I’ve said it many times on this site but faith-based films are perhaps the toughest genre of films to pull off. What is a pure and powerful testimony to one may come off as cloying and preachy to another. So often the ministry gets in the way of telling a good story. It is this difficulty that makes me happy whenever there are well done Christian films on the market. The new movie Tulsa is such an example. While it isn’t perfect, it is a sweet story about the good a little girl and God’s grace can do.
The title Tulsa actually comes from our lead character a little girl named Tulsa (if they explained why I must have missed it). A child of foster care she is reunited with her father Tommy who is a struggling addict who is hiding from his broken pass. Much like Pollyanna in the Disney classic cheers up all around her, so does Tulsa but she is also a little girl of faith who knows her Bible inside and out.
For some people this will be too cloying, but I think it struck a nice balance of a redemptive message with real-world problems. Nothing felt too unbelievable or pentacostal in its presentation. It also helps that little Tulsa is played by newcomer Livi Birch and she shines in the role. If she wants to be an actress she definitely has the raw natural talent to do it. Scott Pryor does a good job as Tommy but his role is more basic. The movie lives and dies on the back of Branch’s charisma and warmth.
There are definitely moments you can feel the budget in Tulsa particularly in the supporting performances. Also a plot-point involving an angry employee at Tommy’s auto-shop feels unnecessary and distracting (pretty much anytime Birch is off screen the movie suffers but luckily those are few and far between.
There are some weightier themes of addiction, suicide and death explored so not for young children. But adults and teens of faith will enjoy Tulsa and in particular love Livi Birch’s wonderful performance. It will be available on all the streaming services 2/1/2021
When American Sniper became a huge hit in 2014/2015 Hollywood realized that the conservative market could support more edgy R rated films than the squeaky clean variety they had previously been served (along with Passion of the Christ but that was more avertly religious than American Sniper). Since then I have noticed a number of overtly Christian films that are decidedly R rated and yet it still catches me off guard. I guess it is something I just have to get used to! The latest is a film by director Cyrus Nowrasteh called Infidel. It’s a bit of a mixed bag but overall if the topic interests you I think it is worth a watch.
Infidel stars Jim Caviezel in inspired by true events of the kidnapping and imprisonment of former FBI agent Robert Levinson in Iran in 2007. His character’s name in the movie is Doug Rawlins and to start with he goes to Cairo to give a speech. While there he is kidnapped and his wife (Claudia Karvan) is left to try and rescue him.
The first part of Infidel with Doug speaking and getting over to Cairo is very clunky, and I thought for sure I was going frown-worthy on it. However, once the movie gets into full rescue mode it became a lot more palatable. If you like movies like Taken you might have fun with this film.
All the performances are good. I particularly liked Claudia Karvan as Doug’s wife. She’s not your typical upset wife waiting at home nor is she the kick butt action hero. Just a strong capable woman who gets things done. Caviezel is also good especially when he is in more prisoner vs preacher mode.
I don’t know what Christian audiences will think of Infidel? It is violent and has its share of F-bombs so I know that will turn away some people of faith. However, it is based on a true story and the action is exciting, so it has its appeal. Nevertheless, It’s a weird mixture but I was entertained enough to recommend it. It’s going to be playing in 1500-1700 theaters starting this weekend so if you get a chance to see it let me know what you think.
In many ways the faith-based film genre invites itself for easy satire. Whenever a film puts itself out there as being more than entertainment, but a ministry tool it will be ripe with hypocrisy and ridiculousness. There’s also something so sincere and cheap about them which make it hard to not poke fun at. Filmmaker Vincent Masciale has taken on this fertile ground for satire in his new comedy Faith Ba$ed and the results are a mixed bag but just funny enough to recommend.
In Faith Ba$ed the film’s writer Luke Barnett plays a dumb but optimistic man who idolizes a multi-level marketer tycoon named Nicky Steele (played by Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander). Barnett dreams of making easy money and living the good life. To make it big he develops a scheme with his BFF Tanner (Tanner Thomason) that they are going to make the world’s greatest Christian film.
Both Masciale and Barnett are regulars on the satirical internet show Funny or Die and you can see some of that influence in Faith Ba$ed. Evidently even just the trailers have gotten some of the conservative media upset calling the film ‘blaspheme’, which should feed right into their advertising. In truth, the script is pretty tame when it comes to their criticisms of religion. Most of the good jokes are similar to any type of misbegotten artistic project like we see in The Disaster Artist or The Producers.
There’s actually a lot in Faith Ba$ed that feels borrowed from other films. For example, Luke has an all Black family, which feels right out of Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Other gags (and the over-all vibe) has strong Napoleon Dynamite or Dumb and Dumber vibes. And their dopey optimism feels right out of the early Will Farrell comedies such as Talladega Nights.
The derivative nature, however, wasn’t much of a downside for me because I was consistently laughing. The script in Faith Ba$ed is funny especially when it is focusing on the movie. When it’s filming, financing and casting the movie it is pretty hilarious. When it goes off on tangents it works less. For example, when Luke ends up at Nicky Steele’s house to clean his pool Alexander’s over-the-top sales pitches fall flat.
I was also left wondering who the target audience for Faith Ba$ed is? It’s too strong an R rating for most religious viewers to enjoy and will the R-rated crowd be aware of the tropes of the genre to laugh? As a conservative critic I’ve seen lots of faith-based films, so I am the perfect person for this film, but I think it might struggle to find a general audience. It might have been smarter to follow the Napoleon Dynamite model and make it something the skewered audience could more easily embrace while laughing at themselves.
Nevertheless, I always judge a comedy by how much did it make me laugh and in this case it was quite a bit. Like I said, whenever they are making the film A Prayer in Space it’s quite funny. On that basis alone I have to recommend Faith Ba$ed. The script is solid and the chemistry between Barnett and Thompson works. If you get a chance to see it let me know what you think!
One of the greatest challenges is to make an effective faith-based film. The reason is because faith and particularly conversion are intensely personal experiences. What is powerful and profound to one human may come off as cloying and false to another. This makes telling a universal story very difficult. However, it also makes the successes all the more meaningful. One such success can be found in the new series based on the early ministry of Jesus Christ called The Chosen. I highly recommend it for anyone of faith that is looking for quality storytelling.
The Chosen is created by the company VidAngel and had the honor of being the top crowdfunding film/TV project in history. Now you can find the show on the series app/website with the first episode being free to watch on youtube and other platforms.
The series then asks you to ‘pay it forward’ by making a contribution which will allow other people to enjoy it. Indeed, when you are watching the app tells you who’s contribution helped you. It’s a pretty nifty model and hopefully one that will pay off, as the creators have lofty goals of being a spiritual version of Game of Thrones.
No matter how you watch the series, it’s the storytelling that makes it special. I’m not sure who the writers are but they deserve a ton of credit for taking a story we all know and bringing new life to it. Some may feel they take too many liberties with the Bible stories but I felt they took the known stories and told them accurately while elaborating on stories and characters we don’t know much about.
Naturally all the apostles have important arcs but Simon Peter (Shahar Isaac) and Matthew (Paras Patel) get the most to work within the script. For example, we get to dive into what life might have been like for Peter and his wife Eden (Lara Silva) and how ostracized Matthew was because of his work as a publican for Rome.
Erick Avari also does a great job as Nicodemus giving the ruling Jewish classes a warmth and humanity not typically found in a telling of the Christ story. He is astounded by what he see’s Jesus do but struggles to give up his entire life’s work as a rabbi to follow Him and His new teachings.
All the casting in The Chosen is strong including Jonathan Roumie as a very casual and laid back version of Jesus. They even spend an entire episode with him becoming friends with a group of children who visit his camp before his ministry begins. Some may see this episode as a waste of time as it doesn’t further the story much but I loved having the luxury of spending time with Jesus and imagining what he would be like to eat a meal with and work on chores together. It was really sweet!
As far as flaws, the pacing of the series won’t be for everyone but my main problem was with the dialogue. While I admire the storytelling and plotting of the script there are times where the conversation feels a little too modern for its setting and characters. This is particularly the case in the scenes with Matthew as the Roman characters surrounding him are too glib and American sounding. Most of the time I was able to ignore it but sometimes it did take me out of the show.
Other than that, I really enjoyed The Chosen. It humanizes the characters of Jesus’ ministry in an effective and powerful way that I really enjoyed. I hope they are able to get funding for season 2 as I am looking forward to seeing what they do next.
8 out of 10
I was paid to watch and provide feedback to the producers of The Chosen but the review was not required and the opinion is entirely my own.
Hi friends! It’s time once again for one of my current mini reviews where I give my brief thoughts on some of the latest movies I’ve been able to see. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel so you get all the latest videos from me including weekly family movie night reviews! I’m also excited to announce I have created separate podcast feeds for 2 of my monthly podcast series:
Talking Disney Classics- with my friend Stanford Clark where we discuss a Disney Canon film each month in random order.
I know you will enjoy them if you give them a chance!
Anyway back to the reviews!
Falling in Love-
It shouldn’t be any surprise to any follower of my work at the Hallmarkies Podcast that I will always be a defender of escapist silly romcoms and Falling Inn Love is certainly an example of the genre. It stars Christina Milian as a woman who goes to New Zealand only to find the big prize Inn she’s won is actually a money pit. Luckily she has hunky Adam Demos there to help her with the renovations. They spar at first and of course fall in love by the end. Is it predictable and silly? Of course it is. That’s all part of the appeal. I thought it was adorable and thoroughly enjoyed it.
6 out of 10
I’ve been known to like my fair share of faith-based films. I recognize they have a very tricky task of entertaining a skeptical audience base while trying to tell an inspiring story. However, far too often they forget that the best preaching comes from a story well told, not by actual preaching in your film. The latest hit from the Kendrick Brothers is called Overcomer and is directed, written and starring Alex Kendrick and perhaps he bit off more than he can chew? This film should be a simple inspirational story about a girl with asthma who finds faith and the confidence to race cross country. Instead it’s a clunky, belabored story of the man who is begrudgingly forced to coach her. The dialogue is really bad along with most of the acting. There’s one moment where Priscilla Shirer literally compliments her own prayer and I laughed out loud. Watching this made me realize how good Breakthrough from earlier this year really was. Check that out instead.
2 out of 10
Can You Keep a Secret?-
I love the writer Sophie Kinsella but for some reason her books make terrible movies. The latest adaptation is Can You Keep a Secret starring Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin. The elements that are charming in the book come across as forced and off-putting in this film. Hoechlin is super dishy but he and Daddario have no chemistry together. Most of the time it is awkward and uncomfortable which is not what you want in this kind of escapist romcom. The big reveal at the end is super underwhelming and the supporting cast is wasted. Honestly I wanted to turn it off it was so bad.
2 out of 10
Trigger Studios has long made some of the most arresting and eye popping anime on the market. Their latest film Promare is my first experience with one of their films and I must admit I was really impressed! It tells the story of a futuristic society where a band of firefighters protect the world from a mysterious race of mutants called the Burnish. As the two races fight they start to learn there might be more to the story than their leaders have told them. The animation in this film is intense, frenetic, crazy, whatever word you want to use but it is also exhilarating. I loved the unique geometric style and the electronic music. It’s an experience I highly recommend to those willing to take a risk.
8.5 out of 10
Please check out my youtube review for my thoughts on the latest film from DreamWorks, Abominable. This film marks the end of our multi-film trend of yeti movies in animation and to my surprise it is definitely my favorite. While the story of the little girl Yi finding a mysterious creature to protect may not be the most original, Abominable has huge heart with well-developed sweet characters. It’s also funnier than I expected with beautiful animation and music. This first collaboration between DreamWorks and Pearl Studio is a terrific film, and I hope people will go see it.
8 out of 10
Last up is the musical biopic based on Judy Garland’s last year of life, Judy. I love Judy Garland and think her life is so hauntingly tragic that it breaks my heart to think about it. Unfortunately this film pulls out every cliche in the musical biopic playbook. It’s generic, boring with a very surface-level script. Some might feel the same way about the recent Rocketman but at least that movie took some creative risks with its flights of fancy. To add insult to injury they make the choice to have the actress portraying Judy, Renee Zellweger, sing for Judy. What on earth were they thinking? She sounds NOTHING like Judy Garland! I’ve listened to the London concert recordings and that’s not how she sounds! Basically the poor singing choices, generic script and screaming-for-an-Oscar performances make Judy a big miss.
For many years filmmaker T.C. Christensen has made a career out of making sweet and inspirational, faith-based films for Latter-day Saint audiences. Many of these are set in the past and seek to tell part of Church history like The Cokeville Miracle or 17 Miracles. These movies are definitely not for everyone but if you like programs like When Calls the Heart or Little House on the Prairie than you will enjoy them. His latest effort, The Fighting Preacher, is a bit uneven but overall it succeeds in telling a sentimental true story about tolerance, kindness and how a Christian spirit will win over hate every time.
The film is based on the experiences of Willard Bean (David McConnell); a boxing champion who in 1905 is called by the Church to move to the town of Palmyra, New York and make a home for himself and his family in the recently purchased Joseph Smith Farm. As the name implies, the home was once owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint prophet and founder Joseph Smith. Nearby is the Hill Cumorah which is where the prophet claimed to find (by the guidance of an angel) the gold plates he translated into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Unfortunately, the Saints were eventually pushed out of Palmyra by residents who feared the new religion and the fervor of its followers and after 85 years the town had remained free from all ‘Mormons’ as they were known at the time.
One would think after such a long time away from each other, the anger against the Latter-day Saints would have dissipated in Palmyra but this proved to not be the case for the Beans. They faced opposition and challenges trying to do normal things like purchase everyday necessities, get medical care and even helping their daughter get an education.
At first Willard is tempted to use his boxing skills to retaliate against the people but eventually he learns such problems are better solved by an offering of homemade pie rather than a fist to the face (if that description sounds too saccharine, than trust me. This is not the movie for you!).
The casting goes a long way in making The Fighting Preacher work. McConnell is easy to relate to and has nice chemistry with Cassidy Hubert who plays his wife Rebecca (my only nitpick with her is she had very modern lipstick on). The little girl, Scarlett Hazen, who plays their daughter Palmyra is also adorable. She did a great job!
The rest of the cast is fine but there isn’t a huge attempt to flesh out people beyond a slamming of the door with a ‘get out of here you Mormons’ rebuke. As a former missionary, I have no doubt this was a reality, but as a movie, it comes across as forced. The script as a whole is clunky with dialogue that doesn’t feel natural or human.
For a better example of a similar plot with a much better script I recommend last year’s Jane and Emma. That film took the time to flesh out the characters and give authentic nuanced dialogue.
Even with its flaws, however, I still recommend The Fighting Preacher. It knows its audience and unlike some faith-based films, the message is very positive. It tells the viewer to accept people of all beliefs, and to be kind and loving to all men and women (even when it is not reciprocated). The performances are also strong enough to forgive a script I wish was better.
Those who have been reading my blog for some time know I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or known by some as The Mormons). I don’t normally don’t talk about my religion on this blog but occasionally a faith-based film comes up for review and it is only natural then to share my religious perspective. The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is actually a sequel to a very popular entry that came out in 2001 (when I say popular it got a Disney distribution, so more than just amongst my community).
The first The Other Side of Heaven film tells the story of missionary John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) as he serves on a very small island in Tonga for 2 years as a young man. This sequel continues his story but it is a decade later. John with his wife Jean (Natalie Medlock) bring their large brood of children back to the islands to serve as a mission president. From the start they face many tests of their faith and must learn to love the Tongan people in a whole new way.
Overall if you are a fan of the first film I definitely think you will enjoy this sequel. It’s not perfect but it’s well made and Gorham is very strong and charismatic in the lead. I had the chance to interview director Mitch Davis for the Hallmarkies Podcast (see above), and I could see while watching the love and passion poured into the film by him and others.
They also did an incredible job casting Russell Dixon to play Thomas Monson who would later go on to become prophet of the LDS Church. The resemblance is uncanny both in looks and mannerisms and as someone who loved President Monson, it warmed my heart to see him portrayed so well.
I also thought the second half of the film when the whole island begins to fast and pray together was very touching. Most anyone will be inspired and moved by those moments of shared faith.
My only flaws with the film is I wish they had brought in that sense of community earlier to help balance out the portrayal of a very angry, even violent, Methodist pastor. If it hadn’t been resolved so tastefully I would have been annoyed. (It was touch and go there for a bit because his behavior is close to unredeemable. He really should be in jail not leading a congregation).
Also I didn’t love Natalie Medlock as Jean. In the promo footage she mentioned she’s not much of kid person and unfortunately it shows. There was an awkwardness in her scenes that made it hard for me to buy her as the mother of 6. (Although I did like a moment in the script when she tells John “I’m all prayed out”. It was a human moment). The performance just wasn’t my favorite.
The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is opening on 200 screens, so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, go out and support it. Rarely does a film like this get such a wide opening, and it’s got enough heart and a great lead performance to be worth a watch. People of faith can’t complain about the depravity of modern films and then not support inspirational, well-made offerings like this and expect their concerns to be taken seriously.
The film is rated PG-13 for some violence but it’s nothing a good chat with your kids can’t address, and I like I said, it ends on a hopeful note. Take your family and enjoy yourself at the movies!
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!).
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 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 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.