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.

1200x630bb

Advertisements

The 2016 MOVIEGUIDE® Awards Nominations

2017-Gala-Logo_black-bg-2.png

With some sort of activity happening tomorrow in the far right side of the country, you may have missed a little announcement from the far left side of the country from a right-leaning entertainment organization.

Yes, over the past couple of weeks, MOVIEGUIDE® has been slowly (and strangely – not sure why they’ve been doing it piecemeal) revealing the nominees for their annual awards show. And as is our tradition at Thimblerig’s Ark (well, starting last year), we present the nearly complete list of MOVIEGUIDE® awards nominees for your pleasure.

The 2016 MOVIEGUIDE® Awards Nominations 

Epiphany Prize to the Most Inspiring Movie of 2016

Ben-Hur

God’s Not Dead 2

Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar

Miracles from Heaven

Risen

Silence

The Young Messiah

Epiphany Prize to the Most Inspiring Television Program of 2016

Agents of Shield: Season 3: Episodes 20-22

The Bridge Part 2

Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors

Operation Christmas

The Passion: New Orleans

Pocahontas: Dove of Peace

A Time To Dance

Bradley Foundation Faith & Freedom Award for Movies

The Faith & Freedom Awards for Promoting Positive American Values are awarded for entertainment value, for craftsmanship, and for creating programming that is uplifting, moral, insightful, compassionate, and that shows America and its people in a positive light.

Captain America: Civil War

God’s Not Dead 2

Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar!

Queen of Katwe

Sing

Sully

Best Movie for Families

Finding Dory

The Jungle Book

Miracles from Heaven

Pete’s Dragon

Queen of Katwe

The Secret Life of Pets

Sing

Trolls

The Young Messiah

Zootopia

Best Movie for Mature Audiences

Ben Hur

Captain America: Civil War

Eddie the Eagle

The Finest Hours

God’s Not Dead 2

Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar!

Risen

Silence

Sully

Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for Movies

Awarded annually to an actor or actress in a motion picture or television program who exemplifies God’s grace and mercy toward us as human beings through their outstanding performance.

Rodrigo Santoro, Ben-Hur

David A.R. White, God’s Not Dead 2

Melissa Joan Hart, God’s Not Dead 2

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Josh Brolin, Hail, Caesar!

Rober Pike Daniel, Hail, Caesar!

Jennifer Garner, Miracles from Heaven

Kylie Rogers, Miracles from Heaven

Cliff Curtis, Risen

Joseph Fiennes, Risen

Adam Greaves-Neal, The Young Messiah

Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for TV

Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Faith Ford, The Bridge

Ted McGinley, The Bridge

Alyvia Alyn Lind, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors

Gerald McRaney, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors

Dolly Parton, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors

Tyler Perry, The Passion: New Orleans

Devielle Johnson, A Time to Dance


The MOVIEGUIDE® Awards are scheduled for February 10, 2017 at the Universal Hilton Hotel. It’s usually televised a couple of weeks later, but right now that information is not available.

And if anyone from MOVIEGUIDE® happens to read this, I’d love to find out a couple of things from you: first, what is the process for selecting the nominees? Second, why don’t you air the show live?

Finally, for kicks and giggles, here is a picture of Thimblerig’s Ark author Nate Fleming with Dr. Ted Baehr himself. Taken last year at the Variety Faith and Family Summit in Hollywood.

pix.png

American Cultural Christianity Roundup • the film edition • January 11, 2017

There have been several notable stories in the world of Christian-made film these past few days, and I wanted to summarize a few of them (and comment, of course) for my faithful readers.

1. The Case for Christ

Deadline ran a story this week about the upcoming PureFlix film, The Case for Christ, based on the successful apologetics book by Lee Strobel. The website ran the story with the provocative title, “‘The Case For Christ’ Teaser: Athiest Vs. Believers, From ‘God’s Not Dead’ Filmmakers

Three interesting points about this story.

First, the teaser trailer was actually released several months ago, but Deadline presented it as if it happened in the past week.

Second, while the title of the story is essentially correct, it does seem like Deadline’s editors are trying to stoke some sort of fires through the headline.

Third, I’m quite fascinated by the current trend in Christian-made filmmaking to take a popular book (even a nonfiction, largely non-narrative one like The Case for Christ) or song (see the other stories discussed in this post) and turn them into narrative movies. This seems like a studio mindset sort of thing to do, because it’s safe. Existing properties and familiar names are always the safer bet for box office returns, but doing this with songs seems to be a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s when it was done with some frequency in secular films (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Convoy, Take This Job And Shove It, Harper Valley PTA, Ode To Billy Jo, etc). But it’s something that has fallen out of fashion in recent years.

And while turning narrative books into movies is nothing new, examples of non-narrative books (like A Case For Christ) being turned into narrative movies are a bit harder to find. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying did it in the late 1960’s, Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask) in the early 70’s, and more recently, He’s Just Not That Into You.

The Case for Christ is a bit different in that the book does contain narrative elements, but the bulk of the book examines the arguments for and against the Christian faith. It’ll be interesting to see how this material is handled in a narrative film.

Meanwhile, if it is successful, maybe we’ll see faith-based filmmaking pick up this trend and make narrative films for other hit non-narrative books like The Prayer of Jabez or Mere Christianity.

2. I Can Only Imagine

dennis-quaid-cloris-leachman

REX/Shutterstock

Speaking of turning songs into movies, the über-successful Christian song I Can Only Imagine is being turned into a motion picture starring Dennis Quaid, Trace Atkins, and Cloris Leachman.

 

For those who live on Mars, or outside the Christian bubble, I Can Only Imagine is a song that was originally released by the Christian supergroup MercyMe in 2001. The song imagines a person encountering heaven for the first time and being overwhelmed by the reality of being with God and loved ones for eternity. While I’ve enjoyed the song from time to time (even if it is arguably one of the most over-played songs in Christian music) I never dreamed that anyone would consider turning the song into a major motion picture.

I Can Only Imagine has a shelf life that other songs can only dream of. Here we are, over fifteen years after the song was initially released, and it remains in the iTunes top 10 Gospel and Christian song list.  The song has also been named the most played single in Christian radio history.

No wonder someone decided to make it into a movie.

To get an idea of where they will be taking this film (which apparently will tell the story of the writing of the song) you can read this article from Christian Post. That article details Bart Millard’s journey to write the song, and the film will undoubtedly explore that time of his life.

While I’m not terribly keen on the idea of turning a hit Christian song into a film, I’ve generally liked the work of the Erwin brothers in the past. So, I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen the final product, which is due to hit theaters in Spring 2018.

Now I just need to start working on that treatment for Lord, I Lift Your Name On High: The Film

[By the way, if any of my readers are in Oklahoma City, they are filming the last scene of the movie this Friday at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall, and they’re looking for extras. Read more here.]

3. God Bless The Broken Road

The Hollywood Reporter recently posted a story about former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson taking a role in another upcoming movie based on a popular song.

God Bless The Broken Road is also an interesting song-to-movie project, maybe even moreso than I Can Only Imagine, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the song is not a “Christian song”, but a country music song that is being turned into a film that falls into the “faith-based” genre.

Second, the original song (first recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt band, and more recently by Rascall Flatts) was called “Bless the Broken Road”, but the filmmakers added “God” to the title. A small adjustment to increase the appeal to the Big Christian Audience or a more complete title, considering the song lyric is “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you”?

Third, the film is being brought to us by various members of the God’s Not Dead team – director Harold Cronk, actress Robin Givens, producers Troy Duhon and Dustin Solomon, distributed by PureFlix. A filmgoer’s anticipation for this film might be directly impacted by that knowledge – in a good or a bad way – depending on their opinion of the GND movies. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what this team does with a non-GND property.

Fourth, the description of the film in IMDB ends by saying “…the film combines elements of faith, country music, and stock car racing while paying tribute to those who serve in the United States Military.”

Do these categories represent the new four quadrants in American Christian-targeted filmmaking?

4. The Ark Encounter

Finally, in a non-film related note, this past summer I was able to attend the grand opening of The Ark Encounter in Kentucky. I detailed that visit in a review of my experience which you can read here.

However, the folks at the Ark Encounter recently tweeted an announcement about a new display which will be opening soon.

Yes, it is a viscious dinosaur being released into an arena filled with excited fans, like Gladiator meets Jurassic Park. See my review of The Dinosaur Kingdom II for similar displays.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Are Christian Filmmakers Being Tapped To Direct Future Star Wars Stand-Alone Films?

A long time ago in galaxy close, close by…

The church had abandoned Hollywood. Then, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST struck box office gold, studios created FAITH-BASED DIVISIONS, and little Christian films made BUCKETS OF MONEY. Now Christian films have earned over a BILLION DOLLARS for investors and studios over the past thirteen years.

With the recent successes of Dr. Strange, directed by Christian filmmaker SCOTT DERRICKSON and Rogue One, the first Star Wars standalone film, are the forces behind Star Wars hopping on the faith-based bandwagon? Are budding Christian filmmakers being considered as the new hope for the venerable space-based franchise?

Only time will tell….

“The Erwin brothers, Harold Cronk, Kirk Cameron, they’ve all been discussed, especially for a movie about Yoda, which would involve all kinds of spiritual mumbo-jumbo,” an anonymous source told us. But this source, who met with us in a nearby Starbucks dressed in a stormtrooper costume and calling himself “TR-3R”, went on to say that the Christian filmmakers who have risen to the top are veteran brother team, Alex and Stephen Kendrick, creators of the Christian film hits Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof, and 2015’s War Room.

tr3r“The big dogs at Lucasfilm like the Kendrick’s grass-roots style of filmmaking, as well as their overt handling of spiritual issues,” TR-3R said. “They think the Kendricks could take a Yoda standalone to some really interesting places, exploring the spiritual aspects of the Force, maybe telling about how Yoda became converted to the light side in the first place. Me? I imagine it happening in a golden field with lots of sunlight. The Kendricks like to do that. It’s their lens flare.”

Considering the Kendrick’s focus on family issues such as parenting and marriage, we asked the source the odds that a Kendrick-directed standalone film would also explore something of Yoda’s homelife.

“They never tell me the odds, but this is something fans have been clamoring for,” TR-3R said enthusiastically, trying unsuccessfully to sip his coffee through his stormtrooper helmet. “They’ve seen Yoda living as a crotchety old single dude, but was he a good husband? A good dad? He helped train all those force-sensitive kids, but what about his own kids? The big dogs think that the Kendricks could really explore a domestic side of Yoda that we haven’t seen before.”

The source went on to say that a successful Kendrick-directed Star Wars film would also open the door for other filmmakers of faith to step in, as the studio hopes to release a new Star Wars film every year from now until the apocalypse.

When we pressed TR-3R for more details, he grew noticeably agitated and began muttering something about seeing the new VT-16. Then, saying he had to get back to the office, TR-3R quickly slid a folded piece of paper across the table and bolted outside without another word. He jumped into a black 1976 Corvette and drove away.

Incidentally, the Corvette’s license plate read THX-1138.

Unfolding the paper, the first thing we noticed was that it was written on Lucasfilm stationary. It had been stamped multiple times with “TOP SECRET” in bright red letters, and the paper had the heading: “Potential Future Faith-Based Star Wars Projects.”

Then, the following items were listed:

forceThe Force’s Not Dead – set between Episode 3 and 4, a young Luke Skywalker attends Mos Eisley Agricultural College only to find that his moisture farming professor doesn’t believe in the Force. Luke stands up to him, determined to prove that the Force is real. The film ends with an extended Figrin D’an and the Modal Newsboys concert in the cantina while the professor gets run over and killed by a landspeeder outside. Potential director: Harold Cronk. Potential producer: David A.R. White. Release date: December 2019.

Ben Hutt – set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, Ben Kenobi, masquerading as a Hutt prince, is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother (a clone soldier in the Republic Clone Army). After spending years exiled in space, Ben returns to Tatooine to seek revenge, but ultimately finds redemption. Possible roles for Ewan MacGregor and Morgan Freeman. Potential producers: Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Release date: May 2020.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling I’ve Been Left Behind – also set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, this film would explore the chaos and mayhem resulting when the Jedi vanish in an instant, leaving behind smoking piles of clothes and lightsabers. Possible starring role for Nicolas Cage as a force-sensitive sceptic. Potential director: Paul LaLonde. Release date May 2021.

Droid’s Night Out – set in the time between Episodes 4 and 5, R2D2 decides to take C3PO out on a night on the town, leaving Luke, Han, and Chewie to take on all of the etiquette and protocol responsibilities at the rebel base. Of course, mistaken identities and disastrously hilarious mayhem results. Potential director: The Erwin Brothers. Release Date: December 2022.

Lumpawarrump’s Saving Life Day – set in the time between Episodes 5 and 6, Lumpawarrump is enjoying the annual Life Day extravaganza thrown by his sister until he realizes he needs to help out his visiting father, Chewbacca, who blames himself for Han Solo’s abduction by Boba Fett. Lumpy’s fresh look at Life Day provides Chewbacca the chance to see that the universe is bigger than his little problems, and that he needs to pull up his Wookie panties and go save his friend from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt. The film ends with an extended wookie dance-off. Potential director: Kirk Cameron. Release Date: Life Day 2023, or perhaps Festivus.

star-war-roomStar War Room – set in the time between Episodes 6 and 7, Han Solo and Princess Leia’s marriage is in trouble, and it will take the efforts of the strange, wizened old Miss Maz to help Leia learn to tap into the force and save her marriage. The film ends with an extended force-enabled jump rope competition. Possible roles for Sadie Robertson as a young Leia and Alden Ehrenreich to continue playing young Han. Potential director: The Kendrick Brothers (if the Yoda movie is a success). Release Date: December 2024.

 

Reel Life Imitates Real Life? Really?

godsnotdead2-1Pure Flix has posted the list of court cases they show at the end of God’s Not Dead 2 in a post entitled “Real Life Imitates Reel Life.” (Actually, it should have been the other way around, since the movie was supposed inspired by events in real life. But, that’s not so important).

As you might know, God’s Not Dead 2 deals with a teacher who is sued for discussing Jesus in a history class. The film has been described as being a “wake up call” that is “ripped from the headlines.” As a part of proving the legitimacy of the film’s premise, the filmmakers chose to show a long list of court cases that supported their case.

The interesting thing is that if you look over the list, twenty-three of the cases were situations where a Christian sued someone else, and only eleven were situations where a lawsuit was brought against a Christian – as happens in the film.

And it’s even more interesting that none of the cases mentioned dealt with a teacher being sued for mentioning Jesus in a high school history class, or any other similar situation. In fact, only one case involved a classroom (Brooker v. Franks), and that was a case where a student sues their university. Incidentally, that case was also in the list given in the credits of the first God’s Not Dead.

In Brooker v. Franks, a student was given an assignment that went against her religious beliefs (dealing with adoption and homosexual couples), and so she sued the university, and the university very quickly settled the case out of court. This all happened over ten years ago, and you can read more about it online by searching for “Brooker v. Franks.” I’d especially recommend that you read the professor’s point of view, as he is also a Christian, and claims that he allowed the student to do a different assignment.

But things get more interesting when you look at the bulk of the cases. Thirteen of the listed cases dealt with issues of homosexuality and twenty-two dealt with abortion/healthcare issues. If the filmmakers had chosen their fictional protagonist to take a stand based on her convictions on one of these issues, it would have been a much gutsier move. As it is, the story in the film is just fantasy, and the court cases mentioned, when properly scrutinized, don’t seem to do anything to bolster the legitimacy of the film’s premise.

gods-not-dead-2-1And considering the storyline for God’s Not Dead 3 that was teased in the end-credits scene of GND2, it seems like that film will have even fewer legal precedent legs to stand on.

Thoughts?

After writing this, I came across a more thorough examination of the cases over on Patheos’s The Friendly Atheist. A reading of that more complete dissection demonstrates that Pure Flix’s inclusion of the list of court cases doesn’t actually help their argument at all. But, I suppose just having the list breeze past makes the core audience feel better, because if it’s up there, it must have deep meaning, right?

Thimblerig’s Guide for Watching Christian Films (for People who aren’t Christians)

Christian films.

Fifteen years ago they were found almost exclusively on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Online streaming at that time was virtually non-existent, they didn’t typically play on the regular movie channels, there wasn’t a “Christian Film” section at Blockbuster video, and the odds were that if you were outside of the Christian subculture, you would never see a Christian movie.

And then, in 2004, everything changed.

The Passion of the Christ, the highest grossing independent film of all time, sent an electric jolt through the American film industry. Realizing that an audience actually existed for movies that talked about the Christian faith as something other than a punchline, the major Hollywood studios wasted little time setting up “faith-based” divisions to try and figure out how to best exploit service this previously-neglected demographic.

posterSince then, non-religious theater-goers have seen more and more “faith-based” films being advertised on the coming attraction posters of their local cinemas. Films with ecclesiastical names like “Heaven is for Real”, “God’s Not Dead”, and “Ninety Minutes in Heaven” starring well-known Hollywood actors such as Nicolas Cage, Greg Kinnear, and Jennifer Garner were – for the first time – sharing the stage with typical secular films.

In this brave new world, a regular Friday night movie-goer could walk up to their local megaplex and inadvertently wind up sitting in a movie made by Christians, largely for Christians, and walk out afterwards feeling as if they’d just watched The Big Short without Adam McKay’s explanatory fourth wall breaks.

And so, as Lonely Planet helps guide confused travellers wandering the globe, I’ve developed this guide to help non-religious folks understand what might have just happened if they accidentally wandered into a Christian film.

thimblerigs-film-reviews

*caveat – these are generalizations, and specific Christian films may or may not follow these guidelines. Thimblerig accepts no responsibility for such films.*

1) Christian Films are often written in Christianese

The first thing you need to learn when visiting any country is how to say important phrases in the local dialect. Watching Christian films is no different, as our films are peppered with the dialect of the early 21st century American Christian, a dialect known as Christianese. And for some reason, we don’t do subtitles.

[Note to Pureflix: consider adding subtitles to God’s Not Dead 2]

how-to-speak-christianeseSome basic samples of Christianese that you may encounter in our films:

“Does he know Jesus?” – “Is he a Christian?”

“Does he really know Jesus?” – “If he’s a Christian, why doesn’t he go to church?”

“She’s lost, and needs to come to Jesus!” – “She’s not a Christian, but she should be. And she should attend church regularly.”

“You need to ask Jesus into your heart.” – “You need to become a Christian.”

This is usually followed by “The Sinner’s Prayer”, a prayer that a person recites to become a Christian. This a controversial prayer in Christian circles, because it is not Biblical, meaning that it’s not found in the Bible.

“They have a heart for the lost.” – “They want people who aren’t Christian to become Christian. Oh, and they want them to attend church regularly.”

“God is telling me…” – “I have an opinion that I want to share with you, and by putting God’s stamp of approval on the comment, it will have weight and gravitas. Even if it is just my own opinion.”

“I’m blessed!” – has different meanings, depending on the context. If the person has just gotten something good, it means, “God’s given me some good stuff!” If it is said in response to a personal inquiry, it means, “I’m doing fine, thank you.” Ultimately, it’s an attribution to God for whatever is happening in the Christian’s life.

So, in a Christian film, you might find dialogue like this:

This is just a cursory introduction to the language of many Christian films. For more detailed information about the Christianese dialect, I’d recommend that you visit the Dictionary of Christianese.

(Incidentally, if anyone in the Christian film industry would like to option my Bob and Dave script, please let my people know.)

2) Christian films typically tell much more than they show

One of the most important lessons a traveler can learn when exploring a new part of the world is the importance of saying “I don’t understand” rather than “that doesn’t make sense.”

And if there’s one thing about Christian films that doesn’t make sense to people it’s our propensity to tell. Yes, our films tell. They tell, tell, and tell, and then they tell some more, much more than they show, breaking that cardinal rule of storytelling.

“There’s too much exposition in that Christian film,” the secular critics complain. “They tell us everything!”

However, just as you have to take culture of origin into consideration when watching a foreign film, the Christian film viewer who is not actually a Christian should take the culture of origin into consideration.

And Christian culture loves exposition.

I mean, loves exposition.

preaching-1The best example of this is found in a style of preaching called “expository preaching,” where the preacher spends days or weeks studying a passage from the Bible in depth, and then on Sunday morning, they stand in front of the congregation (audience) and explain everything the passage has to say, verse by verse – sometimes word by word.

The preacher will go deep into the cultural and historical significance of the passage of Scripture, even down to the meaning of certain key words in the verse’s original language of Hebrew or Greek.

The idea behind this is that if one can come close to understanding the original meaning of the ancient document, one might better understand what God intended by that Scriptural text, and better figure out how it can be applied to our lives today.

Oh, and by the way, we Christians also love application.

So, in a nutshell, we explain the message very specifically in church so that there is no chance of confusion, and so that the listener can apply it to their own lives. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the uninitiated that we do the same in our films.

Rather than criticizing our films for being over-expositional, maybe secular critics should critique how well our films handled that over-exposition.

3) Christian films are generally Christian wishes being fulfilled cinematically

It’s important to understand the mentality of people when you visit a foreign country. What do the people of that country hope for? What aspirations do they have? How do they view the world?

Some people misunderstand the Christian mentality. They think that we’re a bunch of “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” people, avoiding reality and clinging to a fantasy about a benevolent old guy who lives in the clouds.

That’s not the case, though. Christians know the reality of the world. We know perfectly well that things can be really, really bad. That things can go south in an instant. But we also know how we wish things were (or in Christianese, how we pray for things to be). So, our films are typically a strange amalgamation of reality and fantasy wish-fulfilment.

For example, we know it’s tough to raise kids, and so our films have no problem showing struggling parents. But we also love a good redemption story, and so in our films someone prays and the runaway kid will make a big personal change (Christianese, repent) and come back home, prodigal-style. This is what we wish would happen with every errant child.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.10.14 PMWe also know that marriage is tough in reality, and that not all marriages survive, and so our films will show the difficulty of marriage. But we also believe that God can repair any relationship, and so in our films someone prays and ultimately our film marriages work out. This is how we wish marriages would always work out.

In reality, we know that God always answers prayer but that sometimes the answer is “No.” But in our films, we like to focus on when God says, “Yes!” For example, someone prayed to win the big game? Check, game won. Someone prayed to restore the broken marriage? Check, marriage restored. Someone prayed for the sick person to be healed? Check, healing has happened, and death has been defeated.

We like our films family friendly, non-offensive, and easy to watch. We like our films to make us feel better about ourselves as Christians. We typically avoid subjects like the certainty of death, the reality of doubt, and the in-the-dirt nastiness of the mistakes that we make in life. It’s just nicer when things turn out alright, isn’t it?

If you love happy endings, you’ll love watching our films.

4) Christian filmmakers are not infallible 

No country you visit is perfect. You know that amazing 5 star hotel, right on the beach? Just a half mile down the road you’ll find people sleeping in hovels and working for pennies. That tourist site that houses ancient ruins that you’ve always dreamed of seeing? It’s all managed by a corrupt government of cigar smoking fat cats who could care less about the orphans running on the streets.

It’s the same with Christian filmmaking. Our filmmakers are not infallible, and they will make strange decisions, and they will focus on curious things from time to time. You don’t have to forgive us for that, but we do hope that you’ll understand.

godsnotdead2-1For example, if you are paying attention to Christianity in America right now, you might notice that many church leaders are promoting a persecution narrative for American Christians (rather than for global Christians who are actually being persecuted). This might be perplexing to you, because you know that American Christians actually have incredible freedom to practice their religion. But the narrative is out there, and it’s even worming its way into our films.

You see, for the longest time, American Christianity has been the big kid on the block politically, financially, culturally, and other -ally ways, but it’s not the case any more. We American Christians are still coming to terms with the fact that we’ve lost power and influence, that our voices aren’t as loud as they used to be, that people often simply don’t care what we think any more.

And we’re certain that – as a result – persecution is coming.

And even though we’ve had our expository preachers tell us that according to the Bible, persecution is a guaranteed part of the Christian experience, we are still terrified that it will really happen. Because we like the “Christians are victorious!” narrative. Remember our wish-fulfillment filmmaking? We want to wind up on top, even though that pretty well goes against everything Jesus taught.

If you aren’t a Christian, then our cries of persecution in America probably seem ridiculous to you, and might even serve to create more and more animosity from you towards us.

And in a height of irony, I can imagine the animosity building to the point that our focus on making movies that stoke the fires of fear could actually turn out to be the catalyst for actual persecution. In other words, I can imagine that our fear of persecution could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wouldn’t that make an interesting Christian film?

5) Christian films are hopefully evangelistic

Countries that have bustling, successful tourist industries convince people that when they visit, they will never want to leave.

Christian filmmakers have a similar goal with their films. If you are not a Christian, they hope that their films tells about the Christian experience so clearly that after watching you will also want to become a Christian (Christianese, give your heart to Jesus). 

“Really?” You say, befuddled. “Then why use all of the insider language that I don’t understand? Why break the traditional rules of storytelling to the point where I’m too distracted by exposition to see the value in being a Christian? Why all this talk about persecution when all I see is Christians making noise? Why does it seem less like these Christian films are trying to attract me, and more like they’re trying to push me away? Why do they make it so hard?”

I know, I know. Reaching you with our films seems more like an afterthought, and your becoming interested in Jesus as a result of our films would just be some sort of religious collateral damage.

The only thing I can say is that Christian filmmakers are working in a business. An industry. And they have to serve multiple masters, just like all filmmakers, and that affects the films that are made, no matter what the hope of the filmmaker might be.

Christian filmmakers have to please their investors, who are usually also Christians. And they are often Christians who love expository, on-the-nose, don’t-mess-around preaching. They can be less interested in artfulness and more interested in admonition. Their purpose is communication usually at the expense of craft. Their goal is to put out the Message, and the medium is simply utilitarian, like a jeep or a Swiss Army knife.

Also, since Christian filmmaking has started to become big business, the filmmakers also have to please the secular studios, who might be footing the bill for distribution or marketing. And the studios need to be convinced that the product that the Christian filmmaker is developing is going to put the behinds of the Big Christian Audience into the cinema seats.

who-is-your-audienceThis means that Christian filmmakers have to ultimately please that Big Christian Audience.

Make one misstep, and the Big Christian Audience won’t turn out, and the filmmaker might not get the chance to make a second faith-based film. Play his cards right, and he stands to make a 2000% return on his film’s initial investment, which will make everyone happy. His career will be set.

So you can see, that even if a filmmaker has a heart for the lost, and a desire to see thousands of people come to Jesus, her ability to make a film that would actually be evangelistic is restrained by the forces pulling her in other directions, forces that – ironically – want to be evangelistic, too.

6) And by the way, we make a lot of End Times movies

Statistically speaking, if you accidentally walk in on a Christian film, it’s likely to be a movie dealing with the end of the world, or the End Times. This might be connected with #4, and I’m not going to say a lot about it other than to say that for some reason, we have a certain segment of the Christian filmmaking community that is absolutely fascinated with the end of the world.

This is even though in Matthew 24:36, Jesus himself told us that nobody will know when the end will come. Go figure.

You can see an amazing IMDb list of Christian End Times movies here.

Thimblerig’s Guide to Christian Films is woefully incomplete, but what do you expect from a blog article? If you truly want to see an actual guide, then feel free to start me a crowdsourcing campaign, or put me in touch with the fine folks at Zondervan, and we’ll see what we can do.

Meanwhile, may this guide help the next time you stumble into a movie starring Kirk Cameron or Kevin Sorbo, or the next time your well-intentioned Christian friend invites you over and pops in a movie made by a pair of brothers named Kendrick. Maybe, because you have some insight into their culture and mindset, you’ll better appreciate their intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Not Dead 2 – Thimblerig’s Trailer Over-Analysis

A few weeks ago, Disney released the trailer to Star Wars Episode VII, and it nearly melted the internet.  Over the next day, article after blog after youtube video appeared dissecting the trailer, and giving the audience the opportunity to respond with excitement and anticipation about the upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster.

In the world of Christian-made films, we don’t have blockbusters in the traditional sense of the word, but we do have the films of the Kendricks brothers and Pureflix Studio. They are the Big Boys of Christian-made film, and they make our blockbusters, the movies that the Big Christian Audience eats up the way twelve year old boys eat up Transformers movies.

And yesterday, the internet melted for the Big Christian Audience as the trailer God’s Not Dead 2 was released. For those who many not know, this upcoming film is the sequel to 2014’s surprise megahit (over $90,000,000 made from a $2,000,000 filming budget), God’s Not Dead.

Well, the trailer only had about 9,000 views when I started writing this, so “melted” is probably not quite accurate, but “the internet blipped” just doesn’t have the same pizzazz.

Either way, this is a movie based on a successful pre-existing property, and so it’s worth noting that the first full bit of information has been released.

One thing about Christians and pop culture that you should know, we like to do things that other people do, but we do it about three years later, and we don’t do it quite as well.

And so, in that spirit, modeling the secular tradition of over-analyzing movie trailers, I give you…

gnd2-cover

Opening Scene: The movie opens with an old man in his pajamas making an important sounding statement about belief while we see a montage of Little Rock, Arkansas, the old man praying, and Martin – the Chinese student from GND (it is a sequel, isn’t it?) – reading the Bible in a church.

Pajama man says:

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 11.12.40 AM

“In this day and age, people seem to forget that the most basic human right of all is the right to believe.”

And… I’m starting the trailer feeling confused.

Someone is trying to take away someone else’s right to believe, and someone else is forgetting it? How can you take away a right to believe? Belief isn’t an action, like voting or eating anchovies, it’s something that you have inside of you. Even in the most difficult of situations and under the most intense persecution, people can still believe, even if they have no rights of religious freedom.

But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from observing American Christian culture over the past couple of years, it’s that we hate the idea of people taking away our rights, even it’s not happening as much as we like to think it is. See, what’s really going on (in a nutshell) is that the rights of other people are being strengthened in an attempt to find a balance. But when you have been on the stronger team all of your life and you find your team not holding the power that it once held, the cry goes out of PERSECUTION!

Even though it is not persecution, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a loss of influence and power.

This reminds me of a particular person in history… a guy who had all the power in the universe and he purposefully gave it all up, emptied himself of all the power, and became nothing – for the sake of everyone else.

Hmm… I’ll have to think about that one.

So then, this is “the hook”, a purposefully provocative statement meant to rile up the Big Chrisitan Audience out the gate. It will certainly be clarified as we proceed through the trailer.

And so we continue.

Next Scene: We shift from pajama man to a long shot of a government building with a large crowd of demonstrators chanting something that took me a couple of viewings to comprehend: “Teach don’t preach!”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 12.11.55 PMAh, and the pieces fall a bit more into place.

The angry protestors want teachers to be teaching and not preaching, so apparently someone has been preaching in the classroom.

But, wait, don’t they want a good thing? Sure, it’s nice to have preaching in schools if everyone in the school has the same belief, ala private religious schools, but what if the school is public? What about the kids who have different beliefs? What if the preaching is something from a religion that you don’t subscribe to? As a Christian, I don’t want a Buddhist teacher preaching the importance of being a Buddhist in school.

Seems like extending that same courtesy is the Christian thing to do.

But I digress from my over-analyzation.

Next Scene: This scene is a quick bit of foreshadowing as we shift to a school and Robin Givens talking on the phone. We have scenes of school buses, Melissa Joan Hart walking down a school hallway smiling at the students, and Givens reciting an ominous list of things that apparently can’t happen in the school:

“No prayers, no moments of silence, nothing!”

Sidebar: We’re starting to see where some of that massive GND profit has gone (besides the purchase of an online Christian film streaming service) – Pureflix has hired actors we actually know. We first saw this in their GND followup, Do You Believe?, a film that also had a bevy of familiar actors. Will it help GND2 be a better film than GND, which was a critical failure, even if it was a financial success?

Only April will tell, and she’s not talking.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 1.08.44 PMNext Scene: A title card, “They denied God’s existence”…

Wait. What? Who denied God’s existence? Who is this they they are talking about? I’m started to feel a little frightened… the filmmakers couldn’t be trying to frighten us, could they?

Of course not, because as Christians, we believe that God is sovereign, fear isn’t real, and anxiety is not a Fruit of the Spirit.

Right?

Next Scene: A quick two-shot montage of clean-cut students watching intently in school (it is a movie, after all), and then we find out who they are, these evil people denying God’s existence.

“Think of the other children out there, who are subjected to their repressive belief system…”

Note: you have to put a dramatic pause between “their” and “repressive”, and over-emphasize “repressive.” Like this:

“…subjected to their… REPRESSIVE belief system…”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 12Ah, so that’s the way it’s going to be, is it? Instead of having the evil, moustache-twisting atheist professor as we had in GND, we’re going to have an evil, moustache-twisting atheist bad guy from Robocop.

Actually, I do know that this actor played Leon Nash, one of the bad guys in Robocop, I’m just not sure who he is supposed to be playing in GND2 yet.

Next Scene: Another montage, this time with a voiceover by the face of Pureflix, David A.R. White. The montage is Martin walking, Martin standing up in church as David A.R. White enters, David A.R. White praying, and David A.R. White speechifying to a group of concerned looking individuals.

“If we sit by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today will be persecution tomorrow. We’re at war!”

And there it is. Those three words are undoubtedly the theme of this film, and the place from whence (along with potential box office receipts) every idea in this film is coming.

We're_at_War

Forget all that stuff about the sovereignty of God. Just be afraid, because if we don’t do something, PERSECUTION will result.

Actually, the thought just occurred to me that it’s quite likely that persecution could come, and be the result of the attitude of antagonistic Christians in the “culture wars”, as well as a by-product of Christian-made movies like God’s Not Dead (1 & 2) that seem to revel in being insulting and belittling to people who believe differently than we do, or who don’t believe at all.

Wouldn’t that be ironic in a strange and sad way?

Next Scene: Another title card.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 3.19.53 PM

Ah, so first they denied God’s existence, and now they want to silence His message.

“They”, again, being Leon Nash from Robocop, and his evil sidekick who dared to wear a Robocop helmet.

The nerve.

Next Scene: Back to the school, where we find Melissa Joan Hart lecturing on non-violence with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr on the screen behind her. And we proceed through several different scenes, held together by dialogue.

MJH: “What makes non-violence so radical is it’s unwavering commitment to a non-violent approach.”

Student: “Isn’t that sort of like what Jesus meant when he said that we should love our enemies?”

MJH: “Yes. You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 4.24.01 PMQuick shot to a kid pulling out his cell phone and then cut to Robin Givens walking with MJH in the hallway:

RG: “One of your students sent a text to their parents. Did this happen?”

MJH: “If you’re asking if I responded to a student’s question, then yes.”

Cut to serious man in a suit in a serious looking meeting room looking all serious.

SM: “And your answer incorporated the words of Jesus.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 4.20.35 PMCut to woman with the first actual southern accent we’ve heard so far, in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Little Rock, Arkansas.

Southern Accent: “What were you thinkin’, Grace?”

(Ah, Melissa Joan Hart’s name is Grace. I wonder why they chose that name?)

Next Scene: Cut to Grace sitting in a living room with ruggedly handsome lawyer, Tom Endler.

Endler: “The Thawleys are asking that you be fired, Grace, plus revocation of your teaching certificate.”

The stakes have never been higher.

But hold on one second… don’t teachers have the right under federal law to discuss their religious beliefs as long as they do so in an objective manner? In the scene they showed, Grace looked to be pretty darned objective, but of course, it was only a quick clip. Maybe she does cross the line and openly preach? If so, of course she will get in trouble. If not, I don’t understand why the school throws her under the bus, because she’s well within her rights.

But again, only April will tell.

Next Scene: Cut back to serious man, having another serious conversation with other serious people.

SM: “How do we make this go away and not get blood on our hands?”

Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that sort of phrasing?

liahonlp.nfo-o-7dd

Ah, that’s right.

And the answer to the serious guy’s question, given in hushed, conspiratorial tones…

“We’ll let the ACLU do it.”

dana-carvey-snl

Next scene: Cut to Leon Nash, who has apparently quit working for Clarence and has taken up with that bastion of evil and ne’er-do-wellingness, the ACLU.

“We’re going to prove once and for all… that God is dead.”

(Okay, read that sentence again, but then hit play on the youtube video right after reading it.)

End of over-analysis part 1.

That took a LOT longer than I thought it would take, and I’m not sure if it’s worth it to take the time to write the second half of my over-analysis. I’m not paid anything to do this, and I’m trying to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and so, I might just let it go.

However, if you’d like me to continue, then leave me a message here, and if enough people are actually interested, I’ll continue. Otherwise, you can just watch the trailer and imagine what I might have said about the rest of it.

A hint, the rest of the analysis would have answered questions like this:

What book is ruggedly handsome Tom Endler reading so intently?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 6.18.42 AM

What is the quite original song that the trailer shows the Newsboys singing?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 7.01.51 PM

And finally, the question on everyone’s mind…

Do the Robertsons make an appearance in GND2?

dd