By Carl Kozlowski, Contributing Writer
Comedy legend Tim Conway won six Emmys in his 11 seasons as one of the stars of the legendary THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW before starring in a seemingly endless string of funny family films with Don Knotts (THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG). Even as he hits his 80th birthday in December, he remains highly active as a voiceover actor in countless cartoons including “Spongebob Squarepants,” as a guest star on sitcoms such as the hit “Hot in Cleveland,” and even in a nationally touring show where he scores laughs with other veteran comics on stages nationwide.
Yet, his personal life is just as busy and successful, as he is the proud father of seven children, including popular conservative Los Angeles KFI-FM radio host Tim Conway, Jr., and doting grandfather to an array of grandkids. He’s attained it all by working clean in his comedy, and as his new memoir What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life attests that’s a fact he is proud of and is rooted in his deep Catholic faith.
“I’m Catholic, and I turned Catholic when I was in college,” says Conway, a native of Cleveland. “A good friend of mine, Father Dan Oliver, sent me in the right direction and I was very comfortable with it. That was at Bowling Green State University, where I majored in radio, TV and film.
“It’s a 12-year college, and I made it through in 11,” he jokes.
“I don’t think people really notice my act being clean until they get into a show that isn’t that clean, and everybody’s hair flies off and kids say ‘What did he say?’” he adds. “I think people are much more relaxed with clean material. I know people know what to expect, and I don’t shock them.”
Conway first found he had a knack for getting laughs as a grade school student. He was dyslexic, and when he read aloud in class his mistakes and mispronunciations made the other students laugh, “so rather than go the other way and feel sorry for myself, I rolled with it and continued with it as a living.”
One particular example that stands out in his memory was a time when he was asked to read from the war-related classic book “They Were Expendable,” and wound up saying, “They were expandable.”
“People were going, ‘This guy is great! Expandable! What are you talking about, rubber people?’ I thought, ‘I must be funny, so I might as well continue with this.’”
Once he finished college and served in the army, he began working in local Cleveland television, but soon decided to move to Hollywood, where he almost immediately found success. He started writing and performing comedy skits between morning movies on CBS before famed comic actress Rose Marie helped him land a gig as a regular performer on THE STEVE ALLEN PLYMOUTH SHOW, but he attained name recognition after starring as Ensign Charles Parker on the popular 1960s sitcom MCHALE’S NAVY with Ernest Borgnine.
After a few seasons on NAVY, Conway was recruited by Carol Burnett to be part of her team of crack comics, who were notorious for cracking up on-camera, on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. He was merely a part-time player on the show for the first eight seasons from 1967 to 1975, but when he finally became a regular, his onscreen chemistry with Harvey Korman in particular was explosive.
“I think Carol is probably the nicest, kindest lady I have ever met,” says Conway. “I’ve found no flaws in her so far, though I do keep looking. She’s a wonderful lady, and I was very fortunate to do her show and be in her company. That’s what I was searching for to make me happy, and she has done that. I pay her for it.”
Both during and after his time on the Burnett show, Conway also starred in a series of family-friendly comedies on the big screen with Don Knotts, including THE PRIZE FIGHTER, PRIVATE EYES, and, most successfully, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG. The two had met and worked together years before as cast members on THE STEVE ALLEN PLYMOUTH HOUR, and Conway says he’ll never forget the comic magic they shared.
“Don and I were very good friends. He was just a silly guy, frail yet tough,” Conway recalls. “He just had a great sense of humor, the same as I had, so we used to make each other laugh quite a bit. We looked at life in a similar way and enjoyed making people happy. He did some wonderful characters, on the old Steve Allen show especially. It’s a shame they don’t show those episodes anywhere.”
Having many illustrious friends and co-stars ranging from Knotts, Korman and Burnett to Dick Van Dyke, Don Rickles and Bob Newhart, Conway has plenty of engaging stories to tell in his book. Known as “the best second-banana in show business,” Conway may have regarded Korman as his favorite co-star to work with, but has appeared most often in various shows with another “Burnett” actress, Vicki Lawrence.
“If I had to do it all again, I think I would change my name … and try to make it in that way,” jokes Conway. “But, I didn’t realize the book was a memoir. I’ve got to read that book! Seriously, I just started writing one day, and it took me three days to write this thing. Yeah, it took a great deal of my time. I just started typing, and it just came out. I never thought it was a book, I thought it was a pamphlet.”
With six decades of comedy experience under his belt and a youthful spirit likely to extend his career well into the future, Conway has definite opinions on the state of comedy today.
“The language allowed to sneak in to comedy nowadays is not very conducive to sitting there watching with your children or grandchildren,” he says, then adds jokingly, “I don’t watch a lot of television, but I rob drugstores and banks and things of that nature. That keeps me busy in my free time. But, I think operating the way I do with clean material I’ve enjoyed myself a lot more, and I think people do too.”
Tim Conway’s book What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life is available in bookstores and bookselling websites nationwide.
By Tiffany Brannon, Contributing Writer
Actress Angelina Jolie, like other powerful stars in Hollywood, has begun directing her own movies. Surprisingly, her next project is about a Christian athlete, with a script penned by the notorious Coen brothers (FARGO, RAISING ARIZONA, and TRUE GRIT).
The movie, UNBROKEN, is based on writer Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Louis Zamperini, the Depression-Era Olympic track athlete turned World War II hero turned follower of Jesus Christ via a Billy Graham crusade turned internationally-renowned inspirational speaker. Talk about a cinema-worthy story arc.
Born the son of Italian immigrants in 1917, Zamperini was a smoker by age 5, a school bully by third grade, and a menace to society by high school. Thankfully, Zamperini was encouraged to put his talents toward more productive pursuits, such as running track. Successful in the sport and eventually known as “The Tornado from Torrance,” Zamperini was invited to train for the 1936 Olympics and eventually enrolled at the University of Southern California on a scholarship. At the 1936 Olympics in Nazi-ridden Berlin, Zamperini’s most notorious fan was Adolf Hitler. After his disappointing placement in the 1936 games, Zamperini hoped to re-qualify for the Olympic team in 1940, but the games were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.
A bombardier in WWII, Zamperini’s aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and one other survivor spent 47 days at sea in a life raft, drifting some 2000 miles, only to be picked up by a Japanese war ship. The Japanese put Zamperini and his companion into their horrific prison camps, where he was tortured beyond depiction for two years. He was made a special object of cruelty by the infamous Japanese torturer known as “The Bird.”
When the war ended and Zamperini found himself a survivor of abominable times, he returned to California, where he met and married his wife, Cynthia. Unfortunately, Zamperini eventually turned to alcohol and a destructive lifestyle to numb the pain and ease the nightmares that haunted him from the war.
This damaging behavior lead Zamperini’s wife, Cynthia, to ask him for a divorce. However, she attended a Billy Graham crusade and became a Christian. So, she reversed her decision to divorce her husband and instead attempted to convert him, surrounding him with her newfound faith and Christian community. Zamperini, desperate to save his marriage, reluctantly agreed to attend one of Billy Graham’s crusades. He was surprised to find himself in the middle of the ultimate life-changing moment – that of salvation.
During the crusade, Zamperini recalled his forgotten prayers to God of promised service and prayer while he was drifting on that raft in the middle of the Pacific. While listening to Billy Graham preaching his sermon, Zamperini found himself convicted of his broken promises to God and, on his knees, dedicated his life to Christ. As of that day, Zamperini was done with excessive drinking and smoking, violent nightmares, and dreams of revenge. What took its place was a yearning to forgive those who had persecuted him and attempt to reconcile with the POW officers who had tormented him with the love of Christ. Now in his 90s, Zamperini has spent the rest of his life preaching the Word of God and trying to inspire others with the joy and promise of healing that his relationship with Christ has bestowed.
Jolie, who recently started filming the project in Australia, has said she’s inspired by Zamperini and the two have grown to be close friends. While Hillenbrand’s biography touched on Zamperini’s incredible faith, it did not emphasize it – something that will hopefully be rectified through Jolie’s personal relationship with Zamperini and first-person witness to his Christian testimony.
The movie stars Jack O’Connell as Zamperini, with supporting a cast including Garrett Hedlund, Alex Russell, Carla Thexton, Domhnall Gleeson, and Finn Wittrock. Wide-release date for UNBROKEN is set for Christmas Day, 2014.
More and more holidays are popping up that are dedicated to Americans purchasing new things. Billions of dollars will be spent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday alone, and while there’s definitely a benefit to purchasing your family’s favorite movies for a great price, many times the reason for giving is lost under all the consumerism. Many concerned Americans have seen this growing trend, and, thus, Giving Tuesday was born.
On December 3, as all the retail stores are calculating their profits, Americans nationwide will be making donations to non-profit ministries.
Giving Tuesday proves that holiday giving isn’t just about the latest gadgets, it’s about promoting values you and your family hold dear. It celebrates how Americans can do more with their wallets than just shop and that we Americans can give as good as we get.
Movieguide® and the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry are participating in Giving Tuesday as a special call to action to create and renew an entertainment culture that honors Christian values. Both Movieguide® and CFTVC are dedicated to redeeming the values of the entertainment industry, according to biblical principles, by influencing industry executives and artists and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media and how to train their families to become media wise, so they can choose the good and reject the bad.
Would you join with us on Giving Tuesday by making a tax-deductible donation to the ministry and mission of Movieguide®?
There’s no better gift to give than a culture of Christ-filled movies and entertainment for the next generation and many more to come.
Click here http://www.movieguide.org/donate to donate today.
SMURFS 2 returns the pint-sized blue heroes back to the big screen. The adventure takes place in Paris this time around for the Smurfs and their friends the Winslows. Smurfette has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Gargamel and his “Naughties,” some Smurf-like creatures who are gray rather than blue. These dastardly villains have taken Smurfette to the City of Love, where Gargamel has found success as a magician. They are trying to force Smurfette to give up the secret spell that will turn the Naughties into true blue Smurfs.
However, Papa comes to the rescue! With Vanity, Grouchy, Clumsey, Patrick and Grace Winslow, and Patrick’s estranged stepfather in tow, he journeys to Paris to bring Smurfette home.
The main storyline shows Smurfette as she struggles to understand who she is and where she belongs. Even though Gargamel created her, she wants desperately to fit with the blue family that loves and cares for her. This is challenged when she meets the Naughties, Vexy and Hackus, her “biological” brother and sister, and starts to connect with them. Will she decide to reunite with her naughty relations or stay true blue? Will Papa convince Smurfette of their love for her?
In the background, Patrick Winslow is going through the same sort of conflict. His estranged stepfather, Victor, has entered the scene, and Patrick is not happy about it. The two have never gotten along, and Patrick has to learn that family may mean who’s there for you.
SMURFS 2 is well done, with great animation that bridges the gap between the real and drawn world nicely. There’s also an impressive soundtrack, talented vocal work, and an entertaining, engaging storyline. Children will enjoy the animated action and adorable Smurfs, while parents will enjoy the beautiful backdrop of Paris as well as some higher comedic jokes geared just for them.
The heart of the movie and the extreme moral values it extols really makes the movie shine. Gargamel the evil magician wants power, and he can only get it from the Smurfs. What’s the special power they have? It’s their “blue” nature, which turns out to be their love, kindness, respect, sacrifice, and ability to believe the best in everyone. The Naughties try to change Smurfette, but she ends up changing them, by sacrificing everything to save their lives.
However, some caution is warranted. First, SMURFS 2 contains light animated slapstick violence, some brief upper male nudity and some implied language when the word “Smurf” is substituted for obscenities. There are also a few elements that seem to play upon the Genesis creation account. For example, Gargamel creates the Naughties out of clay to help him steal the special power of the Smurfs. He also wants everyone to worship him as well as create “Smurfageddon,” where there are no more Smurfs and only he has Smurf power. It is only after a magic spell that the Naughties can turn good and become “true blue” kindly Smurfs. The spell includes some elements from nature, but the real catalysts for the change are a “loving truth,” a “hopeful thought,” and all the other moral virtues the Smurfs represent. In this way, however, the movie seems to equivocate a bit on the word “magic.” It also seems to equivocate a little bit on the word “family” when it suggests that family doesn’t necessarily mean your biological parents, but who’s there for you.
All that said, SMURFS 2 overall does a good job in bringing the pint-sized heroes back for another adventure. Ultimately, it’s the movie’s moral values that make this entry a family-friendly outing. In fact, SMURFS 2 extols love, kindness, family, adoption, the value of life, and respect. Ultimately, therefore, it’s love that makes a Smurf true blue. As such, SMURFS 2 helps moviegoers learn what it really means to make your love “True Blue.”
ANGELS SING is an uplifting Christmas movie about building meaningful memories around the holidays.
Michael Walker, his wife, Susan, and their son, David, are an Austin family searching for a new house to live. The holiday season is right around the corner, but ever since childhood, Michael has dreaded Christmas because of a past childhood tragedy. Michael’s avoidance of the holidays begins to worry his extended family, because his young son David longs to celebrate Christmas with his entire family.
One day while riding his bike to work, a reindeer out of nowhere causes Michael to crash his bike. Walking down the road with his busted bike, he comes across a beautiful house with a For Sale sign. An older man (Willie Nelson) sitting on the porch offers to give Michael a tour of the house, thinking there’s no harm in seeing it. Michael agrees.
After taking the tour and having lemonade with the oddly kind man who goes by Nick, Michael honestly tells him the house is way above his family’s price range. Nick explains he’s not even sure what price the house is valued, because all he cares is that an honest family occupies it. Nick tells Michael to give him an offer his family can afford. His only requirement is that Michael keeps the house up to the neighborhood standards. Michael agrees, and he buys the house.
After moving his ecstatic family into the beautiful house, the family soon discovers that the neighborhood is known all over the world for its extravagant Christmas displays, with the Walkers’ new home being the “crown jewel” of the neighborhood. At first, Michael refuses to be part of the festivities. However, when an accident happens, Michael is forced to reconcile with the grief that’s holding him back from enjoying Christmas.
ANGELS SING starts off slow and some of the stars lack chemistry. However, once it gets going, it becomes heartfelt and inspiring. Connie Britton, who plays Michael’s wife, Susan, stands out in her performance, especially when she supports her grief-filled husband trying to find joy. The movie also stars country music legends like Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Kris Kristofferson. Even better, it’s full of many classic Gospel centered Christmas songs. ANGELS SING has uplifting moments of faith, prayer and worship reflecting a Christian worldview. ANGELS SING is one of only a couple movie releases this season celebrating Christmas. It’s a small national release, however, so families will have to make an extra effort to see it.
THE ARMSTRONG LIE began filming as a documentary about Lance Armstrong’s attempt to return to the Tour de France bicycle race that he had won seven times previously. It became, however, a movie about the exposure of Armstrong’s abuse of drugs and his abuse of people in his quest to dominate the sport.
Sadly, this movie makes you fear for children in high schools and colleges who are pressed to win at all costs. There is a lot of money, fame, and power in sports. Lance Armstrong’s success put cycling on the map in the United States. It sold bicycles, clothing, shoes, and much more. Armstrong himself made $125 million. The authorities running the Tour de France had a strong incentive to help cover up Lance’s shortcomings.
The truth is Armstrong’s achievement is still quite amazing because he accomplished what he did when most of his opponents were doing the same thing. Professional cycling had become a drugfest, and the movie makes this clear. That doesn’t make it right and it should cause alarm to every parent of children who love sports – any sport.
As disturbing as the drug use in the movie was, the mistreatment of friends and teammates is even more repulsive. Anyone who accused Armstrong of having used drugs became the target of dirty tactics. His big lie fed on itself and required bigger and bigger lies to be believed. Eventually, they all blew up, and America’s hero became America’s shame.
Lance Armstrong is amazing. He did come back from cancer to compete in a grueling sporting event. No amount of drugs can possibly make this easy. Sadly, the very drive that made him an amazing athlete made him an amazing liar. This is a hard movie to watch because it’s not just the story of Lance Armstrong. During the same period, Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, and other professional American athletes brought shame on baseball. Of course, not everyone who uses performance enhancing drugs is mean and ugly. Some are nice people.
Anyone who thinks it’s all over, and the various sports are all clean now, should consider this. ESPN is the most profitable branch of the Disney empire. The money poured into sports grows every year, and the financial rewards for winning just get bigger and bigger. The competition to make it to the pros and stay there is intense. Coaches are under pressure to find the best athletes – regardless of their character.
Ironically, the person run out of sports is Tim Tebow, an amazing Christian role model.
THE ARMSTRONG LIE is slow in places and contains strong obscenities, but it’s an eye-opening experience. Justice – slow in coming – finally does arrive. What everyone should know is that, with God, there is no such thing as a secret. He knows what people do and what they deserve. We should be very thankful God offers us grace and forgiveness.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS takes place in the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961 New York City. The movie captures a week of the life of Llewyn Davis, a young folk singer trying to make a living.
The movie begins with Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) waking up in a friend’s apartment on a wintery New York City day. After a quick breakfast, he packs up his bag and guitar and heads out the door, but the house cat slips out of the apartment, and the door locks behind Llewyn. Not able to contact his friends, Llewyn takes the cat with him to keep it safe. With no money and no place to go, Llewyn dumps the cat at the home of his best friend and fellow folk singer, Jim (Justin Timberlake), and his wife, Jean (Carrey Mulligan).
Jean, an ex-lover, lividly tells Llewyn she’s pregnant, likely with his child. After a stream of insults and obscenities, she insists he pay for the abortion, and he agrees.
Now in need of money, Llewyn goes to the office of his music label to see if his first solo record is selling, but it’s not. He then travels to his sister to see if she can spare some cash after selling the family home, but she informs him all the money is going to pay for their father’s nursing home, which Llewyn never visits.
Still no money and no options, a timely message notifies Llewyn that a gig just opened up for playing backup vocals for Jim’s new single. Desperate for the cash, Llewyn opts to take $200 in cash rather than royalties. Llewyn continues his wandering, destroying and fixing relationships, hitchhiking with odd characters, and chasing after his friend’s cat.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is an odd, slow, and bleak look at 1961 Greenwich Village, taking place after the Kingston Trio hit it big in 1958 and 1959 but just before Peter, Paul, & Mary revitalized folk music with their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The writer and director brother duo, Joel and Ethan Coen, masterfully convey the cold and grey lifestyle of the heartfelt folk artist. Intentionally, the Coen brothers drop viewers in the middle of Llewyn’s life, with no proper beginning or end. They even joke at one point in the movie’s production notes, “The film doesn’t really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that’s why we threw the cat in.” Likely making an artistic statement by abandoning typical story structure and pacing, the Coens will lose a large portion of their audience with this tedious movie. Though there are many scenes that are comical, captivating, and soulful, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is not as engrossing as it could be.
Also, Llewyn is an irresponsible jerk at the beginning and the end of the movie, learning nothing during his erratic week. Clearly adopting a Romantic worldview that many musical artists held to back then and still do today, Llewyn chooses to float in the wind, living day by day with no vision for the future. This is part of the protagonist’s nature and it’s shown in a very depressing, unappealing way. Thus, once could argue Llewyn’s story is a morality tale of such a worldview. This feeds into the fruit of such a lifestyle, as shown in the unplanned pregnancy and the plans to murder the baby without a second thought. That said, the unappealing story, the abortion subplot, and the abundant foul language ultimately make INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS unacceptable viewing.
By Jared Lafitte, Contributing Writer
Imagine a scenario in which a multi-platinum selling rapper who captivates tens of millions with foul lyrics is brought to his knees before God and commits to change. He then takes his talents to the movie screen and reaches tens of millions more.
It’s a real story.
If God can save the rapper known as Ja Rule, God can save anybody. The New York-based rapper, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness but eventually walked away from religious involvement. He rose to the forefront of the hip hop world in the early 2000s, producing hit songs with lyrics that would make any loyal Movieguide® reader shudder.
Fast forward to 2013. Atkins was released from prison in May after serving nearly two years behind bars for attempted criminal possession of a weapon and tax evasion. The gun possession sentence was the result of an incident in which police discovered a loaded semi-automatic handgun in the rapper’s car back in 2007. He served the two sentences concurrently.
Jeffrey had a lot of time to think during his incarceration, and upon his release he began attending Hillsong Church in New York City, the first U.S. congregation established by Australia’s Hillsong Church. There, he experienced the acceptance and tenderness of a Christian community who genuinely cared about him, and he trusted in Christ and began a path toward godliness.
Along that path, he decided to try his hand at acting in a new movie, I’M IN LOVE WITH A CHURCH GIRL. In it, Atkins plays a former drug dealer named Miles Montego who hasn’t quite shaken the sights of the DEA. He falls in love with a woman named Vanessa (Andrea Bailon), whose commitment to God and her church deeply impacts Miles. His past, however, quickly becomes an obstacle that tests the pair’s relationship and their faith. The movie is a picture of how to handle the burden of past sins when they come knocking. It’s also about surrendering to faith, letting God take charge of one’s life.
The film received mixed acclaim. Some have criticized the acting and dialogue for being too mechanical while others have lauded the film’s cinematography and artwork. You can read Movieguide®’s review here. Atkins’ story is unique and encouraging. It’s not often entertainers with a platform of tens of millions like Ja Rule experience such a radical and genuine encounter with Jesus and immediately put their talents back into work, not to mention in a different genre of entertainment. Only God in his great power could deliver such a transformation!
Let’s pray for Jeffrey Atkins. Pray that God will shape him and make his life a rich testimony to His power. Pray that God will use him to reach many millions of people with messages of hope and redemption!