Thinking Out Loud

September 14, 2020

A Non-Moviegoer Reviews Three Films

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:47 am

People think I’m kidding when I say that in 33 years of married life, we’ve been to the cinema about a dozen times. And two of those were lending some box office support to Veggie Tales.

Add to this that we don’t have cable, satellite, or a streaming service. And Blockbuster is long-closed. We’re simply not part of the movie culture common to so many including so many people who are in pastoral ministry.

So when someone offered us half-dozen unopened DVDs last month, we accepted with thanks. Add to that a title obtained a thrift store and next thing you know, we made a minor lifestyle adjustment which included a mini-NOOMA (Rob Bell) marathon on Saturday night.

I guess gathering in front of the giant screen in the evening is what normal people do, especially these days. We’re simply so busy doing other things.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A reporter is asked to write a 300-word profile on Fred Rogers and it turns into a 10,000 cover feature. Although people think of the film as “starring” Tom Hanks, the story-line is centered around that reporter and his wife, but that is all it takes to let the character of Mr. Rogers shine.

It makes you wonder how much of our lives are reflected in the people we’ve helped and served or perhaps even formally mentored.

Fred Rogers — both on the small screen and in real life — had a great influence on people from so many different walks of life and so many generations. That someone would even make this film speaks volumes about his life.

Overcomer

This is one of a seemingly endless series of movies from the producers of Courageous and Facing the Giants and Fireproof.

I have to give the producers credit that the sub-plot — or perhaps it was the major plot — about the family life of the young cross-country runner with asthma wasn’t included in the previews, which focused instead on the girl trying to better her running times to represent her school in a major competition.

In other words, you had an idea where the story was going, but then it introduced another element entirely. For that reason, I enjoyed that this had more than a one-dimensional storyline. The characters were stereotypical, but that goes with the genre.

Unplanned

The story of (now) anti-abortion crusader Abby Johnson was one I watched alone. To that end, my wife was right, it was rather gory; perhaps 20% more bloody than it needed to be. But this of course helps the film to make its point.

Unlike the two movies above, this one followed a somewhat predictable trajectory, especially as it is based on a true and well-documented story.  Johnson’s husband, while not supportive of his wife’s career, bides his time for many years waiting for her cathartic moment to occur. When it does, it’s presented realistically and vividly.

It’s evident early on why pro-choice advocates didn’t want this film to succeed. This would be painful to watch if someone has an abortion in their history, but for all others –including teenagers — it’s a cautionary tale.

 

April 13, 2020

Christian Media and Publishing: Who is Hurting – A Top Three

Filed under: Christianity, media, publishing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

The Creators of the film, I Still Believe

The first faith-focused movie ever produced for IMAX couldn’t have had a more unfortunate release date. With glowing advance reviews, if it had released a week earlier, it would have enjoyed a solid week of box office sales on entering wide release. If it had been scheduled for a week later, its release would have been put back to whenever it is this summer that the motion picture industry will play catch-up. Instead, the creators acted quickly and decisively and rush-released the Netflix premiere. Later, many who missed both options will pursue the DVD release.

Vacation Bible School (VBS)

Make no mistake, VBS is a multi-million dollar business in the United States alone. Where I live, primary and junior school grades run to the end of June, so VBS is a July/August thing, but now it’s already in doubt in some places. In the U.S. it’s not unheard of to have a VBS week in late May, so many cancellations are possibly already kicking in, perhaps with some opting for postponement. This of course is part of the larger vulnerability of seasonal product, and there are also publishers of material for Easter and Mother’s Day who are experiencing unforeseen losses right now. An example with Mother’s Day might be Dayspring Cards, whose wares are sold through Christian bookstores many of which are either forced to close (see next item) or are in areas where people are being more diligent about social distancing.

ChristianBook.com

The place that everyone would turn to if shopping at the local Christian bookstore isn’t an option, Christianbook.com (aka Christian Book Distributors, formerly CBD) has been handed an order by the State of Massachusetts forcing it to close from April 7th to May 3rd, with only orders for digital product releasing. (See story.) The problem compounds for people hoping to get physical Christian books and music online because Amazon is prioritizing food and essential product orders, delaying some book shipments by up to two weeks.

June 15, 2019

Bad Christian Movies

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:46 am

With all the successes Christian filmmakers have had at the mainstream box office in the past few years, it’s easy to overlook that there are still Christian movies of dubious quality being cranked out on a monthly basis.

The plot of one had me curious so we decided to give it a look. I’ll spare the company the name mention but during the course of 125 minutes, we watched,

  • Horrible lighting and/or film processing right from the very first scene
  • Mismatched shots; items in the background in one scene and not there the next and then seconds later, back again (continuity)
  • Dialog overdubs with mismatched background noise; not sure which were the originals and which were done later
  • Introduction of a key character at the beginning who never returned
  • Over-the-top acting (though some was well-done)
  • Implausible abrupt changes in characters
  • Doctrinal propaganda
  • Screenplay trying to take on too many faith issues at once
  • Incomplete portrayal of the rites involved in another faith

These are just the few I remember days later.

The subject matter did stay with us, and we had several discussions about it afterwards, but I’m thinking that the production and script liabilities outweighed the benefits.

The movie released in 2014, so the aforementioned box office successes were only just beginning to happen. Hopefully an awareness of what can be done will raise (or has already raised) the bar for the rest of the Christian direct-to-video film industry.


For a reminder of what’s been great lately, especially in 2018, check out these articles here at Thinking out Loud:

October 14, 2018

The “I Can Only Imagine Story” Still Evokes Emotion

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:41 pm

Having seen the movie in a theater, I’m not a prime candidate to own the DVD or Blu-Ray for the movie I Can Only Imagine, which ended up becoming the 4th highest-grossing inspirational film of all time.

However, I got to see the nearly 2 hours of bonus features last night and found it very difficult to fight back the [whatever it is guys do, because the word isn’t tears.]

This is a powerful story. There’s no denying this.

And it’s a powerful song. Over the years, the band MercyMe has been flooded with letters from fans describing their own “moment” connecting with the song.

Even if you, like us, saw the film on the big screen, I’d encourage you to get your hands on this; or maybe find some fellow theater-goers who saw it as we did, and split the cost of the disc. I doubt the ‘extras’ are available for streaming.

…If you missed it, here’s my article from March, and then my reflections after actually seeing the film after it had taken off at the box office.

August 21, 2018

Review: God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

Three movies later, God’s still not dead, and The Newsboys are still singing the same song.

It would be so easy to be cynical and say that this movie franchise went back to the well one time too often, but in fact, I didn’t really mind the movie at all. Heck, if they can keep it at this level, they can make a 4th one, too.

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness releases today on DVD and Digital. The film was part of an avalanche of major Christian movies this winter which included Paul, Apostle of Christ and I Can Only Imagine.

The plot is as fresh as the daily news, with the church-and-state issue concerning a parish which helped found the university on whose property it still sits, only to face that the college has evolved into something completely secular and can no longer, in good conscience be perceived as giving preference to one particular religious worldview. That the church has been destroyed by fire makes the situation more complicated.

There were also some surprising storyline developments, but to enlarge on those here wanders into spoiler territory which I’ve chosen to avoid. Generally speaking, the film kept my interest, a few overused Christian clichés notwithstanding.

Apologetic cinema like this seems to fall into two categories. There are the fast-action scripts involving multiple plot-lines intended to educate and entertain (Do You Believe), and there are the more cerebral films which are intended only to provoke thought (The Case for Christ). In God’s Not Dead 3, the only chase scene is a foot chase lasting about ten seconds. It’s about the characters and more important, about the ideas.

Speaking of characters Shane Harper is back as Josh Wheaton from the first (2014) movie. There’s a passing reference, but having seen the other film isn’t a prerequisite. Also, David A.R. White, a major force behind the camera (mostly) in so many Christian movies — he’s a co-founder of PureFlix — steps front and center in this picture…

…This is a movie about holding various positions in tension, and right to the end, it delivers that. Again, without providing spoilers, I know that some viewers will be unsettled by the direction the battle between the church and the university moves, but then that’s just more fuel for post-movie discussion.

 

 

June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

November 2, 2017

Same Kind of Different as Me: An Illustration of the Hands and Feet of Christ

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

Based on the book of the same name which is based on a true story, Same Kind of Different as Me is the unlikely story of the intersection of two worlds between an international dealer in expensive fine art and a homeless man who spent much of his life working overtime as a slave. Ron Hall is living the good life that involves interacting with high society when his wife Deborah drags him to reluctantly serve at the Union Gospel Mission. The 2007 book from Thomas Nelson later gave way to a small group curriculum as it raises many issues.

I had only minimal familiarity with the book — I knew it had sold well in some areas, which can be hard for a biographical work even if it reads better than some fiction — when invited to see the movie which, as you read this, is at the end of its second week in North America.

My wife and I were quite impressed. She even paid it the ultimate compliment (for her) by saying something as we left the theater, “It wasn’t a Christian movie;” by which she meant there wasn’t an overt gospel message leading toward key characters getting saved at the end. Indeed, this is actually the ideal Christian movie, where things are shown instead of told, and where Christian values are being lived out, rather than simply taught. Truly this is the Christian film you view with that unchurched neighbor, coworker or relative.

But it takes more than just a great screenplay to make a great picture. The additional points would go for some very plausible casting — I felt like I already know Ron and Deborah — and some rather breathtaking scenery, not to mention the visual image of the place in the woods where the homeless of that community spend the night.

The movie raises the possibility of much discussion about the type of activity which truly helps the homeless and gives them dignity and how, at the end of the day, we’re not all that different.


Thanks to Tim at Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for the tix.

 

May 13, 2017

Weekend Link List

Every once in awhile I have to work a weekend shift, but at least it’s not as busy.

Welcome to the Weekend: A bonus feature for the faithful committed readers who don’t just turn up on Wednesdays. Drew Dyck didn’t say where he found this baby baptism pic, but the comments (click to read) were as much fun as the photo.


And now, to complete our weekly public service requirement, we bring you The Cycle of Fear:

March 30, 2017

Case for Christ Movie is a Must-See on Two Different Levels

You really do need to see this film.

In a world where a proliferation of Christian movies has meant some of us spend as much time at the local theater as we do at church, this one is a cut above.

After getting to see a preview, I took a first-time step of watching it all over again the very next night, finding the second view equally satisfying and engaging as the first. I think the reason was that for me the various elements of the movie worked; that is to say all the pieces of what makes up cinematography that we might not even notice played together here to create a movie that was simply believable. There were few of those caricature or stereotype moments that sometimes mar faith-focused films.

It’s no spoiler to say that this is the real-life story of Lee Strobel, a top investigative reporter with the Chicago Tribune, who also happens to hold a law degree, and has a history of taking on some big challenges, including the Ford Pinto scandal. (You can read a 1980 sample in the Trib’s archives.) He’s just been promoted out of street-beat reporting but is about to be called upon to cover a cop shooting, a story that he feels is really beneath him. That story has some interesting parallels to another, second investigation he’s about to launch on his own time.

That side project begins when his wife converts to Christianity through the ministry of an early incarnation — still meeting in a theater at that point — of Willow Creek Community Church. He feels he’s losing her but is confident he can win her back by simply bringing all his investigative skills to bear on proving Christianity in general, and the resurrection of Jesus in particular, to be a complete and utter hoax. While philosophy and theology isn’t his normal beat, he is relentless in his pursuit of credible experts who can handle his checklist of factors in the Christ story that need to be negated. The rest is the apologetics substance of the film.

It was the unexpected relational substance of the film that caught me off-guard. What happens in a marriage when one spouse is a believer and one is not? (It’s around this point that I remembered reading that Zondervan was re-releasing one of Strobel’s few non-apologetic titles, Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage coauthored with wife Leslie.) The portrayal of Leslie Strobel — by an actress whose appearance and mannerisms reminded me so much of Bill Hybels’ daughter Shauna Niequist — is what caused one reviewer to comment as to the authenticity of the portrayal of this neophyte Christ follower; the believability I mentioned earlier.

The rest you need to see. Strobel does not lay down his guns halfway through and commence the ministry with which many of us are familiar. We know him today as the author of other titles in the Case for… series such as The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus and the recent The Case for Grace; but throughout most of the film his life is not headed on that trajectory at all. Disproving Christianity is a fight he truly believes he can win.

This isn’t really a film for the whole family, though teens who face challenges to their faith from fellow students could benefit significantly. Taking a friend, relative, neighbor or coworker who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith is highly recommended, because when it comes to what Christians believe, at the end of the day, the buck stops with the resurrection.


An opportunity to the preview the movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Stills above were posted on Twitter by people associated with the production.

March 19, 2017

Case for Christ Movie Opens April 7

Last night we were able to watch a preview screening of the movie The Case for Christ which opens April 7th. While I will offer a full review of the movie closer to the release date, many of you have read the book by Lee Strobel, or one of the many others in the series: The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus, etc.

Like some others who have leaked bits and pieces of this online, I also was struck by the authenticity of the two primary characters in the movie, Lee and Leslie Strobel. While the theme of the movie is very obviously evidentiary apologetics there is also a sub-theme dealing with the time when Leslie was a Christian and Lee wasn’t. It’s probably no accident that their 2002 book Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage is now in re-release by Zondervan.

With those two themes in mind…

  • Think of friends you could invite to see the movie; and
  • Plan to see it, if at all possible, during the first weekend of release.

I’ll have more to say about it in a few days.  Use the following image on your Facebook page to make more people aware of this significant film.

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