Thinking Out Loud

April 6, 2018

Faith Films: We’ve Been Here Before

At risk of this becoming a one-note blog/site, with me constantly gushing over the Christian-themed films currently available, I want to simply point that we’ve been down this road before. The chart below, from Box Office Mojo, as posted in this 2014 article at Grantland, shows that in the Winter/Spring of that year, we had four major faith-focused titles in the space of 48 days; a situation not dissimilar to where we find ourselves this year.

 

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April 5, 2018

Mercy Me! This is a Popular Movie

We continue our series of better-late-than-never movie reviews. Think of this as being an early review for the DVD release.

…So it turned out that I had a pass for I Can Only Imagine that I didn’t know I had. Going through some review books on a table, suddenly, there it was. I called Mrs. W. (whose birthday is today, BTW) and said, “Drop everything! We’re going to a movie.”

Okay, here’s the spoiler:

A guy in a band writes a song which becomes very popular.

Didn’t see that coming, did you? Okay, maybe you did. The plot of the movie is somewhat of a given, and the movie begins with a documentary style introduction which thankfully is mostly abandoned once the story starts to roll. So on the surface, this is a film about a song. A film anchored in a real-life story which takes place in recent history.

However, great songs are, nine times out of ten, born out of significant, intense, great experiences. There’s often a story behind the song, and the better the song, the better the story.

Furthermore, many of the songs we like are born out of a great deal of pain on the part of the songwriter. Even a song which on the surface appears to be a joyful (if mellow) composition anticipating the celebration which awaits us in eternity.

…This movie has had a very strong reception in North America. When we arrived at the cineplex and asked the ticket taker which theater it was, she just pointed and said, “Follow the crowd.” Greater success of faith-based films has allowed for larger budgets which translates into better quality.

The casting is great. The movie’s Amy Grant, while admittedly not the singer herself, is quite convincing; my own buy-in on her character is an example of the film’s credibility.

This isn’t Biblically based in the sense of Paul, Apostle of Christ but this contemporary story has had great impact on those who have seen it. I think it’s an example of God is using the large volume of Christian films currently available to reach all types of people.

J. Michael Finley as Mercy Me’s Bart Millard


Thanks (again) to Graf-Martin Communications in Canada for an almost-missed opportunity to see I Can Only Imagine.

March 29, 2018

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Luke (to Paul) – “There are men, women and children who will never meet you. There must be a handwritten account of your life.”

I’ve mentioned the film, Paul, Apostle of Christ several times, but now that we’ve seen the picture, I wanted to share some additional thoughts.

Like many others, I was expecting a movie based on the Book of Acts. While the stoning of Stephen, Damascus Road and Paul and Silas singing in prison were covered in a flashbacks, there were no shipwrecks and no one bitten by snakes. In many respects this is its own film.

But that’s as far as I want to take that because, despite a somewhat original screenplay, I found the film to resonate with the Bible at every turn. Rather than draw on Acts specifically, the film draws on all that Paul wrote and at no point did I find myself saying, ‘Paul would never say that;’ or ‘Paul would never do that.’ There were scenes of, ‘That’s not in the Bible;’ but playing that game was part of the fun, although I use that term loosely, this is a very sobering film to watch.

Of course, such script liberties might confuse people unfamiliar with the original text; people who would never think that a particular scene in the movie isn’t canon. (I wondered if I might myself, a few years from now, be in a discussion and start quoting a particular occurrence before realizing it was part of a fictional movie.) Hopefully, they are driven to read Acts for themselves.

In many respects, the movie could be called Luke, Apostle of Christ. Luke’s drive and determination to document all that is happening around him, and to get copies of that story out despite the danger the early church faced with travel is, well, inspired.

The scenes of early Christians suffering and dying for their faith were powerful. It’s a movie well-suited to watching during Lent. A few times I thought of the identification with Christ’s suffering for us. However, those who feared a certain goriness (because one actor was also in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ) needn’t fear that this is equally extreme if attending the film, though it’s definitely not for children.

The cinematography was excellent. The movie’s arrival in the middle of a 20-day period when three strong faith-based films were releasing is unfortunate, but I recommend making time for this one if it’s still playing in your area over the Easter weekend.

 

Thanks to Graf-Martin Communications for arranging passes for this film.

March 25, 2018

Faith-Based Films: On the Range Between Feast and Famine, Now is Definitely Feast

She left a note on my Facebook page saying that she had gone to see I Can Only Imagine this weekend, but it was sold out. Fortunately, she had a second choice at the very same theater complex, namely the film Paul, Apostle of Christ. Even for that, she got the last two seats.

It’s a busy enough week for Christian families in North America with Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, and Easter Sunday services happening, but with three top Christian movies releasing within 20 days of each other, it digs deep into both the schedule and the pocketbook.

Forbes reported,

Sony’s Paul, Apostle of Christ debuted in 1,473 theaters but ran into the populist/crowd-pleasing I Can Only Imagine. Sony ran the tables in faith-based dramas for a few years, but now it looks like Lionsgate is a force to be reckoned with. Even with Jim Caviezel returning to the faith-based sub-genre 14 years after The Passion of the Christ, this Bible story flatlined. It snagged $1.66 million on Friday for a likely $5.1m debut weekend. Yes, the Affirm flick cost just $5m, but this isn’t a good result and shows that the Christian rock biopic may be the exception to the rule.

(See also the website, Box Office Mojo.)

Here in Canada, we have a dedicated website just to track the various movies and where they’re playing. FaithFilms.ca is a venture of Graf-Martin Communications, which is involved in promotion and publicity for these films, many times involving both the theatrical release and subsequent DVD, along with related books or novelizations.

The Guardian in the UK also reported on the upswing in faith-focused films.

As Hollywood struggles with sexual harassment scandals and box-office woes, it could do worse than turn to God. For while religious movies have traditionally been considered a niche phenomenon, that assessment may need to be revised.

But the story based on Bart Millard’s song is definitely a surprise hit. The Guardian continues,

[Co-director] Jon Erwin says he was told there “was no audience for a Christian music movie … But everybody I knew – in the Christian world that we live in – knew and loved the song, so we just believed that there was an audience for this movie and that they would show up”. I Can Only Imagine was ultimately picked up by Roadside Attractions, maker of Manchester By The Sea, and Lionsgate. The distributors agreed to promote it as a general audience production. With a $25m box-office take so far, it is also showing Hollywood that Christians can make consistent, repeat filmgoers. Audience polling found that 79% said they planned to pay to see the movie again.

That one I really wanted to see the most, but there were no advance screenings which means there were no reviews in the Friday newspapers on the weekend it released. I can only imagine how good it is! (Terrible humor, I know.)

The third movie in 20 days? God’s Not Dead 3 opens in North America on March 30th, just in time for the Easter weekend crowd, and in the UK on May 25th.


We are hoping to get to the Paul movie this week, provided our local cinema accepts our passes this time!

December 18, 2014

Exodus: Don’t Wait for the Video

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Movie-Poster-Wallpaper-960x540

Because I have worked in and around the Christian retail industry for too long, I know that the surge of Christian-themed movies at the box office these past few months always has a ripple effect in the Christian bookstores. Current top sellers in such stores — and their online equivalents — include God’s Not Dead and Mom’s Night Out, both of which had theatrical runs first.

I don’t think you’re going to see the same happen with Exodus: Gods and Kings. For the most part, Christian retailers act as gatekeepers for what their constituency reads or listens to or watches, and the Christian media have not entirely received this movie well, though as you’ll see at the bottom of this piece, there are exceptions.

At The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter writes:

Moses is a central figure in three of the most populous world religions. He’s mentioned more times in the Qur’an than anyone else, and more times in the New Testament than any other Old Testament character. In Judaism he’s not only the central figure, he quite literally wrote the book on the religion. He has, in other words, a lot of name recognition.

…So why does [director Ridley] Scott go out of his way to ruin the story of Moses? The reason can’t be chalked up to “artistic license,” because that would imply some sort of artistry behind the decision. The changes Scott makes, though, are not only art-less, they’re nonsensical and spoil anything of value in his film.

At viewer-rating site, Faith Based Films, one viewer writes:

There is no cloud by day, or pillar of fire by night, or any indication of manna, or the gold, silver and other riches that the Bible teaches were freely given to them by the Egyptians on their departure from Egypt.  It leaves those who know the biblical account wondering how the Israelites will ultimately build God’s tabernacle.  The film’s depiction of a rag-tag herd of refugees—totally absent the riches they took from Egypt, leaving them with nothing to fulfill their destiny of building the tabernacle and all its instruments of worship.

Significantly, the burning bush scene when Moses first encounters God as a child is set in the context of Moses’ journey up the mountain in a rain storm, which triggers a landslide that sweeps Moses downward and results in his being hit on the head by rocks.  He is left submerged in mud except for his face—suggesting that perhaps Moses’ ongoing conversations with God are injury-induced hallucinations or the fantastical imaginings of a schizophrenic. And when Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, it is Moses and not the “finger of God” writing them—without any hint of the blinding glory of God’s presence. In fact God’s portrayal is never that of a sovereign God of magnificent and overwhelming glory.  To the contrary, he is depicted as a somewhat dirty young boy who chats with Moses while serving tea.

Speaking of that website, Christian Newswire notes:

Scott’s portrayal of God makes him almost unnecessary in the film to the point that Exodus wouldn’t have suffered much if He had not been in it. Ultimately, the movie misses the central point of the story,” said Chris Stone, Certified Brand Strategist and Founder of Faith Driven Consumer.

The issue is the casting at this article at CNN:

We’ve known since the moment the full cast was announced: nearly every major role in the movie is played by a white actor.

What makes it worse for many observers is that, on the flip side, virtually every black actor in the movie is playing a part called “Egyptian thief” or “assassin” or “royal servant” or “Egyptian lower class civilian.”

…The deeper problem is one of conflating whiteness with heroism and power. Is it so hard to imagine our biblical heroes as being nonwhite? Is it beyond belief that one of the greatest empires in world history had authentically dark skin, rather than being white folks just wearing a ton of makeup?

Finally, in the spirit of the biblical ‘Love Chapter,’ Christianity Today finds some good things to say about it:

The costumes, jewelry, makeup, architecture, embellishments and textures in every shot of Exodus feel as authentic as something you’d see under glass in the British Museum. There are few filmmakers who do world-building better than Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Prometheus), and on this score Exodus may be his crowning achievement.

Plot deviations and minutiae aside, key themes of the Exodus story are there. Moses is rightly portrayed as a reluctant and rough-around-the-edges leader, though ultimately faithful to his calling. God’s favor upon and covenant faithfulness to the Hebrews is evident, especially in contrast to the ineffectual polytheism of the Egyptians. The presence of God with his people is clear (“God is with us!” shouts Moses on the banks of the Red Sea), even as the “wrestle” between Yahweh and the often-unfaithful Israelites also comes through. “Israel,” after all, literally means “struggle with God.”

Will LifeWay, Family Christian, Parable and Mardel stock the movie when the time comes? That remains to be seen. The film is PG-13 for violence, so some stores may think twice on that basis. But concerns about the film’s accuracy will probably rule the day. 

For a complete look at the differences between the Bible and the screenplay for Exodus, check out this article.  Note: Contains many spoilers; be sure to read all four pages.

 

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