When Mel Gibson’s film about the crucifixion of Christ broke box office records and became a worldwide blockbuster, studios began to see that audiences were looking for something more in their movie-going experience, and that spiritual values could become a Hollywood commodity. “I really do think that The Passion really made it a new industry model we were not aware of,” Evan Almighty writer Steve Oedekerk recently told RELEVANT (you can catch the interview in the July/Aug. issue). This summer, as audiences flock to theaters for the latest releases, a handful of films offer more than just an entertaining night out.
Ocean’s Thirteen (June 8)
Sure, the Ocean’s movies are good excuses to watch a bunch of really cool actors acting really cool in really cool places. But this time around, the team behind the films is using the popular franchise to raise awareness about bigger issues than robbing Las Vegas casinos and having cool-looking hair. Producer Jerry Weintraub and stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle have teamed up to start Not On Our Watch, an organization that supports relief efforts in Darfur. Several ultra-high profile premier parties will be held around the globe with profits benefiting the humanitarian organization. This makes Ocean’s just a little less of a guilty pleasure.
Talk to Me (July 13)
Don Cheadle (who is known for his roles in social conscious films including Hotel Rwanda and Crash) stars in this biopic about the late activist, former inmate and TV/radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene. After the real-life Greene was released from prison on armed robbery charges in the 1960s, he became a successful entertainment personality and leveraged his stardom to found and support organizations that aided ex-convicts, fought poverty and combated racism. While on location in Washington, D.C., Cheadle used the opportunity to meet with several senators and presidential hopefuls to discuss solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Arctic Tale (July 20)
The same studio behind the nature-themed hit March of the Penguins and Al Gore’s controversial film, Inconvenient Truth, are mashing the two themes together for this summer’s big wildlife documentary. National Geographic Films’ Arctic Tale follows a walrus and a polar bear on their journey across the Arctic wilderness as the ground seems to melt away underneath them because of climate change. Queen Latifah narrates the environmentally conscious doc.
Trade (Sept. 7)
Word has it that some of the heavier themes and intense imagery from this film about the global sex trade caused distributors to push it back from its original summer release date (when moviegoers tend to favor lighter fare). Kevin Kline plays a cop who helps a teenager on a journey to rescue his younger sister who has been kidnapped by sex traffickers. It marks another move by Hollywood to highlight pressing social issues and raise awareness about global injustice.
Movies of Biblical Proportions
Evan Almighty (June 22)
Before there was Michael Scott, there was Evan Baxter. In the Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty, Baxter was an obnoxious newsman that served as a rival of Carrey’s character who was briefly granted the powers of the Almighty. Fast-forward just a few years and Steve Carell is major star, and now it’s his turn to bring God back to the big screen in an epic tale of a modern-day Noah who is instructed by God to build an ark because of an impending flood. Expect big laughs from Carell and biblical lessons from Christian screenwriter Steve Oedekerk.
Transformers (July 6)
Groundbreaking special effects, massive robots and ‘80s nostalgia are big reasons for the hype surrounding this summer’s blockbuster, but there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to the Transformers. Recent superhero films have been steeped in biblical imagery and strong values (Superman Returns and Spider-Man 3 respectively), but robot leader Optimus Prime has always been a hero’s hero. Hopefully his unwavering morality, self-sacrificing attitude and constant sense of honor and justice will translate well in this summer’s epic.
The Simpsons Movie (July 27)
America’s favorite animated family finally comes to the big screen after 18 seasons in primetime. Though details of the plot of have been under tight wraps, the show has always packed in plenty of religious satire and subtle (and not-so-subtle, i.e. Ned Flanders) Christian-undertones.
Love and Laughs
License to Wed (July 6)
Former pop star Mandy Moore seems to have a thing for Christian-themed movie plots. In her 2002 drama, A Walk to Remember, she played a Bible-believing pastor’s daughter who falls for (and helps redeem) the local bad boy, and in 2004’s Saved!, Moore depicted an over-zealous Christian school brat in some biting religious satire. This time around, she’s teaming with The Office’s John Krasinski in a film about an engaged couple going through marriage counseling with a wacky minister (played by Robin Williams). The comedy is getting some big buzz; let’s just hope Williams’ “Reverend Frank” stays good-natured as the kooky priest. The film’s director, Ken Kwapis, has also helmed several episodes of The Office, so that’s got to be a good sign.