Christmas Jar – Review

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 5.59.31 PMThis year another 50 Christmas films will release in theaters and on TV. Only the exceptional films, with top cast members, typically make it to the silver screen with the remainder landing on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime. Many have tired of watching overused plotlines while continuing to watch with the hope of catching a glimpse of the true Christmas spirit.

There is only one film that I’ve screened this year that is worthy of the silver screen because it truly demonstrates grace, mercy, and redemption. The film is Christmas Jar, based on the New York Times Bestseller novel by Jason F. Wright. The film will be in theaters for one night only as a special Fathom Events program on November 4th.

The story is about Hope Jensen, a reporter who uncovers the secret behind the Christmas jars that are filled with money and anonymously left at the doors of people in need. The story follows Hope’s investigation into the jar that she received after her loss from an apartment break-in. Her attempts to capture the story behind the jar unravels into a series of events that lead to a heartfelt Christmas moment that is sure to inspire even the coldest of hearts toward the true meaning of Christmas.

The story opens with a couple of sad tearful moments and closes with the audience wiping away tears of joy. The film makes such a great impact that you might find yourself putting a Christmas Jar together with your family to give someone in your own neighborhood.

The story stars Jeni Ross (Titans, Suits, Taken) as Hope. She does a wonderful job playing a newbie journalist trying to get a shot at being a professional writer. During the investigation of her newsworthy story, she slowly falls in love with the generous and anonymous family, forcing her to decide between a future as a journalist and her moral values.

The film will make a great night out for the entire family that is looking to instill a little Christmas spirit in their lives. Tickets can be purchased here.

In theaters Nov. 4, ONE NIGHT ONLY.

Creative Ad Creation with Book Brush

Have you ever wanted to focus your time on creativity, using an intuitive online software system to build ads and promotional materials quickly?

I had the opportunity to try Book Brush and found it to be simple to use after the first ten minutes of dabbling with it. Book Brush is similar to Canva and Adobe Spark in that all three online software packages allow you to quickly build social media ads, blog and email headers, and promotional memes with ease. The biggest difference is that Book Brush is focused on helping authors.

Here is a sample promotion I built for my novel.

BookBrushImage-2019-4-25-18-857

It took me about three minutes to create the above promotional piece. I then spent another handful of minutes clicking on other templates for Facebook Ads, Pinterest posts, Instagram stories, email headers, etc. Within 10-15 minutes I had created a dozen various size ads.

The software allows you to swap out different book images, backgrounds, text containers and fonts, and buttons for use with online links. The process is very simple to use. The first step is selecting an ad size. You then choose a background followed by placing an image of your book.

Before placing the book, you have to upload your cover. Once it’s in the system, you select which direction you want it to face, whether or not it’s a 3D image, hardback or soft cover, positioned on a smartphone or tablet, or one of the other numerous choices. This is done with a simple click to select your product pose followed by another click to apply your cover image.

Typing text comes next. The system simplifies the process for those who just want to type and click. However, for those who want far more control, the system gives you about a dozen adjustable options. I found it easy to select a recommended standard and then tweak it to my satisfaction, rather than starting from scratch with a 100% custom idea.

Book Brush also has a Facebook Group of authors that use the software. They are there to help answer questions and share ideas with each other. Based on the comments, I’d say the group is very friendly and supportive of each other. So, if you’re an author, you might want to consider the great support system Book Brush has put in place for you.

For those who aren’t authors, the system is easy to use for creating an ad or promotional piece. The monthly fee is low and includes the license for supplied pictures. You can also upload your own pictures with ease.

The only downside of the system is a handful of things that are not intuitive, but I’ll assume that the folks at Book Brush will get to those areas soon, especially since they have consistently worked on improvements and additional functionality. In the meantime, make sure you save your work before clicking on a button that will take you from the workspace because you won’t be able to get back to it without losing your work.

© 2019 CJ Powers

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Three Creative Journals Worth Exploring

I recently received three journals from the Ellie Claire imprint and was very impressed by the quality of the books. Not only do the books lay flat for the writer, but they use a very high grade of paper for those of us who like to sketch with ink. I even used watercolor markers without worrying about bleed through on a subsequent page.

fc3755_8ed06bba0d37467e94c4bd607ce3b518_mv2The Illuminate Your Story Journal had quotes and scriptures salted throughout the book. After every couple of writing pages, the book instructs the writer with how to create illuminated letters used in ancient times. The steps were easy to follow and helped me build my bullet journal lettering vocabulary of styles and fonts. Based on the book and my new abilities, the art of illumination is certainly not lost today, as I once thought.

The hard cover was designed to last a lifetime and is rugged enough to survive more drops than I’d make. The texture and embossing of the book are also of a high quality, making you feel like you own something worthy of your words. The artistic value is amazing and the elastic band to hold the book closed helps protect the pages when the book takes a tumble. The book also has a place saving ribbon and a pocket for collected ideas in the back.

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fc3755_0695f523a03a4f5fabd6f848fdb42986_mv2The Faith and Lettering book is a little larger in size and offers lessons on typography. It only took me a few minutes to understand one of the designs and immediately start using it in my daily business notes. The book also gives professional tips on how to draw flourishes, arrows, and banners.

One of the most fun aspects of the book is the training pages that encompass line art, a graphic, banner, and a mixture of type fonts using a decorative verse. The page shows the final work, provides a lightly traceable version for practice, and gives enough space for a couple efforts of your own.

Not only did I have fun practicing the various styles combined with imagery, but I found myself having memorized the verse just from the writing process. I also had the imagery of it ingrained in my brain so I could review it in my mind’s eye whenever I chose. Prior to doodling in this journal, I had no idea how quickly memorization could happen as a result of this artistic process.

fc3755_92690eef39404e29ac5d755c19f85c77_mv2The Illustrated Word was the third book I reviewed. It took me back in time to the art of the Renaissance. This coloring journal had numerous illustrations ready for my choice colors. It also had a fully colored segment on the opposite page to see what the artist thought to use as an appropriate color palette.

The book had far more pages for writing than the other books and included a full-color illustration on every spread from the Museum of the Bible archives. The artistry illustrated from hundreds of years ago was amazing, and the intricate handwritten words brought an understanding of the importance of words to bear.

All three books were masterfully crafted and raised my interest in the Ellie Claire imprint. I went to EllieClaire.com to see the hundred plus additional artistic products, most of which are worth far more than its price tag.

So, check out the three new journals and let me know how much you enjoy them.

Copyright 2018 by CJ Powers
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Equalizer 2 and More

Here is a link to episode 3 of The Story Behind The Stories, which includes my latest film review of The Equalizer 2, a video worth watching for those who like masculine films with a heart for integrity, and a comment on Henry Cavill’s GQ Australia interview about his fears in dating.

Please consider subscribing to this YouTube channel to get every episode. Thanks!

Meeting A Magic Dragon

PiffCJ

I got to meet Piff the Magic Dragon last weekend. You might be familiar with his older brother… Steve (were you thinking, Puff?).

No, I didn’t travel to Piffland through the mentalism of Mr. Piffles (his chihuahua). Nor did I head out to see him at his Las Vegas show. Piff came to Chicago, and I got to chat with him (and goof around) before his performance at the Chicago Improv.

Piff is a magician who has been performing for 20 years. But his Piff persona was launched nine years ago and given a big push on season 10 of America’s Got Talent. He received a golden ticket for his performance and headed into the quarter finals, semi-finals, and the finals. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough votes for the finale.

Piff, or should I call him John Van der Put, also starred on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. While he didn’t fool Penn and Teller, his humor and performance was so appreciated that the guys rated his act their “favorite of the season” and said Piff was “a stunningly good magician.”

Magicians worldwide have recognized his talents. Van der Put won the 2008 British Ring Close-up Magician of the Year, while The Magic Circle awarded him their 2011 Close-up Magician of the Year, 2012 Stage Magician of the Year (as Piff), and the 2013 Carlton Award. In 2013, The Circle also inducted him into their Inner Ring with Gold Star.

I’ve cracked up laughing every time I’ve seen him. After meeting him last Saturday and watching him come up with humorous, off-the-cuff comments, I now consider him the funniest of all magicians that I’ve seen perform—and I’ve watched lots of magicians.

TailThe funniest laugh I got was learning about how John became Piff the Magic Dragon. He was the only one to arrive at a costume party in costume. This drove him to mope around, getting more grumpy as the night progressed. His sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and deadpan delivery had people laughing throughout the evening. One of his friends suggested he add this persona to his act and Piff was born.

Piff’s YouTube videos have received millions of viewings. He not only has a Las Vegas show, but he has also been touring for the past four and a half years as Piff. His deadpan delivery is so effective that those posing with Piff for selfies work hard to get him to crack a smile. However, one of his crew members who always helps shoot selfies, seems to only click the button when Piff is straight faced.

While some have suggested Piff’s slight 1/32 inch crook in his lips was him holding back laughter, I wasn’t surprised by him joining in the audience’s laughter several times during his live performance. Piff brought people onto the stage to help him with tricks, but they managed to say things that were odd, awkward, or unique, of which Piff took advantage, to generate loud outbursts of laughter from across the audience.

In fact, I laughed so much that I’d have to consider asking Piff to be my best man, er, ah, dragon, should I find Ms. Right—Just kidding… or am I?

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

Beirut — Review

BER_156_M2_0V3_1_rgb“Thinking films” are far and few between, mostly because a small percentage of people take in a movie to be mentally challenged. However, those who kept their mind active during Dunkirk were well rewarded. And, with a bit less effort, many enjoyed Gary Oldman’s brilliant Oscar winning performance in The Darkest Hour.

The next installment of thinking films has arrived for this weekend in the movie Beirut. It’s a fascinating historical picture about several different countries and factions leveraging people and circumstances. They all share common goals of leaning the outcome of the war in their favor, not for justice or humanitarian ideals, but for selfish reasons that include revenge and the control of power.

The simple event is so entangled in the quagmire of jargon and hard-to-follow gibberish that the story seems far more complex than it is. If you’re able to follow the key plot points, you’ll realize that there wasn’t much of a story worth telling. On the other hand, if you were not able to sort through the bad accents and the dingy sets that all looked alike, the picture would seem far more complex.

The compelling situations that brought shock and awe to the American public during the Reagan years were not well captured in the film. The political intrigue was also left out, with the exception of a couple of interesting scenes suggesting how allies might have taken advantage of each other for their own gain.

But the interesting chess-like battle for information between the Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans was not handled well. Nor did the film reference or make use of additional political intrigue surrounding the multinational troops from France and Italy.

beirut_02415_r_rgb.jpgThe story focuses on a former U.S. diplomat (Jon Hamm of Mad Men and Baby Driver) being sucked in by CIA operatives (Rosamund Pike of Gone Girl and Hostiles, and Dean Norris of Breaking Bad and Under the Dome) to return to Beirut and negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

The quasi-historical story was written by Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton). “At the time, Beirut was a hot topic because Tom Friedman’s book From Beirut to Jerusalem had just come out,” said Gilroy. “We wanted to put a negotiator in a historical setting where it could feel true to life without actually being a true story.”

Most of Gilroy’s fictional script was built around the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley. “For me, that was very much the model for what would happen if a high-level CIA officer were kidnapped,” Gilroy said. “Buckley’s body actually turned up just as I was finishing the script, and there was a lot of reporting about that case that I drew on. It was all very garish and gothic and horrifying and dramatic.”

Unfortunately, Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) didn’t understand the realities of the horrifying, dramatic historical events, and it shows. “I was very taken by the world of Tony’s story. I frankly didn’t know very much about Beirut, so for me it was more the character elements that drew me in,” Anderson said. “I was fascinated with Mason (Jon Hamm) as this tortured soul who’s trying to redeem himself by saving his friend.”

beirut_03881_r_crop_rgb.jpgNot all veteran indie film writer-directors are able to express reality-based stories in a way that helps the audience experience or relive the historical moments. Anderson failed miserably at visualizing Gilroy’s fictional account, boring the veteran sitting one row in front of me. He actually pulled out his cell phone and engaged in 5-10 minutes of texting.

As for being spellbound by the characters that Anderson suggested drove the film, I found Hamm’s character to be flat and one dimensional. While Pike gave a great performance, her character was also limited, mostly by too little screen time.

For those who love political intrigue and deep thinking films, this one is a pass in my book. Even with thin character development, Hamm and Pike fans will not be disappointed in their performances, but they’ll have to keep in mind that the script and director tied their hands.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ powers

 

Easter Movies to Watch and Avoid

This Easter season will once again bring an influx of faith-based films to a theater near you. Several of the films will gear up with tremendous hype and false marketing, not out of choice, but rather out of ignorance—blind to the promotional materials not matching their films.

Since I’ve already endured the bad films, there’s no reason why you should find yourself suffering, too. Here are a few tips of what to watch and avoid.

I-CanI Can Only Imagine—WATCH

(March 16, 2018—I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars)

Out of all the faith-based films being released this season, I Can Only Imagine is the one worth seeing. The film tells the true life story of how the band Mercy Me got started and how the title song became the number one Contemporary Christian hit single of all time.

The best part of the film was watching Dennis Quaid (The Rookie; The Parent Trap; Yours, Mine and Ours), known for happy protagonist roles, play the antagonist—showing off his true acting chops. In fact, his performance was so good that I bought into his creepiness and got a little weirded out, wondering what in his life he might have drawn from to pull off such a nasty character. Quaid’s performance alone is worth the ticket price.

That’s not to say the entire film was great. The story had a hard time getting started and the director clearly struggled with how to end the film, resulting in three back-to-back endings. The standard practice for creating a clean ending is done by making sure all of the subplots resolve prior to the start of the ending sequence. If you only have time to see one Easter movie, pick this one.

PaulPaul Apostle of Christ—AVOID

(March 23, 2018—I’ll give it 2.5 out of 5 stars)

All of the eggs were placed in this big budget Easter basket and stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) who plays Luke. With so much at risk, there will be a lot of promotional money thrown at the public to launch this costly production. Unfortunately, the funds didn’t show up on the screen. And the story… you’ll be confused during the first 30-40 minutes as you try to figure out what the film is about.

The secret… the film is a story about Luke, but it’s being promoted as a story about Paul. The main character that interacts with the supporting characters is Luke, and Paul is only used as the archetype or the wise counsellor—the Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you will. The story takes place in Paul’s last week before his beheading, a time when he has Luke write his final letters.

There is a tremendous amount of artistic license taken in the film, so don’t expect to drink in the moments as if you’re watching the reenactment of Scripture. The reality of Christian suffering is softened with all the bad scenes taking place off camera. And, the number of people nodding off during the screening I attended was massive. Can you say boring and confusing? Don’t waste your time on this one.

Gods_Not_DeadGod’s Not Dead 3—AVOID

(March 29, 2018—I’ll give it a generous 3 out of 5 stars)

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness never gets the audience to care about the main character. Nor does the audience know why the film is supposed to be important. In other words, this is a TV movie that’s been placed on the silver screen in hopes of it becoming an event film for Easter. Or, the producers are trying to force the trilogy to become a franchise, even though it’s not trending in social media or at the box office (Film 1 $60MM, Film 2 $20MM, Film 3 TBD).

The film gets close to touching on some important issues, but it never takes the time to explore any of it in a depth useful for the audience.

While the budget is supposed to be bigger than its freshman and sophomore counterparts, the story wasn’t properly crafted for the big screen. The film used small screen story structure and stereotypical character development. Within the first five minutes of the film you know how the story will end. In a case like that, the director must get the audience desiring to see how it will unfold, but he didn’t.

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)Non-Religious Films Competing for Audiences

The films with the greatest chance of drawing in families, regardless of controversy, are the following:

  • Tomb Raider—March 16, 2018
  • A Wrinkle in Time—March 23, 2018
  • Ready Player One—March 30, 2018

These movies are all being promoted as event films for the entire family, but be careful to discuss the stories after watching, so no one accepts the liberal messages without due consideration. The studios know that making high quality, popular films is ideal for delivering their agenda and changing the culture, so expect an attempt for clear, easy to swallow messages being salted into the movies.

Please consider supporting the costs of a new, free webinar designed to help filmmakers craft strong stories, fill in story gaps, and strengthen their story structure—giving them a shot at creating a 5-star film. Click the button below to donate!

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Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers