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Archive for November 2011

The bland leading the bland

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DVD review: Love Begins. Twentieth Century Fox Home entertainment. 88 minutes.

Strength, faith, courage, romance and the Wild West just seem to go together. But in Love Begins, it’s not blind faith as much as bland faith.

This film is a prequel to Janette Oke’s eight-book Love Comes Softly series, though it’s part of the Hallmark series based on them. It pretty much fits the pattern of Oke’s less-than-Wild West, where nearly everyone says “ma’am” and “sir” and sticks to a firm code of honor. And where fine, upstanding women always get their man.

Good-lookin’ Ellen (Julie Mond of General Hospital) and kid sister Cassie (Abigail Mavity of Summerland) work hard to maintain the dusty ranch their dead parents left behind. They smile and talk hopefully, but they’re losing ground.

Meanwhile, over the hill gallop Clark (Wes Brown of True Blood) and his buddy Daniel, on their way to join the gold rush in California. In the town of Trinity, Daniel hits on the womenfolk, and he and Clark get in a brawl with the menfolk, busting up Miss Millie’s café (not a saloon; in this version of the West, no one drinks anything stronger than coffee).

The two men are arrested, but Daniel escapes, leaving Clark to work off the cost of repairs. For the sheriff, the obvious solution is to make him a hired hand at Ellen’s ranch.

This arrangement doesn’t sit well with her: She’s still bitter over Jake, her former lover. Like Clark, he left for the gold rush two years ago. She agrees to hire Clark but treats him coldly.

Gradually, her attitude softens as Clark shows a polite, hard-working nature. His tall, rawbowned frame, shy smile and bright blue eyes don’t hurt either. And the annoyingly perky Cassie helps him work and chats him up.

A few dinners, a gentle dance, and Clark and Ellen confess their love. As he pays the last of his debt, he reconsiders his plans to leave. But oh, no, a plot twist! A well-dressed Jake steps off the next stagecoach! Turns out he struck it rich in California after all. He asks for Ellen’s hand and offers to take her and Cassie to his fine house in San Francisco.

What’s an upstanding frontierswoman to do? Will she sell the ranch and run off with newly rich Jake? Will she stay behind with poor but hardworking Clark? Will she listen to her heart or . . .

Aw, c’mon, everyone knows what she’ll do. Fact is, very little in this story is a surprise. OK, maybe the return of Jake, but that’s about it.

Nancy McKeon’s Millie does little to liven the movie, despite her acting credit as tough-talking Jo in The Facts of Life. Jere Burns, currently playing sleazy blackmailer Anson in Burn Notice, does a decent job as the stern but fair-minded sheriff.

Faith is a quiet undercurrent in this film. Ellen and others attend church and drop God’s name now and then (never Jesus’ name, though). But is it a strong faith? How would we know? Our heroines show little doubt or anxiety. They ask why God would allow a thunderstorm to loosen the barn doors. But they never shout or cry. They never worry about keeping the ranch. They don’t even break a sweat lifting lumber in the hot sun.

This isn’t the biblical model. In the scriptures, Jacob literally wrestles with God; Elijah runs and hides after Jezebel threatens him; even Jesus begs for his life in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Yes, we get it. Oke wants to give her audience something solid, strengthening, faith-building. And without the sex and violence that infects most other entertainment.

It’s a good goal, but it misses some crucial steps. Faith grows stronger only through conflict, hardship, opposition. You suffer; you doubt; you resolve and endure; you grow in faith. What you don’t gain is blandness.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

November 20, 2011 at 5:43 am

Tebow documentary: Long on sports and business, short on Tebow

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DVD review: “Tim Tebow — Everything in Between.” Summit Entertainment. 58 minutes.

Everything in Between, which premiered Nov. 11 on ESPN2, is like a big donut: lots of material with a hole in the middle. It has a lot on the process of getting into the NFL. It has much on training, management, politics, business, even broadcasting. But surprisingly little on the young man in the middle of it all.

Tebow, of course, is the star player from the University of Florida who won an armload of awards before even leaving college, like the Heisman Trophy, NCAA Quarterback of the Year, and the Associated Press Player of the Year.

He’s also known for kneeling and praying even during a game, a practice that’s become known as Tebowing. And he’s the guy who paints “John 3:16” on his eyeblack. The documentary has him talking about Jesus to assemblies, but doesn’t major on it.

What it does show is how someone can be a hero in college, but get knocked down a few pegs when he tries to crack pro football. He goes out for Senior Bowl but doesn’t impress sports scouts. He gets criticism from sports commentators on his low, looping pass, a drawback he tries mightly to make up for.

It’s amazing to see how many decisions are thrust onto this young man. First he and his family negotiate for an agent. Then he and the agent scout several training facilities around the country. Then Tebow undergoes a grueling regimen — running, passing, hot baths, ice baths and more — for more than 10 hours a day. And he has to wade through oceans of adoring fans, like young girls who squeal just to touch him. And all he wants to do is play football.

Director Chase Heavener keeps the production lean and businesslike, seldom even adding music. His choice of camera is light yet steady, seldom jerky. He gets onto the field, follows Tebow around reception halls, sits in on decision making with his agent and family. He goes to the Tebow ranch near Jacksonville, Fla., where the young quarterback chats with his parents and tosses the ball with his brother.

What don’t we get? Much about Tim Tebow. And that’s a sizable hole in this film. After all, the end isn’t terribly suspenseful for anyone who follows Tebow or the NFL: He gets picked for the Denver Broncos. How did he get through all this? Pretty smoothly, if we’re to believe this film.

He does say it’s an honor and a responsibility for so many fans to be rooting for him. And he voices a little frustration for winning so many college trophies, yet getting dissed on sports shows. But does he have any doubts? Any nerves whether he’ll be chosen for a team? He shows none.

When did Tebow show a skill for football? How did he know he wanted to make it his life’s work? Did he ever consider any other career? What good does it do to put a Bible verse on his eyeblack? These are all standard questions for a sports profile. Their lack leaves a hole.

Everything in Between may well find buyers among sports fans who want to know the guts of the training and selection process for new players. Perhaps even for Christians who are proud of a sports champ who hasn’t left his spiritual roots. For the rest of us, the film lacks something: a real understanding of its main character.

For those who want to buy it, here’s the website for the film company.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

November 13, 2011 at 3:01 am

Posted in christianity, documentary, faith, film, video

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