All posts by alanwp

“Saving Faith” is warm and inspirational, and boy! What great gospel music!

Mark your calendar now. It’s important to save the date of September 18, not because it’s a day after my birthday (cards and gifts still accepted), but that’s the day the inspirational and heartwarming gospel drama, Saving Faith, arrives on DVD, Digital, and On Demand.

When the historic Ritz Theater is on the brink of foreclosure, the theater’s owner Faith Scott (played by Jenn Gotzon) and her Uncle Donny (Donny Richmond) decide to host a Christmas themed show, in June, to help save the building.  Even against all odds, Faith and Donny turn to their faith and friends to help pull off the impossible.
And when a local developer decides to sabotage the concert, it’ll take a miracle to make the show go on. Approved by the Dove Foundation for all ages, Saving Faith is a, “film that is balanced for family filmgoers” (The Dove Foundation).

Let us not forget the great music by Donny Richmond and Sunday Drive and appearances by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Phil Vassar and members of the

A new history lesson to learn is found in ‘Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society’

Death threats. Kidnappings. Explosions. This was the MO of The Black Hand Society, a deadly Sicilian-American organized crime ring that stretched across America’s Rust Belt, predating Al Capone’s reign of terror by two decades.

And we though this was a tough time in history.

Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society:  America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought Them to Justice (Touchstone, ) is the captivating true story of Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield and his quest in 1908 to take on a sophisticated and deadly organized crime syndicate preying on immigrants in America’s Industrial Heartland, recounted by his great grandson, William Oldfield.
Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America's Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought Them to Justice

For the first 40 years of his life, the author was sworn to secrecy about his great grandfather’s affairs, fearing retaliation by the descendants of the criminals who remained prominent members of communities near the Oldfield family’s residence. Hidden away by the Oldfield family for one hundred years and covered-up by rival factions in the early 20th century post office department, this incredible true story out of America’s turn-of-the-century heartland will captivate all lovers of history and true crime.

With never-before-seen photos, newspaper articles, and letters from The Black Hand, he’s breaking the silence of his family’s most treasured, tightly-kept secret.

Great stuff and a great read!

“Spiral: Season 6” spirals into more great TV, imported from France. Oui!

We apologize to our fans, especially those fans of Spiral,  the hard-hitting Parisian cop thriller (originally released in France as Engrenages) that has became a critically acclaimed blockbuster success across Europe and Australia and won the International Emmy Award for Best Drama.

We have been spiraling out of control, catching up with all the past MHz episodes we missed.  In Spiral: Season 6, BAFTA nominee Caroline Proust returns as Captain Laure Berthaud, as she and her team begin a complex new investigation after a human torso is discovered in the 20th arrondissement in Paris.

Backed up by her team of detectives including Thierry Godard as Lt. Gilou and Fred Bianconi as Tintin, the investigation is overseen by Judge Roban, played by veteran French actor Philippe Duclos. Audrey Fleurot also returns as lawyer Joséphine Karlsson, who continues to juggle her professional ambitions with her personal demons.

Prepare for a journey like no other: “Earth’s Natural Wonders: Season 2: Life at the Extremes”

Somehow, human beings have found a way to exist alongside Mother Nature’s most breath-taking creations. What makes these Natural Wonders so extreme? What are the challenges to human survival within them? And what helps and what hinders us in that struggle?

Answer (and stunning photography) are found with PBS Distribution’s Earth’s Natural Wonders: Season 2: Life at the Extremes. This program, presented in partnership with the BBC, takes viewers to parts of the natural world that nature has carved out on such a scale that they beggar belief.

Vast mountain ranges, impenetrable rainforests and dazzling tropical islands—places where nature is visible at its most primal, most powerful, and most extraordinarily beautiful. For human beings, survival within these wonders can pose extraordinary challenges. Yet in even the most extreme and remote parts of our planet people do survive.

Note to David Sedaris: We refuse to wait five more years. This country needs more laughs.

We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, David Sedaris brings us his  first book of stories in five years. How much loner could we wait?

Calypso (Little, Brown and Company, $28) proves, yet again, there is  no better storyteller. He has a knack for making us cringe, laugh-out-loud and cry, all in the span of a few lines. This particular collection seems to take an even deeper and darker, more introspective, turn, and surpasses his best writing yet.

Calypso

With a keen eye toward the loss of his mother, and sister Tiffany, and as he and his father age and find new ways to communicate in an increasingly politicized climate, David delivers the very best of his talents here.

Note to DS: We refuse to wait until five years.

‘Robin’ offers an insider’s look into Williams’ extraordinary life and career

The laughs ended in August 2014 when Robin Williams killed himself at 63.  His death not only raised questions about how and why it had happened, but also prompted reassessments of his extraordinary life and career. F or anyone with the slightest acquaintance with popular culture over the past four decades, he seemed to be everywhere, from stand-up to TV, movies, and late-night talk shows, with an uncanny sense of the zeitgeist matched by few others.

Now, Dave Itzkoff presents a full and revealing portrait of one of the most beloved and original comedians and actors of our time in Robin (Henry Holt and Company, $30)Illuminating both the man and the performer, Itzkoff draws on more than one hundred interviews with Robin’s family, friends, and colleagues, as well his own encounters and interviews with Williams over the years.  Included are insights from fellow comedians, actors, and collaborators such as Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Pam Dawber, Dana Carvey, Barry Levinson, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Jeff Bridges and Bobcat Goldthwait.

Robin

Among the topics covered and the news-making revelations offered are:

  • The largely untold story of Robin’s family background and his privileged but lonely upbringing in the upscale suburbs of Detroit, where he entertained himself with make-believe and toy soldiers. As Itzkoff shows, Robin was indelibly shaped by both his father—a stern, self-made auto industry executive—and his glamorous, eccentric and funny Southern mother.
  • How Robin was first exposed to improvisational comedy and acting through a stray course at prestigious Claremont College, and later honed his talents at the humbler College of Marin. Sharp-eyed mentors there eased his way into the elite acting program at the Juilliard School in New York City, where his fellow students included Christopher Reeve, who became one of his closest friends.
  • How Robin burst into local prominence in San Francisco and Los Angeles during the stand-up comedy boom of the 1970s, and quickly became known as a rising star. Candid interviews with his first wife, Valerie Velardi, who has not spoken on the record in years, reveal how he began to indulge heavily in cocaine and alcohol, and how his hidden vulnerabilities, self-doubt, and deep loneliness helped to fuel his addictions.

  • The improbable circumstances that got Robin cast in a guest-starring role as Mork from Ork on the hit television series Happy Days after Henry Winkler’s Fonzie character literally “jumped the shark.” (Producer Garry Marshall’s young son loved Star Wars and said TV needed more aliens.) That one appearance was such a sensation that it soon resulted in Robin getting his own ABC sitcom, Mork & Mindy.
  • How Robin’s substance abuse led to a personal crisis, and to John Belushi’s hotel bungalow in Los Angeles on the night the Saturday Night Live star died of an overdose. Belushi’s death convinced Robin to swear off drugs and alcohol for the next 20 years, but his sobriety could not repair the damage he had caused to his first marriage.
  • How Robin’s failure to win an Oscar the first three times he was nominated weighed heavily on him, until he finally took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting.
  • Robin’s own unflinchingly honest assessment of how he relapsed into alcoholism, which ended his two-decade-long marriage to his second wife and close collaborator, Marsha Garces. He then had to struggle simultaneously with addiction, divorce, and open-heart surgery.
  • The most complete and balanced account of Robin’s decline and death. Drawing on official autopsy results, Itzkoff concludes that Robin’s suicide was not a result of depression or substance abuse, as had been widely assumed, or from Parkinson’s Disease, as his own family had originally believed, but from a little-known and often misdiagnosed condition called Lewy Body Dementia.

  • Previously unpublished tributes from Robin’s private memorial service, including remembrances from his three children; his close friends Billy Crystal, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Eric Idle.

 

  • Details of the bitter legal conflict over Robin’s estate. The courtroom battle exposed long-simmering tensions between Robin’s children and his third wife Susan Schneider, to whom he had been married for less than three years.

 

As Itzkoff notes, there is no actor or comedian today who can be considered Robin’s protégé or his heir, although he inspired many performers.  He had many admirers but no imitators—no one who tried to do what he did the way he did it.  When he died, his reputation for joyfulness and humor stood in stark contrast to the sad and solitary manner in which his life came to an end.  Inevitably, people asked, Who was he? What was behind all the accents and characters, the blurs of motion and flashes of energy?  How much did he truly reveal and how much did he keep hidden?

 

“Some part of him would be present in every set and stand-up role he played,” Itzkoff writes, “but in their totality these things did not add up to him.  The real Robin was a modest, almost inconspicuous man, who never fully believed he was worthy of the monumental fame, adulation, and accomplishments he would achieve.  He shared the authentic person at his core with considerable reluctance, but he also felt obliged to give a sliver of himself to anyone he encountered even fleetingly.  It wounded him deeply to think that he had denied a memorable Robin Williams experience to anyone who wanted it, yet the people who spent years by his side were left to feel that he had kept some fundamental part of himself concealed, even from them.” [p. 3]

 

With ROBIN, Dave Itzkoff gives us a comprehensive and revelatory portrait yet of a performer loved and admired by millions for his generosity of spirit, his quickness of mind, the laughter he sparked, and the hopefulness he inspired.  Nearly four years after the passing of Robin Williams, it will be eagerly read by anyone seeking to understand who he truly was.

“The Ghost Script” is the culmination of Jules Feiffer’s ambitious graphic novel series

We have always thought he was a genius. And a funny man. Jules Feiffer’s The Ghost Script (Liveright Publishing, $26.95) is the culmination of an ambitious graphic novel series, and  it’s a graphic wonder at his most daring, imaginative best.

Despite the many honors Jules Feiffer has accumulated over his 89-year lifetime in the fields of comics, journalism, theater, and film, he has longed to hone his skills as a graphic novelist in the mold of his mentor and one-time boss, Will Eisner. With Kill My Mother in 2014 and Cousin Joseph in 2016, Feiffer showed just what could be done with the form, inspired as much by the noir films of his youth, as the social upheaval he witnessed in America in the ’40s and ’50s.

With The Ghost Script he completes the trilogy in triumphant fashion; moving from Bay City to the madcap world of Hollywood, circa 1953. It is a time of deep-seated paranoia, rampant bigotry, and vicious political division, as show business is mercilessly targeted by witch hunts and McCarthyist threats.

The Ghost Script: A Graphic NovelNo worry if this is the first in the trip you are reading: There are frequent flashbacks, but please do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Upon this scene stumbles Archie Goldman (previously a teenager in Cousin Joseph), a well-intentioned, if slightly slow, private eye who finds himself increasingly entangled by the tendrils of the Hollywood Blacklist. Plots, counterplots, and general thuggery follow Archie at every turn, and Feiffer casts his story with a wonderful assortment of characters who would not be out of place in a Chandler novel: Lola Burns (a starlet desperate to clear her name and make it in pictures); Lyman Murchison (philanthropist and Red-baiter implicated by a mysterious screenplay called “the Ghost Script”); O.Z. McCay and Faye Bloom (two blacklisted screenwriters seeking revenge); and Miss Know-It-All (a blind gossip columnist with a vicious streak).

Feiffer—who is himself a distant cousin of that ultimate baiter and conflicted soul, the dispicable Roy Cohn—revels in the extremes of the era, as well as the sanctimonious politicians, the two-timing producers, and the heroic actors, writers, and gumshoes swept up by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Together with Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, The Ghost Doctor confirms Feiffer as a master worthy of Eisner’s respect, and provides a graphic masterpiece for our times.

“The Faith of Dolly Parton” works nine to five. May we hear an amen?

As I reminded everyone, over and over and over, that Dolly Parton are I are bosom buddies. And she likes to say, “breast friends”.

So when I see yet another book about her, a book she has not authorized or sanctioned, I get a teeny bit concerned. More about her silicone? Her love for drag queens? More news about the horrendous amount of plastic surgery she continues to have?

Not here. In The Faith of Dolly Parton (Zondervan , $22.99), Dudley Delffs spotlights 10 lessons he has drawn from Dolly’s life, music and attitude. His reflections are personal, practical and profound as Dolly’s example reminds us all to trust God during hard times, stay grounded during good times, and always keep our sense of humor.

But what drives Dolly to be so giving and loving towards others? Delffs examines the depth of Dolly’s faith and how it influences her life. Readers will identify with him as he recalls a simpler place and time when his own life-long love of Dolly began. In a way, Delffs and Parton have walked a faith journey together.

Delffs starts the book simply with “I love Dolly.” He continues, “Like the University of Tennessee, the Smoky Mountains, biscuits and gravy, the works of Flannery O’Connor, and the lonesome sound of the night train echoing from beyond the pasture on the farm where I grew up, Dolly Parton is woven into the fabric of my life.”

Readers can take away their own life lessons through each chapter’s Divine Doses of Dolly, where they can apply faith lessons from Dolly’s life to their own particular situations via questions and exercises, a relevant theme song from Dolly’s discography, and a short prayer they can use in their own time of “talkin’ with God.”  The Faith of Dolly Parton is the perfect gift for anyone who loves Dolly and her music, those looking for inspiration, and music fans in general.

“In The Name of the Father” is an unflinching portrait of a football dynasty that transcends the sport

We should stop worrying about who refuses to stand, who knees, at the beginning of each game. They have rights, pesonal beliefs.
And we have the right and belief to recommend In The Name of the Father: Family, Football, and the Manning Dynasty (Liveright Publishing , $29.95), an unflinching portrait of a football dynasty that transcends the sport itself, sheds new light on a family everybody knows but few truly understand. Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning’s storied careers would be remarkable as singular accomplishments, but taken together they know no parallel in the history of American sport.

Mark Ribowsky explores the father-son/brother-brother bond (and often rivalry) that drove the Mannings to success and reshaped college and professional football over the last 50 years.

Archie Manning was born in tiny Drew, Mississippi in 1949, and was profoundly shaped by his father’s suicide. A star at Ole Miss, Archie would win the SEC Player of the Year award in 1969 and become a kind of regional folk hero and legend before he had even turned 21. Yet no amount of fan worship and God-given talent could salvage his pro tenure with the New Orleans Saints in the ’70s, which went on to an abysmal record in the league.

Determined to be a presence in his sons’ lives as well as a financial bulwark, Archie turned his attention to his three boys: Cooper, Peyton and Eli. Cooper may have been the most talented of the three: A wise-cracking wide receiver whose entire football life came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and was never allowed to play a down again. This shook the family to the core and provided extra motivation for Peyton. He bucked Archie’s legacy, rejecting Ole Miss in favor of rival Tennessee, where—like his father two decades prior—he became a campus god and a national sensation.

The unlikeliest success story though would be little brother Eli, who did follow in his father’s footsteps by going to Ole Miss but suffered in the shadow of Archie’s collegiate achievements and Peyton’s more recent fame. Never quite as good as Peyton, and always considerably more awkward, his NFL career would take off after signing with the Giants, an association that has had arguably more dramatic highs than Peyton’s ever did, but also much lower lows.

Ribowsky colorfully recounts these moments of triumph and loss, but also the savvy marketing of the Manning brand that father and sons has so skillfully capitalized on for years; the trilogy has become as immediately recognizable as some of our most memorable political dynasties, and perhaps no less influential. In Ribowsky’s telling, the Mannings have always been bigger than football. They’re as American as capitalism itself.  In the Name of the Father is a quintessentially American saga of a lineage that forever changed the game.

The life of apostle Paul is told in N.T. Wright’s definitive “Paul: A Biography”

For heaven’s sake, this is a great new book!

In the definitive Paul: A Biography (HarperOne, $29.99)renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, one of the most important figures in Christianity. The book illuminates the humanity and remarkable achievements of this outstanding intellectual who largely invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world.

For centuries, Paul, the apostle who “saw the light on the Road to Damascus” and was transformed from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Christ, has been one of the church’s most widely cited teachers, Paul is responsible for the earliest writings from within the Christian movement.  While his influence on Christianity has been profound, Wright argues that Bible scholars and pastors have focused so much attention on Paul’s letters and theology that they have too often overlooked the essence of the man’s life and the extreme unlikelihood of what he achieved.

To Wright, “The problem is that Paul is central to any understanding of earliest Christianity, yet Paul was a Jew; for many generations Christians of all kinds have struggled to put this together.” Wright contends that our knowledge of Paul and appreciation for his legacy cannot be complete without an understanding of his Jewish heritage. Giving us a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of the human and intellectual drama that shaped Paul, Wright provides greater clarity on the apostle’s writings, thoughts, and ideas and helps us see them in a fresh, innovative way.

In Paul, Wright reveals:

  • Why we think of Paul as a “religious” figure, but this is a modern mistake. Of course, worship, prayer, and spirituality were central to his life, but he was a public intellectual with an agenda to transform the world and a philosophy to back it up. 
  • Paul was thus a figure much more like Rousseau, or Marx, or Vaclav Havel, than Billy Graham. He had glimpsed in Jesus a new way of being human together, and he worked tirelessly to make it happen.
  •  How for Paul there was no such thing as “Christianity” in the sense of a “religion” different from “Judaism.” What mattered was that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead had shown him to be Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord: a Jewish message for the wider world. 
  • How Paul stood at the confluence of three great cultures: the Jewish world with its passionate monotheism; the Greek world with its subtle philosophy; the Roman world with its all-powerful empire. Paul believed that Jesus, not Caesar, was “Lord”; he saw that in Jesus there was a new way to think; he believed that, in Jesus, the One God of Israel had done what he’d promised, rescuing his people and the world. He held these together in a powerful, radical new combination. 
  • Some of Paul’s philosophical contemporaries believed that the point was “to go to heaven when you die.” That was never Paul’s position. He believed in new creation, a new world of space, time, and matter formed by God’s spirit rescuing and transforming the present world. 
  • Paul’s message to individuals was that they could become part of this new world here and now – if they gave up worshipping the non-gods of the pagan world and behaving accordingly (“sin”). As Messiah, Jesus had died on behalf of Israel and the world, and whatever “past” anyone had could be forgiven. 
  • Paul founded communities of forgiven sinners whose only membership badge was “faith”: faith in “the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” This meant, shockingly, that people of all sorts and backgrounds were on exactly equal terms, supporting one another in living the new-human way. 
  • What drove Paul above all was the sense that in Jesus the One Creator God had revealed his utter, radical, unbreakable love. For Paul, this meant a debt of love which only love could repay, love for God and practical, resourceful love for people. 

Paulis a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.