“All Saints” Movie Review

(Guest review by K.B. Snodgrass)

All Saints is based on the true story of a dying church in Smyrna Tennessee and the unexpected events that surround Pastor Michael Spurlock, who is spending his first call as an Anglican minister, pastoring the remaining twelve members through the shut-down.

In the opening scenes, we meet the remaining older members of the church with their quirky personalities, and see how their little community has suffered loss as a bigger, more modern church has taken prominence in the community. We can see Michael’s heart, wanting to soften the hard blow his parishioners are preparing for. We realize that Michael and his family are not planning to put stakes in the ground in Smyrna. It is a simple stepping stone for a more prestigious call.

But when a group of Karen refugees from Burma show up one of their last Sundays, Pastor Spurlock becomes interested in their plight. “I’m a pastor,” he claims, “And they’re members of my church.” Even with the plans for selling the building to developers in the works, Pastor Spurlock begins to do what he can for this refugee community, eventually entreating the general council to keep the doors of the church open long enough to attempt a farming venture that he hopes will provide for the immigrants as well as pay the overdue mortgage on the church building and allow it to remain open. The idea for the venture comes as Michael seeks direction and wisdom from God. God answers in a rain shower, which Michael reveals in a conversation with his wife. (No cheesy, wordy prayers spoken by this pastor. They all take place in his heart, or at least the audience can assume that was what happened in his quiet reflective moments).

It sounds like a predictable feel-good movie, but along the way there are many unexpected twists and we are drawn into the story of the refugees, who fought in the jungle wars of Burma before ending up at a refugee camp in Thailand and coming to America. Their endeavors are not without difficulty. They struggle with the same things all farmers do: the need for rain, the cost of seeds, finding buyers for their crops. As the farm takes shape, Pastor Michael’s character is tested, as are his relationships.

The strength of this movie is its plot and script, a story which has already told itself in a way that only God can write. The dialogue is believable, although at times poorly delivered, and the only preaching was where preaching was supposed to be. It is a story about a pastor, after all. Those scenes were kept short but poignant, leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The themes are buried in a well-constructed script that subtly brings out things we all struggle with. Questions of our duty to the poor and lost, God’s call for our own lives, the way a marriage struggles and redefines itself through trials, and what to do when God allows for a not-perfect ending to your story. Michael clearly struggled with man’s plan versus God’s plans, and is often called out on that question by others. The answer to that struggle is addressed at the end of the film.

Overall, the plot and the script keep the audience engaged enough to put up with what occasionally poorly delivered lines. It took a few scenes for the actors to get their cadence, and admittedly some of the actors feel low-budget. But experienced actor John Corbett raises the bar for everyone and carries the story quite well himself.  After the opening scenes, which include an appearance of Christian comedian Chonda Pierce, the acting falls into a better rhythm. Using the refugees from the actual All-Saints church as actors created an authentic feel.  It was hard to tell that they were acting, as they perfectly played perfectly their roles of strangers in a strange land.

There is humor scattered throughout the film, but unfortunately a lot of the lines that were meant to be funny fall flat due to acting, or perhaps directing. The better humor was in a subtle irony that came out in various ways as characters’ lives intersected, such as the grumpy widower farmer who finds a comradery with Ye Win, the leader of the Karens.

Cinematography was my biggest complaint. In various shots, the framing was such that it almost felt like the camera was being held at an angle. The church itself is a beautiful building, and I wanted the camera to capitalize on the architecture and stained glass windows, but instead it was almost ignored, and at times we saw half of a banner or a strangely framed wooden beam that didn’t fit. At one point a harvest moon made an appearance, but it was mostly a missed opportunity for the artistic glimpse it could have been. There’s also an awkward end of scene shot in which the camera zooms in on a headlight in a rainstorm for several long seconds, taking away from the power of the scene that we’d just watched. Speaking of lights, there were several scenes where the lighting felt artificial, mostly in attempts to make it look dark inside. Perhaps those are personal preferences, but it seemed that the artistic eye of the technicians and cameraman needed a little honing.

I liked the movie. As far as faith-based films go, it was probably the best one I’ve seen since “The Song”. Not just for the story and the realistic portrayal of realistic people who have doubts and failures, but for the gentle reminder it gives of the way God works in every circumstance of our lives. Through lost jobs, marital strife, self-doubt and suffering, All Saints gives viewers a glimpse of the hope we have in Christ. There was no watered down theology to complain about. When the question is raised by Pastor Spurlock’s son Atticus why God would let something fail, Pastor Michael simply answers with a broken, “I don’t know.” But despite the struggles, Pastor Spurlock and Ye Win show us how God uses everyday people and every day situations to accomplish his purposes through faith. The movie doesn’t sugar coat things, but it does leave us hopeful. And who doesn’t want a little hope these days?

K.D. Snodgrass is a freelance writer, an aspiring crime fighter, a wife, and a mother of four. She enjoys spending time outside, reading, and of course, going to the movies. You can contact her at batlancer@gmail.com or visit her blog, The Rough Draft.  

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Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 8 • The Faith-Based Film Label Controversy

Film Label Controversy

In the eighth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast, I give my thoughts on the recent controversy that has been swirling since producer Mark Joseph discussed the need to get rid of the “faith-based” film label in an interview with Fox News. Joseph’s comments created quite a stir, and prompted a response from a few different people in the faith-based film business, most notably filmmaker Dallas Jenkins (“The Resurrection of Gavin Stone”), who disagreed with Joseph’s arguments.

Follow this link to listen to the podcast, and then let me know what you think!

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting More Than One Lesson.

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And just a head’s up… Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be coming out in just a couple of months. Keep your eye out for the sequel to Thimblerig’s Ark!

Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 7 • Shadowlands

Shadowlands

In the seventh episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, I start a new series where I examine Hollywood’s attempts to tell “our” stories, or stories that are important to Christians. To that end, this week I took a look at 1993’s Oscar nominated Shadowlands, directed by Richard Attenborough (Ghandi, Elizabeth), written by William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Misérables), and starring Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs and bunches of other movies) and Debra Winger (Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment)

Shadowlands tells the mostly true story of the unlikely relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham. Lewis, as most people know, was the writer of the Narnia Chronicles, the Space Trilogy, and dozens of other books dealing with everything from writing to Renaissance literature to Christian theology.

I chose to review this film because Lewis is the unofficial patron saint of Evangelical Christianity and I wondered how his life story would be handled by people with no faith-based agenda. The film is a masterpiece of biographical filmmaking, widely considered to be Attenborough’s finest work, with high praise for the acting of both Hopkins and Winger. But even still, it’s been criticized by Lewis devotees for not being entirely factual. I look and respond to these criticisms in the podcast.

Also, I’m very interested in what the Christian audience wants from Hollywood if they are making our films, and why the Christian audience should want Hollywood to tell our stories in the first place, and so I discuss these ideas as well.

I would be curious to know what people think of this subject, and so I’d invite you to comment after you’ve taken a listen.

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.

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Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 6 • The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

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In the sixth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2017’s The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, directed by Dallas Jenkins (What If?), written by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell, and starring Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (Bon Qui Qui), Neil Flynn (Scrubs), D.B. Sweeney (Taken 2), and former WWF celebrity Shawn Michaels.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a comedy about a washed-up former child star who is forced to do community service at a local megachurch, and pretends to be a Christian to land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.

In this episode, we review the film (how many golden groundhogs did it get?) as well as look at the state of comedy in faith based filmmaking. Also, we uncover a brilliant metaphor for the state of faith based filmmaking hidden in the scenes of Gavin Stone. 

You can listen to this episode as well as other great podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.

And oh! You can also read an interview I conducted with screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfall after her last big comedy, Mom’s Night Out by clicking here.

The Shack – The Highest Grossing Christian Film To Give Away Free Resources?

shackThis weekend, the controversial faith-based film The Shack crossed the $30,000,000 box office mark. This put the film in fifteenth place in the Box Office Mojo list of highest grossing films marketed to the Christian audience (or as they say, “Movies produced by Christians that promote or embody their religion.“)

Considering that the movie has only been out for two weekends, it will undoubtedly climb higher on the list before all is said and done, and could potentially crack the top ten.

The film’s release renewed heated debate about The Shack, which was a controversial best selling book years before it was adapted for the silver screen. Calls of heresy and blasphemy from respected church leaders have kept many people from supporting this film, a decision that other respected church leaders see as a missed opportunity to share the Christian faith, if a believing movie-goer has the right tools at his or her disposal.

To help solve this problem, and possibly to answer some of the concerns of the detractors, the makers of The Shack put together an impressive, biblically-based discussion guide, as well as other materials, all available on http://theshackresources.com for free.

When I saw that The Shack had cracked the top 15 highest grossing Christian-made films, it made me wonder how the other films on the list handled their ministry resources in a similar way. To help answer this question, I did a simple search for each of the top 15 movies [“The name of the movie movie resources”] and looked for the official resource page provided by the filmmakers or studios. While most of these films have ministry-related products that are sold through Lifeway or Outreach (including The Shack), I was specifically looking at which high grossing films made it a point to give resources for free, for ministry’s sake.

The results of my research were mixed.

15. The ShackResources are free, including hard copies of discussion guides and resource DVDs.

14. FireproofResources are not free.

13. CourageousResources are not free.

12. RisenCombination of free and not free resources, the free resources include a downloadable 14 page conversation starter and a link to a free Bible study plan.

11. The Nativity Story – The film is from 2006, and I was unable to find any working links for resources, free or otherwise.

10. Soul Surfer – No resources available on film website, free or otherwise.

9. Son of GodResources are not free.

8. God’s Not DeadResources are not free.

7. Miracles from HeavenCombination of free and not free resources, the free resource is a downloadable sixteen page discussion guide, no Scripture references.

6. War RoomA whole bunch of resources, more than I’ve seen from any of the other movies, but none of them are free.

5. Heaven Is For RealThe website has a free ten page discussion guide, with Scripture refrences.

4. The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderA free education guide, but no ministry resources.

3. Prince Caspian – A free education guide, but no ministry resources.

2. The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe – A free education guide, but no ministry resources.

1. The Passion of the Christ – The film that started it all, from 2004. I was unable to find an official website for the film, so no resources.

While it saddens me that all of the top grossing Christian films don’t give away ministry resources,  I am heartened by the films that do. Also, I should point out that Affirm Films (the faith-based division of Sony) makes free discussion guides available for the movies they release, many of which are on the list above. You can see those study guides by going to the Affirm Films website.

However, I would encourage Christian filmmakers and producers – especially of films that make impressive profit – to use some of that profit to create tools that people can freely use to share the Gospel, and not just create ministry tools to increase the profit even more.

Thimblerig out.

[update: after the second weekend, The Shack has crossed $42M, making it number 11 on the list just behind The Nativity Story. It’ll push Soul Surfer out of the top ten very soon.]

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast Is Here!

thimblerig-ark-1024x994I’m pleased to announce that the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast is up and running. The podcast has come about as a result of conversations with Tyler Smith of Battleship Pretension and More Than One Lesson, and will be hosted on the More Than One Lesson website.

If you are interested in the world of Christian media, specifically Christian filmmaking, this is the podcast for you. We will be examining Christian-made films thematically and artistically, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the budding Christian film industry.

Follow this link to iTunes to subscribe! And if you do, and if you enjoy it, please rate and review the podcast to help give it more exposure.

Click this link to enjoy the first full episode, which is an examination of the mega-hit, God’s Not Dead.

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Thimblerig’s Picks, Oscars 2017

2017-oscars-89th-academy-awardsSupporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight 

Cinematography

Arrival

La La Land

Documentary Feature

Life Animated

O.J.: Made In America

Best Documentary Short Subject

The White Helmets 

Best Foreign Language Film

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Lead Actor

Denzel Washington, Fences

Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

Live Action Short Film

Silent Nights

Sing

Sound Editing

La La Land

Arrival

Sound Mixing

La La Land

Hacksaw Ridge

Production Design

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

La La Land

Visual FX

Kubo And The Two Strings

Jungle Book

Costume Design

La La Land

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Makeup and Hair

Star Trek: Beyond

Suicide Squad

Original Score

La La Land, Justin Herwitz 

Original Song

“How Far I’ll Go” Moana

“City Of Stars,” La La Land

Original Screenplay

La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

Adapted Screenplay

Moonlight 

Animated Feature

Kubo And The Two Strings

Zootopia

Animated Short

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Piper

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences 

Film Editing

La La Land

Hacksaw Ridge

Lead Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Emma Stone, La La Land

Directing

La La Land, Damien Chazelle 

Best Picture

La La Land 

Moonlight (what just happened?)

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone • Thimblerig’s Review

[Note from Nate: Usually, I write the reviews for this blog. But, living in China, I’m restricted to films that have been released on DVD. However, every now and then a film will come out that I feel needs a review sooner rather than later, and so I’ll put out the word to see if someone else can watch the movie and write me a review. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is one of those films, because a comedy for the Christian audience is such a rare bird, and screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfell’s last big comedy, Mom’s Night Out, was one of my favorite Christian-made films of 2014 (you can read my interview with Andrea right here). And so, I’m pleased to present guest reviewer, Lynn Moody, who saw the film and was gracious enough to write a review for Thimblerig’s Ark. Thanks, Lynn!]

“The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” Film Review

20161019_ResurrectionOfGavinStone--5ebac77deb63d60662d560416998ac42.jpgThose of us who have been holding our breath waiting for some really good Christian films will breathe a little sigh of relief after watching Vertical Church Film’s The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. No cheesy stuff this, just solid storytelling with great performances by Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E. L.D.) as Gavin Stone and the rest of the cast.

The only scene missing the ring of truth plays in the first few minutes as washed-up child actor Gavin Stone is told by his lawyer (Nicole Astra) and agent (Kirk B.R. Woller) that he has been sentenced to two hundred hours of community service for his most recent intoxicated antics. His must serve them in his Illinois hometown, but he has a choice of where to serve: the sanitation department or the local mega church.

The film quickly slides past that rough spot into the believable reunion of Gavin and his estranged father, played by Neil Flynn (Scrubs), from whom Gavin must beg a place to stay, and on to the mega church where Gavin begins his service hours by mopping floors. Thankfully, the church is just holding auditions for their annual Easter production, for which Gavin pretends to be a Christian so he can be cast as the lead.

Christians will recognize and laugh out loud at our own modern religious trappings and foibles, especially if one has ever been part of an Easter production. Non-Christians will enjoy the truth of Gavin’s experience as an outsider who comes to understand who Jesus really is.

gavinstone.jpgAnjelah Johnson does a fine job as the grown-up PK (pastor’s kid), Kelly, who directs the Easter play, as does D.B. Sweeney as the Pastor. But the real standouts are the ex-con played by Shawn Michaels (former WWF superstar), and his two geeky companions, John Mark, played by Tim Frank, who is still in love with Kelly even though she has rejected his advances, and Anthony, played expertly by Patrick H. Gagnon, a star-struck church actor-wannabe who starts wearing his Gavin Stone fan club t-shirt everywhere.

The real drama comes when Gavin finishes his service hours three days before opening night and receives an offer for a TV-gig back in L.A. that could revive his career.

The editing by Kenneth Marsten is perfect, as the pacing of the film carries us right along to its heart-warming conclusion. With some nice cinematography by Lyn Moncrief, this smart script by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has been expertly executed by director Dallas Jenkins and will make you remember what modern Christianity is all about.

With the recent release of some really great movies like Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Risen (2016), Little Boy (2015), and The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, I’m hoping faith films have turned a serious corner.

Guest Reviewer Lynn Moody is a screenwriter, filmmaker and theater director living and working in northern Michigan. You may follow her work at PreciousLightPictures.com.

[This review has been edited to correct a name.]

The 2017 Oscar Nominees

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The 2017 Oscar Nominees are in! What do you think about these nominations? Any big surprises? Any disappointing shutouts? Will La La Land make another sweep like they did at the Golden Globes, or will someone else step up and take a surprise victory?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. But meanwhile, here are your nominees…

Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Cinematography

Arrival

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Silence

Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life Animated

OJ Made in America

13th

Best Documentary Short Subject

Extremis

4.1 mile

Joe’s Violin

Watami My Homeland

The White Helmets

Best Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Lead Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortenson, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Live Action Short Film

Enenemis Interieurs

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

13 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Hail, Caesar!

La La Land

Passengers

Visual FX

Deep Water Horizon

Dr. Strange

Jungle Book

Kubo And The Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costume Design

Allied

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Florence Foster Jenkins

Jackie

La La Land

Makeup and Hair

A Man Called Ove

Star Trek: Beyond

Suicide Squad

Original Score

Jackie, Mica Levi

La La Land, Justin Herwitz

Lion, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight, Nicolas Britell

Passengers, Thomas Newman

Original Song

“Audition” La La Land

“Can’t Stop The Feeling” Trolls

“City of Stars” La La Land

“The Empty Chair” Jim: The James Foley Story

“How Far I’ll Go” Moana

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea

20th Century Women

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival

Fences

Hidden Figures

Lion

Moonlight

Animated Feature

Kubo And The Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Film Editing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

La La Land

Moonlight

Lead Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Directing

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve

Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson

La La Land, Damien Chazelle

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

Lala Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight