because nationalists from those countries murdered Americans on U.S. soil over the past 8 years.
  • The order does not affect naturalized U.S. citizens.
  • The order does not affect legal permanent residents.
  • The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security can waive the executive order for individuals on a case-by-case basis.
  • Priority for passage is given to refugees of religious persecution.
  • The order is for 90 days to check the security system and protocols of the Customs and Border Protection, and Citizenship and Immigration Services. After 30 days, the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security must submit a report to completely revamp the vetting process going forward.
  • Green card holders are not to be prevented from returning to the U.S. “going forward.” This was a statement of clarity from the White House based on a mistake by Homeland Security during the initial implementation.

Second, review the items to determine which bullet points are facts. Opinions, feelings and rhetoric must be removed. Here are the two bullets that I’m removing and thoughts on a third bullet.

  • The countries band by the order is Muslim and therefore racist. (This point is not a fact since the list was not based on racism, but formed based on the murderer’s country of origin.)
  • Businesses have a right to have their employees return back into the U.S. from business trips and some are being stopped at the border. (This is not a fact since naturalized U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are allowed passage.)
  • Families have a right to stay with their loved ones and the program is separating some. (I’ll keep this as a fact even though the families that I was aware were separated has since been reunited based on the waiver process.)

The next step is to check for three unrelated sources that confirm the remaining bullets. For the sake of time and space, I’m not going to list the homework I did that verified the bullets. But, I recommend you conduct your own due diligence to make sure your bullets are factual and to pick up on any that I might have missed.

After you are comfortable that you are working with facts and not fiction or feeling statements, you can now look at the information objectively and determine what position you will take.

In my case, the bullet points have revealed that the 90-day program had my security in mind, the selected countries were based on historical murders, the program was executed poorly, and I couldn’t help but notice that the program was very similar to the one President Jimmy Carter (Democrat) did with Iran during his term in office.

My outcome—Instead of joining the argument, I’ll choose to share with people three steps that will help them formulate their own opinion. And, when the 90-days are up, I’ll hope that the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security will have come up with a new more robust vetting process.

I see no reason to let this program or those raging in social media cause me concern. In the larger scope of things, this 90-day program is a small blip on my life timeline, especially since my family easily survived President Carter’s version of the same program.

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

 

Nominated Screenplays for 2017—Plus

Here are the nominations for Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay and the scripts that I could find.

Best Original Screenplay:

Hell or High Water,” Taylor Sheridan

“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle

“The Lobster,” Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan

20th Century Women,” Mike Mills

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Arrival,” Eric Heisserer

Fences,” August Wilson

Hidden Figures,” Allison Schroeder

Lion,” Luke Davies

Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney

Fake News and Faith-Based “Gavin Stone”—Review

gavinstoneThe Resurrection of Gavin Stone was released this past weekend with a great deal of grassroots fanfare. I was bombarded by people telling me that the film was “HILARIOUS” and that I needed to support it because the “Christian film genre needs help.” I was skeptical about the film being that funny, but I trusted my sources and watched it.

When the theater lights came up after the end credits, I realized that all the social media entries about the “HILARIOUS” film were all fake news. My friends were duped, or they’ve learned how to lie for the sake of a good cause. Nah, they were duped.

It seems that the more a person watches campy films to support a cause, the more the bar of their artistic scale lowers. They loose track of what is great cinema and what should’ve been relegated to a TV Movie of the Week (MOW) on a small cable network.

But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ll suppose they hadn’t watched La La Land or Hidden Figures yet, which would have shifted their skewed perspective back to a healthy norm. And, they probably hadn’t recently watched videos of The Blind Side, Gravity or Les Misérables.

Then again, maybe they’re stuck on squishy Hallmark movies, where in the first three minutes of the film you know exactly where the plot is headed—comfortably taking away any unwanted surprises. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone did that very thing, lifting its tired plots directly from Hallmark Christmas and Winterfest movies.

I don’t slight director Dallas Jenkins for using a Hallmark format for a campy story in the least, but I do find it interesting that he was quoted as saying his desire was that the movie “drives people to church on Sunday morning,” when the film was clearly made for the proverbial choir.

The film was loaded with Christian jargon that wasn’t understood by the general public, making it impossible to create any desire in a non-believer to attend church. The “inside jokes” also made it difficult for the audience to feel compelled to join the click, rather than being repulsed by it. That’s not to say Jenkins didn’t have the right to make a film for the choir, but to say he hopes it reaches unbelievers sounds like the perfect set up for fake news.

When a film’s language is campy Christian, gritty secular crowds won’t get it. Most won’t even buy the ticket. In fact, the moment Christians hear that the film is yet another faith-based campy story that belongs on a small cable network, box office sales will dry up. But, it won’t really matter, as Jenkins got his two weeks in theaters to increase video sales.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the film was a flop at the box office. Opening weekend saw less than $2,500 per screen average; a number that once a normal film drops to is clearly on its way out.

But the film isn’t all bad. The good news is that the choir will laugh hardily when watching this comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, the choir might finally be able to poke fun at themselves after watching this film that takes the starch out of the up-tight ministry leader. Jenkins did a great job at getting the proverbial choir to look at themselves from an outsider’s viewpoint.

There were even several great moments of acting aside from the purposeful cheeky scenes filled with self-deprecating choir humor and campy fun. Had the title been better suited toward comedy and the film shot as a television special, I’m convinced it would’ve had much higher viewership.

The timing of the film might have added to the film’s death, since many in the choir are still trying to see award winning films like La La Land and Hidden Figures – Both are must sees in my book.

So let me be clear … stating that the film is “HILARIOUS” is fake news. Saying that the film will “delight members of the choir and their friends” is truth. Saying that the film is “original” is fake news. Saying that the film is heartwarming is truth. Are you getting the picture?

My recommendation, go see La La Land and Hidden Figures first.

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

The Tortoise and the Hare is True

Fake news is ridiculous and makes me laugh more times than not, yet some of my friends are greatly offended by it. The attitude we hold has everything to do with the way we choose to perceive life. Those who think the world is headed toward hell in a hand basket tend to find fear in everyday things. But, for those who hold hope for the future find silliness in the very things others fear.

It’s all about the long game. A life paced for eternity doesn’t get frantic when things go south. There is always a silver lining to be found by the ones looking for it. Artists need to find the silver lining in order to continue their creations. Finding inspiration or a muse is always associated with the positive side of life. It takes great focus to see past the world’s distractions and find the gift of joy and peace in the midst of the chaos.

I liken it to the short film I watched as a young kid called “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The rabbit was a really cool guy who was faster than anything. He was so fast that he’d flit around doing lots of things for fun in between his official task or goal. My favorite part was when he left the racetrack, hopped into a fast convertible and picked up three women for a flirtatious drive.

I admired his ability to attract the women, own a sports car and still have plenty of time to get back to finish the race. There was only one problem; all of his flash in the pan ideas and exerted energy got him so mixed up in alternate activities that he forgot the importance of focus and discipline.

The methodical turtle that focused on the race won. His discipline guided his every step as he moved a few inches with each stride. He didn’t allow the rabbit’s charisma to alter his strategy, nor did the blast of wind from the sports car driving away spin him off track. The turtle just counted on the hope within him and plodded along one step at a time.

In the last few seconds of the race the hare sprinted faster than most thought possible, but he was 2/10ths of a second too late. He had lost. The women left his car and went to the winner’s circle to cheer on the tortoise. The slow, but methodical champion received numerous kisses from the three women and many others. He didn’t need a sports car, as the crowd lifted him and carried him into the golden sunset.

I’ve learned over time that rabbits today make really cool short films that lack story. They also make low quality features with some great scenes, but no story structure to keep the film alive during the second act. Tortoises on the other hand work methodically on features, making sure every step is done to its best level of quality.

Marketers love rabbits who can speed ideas to market, especially the popular ones that have fans who consistently overlook their story flaws. However, audiences love the tortoises that carefully craft compelling stories the audience want to watch over and over again. This tension between hare and tortoise fans keeps a full line of good and bad movies alive for audiences to sift through regularly. But the stories that become classics and out last the test of time belong to team tortoise.

I wish that I could find the old short film I saw, but the below will have to suffice.

copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers