Tim Chey’s Suing the Devil • Thimblerig’s Review • Part 1

A month or so ago, I came across a trailer for David & Goliath, a new Christian-made film being released in April.  The film caught my eye because it was a Christian-made film being touted as having an unheard of $50 million budget, and the filmmakers seemed intent on comparing themselves to Darren Aronofky’s Noah, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, making the heady claim that unlike those atheist-helmed endeavors, their film would be “biblically correct in every way.”

Setting aside the “biblically correct” statement for a moment, a few things came to mind as I watched this trailer.  First, why do filmmakers continue to give the people of ancient times British accents?  Second, why do filmmakers persist in hiring caucasian actors to play Middle Easterners?  Third, why – in the age of CGI wonders – would you make a 50 million dollar feature film about David and Goliath, and then proceed to make Goliath seem so… unimpressive?

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.04.12 AM

One of these is a scary giant. The other is a big Canadian. Which is which?

 

But I was curious, because it seemed like the filmmakers were being very persistent and quite verbose in talking up their film.  So, I went searching for more and in the process discovered writer, director, and producer Tim Chey.

tim-pic-1-427x284Timothy A. Chey is a filmmaker who has been making faith-based films for the past several years.  Some films he has either written or directed (or both) include Freedom (with Cuba Gooding, Jr), The Genius Club (with Steven Baldwin), Final: The Rapture (with several actors I didn’t recognize), and the subject of today’s review, Suing the Devil (with Malcolm McDowell).

Curious, I scoured the internet for anything I could find out about Mr. Chey.  I discovered several print interviews with a variety of Christian websites, and a handful of televised interviews where Mr. Chey appeared on Carman’s talk show (the well-known Christian singer who was quite popular in the 80’s), Christ in Prophecy, and other similar broadcasts.  After reading and watching everything I could find, I was left with a split opinion of Mr. Chey, or at least the Mr. Chey we can see online.

On the one hand, in his video interviews Mr. Chey came across as a good natured and passionate Christian, a man who understands that Christians should embrace cinema, and he seemed like the kind of person I would enjoy sitting around with, talking movies.  I also can appreciate that his movies have reportedly had positive spiritual impact, encouraging believers, and even being a tool that God has used to draw people into faith in Him.

On the other hand, in his print interviews, and sometimes on video, Mr. Chey often played the role of the persecuted Christian filmmaker.   Did he truly experience the sorts of persecution to which he eluded?  Or was this a strategy on his part, to stir up some controversy and make his films more interesting to the evangelical audience?

I really don’t know, but I wanted to address two things that he talked about in multiple interviews, that seem to be a recurring theme in the narrative he paints of David and Goliath in particular, and his career in general:  Hollywood’s response to David and Goliath, and Christian criticism of his films.

In an interview on Godvine, Mr. Chey wrote about the resistance he faced finding distribution in Hollywood for his film, saying “The Hollywood studios have rejected ‘David and Goliath’ for being too Bible-based and religious. One studio executive said, “You mention God in almost every scene.”

The reason why the studios decided they would not distribute David and Goliath was that it was too Bible-based?  It talked about God too much?  It was too biblically correct?

Mom's Not Dead for RealHere’s where I have a problem with this suggestion:  2014, Hollywood’s “Year of the Bible”, was the year that the Hollywood movers and shakers watched several Christian-made projects do quite well, including a little evangelical indie Christian film called God’s Not Dead, which made over $80 million in box office and DVD sales.  Hollywood continued to reel from Mel Gibson’s enormous success with The Passion of the Christ a few years earlier, with most of the studios rushing to create “faith-and-family” divisions in an attempt to exploit evangelical Christian desire for entertainment.

After all, Hollywood is a city built on profit, not ideology.  And considering that neither Noah nor Exodus: Gods and Kings were the box office blockbusters that the studios had hoped they would be, and this was largely because the films didn’t please the evangelical Christian audience, one would think that the studios would greet a well-made “biblically correct” film with open arms.

One would think they would smell the box office cash from miles away.

But according to Mr. Chey, his film was too Bible-based, too religious, talked about God too much, was too biblically correct to qualify for anything from the Hollywood studios but rejection.

Does that strike anyone else as… odd?

Secondly, in one interview, Mr. Chey complained that his films were being mocked by “fellow jealous Christians… saying the acting was bad, script was horrible.”  In another interview he said that one of his personal weaknesses was “not loving those carnal Christian movie critics who continually stab Christian filmmakers in the back.”

“Jealous Christians”?  “Carnal Christian movie critics”?  Ouch.

“The mistake Christian filmmakers make repeatedly,” Mr. Chey continued, “is they give into their fears of being maligned by the carnal, world-loving Christian who drools over Hollywood product…”

“Drooling over Hollywood product”?  Is that just a snarky way of saying Christians who appreciate well-made movies?

Finally, Mr. Chey dropped the bomb.

“One person wrote me and said 7 people went forward to receive Christ after showing ‘Gone‘. I can just imagine these carnal Christians rolling their eyes at the horror of that. But the true horror will be on Judgment Day when Christ says to them, ‘Depart from me for I never knew you.'”

I actually had to read this quote several times to make certain that I understood the ramifications of Mr. Chey’s comments.  If I understood him correctly, Mr. Chey was saying that he had experienced negative criticism from Christians, and that these film critics – because they had been critical of his films rather than just encouraging – were actually “carnal Christians” who would be damned on judgment day.

Because they didn’t like his films?

ytpj63

Having never actually seen any of Mr. Chey’s films, I was now truly interested.  Although as a person who is purposefully critical of Christian-made films, I was concerned that this might lump me into the category of being either a “jealous” or “carnal” Christian.

I ran over to his IMDB page and began looking into his films, especially for the ones available for viewing online (one of the downfalls of living in China).  I passed immediately on his two end-times movies (the most overdone of Christian-made genres), and while his John Newton film looked interesting, I couldn’t find a way to watch it online.

Then this film poster caught my eye.

suing_the_devil_xlg
Suing Satan?  Malcolm McDowell?  A very eye-catching poster?  I was intrigued by the whole idea.  And since Amazon offered streaming rentals of the film, I proceeded to watch.

For part 2, the actual review of Suing the Devil, click here.

This post is a part of my 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge, where I’m doing my best to consume nothing but Christian media.  This has led me to make some good Christian media discoveries, as well as some real clunkers.

Day 16 down.

 

Thimblerig’s Ark • FREE Christmas Download!

As a special Christmas gift to you, Thimblerig’s Ark will be available as a FREE Kindle download from December 24 to December 28, 2014 (PST)!  Please help spread the cheer by passing on the good news!  Share this exciting info on all your social media platforms.

If you tweet, you can just copy this onto your Twitter feed starting on Christmas Eve:

You know about , but not the animal’s story. It’s not what you’re expecting. Thimblerig’s Ark, FREE DOWNLOAD!

4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon!

“Thimblerig’s Ark is a really fun book with lots of action and lovable characters.” 4-LAN

“a great read, it kept me interested and I was completely invested in the story!” Lena K.

“Quirky characters set up a gentle tale with a solid message behind it.” Mark L.

“I’d recommend this book to animal lovers who like adventure stories with a touch of comedy.” stansby

“It has been a real pleasure to read this book full of adventure, humor, vivid and well developed characters…” Andrey

Thimblerig's Ark Cover ArtThimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.

He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.

But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.

In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.

All for a reasonable price, of course.

When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.

And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.

Inspired by an Irish pub song about why the unicorn missed out on Noah’s Ark, Thimblerig’s Ark is a Narnian-style fantasy novel that looks at how the animals all made it there in the first place, focusing on a con-artist groundhog named Thimblerig.

Coming soon:  Thimblerig’s Ark Book Two: Forty Days and Nights

 

Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day • November 12, 2014

First of all, NaNoWriMo continues, and we’re nearing the middle of the month.  The middle of the month in NaNoWriMo is typically the time where we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the dogs from the cats.  It’s the time when we find out who is really serious about finishing 50,000 words in thirty days, come hell or high water.   I wish I could say it’s the time when one’s writing becomes really spectacular, but unfortunately, it’s when the quality of the writing starts to become sacrificed on the alter of word count.

In honor of the middle of the month, I give you Gandalf the Grey, and his experience with NaNoWriMo.

NanoGandalf

I do have to say that if I make it to the finish line, I am going to have a very precocious eleven year old girl to thank.  I teach 6th grade here in China, and my class is doing the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program.  We spent the month of October in intense preparation, and part of that was allowing the students to choose their own writing goals.  Most students chose around 15,000 words in the month, but one ambitious student chose 30,000.  When NaNoWriMo began, she made it her new goal to beat me, and so while I’m writing close to 2,000 words a day, so is she.  Currently, she has about two hundred words more than I do, so I’ve convinced her to up her final goal to the adult level of 50,000, and she has agreed.

This has worked out really well for me, because now I base whether or not I will quit for the day on her word count, rather than if I’ve reached my daily goal, so I’m being pushed forward.  50,000 words, here I come!

Speaking of young people, my own eleven year old daughter took an extremely cute picture of her seventeen month old brother, Noah, who has just discovered how to make duck lips.   The picture she took was so cute because Noah is standing much like an adult might, if they were striking a heroic pose.  I absolutely love this picture.

noah duckface

And of course, the more I looked at this picture, the more it reminded me of one of the promotional posters that Darren Aronofsky put out for Noah.   And since our Noah shares the name, I thought it might improve the poster a bit to get rid of the sour looking Russell Crowe, and give Noah a more upbeat expression.

The Real NoahNow that would have been a spectacular movie.

And finally, I give you John Oliver, and the Salmon Cannon.

Now, considering that I’ve used several hundred words here that should have been on my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m going to go ahead and close it up.

See you next week, with the next three interesting things I can find!

P.S. On principal, I refuse to include Too Many Cooks in my list.  I just refuse to do it.

 

You think you know the story of the ark? Think again.

You already know about Noah.

Just wait until you read the animal’s story.

“I found the pages flying by…”

“a breath of fresh air…”

“not just for children…”

4stars

Four and a half stars on Amazon!

Thimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.

He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.

But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.Thimblerig's Arc_3 (1) copy

In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.

All for a reasonable price, of course.

When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.

And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.

Author Nate Fleming at a book signing at the Bookworm, Chengdu, China - summer 2014

Children’s book author Nate Fleming at a book signing at the Bookworm, Chengdu, China – summer 2014

Author Nate Fleming at a a book signing at the Binding Time Cafe in Virginia, summer 2014

Children’s book author Nate Fleming at a a book signing at the Binding Time Cafe in Virginia, summer 2014

 

Purchase and/or download Thimblerig’s Ark today!

Thimblerig’s Ark Flood Sale!

One of the cool things about publishing your own books on Amazon is that you are able to set your own deals from time to time.  In this case, I’ve decided to offer Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢ for a limited amount of time.  In a couple of days, the price will go up to $1.99, and then a couple of days later it will go up to $2.99, before finally returning to the normal price of $3.99 a couple of days later.  So skip over there post haste and get a wonderful novel for the same price as a 99 cent cup of coffee!  Or a 99¢ movie rental!  Or a 99¢ pair of sport socks!  Or a 99¢…

Well, you get the idea.

And remember, you don’t need to own a Kindle to read this book!   You can also download a free Kindle app for any device here, and then you can read Thimblerig’s Ark on your Ipad, or your Android, or your Atari 2600!

What are you waiting for?   Run over there now and download Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢!

Oh.  I didn’t realize that you had another tab open.  Sorry.  My bad.  Go on about your business.

That is, if your business includes downloading Thimblerig’s Ark for 99¢!

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Replying to Some “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking” Questions

Over on faithwriters.com, someone linked to the article, “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking”.  A poster there named Lillian raised some issues with my blog, and I thought I would address them here, in case anyone is interested.

My original points are in italics, Lillian’s responses are in bold, and my replies are using a normal font.

1) We need to permit our artists (writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers) to take more risks. And artists, whether you are permitted or not, take more risks. Did you really get into your artistic field because you liked playing it safe? Why play it safe with the most important thing you have to say?

Some artists need no permission to “play it safe.” They prefer it that way. Every Christian artist should feel free to create as per their convictions. To imply that one is less of an artist or flawed in some way because they don’t take “risks” according to this author’s belief is troublesome to me. 

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my article.  My intention wasn’t that we should require all artists of faith to take risks.  Rather, I was attempting to challenge the church to allow her artists to take risks – as per their convictions.

2) We need to encourage our artists to challenge rather than stroke our sensibilities. A pearl is made when dirt is irritated inside the oyster, after all. And so artists, don’t wait for permission. Start challenging your audience. They will undoubtedly resist you, but we need to be challenged or we’ll stagnate and fade away into irrelevance.

And yet, among the most sold books world wide last year and on the Times bestseller books for months was “Killing Jesus.” Irrelevance? Not as long as God has something to say about it.

First, God is sovereign, and just like He used Balaam’s donkey, He can and will use our attempts to create art in surprising ways.   But you have to admit that if we will stagnate if we only expose ourselves to things with which we agree.  Nobody outside our little subculture will care what we do as artists, because we’ll be so out of touch.

Before anyone suggests that I’m suggesting that we watch hard R-rated films for the sake of exposure.  That’s not at all what I mean.  Let me use the Noah film to help clarify my point.

I read testimonies by many Christians who said that they would not see the movie for a variety of reasons, based on what they’d heard:

•  The director is an atheist.

•  It’s a pro-environment movie.

•  The film has rock people.

•  The animals didn’t enter the ark two by two.

•  Noah has a mental breakdown on the ark.

•  Noah gets drunk.

Basically, these people were choosing to avoid having their interpretations of the Noah story challenged.  To be honest, I have a great deal more respect for the Christians who saw the film and hated it, and complained about it afterward, because they were at least open to seeing another point of view.

This brings me back to my point.  If we don’t like the way people outside the church challenge us, then we should take the reins and challenge each other with the art we produce, à la Proverbs 27:17.  Most Christian films don’t do this because the people who make those films are too busy trying to please their core audience (understandably), who largely wish to be stroked and not challenged.  It is my contention that filmmakers/storytellers should be freed up to say things that make us uncomfortable, and if the church doesn’t give them permission, they need to be say those things anyway.

Like a prophet.

This makes me think of a favorite story about Rich Mullins speaking to the chapel service at Wheaton College, as told by Shane Claiborne in his book, The Irresistible Revolution.  Shane reports that Rich said:

“You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you just have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too…[And he paused in the awkward silence.] But I guess that’s why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.”

3) We need to recognize that art is art, the pulpit is the pulpit, and while the two might cross paths from time to time, they are completely different animals.

They are as per the secular world, but for the Christian artist, should they be? What happened to being “light,” “salt,” “being in not of,” and “examples” not “carbon copies,” leading not following.

Yes, yes, yes!  A thousand times yes!  Of course they should be different!   After all…

The pulpit is the place where Scripture should be explained and the Message delivered clearly, without ambiguity.

Art is inevitably ambiguous, depending on the eyes or ears of the beholder to discover the meaning for him or herself.

The pulpit is the embodiment of “tell, don’t show.”

Art is the embodiment of “show, don’t tell.”

In the pulpit, the personality of the preacher shouldn’t matter, because the message is paramount.  In fact, if people are more excited about the messenger than the message, then that group may have a problem.

In art, the personality of the artist might be sole the reason for the excitement for the art, and this doesn’t need to detract from the art.

In my original article, I conceded that the two may cross paths from time to time, but that should be the exception, not the rule.  I might want to see that guy who paints upside down pictures of Christ on a special Sunday morning, but I don’t want him up front every week (this is a problem I have with some modern worship – but that’s the subject of another article).  At the same time, maybe a piece of art will sometimes be on the nose for effect, but if it is a regular occurrence, it will get shut down by those who aren’t into the message being proclaimed.

So, yes.  They should be different.

As to Christians setting the example, I would say that is the job of every Christian in every situation.  Sometimes we set the example by explicitly sharing our faith; sometimes we set the example by quietly helping someone in need.

This goes for everyone. Does everyone truly understand this? With all the recent criticisms of Noah because it “is unbiblical”, I have to think that lots of people don’t.

Why would an admitted atheist want to take a biblical story and turn it into a non-biblical film? Could it be that Hollywood has discovered a new way to make money by exploiting the Bible without embracing it? 

I have to admit before responding to this that I have still been unable to see Noah, because I live in China, and it’s not showing here because it is a film based on a Bible story.   That being said, I’d love to know why you consider the film to be “non-biblical”?

Meanwhile, I’ll ask – are these randomly Googled other examples of Noah biblical?

http://www.daniellesplace.com/html/bible_themes_noah.html

http://www.artistichandsoffaith.com/?p=917

http://www.dltk-bible.com/arks.htm

http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/free-printables-for-kids-noahs-ark-coloring-pages/

4) We need to be okay with movies that don’t give all the answers. 

Says who? Why should we have to be “okay” with it? The overriding stamp of approval is whether we feel God is “okay” with it. I’m still a proponent of God’s opinion rather than man’s. 

Re-read my quote and tell me where I said that God’s opinion is not important.  Then re-read your quote and see where you wrote that it’s based on what we feel.  I would – rather – posit that our okayness with ambiguity should be based on what Scripture teaches.  Specifically, look at the teaching style of Jesus.  To the masses, he often told stories that the people didn’t get, and they would walk away scratching their heads.  Even the disciples, his closest mates, would come up to him afterwards and ask him to explain himself.  As Eugene Peterson wrote, Christ was often subversive in the things that he taught.  A lost coin?  Virgins waiting at the gate?  A man beat up on the road?  What do these things have to do with God?

And still today, life is often filled with unanswered questions.  Why did five-year-old Ben Sauer just die from a rare form of cancer?  Why did nearly three hundred miners just get killed in an accident in Turkey?  Why did the job I was counting on for next year get suddenly taken away from me?

God has given us lives filled with ambiguity.  Maybe, just maybe he has done this so that we will turn to Him for an explanation, like the disciples did.  And if no explanation is offered, maybe he is helping us learn to trust His goodness in the face of the ambiguity.

If they succeed in asking some good, deep questions, they might actually open the doors to conversations where answers can be explored.

The Bible is not only to be explored, as if it’s in some artistic laboratory, but accepted. Anything that doesn’t lead to that end is mere entertainment. Entertainment is fine, but let’s not confuse it with trying to communicate truth. 

First, how can you accept what the Bible teaches if you don’t explore it?

Second, are you suggesting that the only satisfactory end to truthful art made by Christians is that the Bible be accepted?  This is confusing to me, because I’m not really even sure what it means to “accept the Bible.”

If – by that phrase – you mean accept that the Bible is God’s word, then I would say that art can help bring a person to this place, but it will typically not do it by itself.

If – by that phrase – you mean accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then I would say that the phrase is not a biblical phrase anyway, so it would be irrelevant.

If – by that phrase – you mean accept the core message of the Bible – the Gospel – that God made us and loves us; that our sin has condemned us; that we are separated from Him; that Jesus came and died on the cross to pay our debt and restore the relationship between humanity and God; that we must believe that Jesus was who he said he was, repent of our sins, and receive Jesus’s forgiveness and salvation… so you’re suggesting that all art made by Christians has to end with a call to salvation?  Or is it possible that an artist can communicate this message in a subtle way so that a non-believer is willing to be exposed to it, and when they watch/read/hear the story, the Holy Spirit has some room to start pricking the heart?

See, to me, this is the power of art made by people of faith – when well crafted, it has the power to slip past defenses and lay out the truth behind enemy lines.  And the art might just need to be entertaining to accomplish this.  It might not have a clear gospel call as a part of the entertaining, but it doesn’t change the fact that can still impact, just like the stories of Jesus did.

Artists, isn’t part of our job to provoke questions? Don’t feel you have to end every sentence with a period.

No, but we need be tolerant of everyone’s point of view and preferences. And in spite of my comments, I respect this author’s right to express his opinion. 

I appreciate that, and right back at you.

5) Jesus wasn’t known for telling mediocre stories that ticked off all the correct religious boxes. He was known for telling compelling stories that challenged his listeners while communicating God’s truth. Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus?

Yes, we’re suppose to “communicate God’s truth, not that of a secularist/atheist. I haven’t seen it, but I was wondering, should I decide to see it, will I find any of “God’s truth” there?

Considering that all truth is God’s truth, I believe that you will.   And again, if God used Balaam’s donkey, why can’t he use Aronofsky’s filmmaking skills?  Of course, I believe it would be helpful to leave your own traditions and personal interpretations of the Noah story at the door before you walk into the theater to watch.  Christians don’t own the story of Noah, after all.

I just hope we can figure out how to tell The Story – truly the Greatest Story Ever Told – in the manner in which it deserves, and in such an excellent way that people outside the Christian subculture will receive it.

Can you find the “Greatest Story Ever Told” in the film in question? And why do we need to “figure out a way to tell the story? The blueprint has worked ever since Jesus told His disciples what to do and how to do it. I need to be convinced that relevancy is the answer to rebellion and apathy.

Again, I haven’t seen Noah yet, so I can’t say.  As to why we need to “figure out a way to tell the story”?  We need to figure it out because the world needs so desperately to hear it.  There is a time for using the clear language of the pulpit, but God isn’t limited to communicating His truth through that venue.  He can use a novel, a screenplay, a piece of sculpture, a painting, a piano concerto, photography, poetry, 3-D art, and yes… even mime.

And why is relevancy such a dirty word?  Especially in this situation, I would equate relevant with excellence.  An excellently told story will – by virtue of its excellence – be relevant.  And we, as Christian artists, should strive for excellence – and therefore relevance – in every single piece of art that we produce.  Because the goal of what we are creating should be to whisper, sing, cry, laugh, or shout out God’s glory for everyone to see.