“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)
- “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.
- This labels the movie as being for Christians thus causing people to believe it will be poorly written, low budget and preachy.
- Some Christians would be skeptical of a movie Hollywood thinks Christians might like because of past hurts like Noah, or Exodus.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!”
- 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.
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!
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 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!
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?
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…
Well, it is now 2016! Another year of movies has passed and another batch is being prepared for release. I would like to present a list of Christian movies or TV Series, Bible Based movies or TV Series or movies based on the life of Jesus that will be coming out in 2016. For those of you who have followed my blog this year you might have realized that the list I made last year had changed and shifted throughout the year. Some of the movies on this list where on that list. This happens in the film industry and is more likely to happen with smaller independent films or films that make the studio nervous.
With that said, this list I feel is a little more solidified then last year’s list. So here it is!
Let’s Start with TV.
March 8th 2016 – Of Kings and Prophets – This is an ongoing TV series based on King Saul and David. It was originally supposed to air in the fall of 2015 but was pushed back due to “Creative changes.” Though I will be keeping an eye on this show… I am extremely cautious and really am not expecting much from it.
January 25th 2016 – The Pastor – I almost didn’t include this on the list because of being unfamiliar with the Studio, or the fact that the Director hasn’t done much before, or the fact that it is only scheduled for a limited release right now. But I included it because the premise seems interesting to me and I think would seem interesting to anyone who would want to read this list. I have no idea if this independent movie is a “Christian Movie” or if it just has “Christian overtones.” Either way, it is on this list for your consideration.
April 1st 2016 – God’s Not Dead 2 – I didn’t love God’s Not Dead… but I didn’t hate it either and I must admit that the trailer peaked my interest a little bit. I understand that many Christians loved the first one and are looking forward to the second, there is a place in some Christian’s where these movies touch. It is similar to “wish fulfilment” yet, it’s something different. I have heard it described in many ways but if people think that only Christians like movies that are propaganda for a particular point of view then you are blind. I do however wish they picked a different release date! I mean… come on, this movie will be made fun of enough… did you really need to help things along by releasing it on April Fools?
April 29th 2016 – Same Kind of Different as Me – Based on the inspirational book of the same name, this film, another Indie project by an unknown director who has only every directed a short film before doing this feature is another wild card. Not only is this first time director directing but he is also writing, and producing this film. Both of which are also his firsts. I am not saying this WILL be bad, people can surprise you out of the gate. Many Hollywood directors have made Masterpieces as their first films. However, more fail out of the gate.
August 12th, 2016 – The Shack – Based on the book by William Paul Young that has been praised by some in Christian circles and ridiculed by others for its “inaccurate” theology regarding the trinity this film is sure to make some waves. At one point Oprah was even involved! This film should be one to watch out for!
Films About Jesus
February 19th 2016 – Risen – This film is one I have been waiting a long time for. In fact, this was on the list I posted last year. On that list it was called Clavius and the date was unspecified. Since then it has been picked up by Sony Pictures and will be released under their Affirm Films banner. This film has been in the works for a while, it started as a script commissioned to be an official sequel to The Passion of the Christ. After being rejected in favor of doing a prequel about Mary, Kevin Reynolds picked it up and decided to direct it. For those of you who do not know Kevin Reynolds, he is #1 on my list of most underrated directors in Hollywood. He directed my current favorite film of all time the Count of Monte Cristo he also directed the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries which I really enjoyed! He may not be a director that ALWAYS pleases he is one that excites me when he is passionate about a project and it has been his passion for this project that has gotten it over all the hoops to bring us this film for 2016. People… I am serious… this film is a reason to be excited!… mark your calendars! Everything I see and know about this project tells me this is going to be special!
March 11th 2016 – The Young Messiah – Based on the Anne Rice novel “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” this film tells a fictional account of Jesus as a young boy just as his family is leaving Egypt to return to Israel. I have not read the book and I am aware that there is some controversy surrounding the novel but I have some trusted friends that assure me there isn’t anything offensive in the novel. Maybe I should say their “Shouldn’t be anything offensive in the novel” because some people will be offended at any type of speculation when it comes to Jesus. As long as everyone keeps in mind that it is not trying to speak historical fact this film should be interesting. I do wonder though… why did Jesus have a British accent as a Child born of Jews and raised in Egypt?
June 30th 2016 – Last Days in the Desert – While technically a 2015 film that has already been released very limitedly, I am including this here because most of you will not get to see it until this year. This is also an Indie Film. However, this is different. Instead of a film being made for the purpose of spreading the Gospel (Which I don’t think there is anything wrong with) the main focus on this film is to make a film. It is a better place to start and a place that I wish Christian film makers would start. Ewan McGregor plays Jesus, which is Ironic because there is that Facebook meme going around showing him as Obi Wan Kenobi where some elderly lady (assumption) has placed his picture on a shelf because she thought it was a picture of Jesus. Well… now she can find an actual picture of Ewan McGregor as Jesus. I don’t know if this film will be insulting to Christians or if it will be “believer friendly” but the buzz I am hearing says it will not offend.
August 12th 2016 – Ben-Hur – This film is a polarizing film. Many who love the 1959 version cry foul because they say you shouldn’t remake a classic like this! But then there are people like me. I am a huge fan of the novel, and though I loved the 1959 version, there is so much that was left out that I think shouldn’t have been. In the novel the chariot race happens only half way in. The second half of the novel is only about the last half hour of the film and if you have read the novel you would see that they really rushed things to get to the end of the story. My hope is that they will include more of the end of the novel, my favorite part. But I also want to mention, in 1925 there was a film called Ben-Hur, it was fantastic, is was considered a classic and if they would have taken the advice of the nay sayers today, we would never have the 1959 Masterpiece. Yes, it is most likely not going to live up to the original but it might… is it worth a shot? I think so. What is the worst that could happen? People will always have the 1959 version. And this gives my Son a chance to see this fantastic story in a movie that hasn’t alienated him by age.
As you might have already notice, it’s not quite “The Year of the Bible” but I might be tempted to call it “The Year of Jesus” since there are more films about Jesus coming out in 2016 than usual. Would you like to see more movies that bring attention to Biblical stories? Then go see these! Vote with your money… and go see them opening weekend if you can, it is the weekend where your money will speak the loudest!
Have a Happy 2016 and may it be a great year for Christians to go to the movies!
Yesterday I read some news that was quite depressing to me. I have three movies that I simply can’t wait for. I am literally counting down the days until they come out. 57 days until Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 155 days till Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and 127 days until Ben-Hur. I honestly cannot figure out which one I am more excited for but I do know which of these counts just changed. Paramount announced yesterday “Ben-Hur has been pushed back to August 12, 2016… and the Reel Pastor can be found curled up in a corner crying.” Ok, the last portion was not part of the original announcement but it doesn’t make it less real.
After a night of screaming “Why! Why Paramount Why?” I woke up this morning and decided to try to answer that question. Since the announcement did not include an answer, the following will be a lot of speculation based on facts.
The first conclusion that one might be tempted to jump to would be that there are issues with the movie and that this move is a bad thing. There are some rumblings going around the internet movie blogging sphere that say the move was about needing more time to work on the film. None of those rumblings say anything about “fixing” the film. In fact, everything I could find has attributed the delay to the film being on such a large scale it is taking longer than they anticipated. So, even if the delay was simply about putting more work into the film, that in itself could point to good things. I would be upset if they released a version of the film that could have used an extra 6 months of work. But are there more reasons to view this as a good thing?
When the February release date was announced I was concerned. January and February have traditionally been dumping grounds for films that the studios don’t have any confidence in. It is a time of year where much of the population is blocked in their homes due to an abundance of snow. But this does not mean a film couldn’t succeed there. In fact, my thought was that the strategy might be to capitalize on the low amount of competition in those months giving Ben-Hur a good amount of time to dominate at the box-office. I pictured Ben-Hur as this giant of a film just stomping on all the little films crushing them under its big feet. I was starting to warm up to the date.
Now, in recent years things have begun to change and some people have called August, the new February. I think that is going a bit far but some may say it is the dumping ground for the summer season. If you have a movie that you think could be a summer blockbuster… but you just aren’t confident enough to say it is… put it in August. Is that what they are doing with Ben-Hur? I have reason to believe they are not. Let me explain why.
The February date placed Ben-Hur the same weekend as the Academy Awards. A time when movie fans will be more likely to spend a good block of time at home and not at the theaters. Moving from that date tells me they might have a little more confidence in the film then they originally had. But, why pick August 12th? August 12th places Ben-Hur right smack dab in the middle of the 2016 Summer Olympics! Could it be, that this move is not simply a show of a little more confidence, but could it be a bold confident move by a studio who might think they have something special? What if Paramount is now planning a huge promotional push during the first week of the Olympics? The theme of the story fits tone of the story fits PERFECTLY with the Olympics! You could do a media push conjuring up the history of competition. You could do all sorts of sponsorships and have athletes wearing Ben-Hur apparel. Scenes of the chariot race could be shown at every commercial break. It could just be a brilliant move! Then, during the second week of the Olympics, Ben-Hur’s first week in release, if it should hit #1 at the boxoffice you can now run ads that say “Go and see the number 1 movie in America!”
I just got done saying that August has become kind of a dumping ground for films that studios might not be as confident in… but when I say that, I am not talking about Paramount. Paramount placed Mission Impossible 5 in August. Mission Impossible was not a film they were concerned about, it was a big tent pole film for them. Over all, even though I hate the fact that I now have to wait almost an entire year to see this film I am pleased with the possibilities that a move like this could mean. I think that instead of the move showing problems, it actually shows confidence and that makes me excited!
It is being reported by The Tracking Board that Paramount Pictures is still very much interested in doing more Biblical Epics. In February, Ben-Hur, the third official big screen adaptation of the classic novel will hit theaters. ShareBenHur.com has stated that a trailer to that movie will drop by the end of October. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see it! But, what The Tracking Board is reporting is not about Ben-Hur… they are saying that Paramount is developing a remake of The Ten Commandments!
I know what you might be thinking, “But, we just had Exodus: God’s and Kings.” Yes, you are right… but, for many people that film fell flat. I personally found much of it to be enjoyable but I must admit it was quite a letdown for me. I didn’t think it was as terrible as others thought… but I also shared in my review that I seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Ridley Scott films.
Along with my disappointment of Exodus, my biggest disappointment was that we would not have another chance of seeing a well done “10 Commandments” type adaption. An adaption that would be more pleasing to people of faith. Has my hope been resurrected?… well… slightly, but not a ton.
Yes, Paramount is doing Ben-Hur, which I am expecting to be very friendly to the faith community, but it is not because of Paramount. Don’t forget, Paramount is responsible for bring us Noah. A film I don’t have mixed feelings about. I don’t think I could have been more disappointed with it. The reason I have confidence in Ben-Hur is because of the producers, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. These two, no matter what your opinion is of them, have been trying very hard to make content that lifts up the faith community instead of tear them down. They are the ones guiding Ben-Hur… so who is guiding this Ten Commandments remake?
The Tracking Board has listed two producers on the film. One of those names is Cale Boyter. Boyter was a producer on The Nativity Story. The Nativity Story, though not as strong of a movie as I was hoping for, it still was decent and certainly took the birth of Christ seriously. This name allows for hope. The second name they listed was Mary Parent. How does that name settle with me right now? Not very well. Parent was a producer on Noah. That gives me a lot of pause.
Is there still hope? I think so. There are two reasons why I still have hope. The first is that there were many reports back before Noah came out that Paramount was pushing for a move Biblical cut of the film. Now, when they say “Paramount” who do they mean? Could Mary Parent have been pushing for a more biblical film? I don’t know but it is possible. One thing that I think it tells me is that Paramount would be going into this film thinking they want to be more biblical then Noah. The second reason I still have hope is because I think it is possible for Mary Parent to have learned from Noah. You see, Noah made money, but I think it could have made a lot more if it we less fantasy and more biblical. I think Mary knows that too. I think Paramount knows this. That is exactly why they are not letting the failure of Exodus keep them from trying this.
Is there reason to stay cautious? Yes! Beyond the fact that it is Paramount, who released Noah and the fact that it has one of the same producers, the article also mentions that they are looking for a director/writer who can give “a different take” on the classic story. Those words always make me cringe. Noah was certainly a different take on the classic story… but you could say that Ben-Hur was a different take on the crucifixion story. Those words don’t mean they want to go the way of Noah but it does nothing to calm my fears either.
My conclusion is, I am excited for a Ten Commandments remake! If we get another Noah, so what! Really Noah is just going to fade into the background. No one is going to consider it a classic, it is not going to air every year around Easter of Christmas. It is simply a movie that disappointed the faith community. SO if the Ten Commandments goes that rout, so what. But if they learn from the past, the fact they are developing a remake gives us yet another chance to see this biblical story come to life in a spectacular way! You might be ready to say “I think the chances of a great movie are slim.” Well… Slim is better than none… and I am not convinced the chances are slim. I eagerly look forward to hearing who they find to write and direct this film. Knowing that could give us a little more insight into what type of movie they are shooting for.
A movie based on the controversial Anne Rice novel Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt has been in the works for quite some time now. Today, we catch out first glimpse at the film which focuses on a 7 year old Jesus. This film, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and produced by Chris Columbus looks good. As someone who has not read the novel I have no clue if this is a film to be excited about or not, but the trailer sure does look interesting. Not as interesting to me as Risen which comes out less then two months prior to this film, but interesting non-the-less. What are your thoughts