Category: Tony Sands

“The Maze Runner”: Intense Action but a Family Film Puzzle

the-maze-runner webYou may have noticed, September is a strange time for movies. All the big action blockbusters opened in the summer, and all the horror films won’t come out until October when it’s close to Halloween. That leaves September as a no-man’s land somewhere in between, and that is the feel of The Maze Runner. Based on a book with the same name, The Maze Runner is part thriller and part action movie, but it also stars teen-age protagonists (or at least ones from teen oriented TV and films), so it seems aimed at a youth or family audience. However, it falls in between all of these genres – except, it is definitely not a family movie. It has scenes and themes far too intense for children and probably most pre-teens. That said, it is an engaging, entertaining story, and though it suffers from a number of flaws, it is a fun film for an older teen to young adult audience. Read More »

“Christmas for a Dollar”, Worth it!

Christmas for a Dollar

Coming out in time for the holiday season, Christmas for a Dollar is a family and faith friendly movie that is already available on DVD and will be aired on the UP! Network on December 15th at 7pm. Now you may be wondering if this is one of those sugary, feel-good movies that shamelessly tugs at your heartstrings. And it is! But it knows that and it nails its genre. While the movie may not be nominated for any Oscars it delivers a wholesome, heartwarming story, with great values, legitimately touching and funny moments,   and a happy holiday ending that just might make Ebenezer Scrooge smile. Christmas for a Dollar tells the tale of a family living during the Great Depression and they face their first Christmas after the loss of their mother. While money is tight, the father, played by Brian Krause, puts up a dollar for each of the children to borrow from so they can get, or make, a gift for a sibling they drew in a Secret Santa fashion. In the effort of creating Christmas on a budget, the children learn the value of honesty, gratitude and reaching out to those in need – whether it’s the financially or emotionally poor.  The film also stars well known TV stars such as Nancy Stafford. A “congratulations” is in order for Paulist Productions, a faith-based media company, like our own, who co-produced this film.  An interesting fact is that Paulist Productions is a Catholic sponsored ministry but their production partners are Mormon, making this possibly one of season’s few inter-faith based films.  What better way to celebrate the birth of our savior than with a truly Christian story made by companies who were able to work together, seeing past what divides us and focusing instead on what we have in common.

 brian-krause-for-cover   Nancy Stafford

A New Way to Help Teens, Elev8 Them!


Many people worry about the state of youth in our country, what influences them, what guides them, what pressures them, what morality forms them? In the days of Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians, it’s no wonder that people are concerned about teens’ role models and morality. So what can be done? Well, one solution is to elevate them! And more specifically connect them with Elev8-X (pronounced Elevate X). This non-profit teen integrity program uses live performances, testimonies, multi-media and videos to encourage young people to make positive moral choices. Currently, their live programs have reached more than 10,000 youth. Elev8 guides and inspires young people through contemporary methods and a “hip, cool” style as Elev8 want teens to know that their message is “real, relatable and relevant.” In their own words, Elev8-X is a “groundbreaking teen integrity program, impacting students across the nation. ELEV8-X is a highly EDUCATIONAL, INSPIRATIONAL, and ENTERTAINING conglomerate of talented young people contributing their talents to better America’s youth. Topics include: Anti-Bullying, Self-worth, Anti-Substance Abuse, and Waiting Until Marriage.” To check them out on-line go to or find them on Facebook at Elev8-X.  As content creators ourselves, we are encouraged to see others use new media to spread these positive and powerful messages.

Elev8 banner

RIPD Should Rest in Peace

RIPD poster

Though RIPD is a big budget film, starring Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon, the movie is a confusing mish-mash that never manages to make much sense. First, the overall premise is an unapologetic rip-off of Men in Black, just substitute aliens for ghosts. In the movie’s universe, recently deceased police officers are offered a position in the Rest In Peace Division. (R.I.P.D. – get it? Unfortunately, the humor of the entire movie is about this level). They hunt down Dead-O’s, ghosts who refuse to go to the afterlife. These undead are corrupting and killing the earth. Even worse, a Dead-O conspiracy is afoot to bring all the dead back to the planet, which would end life as we know it. How do ghosts come back? Why do some ghosts remain and others move on? Where is God in all of this? These questions are either poorly or never answered, making it so the plot confuses or insults the viewer’s intelligence the more one thinks about it. From a faith perspective, there IS an interesting moment where Ryan Reynolds approaches “judgment” to answer for the wrong he did in life. This very Christian look at the afterlife in today’s media is refreshing. However, it gets immediately undercut by the fact that the filmmakers refuse to mention heaven, hell, or even God, and refer to whoever is running things as “Up There” or “The Universe”. This lack of commitment, in my opinion, is what kills this movie (pun intended). Ultimately, it’s not funny enough for a comedy, it’s not exciting enough to be an action film, and it lacks the gumption to have a real theme (see Looper if you want a Sci-Fi film that means something). For these reasons RIPD is largely DOA.

EPIC Heroes in all sizes


Epic The Movie

I admit, while I’m a fan of most family entertainment, I have a special place in my heart for animated films, so I was excited when I saw the preview for Epic, a cartoon action adventure about a teenage girl who gets miniaturized and sucked into a  great battle to save the local forest. First of all, it was created by Blue Sky the company who had made the Ice Age movies, and it features a star studded cast including Beyonce as the Queen of the Forest, the rapper, Pitbull, as a bullfrog, and Josh Hutcherson from the Hunger Games as one of the heroic Leafmen.

But once the movie started, I became nervous, because it quickly featured a character I see popping up all too often in family films. It’s someone a fellow staff member has dubbed the “Idiot Father”.  In its many forms, it’s a “Dad” who is bumbling, foolish, out-of-touch, over-bearing, sometimes a bully, or just plain wrong. Occasionally, he’s a combination of all of these. Basically, he is an idiot who the child or teen main character needs to fix or overcome. Examples can be seen in The Croods or Para-Norman.   A positive father figure, on the other hand, can be found in Man of Steel or The Incredibles.

Epic starts down that path with the teen protagonist, MK, moving back in with her mad-scientist, estranged father after the death of her mom. Thank goodness the film redeems itself by putting forth powerful ideas of teamwork, self-sacrifice, and believing in each other, even if it’s not easy. The miniature defenders of the forest, the Leafmen, have a saying, “Many leaves, one tree,” meaning while we are all individuals, and small standing alone, together we can be mighty. Now that’s a motto for any good hero.

beyonce-2-600 Josh Hutcherson

Gatsby Good, Not Great

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s, The Great Gatsby, delivers a faithful adaptation of the novel, and the director’s lavish, “spectacle” style perfectly fits the gaudiness of the story’s setting, the Roaring ‘20s.

Luhrmann is best known for Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet. (Fun Fact – that movie also starred Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Gatsby in this film). The director uses modern music from such artists as U2 and Jay-Z which successfully give the film a modern flair, and many teenagers who read the novel in school went to see the movie.

That said – the film isn’t appropriate for young teens and children. While never overly explicit, the villain, Tom, can be clearly heard having sex with his mistress in one scene and there are many sexual situations. Also, there’s explicit drug and alcohol use, and two on-screen deaths.

So why does the film fall short? Because, too often, the film’s voice over tells us key information that isn’t dramatized. The Narrator says, “Gatsby was the most hopeful person I’d ever met.” But we never see Gatsby prove that concept, so the impact isn’t there. This is especially a problem because this is a very complex story with many gray areas. For example, Gatsby is a self-made millionaire deeply in love with Daisy Fey. Therefore, one roots for this man who embodies the American dream and you want him to win his lady love. However, she’s already married, and Gatsby made his millions through organized crime. He gained the world but sold his soul. It’s the tragedy of a legendary character, the Great Gatsby, falling from grace. While the movie tells us this is happening, it fails to capture it visually or emotionally. Ultimately, the film fails to make you care, and though it’s gorgeous to watch, it misses being great.