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The recent Salisbury Review, a quarterly conservative magazine founded by Sir Roger Scruton, began this way:

“A woman who calls herself a man can have a baby, but a man who calls himself a woman cannot…There was a time when there were men and women plus a few unfortunate people whose sexual organs were a mixture of male and female.”

The film I am reviewing, “J.T. LeRoy,” deals with this most contentious of contemporary subjects. And as a Conservative Christian I must state up front some basic philosophy before this review can begin in earnest.

Human nature is complicated, but it is a nature. This is the claim that there is an objective immaterial principle that gives shape to this thing we call humanity.

Human nature does not always function as it should in the concrete. The complementarity of the sexes is a fundamental aspect of human nature and society. Gender is a relatively recent concept and seems to be philosophically vacuous on purpose so that it can be repurposed to whatever political ends for which it is currently needed.

Civil society and a virtuous public square require patience, compromise and the assumption of good faith. In this spirit I have agreed to use the pronoun “they” when referencing an individual in this film.

J.T. LeRoy Trailer #1 (2019) | Movieclips Trailers - YouTube

The true story that “J.T. LeRoy” recounts is bizarre, to say the least. It begins with Laura Albert, an American novelist, who created the pseudonym J.T. LeRoy to write three novels in the late ’90s and early 00s.

But there are differences between LeRoy and traditional pseudonyms. For instance, Stephen King’s nom de plume, Richard Bachman, was developed so he wouldn’t over saturate the market with uh…himself.

Along these lines pseudonyms have usually been chosen for utilitarian reasons. Most often it seems that anonymity was the goal. Sometimes in the ancient world it was done to lend credibility to a document.

But Albert claims that LeRoy wasn’t really a pseudonym at all, but rather a pseudo personality. This bears little resemblance to Mary Ann Evans choosing to publish her writings as George Eliot. If there was any utility to the J.T. persona it was artistic. And I’m by no means an expert on Albert, but the film depicts the LeRoy pseudonym as more of a psychological phenomena that happened to her.

The only other real possibilities would be something akin to method acting or just a plain old fashioned hoax. But in the film neither of those options seems accurate.

This is where Savannah Knoop enters the story. The LeRoy books were very popular but Albert managed to keep her identity secret for quite a while. Finally she asked Knoop, who was the sibling of her live-in boyfriend, to play the J.T. character for public events, interviews, etc. The interplay between the two is what essentially drives the rest of the film as their secret gradually unravels.

Albert is brilliantly played by Laura Dern. Dern has never been much of a star, probably because of her unconventional look. But she’s a great actress who always makes the most out of any part she’s given. And with this film she gets to do some very interesting acting.

Not only does she play a character who has created another persona for someone else to portray, but when she appears publicly with LeRoy she pretends to be someone else as well: A cliche British busybody named Speedie.

Taken purely as drama this aspect is quite compelling and occasionally borders on the comedically tragic. Albert longs for the spotlight of her created persona but fears what will happen when it’s revealed to be a lie.

Dern’s portrayal of Albert is both repulsive, because she is constantly manipulative, and also empathetic. She plays Albert with real gravitas. There’s a very thin line to walk here. Somehow Albert doesn’t feel like a swindler trying to pull one over on the literary community that celebrated her work as J.T.. Yet she often seems grasping and clutching as well. And through these various sides Dern always exudes an intimate fragility.

Her performance is the highlight of the film.

Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern Premiere ‘J.T. LeRoy’ - YouTube

Knoop is the main character here. After all they is the one who ultimately volunteered to become J.T. LeRoy. It is a mixed blessing that Kristen Stewart chose the part.

On the one hand she physically fits the character. She isn’t Savannah’s spitting image, but close enough. And Stewart has always had a kind of asexuality about her. It’s safe to assume one of the reasons Albert asked the real-life Savannah to become J.T. Leroy is that they looks like a boy, or at least in theory could look like a boy.

But part of Stewart’s asexuality is that she’s never been a very good actress. Often she’s so wooden that she doesn’t seem human, and in order to be a man or a woman one has to be human first. But in the right role, a role designed for her, Stewart can be quite moving.

Keanu Reeves has a similar quality.

Generally he’s a pretty poor actor, but in the right role (“The Matrix,” “John Wick”) movie magic can happen. My favorite role for Stewart so far was opposite Jesse Eisenberg in the wonderful “Adventureland.” Playing Savannah is much closer to that than the atrocious “Twilight” films.

Surprisingly the role of Savannah playing J.T. didn’t require very much of Stewart. Albert is the one who really makes the plot move forward. Savannah seems to be mostly caught up in the bizarre drama, at least till they decides to push back. Which feels like too little, too late. The damage is already done to everyone involved.

The final result is a decent, if strange, historical drama. As a film it works. But as a statement for gender fluidity it seems more confused than anything else. Which ironically enough is probably the point. Albert seems like a victim of her own mind. Savannah seems trapped by their [sic] lack of a personality.

It’s a psycho-tragedy caused by the cultural decadence of late twentieth century America. There are never any real stakes for either one of them.

Jeff Feuerzeig Unravels the Literary Saga of JT LeRoy: VICE Talks Film - YouTube

The fall out from J.T.’s exposure is barely covered. Albert ultimately was required to pay over half a million dollars in damages for the hoax, but the film doesn’t really depict any of this.

Sometimes these sorts of stories feel like this old Mitchell and Webb sketch: the Boy with an Arse as a face. The point of that sketch is to satirize the all too common human desire to gape at “freaks.”

Our imaginations hunger for things that are not like us and entertainment media is all too ready to indulge this impulse. This film does engage in that impulse a bit, without feeling exploitative. But as is often the case the end result is sympathy. It should not convince anyone that identity is an inviolable concept that must be respected no matter what, but that doesn’t make it worthless.

AC Gleason is a conservative writer and podcaster. If you’d like to receive regular updates please subscribe here.

The post Dern Gives Duplicitous ‘J.T. LeRoy’ a Boost appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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To say the Left controls popular culture is an understatement.

Look around. TV shows aggressively promote progressive causes. Documentaries, by and large, do the same. Consider two high-profile examples: Netflix’s “Knock Down the House” and HBO’s “Running with Beto.”

Knock Down The House | Official Trailer | Netflix - YouTube

Virtually every llate night program hits the GOP – hard – while ignoring progressive gaffes. Yet the few times right-of-center art found purchase the Left struck back. Sometimes hard.

The term “Left” reflects various groups, including celebrities and media activists posing as reporters. They align, as needed, to dampen enthusiasm for content that threatens their world view.

The latest example is “Unplanned.”

Unplanned Official Trailer - In Theaters March 29 - YouTube

The unabashedly pro-life movie, which has earned an impressive $17 million to date, suffered a series of body blows that should have crippled it.

  • Major TV channels (Lifetime, HGTV) wouldn’t air its commercials
  • Major music publishers refused to let the filmmakers use their content
  • Twitter temporarily banned the film’s official Twitter account during its opening weekend
  • The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) slapped an “R” rating on a film with no nudity, sex, cursing, or violence.
  • Google briefly dubbed the movie “propaganda” – literally.
  • Select media outlets called the film either “propaganda” or “bonkers.”

Yet “Unplanned” persisted.

The upcoming film “Roe v. Wade” faced similar hurdles, and the battle isn’t over yet. The film’s production team fought to secure shooting locations, drew a Fake News attack during the press rollout and will likely run into other “Unplanned”-sized road blocks before its theatrical street date.

Ah, fake news. Gotta love the Left. This is a great script showing how much the lawyers did to get Roe v Wade passed through our Supreme…

— Kevin Sorbo (@ksorbs) July 6, 2018

It’s hardly the only example of the Left attempting to silence right-leaning voices infiltrating pop culture.

Remember when a group of actors, including Debra Messing and Justine Bateman, demanded Apple TV and Amazon deplatform NRA TV? Or when the media rose up, en masse, to savage Jimmy Fallon for treating candidate Donald Trump kindly on “The Tonight Show?”

For what it’s worth, neither Trump nor First Lady Melania Trump has graced a late night show couch since.

“SNL” veteran Kenan Thompson blew a gasket when Kanye West hit the show’s stage sharing pro-Trump messages.

Kenan Thompson Recaps Kanye West's Unaired SNL Pro-Trump Speech - YouTube

The 2018 indie hit “Gosnell” got ignored by many mainstream film critics, despite springing to life via a massive crowdfunding campaign. The film showcased a grisly trial many reporters refused to cover at the time, making the film attractive to pro-life advocates.

The indie studio Cinestate makes movies with a complex array of characters. The stories aren’t agenda driven, but that isn’t stopping select media outlets from slamming them for speaking to Red State USA.

Despite the majority of their output being met with substantial critical acclaim thus far, Cinestate has frequently come under fire for making movies that seemingly endorse questionable politics.

The studio’s upcoming project, about a school shooting survivor who fights fire with fire, is struggling to snag actors for the project. Cinestate CEO Dallas Sonnier told Fox News last year managers and agents have talked actors out of appearing in the film for fear of industry “backlash.”

Filmmaker talks making movies during the Trump era - YouTube

When Democrats embrace pop culture the press cheers. Look at all the fawning press Mayor Pete Buttigieg generated this month by saying he’d like Phish to play at his inauguration.

When Sen. Ted Cruz cited “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor, comedians pounced. Pop culture references are out of bounds for conservatives, the not-so-subtle message went.

The Left’s willingness to discourage right-of-center pop culture isn’t new.

“Saturday Night Live” jettisoned its bipartisan spirit during the Obama years. Yet, when the venerable show dared mock the president the fact checkers came out in force, courtesy of CNN, Politifact and The Washington Post.

Have those same fact checkers examined any “SNL” sketches featuring Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump?

The Comic Con landscape affords Leftists another way to put their foot down on conservative thought. One Con banned Christian actor Kevin Sorbo of “Hercules” fame simply for his views.

Kevin Sorbo Says ThunderCon is Trying to Kill His Freedom of Speech | TMZ - YouTube

You’d think steering clear of the partisan divide would earn some trust from the Left. Not exactly.

Taylor Swift tried that route for a while. She sang, and sang and shared soapy moments on social media in between. What didn’t she do? Promote Hillary Clinton for president, and that drove select media outlets to distraction.

Lately, she’s done a course correction, joining her fellow stars in promoting a pair of Democrats late last year.

Kevin Hart is holding fast to Swift’s apolitical model, and it’s already cost him dearly. Earlier this year he scored the coveted Oscars hosting gig — for all of two days. Then the PC Police pulled him over for homophobic jokes uttered nearly a decade ago.

He lost the gig.

Why? Those clumsy jokes technically got the blame, but it wasn’t that simple. He’s defiantly apolitical, and that meant he lacked a cultural shield to protect him. Heck, the two-time Oscar host before him, Jimmy Kimmel, had a boatload of “problematic” skeletons in his closet.

Kimmel’s “Man Show” series mocked and degraded women, for comedic effect, in ways he wouldn’t dare attempt today. He also dressed in blackface to mimic NBA great Karl Malone.

None of that slowed his Oscar roll. Why? He’s a dyed in the wool liberal, and that afforded him a measure of protection against the PC Police.

Even seemingly bipartisan efforts get tagged by Leftist media for fear of conservative messaging. Consider “No Safe Spaces,” an upcoming documentary starring Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager. The film examines how free speech is under assault on college campuses nationwide.

No Safe Spaces: Dennis Prager Teaser - YouTube

It’s becoming a cause celebre for conservatives, and rightly so. It’s an issue liberals either ignore or cheer on. That explains why the project got attacked by the far-left AV Club, The Mary Sue and Vulture.com last year.

Tina Fey recently said progressive shows like “Saturday Night Live” can’t move the needle on popular opinion.  It’s safe to say she’s in the minority, since her liberal peers are all too eager to diminish any voice that doesn’t sing from the progressive hymnal.

The post Left Won’t Cede Pop Culture Without a (Nasty) Fight appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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It’s the end of an era, and boy does the team behind “Avengers: Endgame” know it.

The fourth film in the saga and, most certainly, the last in its current form, plays like a Netflix series we’re forced to binge in one session.

  • Loose ends get neatly tied up.
  • Old friends get to say goodbye, in one form or another
  • Batons are passed, sometimes aggressively so

We even get a woke visual suggesting Marvel will soon embrace Identity Politics with the fervor of a Stan Lee cameo.

Not yet, at least. And thank goodness for that.

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame | “To the End” - YouTube

The action begins with our heroes licking their wounds, the kind time refuses to heal. Thanos snapped his fingers, and half the Earth’s population vanished. It’s a gruesome starting point, but “Endgame” handles the chore with surprising finesse.

Let’s toast screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Their sense of both the big picture and tiny details gives “Endgame” a depth other superhero films lack.

Our heroes refuse to let Thanos keep his victory, though. Finding a solution will take all their brain power and a robust sense of the saga’s back story.

More on that in a moment.

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Here’s your look at an exclusive poster from @BossLogic, and get it when you purchase your Marvel Studios’ #AvengersEndgame tickets on @AtomTickets: atm.tk/avengersendgame

A post shared by Avengers: Endgame (@avengers) on Apr 22, 2019 at 12:09pm PDT

Suffice to say we won’t see the bang ’em up action of “Infinity War” for a while. These Avengers have to reassemble, first and foremost, and then set a delicate plot into motion.

Just know the plan will tie the MCU together in ways you wouldn’t think possible.

And yet the film’s midsection, while magnificent in its creativity, is also, well, dull. There’s so much fan service here, so many moments that leave you aghast at the mental gymnastics in play, that you don’t realize you’re bored.

Just wait. It’ll happen.

Thankfully, directors Anthony and Joseph Russo know what a franchise capper demands. It’s action, and not just any ordinary set piece. The film’s final third delivers precisely what you crave, and then some.

It still takes a while to process it all. That aforementioned slog is like a Netflix series where you wish they’d trim the storytelling fat. The film’s gargantuan length is part of the problem. At times you forget what’s at stake.

Oh, yeah, half of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes became dust in the last installment, along with half the universe.

That matters. but the running time can’t help but dilute that sense of purpose.

The #AvengersEndgame cast did not know how exactly the film’s story would unfold. Check out @ReutersGraphic’s deep dive into the highest-grossing film franchise of all time: pic.twitter.com/trgm3bLfAF

— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 24, 2019

Josh Brolin’s Thanos isn’t used as forcefully as in “Infinity War,” but boy does he have his moments. The MCU gets rapped for its lackluster villains. Thanos is nothing of the kind. He’s the best … and it’ll be hard to replicate his greatness.

What’s surreal about both recent “Avengers” films is their humor. You’ll laugh more here than at any recent comedy. The jokes don’t interrupt the story’s flow. They humanize it. No other franchise blends comic relief with earth-shattering adventure like “The Avengers.”

That’s a formula audiences will deeply miss.

Not all the character beats take hold, though. Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, but his embrace of a darker brand of super-heroing is shoved into the story without enough detail. Far better is the Iron Man/Pepper Potts romance, given scant screen time but making the most of every second.

RELATED: How ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Slays That MCU Hype

We’re reminded why these MCU movies thrive during these exchanges. This isn’t a gaggle of TV actors who hit the gym too hard. It’s Robert friggin’ Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson and so much more. It’s A-lister after A-lister, and each knows precisely how to play larger than life heroes.

Even Brie Larson, so hopelessly bland in “Captain Marvel,” shows some personality.

Some, mind you.

FAST FACT: The original “Avengers: Infinity War” generated $678 million in U.S. theaters last year, to go along with its $1.3 billion (with a “B”) international haul.

Need more?

What about Ruffalo’s new, “improved” Hulk persona (no spoilers here) Or the very funny way Chris Hemsworth’s Thor processed the devastation Thanos wrought?

Or Paul Rudd, whose comic timing prevails anew via his Ant Man alter ego? Is he the MCU’s stealth superstar, or what?

RELATED: How MCU Chief Kevin Feige Cheers on Woke Captain America

“Avengers: Endgame” is an embarrassment of riches, which makes its bloated midsection such a stain on the big picture. We’ll even swallow a silly, “you go, girl” visual that reminds us of the MCU’s woke future.

It’s why you should sit back and enjoy the moment before the franchise embraced its cultural clout. It’s all about the superheroes in this series capper. That’s clear watching every frame of the film.

“Avengers: Endgame” offers some delirious pleasures, but it can’t top the giddy greatness of “Infinity War.”

What could?

HiT or Miss: “Avengers: Endgame” is a monumental ode to a film franchise unlike any other. It’s why we forgive the pedestrian mid-section. The ending is more than worth the wait.

The post ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Offers Fans Service on Steroids appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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Tina Fey isn’t in the Sarah Palin business anymore.

In fact, the former “Saturday Night Live” star would rather avoid political comedy entirely. It’s too ugly, too divisive. Fey may have ginned up headlines by impersonating the 2008 vice presidential candidate, but she’s rather make Netflix content these days.

Wine Country | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube

There’s another reason she’s not getting her hands dirty in the political muck, though. She isn’t sure it does much of anything when it comes to the voting booth.

The hilarious Tina Fey joins David on the podcast this week, to talk SNL, Sarah Palin, and a strange encounter with former prime minister David Cameron…

Listen now Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts from. pic.twitter.com/NLeKrW8cou

— David Tennant Does A Podcast With… (@DavidTennantPod) April 16, 2019

She and erstwhile Dr. Who David Tennant talked about what responsibility, if any, comedians have when it comes to political power recently. She noted all the barbs in the world won’t do much good.

“I don’t think that shows can really sway people,” Fey said. “I think you can shine a light… You can help them articulate something they’re already feeling about a given person.”

That comment inspired plenty of online conversations. It’s a potent chat to have, of course. That’s especially true since the vast majority of political comedy literally attempts to change hearts and minds.

Just watch any episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” over the past two years. Or grit your teeth and watch a recent “SNL” cold open.

RELATED: Is This Stephen Colbert’s Lowest ‘Late Show’ Low?

Fey sang an entirely different tune just a few years ago, courtesy of her long-running “30 Rock.” The NBC comedy, co-starring Alec Baldwin as an unctuous TV executive, frequently explored political content. Fey co-created the program and had a heavy hand in its writing.

Smart Girl Politics” co-host and op-ed journalist Kira Davis recently binge-watched the series, particularly its later seasons. Those episodes dropped during the Obama years, and rewatching them today proved … illuminating, Davis tells HiT.

A season four episode found Fey’s Liz Lemon character attacking middle America for being out of touch.

“The times have changed, urban values have won and basically America is never going back again. [The Obama years] are the new normal,” Davis says of the show’s theme. Liz finally gives in, though, aggressively pandering to the Red States.

“They end the episode with Jenna [Jane Krakowski] doing a song on a set [bursting with American flags] … it’s all southern twangs and rockets and guns and homophobia,” she says. “It was that moment when I was like, “Holy bleep. I think I just figured out exactly when we got Trump!”

RELATED: Today’s ‘SNL’ – Woke, Virtue Signaling Hate

During the 2012 presidential campaign things got even more political on “30 Rock,” Davis says. A major story arc finds Liz attempting to silence any content that could prove helpful to the Romney/Ryan ticket.

We can’t do a show that makes people like Romney, she tells her staffers.

“So every episode so far there is some mention of using their show to influence voters, mostly in the respect of making sure no one is tempted to like or promote Romney. I’m not even exaggerating,” she says.

Remember, this all hit NBC during the 2012 presidential campaign.

30 Rock - Jenna's Political Identity (Episode Highlight) - YouTube

At the time, Fey’s “30 Rock” clearly thought TV fare could sway the electorate.

“This is the final season, and it’s all about how television can influence voters because most voters outside of the urban paradise of New York City are too dumb to understand how to vote properly and are such moronic hicks that anything a celebrity tells them they’ll believe,” she says.

That’s best captured by Kenneth’s family. The page, played by Jack McBrayer, is the flyover country stand-in.

“The last season his family comes to visit, and we’re treated to shockingly elitist picture of how the Tina Fey’s of the world view flyover America,” Davis says. “It’s extremely clear watching this final season that Fey knew exactly the influence television programming could have on electoral politics and polling, and she was very deliberate about using her platform to stump for Obama with that in mind. It’s not subtle or hidden. It’s not something you have to ‘dig out’ of the plot. It is blatant and unapologetic.”

30 Rock – Tanking A Network - YouTube

“30 Rock” ended after its seventh season, several years before a fellow NBC personality rocked the political landscape. Donald Trump’s ascendancy offers an intriguing footnote to “30 Rock’s” world view.

“It’s quite amusing and satisfying to hear Tina Fey self-righteously wax poetic about how half the country is now and forever irrelevant, knowing that in just a few short years she and her ilk will be shaking their fists at the sky and wondering how they all could have gotten it so very, very wrong,” Davis says.

The post How Tina Fey’s ’30 Rock’ Predicted Trump’s Rise appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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Dennis Miller has heard ’em all.

The veteran funnyman spent the last 35 years in the comedy trenches. That means he’s been on the receiving end of plenty of gags … good, bad, and flat-out awful.

One particular shtick made him laugh the hardest, even though he knew it had to do more with timing and delivery than content.

The comic in question? Sam Kinison.

The late preacher’s rant, and you can hear Miller describe it on the latest “Ben Shapiro Show,” falls back on the “had to be there” school of comedy. Still, Miller adroitly describes the scene, mimicking the Kinison’s fiery approach.

It’s that brand of bawdy stand-up that would make him a target in today’s culture.

Dennis Miller | The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special Ep. 47 - YouTube

The screechy comic died following a 1992 car accident. He was 38. He’d be 65 today, but he might not be able to do what he did best for a living.

His take no prisoners act would be savaged by Social Justice Warriors. After all, one of his iconic bits involved telling starving Africans to move away from their infertile land.

Miller summed it up best during his Shapiro chat.

“I often think now, oh, that’s dead. Sam would be out of the business today, so would [Don] Rickles. I think Rickles might get through ’cause he was a softie and had a good heart … and Sam had a good heart, but he was more malevolent. And I don’t think either of those guys could work now, and that’s a weird place to be in,” Miller said.

The post Dennis Miller: Kinison Couldn’t Survive Our PC Age appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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Viewers may think the Netflix comedy “No Good Nick” is just another sitcom.

Think again.

The series, starring Melissa Joan Hart and Sean Astin, poses as a standard, multi-camera series. We even hear audience chuckles throughout the 10-episodes released so far.

No Good Nick | Season 1 Trailer | A NEW Netflix Series - YouTube

The series follows young Nicole, or Nick (an excellent Siena Agudong) as she tries to swindle her way into the home of an ordinary American family.

So far, so … odd. The blazingly original show grows on you, and in a hurry.

Plus, “No Good Nick” embraces a continuing narrative like the best TV fare these days, allowing for a series of rich twists and turns. Don’t expect the usual sitcom banter, though, where you need a gag every four lines.

There’s humor, all right, but it often comes between more sober moments. It’s a sitcom for grown-ups in the 21st century.

“No Good Nick” co-creator Dave Steinberg spoke to the HiT ‘cast about the series, how it never talks down to its audience and why Netflix eagerly wanted a show just like it.

Listen to “HiT ‘cast 115: How Dave Steinberg Nuked Sitcoms with ‘No Good Nick'” on Spreaker.

You can follow Dave on Twitter @DavidHSteinberg.

The post HiT Episode No. 115 – Dave Steinberg (‘No Good Nick’) appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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It’s rare to find major Hollywood figures willing to discuss their Christian faith and miracles.

Chrissy Metz and DeVon Franklin are two brave exceptions.

As one of the stars of the smash-hit TV series “This Is Us,” Metz has already won millions of fans with her portrayal of Kate Pearson. Her show isn’t afraid to make viewers cry, but this weekend she’s guaranteed to make them even more emotional with her feature-film starring debut, “Breakthrough.”

Meanwhile, Franklin has become perhaps the most successful faith-based film producer in the business. He helped run Sony’s Affirm Films division for years, where he oversaw such hits as “Heaven Is For Real” and “Miracles from Heaven.”

He recently switched to 20th Century Fox, where “Breakthrough” is not only his first movie for the studio, but the studio’s first official release since being bought by Disney last year.

Breakthrough Featurette - The Heroes (2019) | Movieclips Coming Soon - YouTube

But “Breakthrough” is a movie that viewers are sure to find special as well. It’s the true-life story of a 14-year-old boy named John Smith, a high school basketball star who fell through the ice of a lake near St. Louis in January 2015 and made worldwide headlines after he came back to life after having nearly drowned in those icy waters.

The film, and the book upon which it’s based, say the only possible explanation for the miracle is that his mother Joyce (Metz) prayed to God demanding that He bring her son back to her. The prayer vigils she led over his month of recovery led to even more miracles while also having a tremendous impact on the lives of not only Joyce but her entire community.

BREAKTHROUGH Interview: Chrissy Metz - YouTube

For Metz, the movie resonates with her because of her own experiences with a family miracle.

“Maybe three or four months before I knew that the story was going to be a film, my mother had a stroke and she got to the hospital in time to give her a medicine that helps,” recalls Metz. “But they weren’t sure if she’d make it through the night before this surgery that relieves swelling in the brain. I said to my sisters we’re going to pray for healing and the swelling to go down.

“I said we’ll talk about it and pray about it and only think positive thoughts about it, and the doctors couldn’t believe the swelling had gone down and she made it through the night and could have surgery,” she continues. “Then they said we don’t know if she’ll walk again and I said ‘you don’t know my mom,’ and time after time these things happened and though she has aphasia, she’s mobile and does everything on her own, has quit smoking and is the healthiest she’s ever been and that’s miraculous.”

BREAKTHROUGH Interview: DeVon Franklin - YouTube

For Franklin, the story of John Smith and his mother’s faithful prayer crusade was one he couldn’t shake from his memory. Seeing the impact the story had on people worldwide, he knew this was a story he had to share with millions more onscreen.

“It was just the impossible nature of it. I still can’t believe it,” he says. “He would be dead now if it wasn’t for his mother choosing not to let what she saw, her dead son, impact what she believed. It resonates then and now with me. If ever we doubt, look at what happened with John and what happened because his mother believed.

“Do you believe that I can bring him back?” asks Franklin. “There’s so many things in my life where I’d ask God ‘is this going to happen?’ then I think of Joyce and speak life over it. If you don’t’ cry in this film, you don’t have a heart. Even the most stone-hearted person is going to drop a tear at this film. It’s an emotional experience, more than a film to me. It’ll be very cathartic for people.”

“Breakthrough” is playing in theaters nationwide.

The post These Stars Won’t Play By Hollywood’s Rules appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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“The Conjuring” franchise is notable for two key reasons.

It began with an instant classic, directed by Mr. Aquaman himself, James Wan. More importantly, every subsequent tale has had a machine-like efficiency. That’s a blessing and a curse for horror junkies.

“The Curse of La Llorona” is no exception. The film is a very loose extension of the franchise, but it has all the trademark “Conjuring” tics.

  • Solid acting
  • Strong FX
  • Respect for faith-based audiences
  • Patented scares (you almost always see coming)

“La Llorona” spins on a classic Mexican ghost story but can’t take advantage of its real-world roots.

The Curse of La Llorona - Official Trailer [HD] - YouTube

“Bloodline” standout Linda Cardellini stars as Anna, a widowed mom of two precious tykes. Her work at Child Protective Services connects her to a fellow single mother who may be mentally unhinged. Or does the woman simply see a ghost desperate to separate mothers from their children?

The investigation quickly gets personal for Anna, and only the talents of a rebellious ex-priest (Raymond Cruz of “Breaking Bad” fame) may save her kids.

“La Llorona” may take its cues from Latino culture, but there’s little in the way of subtext to make the story pop. The same holds true for Anna’s family. They’re a cookie-cutter clan, sweet, kind and oh so ordinary.

Ordinary doesn’t have to be bland. A strong script can find the humanity in any family, even the Cleavers. It’s just that everything about “The Curse of La Llorona” is workmanlike … and nothing more.

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#LaLlorona has haunted people for generations… What’s your story?

A post shared by The Curse of La Llorona (@lalloronamovie) on Apr 15, 2019 at 2:03pm PDT

Cardellini is always compelling on screen, but her character remains a blank slate. Only Cruz’s appearance shakes things up. His Sahara dry humor and idiosyncratic ways goose the film for a spell. His presence ups the film’s comic relief quotient, remind us how crucial laughter is to this genre.

Then, we’re back to slick but obvious scare tactics in the service of a story we’ll soon forget.

RELATED: Why Classic Horror Movies Shame Modern Shockers

Anna’s inability to grasp elements of Latino culture suggest a deeper theme in play, but the story does nothing within that context. We also know little about her late husband beyond his Hispanic surname.

The titular ghoul is a creepy CGI wonder. Her appearances come on cue all too often. And, once again, familiar horror tropes flood the screen, from an uneasy bathtub sequence to the sight of people being dragged away by unseen hands.

It’s why Jordan Peele’s flawed but fascinating “Us” continues to stand out. Peele’s singular vision is unlike any other filmmaker. Maybe he should take over the “Conjuring” universe. It’s time for an auteur to bring the series back to its glorious roots.

HiT or Miss: “The Curse of La Llorona” is tightly packaged horror that checks all the genre boxes without passion or flair.

The post ‘Curse of La Llorona’ Offers Slick, Predictable Scares appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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The current late night TV landscape is overwhelmingly liberal.

That’s like declaring water is wet and the sky is blue. Think Noah, Colbert, Corden, Oliver, Maher, Kimmel, Desus & Mero and Bee.

It’s a far cry from the Johnny Carson model of yore. Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show” fame is the most balanced. His recent takedown of Beto O’Rourke proved both rare and hilarious.

Beto O'Rourke's Hands Announce His 2020 Presidential Campaign - YouTube

Still, Fallon typically trots out Trump jokes like his peers.

Veteran talker Conan O’Brien also falls on the less political side of the ledger. He did attack First Lady Melania Trump, even though First Ladies are generally off limits. And O’Brien once called Trump supporters racist.

Not funny … or fair.

No matter. You don’t channel surf over to TBS’s “Conan” for hard-hitting jokes at the Left’s expense. That’s precisely what a new story by the liberal Hollywood site Deadline.com implies. Here’s the headline:

Conan O’Brien, Equal Opportunity Jokester, Takes On Dem President Candidates

OK, here we go … a late night talker is finally going to pounce on the Democrats for a change. Even better? The targets are the clown car passengers in the 2020 Democratic presidential jalopy.

Finally, a dollop of balance on late night television. And then we read the blister-worthy jokes hurled at Team Democrat.

“During a campaign event in Iowa, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttegieg was heckled by an anti-gay protestor,” O’Brien noted. “Buttegieg handled it like a pro, saying, “Settle down, Mr. Vice President.”

Oh, that was an attack on Mike Pence. It also reinforced the mayor’s false meme that Pence actively dislikes him and publicly says so.

Not true at all. Still, O’Brien’s shtick promoted the lie. The comic then served up another “blistering” attack on the young presidential candidate.

Buttigieg, who officially announced duriong the weekend that he’s running for president has a special distinction. “If he wins,” O’Brien said, “Buttigieg would be our first openly gay president. When I say ‘openly gay’ I’m talking to you, Millard Fillmore.”

Again, Buttigieg isn’t the target here.

According to Deadline, the red-hot O’Brien was just warming up.

O’Brien also skewered another Dem White House hopeful. “In his memoirs, presidential candidate John Hickenlooper gives detailed accounts of his sexual conquests,” he said. “Apparently, his signature move was giving women ‘the Ol’ Hickenlooper.’”

That’s just silly and hardly the kind of cutting comments he’d tell about other politicians.

So where are the sick burns the site promised? More importantly, why would Deadline.com frame the story that way? The site essentially shared some tepid jokes from a late night monologue.

What could be less newsworthy?

Here’s why the story exists in the first place.

Deadline would love readers to think the Late Night landscape is more fair and balanced than it actually is. It’s one thing for an avowed liberal like Bill Maher to mock Trump, Pence or other GOP politicians. It’s another for a bipartisan joke slinger to do the same.

The latter has more impact. Simple.

Deadline.com and Team Late Night are on the same team. They’re partisans trying to advance progressive agendas. If that means torturing the truth for a false, clickbait headline, so be it.

The post Deadline Defends Late Night TV with Obvious Lie appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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Some Christian films hit theaters with a cloying caveat.

“it’s good … for a faith-based movie.”

That halting praise isn’t an accident. It often means the performances lack the snap mainstream movies deliver. Or, the production values, particularly with micro-indie efforts, appear sub-standard.

“Breakthrough” bullies past those complaints. Based on a remarkable true story, the drama delivers a crush of Kleenex moments without labels.

The genre is maturing, and “Breakthrough” unabashedly proves it.

Breakthrough | Nothing Is Impossible | 20th Century FOX - YouTube

“This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz plays Joyce, a Christian woman struggling with her angst-ridden son. John (Marcel Ruiz) is tearing through the Adolescent Playbook. He disobeys his parents, skips homework assignments and shrugs off advice from his elders.

That leads him to walk out onto an icy expanse along with two school chums. That ice eventually cracks, sending all three plunging below. The accident is agonizing to behold, and wholly essential. Boys will be boys, until the consequences are monumental.

His pals pull themselves free, but John remains trapped under the ice. Some First Responders, including “Luke Cage’s” Mike Colter, haul his body up at last. He’s alive, but barely, and the prognosis is beyond grim..

Conventional medicine offers little hope. Tell that to Joyce. She knows he’ll pull through. He’s too stubborn, too full of life.

She has faith.

FAST FACT: The real John Smith spent 15 minutes under water before rescuers plucked him from the lake that fateful day.

Meanwhile, a swirl of friends, family and physicians grapple with John’s likely death. They better not suggest anything of the sort to Joyce, though.

Yes, it all happened, although most likely without the Hollywood flourishes seen here. The film is based on the real Joyce Smith’s book recounting John’s accident. It’s the kind of story where we know the plot points the moment we settle into our seats.

It’s the execution that matters.

Metz’s performance remains pitch perfect throughout. It’s neither hysterical nor remote, a portrait of a mom in an emotional crisis. She’s aided by Josh Lucas, playing her subdued husband. Their scenes together convey far more than standard-issue grief. 

A simple argument between them doesn’t move the story forward, but boy does it leave an emotional scar.

Breakthrough | Nothing Is Impossible | 20th Century FOX - YouTube

Need more first-rate support? Topher Grace enters in full unctuous mode. He’s the pastor who thinks he has an answer to every problem. He’s immediately tested by John’s accident, and the ways he rises to the occasion show the actor’s rarely-tapped depth.

What about the faith factor? We see Joyce and her neighbors in church, sequences granted a striking normalcy. Here, too, the film doesn’t wallow  Joyce grimaces, for example, when the church service brings on a rapper to appeal to younger Christians.

It’s a sly touch that deepens our understanding of her.

“Breakthrough” also nails the cadences of a tight-knit community. Bound by faith and familiar woes, from teens who don’t listen to jobs that demand too much of our time, this Missouri town plays a small but vital role.

There are moments, of course, that may make agnostics uneasy. That’s the genre, folks. It’s like worrying that people who sleep with the lights on after watching a horror movie.

An early sequence with Ruiz and Lucas bonding over basketball trivia comes off as hopelessly corny. We’re immediately reminded of other clunky Christian films.

It’s the exception here, thank goodness.

Just when the movie should steer head first into sticky sentiment it shifts gears. The script tightens, those wan moments recede. A boy is clinging to life, but it’s the personalities around him who grow richer, more complex.

The characters reveal themselves, layer by layer, upending stereotypes in the process. Lucas isn’t a simpering father figure. He stands tall when it matter, just not in the way one expects. And Metz, the story’s rock, stumbles in ways you won’t see coming.

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#BreakthroughMovie is the inspirational true story that audiences can’t stop talking about. Get your tickets to see it in theaters this Wednesday in the bio link!

A post shared by Breakthrough (@breakthroughmovie) on Apr 13, 2019 at 5:24pm PDT

Dennis Haysbert lifts entire scenes as the doctor charged with bringing John back. The veteran stands as the symbol of western medicine – kind, intelligent and limited by the bounds of current science. On paper, he’s the medical equivalent of a Mary Sue, but the star never lets it overwhelm his performance.

The film’s third act uncorks a tough but fair question tied to faith. There’s no easy answer here, and the screenplay doesn’t attempt to fudge the math. It’s another reason why “Breakthrough” blazes a new path for faith-friendly films.

HiT or Miss: “Breakthrough” isn’t merely an uber-efficient tear jerker. It’s a sign the faith-based film genre is moving beyond its hardscrabble roots.

The post ‘Breakthrough’ Marks New Era in Faith-Based Films appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

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