REEL REVIEW: Risen

As some of you might know, I have been looking forward to this movie and have been urging people to see it opening weekend.  Now I have seen it, and it is time to face the question, was it worthy of my support and my movie money?

A LITTEL BIT ABOUT KEVIN REYNOLDS

I first discovered this film because I enjoy Kevin Reynolds as a director. His visual style is fantastic and for me, the visuals of a movie mean just as much as the story itself.  Others might have different feelings on that, and that’s fine, but this is my review.  If I had to make a list of directors that I actually get excited about simply see the visuals of a film, he would be on that list.  Behind Ridley Scott and Mel Gibson of course, but he’s up there somewhere. So, for me, seeing Kevin Reynolds direct a movie about Christ I couldn’t help myself but get excited.

THE REVIEW

Let’s start with some of the negatives.

  1. This film has a little bit of a smaller budget than I think Kevin Reynolds is used to working with. (But let’s not fool ourselves here, it had a $20 million dollar budget. That’s still plenty f money to make a quality film.)
  2. The actor that played Pilate I felt was subpar and that was only made more apparent by the superb job of everyone else.
  3. I think they had a few missed opportunities to place a few “Easter eggs” in the film. For example, while checking other Hebrew graves trying to find if someone stashed the body of Jesus in another grave, I thought it would have been easy to have a report come in that they have found other graves empty.  This would have been a small way of pointing to when the Bible talks about other righteous men raising from the dead.

Alright….  Well….  That’s really all I can think of right now.  I mean, really…. I loved this film!

So let’s talk about the positives!

  1. Just as I expected, this film was visually beautiful. Many critics have said that the first half of the film was good but the second half really was lacking….  Well… I am sorry, I had a very different experience.  The critic’s say that when Clavius saw Jesus alive, that was the moment the movie fell away… and I am here telling you, that is when Kevin Reynolds kicked it into high gear.

 

After Clavius searched for the body of Christ he finally closes in on them.  He sees Mary Magdalene go into an upper room.  Clavius, apart from the rest of his team crashes in.  He sees Jesus and is so taken back he steps back outside.  Visually, Kevin Reynolds told us something in that moment that some people might not have picked up on.  Clavius is shrouded in light as he steps back out.  He has walked in and seen Jesus, and now he has walked into the light! The understanding that something very different is going on here.  It was the moment for me when I felt that Kevin Reynolds, as a directors said “OK, it’s on!” because from that moment on the movie was beautifully shot! That’s not to say it wasn’t beforehand, but it seems Reynolds kicked it up a notch.

  1. The acting was great! I mean, not Oscar great… but still very very good! Especially from Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton! Bravo to both for outstanding performances!
  2. The depiction of the Disciples and their relationship with Jesus was very moving. I can’t remember a single other time I felt that the Disciples where portrayed as a family.  With the comradery of brothers!  Every scene the disciples were in as a group just made me smile, with the biggest smile coming when they see Jesus on the shore and run to him.  One negative review from an audience member said the Disciples where just a bunch of laughing hyenas.  Unfortunately this criticism must come from someone who has either been too influenced by previous depictions of bumbling humorless Disciples or does not recognize the humor bore out in scripture like John referring to himself as “The Disciple whom Jesus loved.”
  3. The musical score was really good! Roque Baños gave us music that simply enhanced our movie watching experience. I can promise you that I am not the only one who was impressed by Roque Baños because Ron Howard (Another fantastic director) hired him to write the score for In the Heart of the Sea.  Because of how long ago this movie finished, I am only assuming that the score was already written by the time Howard was looking to score his film which came out before Risen.

DISAPPOINTMENT

I have read some criticisms of this movie from a few Christian’s saying that it is inaccurate to scripture.  The problem I see, however, is that I saw virtually no “inaccuracies” I did see a few liberties.  The only thing I can think of is the Doubting Thomas Scene, were Jesus is meeting with the disciples, Clavius comes in see Jesus, says nothing but collapses…  then Thomas comes in.  Yes, the Bible makes no mention of a Roman soldier being there, but it also doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened.  That’s what makes this fiction.  The inaccuracy comes when Thomas comes in… in the Bible, Thomas was already there when Jesus appeared.

Here in lies my frustration.  We want to see Bible stories brought to life in a huge way with all the splendor of Hollywood just like the Golden Age of Hollywood when Charlton Heston appeared in Bible Stories. Yet, when Hollywood (or a member of its industry) gives us one, we nitpick.  Think about this.  Noah made Noah look like a crazy killer and gave us fantasy creatures like these Rock People.  These are legitimate issues.  Exodus made Moses look like a hallucinating head injury victim who hears from a “god” who speaks like a spoiled child.  Another good criticism.  Thomas enters at the wrong time in Risen….  Ummm….  This is where I’m out.  I cannot defend your positions.

Let’s take another instance.  The movie begins with a battle, the battle is against a band of rebels who hate Rome and want to cause an insurrection.   We find out that this leader is Barabbas.  When, in that scene, the end up killing him I was taken back.  Why? Because I thought I was witnessing the arrest of Barabbas.  However, When Clavius returns we find that the Crucifixion had already taken place.   That means that Barabbas was already released and what the film would like us to imagine is that this man, whom many scholars peg as a “Revolutionary” had followers ready to rebel upon his release.  The Bible does not say anything about Barabbas’ demise so we are free to do some speculation.

This type of speculation is not new to Biblical films.  Go ahead and watch anyone of the great Biblical classic.  Every single one of them has scriptural inaccuracies and liberties.  Watch The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Ben-Hur, The Robe, all these films take liberties but we as Christians where not as cynical then as we are now.  Some of us might have even grown up assuming that Pharaoh loved Moses as a son.  We might have believed that was all Biblical only to find out later, with greater biblical study that we have been wrong. But therein lies the beauty!  Just like the movies from the Golden Age of film, Risen was told in a way the lifts up Christianity and shines a light on the risen Savior. If there are people who come away with some sort of fractured view of Jesus from this respectful film, how would it be any different from the millions of people who find Christ after hearing horrible outright lies about who Jesus is or who Christians are? This movie provides a spring board into conversations that start from an extremely positive view instead of a negative view.

CONCLUSION

I loved this film.  I think it is destined to become an Easter classic.  Even the naysayers will calm down after a while. I am already planning on showing my congregation this film next year at Easter.  Though I don’t think it is Kevin Reynolds at his best I don’t feel he let me down either.  I can’t wait to see what his next film will be! I personally hope this film was a positive experience for him and gives him an appetite for more Biblical epics…  if you need help Kevin, give me a call!

SPOILER

*******Don’t read this portion until after you see the film.*********
 

Personally, I think they missed one big twists that I was waiting for… but they never did.  If I wrote this script I would have had a different ending.

At the end, when Clavius takes off his ring and says he is no longer the same guy, how could he be.  I wanted him to say “I am no longer an enemy of God but rather a friend of God… I am no longer Clavius, I am Theophilus!”
Theophilus is most likely an officer of Rome, probably an officer of equestrian rank.  Both the book of Luke and the book of Acts are addressed to Theophilus so that he can know these things to be true.  Theophilus is used as this officers name, but interestingly enough Theophilus means “friend of God” it very well could have been an officer who changed his name at his conversion which did happen at times.  I would have loved to think that Clavius’ investigation continued after the film but with a different intent.  Instead of trying to disprove the rumor he continued his investigation to know more about this Christ whom he only knew for a few hours.  That, to me would have been the best ending!… but… oh well…

8 Facts about the Director of Risen

I just wanted to give you a few facts about Kevin Reynolds, the Director of Risen:
1. Kevin Reynolds gave Kevin Costner his start by casing him in Fandango.
2. Kevin Reynolds wrote the story for the original Red Dawn.
3. Being good friends Kevin Costner asked Kevin Reynolds for advice while acting in Dances with Wolves.
4. Kevin Reynolds was an uncredited second unite director on that classic.
5. Kevin Reynolds also directed Samuel L. Jackson in Jackson’s very first top billed movie! (Yeah, both Kevin Costner and Samuel L. Jackson have Kevin Reynolds to thank for their careers.)
6. Kevin Reynolds directed Kevin Costner’s History Channel Miniseries The Hatfield’s and McCoy’s… which was nominated for 16 Emmy’s one of those for Best Director.
7. Kevin Reynolds Directed my current favorite movie of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo… which was a spring board for Henry Cavil… our current Superman!
8. Kevin Reynolds was raised Baptist.
 
If you see nothing else in these list of facts, notice, Kevin Reynolds knows what he is doing, he is a star maker because he knows how to get good performances out of his actors… which is the #1 job of a director.
 
My favorite Director is Ridley Scott… the director I feel is the most under rated in Hollywood is Kevin Reynolds.
 
Bonus Fact: I didn’t find out about Risen because I was researching biblical movies… I discovered Risen (At the time titled Resurrection) because I simply wanted to know what Reynolds was doing next… I became super excited when I realized, what he was doing next was a film about Jesus!
Check out the Trailer for Kevin Reynolds’ newest movie, opening this weekend!

Why should I bother to see Risen?

“The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!” That was the tag line for the 1925 version of Ben-Hur.  It appeared right there on the poster! My, how times have changed! In 1925 this was smart advertising, today, this would probably be marketing suicide! Why?  Well, it would be easy to say “Because liberal Hollywood would not want any of their films marked like this, and if there was a film with this tagline Hollywood would try to bury it.”  But the truth of the matter is, Hollywood is not the reason this would not work anymore.  What is the reason? Well, its complicated but here is a list of why I think this type of advertising simply wouldn’t work (Note: I am going to over simplify here)

  1. “The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!” in today’s cynical culture sounds like it will be some type of Michael Moore style documentary telling Christians everything they have done wrong.
  2. This labels the movie as being for Christians thus causing people to believe it will be poorly written, low budget and preachy.
  3. Some Christians would be skeptical of a movie Hollywood thinks Christians might like because of past hurts like Noah, or Exodus.
  4. We don’t like to be told to do something… Christian and non-Christian alike.

There is a film coming out this weekend called “Risen.” This film in 1925 could have had this tagline but instead it has been given a different marketing push.  The ads say “From the studio that brought you Heaven is for Real and War Room.”  When I saw this add I cringed because this type of advertising is going to have a very similar effect as “The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!” minus the 4th reason.  Yet, out of all the Christian friendly films that have come out the last 12 months, this is the one I feel is the most important to get behind so I am going to address two types of people in this post and make an argument why both these types of people should go out and see Risen this weekend! Not next weekend… THIS WEEKEND!

I LIKE MOVIES LIKE WAR ROOM BUT DON’T LIKE MOVIES LIKE NOAH, WHY SHOULD I BOTHER?

  1. This is not Noah… or Exodus! – It is easy for me to understand why Christians did not like Noah or Exodus. You probably felt that (aside from being boring) they were disrespectful of the source material.  Well, I have a question for you, how did you feel about The Passion of the Christ? Was it respectful to the source material? The script Risen is based off of was originally written and presented to the producers of The Passion of the Christ as a sequel.  It was liked but they decided to go in a different direction, opting to make a prequel about Mary instead (a project that still has not made it off the ground.)  The script was so well liked that Kevin Reynolds decided to do it himself and worry about a distributer later.  I have followed this project a long time, through multiple name changes (Resurrection, Clavius, Risen) and Kevin Reynolds has had it in his mind to make a movie that would be a good story and stay true to what Christians believe.  How can we know he succeeded? Well, that is where the studio that brought you War Room comes in.  Sony liked the film and felt that it best fit in their faith based wing Affirm Films.
  2. Did you like Ben-Hur – I have been saying for many years now that when looking at telling Biblical stories in a new and fresh way, what you should do is tell the same old story from the eyes of someone new. Someone who either was just mentioned a few times in scripture or someone completely fictitious.   Take note of stories like Ben-Hur.  It was at one time considered a film every Christian should see yet much of the movie takes place outside the Biblical narrative.   That is what I have been wanting to see from a big budget Hollywood Biblical Epic… and that is what this story is!
  3. Would you like a film with a quality you can be proud of? – Some of my Christian friends wrongfully believe that to be ashamed of a Christian movie is to be ashamed of Christ. That is not true! I love the message of many Christian films but feel that the message could have been delivered with better care.  This film was made with the love and passion of a film maker.  This will be quality film making… with the Christ story at the center!
  4. Would you like a film specifically focused on your skeptical friend? – The main character is a Roman soldier. He led the crucifixion (or so it seems, I have not seen the movie yet), he saw Jesus die and then is placed in charge of investigating the rumors of the risen Christ.   He does not believe this could have happened… but… (Spoiler Alert) He comes face to face with the same man he killed… What does that do to a man? Would that turn a skeptic to a believer? The story was written in such a way that it would speak most to a skeptic!

I CAN’T STAND CHRISTIAN MOVIES! THEY ARE POORLY WRITTEN AND POORLY MADE! WHY SHOULD I BOTHER WITH THIS ONE!

  1. Do you hate movies like War Room? – I completely understand. Now here is this movie saying that it is from the same studio.  Why bother? Well, because it really isn’t the same makers.  You see, War Room was made by The Kendrick Brothers with no help of funding from Affirm Films.  Affirm Films (A branch of Sony Pictures) only distributes movies they feel will appeal to Christians.  They have no hand in any part of the making of the films (at least most of their films.)  Affirm Films has nothing to do with the quality or message of the movie!
  2. Do you like well told stories? – One of the major reasons I feel it is so important for Christians to support this film above others is because a message needs to be sent to these independent studios. We don’t just want Christian content, we want well made, well told stories from a Christian perspective. Kevin Reynolds is, in my opinion, a sourly underrated director and a wonderful story teller!  He doesn’t come out with many films because he spends a while on one film, and usually it shows… or at least it has shown in his past few outings.  The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) took a very long and difficult story to tell in 2 hours and he pieced it together masterfully! He also directed The Hatfield’s and McCoy’s for the History Channel and he so wonderfully shown the intense and slow escalation of that feud in a way that made me step back and go, “Wow, I can’t believe we started here and now look where we are!”
  3. Do you feel there should be more diversity in films today? – It is a big deal in Hollywood right now, Exodus, God’s of Egypt, these are just two movies that are being ridiculed for their “white-washing” but the cast of Risen is very ethnically diverse. The cast is made up of Spanish, Latino, Irish,  and many other ethnicity including the man who plays Jesus who I think is fittingly ethically ambiguous.

 

CONCLUSION

Deadpool, a Rated R raunchy Comic Book movie made around $130 Million this weekend.  It’s R-rating literally means it is restricted.  Yet, somehow it made this much in just 3 days.  Just one week later, we as Christians have an opportunity to make a statement too.  What is restricting us from seeing Risen?  I plan to on Friday! I promise to post my review as soon as I can!

My War Room Movie Review

I am tweaking the way I review movies a little bit.  My hope is that this new format will be shorter and easier to read on the fly for people who would like to know my opinions on a film.

MY VIEWS ON THE KENDRICK BROTHERS

I am and have been a big fan of the Kendrick Brothers.  I have long felt that they have led Christian movies in a much better direction then what Christian movies had been previous. Yes, they have a message in every one of their movies.  Having a message DOES NOT disqualify it as being art as some people have tried to argue.  It is actually a very classic form of storytelling to have a “moral of the story.”  This is not what has held Christian movies back, what has held them back is the fact that the story the message is wrapped in has been poorly written.  The Kendrick Brothers have done a fantastic job.  I will defend Fireproof to my grave! It was a Character piece about the transformation of a man who took the challenge of his father which led to very strong character growth within the main character to spite the fact that it was not having the intended outcome on his wife.  It was a wonderful story!  Anyone who thinks different is jaded or didn’t get it! (Yes, I said it!)

 

MY REVIEW OF WAR ROOM

THE GOOD

The message of the film is an uplifting one.  I am sure that many Christians will be touched by the message of this film.  If you have been touched by watching this film, great! I promise you the Kendrick Brothers would say that if one person was touched and challenged to pray more than the film was a success no matter how much money it made or what critics say.  If you were touched by the film, no one can take that away from you.  Not a single nay-sayer can remove what that message has meant to your life!

 

THE BAD

In the past I have given the Kendrick Brothers a pass when it comes to acting because they use members of their congregation instead of trained, professional actors.  I give them a pass because their movie company was a division of their church.  It was originally formed for the church to make original films as a way to invite the community in to their church and give them an uplifting spiritual message in a non-threatening way.  It was the entire point of their movies and it also just so happened to become very popular.  They had a lot of success in their community and beyond. However, this film is the first film the Kendrick Brothers have made with their very own movie studio.  They had the budget to hire professional actors.  Actors that have done more than just their films… yet they didn’t.  They had the funds, and the ability to shoot for quality but they didn’t.  I cannot look past it this time.

However, in my opinion, this was not the worst part of the quality of this film.  The worst was the writing! This film was the most disjointed story the Kendrick Brothers had put out.  The tone of the film was all over the place.  The first half of the film was a rushed Lifetime movie that seemed that it just couldn’t wait to get to the second half of the film which was a Disney Children’s movie about jump roping! Yes, I am sure some people had fun watching the jump rope competition with the dubstep (I actually enjoyed the dubstep) but it was not a smooth or well written story.  I mean, come on… that random mugger? Really?

CONCLUSION

Again, it is fine if someone gained enjoyment with this film.  It is also fine if it spoke to you but the reason I began this blog was to try, in my very own little way, to monitor the quality of film making in Christian films. With this being my goal, simply gaining satisfaction won’t due when even more satisfaction could have been had if they would have put out a better quality film.  I was very disappointed with this film.  I will still look forward to the Kendrick Brother’s next film, but they MUST show me that they are concerned with raising the quality of their craft or I will be forced to conclude that they are simply looking to make money off of their fan base who they know will just come and see their films as an emotional drug instead of seeing their films for the quality of the art.  If your real goal is to reach people, you will reach many more people with quality…