American Bible Challenge – Watch Host Jeff Foxworthy Talk About His Personal Faith

American Bible Challenge airs on the Game Show Network (GSN) Thursdays at 8/7central

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Video: Watch the Trailer for ‘Heaven is For Real’

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Video: Faith Leaders Praise ‘Noah’

We’ve heard from a few faith leaders speaking out against ‘Noah,’ most of whom haven’t even seen it.

Now Paramount is releasing a video of faith leaders who have seen the film and their reactions.

“Grace Unplugged” – The Prodigal Daughter

by Patti Maguire Armstrong

This was first posted in The Integrated Catholic Life

Imagine that the father of the “Prodigal Son” from Scripture once partied like a rock star before converting to the goodness of a Godly life.  He taught his sons well, sharing the emptiness of his past as a place never to wander. But one son, thinking his Father to be boringly conservative, leaves for the bright lights and all that goes with it. Imagine the Father’s heartbreak after bringing a greater truth to his children only to have one runaway for a lesser existence.

Such is the situation in the movie Grace Unplugged, rated PG, in theaters October 4.  But rather than a father/son story, it is a father/daughter scenario.  And instead of losing worldly riches and ending up struggling to survive, the main character risks spiritual riches in place of fame and fortune.

Grace Trey, is a pretty, sweet, Christian teen with enormous musical great talent.  Her father Johnny once put the “party” in rock star until finding Christ and leaving the stage for a church music ministry.  He teaches Grace well, imparting both music and Christianity.  It’s a happy ending, bad boy makes good story until the next generation. At the impressionable age of eighteen Grace gets the break of a lifetime but her Dad tries unsuccessfully to stand in the way.  Without his blessing, she answers the call to fame and finds it’s everything she ever dreamed of, and a whole lot more than she ever imagined.

True to Life?

During interviews, the movie’s producers and actors were asked if using people, backstabbing, pressure, phoniness, and temptations portrayed on the screen is what the big time in Music and Hollywood is about. Their answers:  yes, all of that, and no, that’s not all there is.

Writer/director Brad Silverman explained that even though you won’t see “inspired by a true story” under the title, it does reflect real life on the way to fame and also the reality that many parents confront. It’s about the story, not about the music business or Hollywood, according to him. “I did not set out to make a movie that said, Christian Music good, Hollywood bad,” Silverman said. “It’s about a girl who is coming of age and has to wrestle with the pull of God and the pull of the world.”

He shared that some of the inspiration for the movie’s story line comes from a friend, whose daughter ran away and has been estranged from the family for over six years. “Maybe she will see this movie and it will give her the jolt to come back to Christ.”

Silverman was asked if the movie is a case of art imitating life as in the recent shocking example of former Disney star, Miley Cyrus, raised a Southern Baptist by a singer/father. , Silverman shrugged but did not comment directly on Miley. “This movie seems to be coming out at the right time,” he said.

Christianity in Hollywood

AJ Michalka, 22, who plays Grace, says she can attest that the world will tug at a Christian’s faith in Hollywood. The successful actress, musician and songwriter has been named one of the top 25 performers, by The Hollywood Reporter. She was a Disney star on both television and the big screen (Secretariat) and she her sister Aly are platinum selling recording artists as 78Violet, formerly known as Aly & AJ.

“It’s not always easy, but you have to make the decision to follow your faith,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found the only way to keep my priorities right is to get more into God’s word.”  She points to family—like in the movie—as in important support system not to let faith it slip away.  “My mother and my sister are my main support,” she says. “Everyone always loves my mother, and my sister Aly and I talk about everything.”   With God and family at the center, Michalka said she has avoided a lot of the drama and temptation that comes with fame.  “Family are the ones that will always tell you the truth, and that is what I like about the movie,” she said. “It doesn’t preach but the message is that family matters and to surround yourself with people who love the Lord and you won’t fail.”

Pre-production of Grace Unplugged had begun before a “Grace” was actually found but writer/director Brad Silverman said that Michalka ended the search.  “We wanted someone who could convincingly play an 18-year-old, she had to be good-looking but the girl-next-door type; she had to act, sing, and play the guitar like Eddie Van Halen too. And, she had to be Christian too.” When the two met for the project—both sizing up the other—they also prayed together. “She was just such a gift from God on every level,” Silverman said.

James Denton is Johnny Trey, Grace’s father. He attended college on a basketball scholarship, dabbled a bit in acting then settled down to a job in advertising.  At 28, he tried acting again in theater, movies and TV including the award-winning Desperate Housewives.  Denton said being a Christian really does make a difference in Hollywood, or at least it should. “There are times when deciding not to compromise my values means having to turn things down,” he said. “Then, there are other times that I’ve done things and my Christian friends will question me if I should be doing that or not.  So being a Christian affects who I am and the work that I do.”  Denton said that as a father of a young girl, he identified with Johnny’s character.  “I know what it’s like to see my daughter use a hairbrush for a microphone and sing in front of the mirror,” he said. “I understand first-hand wanting to protect my child from the dangers of fame.”

Shawnee Smith, who portrays Michelle, Johnny’s wife and Grace’s mother, actually homeschools her own three children.  For her, the part in Grace Unplugged is an extension of her own values and hopes, not just her children but for herself.  “I would love to be in a marriage like theirs,” she said.  Although Johnny plays a central role, Michelle’s character is quietly strong and loving. “By not pushing and telling her husband what to do, she gives him time to decide himself what to do,” she said. “It would not have been the same or had the same effect if Michelle had been telling him what to do all the time.”

Smith’s character is certainly not timid or mousey. As often happens in real life parenting, disagreement over how to handle Grace creates tension in the marriage but never sacrifices their respect for one another.

More than Entertainment

Perhaps Grace Unplugged is convincing because these actors are not totally acting. Their roles reveal a part of who they are.  According to Silverman, it’s the part of the movie he hopes makes a difference, because he wanted it to be more than just entertainment. “I’m hoping we prompt a lot of dialogue between families, that this movie is a conversation starter,” Silverman said.  He would like it to also encourage people to re-examine their definition of success and consider the part that God plays in it.

For parents whose greatest desire for children is God, this movie will speak to the heart. For young adults and teens, who desire both God and success, it will stir the heart and present values to ponder.

Two books to accompany the movie have been released by B&H Books: Grace Unplugged is a novelization of the movie by Melody Carlson; and Own It, by Michael and Hayley DiMarco, is a book featured in the movie. The latter challenges readers to develop a belief in God that becomes their own.

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Movies: What Every Dad Should See

By Phil Boatwright

This was first posted in the Baptist Press

“Grace Unplugged” is the tale of a former rock star’s 18-year-old prodigal daughter who wants to find her own fame.

Grace Trey, portrayed by A.J. Michalka of “Super 8″ and “The Lovely Bones” lineage, is a member of her dad’s praise and worship team, but the gifted singer and musician heeds the call of the secular music world. After she gets the music break of a lifetime and is thrust into the “real world,” her faith is quickly put to the test.

The film’s premise is certainly timely, as in reality we see former teen cable network stars forced to change their image for relevancy in today’s pop-culture that demands change over talent.

The makers have updated the prodigal son parable by changing the lead’s gender, and creating a father in need of as many lessons as his wayward child. The story is set in the music world, allowing Michalka to make full use of all her entertainment talents. She’s best known for her singing career as half of the duo Aly & AJ, renamed 78Violet.

Actress Shawnee Smith, who has personally tasted the bitter and sweet of show business, portrays in Grace Unplugged a loving Christian wife and mother. While the film focuses more on a father/daughter relationship, it also explores the downside of fame.

Smith too expresses hope that daughters across America see the movie.

“Somebody brought up Miley Cyrus last night. I hope she sees the movie,” Smith said. “I don’t know how she could watch it and not see how that world can molest your life. What’s dead somehow looks shiny. I remember being there. I relate to this story. I was in a rock band. I know that world.

“You feel [in the movie] the power of it. You quickly get onboard with that illusion,” Smith said. “And by film’s end, Grace sees what’s real and what’s truly satisfying. I hope all the Miley Cyruses see this film.”

The role is unique to Smith’s career, shaped by “Becker,” “Saw,” “Saw 2,” and “Easy Prey.”

“I was drawn to the film right away from reading the script. I wept,” Smith said. “There’s real substance to it. I just wanted to be a part of this movie. I loved the main character. I would be so happy for my daughter to be this woman. And I’m finally doing a movie she could actually see.”

Grace Unplugged is not afraid to mention the name Jesus. Perhaps most films do that, but here His name is not uttered in anger, but rather mentioned as a centerpiece in several characters’ spiritual lives. I’m sure this is the icing on the cake for devout Christian Michalka, to be the star of a movie meant to honor God, strengthen the body of Christ, and witness to members of an industry caught up in the Me-ism of celebrity.

The movie attempts to reveal the underbelly of the music industry, but in a family-friendly way. It adds a religious component, undoubtedly a real-life reality for former church singer Cyrus.

At a recent press junket in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet the movie’s writer and director Brad Silverman and its cast. What a pleasant surprise to discover that the film’s star, director and the producer are all followers of Christ, their openness concerning their faith deeply affecting other cast and crew.

The film’s faith connection is endearing and rare, Michalka said.

“Usually when I read a script, I look to see how I feel about the role, what drives the character. But with this script, it was really the faith behind it. And when I met Brad Silverman, and seeing his love for God and his passion for this film, it was so moving to me,” Michalka said. “I actually came home from the interview and cried. I was overwhelmed. It was so cool to be in a meeting in the dead center of Hollywood, but it had nothing to do with Hollywood. It had to do with the Lord. That’s rare.”

The film is more about light than darkness, Silverman said.

“I don’t want to glorify sin. I wanted it to be a heart issue. This girl has a heart change. She makes an intelligent decision for her. I didn’t want it to be about ‘how dark can I get this girl to go?’” Silverman said. “This is a coming-of-age story of a girl who has to wrestle with her heart, not a story on the evils of Hollywood. But I had to ask myself, ‘How am I going to tell this story in a PG way?’ Some people will say I didn’t go dark enough, but I don’t apologize for that.”

Kevin Pollak, who portrays a music agent/promoter, said focusing on the dark would cheapen the film.

“It cheapens [Grace Trey's] decision and the audience’s experience if the music industry and her career represent hedonistic values. If it’s a true opportunity, a life opportunity that’s being experienced by her, then how much more difficult is that decision to choose family first? And faith?” Pollak said. “It’s only when given true opportunity that those decisions are more difficult to make. You just cheapen it all with a stereotypical dark side. It’s just too easy for her to say ‘What was I thinking? I’ve fallen prey to the demons,’ as opposed to ‘That’s what I thought I wanted.’”

Grace’s lesson in living her dreams leads to reconciliation with her father, her God, and her family, Pollak said.

One more theme that runs throughout the film is the question of “borrowed faith,” noted by producer Russ Rice.

“I hope the movie leads kids to examine themselves and their faith,” Rice said. “Do they own their faith, or is it merely borrowed from their parents?”

The film features the acting or feature film debuts of three music stars: Christian singer Jamie-Grace, American Idol Season 10 Finalist Pia Toscano, and an appearance by renowned Christian artist/songwriter and Grammy Award® winner Chris Tomlin.

Grace Unplugged will be released in theaters Oct. 4. For more information about the film and the companion book, “Own It” by Michael & Hayley DiMarco, visit
In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything in It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.

Oscar Nominee Jesse Eisenberg on Occupy Wall Street, “Zombieland 2,” and making movie magic

Jesse EisenbergIn the new film Now You See Me, Jesse Eisenberg stars as a tightly-wound magician whose performances with three colleagues earns him nationwide attention and notoriety. Eisenberg, who previously earned an Oscar nod for his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010), recently visited D.C. to talk about his new heist film.

During the interview, several other local critics and I spoke to Eisenberg about the connections between his new film and the Occupy movement, his past experiences with magic and the his budding writing career.

Now You See Me Eisenberg

The theme for your film, which is kind of Robin Hood-esque– kind of take from the rich and give to the po0r– how does that resonate with the times that we’re living in right now?  

Eisenberg: When we were filming the movie, Occupy Wall Street was in the news all the time. I guess it’s less in the news now just cause it’s not happening with the same intensity but I think probably the feeling is still there. And so I was kinda surprised when we would perform these magic shows, we would perform for people who were extras. Hired to be the audience members but the reaction that we would elicit when we would talk about what these businessmen have done to a fictional audience with fictional businessmen was so intense that you realize ‘oh, the feeling is in the air even in a fictional circumstance that everybody knows is not real.’ People still really feel angry and so I assume [people] watching the movie and not being a fictional audience– as the audience who watches this movie will be–  will probably feel the same feeling.

Did you bring any of (Mark) Zuckerburg to your character here?

Eisenberg: I guess both of those guys feel like they’re really the best at what they do so I guess they’re both confident except [that] this character genuinely feels that way. He’s not acting out of some kind of insecurity whereas I think [the] other guy’s acting more from feeling excluded. My character genuinely thinks he’s the best in the world at what he does. He probably even is because he’s like the most successful magician.

Now You See Me Cast

What was your first experience with magic?

Eisenberg: I was exposed to magic because my mother was like a clown growing up so she would perform at birthday parties. And she would not perform at my birthday because everybody knew that it was my mother so it would not be surprising. She would barter with a local magician Bruce and Bruce would do my parties for free and my mom would do his children’s parties for free and so I got to be exposed to magic but I just knew him as Bruce and so it was strange to see him put on this persona and that’s what I thought of with this character that I was playing now. My character would be a real person…

Are there any plans to do a sequel to Zombieland?

Eisenberg: No, I think there were but then they decided to do a TV show instead. I guess it would preclude a sequel cause it would be more of the same brand.

Now You See Me Cast 2

We know that you do a lot of writing for the New Yorker so I was just wondering how you got into writing.

Eisenberg: I used to write jokes a lot. I recently went to clean out [the room where I grew up in] and I found some of my old jokes… I’ve been writing jokes since I was very young and I’ve been reading New Yorker humor columns for a long time so I’ve been submitting to them for like five years and they finally started accepting my columns…

Now You See Me is in theaters now.

Photo Gallery: ’42′ Stars Visit the White House with Jackie Robinson’s Wife

First lady Michelle Obama introduced the stars of the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 at the White House.

On April 2, she brought local high school students to the White House for a conversation on the late baseball superstar. Obama, who was clearly inspired by the film, noted that “You have to pick yourself up when somebody knocks you down,” a lesson that underscores the legacy of Mr. Robinson.

The new film 42 tells the true story of Jackie Robinson’s rise to the major leagues in the late 1940′s.

Chadwick Boseman stars as the main character, whose number– the film’s title– was eventually retired in all of the major league teams. Oscar nominee Harrison Ford appears in the film as Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers team executive who supported Robinson’s rise to be the first African-American in the majors.

Boseman, Ford and screenwriter/director Brian Helgeland were accompanied at the White House by Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow who served as an adviser on the film.

Check out some of the pictures below of the event featuring Obama, Helgeland, Boseman, Ford, Mrs. Robinson and a White House aide who asked questions of the panel.

Click HERE for next photo.

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Interview: Actress Summer Qing on ‘Looper’ and the Greatest Misconception about Bruce Willis

In the new movie Looper, two actors portray the same character. Both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL) star as a hired gun named Joe. Willis plays the character late in life while JGL plays the younger version, who is forced to confront his future self. We see the character in both stages of his life in multiple time periods.

When we see the older Joe, we glimpse him with a beautiful woman- and pivotal character- who ultimately changes his life. That character is played by Chinese actress Summer Qing.

In an e-mail interview, Qing responded to some of my questions about the new sci-fi thriller. In her responses, Qing  told me why audiences should see this movie, what attracted her to the project and the greatest misconception people have about action star Bruce Willis.

‘Looper’ is a unique type of science fiction drama. What attracted you to the project in the first place?

Qing: First and most importantly, the script is great. The story is like nothing I’ve seen before, and the setting of China in the future: brilliant! Plus, we have the most excellent and creative cast and crew in the business, including Rian, Bruce, Joseph and Emily. It was such a pleasue [sic] to work with such a great team. Besides, I would be playing Bruce Willis’ wife. Come on! This is Bruce Willis we are talking about!

What was it like working with Bruce Willis and what do you think is the biggest misconception about him as an actor?

Qing: I had such a great experience working with Bruce Willis. The first day I arrived on the set, he came to me, pulled me into his arms, and gave me a big long hug. He didn’t say a word but that said more than enough. We were like an old couple finally reunited, ready to take on another adventure in life.

There is a scene in which we have an emotional conversation in a car. When they were shooting my part, Bruce was off camera to read his lines. Like the superstar he is, he didn’t have to do that himself, but he did anyway. On top of that, he cared about everyone on the set. I really respect him for that, professionally and personally.

As for the biggest misconception, that’s easy: Everyone in the whole universe knows Bruce Willis is one big tough guy. However, in real life, he speaks very slowly and softly. He takes care of people around him, a true gentleman.

In the movie, you are a character who saves her husband’s life when he is struggling with drug addiction. What in your career has been the toughest obstacle you’ve encountered and how did you overcome it?

Qing: After so many years of playing the good girls and the perfect woman-type of characters, I find people have a certain set image of what kind of roles I should be playing, which in a way sets limitations for me. Currently, I’d love to try something different, to play a bad girl or even a villain. For instance, “the Joker” (by Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight, or the Witch from Dark Shadows (by Eva Green), or the girl in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (by Rooney Mara). It isn’t easy for me. Most producers/directors still come to me with the perfect woman kind of roles. As a matter of fact, I think Hollywood has more to offer for what I want. Hopefully, I can work with Rian Johnson again in the near future.

In the film, people from the future are sent back into the past to tie up loose ends. If you had the chance to go back and change something about your past, what would it be and why?

Qing: I would probably tell myself to study English harder and learn to speak like a native speaker. At this point of my career and life, I learned the importance of mastering English.

If a person on the street asked you to tell them why they should see this movie in one sentence, what would you say?

Qing: Looper is the Matrix of this decade. You don’t want to miss out.

Looper is in theaters now.

Behind the Scenes Photos of ‘Looper’

Here are some great behind the scenes photo from the new movie “Looper.” Check out Rebecca’s review and then make sure you check out the film, which is in theaters now.

All photos courtesy of actress Summer Qing, who stars as Bruce Willis’ wife in the film.