REVIEWS

 

 
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FILM REVIEW:
Welcome to Paradise
Starring Crystal Bernard and Brian Dennehy
Out of Pocket Films

“Welcome to Paradise,” a film written by Brent Huff and William Shockley and directed by Huff, is a family film that,
while long on values, spreads the Good News through kindness between people versus sermonizing on celluoid.

As a matter of fact, “Paradise” directly takes on those religious types to whom the Bible refers to a "stiff- necked
people.” Associate Pastor Debbie Laramie (“Wings” star Crystal Bernard) is in trouble at the top of the film for
being too folksy in the pulpit. Her rigid male superiors exile her and her teenaged son (well-played by Bobby Edner)
to the small town of Paradise, which as it turns out, isn’t. Just like in the big city, there are brittle, agenda-driven
people in the small town. But without missing a beat, the new pastor jumps into the fray.

Bernard’s Laramie is breezy and warm, and she does the Lord’s work by being her open self, bringing people
together one at a time. Bernard skillfully anchors the role with honesty. She carries the film on her feminine
shoulders, making it look effortless.

The cast is studded with sure-handed veterans, led by film and stage luminary Brian Dennehy, who lends deep
credibility to a film just by walking in front of the camera. It seems he never fumbles a beat as an actor. Ever.
Writer Shockley, who deftly pulls double duty playing the high school basketball coach, is a welcome
masculine
counterpart for Bernard. Though the film thankfully avoids making this an obvious love story, the chemistry
between the two creates agreeable sparks.

“Paradise” ambitiously fleshes out a number of smaller roles with their own subplots, and enhances its own theme
by creating an ensemble film. Lou Beatty, Jr. shimmers as the homeless Trevor Goodman and his singing throbs
with contemplative power. Likewise, Beth Grant as the pivotal Frances Loren is believable and touching. Her char-
acter creates the havoc that eventually brings the town together. It’s an inspirational finale that brings a lump to
the throat and resolve to the heart.

There are a few snags in the story: for example, it stretches credulity that Laramie wouldn’t know her son is dysle-
xic. She’s presented as a character that’s been busy, not selfishly blind; and some situations are hopelessly “on
the nose.” Luckily, the film unfolds briskly with a purpose that refuses to be derailed. Locations are attractive; the
music enhances the story; the look of the film is rich.

There’s a sense that “Paradise” is the real deal: a film about genuine caring between humans, made by quality
professionals who truly care about humanity.

The Dove Foundation gave “Welcome to Paradise” a Four Dove Rating. The Religion Network seconds that!

Available at Wal-mart and Blockbuster on October 9, 2007. It will be released in Christian Bookstores by Christmas.

Running time: 97 minutes

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|Book Review by Lisa Bowman

Jesus: An Intimate Portrait of the Man, HIs Land, and His People               
by Leith Anderson
Bethany House, 2005

During his three-year ministry, Jesus frequently preached in parables and healed infirmities. But only once
did he give his disciples a specific prayer to utilize. The story of The Lord’s Prayer is recounted in two of the
four Gospels: Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2. Jesus' disciples often had observed him in early morning prayer
when they awoke; they’d seen him pray before he made important decisions, and around spiritual encounters.
And
although they had prayed with him, that day they asked for a lesson on how to pray on their own. Since
then, Christians have clung to The Lord’s Prayer, treasuring it as their Lord’s directive.

Leith Anderson’s book “Jesus,” includes a revelatory sidebar to the story of the Lord’s Prayer. “The Lord’s
Prayer was probably intended more as a sample than a formula. The wording varies in the New Testament reports
of what Jesus said, so it was not word-for-word the same every time. The purpose wasn’t to memorize someone
else’s prayer but to learn a pattern that could be adapted and individualized. Most of the disciples probably heard
this prayer enough times to memorize it, and they all made their own modifications…” (Pg. 184)

Provocative and informative sidebars like this one abound in Anderson’s narrative of Jesus’ life. The biography
unfolds with pages studded by historical footnotes, translations of terms, and pertinent explanations of the society’s traditions, all of which flesh out the well-known story with new insights.

Anderson has undertaken a daunting task here, and one whose potential success inherently is limited. Anderson,
who holds degrees from Bradley University, Denver Seminary and a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary,
brings academic credibility to the table. Interestingly, however, he has chosen to write to the average Christian.
He treads no revolutionary ground; Anderson presents the Gospel accounts without theological or theoretical de-
bate. Most scholars would question his lack of questioning. Instead, he attempts valiantly to weave the four
sometimes conflicting, accounts into one linear storyline. No small feat, considering Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John jumped between chronological and topical ordering. Here multiple reports of the same event have been
merged into a single rendition, with quotes paraphrased and plausible enough emotions attributed to various
figures. It’s a literary device fraught with the tendency to draw the reader out of the story by wondering how
Anderson arrived at the conclusion that Jesus or Peter or whomever, were feeling that way at that particular
moment. Yet without the additions, the book would struggle to shed new light on an old story.

American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is noted for having taken razor blade and glue pot to his Bible,
removing Jesus’ miracles and attempting to make a sequential humanistic narrative of the Gospels. “Jesus”
resonates with an opposing goal: retaining and trying to shed light on the miracles utilizing the context of Jesus’
human existence. Anderson then gently amplifies the emotion of the events with cautious extrapolation. It’s a
tough line to walk, and though he occasionally falters, the reader tends to be forgiving of the noble effort, which
most of the time succeeds.

It’s an imperfect process yet it yields an enlightening result for the faithful Christian. Jesus and his apostles be-
come real people with each turn of the page. The frustrating shorthand of the Gospels becomes a fleshed-out tale.
The historical footnotes alone bring Jesus’ actions into sharper focus. For example, when Jesus heals the 10
lepers|in one of the Samaria-Galilee border villages, he instructs them to go show themselves to the priests.
Anderson’s sidebar explains: “The law required an examination and clearance before anyone cured of leprosy
was allowed back into society.Most priests were never asked; leprosy was a life sentence.” (pg. 232) Suddenly,
we realize that Jesus was telling them to have faith not only that they would be healed, but also that their lives
would return to normal within society.

A chilling realization occurs with one particular piece of information: “Jesus had witnessed a crucifixion when he
was eleven years old. A man named Judas the Galilean led an insurrection against Roman rule. He attacked the
imperial armory at Sepphoris, only four miles away from Jesus’ home in Nazareth. The Roman response was swift
and severe. Sepphoris was burned to the ground, and all of the citizens were sold into slavery. The two thousand
rebels were crucified on the same day on crosses that lined the road near Nazareth. Jesus’ memory had been
etched with the horror of crucifixion.” (pg. 148) Having that piece of knowledge makes Jesus’ life and crucifixion
all the more poignant.
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Movie Review: EVAN ALMIGHTY
universal pictures     

Runtime: 90 minutes

MOVIE Review by Lisa Bowman

Alrighty, Almighty! Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn, it seems Hollywood has discovered the
power of prayer.

Evan Almighty
, Universal’s unabashed faith based film, won it's first weekend with a take of 32.1 million.
It’s a leap of faith (read: gamble) for Hollywood to put out a movie like this, given its a budget of 175
million. The script takes its own leap of faith past predecessor Bruce Almighty by subtly examining
prayer itself: Just how are prayers answered? What is our part in having them answered? How much
does God intervene in our lives because of prayer? 

Steve Carell, as frosh Congressman Evan Baxter, prays onscreen early on in the film. Wife Joan Baxter
(Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls) first confides she has prayed that the family become closer. Evan
proceeds to secretly pray that he might fulfill his campaign promise to “Change the World.” Before you can
say “Morgan Freeman,” God Himself is there to answer his family’s prayers. But Freeman’s God is no Fairy
Godmother with a wand. He corners Baxter into building an ark for an upcoming flood, and Carell’s “New
York Noah” obliges with tremulously growing faith. It’s all played lightly and good-naturedly, an attitude
reinforced by the script's original title, Passion of the Ark.

The film makes a quick homage to Carell’s hit 40 Year Old Virgin … (Mary) …but at least no nightmare date
regurgitates all over him in this film, although animal poop does provide some laughs. As he did in Little Miss
Sunshine
, Carell proves he’s an actor first and comedian a close second. He plays Baxter closer to a Jimmy
Stewart than to a Jim Carrey. He’s funny and endearing.

Evan’s ark is populated largely with computer- generated fauna, and they work well minus some less-detailed,
non-moving animals. The beasts are a splendid lot times two, especially the real life baboons.

The flood itself turns out to be a nice twist in the plot, so thank you, writer Steve Oedekerk, for delivering the
worthy message in a fresh manner.

In a good way, Even Almighty is a Faith Made Fun movie. With its gentle sense of humor, it’s a film for every
family to see.