Wednesday, January 30

Let's All Go to the Movies!

Ah...the movies! For a very long time I did not enjoy going to the fact there is a tremendously long list of movies that I have not seen that will shock and awe my friends. Movies like the Lord of the Rings (the whole trilogy), the Star Wars prequels (saw 4, 5, 6...just not 1, 2, 3) and the Austin Powers movies (how many of those were there?). I also never saw Gone with the Wind (somebody pick my sister Karen up from the floor). The fact of the matter was I fell asleep when I went to the movies because I had un-diagnosed sleep apnea. I think that I realized it was a real problem when I took my nephew (he was about 9) to see the movie Racing Stripes - as the movie neared its exciting climax he attempted to wake me up so I could see it. Apparently I snapped at him, "leave me alone, the zebra wins."

Since I started treatment for the sleep apnea (soon after) I have rediscovered my love for going to the movies. I also admit that I love the popcorn with white cheddar salt. My sister Denise and I often go to the movies together now (usually every Saturday, when I get to drink Coke). This year we decided to see how many of the Oscar films we could fit in - and to date we have seen: Lincoln (loved it, but I am quite tired of Sally Field. I know she will lose a lot of sleep knowing that I don't like her, I really don't like her), Les Miserables (loved it, seen it twice...I even liked Russell Crowe's singing), and Silver Linings Playbook (even wearing a trash bag, Bradley Cooper was awesome). Denise has also seen Life of Pi (though she enjoyed it, my brother Gordon is tired of CGI trickery) and my nephew Jack saw Django Unchained and declared it too gory for my taste. (I'm also counting Brave...nominated for Best Animated Film...and The Hobbit...nominated for Makeup). That is a lot of quality films that I have seen lately. (trust me, I have also seen some non-quality films - most recently I "enjoyed" Jackass: The Movie. There's two hours of my life I'll never get back. Thank goodness the company was enjoyable!)

So - when I recently headed to see the premiere of a film that was produced locally - a friend asked if I thought I would be disappointed in the level of quality. I said that I wasn't sure, but that I would try to avoid being hypercritical. I needn't have worried. Finding Faith exceeded my expectations on almost every level.

The film is not completely without its flaws, but it is a compelling drama that I hope every parent will take time to see. The movie, based on a true story, is about a teenage girl who is kidnapped by a predator who she met online. She is held captive and destined to be sold to human traffickers. The exchanges that lead to her kidnapping are seemingly innocent - she is "friended" by a boy who claims to be a friend of a friend. They begin a flirtatious online relationship. The problem is...he isn't the cute teenage boy in his profile picture...

The "star" of the film is Erik Estrada, portraying Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown who started Operation Blue Ridge Thunder back in the 1990s after a local parent complained that her 14 year old daughter had been solicited online to make a pornographic movie. That task force was a blueprint for other operations across the country and led to a lot of arrests and a push for more education on safe web surfing. (In fact, I helped create one of the early "Safe Surfin'" videos when I worked in video production!) Although Mr. Estrada bears little physical resemblance to Sheriff Brown, he did a great job of portraying a leader who encouraged his team to follow every lead and utilize every available resource to accomplish the goal of making the internet safer.

I was impressed by the cast, which was a mix of local talent and film industry professionals. The production values were outstanding - especially considering the challenges of filming away from the controlled turf of a Hollywood sound stage. Dealing with the heat and humidity of Central Virginia in the middle of a very hot summer, the crew created a film that let me just pay attention to the story. I wasn't constantly critiquing sound quality or picture quality - I was completely focused on the impact of the storyline. And as a person who spent a long time in television production, I recognize that I can be very hard on producers.

For me, the highlight of the movie is watching the creative talent of my good friend Jamie Watson. I have fawned over Jamie in this forum on a couple of occasions. I admit that I am predisposed to admiring him...but I honestly found his performance as Faith's father to be among his finest work. Whether chuckling at his attempts to be the cool dad - planking in a stairwell, for example - or feeling the cold dread wash over me as he realizes that Faith is gone...he delivered believable and stirring interpretations of Sam's character. When I told him what my favorite scene in the movie was - he responded with "but I didn't have to DO anything in that scene." That's the point Mr. Watson. The scene that I described to you wasn't ACTING - it was a completely natural extension of Sam. And that is the epitome of your craft. And that was when I cried.

No, the movie Finding Faith is not without its flaws. It is kind of a fluffy-bunny version of human trafficking. The Bedford County Sheriff is oddly "just cruising past Thomas Road Baptist Church" one evening. And don't get me started on that stick in the woods (you'll understand once you see it), and yes, it is a bit TRBC/LCA/LU-centric for my taste. But it is compelling and I urge you to take the time to see it and share it with others.

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