The Shepherd – The Must-See Christmas Movie of the Year (and it’s less than 30 minutes!)

I love Christmas movies.

home aloneOn the Friday after Thanksgiving, I start pulling them out, and I watch the gamut with my kids. We always start with Home Alone, and then Elf, and then everything else from Arthur Christmas to The Santa Clause.  Yes, we even watch and enjoy Home Alone 3 (although it stops there… Home Alone 4 and 5 are dead to me).

The movies we watch celebrate the Christmas season by telling stories about presents, Santa, magic, trains to the North Pole, Red Ryder BB guns, and ghosts of various time periods. None of them (with the exception of Charlie Brown) even consider the importance of the birth of Jesus or the idea that Christmas has any holy or sacred aspect at all. Thinking about this even led me to argue that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is more of a Christmas movie than most Christmas movies a couple of years ago.

But this year, I happened upon a gem of a little movie: a Christmas movie about the birth of Jesus that is powerful, fresh, well-made, and worth every moment of your time to watch.

The film – less than thirty minutes in length – is called The Shepherd, and it was made by Dallas Jenkins (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone). This is apparently the pilot of The Chosen, a series Jenkins is hoping to make about the witnesses of Jesus’ life, and if the quality of The Shepherd is any indication, we need to make sure The Chosen gets made. Watch the end of the video for a pitch from Jenkins about how you can be involved in this endeavor.

Shepherd-SocialThe Shepherd tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of one of the shepherds, and while the “eye-witness” conceit may not be original in and of itself, in this case the execution is. The Shepherd succeeds where so many faith-based and Bible films fail – showing and not telling, using the visuals and music to sell the story (and yes, even the message), and making an otherwise oft-told story seem fresh and real.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I don’t give Christian-made films an easy pass, and that if I gush about something, it’s truly gushable. In this case, The Shepherd is absolutely gushable, and if you watch it, it’s liable to become mandatory yuletide viewing in your home as well.

Here’s the film:

So, here’s the link to find out more about The Chosen. Check it out, and you’ll see what I mean. Then come back here to the comment section and let me know what you thought, and then we can argue about Interstellar.

Heck, you can even give me your arguments for Die Hard as the ultimate Christmas movie. I’ll disagree with you, but you can make your arguments.

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Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 9 • PureFlix’s original sitcom, “Hitting the Breaks”

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 11.07.49 AMIn the ninth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast, I give my thoughts on Pureflix’s first attempt at an original sitcom. The show, which is exclusively available on Pureflix’s streaming service, follows the Wilcox family as they relocate to rural Colorado from Atlanta. It’s a strange throwback to the sitcoms of the 1980’s and 90’s, almost a time-travel show in some ways. Does it work?

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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“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.  

Free Names for Future Faith-Based Movies

Grace Has A Prayer
Are you a faith-based film producer or writer? Please feel free to use these suggested faith-based film titles at no cost. Just mention Thimblerig’s Ark in the credits.

Grace Has A Prayer
Redemption Corner
Once Saved
Faith’s Secret Grace
Heavenly Faith
Grace Resurrected
Amazing Faith
Saving Faithfully
Grace Away
Making Heaven
A Father’s Faith
Cherishing Grace
Faith’s Redemption

Any other suggestions?

 

 

 

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.