All Saints Review

Before I start my review of the faith-based film All Saints I have a bone to pick with my Mormon/Christian readers. Frequently I will hear or read a refrain that “Hollywood is corrupt and producing nothing but garbage.” I recently was disgusted when a fellow Mormon critic, Jonathan Decker, tried to give advice on Wonder Woman. The vitriol and judgement in the comments of the article was frankly shocking and very discouraging (the comments appear to have been taken down...). Here you have someone who is trying to do a service for them and all they seemed to care about was being his judge and jury.

If I was in a room with these people I would ask them about All Saints, Freetown, We Love You Sally Carmichael, Tim Timmerman: Hope of America, or any number of squeaky clean Christian/Mormon films that have come out recently? Did they support such films? Probably not because they aren’t really interested in following the Lord’s counsel to seek after ‘anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”  No, they want to feel morally superior to others who make such an effort and judge them for seeing films like Wonder Woman. Shame on you!

If you aren’t willing to seek out what is good then I have no interest in your opinion on what is bad.

There I said it…

So let’s get back to the movie at hand. All Saints! This is a faith-based film that is done right. It is based on a true story about a man who becomes a pastor for a small struggling church in Tennessee. He is originally supposed to prepare the church for closing but a group of Karen refugees (Southeast Asia near Burma) join his congregation. They are very needy and one night pastor Michael receives inspiration to start a farm at All Saints church. The movie then shares the experience of growing this farm which is by no means an easy thing just because it is inspired from God.

This film has a 91% on rottentomatoes which is unheard of for a Christian film (not a ton of reviews but still) and there is good reason. Not only is the acting strong across the board but it doesn’t fall into the traps of a typical faith-based film. There really isn’t preaching to the audience or atheist shaming but just an actual story involving human beings that feel real. The Karen are treated very respectfully and the relationships grow in a relatively realistic way. Never did I feel like Christians were shouting at me or that Jesus was magic like you got in movies like War Room.

In a lot of ways it reminded me of McFarland USA, which was another film about gatherers and in that case a white coach who come to understand one another and love their unique community.

A movie like All Saints is not going to change your life or be an Oscar winner but I’m certainly glad I saw it. I feel inspired and uplifted and want to try and reach out to my community after seeing it. I did not feel judged or preached to but merely I had spent 2 hours with some pretty nice people who had a thing or two to teach me.

That’s what Paul taught us to do. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” so I would challenge you to follow this counsel and give All Saints a watch.

Overall Grade B+

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Miracles From Heaven Review

miracles from heaven

I just wanted to share with you guys real quick my thoughts on the recently released faith-based film Miracles from Heaven.  I go over it in more detail on my youtube review but I’ll share a few things I really liked about it.

If you are open to faith-based films I think you should give this a watch because I felt it did a lot of things better than many in the genre.  It tells the story of the Beams family who’s little girl is taken ill with a gastrointestinal disorder.

Most of the movie revolves around Jennifer Garner’s character and how her faith is tested during this difficult time for her family.  Then a miracle happens (which they totally give away in the trailer) and that takes a new kind of faith.

The thing that impressed me about this film was how subtle it was compared to other faith-based films.  There are a lot of scenes that could have been very preachy but instead the film went with a softer more realistic approach.

For example, in one scene an anthiest father of a little girl has a conversation with Jennifer Garner about a cross necklace her daughter has given his daughter.  He explains his beliefs and asks her if she understands.  In movies such as War Room this would have gotten a big speech about belief and faith.  Instead, she said ‘I understand more than you know’.  That seemed like such a great response  for the situation.

There are a lot of moments like that within the film.  Whether the Miracles from Heaven will be attractive to non-believers I don’t know.  I guess it depends on how sensitive you are to people talking about faith and belief because it is in there.  I just thought it was handled much better than the genre typically allows.

It’s definitely a tearjerker so go with a box of tissues.  I think especially if you’ve experienced a chronic medical condition in your family you will relate to what they are going through.  I cried but I didn’t feel manipulated that much.

I’m not saying it is a perfect movie but I did enjoy it very much.  I recommend you all go and see it if you can stomach faith-based movies at all.

Overall Grade- A-

(ps.  Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel because I don’t necessarily post everything from that channel on to this blog and vice versa. Would love your thumbs up and feedback on the video.  Thanks!).

Race and Risen Reviews

This will be a bit of a quick review but I wanted to let you know what I thought about both Race and Risen. I feel they are both better than their RT scores might lead you to believe.

I grouped these films together because I feel they have the same strengths and weaknesses.  If you are someone who requires super original stories than Race and Risen might not be for you.  But if you can appreciate a solid genre film outing than I think there are things to like in both films.

Race-

race posterRace tells the story of Jesse Owen’s and his journey to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.  This was the time the Nazi’s were using the Olympics as a PR stunt and the movie does a good job showing that dynamic and the debate the US Olympic Committee had in attending the games.  I also did not know about the pressure put on Jesse and other athletes to individually boycott the games.

Stephan James is great as Owens and I really liked Jason Sudeikis as his coach Larry Snyder.  It feels a little drawn out and could have started sooner to get things moving close (over 2 hours is too much for this kind of story).

That said, I thought they got the period details right and Sudeikis embodies a Clark Gable type charisma that fits the era very well.  There are too many subplots but the acting from Jeremy Irons, William Hurt and others is great.

Overall, it’s an inspiring story that’s pretty well told.  I think you would enjoy going with your family.  There wasn’t much that is offensive and it could start a good discussion about race, discrimination both in the past and in our current society.

Overall Grade- B

Risen_2016_posterRisen is a very unique and strong entry in the faith-based film genre.  It stars Joseph Fiennes as Clavius who is a Roman Tribune who is responsible for looking into the lost body of Jesus Christ.  It kind of becomes a CSI Jerusalem at a certain point!

There were a lot of refreshing choices they made in this film.  First of all, to tell the story from the perspective of a non-believer was compelling and interesting for a faith-based film.  They also take the subject seriously without much preaching.  It’s just the story without the dogma of some religious films.

It’s very well made and acted.  I liked the cinematography and overall feel of the film.  It’s actually pretty gruesome for a faith-based film; although, I don’t think anything too bad.  There were a few points that were a bit repetitive in feel but overall the 107 minutes goes by pretty briskly.  The performance by Fiennes is good and his journey feels authentic and subtle.

There are some problems.  I didn’t like the portrayal of the apostles as kind of ‘Jesus and his Merry Men’.  They were a little too silly for my taste.  I also didn’t like the portrayal of Mary Magdalene. As the only female presence in the film I felt the transformation I see in her in the scriptures should have been more accurately shown.

But overall it’s a solid entertaining film.  It doesn’t preach too much and has a good story.  I think Christian viewers will really like it and I hope it does well.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction for faith-based films.

Overall Grade- B

Here is my youtube review of Race and Risen. I’d be really grateful if you checked it out and gave it a thumbs up if you like it.

Screenwriting Interview w Melissa Leilani

Hi guys!  I had the cool experience today where I got to interview screenwriter Melissa Leilani and find out what it is like to write a script.  She was the main writer for a film I loved in 2015 called Freetown.

Freetown is a faith-based film but one that is approachable to anyone.  It tells the story of a man who must smuggle 6 missionaries out of Liberia during their brutal civil war.  Things are tense and Brother Abubakar is a man of practical faith mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism.  It makes him a very compelling character.

What I really appreciated about Freetown is that it told a compelling story and let the messsaging take care of itself.  Unlike many faith based films (that I still find some value in) I didn’t feel it was preachy or forcing a message upon me.  In fact, my friend Yusuf who is Muslim liked the film as much as I did.

Here are both of our reviews:

I think you might find it interesting to watch the film and then listen to the interview about her experience.  However, I also think it will be interesting if you are just interested in screenwriting or writing in general.  We do get off topic a few times (we have very similar movie and theater taste!).  She has a theater background so her transition from playwright to screenwriter was very interesting to me.

Anyway, this is only the 3rd interview I have done, so if you have any feedback that would be great.  I hope you enjoy it.

Rankin/Bass 8: Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey

nestor2One thing you have to give Rankin/Bass credit for is their creativity.  Maybe it’s partly running out of Christmas stories to tell but even their Rudolph special (that review is coming on Christmas Day if you were wondering) they were very creative having plot points like an elf that wants to be a dentist. You can certainly see such creativity on display with their short Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. I mean have you ever seen a film about a long-eared donkey?  I haven’t until this one!

No doubt taking cues from Dumbo, Nestor is a donkey during the time of the Romans with abnormally large ears that go down to the ground.  For some reason they decided to give this story a folksy narrator donkey named Spieltoe voiced by Roger Miller.  It never quite fits with the feel of the short.

As if having long ears isn’t trial enough things go from bad to worse for poor Nestor.  The opening scenes soldiers come and take all the donkeys except Nestor including his mother.  Then Nestor is thrown out by the farmer and he and all the animals are really mean.

nestorNestor and his mother are caught in a blizzard and the next morning his mother has died. (It really is quite a grim film for a Christmas special!).

nestor7Then Nestor meets an angel who tells him to travel to Bethlehem because “your ears can do wondrous things no other ears can do”.  Then he and the angel travel across desert and have quite the journey.

nestor4When they arrive near Bethlehem Nestor is seen as unneeded so the owner sells him to Mary and Joseph for cheap so she can get to Bethlehem.  It is a perilous journey but “he follows the voices of the angels” and Nestor helps them find the stable to have he Christ-child.

nestor5I expected the film to end with Nestor staying at the nativity stable but in an odd turn he goes back to the original stable where they were so mean to him and he is treated like a hero.  This is strange because how would they know what he had done in Bethlehem and why would he want to go back there?

I give them huge points for creativity on this one and  it’s harmless enough.  The animation is quite good as it is one of their later films (1977).  And I’m always up for stories about characters who fight bullies and come out on top.

However, the film is so gloomy for a Christmas picture.  Almost nothing but death, rejection and persecution happens to Nestor until the very end.  Also the ending didn’t really make sense to me.  I also found he music, while pleasant to not really fit the tone and characters very well.

So over all I’d say see this as a curiosity and to see their creativity but it is not a favorite of mine.

War Room and Walk in the Woods Reviews

So my sister is in town so a little tight on time.  Just doing 2 video reviews this week instead of written and video.  I promise this will be the exception rather than the rule.  This week I saw the Christian film War Room and the old people buddy movie Walk in the Woods.

Basically War Room is only for believers.  I liked it didn’t atheist shame and until the end kept the issues small, every day problems.  I also liked the concept of the War Room and am already thinking about applying it in my life.  That said, aside from the lead performance the acting was weak particularly the child actors who I think were only gotten for their jump roping skills.  It is also way too long and it kind of treats faith and prayer like a super power which I had issues with.  Still, I’m glad I saw it.

Walk in the Woods is based on the Bill Bryson memoir, which I have read.  It keeps the saucy nature of the book and I think that will turn off some viewers who are expecting a pure feel-good film.  It also has a lot of sitcomy moments some won’t like but I enjoyed it.  It’s the kind of charming movie about friendship and pushing yourself I’m a pushover for.

I did forget to mention in the review that Emma Thompson is great in her scenes but Mary Steenburgen is completely wasted in a part that did not need an Oscar winning actress to fill.  But the movie looks beautiful and I liked the 2 leads.  Like I said, in the end I was charmed by it.

Do You Believe?

do you believeI debated about doing a review of the current Christian film from Pure Flix called Do You Believe because I honestly don’t want to spoil the rawness of the experience I was able to have.  I normally don’t care about spoilers but I think in this case my not knowing much about the film really helped me to respond and be inspired by it. I hadn’t even seen the trailer but I liked Pure Flix last film God’s Not Dead so I went out to see it and left very inspired.

Enjoyment of this film goes back to my post entitled Consider the Audience. Currently Do You Believe has a low Rotten Tomatoes score with most critics calling it preachy and overbearing.  My response to such critics would be ‘it simply wasn’t made for you”.  There are some movies made for toddlers, some for teens, others for Mormons and some for Christians. Does that give movies made for a target audience a complete pass to be horrible?  No of course not but it also means if you aren’t in that audience you will probably have a hard time relating to the movie just like adults have a hard time enjoying Barney or Dora the Explorer  It isn’t made for you.

Basically Do You Believe takes the Crash approach telling 12 stories of faith with a strong cast including Mira Sorvino, Sean Astin, Ted McGinley, Cybill Shepherd and Lee Majors.

do you belive5

McGinley plays a pastor who is inspired by the question ‘do you believe and if so what are you going to do about it?’ and that kind of gets the story going for his congregation.

do you believe6

Alexa Vega is very good as a troubled girl who bonds with a returning marine.

do you believe4

Brian Bosworth is a man who sacrifices his own comfort to help those around him.

do you believe9

Mira Sorvino is a mother to an adorable little girl who is dealing with poor health and homelessness and Shepherd and Majors are a couple whose only daughter died tragically and they are unable to move on.

do you believe8 do you believe5I particularly liked the story of Bobby played by Liam Matthews who talks about Jesus to a dying man as an EMT and is asked to apologize or lose his job.  I thought that was very true to life and very moving.  It asks the question ‘if you were put on trial as a Christian is there enough evidence to convict you?’.

do you believe3The only storyline which didn’t work for me involved the African American characters who were very cliched street thugs with names like Nefarious and Kriminal.  The performances aren’t bad but the writing could have been better for these characters.

do you believe7I don’t really want to go into any more of the plot but it does get intense and could be upsetting for small children.  I would recommend adults, older children and teens see it first and then decide if it is something appropriate for your younger children.

In some ways films about faith and romance have the same challenges.  The true authentic experience of falling in love or being converted when not happening to you can seem trite, silly, one-dimensional etc.  That’s why movies like Do You Believe get such bad reviews.  I’m not trying to say it is perfect because it isn’t but the experiences of the 12 characters for the most part felt real and authentic to what it is like to be converted and face various challenges to faith.

I don’t know if there is much these films could do in order to not come off as preachy and simplistic to those who have not undergone a conversion experience.  I guess you could have movies like Noah which I liked but most Christians disliked that tries to bridge the gap between believer and nonbeliever but it services the nonbeliever audience more.  As far as a movie of faith and particularly conversion that resonates with all viewers it is tough.  Chariots of Fire? The Mission? Do You Believe is certainly not on that level but it tells a satisfying, inspiring story of Christian life for its intended audience.

As far as comparing it to God’s Not Dead it is tough.  Its 12 characters are much better than the side characters of God’s Not Dead.  Sean Astin is an especially big improvement from Dean Cain.  However, the core focus of the professor and the student in God’s Not Dead drew me in more than any of the 12 stories of Do You Believe.  Part of that is because I had a similar experience in college and really related to what the student was going through.   Do You Believe is way more of a Christian film where God’s Not Dead had themes anyone of faith could relate too as faith shaming happens whether you are Mormon, Evangelical, Jewish or Muslim.  So, the appeal is more narrow but the overall movie is probably better in Do You Believe.

So if you are Christian and want to see something inspiring that could be a part of your family scripture study go see Do You Believe.  I was really moved by it and despite what the critics say found it thought provoking and inspiring.  If you are not Christian it is a definite pass.  But again I don’t think that is a knock against the movie.  It is made for a particular audience and that audience will enjoy it.

Hope I kept that spoiler free enough. If any of you do see it let me know what you think.

Overall Grade- B   Content Grade- B

God’s Not Dead: A Review

2014 has been a fabulous year for Christian films at the box office.  We had Heaven is for Real cost 12 million and made 101 million.  Noah (I know some Christians didn’t care for it but I liked it!) cost 112 million and made 359 million.  While not a huge hit, Mom’s Night Out doubled it’s budget.  The Bible on History channel was a massive success and Son of God spinoff from that film made 67 million.

This makes me very happy because I want Christian films to be made and made well. If Hollywood knows they can make serious money the quality will continue to improve and we can hopefully get messages of faith without the excessive preaching and poor production values of direct to video variety films.  People of faith deserve to have their stories told and have a spot for them at the movies just as they do in music and literature.

Of all of the Christian releases this year the one I was looking forward to seeing the most was God’s Not Dead.  This scrappy little Christian film made 62 million off of a 2 million dollar budget! It was in the top 10 for a long time and earned 8.6 million in it’s opening weekend.  In contrast, Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted earned 16.5 which is shocking when you consider its wider demographic and marketing budget.

gods-not-deadSo is it any good?

Remember my post on Consider the Audience?  Most of the critics hated it but the audience felt favorably.  That is because it is a movie made for a specific Christian audience, which many critics do not fall into.

I really enjoyed it and was moved by it.  In fact, I related to it quite strongly.  It is about a boy named Josh who is asked by his philosophy professor to sign a paper saying ‘God is Dead’.  Being a man of faith he cannot sign such a document.  The teacher challenges Josh to prove God is not dead or he must sign the document and fail the class.

Kevin-Sorbo-in-GODS-NOT-DEADSome not of faith may think this scenario is ridiculous but if you talk to most Christians who have attended secular higher education they have faced similar circumstances.  While perhaps not as dramatic as the movie portrays, most of us have been forced to defend our ‘insane notions’ of our particular faith before academics who think they know better than us (and I love academics BTW).

Before I was accepted into a church-ran school, I was called out in front of my history class and forced to debate my teacher about my faith on more than one occasion.  At first it started with Mormon history and defending Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.  Then it moved to basic Christianity and theology.  He proceeded to try and enlighten me on why I was stupid and foolish and the whole class should take note.  A similar incident actually happened that same year in a political science class I took (you see why I was so glad to go to BYU!)

gods-not-dead-prof-and-student

This type of attempted public shaming of those of any faith is unfortunate but it has an opposite effect of what’s intended by the person doing the shaming.  It only makes us stronger and more aware of God’s strength and power.  While my class didn’t stand up and cheer like in this movie, several came up to me after the sessions commenting on how impressed they were with me and my courage.  Again, not having the effect the teacher was intending on any of the students.  If anything it just makes them look like atheist bullies.

Capturing this kind of challenge of faith is where God’s Not Dead is very strong.  Shane Harper as the student is very good.  He’s confident but nervous and doesn’t have an answer to every question Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, throws at him. I liked that.  None of us have every answer but enough to carry us through.

Some of the other side plots are more mixed.  I enjoyed seeing the guys from Duck Dynasty but they are a little wedged in to the story.  Dean Cain has a laughable scene where his fling girlfriend tells him she has cancer and he says ‘and this couldn’t wait…’. I don’t pretend to understand atheists but feel confident none of them would be so cold to anyone who has just found out she has cancer!

athiest

The cancer sufferer is played well by Trisha LaFache and a Muslim girl who is converting to Christianity is also very convincingly played by Hadeel Sittu.  Radisson’s Christian girlfriend is played effectively by Cory Oliver.  All in all a good cast.  We also get cameos from the Christian rock band Newsboys and I liked them also.

This is one of those movies if it sounds like something you will like than you will probably like it.  If it sounds like something you’d hate than you’d probably hate it.  It is made for a specific audience and especially the scenes of debate between Radisson and Josh are very moving for a Christian audience.  Most of us can relate to those moments and can empathize with what Josh is going through.  Like I said, a few of the subplots are forced and cliched but all-in-all I really liked God’s Not Dead.

There’s nothing wrong with a film being made for a select audience, and I’m glad they do not seek to be well-rounded and appeal to everyone who could see the film.  There’s plenty of movies atheists or agnostics can see that praise their perspective.  They can see those.  We can see this.  I’m hopeful the money trail will lead to even better movies for those of faith in the future.

Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all) Overall Grade- B