For the first week of June, a range of worthwhile movies are in theaters for various ages. They include the following order: Solo: A Star Wars Story (PG-13) most suitable for teens through adults; Show Dogs (PG), for older children through adults; Black Panther (PG-13), for teens through adults; I Can Only Imagine (PG), for teens through adults; Pandas (G), for all ages; Chappaquiddick (PG-13), for older teens through adults; Peter Rabbit (PG), for all ages; The Miracle Season (PG), for teens through adults; and The Greatest Showman (PG), for older children through adults.
Solo: A Star Wars Story Solo is like an American, space western about Han Solo, a character from the Star Wars saga. This movie is about Han Solo’s first adventures, which include how he first encountered future copilot Chewbacca, how he first met Lando Calrissian to become owner of the Millennium Falcon space ship, and how he first became involved in space adventures before joining the Rebellion.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a heart-felt movie in which Han and Chewbacca often do the right thing as they fight for justice against totalitarian, criminal evil to protect and liberate the oppressed and weak.
Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Lucasfilm. Solo: A Star Wars Story is the second of the Star Wars anthology of films and follows the 2016 Rogue One. It is set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, as it explores the adventures of younger Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian.
Star Wars is an American epic space saga set in “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” based on the film series created by George Lucas. The series has appealed to audiences who are now of grandparent age, to current young audiences. The franchise began in 1977 with the release of the film Star Wars (with the later subtitle in 1981 of Episode IV: A New Hope. It was followed by the successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), which along with the first movie make up the original Star Wars trilogy.
A prequel trilogy was released between 1999 and 2005, which received mixed reactions and reviews. A sequel trilogy emerged in 2015 which included Star Wars: The Force Awakens and in 2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The first eight films were nominated for Academy Awards and have been commercial successes. Animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) and Rogue One (2016) have been spin-off films. In 2012, The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm and gained distribution rights to all subsequent Star Wars films, which began with the release of The Force Awakens in 2015.
Show Dogs features a charming and lovable cast of talking canines. Max the hero (voiced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is a rugged, loner, Rottweiler NYPD police dog. Max and his human FBI partner (Will Arnett) are investigating the kidnapping of a baby panda by an underground network of illegal animal traders. They get a tip that the crime ring is planning to sell the panda at the prestigious Canini Invitational Dog Show. To go undercover and thwart the plot, macho Max must undergo a makeover with the help of a seasoned trainer (Natasha Lyonne) that includes mud baths, ballet lessons, and a Brazilian waxing. As he works with human handler Frank, Max gets in touch with his inner show dog. He learns that trusting the help of others can sometimes be more rewarding than working alone.
Movieguide ® adds that Show Dogs “…combines an entertaining, funny story, with rich visuals and positive moral lessons, but caution is advised for brief foul language, potty humor, and some innuendoes… SHOW DOGS also promotes the rule of law, loyalty and choosing right over wrong. Finally, one of the dogs prays at one point… It’s refreshing to see a movie aimed at children and families that’s built on friendship, teamwork and positive moral values…” (This movie first came out with some scenes which have now been removed due to protests concerning their danger to children.)
Addressing hope for reconciliation, Black Panther picturizes how to avoid, thwart and prevent evil through sharing and coordination of technology with good leaders. In the dangerous world in which we live, superhero movies with heroes of with good moral character, integrity, and self-sacrifice are popular partly because audiences want to see heroes who enable good to prevail over evil. This movie is rated PG-13, due to the violent struggles between good and evil. It is appropriate for middle schoolers-adults.
Black Panther is about Wakanda, an African nation, which has developed “vibranium,” an invaluable metal from a meteorite. Vibranium has helped Wakanda produce extremely advanced technology and civilization, which they have kept hidden from the world, as they pose as an impoverished country.
Wakanda struggles with the following universal questions and dilemmas: Should they share what they have with those in need? If they share, will they lose control of their resources? Will those with whom they might share use their technology for evil? Is the king’s highest loyalty and duty to his nation or to humanity? If Wakanda refuses to help those they can, how will it affect Wakanda? Can Wakanda use its power and technology for the good of all, as well as for their own country?
Where the earlier American Black Panther group used power for militancy, this latest Black Panther uses technology and power for the Good of All.
I Can Only Imagine, came out in theaters and its first weekend at the top of the box office grossed $17 million, with per-screen average of $10,400. Because this movie had a production budget of $7 million, it had already had an amazing return. At the heart of this movie are themes of forgiveness and redemption. See my interviews with director Jon Erwin and Bart Millard, whose story is told in the movie, on Sonoma Christian Home.
In this gripping movie, Dennis Quaid displays a powerful range as an actor portraying Bart Millard’s father who undergoes a startling transformation. The inspiring and previously unknown true story behind Bart Millard’s (of band MercyMe) beloved, chart-topping song that brings ultimate hope to many is an important reminder of the power of true forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.
In the movie, while chasing a dream and running away from his abusive father and a broken relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Bart hits the road in an old, decrepit tour bus with his new band MercyMe, which was named for his grandmother’s favorite expression. With the guidance of a grizzled music-industry insider, the band begins a journey which none of them could ever have imagined. See my interview with director/writer Jon Erwin.
The initial box office success for I Can Only Imagine is significant. For consumers concerned about the content of media, and who want to make a difference in encouraging the production of good movies and other media, it is important to understand and exercise savvy consumer power for good. It is important to understand, for example, that much is at stake for good redemptive movies in their first weekend in theaters. The first weekend is highly significant for the success of the movie and its broadest impact worldwide for the eternal good of our world. Consumers who support good movies and media can make a difference. When they see the movies in a theater the first weekend, their consumer “vote” makes the strongest impact.
Unfortunately, movies that do not bring in significant revenue the first weekend are often dismissed as “disappointments,” “failures,” or “flops” at the box office. In recent decades, cinemas have been dropping movies after a poor opening weekend. To some extent the opening weekend can determine the future and fate of the movie.
In general, a movie has to make over 2.5 times its budget to be successful. A movie needs to make more than its global production and promotional budgets to make money and to secure funds for future movies. Movies are considered hits when they exceed both the films’ budgets and expectations. They are considered “disappointments,” “failures,” or “flops” when they don’t. By this measure and more, I Can Only Imagine is successful already.
Pandas (G, for all ages) continues in select IMAX® and IMAX® 3D theaters. Pandas is a breathtaking documentary adventure and amazing experience for the whole family.
After years of success breeding captive pandas, scientists at the Chengdu Research Base in China take their work to the next stage to prepare and launch captive-born cubs for release in the wild.
This film follows a researcher, whose passion leads her to initiate a new reintroduction technique inspired by a black bear rehabilitator in rural New Hampshire. Beginning as a cross-cultural collaboration, a life-changing journey emerges for a team of scientists and one special panda named Qian Qian. (pronounced Chen Chen).
This film, captured with IMAX® cameras, follows Qian Qian as she begins an exciting new adventure into the mountains of Sichuan. She experiences nature for the first time and discovers the freedom, as well as the perils, of the wild side.
Another top pick movie, Chappaquiddick, (produced by Mark Ciardi, who also produced The Miracle Season) continues in theaters. It highlights the need for truth and true Christian virtues. This PG-13 movie is appropriate for older teens through adults. Chappaquiddick gets beneath the spin to the facts of a critical day in the life of Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy to shine light on that darkness of the events related to that day. It is a much-needed look at political spin that covers over, whitewashes, and hides the truth.
This riveting suspense drama picturizes the events surrounding the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne, after Ted Kennedy drives his car off the infamous Chappaquiddick bridge. This movie, which gets behind the scenes to reveal the truth of these events, features Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. The cast also includes: Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, Clancy Brown, Taylor Nichols, Olivia Thirlby, and Bruce Dern.
This movie is based on true accounts, documented in the inquest (a judicial inquiry to ascertain the facts relating to an incident, such as a death) from the investigation in 1969. From these facts from true accounts, director John Curran and writers Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen, intimately expose the hiding of truth by political power and spin as they focus on the life of Ted Kennedy.
On July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy and campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne left a party on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts, heading into darkness in Kennedy’s car. There is no question that the car ended up overturned in shallow water with Kopechne trapped inside or that Kennedy waited 10 hours to report the accident. It was the tragic end of a promising life for Kopechne and the end of any presidential hopes for the senator.
Allen and Logan decided to focus on this critical week in Kennedy’s life with its historical backdrop. At this time, the country had seen the back-to-back assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and Bobby Kennedy in June 1968. Ted was at his brother’s side the night he was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Mary Jo Kopechne too had worked on his Bobby’s presidential campaign. For contrasting historical context, in July of 1969, the country watched the Apollo 11 space mission on TV, which fulfilled JFK’s promise to take America to the moon. Just two days after Ted left Kopechne to die in shallow water, Neil Armstrong planted a flag on the lunar surface.
Always living in the shadow of his two more successful older brothers and now the last political hope of the Kennedy family, Ted believed that winning the presidency was his chance to redeem his brothers’ and family’s legacies, as well as securing his own. However, these desires were spectacularly and tragically stopped one fatal night in the darkness due to Ted’s own choices and behavior.
“We never wanted this to be a conspiracy movie,” Logan says. “We pulled from objective facts to lay the groundwork—no insinuation, no innuendo, but the real truth,” adds Allen. “That’s why our collaboration with director John Curran was so successful because we shared that passion for fact-finding.”
See my interview on Sonoma Christian Home with Chappaquiddick producer Mark Ciardi (The Miracle Season, Invincible, Secretariat, The Rookie, McFarland USA… and former major league pitcher, whose company fully financed the production of Chappaquiddick).
Like Allen and Logan, Ciardi said in our interview, “…We did not want to editorialize but just tell the emotional story based on the facts.” Further, he said that the many layers of the Chappaquiddick story are what make it relatable today. “It does feel uniquely current right now, even though the story happened in 1969,” Ciardi said. Furthermore, in my interview with him, Mark Ciardi says that this movie speaks to the issues of ”… abuse of power and gives voice to the voiceless… putting oneself in potentially dangerous situations…We must each read between lines, seek Truth, and have a rational sense of right and wrong… History repeats itself. There are consequences for our actions…The end does not justify the means…”
Peter Rabbit deals with discovering what is true to resolve conflicts and find reconciliation is. It is about the mischievous and adventurous Peter Rabbit, who leads his animal friends to battle against the McGregors. This movie is PG-rated and is appropriate for children through adults. This charming film is based on Beatrix Potter books and is full of delightful British humor.
Will Gluck, co-writer/director, says “When I was a kid, my dad read me the Peter Rabbit books, so I always had an emotional tie to him – and when I had kids, I read the books to them…The thing I love most is that Peter is a little mischief-maker. He’s depicted in a beautiful old-fashioned style, but …I thought it was a great opportunity to take that little nugget, what Beatrix Potter gave Peter, expand that personality trait and make it our own contemporary story.”
In the film, Peter’s battle with Old Mr. McGregor, keeper of the vegetable garden, takes a turn when the old man dies. When his great-nephew, Mr. Thomas McGregor inherits the place, Peter realizes that the struggle for control of the vegetable garden – and the heart of their next-door neighbor, Bea – has only just begun. To help, Peter is enlisting his family and friends – sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, cousin Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and other characters author and illustrator Beatrix Potter created in her original tales.
For the animation, Gluck and fellow producer Zareh Nalbandian partnered with Nalbandian’s Animation and VFX studio Animal Logic, whose previous credits include The LEGO® Movie, Happy Feet, and other films, for a film that would combine animation with live action. “We wanted to use as many of the Beatrix Potter characters as possible to honor what she created,” continues Gluck. “We’re all familiar with the beautiful watercolor paintings – if they were to come to life in the real world, we hope this is what they would look like.” This live-action movie is a delightful animation marvel.
The look of the film was only one part of maintaining the integrity of the characters – just as important was ensuring that Peter behaved as Peter – a character who takes risks and enjoys a good prank, but one whose good heart shines through.
“Peter is told not to go into McGregor’s garden because his father was put into a pie for going into the garden. What does he do? He goes into the garden. That’s who Peter is – there’s nothing more you can tell someone who’s like that,” Gluck explains. “He has that impishness, but also a bold confidence and a self-delusion that he’s always right, when he’s actually often wrong. He’s never in doubt, though, so he keeps charging forward until he realizes he’s gone too far.”
But even as Peter faces reality when daring bullheadedness goes too far, his true character emerges. “He comes to realize that he has to take care of his cousin and his three sisters, and although he wouldn’t admit it to himself, he realizes that there might be shades to Thomas McGregor,” Gluck continues. “Peter is an adolescent who starts to appreciate that things aren’t always black and white.”
Protecting these elements of Peter’s character was extremely important to the filmmakers, as they worked closely with the guardians of the Beatrix Potter legacy, the publishers at Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd., a division of Penguin Random House, which has published Beatrix Potter’s Original Peter Rabbit Books™ since 1902.
Susan Bolsover, director of licensing and consumer products for Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, says that the Peter Rabbit movie will connect with 2018 audiences in a similar way that the book did for readers in 1902 because the themes of adventure and mischief are timeless. “I think Beatrix Potter was able to reach so many people with The Tale of Peter Rabbit because it’s a funny, timeless story that captures children’s imaginations,” she adds. “Beatrix understood the importance of talking to children on their own level and created a story, set in the natural world that all children would recognize with themes that would be universally appealing.”
Peter eventually teaches his animal friends to find healing coexistence with their human friends and his readers to find the same with each other.
The Miracle Season is another inspirational, redemptive family movie in theaters. After the tragic death of star volleyball player Caroline “Line” Found, a team of dispirited high school girls band together under the leadership of their tough-love coach to win the state championship.
The Miracle Season is a true-life drama, in which one girl story leads her team and town to victory in volleyball. In Iowa, the girls’ volleyball team, from Iowa City West High School, brings their community together, and Caroline Found – or “Line,” as she nicknamed herself – is their inspiration for the season.
The 17-year-old Line is a role model who is vivacious, life-loving, compassionate, and caring. She makes sure kids don’t eat alone in the lunchroom and that everyone gives their all at volleyball games. Line is the captain of the girls’ volleyball team’s captain. She helps coach Kathy “Coach Brez” Bresnahan (played by Oscar winner, Helen Hunt) rally everyone together to repeat their championship win from the previous year.
Then, as her senior year is about to begin, Line is in an accident that leaves her team, her school, and her father, Ernie (performed by Oscar winner William Hurt), heartbroken by their loss. Two weeks later, Ellyn, Line’s mother, succumbs to cancer and the grief for all seems overwhelming.
But when the team starts to wonder if they can move forward, Ernie’s strength and faith encourage them. Caroline’s best friend, Kelley Fliehler, won’t let down the girl she loved since childhood. Kelley also encourages her classmates, Coach Brez, and even the opponents the City West team faces across the net to “Live Like Line” – to never back down, never stop smiling, and always give 100 percent, even against seemingly impossible odds. By the time their miracle season wraps up, the Iowa City Trojans help Ernie, Coach Brez, and the whole community find the strength and spirit to live like Line, which makes it The Miracle Season.
Another top pick movie that has continued in theaters with the theme of healing conflict and finding reconciliation among diverse characters is the spectacular musical The Greatest Showman. Love, kindness, and unconditional love are also dominant themes in The Greatest Showman. This original musical is inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum.
This charming movie tells the story of the visionary, P.T. Barnum, who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. P.T. Barnum played by Hugh Jackman, founder of the three-ring circus, started with nothing; but he envisions a grand spectacle of theater, acrobatics, and amusement.
Academy Award® nominee Hugh Jackman especially likes “…the idea that your talent, your imagination and your ability to work hard should be the only things that determine your success. He (PT Barnum) knew how to make something out of nothing, how to turn lemons into lemonade. I’ve always loved that quality. He followed his own path and turned any setback he had into a positive. So many things I aspire to in my life are embodied in this one character.”
Australian director Michael Gracey says “…The Greatest Showman also touches on another idea of these times…families built around allowing people to express who they are without reservation… A big idea in the film is that your real wealth is the people that you surround yourself with and the people who love you…Barnum pulled people together who the world might otherwise have ignored. And by bringing each of these people into the light, he created a family who were always going to be there for each other. In the course of the film, Barnum almost loses both his real family and his circus family – but then you watch him discover that the most important thing he can do is bring them both back together again… Barnum’s story is about not limiting your imagination, about using what’s in your head to create new worlds….”
Gracey also focuses on the Oddities, the circus performers with uncommon physical conditions. Displays of such individuals as freaks is not acceptable today and Gracey sees another side of what Barnum’s performers experienced – the opportunity to escape hidden, marginal lives; the chance to inspire admiration and feel pride; and most of all the ability to provoke questions into just how narrowly we define “normal.”
“The Oddities are people who are invisible to society, so they’ve been kept behind closed doors,” explains Gracey. “And what our P.T. Barnum does is give these invisible people a spotlight and a chance to feel love for the first time. He tells wondrous stories in which they are not damaged but special. I think audiences will love the Oddities because at the end of the day, everyone’s an Oddity.” He emphasizes, “There’s a line where Barnum says, ‘No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.’ That to me is the heart of the film.”
For Gracey, everything hinged on getting the music for this movie right. He determined that the songs could counterpoint the period setting – rather than going back in time, he wanted songs that would make the characters and dilemmas urgently of-the-moment. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul known for Oscar®-winning work on La La Land brilliantly provided this and more. Gracey said, “What Benj and Justin songs they wrote are always taking you somewhere – each is a narrative in its own right.”
Tony Award winner and Academy Award® nominee Hugh Jackman brings his commitment to family to this movie. Producer Laurence Mark says, “I think this is the first movie in which Hugh has actually played a family man and calls upon that part of himself… He makes it very much a story about a man who loses and then rediscovers his family – both his home family and his circus family who together mean everything in the world to him.”
Jackman also says, “What I like most is that at its heart, this is a film about taking risks, following your dreams and celebrating what makes each and every one of us unique…Barnum filled his show with the most talented but overlooked people he knew and gave them a magnificent spotlight in which to shine – and that’s the story we’ve decided to tell….Barnum broke walls down and I think what he represents to us now is this idea that you can be whoever you are, you can choose the life you want regardless of class or race or background.
If you work hard and use your imagination, you can do something amazing. I think Barnum was a little bit of an Oddity himself, growing up. He believed that what makes you different makes you special. That resonates with me in a huge way — and I think everybody can relate to it, particularly young kids. That’s why I’m thrilled that the theme of this movie is that it is empowering and cool just to be you….as the father of two teenagers, I talk to them constantly about the idea that no matter who you are, no matter how you differ from supermodels and football players, it’s irrelevant. Love yourself exactly the way you were born.”
Jackman’s song “From Now On,” is about seeking redemption. “That song is about Barnum coming to terms with …mistakes he’s made…” says music writer Justin Paul. “It begins in a hush and build and builds until the moment where he has to rush down the street trying to win his family back.”
The music, choreography, and production elements of this spectacular musical movie creatively and freshly communicate the central themes through the skillful performances of top performers. As with the songs for The Greatest Showman, the design aesthetic blends vintage and new – hurtling the 19th century of P.T. Barnum into the future of today. Along with a team of dedicated artisans – including cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, production designer Nathan Crowley and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick – Michael Gracey establishes a look that is not grounded in any specific era. It is grounded in the power of the imagination of every era, bridging the gap between Barnum’s times and our own.
The movie culminates with the film’s climactic reprise of The Greatest Show. Choreographer Asley Wallen says, “We left our biggest dance for the end…It’s just a huge number that incorporates all the circus acts, all the dancers, all the Oddities, the…animals and so much more. It’s created to be a big, astounding, celebratory final note.”
Producer Laurence Mark says: “We all hope to have created a feast for the eyes, for the ears and for the heart. The old Barnum & Bailey circus’s time has come and gone, but what lives on as the legacy of Barnum is that desire to spark joy and imagination, and that’s the tradition we hope to have honored.”
The top pick movies for the first week of June are the following: Solo: A Star Wars Story (PG-13 most suitable for teens through adults); Show Dogs (PG), for older children through adults; Black Panther (PG-13), for teens through adults; I Can Only Imagine (PG), for teens through adults; Pandas (G), for all ages; Chappaquiddick (PG-13), for older teens through adults; Peter Rabbit (PG), for all ages; The Miracle Season (PG), for teens through adults; and The Greatest Showman (PG), for older children through adults.
As movie posters and trailers can entice but mislead and seem appropriate for families but may not be, it is critical for the movie viewers who want uplifting, entertaining, and wholesome experiences for themselves and those they love to research movies written by trustworthy sources before the see them.
Uniquely, each week Sonoma Christian Home not only provides valuable reviews and substantive interviews for worthwhile family movies, but it also publishes the top picks in movies in theaters for all ages that are not only entertaining; but they are redemptive, of best value, and have quality production elements.
Although theater release dates can change, here is what is known about what and when some of the most promising redemptive and family movies are due in theaters this year: The Incredibles 2, 6/15; Christopher Robin, 8/3; Unbroken, Path to Redemption, 10/5; The Jungle Book, Origins, 10/19; Mulan, 11/2; The Grinch, 11/9; The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, 11/2; Wreck-It-Ralph, 11/21; Mary Poppins Returns, 12/21 and more.
Other promising redemptive and family movies with release dates to be announced include: Heavenquest: A Pilgrim’s Progress; Indivisible; Run the Race; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair; Peter Pan; The Little Mermaid and many more. Watch for interviews and insightful stories for these movies on Sonoma Christian Home.
Please continue to search for and support the best movies for your friends and families. The best is yet come as long we continue to support the ongoing reformation in content and renaissance in artistry in media and movies.
As audiences continue to see good family and redemptive movies in theaters, keeping them at the top of the box office, more good movies like them will be made. Watch for many top picks this year of redemptive, Biblical and faith-based movies that continue to improve in the ongoing renaissance of artistry and reformation of content in movies. Remember that consumers can facilitate the success and wide global distribution of good redemptive movies, enabling more to come.
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard