Woodlawn – Film Review

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36 NKJV)

Regular readers will probably know that I have a policy of including a passage of scripture – relevant to the film that I am reviewing – in all of my film reviews.  The observant among them might just be thinking, (right about now) “Hm. That’s unusual.  He doesn’t usually start with a passage of scripture.  That usually comes later.”  And they would be right.

But such is the subject matter of this film (which comes from Pureflix, Provident Films and Erwin Brothers Entertainment), and such is the weight on my heart right now that I just had to follow how I feel led and to start with that passage of scripture.

Especially since -within the story lines of this film Christianity is treated by some – and interestingly especially by those in authority- as a threat and especially since you only have to look around at what is happening in the world today, to see how the bible, Christianity and Christian morals are treated by some – and interestingly especially by those in authority- (see the important and tragic similarity here) as a threat and with suspicion and fear.

 

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Woodlawn is a true story set in the early 1970’s in Alabama, USA amidst the racial tension and segregations that were so deeply impacting both the region and the country at that time.

Now let me mention right from the start of this review (well almost the start) that I am not American and In fact I fully believe that unless you are American (and I would almost go as far as to suggest an American of over a certain age) you would possibly struggle to fully understand how deeply devastating and disturbing these times were. Times which this writer fully believes are still  not fully behind us and which lay as a spectre all too ready to raise its ugly head once more – But that perhaps a subject is for another post on another blog.

But in a world where prejudice and racism and indeed prejudice against some convictions of faith is tragically still very much present this film is such a blessing and carries a central message (and indeed other messages) which we would ALL do very well to listen to.

Woodlawn4To say that this film focuses on the highschool years of one Tony Curtis Nathan ( excellently played by Caleb Castille – featured in the image above and who is himself a relative newcomer in terms of actors but certainly one to look out for in  the future in my opinion – would not be inaccurate.  And yet this film is so much more.

woodlawn3If you are an American football fan – especially college football – you are in for a treat and yet you don’t have to be a fan of American Football in order to be blessed, intrigued, sometimes gripped, and often inspired and challenged by this film, in my opinion.

But whist on the subject of being an American Football fan it is I think worth mentioning that if all Christians would only have but half of the passion that fans of American Football often feel for the sport or their team we would truly be a force to be reckoned with.

And that is perhaps the main story line of this film.  Passion not only in the game but in a higher power and how that passion and that faith and belief – for they should be inseparable for the believer.

woodlawn6Notable performances within this film come from a number of different sources.  Nic Bishop (also known for the TV series Body of Proof) who plays coach Tandy Gerelds being one of them.

He plays the role extremely  well and makes the character easy to relate to. Which -being as he is a central character in this film – is extremely important.

woodlawn5Another notable performance is put in by Sean Astin (also known for a growing number of Christian films and also, of course, the Lord of the Rings films.)  In this film his character by no means gets the most screen-time, but is central to the whole story and his ability to be both believable and convincing and compelling in the role is as essential and as much a blessing as is his character’s ability to be believable and convincing and compelling.

And also look out for the performances of John Voight as Coach Bryant, Joy Brunson as Johnnie, Sherri Shepherd as Momma Nathan, and young Jet Jurgensmeyer as Todd Gerelds

woodlawn7For the believer we are taught in the word and we believe that God is a ‘0n time’ God.  Well this is – without doubt – an ‘on time’ film.

And one which, I believe, would be a truly enjoyable and inspiring watch not just for the believer but also for the non-believer too.

And I am also of the opinion that it would be a wonderful film – one which, along with it’s messages, challenges and story lines, would do well to be discussed after viewing – for a youth group.

And so I would have absolutely no reservation in recommending this film to you and I invite you – on watching this film – to truly consider what it is saying to you personally.

As one tag line for this film puts it, there is – “One Truth, One Hope, One Way.” Or as the Bible puts it…

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. “” (John 14:6 NKJV).

As you will see from the trailer below one clear and undeniable statement made in this film and through the true story behind this film, “This is what happens when God shows up.” So I invite you now.  Watch this film, consider it’s truth and its message and then put it to the test!  See what happens in your life when you truly recognise that God has already shown up!

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Title:            Woodlawn
Written By:   Jon Erwin, Quniton Peeples

Directed By: Andrew Irwin, Jon Erwin

Starring:       Caleb Castille, Sean Astin, John Voight,

Genre: Christian, Drama, Sport

Runtime: 123 mins

Age Rating: PG

Release Date:  16th October 2015 (USA)

Violence: Limited, but intrinsic to the storyline. 

Controversial Language: Sparse to none

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Yes, but intrinsic to the storyline. 

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 9/10 †††††††††

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Captive – Film Review

It’s a title which – it is perhaps worth mentioning – has been used, in numerous forms, several times.  But don’t let that put you off watching this film as it certainly is, in the opinion of this writer, a film well worth watching.

Captive

But, since the purpose of this blog is to review and comment upon Christian and faith-based films, I should perhaps make mention of the fact that I am aware that some might argue that this film does not technically qualify as a Christian or a faith-based film. And I can understand such a perspective given that a) this film does not come out of one of the better known production houses when it comes to Christian films and b) the actual faith-based content of this film is certainly not excessive or ‘in your face’ or even predominant amongst everything else.

In fact I can almost hear the cynics now claiming that what we have here is a film – based on the book “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero” – which records how by ‘happenstance’ during a hostage situation parts of a Christian book (A Purpose Driven Life – Rick Warren) was read and how – as a result of this ‘happenstance’ and the outcome of said hostage situation, some people have jumped on the publicity bandwagon and used it in the furtherance of their own book sales and agenda.

But then there will always – this side of heaven I feel – be cynics, won’t there?

Kate Mara plays Ashley Smith in Captive from Paramount Pictures.

Kate Mara plays Ashley Smith in Captive from Paramount Pictures.

But their points of view (are at least from the viewing of just this film alone) understandable and as I said, the ‘faith’ content of this film is certainly not as prominent as some would perhaps like.

And apart from the comments I made earlier about this film and it’s pedigree what also makes this film somewhat different from your usual ‘Christian’ film is that there is – and this should be noted – a fair bit of actual rather than implied or referred to violence within the first part of this film.

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The film in fact centres around two main characters. That of Ashley Smith superbly played by Kate Mara (also known for Fantastic Four, Iron Man 2 and The Martian) featured in the image preceding the one above and Brian Nichols wonderfully played by David Oyelowo (featured in the image above ) and also known for Interstellar, Selma, Nightingale and The Butler.

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And there is also an excellent performance by Michael Kenneth Williams (also known for 12 Years a Slave and Gone Baby Gone – among many others) who plays Detective John Chestnut – the lead investigator/detective in the case. And for the portrayal of a news reporter – Meredith MacKenzie by Jessica Oyelowo.

Did I enjoy this film?  Was I inspired, challenged, blessed by it?  Yes I truly was.  Did it have me on the edge of my seat?  No, but then I am not sure it was ever intended to do so.  What it did do is keep me in my seat and cause me to reflect on my own life and my own faith,  And I think you can ask little else of such a film as to seek to be ‘gripped’ or ‘excited’ throughout or even via such films is perhaps to seek the wrong thing in the wrong place and possibly – even probably – with the wrong motivations.

As you have probably noticed by now, apart from one or two general statements which are, I feel, already common knowledge about this film I have tried to stick t0 my policy of not including any spoilers in this review.

And so as I draw this particular review to a close let me conclude by sharing the following statement about this film.  It is a film where the storyline is portrayed and indeed flows perfectly naturally and yet as is often the case within the natural we are given – those of us who truly seek to see – glimpses of the supernatural, of the spiritual.  Of God at work in those who would – by the world’s understanding and certainly it’s judgement already be deemed to be lost.

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And yet isn’t that the very calling card of God?

…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, (ROMANS 5:20b NKJV)

Oh and before I close, I want to give a shout out to Carolyn – a dear friend from Church – who gave me a heads up about this film!

Captive3Title:            Captive

Written By:   Brian Bird, Ashley Smith, Reinhard Donke

Directed By: Jerry Jameson

Starring:       Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Mimi Rogers

Genre: Christian, Drama, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 97 mins

Age Rating: PG-13

Violence: Yes, but intrinsic to the storyline. 

Controversial Language: Sparse to none

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Yes, but intrinsic to the storyline. 

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 8/10 ††††††††††

 

War Room – Film Review

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I think that you can easily be forgiven if – having seen the title of this film – you expected something entirely different than what you got when viewing this film.

Although I can’t help but wonder if the fact that I personally expected something entirely different isn’t some sort of wake up call to just how influenced by the ‘world’ I have become over the years.  

To the point where my first thought – even though I knew this was a Christian film – was to expect a film about the application of faith amidst some panic stricken major threat set in some military silo or high-command somewhere. (Somewhere like that shown in this image – not taken from the film)

But in fact the ‘War Room’ in question – much like this film, is nothing as grand or as dramatic and any ‘explosions’ that are seen within this film tend to be of the domestic variety and certainly not military.

War-Room-TableIn truth I am not sure how to review or comment on this particular film/movie. That is to say that I am not sure if I should give it a good review or a less favourable one.  And that in itself, I think, speaks into the very heart of this film.

It is an excellent subject – the fact that we are all – whether knowingly or not, whether willingly or not, whether deliberately or not – involved in spiritual warfare and the very clear message that we as Christians should be much more aware of this and much more prayerful about things.  But I just can’t bring myself to conclude that this film has made that point in a powerful enough way, or in a way which relates enough.

Coming (as posters inform us) from the creators of Fireproof and Courageous

Screen-Shot-2015-08-28-at-2.12.03-PM-640x480this film makes the clear and very true proclamation that

Prayer Is A Powerful Weapon.

And you’ll get no argument from me there.  I am just not convinced that this film is very powerful in its presentation or storyline.

The acting in this film/movie is ok.  Character portrayals are both good and believable.  But, if I am honest, no one actor or actress (Hm. is actress still ‘pc’ a term I wonder) leaps out as being notable or delivering a superb performance.  And in the same spirit of honesty I have to say that, for me personally, no one character leapt out as being notable either.

That is not to say that the story lines or sub plots weren’t relevant because they most certainly are.

Is this a film/movie worth watching?  Yes I think it most certainly is. And I also – in the spirit of fairness – have to wonder if some of this film’s appeal was lessened as a result of cultural differences.

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The issues of course cross cultures and are applicable for Christians the world over.  How worldliness and the pressures of modern day living, how temptation and dishonesty and indeed greed can wreck relationships.  And how prayer and indeed – personal and honest and open reflection of our ‘selves’ and our own walks measured against the word or God and our subsequently getting ourselves right with God before we seek to get those around us right with God also apply to us all.

So yes this film/movie does have clear and positive messages and yes this film/movie is – in the opinion of this writer – still worth watching.But is it engaging enough to make it memorable or something you will rush out to tell the rest of your church group about?  I am just not convinced.  And is it a film/movie which will engage and retain the attention of a youth group?  Again, sadly, I am just not so sure.

But with all the above having been said, I still enjoyed the film and – in a world where so many Christian leaders within the public arena seem – again in the opinion of this writer – more interested in that public arena than anything else I wholeheartedly was blessed by the films central theme and I reminded of the following scripture.

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 5:5-6 NKJV)

Do I therefore recommend this film/movie to you?  Yes, on reflection I think I still do – despite my observations above.

Title:              War Room

Written By:   Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick

Directed By: Alex Kendrick,

Starring:       Priscilla C. Shirer, T. C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie

Genre: Christian, Drama

Runtime: 120 mins

Age Rating: PG

Violence: Next to None

Controversial Language: None

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: None

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 6/10 ††††††††††

Old Fashioned – Film Review

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old-fashioned 5‘I have a Theory.’  Having a theory is a theme which runs throughout this movie. Generally being presented by one of the two main characters.

‘Clay’  excellently played by Rik Swartzwelder (also known for ‘The Least of These’) and who is also credited with both writing and directing this film and who – in his performance – presents his character ‘Clay’ as an engaging and appealing and a ‘reliable’ main character.

But back to my ‘theory’.  I have, as I said, a theory.  And that theory is that this film will speak right into the heart of many folk who see it and will challenge, if they allow it to, the way that many see romance and dating and indeed preparing for marriage.

old fashioned 4Amber, his counter part and co-lead character, the recipient of most of ‘Clay’s’ theories and the focus of his affections is equally as engaging and appealing but (it has to be said) more of a free-spirit (shall we say?).

And Amber’s character is equally as well-played as a result of an excellent portrayal by Elizabeth Roberts (also known for Black Knight and World’s End)  And indeed in many ways it is the differences between these two central characters – and the resultant chemistry between them – which goes a long way to making this film as enjoyable as it is.

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In essence this movie is about courtship and romance with an ‘old-fashioned’ approach – hence the title and as the imdb describes it is…

A former frat boy and a free-spirited woman together attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America.

And yet it is so much more.  It is about honour and respect, about traditional solid Christian values being applied not in a stoic or hindering manner but in a very relevant and rewarding way within the modern day world.

But don’t miss the additional messages and back-stories within this beautiful film/movie.  Messages about being a new person (a new creation) in Christ.  About how the past seeks to destroy the future. About family and the core value of family and about finding true identity and confidence in Christ.

AuntZellaSmilingAnd look out for the wonderful performance of Dorothy Silver (also known for The Shawshank Redemption and Promised Land) who plays ‘Aunt Zella’.

And who (in her character role) brings encouragement, inspiration, challenge and accountability.  Things which are, in the opinion of this writer,  often far too sparse when it comes to relationships in today’s world.

old fashioned 6To say that this film/movie had me sitting on the edge of my seat would actually be as far from the truth as you could get.  But that is not to say that it didn’t retain my interest throughout.

Actually a truer picture and description would be that it is the kind of film which would have you and your partner snuggled up together in a blanket, sipping warm hot-chocolate drinks and buried into a big soft couch probably with your partner resting her head on your shoulder, as you watched it together.

And yes I known I am not known for being prone to such scenes of romantic behaviour and nor do I believe I have any desire to have another partner.  But those facts should if anything tell you something about just how encouraging and engaging this film truly is. And actually (since I am being candid and open about this film) watching it has been one of the extremely few times when I have questioned whether I am meant not to have another partner.

In truth I liked this film.  I liked the comparisons it brought concerning different worlds and different life choices.  I enjoyed to storyline and was encouraged and yes challenged by some of the back stories and messages.

It is a film of beauty.  Beauty of scenery (and very well presented through the cinematography) yes.  Beauty of characters also yes (ad also check out the wonderfully natural performance of Lejon Woods among others).  But more than that it is about beauty of a pure heart and a gentle spirit.  It is about healing and forgiveness and it is about love, honour and respect.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2 NKJV)

I have therefore no problem whatsoever in recommending it to you.

5138_oldfashioned_border_flat_lgTitle:              Old Fashioned

Written By:   Rik Swartzelder

Directed By: Rik Swartzelder

Starring:       Rik Swartzelder, Elizabeth Roberts, Lejon Woods, Dorothy Silver

Genre: Christian, Drama, Romance

Released: September 18th, 2014 (USA)

Runtime: 115 mins

Age Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material

Violence: Next to None

Controversial Language: None

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Not shown, but referenced.

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 7/10 ††††††††††

Not Today – Film Review

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not-today-movie-poster-4If there was one film cover which, were I asked today, “What one Christian film I would recommend for a youth group or young adults group to watch?” I would ask you to look out for, it would most definitely be this one.

It is from the film ‘Not Today’ which comes from the ‘Friends Media’ production company and which is, in the opinion of this reviewer both compelling and inspiring.

As usual I always do my best to steer clear of giving spoilers in my reviews so here is a direct quote from www.imdb.com concerning this  film…

While on vacation with friends in Hyderabad, India, Caden Welles – a privileged young man with the world at his disposal – takes an unexpected turn in life after initially refusing to help a starving man and his daughter.

But I have to tell you that the film is so, so much more than the quote would give us to believe.

It is a story of fate and faith and of worth.  Focusing on the fate mainly of this one child – Annika. Who, along with her father, is part of a group of people in India who are known as the ‘untouchables’ the ‘Dalits’ (which tragically and poignantly is pronounced very much like the ‘deletes’) and who – in the eyes of far too many – have lost or are devoid of all value or worth.

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It looks at the way in which God speaks into and indeed through the life of what is basically a spoiled rich American kind – Caden Welles (played excellently by Cody Longo – also known for ‘The Silent Thief’) and how – through his experiences in India and having met Annika and her father – he not only finds God’s true worth in His life and the life of others but (and perhaps crucially for him) his worth in God’s eyes.

maxresdefault It is a story about slavery and human trafficking.  One which – if you are looking for something which will challenge the very fabric of your comfort zone – will certainly shock and challenge you.

He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker,
But he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.

(Proverbs 14:31 NKJV)

In terms of the actors and acting in this film, as I said Cody Longo puts in an excellent performance and apart perhaps from John Schneider – who plays Luke (Caden’s step-father) no great names leap out at you from the cast list.  But don’t let that fool you into thinking that you won’t therefore see some excellent performances.  Because certainly that isn’t the case.

What you won’t see, however, is any Hollywood glitz and glamour.  Nor will you be treated to gratuitous levels of CGI.  Actually any CGI would be hard to spot in this one. And there within – within the earthy simplicity and purity of this film’s cinematography – is the film’s beauty.

Written and directed by Jon Van Dyke (not tremendously known for films of this type, it has to be said) the film is excellent. But if you are going to watch it (and I strongly recommend that you do) go beyond the film’s ending and watch the credit and back-story presented at the end.  It is well worth it.

Not Today cover

Title:              Not Today

Written By:   Jon Van Dyke

Directed By: Jon Van Dyke

Starring:       Cody Longo, Walid Amini, Jon Schneider, Cassie Scerbo

Genre:           Drama, Christian

Released:      April 12th, 2013 (USA)

Runtime: 103 mins

Age Rating: PG-13 For mature thematic material

Violence: Next to None

Controversial Language: None

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Integral to plot.

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 8/10 ††††††††††

The Cokeville Miracle – Film Review

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cokevilleI came across this film purely by accident.  But I have to tell you that I am so glad and was so blessed to have done so.

Especially since it was only released on June 5th of this year.

It is a film which is based on true events and for those who, like me, – living in Ireland and not the USA – are not familiar with the story.  Cokeville in Wyoming, USA is where – on May 16th 1986 former town Marshall David Young and his wife Doris took (I believe it was some) 136 children and 18 adults hostage within their elementary school.

And that much I can safely share with you because it is – for many Americans – a well known incident. And, as far as I can tell, one which gripped many people as the intense scenes played out at the time.

And this film – The Cokeville Miracles – plays out a recreation not only of those scenes but also some wonderful and – let’s be honest here – very inexplicable (especially if you are a person who struggles to believe in God and Christ) happenings.

The film itself is – and I choose my words very carefully here – ‘nothing sensational’.  And there within lies much of it’s power and its witness.  For unlike a lot of movies of this type it doesn’t seek to sensationalize either through it’s retelling, assumed artistic license or the cinematography used.

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It is, quite simply, raw and honest.  And I for one loved that about it, and credit is due to the production company ‘Remember Films’ and it’s writer (and director) T. C. Christensen (also known for his works on such films as; 17 miracles, Ephraim’s Rescue, and Forever Strong)

In watching this movie you will be presented with many questions I feel.  Questions which challenge and which point you towards reflections on faith.  There are within the film – just as there were at the time  of the real life incident – accounts from the children involved concerning ‘angelic visitations’. And these are certainly hard to simply dismiss.  Especially if you are a Christian.

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

The words in the above quote come from the book of Hebrews – Chapter 13 and verse 2.  They are taken from the New King James Version and as a bible-believing Christian I cannot therefore deny the existence of angels.  Do I fully understand their purpose or indeed their often reported presence among us?  No of course not.  But I am so very grateful for them and so very careful that my gratitude is directed to the right person,  to God through Christ.  After all, isn’t it important that we are correct in our beliefs and our approaches?

And so here I feel I should, as a Christian, make something very clear about this film…

Having watched and been thoroughly intrigued by this film, and having decided to review it here on this site. I began to research it more fully.  I like to do that when writing a review and think it only right and proper to do so.  It was only during that research that I learned of the connection this film seems to have with the ‘Latter Day Saints.’  And I could not in all good conscience write this review without pointing that out or without making it perfectly clear that I personally have nothing to do with that particular organisation or sect.

The above having been said, it does also therefore call into question – for many, I am sure – whether this is actually a Christian film and thus whether it should be reviewed here.  And I have to admit I am still not settled on this issue myself.  But interestingly there appeared to be little to no reference to the Latter Day Saints within the actual movie itself.  And, as I said, the movie is powerful and raw and honest in its production and witness.  And the cast – including many of the children put in excellent portrayals.

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Cokeville1Title:              The Cokeville Miracle

Written By:   T.C. Christensen

Directed By:  T.C. Christensen

Starring:       Nathan Stevens, Jason Wade, Caitlin E. J. Meyer,

Genre: Drama, Family, Faith-based, History

Released: June 5th, 2015

Runtime: 94 mins

Age Rating: PG-13

Violence: Next to None

Controversial Language: None

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Integral to plot.

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 7/10 ††††††††††

Heaven Is For Real – Film Review

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HIFR BookYesterday afternoon I sat and watched a film which I had decided (a few months ago) that I probably wouldn’t watch at all.  The fact is that it is – without doubt – a controversial film and one which – if the conversations I have had previously about the film are anything to go by – divides opinion within Christian circles.  It is a film based on a ‘true story’ and the book (of the same name but with the tagline “A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back£) by Pastor Todd Burpo.

And perhaps – in the interest of objectivity and honesty – it is worth my explaining that my awareness of this film came at a time when I was personally witnessing a large number of folk sharing weird and convoluted (and sadly all too often scripturally unsound) theories and indeed leaving churches and corporate worship for the much less structured (dare I say much less disciplined) private worship at home.

Something which both saddens me deeply as a result of my understanding of scriptural encouragements and indeed God’s will for us as believers and disciples of Christ.  And so I found myself experiencing a reluctance to even consider watching this film.

But then, (and this seems as good a place as any to insert a quote from the film),

What we believe changes what we perceive.

As usual I am going to try to avoid the trap of giving out spoilers and so I will say very little about the film’s actual content in this review.  It is – in the most simplistic of terms – a film about a small boy who has a near death experience and visits heaven and then returns.  Plus, of course the fall out of such a revelation.

Instead of discussing the films specific content, I will try to focus on general topics, questions and thoughts raised by this film.  And certainly the whole question of a 4 year old boy actually seeing heaven and then returning (Hm. Did he actually ever leave the earth? A debate which will be well oiled I am sure before conversations about this film are over) to earth poses difficulties for many.

Which is one area where the truth of the quote above actually stands out, isn’t it?

Visiting heaven and returning is something which for many is reserved for the ‘special’ the most holy perhaps.  And indeed within the parameters of some folk’s understanding and thus their faith the idea that a ‘normal’ (whatever that is) young lad actually going there and coming back poses great difficulties.

HIFR1And actually, in all honesty, I still don’t know exactly where I stand on that question.  Which is probably more of a comment and reflection on where I am in my own faith and walk than it is about this film.

What I can tell you is that whilst the whole subject is a veritable minefield when it comes to the cheesy and twee. And whilst the temptation to flood the thing with wonderful CGI effects must have been great.  This film actually manages to get through it without doing so.  Although (and again this could well be a reflection on me) it did in one or two places come very close.

JesusPuppyBut thankfully it managed, as I said, to avoid this temptation or those mines.

And let’s be honest. Some folk seem to have a leaning towards the cheesy and the twee when it comes to this kind of thing.  As this image (found when I Googled heaven is for real) illustrates.

Which, unless Jesus has started to endorse Andrew toilet tissue (you really need to have seen European Andrex Toilet tissue adverts to fully understand this comment) makes no sense whatsoever.

The film instead handles the subject extremely delicately and with as little glorious (Hm. perhaps that is the wrong expression) CGI effects and sensationalism as possible.  And in doing so certainly adds – or at least doesn’t take away any – credibility.

Todd (Greg Kinnear) shows Colton (Connor Corum) a picture of 'Pops' his grandfather in TriStar Pictures' HEAVEN IS FOR REAL.

Greg Kinnear (who plays Pastor Todd Burpo) puts in an excellent performance and is mainly very ably assisted by his on screen son Colton Burpo (wonderfully played by young Conor Corum) and his on screen wife Sonja Burpo (played by Kelly Reilly.)

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And I feel I should also mention the wonderful performance by Margo Martindale (also known for such things as Million Dollar Baby, Lonesome Dove [TV] and August: Osage County).  In this film she played a church official who was – as a result of her own situation – so very quick to suggest dropping Pastor Todd when things got a little uncomfortable.  Oh how true to life and human nature that sadly is.  And look out for Thomas Haden Church’s performance in this film – which is also well worthy of a mention.

In essence this is a film which is engaging in both it’s subject matter and it’s presentation. It is, in the opinion of this reviewer, beautifully filmed and delicately handled.

Does it contain a clear message?  Yes it does and actually it presents many a believer with questions and even challenges which they may not be too keen to consider.  But then, as the quote I started with above “what we believe changes what we believe” suggests, that really depends on each individual believer.

And as pastor Todd Burpo asks and even suggests in the asking within the film…

If heaven is for real, wouldn’t we all live different lives?

I enjoyed the film and yes I would recommend it.  But only after admitting that this is now the day after I watched the film and the questions it raised in my heart and my head are still very much pressing for prayerful consideration.  And so  I close this review with a passage of scripture in the form of Colossians 3:1-4 NKJV…

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory

HIFR Cover2Title:              Heaven Is For Real

Written By:   Randall Wallace, Chris Parker, Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.

Directed By: Randall Wallace

Starring:       Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church,  Conor Corum,  Margo Martindale.

Genre: Drama, Christian

Released: May 30th, 2014 (UK)

Runtime: 99 mins

Age Rating: PG

Violence: Next to None

Controversial Language: None

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: None

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 7/10 ††††††††††

Flywheel – Film Review

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Coming out of ‘Sherwood Pictures‘ (a fully fledged independent production company which is a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church, in Albany, Georgia, USA) and their first big venture this film is – in many ways – the forerunner of such Christian films as ‘Fireproof’, ‘Facing The Giants’ and ‘Courageous’, and as the forerunner it certainly does show it’s infancy in comparison.  But that should not put you off watching this film.

FW1Due to this being a review on the film itself and not a commentary on the wonderful initiative of Christian Churches actually being behind the making of Christian films, I am going to limit myself from rattling on about this new initiative.  But I do think it is worth mentioning what a blessing it is.

In the most simplistic of terms this movie is about a dishonest car salesman – Jake Austin (played by Roger Breland) who so intensely wants and needs to sells cars but who then turns his life (and his sales ethics) over to Christ.  And as such the film focuses on the changes in his life and also to his favourite car.

FW2However there is (as I am sure you were hoping) more to the story than that. Jake is not only a salesman he is also the owner of the car lot (used car sales business) and thus his dishonest practices are also the practices of his staff.  And so changes to his life and integrity obviously threatens theirs.  And so we see how God changing the life of one person can filter out and influence the lives of many others.

Normally in my reviews I comment on and try to acknowledge wonderful performances and acting as well as making mention of any well known actors or actresses within the films that I review. But in truth this film offers we the viewers no well-known actors and next to no – in my opinion – wonderful performances. Although most performances are – it should be said – perfectly acceptable and believable.

To be honest I found the acting in this film (and yes I openly acknowledge that it is a church-based project completed on a small [I think around $20,000] budget) to be somewhat flat and uninspiring. And actually I found the film to be equally as flat and uninspiring, outside of the fact that finally Christians are fully involved in the making of Christian film making.

That is not to say that the film isn’t worth watching.  It certainly is and yes it has a good and healthy message.

I don’t know.  Perhaps I – like many (I believe) of our young people – have become socially conditioned by the media to expect – and almost even demand – the sensational?  I am certainly open to that possibility.  And certainly I am (and have long since been) of the opinion that this social conditioning of expecting the sensational has done so much damage to us when it comes to our also expecting to and actually recognising and seeing Christ at work in the small and simple as well as the big and dramatic.

And whilst this film was released some twelve years back and the initiative no longer new or in its infancy I still don’t want to be discouraging about it in any way.  It is an OK film with an acceptable level of acting from unknown actors – many of whom I suspect were not even actors before this venture – and as such does a good job.  And I really do want to compliment those who had no acting experiences or even ambitions but who committed to this film and venture.

FW3Is the film worth watching?  Yes absolutely it is. Is the story interesting – even captivating?  Interesting yes, captivating no.  Sorry but actually I suspect the real-life story of Sherwood Pictures and ‘the Kendrick Brothers’ is more captivating than this movie.

Is it inspiring?  Well, actually I suspect this is more down to we the viewers and our expectations than it is down to the film-makers.

“I love those who love me,
And those who seek me diligently will find me.”

(Proverbs 8:17 NKJV)

Title:              Flywheel

Written By:   Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick

Directed By: Alex Kendrick

Starring:       Rosetta Harris Armstrong, Lisa Arnold, Blake Bailey,

Genre: Drama, Christian

Released: April 09th, 2003 (USA)

Runtime: 120 mins

Age Rating: PG

Violence: None

Controversial Language: None

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: None

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 5/10 ††††††††††

The Second Chance – Film Review

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I have this afternoon decided, that in all of my reviews from now on (and who knows I might even go back and amend the ones that I have already done) I am going to include a relevant passage of scripture.

After all, this is a Christian site reviewing Christian and faith-based films/movies and with an attitude of faith.  So for this review the passage of scripture which instantly come to mind to this reviewer (you may very well have your own) is that of Joshua 24:15 and specifically the last line.

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (NKJV)

This film is all about faith, and indeed all about serving the Lord.  And I have to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and very much appreciated it’s central message.

It stars – along with several others – the Christian singer/songwriter Michael J Smith who plays the role of Associate Pastor Ethan Jenkins. a man who grew up in his father’s ministry but who – as is often the way – sees things a little differently to the old man.

But actually it isn’t his seeing things differently to his father that forms the main storyline of this film.  This is where Pastor Jake Sanders – excellently played by Jeff Obafemi Carr (who then went on to have roles in Pure Country 2 – The Gift, Blue Like Jazz and The Secret Handshake) comes in. For as wealthy and comfortable as the “rock star status” Pastor Ethan Jenkins (Michael W Smith) – or ‘Gucci’i as Pastor Jake calls him – may be, Pastor Jake (Jeff Obafemi Carr) is not.

Along the way, in this film we are introduced and invited to connect and empathise with several other characters and we learn their stories and see God working in their lives. It is, it has to be said, a story of comparisons.  Material wealth verses material poverty and yes also spiritual wealth verses spiritual bondage often through material wealth.

And whilst that may already be ringing an ‘oh no aren’t there already enough story-lines about that’ bell in your mind, please don’t let this put you off watching this film as it really does present it’s message – and indeed it’s challenges – in an interesting and slightly different way.

TSC3As usual (having spoilers in mind), I am reluctant to say very much more about this film.  Does it contain violent scenes?  Yes but not that these are at all graphic by nature and actually they are extremely delicately handled. Having more suggestion than presence and then only enough to support the storyline.

Is it possible – even very likely – that some of the actions of both of the central pastors could be questionable to some?  Yes absolutely (hey, they are even questionable to each other) but does that negate either the authenticity of their roles or their calling (within the context of the film)?  No I don’t believe that it does.

Did Michael W Smith’s acting make me sit up and go, “Wow, there is a man who has missed his calling”?  Lol not it did not.  But neither, it has to be said, did it make me go, “Wow, there’s a man who should have stuck to his first calling.” Which is a blessing in itself – trust me.

Actually whilst all of the acting was – in the opinion of this reviewer – perfectly acceptable and plausible within their roles, no one actor or character really leapt of the screen at me.  And again, in many ways, that is a good thing as from these humble messengers the film’s message lost no emphasis.

Again, I make allowances for the fact that this film was released some 9 years ago now (at the time of my writing this review) and again that means that budgets, access to equipment and resources – due to this being a Christian film – would have been more limited.

As a related sidebar, I have to say that it truly saddens me how in terms of Christian films and indeed Christian music the quality of production has always seemed to lag several years behind secular stuff.

I enjoyed this film.  I appreciated this film.  And yes I was challenged by this film.  Although, in many ways, I think it’s challenge is as relevant to; church committees, leadership teams and boards as it is to the individual Christian.

And before closing I think I should mention that if you are keen on Michael W. Smith’s music and are thinking of watching this movie because of his music, you should be aware that actually it is extremely limited in this film.  That is not the purpose of it.

Would I recommend this film to you if you came to me and asked me to recommend a good Christian movie? Yes I would, but I have to be honest here, there are several others that I would be more likely to recommend first.

Title:              The Second Chance

Written By:   Chip Arnold, Henry O. Arnold, Ben Pearson, Steven Taylor

Directed By: Steve Taylor

Starring:       Michael W. Smith, Jeff Obafemi Carr, J. Don Ferguson

Genre: Drama, Christian

Released: February 17th, 2006 (USA)

Runtime: 102 mins

Age Rating: PG-13

Violence: Limited

Controversial Language: Limited

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Limited (more suggested than actual)

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 6/10 Highly Recommended. ††††††††††

The Last Sin Eater – Film Review

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Based on a best selling novel by Francine Rivers, the 1850’s in the Appalachian mountains is the setting for this film which focuses on Welsh immigrants and one of the customs/traditions which they brought with them.  A tradition which not only bound a whole community but also (along with another major tragedy) young 10 year old ‘Cadi Forbes.’ (Excellently played by Liana Liberato – also known for ‘If I Stay’)

This is a story about guilt and (thankfully) the freedom through Christ from guilt which binds so deeply. And actually wasn’t a bad film at all.

To be honest, throughout this film I mainly found myself either a)  being placed in mind of the TV series ‘Little House on The Prairie’ – not least of all because the principal character or Cadi Forbes really reminded me of either Laura or Mary Ingalls [I am not sure which]) or b) trying to work out what was going on with the accents.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the film.  Because I really did.  And neither is it to say that I was so distracted that I missed the film’s main messages.  Which, in the opinion of this writer (and again I don’t wish to offer any spoilers by going into these too deeply), are freedom from guilt through Christ and also how old traditions and ways – which whilst being practised to offer freedom – may actually be part of he very thing which binds us.

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The scenery in this film is stunning and the cinematography in of a good standard if not a little dated in its techniques and thus it’s presentation. (The scene in the image above being and excellent example of this, where it’s drama was – at least for this reviewer – somewhat reduced by obvious camera techniques.)

But then, perhaps I am being a little harsh and so – in the interest of fairness – I should perhaps remember (and thus point out) that this film was released in 2007 and in terms of Christian films, this was long before such things as; budgets, professionalism and access to equipment and resources  for the making of Christian films were brought any where near op to par for the making of secular films.  And certainly this comment/observation is not intended to take anything away from the work of the excellent director Michael Landon Jr. on this piece.

In truth I am of the opinion that it might be difficult for some younger viewers to connect with this film and to be excited or even challenged by it.  But then this is probably more of a social observation on these times and I am not young myself and perhaps shouldn’t make such judgement calls.  Plus, the fact that I am of a certain age and of European culture might well be influencing my perspective here.  And certainly if you have a differing opinion of the film I would love to hear from  you about your perspective of it.

Does it serve a purpose?  Yes absolutely I believe it does.  Is the message it carries important?  Yes, here again, I would have  to say yes.  And actually it’s core message is as relevant, in my opinion, to a youngster in downtown New Orleans as it is to this 50 some year old Englishman living in a quaint little town in Ireland.  The only question is that of being willing to hear via this film.

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Sometimes, it is difficult to understand where traditions and beliefs come from or even why they are followed or practised for so long.  And I think that viewing them and considering them in the culture and time of when they were practised certainly does help with our understanding.  But I also firmly believe that actually we too could easily have grown up with, or adopted, or bought into practises and traditions which are either unfounded, untrue or unhealthy.

Would I recommend this film  to you? Yes I would, having now made the comments and observations above clear.

 

Title:              The Last Sin Eater

Written By:   Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr., (Francine Rivers)

Directed By: Michael Landon Jr.

Starring:       Louise Fletcher, Henry Thomas, Liana Liberato.

Genre: Drama, Christian

Released: February 09th, 2007 (USA)

Runtime: 117 mins

Age Rating: PG-13

Violence: Limited but does include some child abuse

Controversial Language: Limited

Nudity and/or Sexual Content: None

Potentially Disturbing Scenes: Limited but does include some child abuse

For Faith and Ful-film-ent Rating: 7/10 Highly Recommended. †††††††††