Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It's Still A Wonderful Life 70 Years Later: Film Review

70 years ago today, the now beloved Christmas classic
It's A Wonderful Life
premiered on December 20th, 1946
to mixed reviews and was not the highly acclaimed film we know today.
A clerical error by the NTA (National Telefilm Associates) in 1974
caused the film to enter the public domain and
The film is now a public treasure in part due to local stations having gained the ability
to saturate our living rooms with repeated viewings
from Thanksgiving to Christmas every year.

Like most American families, our annual holiday traditions
included watching It's A Wonderful Life
Dozens of pillows and blankets would be gathered and we'd pile in the family room
to become engrossed in Frank Capra's fictional town of Bedford Falls
and the trials and triumphs of town resident,
George Bailey (James Stewart). 
Witnessing crucial scenes from George's boyhood,
following him through his dreams & ambitions of youth,
 and watching him fall in love with Mary (Donna Reed).
They wed shortly there after, raise a family
and we slowly see his daydreams dwindle and dim.
The culmination is Christmas Eve night when he's rescued by an angel
Clarence Odbody Angel Second Class (AS2)
who takes George on a journey of self-discovery to realize that
he really has been blessed with a wonderful life.

What is it about It's A Wonderful Life
that still appeals to fans and viewers
7 decades later?
On some level, there's a little of George Bailey in all of us.
We find ourselves in seemingly desperate situations,
 hungrily eyeing the greener grass on the other side of the fence,
or believing others would be considerably better off without us.
Clarence opens George's eyes
and helps him clearly see how rewarding his life truly is.
The message that life is a
gift still resonates with viewers

Fun Film Trivia:

(Director) Frank Capra often said that this film was his favorite of all his films. Likewise, Jimmy Stewart has often said that George Bailey was his favorite character to play.

Jimmy Stewart was nervous about the phone kissing scene (with Donna Reed) because it was his first screen kiss since returning to Hollywood after WWII. He filmed the scene in one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.

It's A Wonderful Life was Donna Reed's first starring role.

Director's Trademark: Jimmy the Raven appeared in all Capra films after 1938 including It's A Wonderful Life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fatal Frost is a Thrilling, Fast-Paced, Page-Turner

Fatal Frost (Book 1 in the Defenders of Justice series) takes you on an edge-of-your-seat suspense tale following US Marshall Mercy Brennan. Recently, having recovered from a gunshot wound in the line of duty, she is sent by her boss on what she thinks is an assignment with her ex-boyfriend, fellow US Marshall Mark St. Laurent. The task is to check up on a person in their witness protection program who feels that he is in danger. What Mercy doesn't realize is that this "assignment" is a ruse to get her out of town for her protection against a notorious and controlling gang that killed her absentee, law-enforcement father.

While on route a fierce ice storm leaves the team stranded in a remote location unable to contact their office to inform them of the dangerous situation they are in.  Can they survive long enough to wait for help to arrive?

At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about Mercy's character, but as the story progressed I began to understand her more and have sympathy for her. She is deeply wounded by her father's absence in her life, but rather than wallow in self-pity she has worked hard and become a US Marshall at the young age of 26. She does tend to keep people at a distance, but I think this is in part because she's afraid she'll lose them like she did her father.  There are few people who Mercy has let into her life that get the opportunity to see her real self. Her ex-boyfriend Mark St. Laurent is one person and her best friend Lieutenant Tally Williams is the other. Mercy is also tough and extremely stubborn. I saw this as a necessity in her line of work as a US Marshall. I'm sure being a young female officer she felt that she needed to gain the respect of her fellow colleagues.

Mark St. Laurent is the type of hero girls dream of. He's brave, handsome and loyal.
It's clear when he appears on the scene that he and Mercy still have an attraction between the two. It practically leaps off the page.  Mark is a new Christian, striving to life a Christ calls him. He's still in love with Mercy, but he's continually struggling with feelings for her. He endeavors to maintain a friendship relationship with her. Mark wants more than friendship from Mercy, but sees that they can only be friends nothing more until Mercy is also a fellow believer in Christ.

I really liked Mercy and Mark's relationship. Despite being broken up they still maintain a solid working bond. It's clear that they both trust and look out for one another.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but I thought it was unique that Ms. Mehl named her heroine Mercy. One dictionary definition is compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender. And I feel that Mercy does somewhat exemplify these traits. Yes, as an officer of the law she does want to see justice, but I didn't get the sense from her that she wishes harm on others rather she simply seeks to do right.

Fatal Frost was my first introduction into Nancy Mehl's work. Her writing reminded me of the suspense novels of fellow Christian fiction author Irene Hannon is best known for.  I'm intrigued to read more books in this series....hopefully we'll get to read more of Mercy and Mark's story.

~~Fatal Frost was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Christmas Shoes Can Change your Christmas Shopping Forever

Amid the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season take a little time to read this tearful and heartwarming tale by Donna VanLiere. You’ll be glad you did. It will put the “reason for the season” into perspective, remind you of the true meaning of Christmas and it will revolutionize your shopping experience. I’m not saying this book will make the Christmas crowds more pleasant, but it might just change your viewpoint and perhaps cause you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

The Christmas Shoes tells the story of two families whose lives unknowingly intersect and are permanently changed.

The narrator of this tale is told through the point of view of Robert Layton, an ambitious, 80 plus hour-a-week lawyer. He works hard to provide his wife, Kate and two school-aged daughters, Hannah and Lily the type of lifestyle he thinks they want and deserve.

By contrast, the Andrews family is preparing for heartbreak. Beautiful, Maggie Andrews their beloved wife and mother, is in the final stages of an aggressive and rare ovarian cancer. This Christmas season is the last she’ll spend with her family. Jack Andrews is an honest and dependable car mechanic trying to provide for his family. Unlike the Layton family, the Andrews’ family is not well-off. They are considered lower income-middle class. Like the Layton’s, the Andrews also have two children; an eight-year-old son, Nathan and a toddler daughter, Rachel. Despite the sorrowful times the family is going through; love and laughter still abound in the home.

Christmas Eve night, Robert bumps into Nathan Andrews at Wilson’s Department Store not realizing that this little boy’s life will be forever altered. “He turned around and said, “Sir, I need to buy those shoes for my mother,” his voice shaking. I was startled to see the child talking to me. I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. “She’s not feeling very good, and when we were eating dinner my dad said that Mama might leave to see Jesus tonight….This kid was no scam artist, somehow I knew that. I looked into his wide eyes and something happened to me in that moment. A pair of shoes to meet Jesus in. This child is losing his mother.” (VanLiere, 90-91).

This seemingly short and simple moment connects the two families and changes their future Christmases as well as the rest of their lives. It proves how connected we all are and just how powerful our actions can be. The smallest purchase can carry many layers of impact. We all have moments where we “know” something about our fellow man.  In these instances, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of and connect with our fellow man on a deeper level.

After reading this book, I’m certain you’ll approach your shopping differently. This book is so well-written and poignant you won’t be able to escape it!

“If we’re open to it, God can use even the smallest thing to change our lives…to change us. It might be a laughing child, car brakes that need fixing, a sale on pot roast, a cloudless sky, a trip to the wood to cut down a Christmas tree, a school teacher, a Dunhill Billiard pipe…or even a pair of shoes.” (VanLiere, 130).

** I’m extremely honored to be asked to write a special Christmas guest blog for the lovely and talented ladies of SHE Changes Everything. SHE is a wonderful and empowering movement started by two vivacious and passionate women who are dedicated to helping women life their best life- Sustainable, Healthy, and Ethical.