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Gospel Ideals

I Write for GospelIdeals.org

Kindlegraph

In exciting news, I have an all new website, courtesy of the wonderful J. Michael Bailey. I will no longer be posting on this website, but will keep it up under "authormichaelyoung.blogspot.com" for archival purposes.

For the latest news, please visit me at mdybyu.wix.com/author-michael-young.




Today, we have a review and spotlight of Janette Rallison's "The Girl Who Heard Demons". This was  Kindle Scout winner, which made me especially interested in it. There were many things to enjoy about the story, and here are a few of my highlights.

1. The character voices were engaging. I thought the voice of the narrator provided a distinct character from the first page, and it was a good idea to go with the first person narrative, as it helps us understand a little better of what it would be like to be able to hear demons.

2. The interesting premise. The idea of hearing demons instead of being actually able to see them is a truly interesting idea and I felt that the author executed it well.

3. The content. I loved that while it dealt with seriously scary stuff, it was a clean read, something that I might recommend to teenagers without feeling like there were parts of it they would need to gloss over due to inappropriate content.

All in all, I found it to be a good mix of spooky and "twisty", which is simply my way of saying that it throws unexpected things at you. 

About "The Girl Who Heard Demons"

Shy Adelle Hansen hears demons, but she’s determined to make friends at her new high school by keeping her ability secret.

When she overhears supernatural voices celebrating the impending death of the school quarterback, Levi Anderson, she knows she has to do something to prevent it. However, the demons aren’t the ones plotting; they’re just celebrating the chaos, and Adelle must contend with earthly forces as well if she wants to preserve Levi’s life.

Handsome, popular Levi doesn't appreciate Adelle’s self-appointed role of guardian angel. As Adelle battles to keep him safe, she’ll have to protect her heart, too. Can she do both?

About Janette: 

Janette Rallison/CJ Hill writes books because writing is much more fun than cleaning bathrooms.

Her avoidance of housework has led her to writing 24 novels that have sold over 1,000,000 print copies and have been on many reading and state lists.

Her books are fantasy, sci-fi, and romantic comedy because hey, there is enough angst in real life, but there’s a drastic shortage of humor, romance and hot guys who fight dragons.


She lives in Arizona with her husband, kids, and enough cats to classify her as eccentric.

You can purchase your copy here.




As we drove to attend the premiere of the new Saturday's Warrior film, my wife and I listened to the original soundtrack in the car. Two things popped out at me right away: 1. The messages here are really great. 2. The music really dates itself.

With these two conclusions in mind, I went into the showing being sold on the concept of updating the production for the current generation.  I was also excited, as I knew several of the cast members and was happy to see their chance of big screen glory.

In talking about my thoughts, I'm going to break it down into three sections: what I liked, what didn't work for me, and then what some of my favorite moments were.

This review will contain mild spoilers,

Thumbs Up: 

They did an excellent job in updating the music. The arrangements are great, and gone are the overabundance of synthesized instruments. The vocalists do a wonderful job of portraying the emotion of the story while still sounding musically sound.

They added a few new songs for this production and they were honestly some of the highest points. In particular, there's one in the middle that has a great cameo from The Piano Guys in their full 70s splendor. That really put a smile on my face.

I liked the decision to cut some songs from the production. They did this in a way that still preserved the basic plot elements, but allowed for better pacing while leaving some of the cheesier elements in the past. Numbers such as "We All Have Daddy's Nose" and "Will I Wait for You?" have gone the way of bell bottoms and flower power, though you will still see nods to both songs in the film.

The casting was spot on. They did a great job making even some of the cheesier lines more accessible, and I felt more emotionally invested in the characters than I have in past productions. For me, standouts were Kenny Holland channeling a 70s bad boy as Jimmy, Anna Daines emotional and spiritual performance as Pam, Monica Moore Smith's spunky Julie, and the "fearlessly extraordinary" duo of Clint Pulver and Morgan Gunter as Elders Kessler and Greene.

Thumbs Down:

From the very first scene, I noticed that the video and the audio were often slightly out of sync during the singing. This proved slightly detracting throughout as the singers' mouths did not move exactly with the song.

The acoustics of the songs sound completely different than when the actors are speaking. This was especially noticeable when the characters were singing outside and there was suddenly a bunch of reverb in their singing. This was also a bit distracting and drew me out of the story a few times.

My Favorite Moments: 

Alex Boye doing his thing as an angel.

A big dance scene in a park that made me think of "Enchanted".

The song "Paper Dream" moved and inspired me, as did many of the other numbers.

Missionary antics and hilarity.

Interviews with the Cast 

I caught up with two of the cast members, Monica Moore Smith, who played Julie, and Anna Daines, who played Pam, and asked them each the same few questions. Here's what they had to say:

1. Before doing this, how well did you know "Saturday's Warrior"? What appealed to you about becoming part of the production?

Anna:

Like many born-and-raised Mormons, I grew up singing along to the 1989 video version. I think my sister and I even acted it out a few times. As an adult though, I was a bit hesitant to audition-- I worried that (because of the clear 80s vibe of the VHS I knew so well) it might be a little too dated and corny. As soon as I read the re-worked screenplay, though, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. This version takes everything people loved about Saturday's Warrior and enhances it, while adding necessary weight and complexity to the iconic characters. It is quite the feat.

Monica:

I am an eighth generation Mormon. The original Saturday’s Warrior stage play was something from my parent’s era. Neither of them saw the musical, but both knew of it and knew much of the music. My mom has a few friends in what is now referred to as the VHS version and we had a copy of it, so I had seen it a few times, but by no means had watched it over and over. My strongest memory of the VHS—for some reason I cannot explain—was Julie getting wrapped up as a present for Jimmy’s birthday. Sadly (or…probably not), that scene doesn’t appear in the motion picture. In fact, in one of the callbacks when I was asked to sing one of the songs without sheet music, I had to look up YouTube videos to learn them. The first thing that attracted me was the opportunity to be in a full-length feature film. I have done Mormon Messages and music videos and shorts, etc., but had never been in a theater-released movie. Once I began the (very long) callback process—and met the people involved—I was hooked. The creators, cast, and crew are all amazing individuals. I knew I wanted to work with them. I didn’t know how successful a remake of Saturday’s Warrior would be, but I trusted Michael Buster (the director) and knew he would put his heart into this project. I also happen to know the VHS version of Julie Flinders and she’s super cool.

2. What was your personal favorite scene to film? What's your favorite song from the movie and why?

Anna:

I think Kenny and I (Kenny Holland, playing Jimmy Flinders) both had an incredible experience shooting "Line Upon Line." Our natural ease and comradery the first day we looked at that scene was so refreshing, and the film ended up highlighting the relationship of the twins, Jimmy and Pam, even more because of this wonderful chemistry we had. The movie largely centers on their relationship and individual struggles for faith and happiness. The focus of the "Line Upon Line" too, hits home for so many. Life is hard and confusing, and all we can do is our best. The song touched Kenny and I deeply because of our own life experiences and the deepened backstory of our characters in this adaptation. No spoilers, but the setting and actions of the scene are very significant in the film.

Monica:
Julie is such a dynamic character and she interacts with most of the cast at some point. There were so many fun scenes that I can’t say I have a favorite. One of the craziest scenes to film involved getting my first kiss ever—on a set, with the whole video village watching, and a camera drone buzzing over my head. Michael Buster surprised me with that one right before we shot the scene, as it was not in the script.
One of my favorite parts about filming was getting to watch my cast mates scenes being filmed. Everyone in the cast is so incredibly talented, I learned so much watching each of them bring the script to life. My favorite song has to be the Saturday’s Warrior theme. It’s so iconic. When it comes on at the end of the movie you can’t help but feel a strong wave of the spirit. It is truly remarkable.

3.What do you hope people will walk away with after seeing this movie?

Anna:

I hope long-time fans will enjoy seeing a new incarnation of this beloved story, with its enhanced and updated music and story. I hope long-time cynics (I admit I was one even through some of the audition process) will suspend their disbelief long enough to get settled into the story and the movie musical genre. Once they do, it's pretty inevitable that they will feel something.


Monica:

I hope they have fun. I hope they are moved. I hope they feel positive and hopeful. Our choices impact our future options so we must make the best ones. Treat people with love and kindness, because you never know when you’ll loose them. Most of all I hope they see the possibility that there is more to life than just this life.


For more about the movie and the cast, following them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saturdayswarrior



And go out and see the show! It's starting with a Utah release, but hopefully will get shown in other places based on demand.  Opening weekend went very well, and it cracked the top 30 movies in the U.S. right now although it was only shown on nine screens. Hopefully, we'll see "line upon line" of people showing up in the coming weeks!










Coming in April 2016, my latest novel, a high-fantasy epic called "The Hunger". It is the first in a trilogy, and I'm well through writing the second book already, which will likely be called "The Thirst". Keep an eye on this space for more information and leave a comment to let me know what you think of the cover!

Here's a blurb about the story:

Feed your Hunger.

In a distant, war-torn land, every man, woman and child must either consume the magical substance known as Sustenance or succumb to the Hunger. Those who succumb develop deformities and face exile — or even death.

The scholar Azil wants nothing more than to lead a tranquil life and beat back the Hunger. But when a mysterious assassin tries to kill Azil, and a stranger shows up at his door challenging him to join her on a quest, he embarks on a dangerous journey to steal the sacred gems of Sustenance guarded in a forbidden fortress. To get there, Azil must venture through a land of floating cities, ravenous mage wraiths, ax-wielding warriors, and bloodthirsty bandits.

But with the sacred gems of Sustenance come volatile magic — magic so strange and dangerous, that the prophecies foretell it could usher in a golden age, or turn its wielder into the darkest of villains.




Thanks to Deseret Book, I was able to see "Singing With Angels" at the premiere at the Megaplex Theater in Sandy, Utah.  My wife and I attended the showing with a much of the cast, leadership of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and even an apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This project has been one I've been anticipating for a long time. I'm a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is featured prominently in the movie.  I took part in several filming sessions that were intended for use in the final film. All of the filming with the choir was done on location. One night with the choir in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, we had to have three or four different changes of clothing for switching between shoots.  They even took some footage from an actual concert that occurred during last year's east coast tour. 

Though I had taken part in a few different scenes, I still had no idea bout the larger plot of the movie and was anxious to see how things all came together.  Overall, I had a wonderful time enjoying the story, the actors, and the beautiful music of the choir.  

The story was one that hit close to home for me as a choir member--balancing the demanding schedule of the choir with the difficulties of family life.  The filmmakers asked choir members to submit experiences from their own lives so that they could base the movie on actual events and experiences. For example, there is a scene where the choir sings to a chronically ill child in a hotel lobby, which actually happened on a previous choir tour.

I felt like the actors all gave strong, emotional performances without going over the top, which can sometimes be a concern in faith-based films. Stand outs were Sarah Kent as Aubrey Larson, who showed great emotional depth, and Scott Christopher, who plays her supportive husband, Jason. One interesting thing about the casting is that, while they used the actual choir, they cast actors to play the choir's director and the choir's president, instead of using Mack Wilberg and Ron Jarrett.  When I interviewed the stand in choir director after the showing, it turns out that he does have a background in music and drama, which helped him more convincingly direct the choir.

I loved how the filmmakers let you heard entire songs and snippets of songs done by the choir in an organic way that moved the story along. Particularly, a performance of "A Child's Prayer" proved particularly effective and touching.

The only part of the movie that I found confusing was the timeline of events. The movie jumps back and forth in time repeatedly, which can be a bit hard to keep track of. Most of the time, this works well, but occasionally I had to try to remember where we were.

After the premiere, I had the chance to chat with actor Scott Christopher and the director Brian Brough. Here's what Scott said. (Warning: The interview contains mild spoilers.) 

Interview with Scott

What did you learn about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that you didn’t know before by doing this movie?

That’s a tough one, because I’ve know people who have been in the choir. Just a little of the process. It was fun to see some of the actual testing. A girl in my ward just got into the choir about a year ago and I got to see a copy of the letter right before we were going to shoot this, so there weren’t any real revelations.

What was the most emotional scene for you doing the movie?

For me personally, probably the scene where I have to tell Aubrey that I’ve officially lost my job, break the news that I can’t go on tour. She had all the big emotional stuff, and I was just kind of the supportive husband.

What is one thing that people are going to walk away with after seeing this movie?

If they walk away without feeling some of the spirit of the choir and of the music and the dedication that goes into it. For many people, it is a lifelong dream. I just think they’ll feel inspired if nothing else to chase a dream and if necessary to set it aside for something that may be of more eternal importance. 

Of all of the music used by the choir, which song was most impactful for you?

I think that “A Child’s Prayer” was my favorite in the movie. My personal all-time favorite is “Redeemer of Israel”, that latest arrangement with the brass. I wish that had been in the movie.  I did it in the MTC back in 1986 when that arrangement was fairly new with the BYU symphony with the brass and I was standing right behind them and I flat out bawled and I had to sit down because it was distracting and I stood up and tried to continue singing but I couldn’t. So to this day, that’s my choir song.


Director Interview 

 How did you choose which songs would be included?

We actually had our wishlish. We knew we needed “I Am a Child of God”. But “A Child’s Prayer” was actually a really hard one to get, but we knew we had to get it because it fit the scene so well. We had a few things that we had to have, but there are several songs that are just fillers, which was more “what’s not too hard to license?”

They went on tour last summer and we didn’t shoot some scenes until after the tour because we had to find out what they were singing and what we could actually get the license to. Scott Barrick gave us a copy of the program from tour and so we were able to see what songs we had to chose from. We did a lot of stuff that was in the public domain or that the church has the rights to. But we still did have to work with Oxford Press to get the rights to some of it.  The music process was a long, huge endeavor. 

What was it like working the choir leadership?

Great! President Jarrett and Scott were so nice to us, helpful really. From the beginning, it was one of those things that “we want to be able to do this” and they said “you know what? We love the idea. Let’s go see about.” So they went and talked to President Monson and he approved it. Along the way, there was a lot happening behind the scenes, a lot of coordination: wardrobes, seating charts, access to Temple Square, filming by the Christus Statue, in the Tabernacle, and on the grounds. Now we’re working to get the word out with Scott, who does the social media. They were helpful every step of the way.

Were there any instances during the film where you felt the hand of divine providence?

My life is always so chaotic during the filming so that I never get to stop and rest. One thing that I really loved though—we were actually filming the closeups of “A Child’s Prayer” and one of our camera assistants is a member of the church, but is not active. It was interesting, she made the comment after she did a take of that “I keep crying every take. I know it’s going to happen. I’ve learned more about the church in the past two weeks working on this movie than I have the rest of my life.”


It was nice to see that spirit resonating, even in a work environment on Temple Square. She always came to me during the filming and asked questions.

Closing Thoughts

I highly recommend this movie as a perfect complement to your Easter season.  I left feeling both uplifted and inspired and feeling grateful that I got to be a small part of this wonderful production.

"Singing with Angels" comes to theaters in Utah and Idaho March 11th, 2016. Click here to request a showing in your area.

Here are the trailers:




And here's a commercial I got to take part in:

video

Follow the latest news about the movie on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/singingwithangelsmovie/



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