Thinking Out Loud

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.

December 12, 2016

Hillsong United Live at The Forum: A Review of Let Hope Rise

let-hope-rise-dvdIf there’s a single takeaway from the 1-hour, 43-minute documentary Let Hope Rise, it’s that the members of Hillsong United are totally amazed and humbled at the band’s worldwide influence and popularity.

The film played in theaters in North America just a few months ago, and is releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray December 20th, just in time for Christmas. A concert at The Forum in Los Angeles provides the storyline, with scenes in the dressing room just before they go onstage book-ending the movie.

This is very much a documentary, not a concert film. There are a couple of songs which play in their entirety. Others are edited somewhat, or transition between the songwriting collaborative process and the finished product onstage. The focus here is to provide a behind-the scenes look.

Again, this is a film about Hillsong United, not the Hillsong worship program in general. There is a far too short, ten minute nod to the history and scope of the parent church in Sydney, but its worship teams aren’t in view here; neither is the younger band Hillsong Y&F (Young and Free) mentioned.

The members of the band obviously know each other well and trust each other. When they are about to go on at The Forum, the songs are basically so very fresh that one of the guys says of another something to the effect, ‘He’s about to walk on the stage and sing words he’s never sung into a microphone before.’

It was interesting that on the one hand, the band talks about the fact they work for the church and are not particularly well paid, but on the other hand are able to enjoy an oceanfront house in California to write songs. Back home in Australia, the members of the band appear to live quite modestly. Some have very young families, with their wives staying home to take care of the kids.

We had planned to watch this with a full stereo sound system but a last minute glitch caused us to relocate. At first I was disappointed, but the music both is and isn’t the focus; it is more about providing the inside look at the band using material filmed for the movie and archival footage the band owned.

Hillsong’s influence on worship music around the world is immeasurable and Hillsong United’s influence on youth culture and youth ministry is equally significant. Anyone who is a fan of United will probably want to watch this several times. Onscreen lyrics are provided on a few songs for those who even want to sing along.


Movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

October 13, 2016

I’m Not Ashamed – The Movie

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

im-not-ashamed

This film, the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first of several students murdered in the 1999 Columbine shooting, opens next Friday in the U.S. Visit the website, or watch the trailer below.

August 16, 2016

Once Again, God’s Not Dead

God's Not Dead 2 BillboardReleasing today on DVD, this is, by my count, the third movie in a highly successful franchise for Pure Flix Entertainment, if you count the first God’s Not Dead from 2014 and then 2015’s Do You Believe? Like Snakes on a Plane, the film’s intention is clear from the outset; you know what you’re expecting.

With Do You Believe? I remarked at the time that there were more characters, more plot lines to follow and a lot more on-screen action compared with GND1 . With God’s Not Dead 2, there is less activity. This is a more cerebral film providing food for thought for the skeptic as well as the already converted. In some respects, I felt this 2016 movie was more ‘preaching to the choir,’ though I’ll grant that its potential to impact the unbeliever is still present.

With the two previous films, I observed that one of the major wins was the ability to transcend Christian clichés and awkward screen moments. This time around, I decided that a certain number of each may be inevitable if one is going to portray authentic Christians doing Christian things.

There were also what some might consider gratuitous appearances by two Christian apologists, J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel, but their presence was essential to a major plot point, though it’s unclear how the lawyer in the courtroom scene in which they appear was able to snag them. (Gary Habermas and Rice Broocks also appear.)

Melissa Joan Hart realistically plays the central character in the movie, a teacher under threat of losing not only her job, but everything else in a punitive action hoping to curb the presence of Christianity in the classroom once and for all. Her crime isn’t so much quoting what Matthew attributes to Jesus as it is doing so from memory, with conviction and being able to cite chapter and verse.

Jesse Metcalfe is cast as her somewhat inexperienced atheist lawyer who might not get the whole Jesus thing, but understands clearly the issues the case raises.

Hayley Orrantia of The Goldbergs TV series is student who is the supposed victim in the legal case in which her parents are the plaintiffs. Other cast members include Pat Boone, and Duck Dynasty‘s Sadie Robertson. And yes, The Newsboys are back. 

Boone also gets this line early in the film, “That’s the thing about atheism, it doesn’t take away the pain, it just takes away the hope.” Another key line is in the graphic above, a billboard which — in a real life imitates the film moment — was refused space at the Republican National Convention last month as being “too political and way too incendiary.”

Having fewer plot lines and characters to track than Do You Believe? made this more enjoyable, but with this third film in three years, I do wonder if the genre is being overworked. On the other hand, fiction is a great vehicle for apologetics — including some of my favorite books — and so I was fully engaged as the movie developed. 

Note: If you’re watching the DVD, be sure to continue through the closing credits for what is either an interesting sequel-begging scene, or a nod to the composers who end their pieces with an unresolved chord.


Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

I received a screening link, features on the full DVD include:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Man, Myth, Messiah with Rice Broocks
  • Between Heaven and Hollywood with David A.R. White
  • Visual Effects of God’s Not Dead 2
  • Filming in Arkansas
  • First Liberty
  • Trailers
  • English and Spanish Audio
  • English and Spanish Subtitles

 

 

July 14, 2016

Miracles Happen: A Review of Miracles From Heaven

Miracles from Heaven DVD

This review contains spoilers…

Miracles from Heaven is a movie based on the real life story of Kevin and Christy Beam, and in particular their daughter Anna who contracted a rare gastric disease in which her central nervous system stopped sending signals to her intestines, making it impossible for her to process food. Her pediatric specialist does not offer the family much in the way of hope.

But one afternoon while climbing a tree with her older sister, she suffers the equivalent of a three-story fall. Miraculously, she has little more than a concussion. There are no broken bones, no spinal injury.

Even more amazing is when it becomes apparent that the fall has caused a jump re-start of her nervous system and thereby kickstarted her intestinal tract. At the time of filming, the real-life Anna has not been sick in three years…

…DVD releases create a unique challenge for the reviewer. With the theater run played out, the basic plot line is already known, and I’m a little freer here with information than if it was the theatrical version we were considering. We have a general idea where the movie is going and simply mark the various steps toward its conclusion. This isn’t an intricate plot, and so the emotional level of the movie is somewhat steady throughout the first two-thirds of the film.

On this however, my wife and I had different reactions. At the beginning I noted to her that they seemed to be moving rather quickly, with some scenes rather abruptly jump-cutting to the next. But she felt the the movie dragged in places and could have moved faster.

It’s also difficult to watch as a parent. You empathize with the tremendous stress the entire family is experiencing. And as someone who isn’t a fan of medical drama, the hospital scenes are more documentary than entertainment.

But it’s hard not to be invested in the final third of the movie when Anna’s miracle happens. We long for happy endings, and this movie does not disappoint. There’s also an element at the end which is similar to the movie Heaven is For Real which released from the same production company; in fact there is an edition of the DVD available in which Heaven and Miracles are bundled into a single package.

The film’s purpose is not to discuss the validity of miracles in an age of science and skepticism, however there are some realistic moments where the possibility of facing this story with doubt and disbelief are brought to the surface. (On this I am reminded of the blind man in John 9:25 who is faced with people wanting to know the why and the how: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!“)

Christy Beam’s faith is fragile, perhaps even non-existent at points in the journey. It’s understandable, given the situation the family faces, not only with the daughter’s illness, but also the financial stress. Some of the people in her church, like Job’s comforters, don’t exactly help either. While those people are southern stereotypes, the portrayal of her church seems realistic.

I did not see Heaven is for Real but I’m glad I got to see this one. The DVD released officially on Tuesday. Enjoy the preview below or learn more at MiraclesFromHeaven-Movie.com .

 

 

Thanks to Sony Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for providing a pre-release screening link to this movie.

June 17, 2016

Profile: Christian Actor Jason Hildebrand

Jason HildebrandFor years, I kept hearing this guy’s name but our paths never crossed until this past weekend, when I got to see Jason Hildebrand’s one-man, three-act performance based on the story of The Prodigal Son, one of many such shows he does throughout Canada and the U.S.

The performance was an outdoor event, a challenge for even the best actors. I’ve been to dozens of the Church in the Park events in my hometown, and I was really surprised at how the crowd was engaged and how Jason even held the attention of many of the children in the audience.

Introducing himself first as the younger son, then the elder son and finally as the father, I found myself listening as though hearing this story for the first time. While on one level, it was a very familiar narrative, but because it’s so rich, no number of sermons can make this story get old.

I was able to speak with Jason after the service. He told me he has been at his craft for 20 years now, and the past 16 of those have been full-time.  The program that I saw has also been filmed and was highlighted six years ago in this 8-minute Christian TV feature:

It’s interesting — and a little bit disturbing — to see the audience reaction of people who were unfamiliar with the story of the wayward son and the loving father. He has other productions based on the life of King David, the life of Job and on the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. He also uses his training to help others, providing coaching to not-for-profit and commercial organizations.

One of his latest projects is Breathe, a collaboration with musician Mike Janzen based on the book Close Enough to Hear God Breathe (Thomas Nelson) by Greg Paul who pastors Sanctuary, a church in downtown Toronto. Here’s a 2-minute teaser:

There’s another earlier trailer at this link.

Jason Hildebrand CobourgOn a personal level, I think much of Jason’s work resonates because I know what it’s like to be a one-man ministry. Based in Toronto, he works both sides of the Canada/US border regularly. If you have an upcoming project or an event that would benefit from an element of drama, this would be a great contact.

Learn more at JasonHildebrand.com


Pics: Upper from Jason’s website
Lower: All dressed up to play 2 sons and a father at Victoria Park’s Bandshell in Cobourg, Ontario from Twitter, @jasonhildebrand

 

 

April 24, 2016

A Movie for All the Ragamuffins

Ragamuffin Rich Mullins Movie

Last night we finally got to watch the DVD of Ragamuffin, the story of Christian singer Rich Mullins. For two-hours and 15-minutes, we sat through the ups and downs of his life. The movie was, from beginning to end, saturated in the unique Rich Mullins sound. I said to my wife, “I’ve probably never listened to the sound of the hammered dulcimer this much ever.”

Her reaction to the music was to be totally impressed that the actor playing Rich did his own vocals for the movie, which added some authenticity.

Rather than replay the story line, let me say this instead: This is a movie for

  • Anyone who has ever felt like a misfit; that their history or their calling is simply different from everyone else; that there’s nobody to talk to about what they do because nobody does it, or talk to about how they see the world because nobody else sees the world the same way.
  • Someone who has struggled with their relationship, or lack of relationship with their father; with or without perhaps the added burden of thereby trying to comprehend a loving heavenly Father.
  • A person who is constantly wrestling their own inner demons; be it some particular pain, or addictive behavior.
  • Those who have been let down, disappointed, abandoned, or somehow severed from relationships due to circumstances or even death; whose history seems to be one of people constantly leaving.
  • People who feel the core essence of Christ’s teachings isn’t so much about outward conformity to religious standards, but rather a security in the knowledge that God loves us.
  • Fans of Christian music who want to see the realities of the industry, warts and all, and how God uses people in spite of their brokenness. 
  • Thinkers who want to press further into the idea of grace and how sinners can and do experience the grace of God.

And that is just to name a few things this movie touches.

Rich Mullins’ life intersected with other people you know, from Amy Grant to author Brennan Manning. His music, from “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” to “Awesome God” impacted a generation of Christians.

This is a tough movie to watch. Rich’s life is not an ideal; not really a role model we can hold up to today’s Christian youth. It’s a very dark story; not your typical Christian movie. There were also some continuity issues — the conflicting hair length of the actor has confused many reviewers — which interrupted the flow of what was otherwise a beautifully crafted piece of cinema.

But for us, last night, it was must-watching. Knowing a little about Rich Mullins’ life ahead of time, the movie did not disappoint.

You can read more about the movie, and watch a trailer, at an article I wrote in 2014 when Rich was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

September 18, 2015

War Room’s Message Isn’t Subtle, but Characters and Actors Excel

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, media, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 am

Longtime friend Lorne Anderson describes himself as thinker, writer, student, musicologist, husband, father and Christian. He’s sharing this post with us today which also appears at his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne.

War Room

War Room

Hollywood does not have a monopoly on film making, though the movie moguls there wish they did. I’m sure it galls them when a movie like War Room tops the box office as it did a couple of weekends ago in the United States.

War Room is the latest from the Kendrick Brothers, whose most recent releases were Courageous and Fireproof. The Kendricks are part of a church that a few years ago did more than lament that Hollywood was not interested in making family friendly movies – they did something about it. The church began making its own films for theatrical distribution, with church members learning the tools of the trade, both behind the cameras and in front of them Not only did they learn, they learned well. People go to see the films, which due to volunteer labour are produced on a much smaller budget than a Hollywood film would be. War Room, for example, was made with a budget of about $3 million.

As I understand it, to break even a film has to earn three times its production cost to break even. War Room has then in more than $40 million so far. Hollywood studios are green with envy.

The film comes out in Canada today, and I would strongly encourage those Canadians reading this to go see it – if not this weekend then sometime in the next week. Distributors make decisions on what movies to show based to a large degree on opening weekend numbers.

I saw the film a couple of weeks ago at a special preview screening. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew form the advance materials that the film was about prayer, and I wasn’t all that sure that it would be an entertaining two hours. I was wrong.

I prefer my Christian film-making to be a bit more subtle in its message. A film about prayer seemed to be a little bit of a sledgehammer approach to me. What saved it was that the movie has some genuinely funny moments, especially some lines delivered by two young actresses, Alena Pitts and Kathleen Dellinger. I don’t like child actors, but I’ll make an exception for those two, they are natural comics.

This is definitely a message film, you need to be aware of that going in. It is a simple message: prayer is powerful, as one family finds out, especially when things are tough. The situations are believable, the acting for the most part pretty good (I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between paid actors and volunteers in the film), the photography well done.

It’s not a perfect film, but then again the perfect film doesn’t exist. However, I found it to be a much better film than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the most recent Hollywood offering I have seen. War Room shows real people in real situations. I could relate to it. I could relate to the people in it. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a series of fast-paced clichés – ear and eye candy for a Tuesday night. War Room is much closer to reality. Maybe that’s why Hollywood can’t make movies like this. Reality scares them.

So go see War Room. Then leave a message here to tell me what you thought of it.

February 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Drop Box

The Drop Box

The Drop Box is a 77-minute documentary film that is having a very limited (2-3 day) run starting on Wednesday, March 4th in theaters in North America. At first, I wondered how I would fare with a documentary; don’t people go to the movies to be entertained? And then I was concerned how I would navigate the two-thirds of the film that are in Korean with English subtitles.

The Drop Box photoThe story however is so compelling, so completely other than what you’re expecting, that you can’t help but be drawn in.

Lee Jong-rak, hereafter referred to as Pastor Lee, is the creator of South Korea’s only “baby box” for collecting unwanted infants, a role that was somewhat thrust upon him when an abandoned baby was left at the door of his church, something not uncommon in that culture. The box itself resembles one of the large depository boxes you might see at a bank. The pastor heard of a similar box in central Europe, but after getting no reply from that organization, gave up and built one from scratch.

The film begins with a child abandonment in process. In an interview with the filmmaker at Focus on the Family it is revealed that each such ‘drop’ sets off a door chime and as they run to the box, a camera is rolling. Some of the footage from various events is in the film. Often someone will also run outside to see if the mother is still nearby. In the case of the film opener, there is no note and the mother is gone, which means the child will go through life with no medical history, and if the baby is more than a few days old, no precise date of birth.

Hundreds of children have come to Pastor Lee in this way, and 15 of them have been formally adopted; he and his wife are their legal parents. There are concerns for the pastor’s health because of years of sleep deprivation caring for babies abandoned in the night, or crying in the facility.

While at least the first half hour of the film is somewhat all about babies, the script changes to look at one of the longer residents, one of the older of the adopted children. And then there is another story dynamic that is introduced closer to the end. All this to say that the film maintains a high level of intensity. As you try to catch the names and positions of people superimposed on the screen while at the same time keeping up with the subtitles, your viewing mirrors the relentless pace that Pastor Lee, his wife and the facility volunteers face every hour of every day. The film can leave you somewhat out of breath.

The filmmaker, Brian Ivie, shared with a Focus audience how his original motives were somewhat selfish. He read a newspaper story and figured Pastor Lee’s story was a vehicle that would help him accomplish a personal goal of getting into the Sundance Film Festival.

The book about the making of the movie

The book about the making of the movie

Instead, the film changed his life, and that of many of the crew of eleven he took with him to South Korea. His own story is told in a David C. Cook book releasing March 1st, The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever

This is one of those stories that is meant to leave you challenged, and it does. Some people wholly define what it is to give their all to a cause, and Pastor Lee of South Korea is one of those people. 

If you want to be part of a very special audience to share this experience, save the date and check out TheDropBoxFilm.com in the US or in Canada, TheDropBoxFilm.ca

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