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FIRST-PERSON: 2 January surprises

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–‘Tis the season not to be jolly for us critics who would just as soon hibernate as go to the local Cineplex: January is the month when studios unload movies left over from last year, movies they’re quite sure would not have garnered Oscar nods.

Fortunately, my recent press junkets yielded two productions, “Last Holiday” and “Glory Road,” that provided an involving, even inspiring, few hours of entertainment.

Last Holiday is a comedy that concerns a mild-mannered woman who thinks she’s dying. Wanting to escape her fear-laden lifestyle, she cashes in her savings and heads off for a fun-filled three weeks in rich people’s land. While there, her optimistic, spiritual outlook has a positive effect on others.

During the press interview, we with the Christian press were surprised by Queen Latifah’s statement of belief and downright astounded by her costar L L Cool J’s talk about his faith. Queen Latifah’s rap is edgy with urban themes and occasional vulgarities, including one about a woman stabbing an abusive man. L L Cool J has recorded songs with raw, sexually explicit lyrics. Our group was not expecting a Christian testimony. Yet both rappers spoke boldly about their faith in Jesus.

When asked who nurtured her Christian faith, Queen responded, “I went to Catholic school when I was little –- third to ninth grade. For my parents, that was a way for us to get a better education and to get some discipline. And, of course, you took a religion course in that school. But also, we spent a lot of time in church, Community Baptist. We had to go to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. And my aunt was the choir director at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Virginia. She still goes there. Whenever we were there, I’d go to choir practice with her. The music got in my head. I was being ministered to through the music. It connected with my spirit.

“I was brought up to believe that Jesus is your brother,” she continued. “In Bible school I learned that I had this big brother, His name is Jesus. He’s always listening, so I’d be looking around talking to God, like, ‘Jesus, I don’t like what the teacher did today.’ I’ve always had that sort of relationship with Him. We kinda converse as friends. Even though I know this is my Savior, He’s also someone I know as a friend.”

L L Cool J was even more effusive. “I am a Christian, so for me faith is a huge part of everything I do. In Last Holiday my character was searching for love. He was loyal, he was willing to sacrifice and commit. Those are Christian principles. Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice, and I know that true sacrifice and your level of commitment dictates what you’re going to get. The main character operated on faith. She looked past materialism, she trusted God.”

Now, these are entertainers thrust into a world of temptation. Will we read of indiscriminate behavior by either of these two some time? Perhaps; it’s a tough world they’re in. The conflict between their rap music and their statements of faith remains highly perplexing. They were anything but pious; there was a genuineness that emanated from both.

Questioned about his participation in the rap industry, L L replied, “You know, Jesus ate with the tax collectors and with ladies of the evening. He was a shining light in a dark place. Jesus didn’t put blinders on and ignore everything on earth. He came to set sinners free. He walked among sinners. He showed love for sinners. He had to get among them to do that.”

I wish I could say Last Holiday was a film that contained nothing objectionable. Alas, what film made in the past two decades could claim that? Still, the objectionables were few and far between and I felt good when I left the theater. It was apparent that the lead character was a churchgoer –- rare in today’s movies -– and she demonstrated the teachings she learned there. Mix the moral uplift with some very funny comic gags and you have a unique film today, one that entertains while respecting both the audience and the Creator.

The other film, Glory Road, was another surprise. The true story of a college basketball coach who in 1966 caused an uproar by starting five black players in the NCAA championships, Glory Road is devoid of crudity or exploitive sexuality. The film entertains while presenting its messages -– how to overcome bigotry and how to play the game of life. Director James Gartner and writers Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois infuse their story with humor, lively pacing and a love of the sport.

Maybe these two movies will begin a trend -– the release of good movies to start the New Year.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For other reviews, visit his website at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright