BATMAN V. SUPERMAN MY REVIEW

Those who know me personally know that I have a few passions.  Christian Films, Ben-Hur… these are the reasons I started this blog.  However, these are not the first things to come to mind if you know me personally. I am a huge Superman fan.  In fact, there have been a few times that my love for this ambassador of Truth, Justice and the American way has gleaned some negative reactions from members of churches I have ministered at.  Usually, if they take the time to hear about this passion they will find that my love for Superman and my love for Christ are interconnected. It is for this reason I decided to post a review of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice on this blog.

This will be a non-spoiler review. I would hate to ruin the surprise ending of this film for anyone, like it was ruined for me…. That’s right…  I already knew the outcome of the film before I saw it.

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

I don’t really even know where to begin… maybe, the beginning? The introduction to the movie is basically a retelling of Batman’s origin. It’s only about 3 minutes and is assuming most people know the fuller story.  Personally, I thought it was one of the most beautiful and heartfelt retellings of the Batman Origin I had ever seen. No dialog, but yet so much emotion saturated the images.  It took an odd turn at the end but it all makes sense in a few seconds. Yeah, I was diggin’ the first three minutes.

We then enter Bruce Wayne’s story that parallels what happened during Man of Steel.  You see it all again but from his perspective.  It was intense! It was well told! It sets up Batman’s motive for the rest of the film real well! For these first 20 minutes I was really diggin’ it!

Then they fast forward 18 months…. And the movie…. Falls apart! From this point on the film becomes such a mess! Some critics say it recovers in the last hour… I didn’t feel it recovered at all!

Don’t get me wrong, within that mess of story and images and subplots I still found a lot to enjoy.  Several very cool ideas! I mean, my feelings about this movie are all over the place.  Maybe I need to see it a few more times before I pass judgment on it but I won’t be able to get back to the theater to see it again so I will need to wait for the Blu-ray.  I really feel that it was the presence of all these fantastic ideas that helped me still enjoy this film… and it was the presences of all these fantastic ideas that where never given appropriates follow through that is the bases for the hatred I have for this film!

Within this film are grand and spectacular ideas for at least three films, each being extremely wonderful but…  instead of being in their own films, they are thrown together into this huge mess.  I mean, imagine, you like chocolate ice cream.  You like spaghetti.  You like Sweet Tea. Now, throw them all into a bowl and stir it around.  Yummy?

Within this film is the spark of an idea for a Man of Steel 2 that could have been the best Superman movie of all time. A U.S. Senator asks the question “Does the world need a Superman?” There is a court hearing.  What transpires there…. COULD HAVE BEEN FANTASTIC! I mean… wow… the places they could have gone.  Seriously, this film put Superman in a position he has never been in before… and the ramifications of it barely even register on the rest of the film.  What should have been a 8.9 Earthquake felt more like a plow passing by my house at three in the morning.  It woke me up.  I had trouble falling back to sleep after.  But it didn’t even have me getting out of bed. If this scene was poured as the foundation for it’s own standalone film it could have been fleshed out and done real justice.  But, why flesh out a good story when we have so many more great ideas to introduce to you and not flesh out!

The film eventually gets to the place that the title eludes to.  A showdown between The Man of Steel and The Dark Knight. For fellow comic book fans, this portion was almost a panel for panel retelling of one of the most beloved stories by Batman fans… and one of the most frustrating stories for Superman fans. For what it was, it was ok… I will go into more into that later but it was short and I don’t think earned the title of the film “Batman V Superman.” Because… why dwell in this story… there’s more we want to shove in this film!

You see, the Director of this film, Zack Snyder is a huge comic nerd.  He knows his comics.  The writer of the first draft is also a comic nerd.  He has written several comics.  In Man of Steel they took portions of some of my favorite stories and cherry picked their favorite parts and knit them back together into a new story.  I loved that!  This film they took great ideas in the beginning, mashed them all together, then told one of Zack Snyders favorite stories… then, I guess he figured we just told a Batman fan pleaser, we need to tell a Superman fan pleaser.  So they took one of the best Superman stories ever written AND COMPLETELY BUTCHERED IT! A story arch worthy of a multi-movie arch and they TACK IT AT THE END and held it on with bubble gum and shoe laces! That isn’t to say, I didn’t really enjoy some of the moments but they didn’t earn those moments! So I am left with emptiness….

The movie came with a very hefty share of wonderful Christian Symbolism! Something I was extremely pleased to see but the weight of it could have hit so much harder if they had only taken the time to earn the moments they tried to force upon the audience.  Instead of earning these moments they rely more on emotional manipulation, using imagery and yet another great score by Hans Zimmer in an attempt to get the audience there faster.

Lex Luthor – So bad, I hated him.  And not in the way you are supposed to hate the villain.  He was corny, over the top… and not Lex Luthor at all. Instead of a cunning genius who is completely self-absorbed.  Or instead of the genius sociopath who hates Superman because of how humbling Superman is to Lex… we have a cartoon.  He’s crazy.  He’s over the top.  He’s more of a Batman villain from the 80’s than Lex Luthor.

Doomsday – later down the road, this film will be compared to Spiderman 3 and it’s very poor use of Venom, one of Spiderman’s greatest villains.

Some of the positives.  I loved this Batman, I want to see more of him.  I want to see a standalone Batman film starring Ben Affleck. (I would also like to set the record straight, I was not against Ben Affleck playing Batman because I thought he would do a bad job… I thought he would be fantastic.  The reason I was against him was because we were told Superman was the first hero in this universe, which was great because he was actually the first Superhero in comics. Casting Ben Affleck told me they were going with and older Batman which bothered me… because I figured they would go… well… the way they did.

Wonder Woman! Bring on a solo Wonder Woman film! I want more of this Wonder Woman! If I had a daughter I would be so excited.  Finally, a strong female Superhero who can throw down with the best of them!

RATE THE FILM ALREADY!

This film left me angry at missed opportunities… yet somehow, it left me excited for the future of the DC Cinematic Universe (Which they call the DC Extended Universe) I think that might have been part of the problem.  They spent too much effort in setting up the future… I wish they gave a greater effort in telling a good story here.  I want a Justice League Movie and before that, I can’t wait for the Wonder Woman film coming soon.  However, I would really prefer Zack Snyder step down as director.  I like him looking over the direction of the entire DCEU but not directing it’s individual films.

I sadly, and with a very heavy heart… give this movie a 5 out of 10.  Should you still see it? If you like comic book films and you like DC Characters, see it, you will want to for future films.  If you don’t, there isn’t much here that is going to make you a fan…. But ultimately you will need to make up your own mind because every single person I talk to has a different view of this film… it almost like not a single person agrees. Who knows, you might be one who likes it.

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…

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…

REVIEW: Do You Believe?

I genuinely look forward to most Christian movies that are released, especially if I know they will be released in theaters and especially if I know that there will be an actual budget behind it.  As some of you might know, Christian movies have had many hurdles to jump in the past 20 plus years when it comes to quality.  One of those hurdles has been budget.  Now, as I have said in previous posts, I am not saying that Christian movies need to get budgets of $50 million in order to be successful but what I am saying is that the budget needs to match the story that is trying to be told.  For example, if you are telling an end times story with all sorts of natural disasters and you are trying to show all this on a budget that is not even in the millions then all you are doing is setting your movie up to look low budget and cheesy before you even get to the story.  The second hurdle has been acting.  Some of the worst acting in movie history has appeared in Christian films.  After you get past the hurdle of actually not revealing that your movie is low budget from the very first shot due to low production quality you then need actors who are good enough not to turn viewers away as they deliver their first line.  A third hurdle has been writing, if you are going to make a movie, writing is where you should actually start.  Yes I listed it last but it is because it is the last one noticed, but it really should be the thing you build the rest on.

Now, with all that laid out, I want to give a little background on the movie Do You Believe? I like to put things into perspective when I am judging a movie.  Here is the perspective; God’s Not Dead came out last year.  They did a fantastic job of marketing the film, connecting the film to the Newsboys who where the hottest band at the time having had two very successful albums just released.  They advertised appearances by members of the Duck Dynasty family who were extremely hot at the time and they showed a very simple story, a sort of David and Goliath story set in the classroom of a mainstream university.  All this lead to the film making over $60 million at the box-office and I am sure even more in home rentals, sales, church licenses and a Netflix deal all for just a $2 million dollar budget!  I am sure that you can see that the margin of profit is large.  Even after you take the theater’s portion out of that total which I have heard is an estimated 1/3 (it is more complicated than that and I am sure the truth is much different but lets run with it.) also taking out of that the money used for promotion which is anyone’s guess as to how much was spent on that.   The bottom line is still that God’s Not Dead made big bucks and placing it as the title holder of the largest grossing independent Christian movie not made by Mel Gibson of all time.

I was not overly enthused with God’s Not Dead but I can’t say that I didn’t find it at least enjoyable on some level but when I saw these final numbers, my mind was set! Pure Flix (the studio that brought you God’s Not Dead) All eyes are on you, with one film you have gone from the studio that makes a ton of low budget, cheesy movies each year to being the big juggernaut of the Christian film industry! Your next film needs to blow us away! This means that Do You Believe? Was really the movie to see if there would be an improvement.  Now, I do want to say that it is very possible that there is no God’s Not Dead money funneled to Do You Believe? As I do not know when production started.  However, it still stands that with such a big hit you need to follow that with something better to let people know you are serious. So, How did Do You Believe do?

THE REVIEW

BUDGET

It has not been reported yet how much Do You Believe actually cost, all that has been said is that the cost was higher than God’s Not Dead.  That means the budget was more than $2 million.  It is hard to say exactly what the budget was but if I were to venture a guess, and I am just guessing and I wouldn’t even call my guess an educated guess, I would say around $5 million… Prue Flix… was I close? In the ballpark?… anyway.  From the very first frame I could tell that the look of the film was going to be improved.  It looked pretty solid! Some good camera work, some nice looking shots.  The picture looked crisp and clear.  I was pleased with this aspect of the film from the very beginning.  I very good step in the right direction! Whatever the budget was, it looked as though it was enough to do the script justice.  Well done to the team on this one, also, good job to the director Jon Gun who has not directed a lot of movies but in 2000 he directed his first film Mercy Streets which, at a time when Christian movies were downright terrible, Mercy Streets always stood out to me! Unfortunately not a whole lot of people saw that film as I did not even know about it until I was introduced to me my first year in college by a good friend who I know reads this blog.  I don’t know how much you had to do with story development, sometimes directors have a lot to do with story and sometimes they have nothing.  For the purpose of this review I am not going to add anything about story here, other than the director did, in my opinion, a great job at piecing together a very difficult story. First hurdle cleared by Do You Believe.

ACTING

All you need to do is look at the list of actors in this film.  There are some pretty big, or once big names in this movie.  Cybill Shepherd, Ted McGinley, Sean Austin and Lee Majors! Hey, you look at that list and I can already see that the ingredients are there to make a movie with decent acting! As a whole, the acting was just that, decent.  I feel that Ted McGinley, who played the pastor in the film did a very good job and Lee Majors… well, what can I say about former Steve Austin himself (that is the Six Million Dollar Man, not the wrestler) Lee Majors elevated every scene he was in! His wife was played by Cybill Shepherd and I think she… well… did not. I don’t know if it was that Lee Majors performance that made Cybill’s look worse or if Cybill was just phoning it in, not even trying.  Either way, I know for a fact that Cybill is capable of far better. Now, please do keep in mind I am not saying any of these actors deserve an Oscar for there performances but at least this movie has the talent to give it credibility.  I like the direction that Pure Flix is going in with the actors they are hiring for their projects.  Second hurdle cleared!

WRITING

This film was written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, a couple that doesn’t give me any assurance of a good film.  They wrote God’s Not Dead, if that movie has any strong points it is not in the writing.  They wrote another film for Pure Flix called What If… which, isn’t actually that bad for a direct to DVD Christian film, The Book of Daniel which is one of my favorite stories in the Bible made into one of the most boring low budget Christian films I have seen.  Before turning their pens towards Christian films they wrote Earth vs. The Spider which is a low budget creature feature.  Over all their writing has not been high quality and this story will not help! In the very beginning moments we hear that the story will revolve around 12 characters whose lives will intersect under the cross, right from that moment I went “ut oh.” Why? Because it is difficult for a writer of high quality to write a story about 12 characters that don’t have much to do with each other but intersect at some point and actually make me care about those characters.  What follows is zero character development beyond the light bulb moment conversions, you know the type I mean.  “Jesus wants to save you!” “what? He does? How do I let him do that?” “all you have to do is repeat after me.” (sinners prayer) “Yay! I am saved.”  Some of my readers may not be bothered by this.  You might think to yourself “but, I enjoyed the movie.” That is ok.  I enjoy old monster movies like Godzilla and Gamera, does that mean I am going to try to convince you they are well written movies? No.  Since there is no time for character development the story relies on a series of events that amount to little more than emotional manipulation.  It is a film that knows it’s audience, as Christians we do love movies that show people getting saved from traumatic lives.  We love to hear in church the testimony of the man who was once a gang banging drug dealer but accepted Christ and then turned his life around.  The problem is, this movie is not a testimony, it is fiction.  I am sure that if you looked into the life of the former gang banging drug addict there would be a much deeper and more complex journey that eventually lead him to a place where he found refuge in the merciful and loving arms of Jesus Christ.  Yes, when he tells us his story on a Sunday morning he glosses over all that because he has a limited time to speak and just wants to get to the important part that he is changed but if we are going to sit down and watch a story for two hours we need to see more of the journey.  I feel like some of you might not believe me, or might totally disagree or think I am being too hard.  I am reluctant to share specifics for anyone who still would like to go see the film.  However, for those of you who have I am about to go into detail so if you do not want anything ruined for you, do not read the next part after “Spoilers” and just skip down to “Conclusion.”

************************Spoilers********************************

Why do I call this film “emotional manipulation?”  Ever death ends with a deathbed conversion.  Every person who once hated Christians sees how great Christianity really is and decides there must be something to this.  The reverend and his wife can’t have children and because they where Christian’s to a pregnant girl she ends up giving her baby to them as she dies minutes after delivery… but not before he deathbed conversion.   The gangbanger who ran into the church near the beginning of the film while running from the cops, prays to God the cops won’t see him… and they don’t.  Which allows him to try to convert his gangbanging friend named Kriminal only to be killed while taking a bullet for his friend WHILE witnessing to him.  His friend is shown at the end with tears in his eyes as he is asked “Are you the man who goes by Kriminal?” only to say “I was.” The only character with the unhappy ending is the Doctor who gets offended by people praying silently in a restaurant or patience who thank God for being healed instead of thanking him.

However, the one that takes the cake is Joe’s story.  Probably the story most well fleshed out.  The character I feel they did the best job of connecting the audience with.  Showing Joe as the do gooder who really touches a homeless woman and he daughter.  He is the picture of selflessness. All that is fine! I enjoyed the story.  I thought it was the most well written story in the entire movie.  Then comes the twist.  He is dying.  It was revealed with the cliché coughing into the white handkerchief to reveal blood.  I personally would have cut that out, you already had him at the hospital and giving up his spot for the little girl.  You already had him leave the hospital without being checked out by a doctor.  You already had him coughing throughout the film.  Cutting out the blood on the handkerchief portion  would have allowed the audience to find out about his dying when he reveals it to the homeless lady (who he delivers a note to while she was at Lee Major’s house before she had the chance to tell anyone she was there.) That reveal would have been better I feel.  BUT all this is my example of the glimmer of good writing in the film… and I hate to even use a word as strong a glimmer.  The worst part is, after setting up this emotional moment at his death bed.  The only death bed scene that did not have a conversion connected to it… after you have him pass and you have the doctor come in and examine him and sign his birth certificate, you suddenly have the heart beat monitor beep again, then again…  He’s alive!  The doctor comes back in and wants to explain this because he will not accept miracles.  He tells the nurse that he wants to find the nature of this infection.  To which the recently resurrected man says “You won’t find any.”  How does he know that God not only resurrected him but also healed him of his leukemia and of the infection that caused his death?  Maybe he met God in heaven and God told him…  I guess that is what we are meant to believe.

So the question of the movie stands and faces me.  Do you believe? Do you believe God can heal? Do you believe God can resurrect the dead? Yes, I believe all this.  However, do I believe God fearing, Bible believing Christian’s die every day and don’t come back to life? Yes! Do I believe that the Jesus of the Cross died on that cross so that we could be saved from sin and not just so that this temporary body can be healed for another 20 to 50 years only to meet the same fate down the road? You see, my problem is not that I don’t believe that God does these things because I do.  The problem is that when you insert this type of a story into a fictional story it robs from the true stories.  If you want to tell a story like that, go and find someone who has had that kind of experience.  Make a movie based on their lives and label it a true story.  Don’t cheapen their experience by writing it into your story because you want the people watching to praise God for resurrecting a fictional character when he is very capable of resurrecting a real person!

*****************spoiler is done*********************

CONCLUSION

My conclusion is, that though this film moves forward in many places when it comes to quality it is still lacking in the most important aspect of the film.  The story.  Pure Flix, please, don’t let these writers write anymore.  You now have the money to go and hire real talent.  Read over the millions of script summations I am sure you get. Maybe, just maybe there is one in there worthy of being a movie.  Please, don’t just settle for sowing together a bunch of emotionally manipulating scenes just to get the Christian to cry but find or write stories that actually show a journey of faith.  Keep stories a little simpler.  God’s Not Dead was a simple story of one college student going up against his teacher and how it impacted his friends who watched it happen.  Simple.  We understood what the movie was about from the trailer.  Focus on Character development.  Not conversion moments.  Character development can lead to a conversion moment and I promise it will be more impactful when it does.  Try not to make none Christians such jerks.  I know, some of them are… but a lot of them are not.  I would not recommend this film.  If you want to see it fine, but I warn you.  Wait for redbox or even Netflix next year.  There are still more Pure Flix movies on their way.  I am excited and haven’t given up hope.  However, they need to do better than this.

REVIEW: The Good Lie

I had planned to do a few different blog posts this week and they were all going to be simply opinion pieces.  Then everything changed.  Sunday after church I was exhausted.  All I wanted to do was sit down and relax.  For me the best way to relax is to kick back and watch a movie.  I have movies I would like to see and my wife has movies she would like to see but as it is with many couples it is not always easy to come up with a movie that we both want to see.  I fire up the Red Box app on my phone and I begin to list off movies.  I get to one that I remember seeing trailers for and I remember being interested in it but I don’t remember why.  After my wife and I got about 30 seconds into the trailer we both said “This one!”  SO I got into my car, drove to our nearest Red Box and rented The Good Lie.  I am so very glad that I did!

WARNING

I would like to make very clear, I understand that the term “Christian film” is an ambiguous term (Which is actually one of the posts I was planning to write this week) but I would not categorize this as a “Christian film.” I will address my definition at a later time but let me just make some things clear about this film.  It was not made for the purpose of ministry.  It was not made to market towards the Church going audience.  It has some (but not a lot) of foul language in it.  It implied, but did not show, unmarried sex.  It has segments of violence (but not senseless to the movie.) and it showed illegal drug use.  My only intent in giving this warning is that I know my friends, family and other readers have different standards on what they will or will not watch.  Making standards are good and no one should be looked down upon for choosing to guard their eyes, ears and mind from various things that they feel may be harmful.

MY REVIEW

With all of the above mentioned I would still urge all my readers to go out and rent this film, and if you liked it buy it! The trailer shows this movie to be a movie about three men from a war torn Sudan come to the United States and have trouble fitting in.  It shows humorous interaction with things in our culture they have never seen before.  What the trailer does not show is that these three men are Christians fleeing religious persecution.  Scripture is read often as the group finds it a source of strength.  They share scripture with others and as they walk through the desolate land of Africa, the person walking in the front holds the Bible.  When they come to the States they are confronted with moral dilemmas that  we take for granted as a culture but it causes them to measure it against their Christian faith.   This film stands as a perfect example of how you can make a good, and entertaining Christian movie without cheesy dialog.  The cinematography was beautiful!  The acting was good, maybe not always great but I have seen legendary actors do worse! I also want to be clear on this.  When I say the acting was good but not great, what I mean is, this is not “cheesy Christian movie acting” this is solid, professional acting… that just won’t be nominated for any awards but it just fine! This movie was funny, heart wrenching, touching, inspiring, and thought provoking. Everything I would want to say about every “Christian movie” out there!

SOME THOUGHTS

Why did I say to go and buy this if you like it? Well, partly because I have always said, this is how we get more movies with good content, we support them.  Why does this one need supporting? Because it made $2.7 million at the boxoffice and cost $20 million to make. This is probably baffling for Alcon Entertainment and the list of other studios involved with this film.  Why? The trailer made it clear that Reese Witherspoon was in this film.  It made sure to let you know that Ron Howard was a producer on this film even though he is one in a list.  So why would a film Staring Reese Witherspoon, even though she really wasn’t the main character, and produced by Ron Howard, even though he wasn’t the main producer have flopped? If you ask me it is because they had gold and didn’t realize it.

Because of this trailer, which played back to back with another Reese Witherspoon trailer while in theaters got lost in the mix of movies.  It didn’t stand out to the movie going public.  How could this movie had stood out?  Here is how I would have fixed it.  It would consist of cutting out 30 seconds worth of footage (one random foul word, one sentence laced with vulgar language and one scene with Witherspoons character waking up in bed with a guy who is not in the rest of the film and whose only purpose is to set up a joke.) After cutting out all that, you market this as a Faith-Based film about Christians who leave there country to flee religious persecution and are confronted without culture with all its oddness.  This now becomes a movie pastors bring their churches to see.  You have Christian families rushing out to give their children an opportunity to see all the stuff they take for granted.  At the end, Christian movie goers are left with an uplifted story that they will be talking about at church that Sunday.  We all know how Christians like to feel uplifted!  With these changes I am sure this movie could have made a profit.

While watching this film I was fighting off bouts of frustration! I kept thinking, why didn’t the Christian movie industry make this film first? Well, the answer to that is because the Christian movie industry is to focused right now on making apocalyptic films based on a specific interpretation of prophecy instead of finding real life stories to translate into film.  I so badly want to be able to show this film at a movie nigh in our church.  However, because of some of the content I cannot show this.  Again, the reasons why are for another blog post but for me and the church I am leading and the way I want to lead it, it is not a movie I am able to show… because of about 30 seconds of the film.

Ben-Hur Part 1: The History and Personal Reviews

I have always loved movies.  Even as a child.  I had several movies that as a child I watched over and over again.  It is a relatively long list.  However, I think if you were to tally the amount of times I watched each movie I am fairly certain that you would find in the top 5; Superman, Star Wars, Iron Eagle, The Ten Commandments and Planet of the Apes. From those last two you could probably figure out that, even though Charlton Heston was before my time, I knew who he was and I viewed him with the same love that a child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s would have viewed him.  I knew his voice, I knew what he looked like, I knew how he acted.  It is baffling then, that I made it to my 30’s without ever seeing Ben-Hur in its entirety.   I do remember going to the Video Rental Store (you might need to look it up to understand what I mean by Video Rental Store) and seeing that huge box that consisted of two VHS tapes and a beautiful cover. I remember picking it up several times just wondering what was inside.  I even remember renting it a few times but I know I never watched it.  Something always came up.  Something that would prevent me from sitting down in front of the only TV set we had with a VHS player for 3 hours to watch this film.  I grew up knowing the name of Ben-Hur.  I grew up knowing it had something to do with Chariot racing.  I grew up knowing it stared Charlton Heston but that was it.  I am fairly certain that I was in my 20’s before I found out that Jesus played a part in the movie. I think I was also in my 20’s when I discovered that the movie was based on a Novel.  How could this be? It is one of the highest selling novels of all time!  I found a copy of Ben-Hur several years ago at a garage sale.  It was fifty cents. I picked it up.  It was an impulse buy but this past year I became extremely thankful that I did.  I finally read Ben-Hur.  I read it before ever seeing any of the movies.  After reading it I proceeded to find every incarnation of this story.  I have now seen ever adaption put to film and below you will find my review of each one.  This Blog post will be divided into two part.  The first part being my review of these adaption and the second part will consist of my dream plan for the remake.

1880 – Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace

Here is what started it all.  The original novel by General Lew Wallace, a Civil War veteran.  I knew going into reading this book that Jesus played a part and that the most famous scene was the chariot race.  I devoured this novel like few others! What a fantastic story! The scope of the writing and the story are so huge yet the characters are so compelling.  It is written in such a way that you feel very connected to Judah Ben-Hur yet you get this feeling that he plays a part in a much larger story that he himself can’t see.  It is magnificent and I highly recommend it.  If you have never seen any of the following movies I urge you to go and read this book before you watch any adaption.  Some of the following I feel did the story justice, some of them did not. However, none of them completely capture the magnificence of the story.  That is not a slam on any of the following but rather a testament to how grand this novel it.  It is impossible to create a movie that is as wonderful as this novel… so…. Yeah, I am a fan.

A novel that some credit as the first “Christian fiction” sure makes me wonder how we got all these Amish romance novels and so few epic novels!

1907 – Ben Hur –  Directed by Sidney Olcott

The first attempt to bring this story to film was in 1907.  Film was young.  Film makers where just beginning to understand this new format and that fact is very evident in this 15 minute combination of random, unconnected shots of people standing around or walk that are then pieced together with title cards that give you a very general outline of what the scenes are suppose to represent.  They needed to do that because without those cards you wouldn’t know.  The outline was so brief that you would do better by reading the listing of chapters at the front of the novel.  There was no mention of Christ, that aspect was left out completely and the movie ends with Ben-Hur winning the chariot race.

This movie is a part of cinematic history, as it was made without the film rights.  It was an important case that lead to the 1909 copyright law.  Over all, this film is nothing special.  I would personally rather watch a fire place then watch this version ever again.

1925 – Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – Directed by Fred Niblo

I knew how many people hold the 1959 version in very high regards.  What many do not realize is, that the 1959 version was a remake of this 1925 movie.  This movie was every bit as wonderful as the 1959 version, if you can view it for what it is.  The chariot race that is much talked about from the 1959 version was actually almost a shot for shot remake of the chariot race from this version.  So if you were impressed with it for 1959, how much more would it have been impressing in 1925.  It was the most expensive movie ever made of its time and during its first run actually ended up losing money.  A few years later it returned to theaters and had better luck, pulling the total to a bit of a profit.  This version put MGM on the map and set them on track to become the large studio they are today.  Many plot points that were left out of the 1959 version where included in this version and I have to say that the portions after the chariot race were more in line with the novel then the 59 one was.  In the novel the chariot race takes place at the midpoint of the story, not towards the end. If you can deal with the fact that this is a silent film made about 90 years ago, I think you would consider this a real treat as it is a fantastic telling of the story.

1959 – Ben-Hur – Directed by William Wyler

Here is the movie everyone has told me about.  The one that surprises people when I used to say I never saw it.  Let them be surprised no more! I have seen the masterpiece known as Ben-Hur from 1959 and it certainly lives up to the hype! They just don’t make movies like this anymore! And I think that is a shame! All you need to do is watch it and you realize this wasn’t a movie, it was an event! A cinematic experience! Oh, what I wouldn’t do to go back in time and watch it in theaters in 1959.  The electricity in the room must have been awesome! The colors! The scope! The music! How could such an experience have been created in 1959? It gives film makers little excuse today.

It was again, the most expensive film of its day.  It was also the winner of 11 Academy Awards which was a record held for decades until Titanic tied it in 1997.  Yep, Titanic tied it, but did not break that record.  This movie pulled MGM out of serious financial problems, once again, Ben-Hur helps make MGM what they are today!

If you have not seen this film, do it.  If you watch one version on this list, make it this one!

2003 – Ben Hur (animated) – Directed by Bill Kowalchuk

I won’t spend too much time on the next few movies.  This film was not made for the cinema and really it doesn’t seem to be made with much heart at all.  The animation is horrible, the story rushes through.  I had hopes that this might be a good way to introduce my son to Ben-Hur, but it was not.  If he saw this version he might get the impression that Ben-Hur is a boring story.

2010 – Ben Hur (miniseries) – Directed by Steve Shill

Don’t bother! Seriously, there are times this doesn’t even feel like the story of Ben-Hur.

2016 – Ben-Hur – Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

This has a lot to live up to.  For almost 100 years the movie of Ben-Hur was done perfectly for the cinema.  To mess up now would mean that you did something that no one has done in 100 years.  Yes poor versions were made, but none of them had the force behind them that a Blockbuster movie has.  I have high hopes.  Some of those hopes are that they look to the 1959 version and the 1925 version to let them know the legacy they are getting themselves into but I hope they look to the 1880 novel to adapt the story.  I would like to see a retelling that strives to be closer to the novel than any version before it. I hope they take as much care as generations before have done.  I hope they show as much passion for the source material as the previous cinematic versions showed.  I hope they realize that both the 1959 version and the 1925 versions had off the chart cinematic scores.  An average score will not due.  The music must be magnificent.  The scope must be huge.  It must be wonderful! These are my hopes for the 2016 versions!

If anyone involved in the making of the film would like any ideas of how to make this remake special, check out Part two that I will post in a few days!

REVIEW: Unbroken

There is a conversation going on in Hollywood and on the film talk sites that there are not enough women directors making films.  I agree that this is a shame but it has lead to people being overly complimentary of any work that a woman has done in the director’s chair.  You will find praise for Lexi Alexander, even though I personally find no reason to give her praise at all for the films she has directed.  You will find praise for Catherine Hardwicke who I feel is a very subpar director.  I did enjoy The Nativity Story but I feel the first Twilight film had so many missteps that it really began the franchise on a poor note.  There are other female directors out there that do have promise but I had high hopes for Angelina Jolie.  The trailer for Unbroken looked fantastic! But when the critic reviews began to hit they where way below expected.  At one point the “rotten tomatoes” critic score went below 50%.  This means that only half of the movie critics out there actually liked the film.  This was disappointing to me and made me wonder if Angelina Jolie bit off more then she could chew with such a large story and huge movie.  It crossed my mind to just see this when it hit Redbox.  However, a few things happened since then.  One was, I began this blog and Unbroken certainly did have a faith aspect to it.  The main character, Louis Zamperini famously gave his life to Christ and began to do work for the Kingdom.  The second thing that happened became so confusing to me that I began to question these film critics who gave it a poor score.  It was nominated for Best Picture in the Critics Choice Awards.  Some of you may say “I don’t put much stock in awards, it’s all political.” But the Critics Choice Awards is voted on by the Critics, the same Critics that gave this movie a low score.  Other films where left off the list that got much higher scores. At this point my curiosity got the better of me and I had to go see how Jolie did.

REVIEW

I have wrestled around with adding some sort of “star rating” to my reviews but this always cause me problems.  First, I know 5 stars wouldn’t be enough because if I see 3 stars my mind should tell me that the film was above average, but that is not what my mind sees.  My mind sees a negative review.  The other problem I have is, depending on the day and how long ago I saw the movie my stars would change.  I have seen many movies that left me feeling like I hated the movie but as I sit and think about it I find I actually really liked it. I also have loved movies that I watched but over time my excitement for the film leaves and I find I didn’t like it as much.  So as for now, I don’t think I will be doing the star thing… maybe if I think it is a 5 Star or something… I don’t know, still thinking.

I will tell you that I was not disappointed at all with Jolie’s direction! I think the movie was beautiful! I think she pulled off a retro, throwback feel to the old classic WWII films I grew up loving and that feel was PERFECT for this story.  I will also make a bold statement that many might disagree with but I feel she pulled off a Ron Howard tone in her movie, like an early Ron Howard.  Obviously she does not Have the experience Ron Howard does and it showed slightly but I was very impressed with the look and feel of the film.

The story did seem to have a slow burn to it.  I have heard people describe it as slow or even boring.  I did not get this, I chose the words “slow burn” on purpose.  Again, to make the comparison to Ron Howard, I felt it had the slow burn of a movie like A Beautiful Mind or Cinderella Man, again.  Not that it was done as well as those but that is the feel I got from the flow of the story.  All these things together tell me that Jolie is a woman director to get honestly excited about.  Unlike some of the other ones who do not live up to their praise.  I would certainly welcome more from Jolie and am interested to see how she progresses as she hones her craft.

QUESTIONABLE CONTENT

As I am aware that some people reading this might want to know about the content of the movie because some people want to filter the things they watch and I am all for their right to do so.  Different things affect people differently and I have my lines I draw as to movies I refuse to see over certain content. Because your line might be different then mine I still encourage anyone to look over the exhaustive list of questionable content provided by Plugged In.  However I will quick give you a little right here.

The film is not devoid of foul or harsh language but I would contend that it is no more than you would hear as you would catch conversations while walking through the mall.  The movie has violence, he was in a concentration camp and torture is shown, although it was very much toned down from what he actually went through.  There is a scene of nudity as two prisoners are stripped down to be washed up in the concentration camp.

CHRISTIAN CONTROVERSY

While reading various reviews from some Christian Movie reviewers and some Facebook comments and such I began to see a little bit of a pattern.  It seemed many Christians and fans of the book where disappointed that more of his life as a Christian was not shown.  In fact, none of it was.  Only a line at the end that he eventually made good on his promise to God.  If you would humor me though, I would like to lay out a different approach to the film.  I find myself more and more trying to look for the good in films because I am very concerned that the big studios are going to eventually say “Well, we can’t seem to do anything right for Christians so why try!” after The Year of the Bible I am afraid this might be the case already.

So here is my alternative Christian response that I want to argue, you can take it or leave it. The movie was called Unbroken, what the writers and director and producers did was created a movie around that focus.  They attempted to show how he went through everything and didn’t break.  The film was already a long movie and some people already feel the movie didn’t do justice to the torment he went through.  So, the question becomes, do you remove the things that he went through to insert more of his life after the war? If you feel the answer is yes, then you run the risk of watering down even more his struggle which has already been lessened by the restraint shown by the film makers.

If you do this, and make it seem like he came home and gave his life directly to God and began serving God, you are not telling the truth and once again, you belittle some of what he went through.  After the war he did not become a Christian right away.  He went through so much more as a very broken man.  He got into many bar fights, he married (as the movie said) but began to beat his wife as a response to his post traumatic stress.  He was once caught shaking his baby because she was crying and he wanted her to stop. His wife eventually divorced him out of an attempt to gain some safety.  If you add these things to the movie suddenly you have a movie that feels like it should be called “Broken” instead of “Unbroken.”

The problem is not that the filmmakers tried to belittle the Christian aspect of his life.  I feel they were very clear that he was searching through all these events but if they were to add these things the focus of the film would have been much more scattered and the story would have become choppy as they try to fit too much in.  You would have had a film that would not do justice to any aspect of what he went through because you tried to fit it all in.

What I propose is watch the film like it is.  Don’t expect the Gospel to be shared. That isn’t this films job, it is yours as a follower of Christ.  Use it to begin a conversation, read up on Louis’ story.  Inform people on the rest of the story and don’t leave out the darkness because when the darkness is made lighter the light becomes dimmer.  Don’t be frustrated that the movie stopped short of the Christian message, to become a Christian Louis had to be broken, it wouldn’t have fit into this portion of his story.

Here is my hope, I hope that someone out there decides to make an unofficial sequel to Unbroken.  It would make for a perfect movie by World Wide Pictures (the film branch of Billy Graham Ministries.) If anyone does it, do it with quality! Make sure you secure a respectable budget for it! Call it “Broken” make it a love story at the beginning as he meets his wife.  Show how things spiral out of control and she realizes the horror she got herself into.  Show his obsession with plotting the murder of The Bird.  She him leaving in anger from the Billy Graham meeting.  Show his redemption! Build on what this movie had done! Those two films side by side would make for a great full story of Louis’ life! In this respect, you will find that this film didn’t cut anything out, it simply didn’t have the time to tell the entire story and still doing it justice! If you watch the movie after reading this, or even if you have seen it, I challenge you to view it like this, like it is not the entire story.  For now, the rest of the story is yours to tell family and friends.  To expect someone else to tell the story for you would rob you of the personal touch you can give the story.  It can be a time of good conversation and good fellowship.  Read up on it! Use his story! The story God wrote with Louis Zamperini as the pen!  Part of the story was told for you, finish it with friends! And World Wide Pictures…  feel free to contact me for pointers on how to proceed.

As always, to my friends family and any other readers I might have, grace and peace to you from our Heavenly Father!