Category Archives: Movies

Todd Suttles Movie Sighting: The Second Chance

Recently, I re-watched a small Christian movie called The Second Chance (2006), directed by Steve Taylor and starring Michael W. Smith as a yuppie music pastor who spends some time serving in an inner-city church. Naturally, the film uses Smith’s musical talents for more than one set piece. Guess who I spotted in the choir on a couple of them? Todd Suttles, now singing baritone/bass for the Gaither Vocal Band. Here’s my favorite number, “Follow Me.” Michael’s character has wandered into a church choir practice, and the lady director enthusiastically encourages him to sit down and play something with them. You can see Todd in the orange shirt on the far right. He has a step-out around 2:10.

You might be wondering if the movie itself is any good, and the answer is that parts of it are very good, but it’s a mixed bag. Michael W. does a surprisingly good acting job, and the black pastor he works with is even more impressive. The writers are clearly very familiar with inner city church ministry in Nashville and fill the story with memorable small moments and characters. A subplot involving a pregnant prostitute is particularly sad and powerful. My main problem with the film is its excessive wallowing in white guilt. Granted, it could have been even worse, and it tries to present an equal array of black and white antagonists (including a corrupt black city official and a cruel black gangster). It also acknowledges that the black pastor is prideful and cynical, and he needs to give Michael W.’s wide-eyed character a fair chance. But in my opinion, it doesn’t come down hard enough on some of his spewing, and the closing scene has him getting choked up at a Malcolm X quote. Yes, both pastors are presented as having lessons to learn, but it seems like in the end, the white guy has learned more.

Then again, it seemed pretty mild compared to what I found when I looked up the actor who plays the black pastor, Jeff Obafemi Carr. The guy is a total nutcase. He’s a black liberation activist with his own cult down in Nashville that, if I have this right, combines Pentecostalism with African tribal paganism with Freemasonry. Nope, not making this up. But hey, he can act. Soooo, ANYway. Enjoy the music!

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Guest Movie Review/Interview: Inside Out

“[It’s about] growing up, and about inner conflict, and about dealing with yourself, and all that stuff.” — Littlest Sister on Inside Out

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Littlest Sister and I had another adventure in the theater recently. Since our interview/review format worked so well for the faith-based movie Beyond the Mask, I decided to use her precociously articulate charm for my own ends once again and get her take on Pixar’s latest smash hit, Inside Out. The simple premise is that a little girl’s emotions are personified, and we get to go on a journey with them inside her own mind, as she deals with a tough family move and the pressures of growing up.

As before, the format for this interview was record, conversate, transcribe and publish. No splicing and dicing! We realize we’re about a month late to this party, so as a result, there will be a few spoilers (albeit understated spoilers, considering the unique nature of the story). If you’ve already seen the film or don’t mind having it mildly spoiled for you, we hope you enjoy our joint insights on it! It certainly had both of us wishing we had brought tissues.

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Christians in Entertainment: Denzel Washington

‘Tis the season for pretentious, overly long commencement speeches. But one commencement speech has been getting particular attention in the media recently: Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington’s address to the graduates of Dillard University. Dillard is a small, private school for black students in New Orleans. When Washington stepped to the podium, he announced that he was going to “keep it short,” unlike his commencement speaker, who “went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” (Yes, this is pretty much spot-on. I speak from experience.)

Here is the short, simple message Washington wanted to convey: “Number one: Put. God. First. In everything you do, put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have (and I have a few things), everything that I have is by the grace of God.”

The speech has gone viral. There’s some unfortunate prosperity gospel business towards the end, but on the whole it’s pretty great, and you can read more quotes here, or watch it in full here if you don’t mind handheld video. The passion and conviction of Washington’s delivery is disarming, considering his stature in Hollywood. But then, Washington has never been one to shy away from talking about what he believes.

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Christian Movie Madness (or Is There Such a Thing as a Great Christian Movie?)

Recently, ChristianCinema.com released the results of a month-long movie poll pitting various Christian films against each other. Paralleling basketball’s “March Madness,” the tournament entered 64 films that were eliminated or advanced in a knockout format as Christian viewers voted. Naturally, movies with an aggressive social media campaign behind them had an edge, which might explain why the 2014 release God’s Not Dead was ultimately crowned (in Christian Cinema’s words) the “Best. Movie. Ever.” Because nobody’s ever made good films outside the evangelical Christian film-making bubble, so best Christian movie, best movie, same different right?

I did my own review of God’s Not Dead when it first came out. I gave it 2.5 stars out of 5, which in hindsight actually seems too generous. I don’t have to explain why it’s not the best movie ever, but it’s a far cry even from being the best Christian movie ever. It beat out obviously superior movies like Passion of the Christ and The Blind Side on its way to victory in this particular poll, which isn’t even including every good Christian movie ever made.

The selection process for the 64 films that were included was interesting and somewhat baffling to track. It prompted me to think about what even counts as a Christian movie. It also made me think about what it takes to make a movie that’s simultaneously great and Christian.

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Special Guest Movie Review: Beyond the Mask

This week, I took my youngest sister to the theater for a screening of a new family adventure movie called Beyond the Mask. It was produced by cousins Chad and Aaron Burns, homeschool alumni who are now working to make Christian films together. Set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, it boasts some scenery-chewing star power with John Rhys-Davies as the villain (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings) and contains more special effects shots than blockbusters like Inception and Pirates of the Caribbean. (When I showed her the trailer, her reaction was, and I quote, “Ooooh, sword fights and stuff on fire. I want to see this!”) The premise is that a former British spy migrates to America and becomes a masked vigilante for the cause of liberty, hoping to redeem himself from his shady past. Along the way, he discovers true love, strong hate, harsh revenge, and all that fun stuff.

Our theater captain was the effects coordinator for the film, as well as the 2nd assistant director. The town showed up in force, and Littlest Sister and I had a high old time together, though we did note some things that could have been improved. Among other things, we discussed the film’s historical accuracy, and our conclusions may surprise you! So instead of having me write a typical review, I thought it would be fun to change it up and interview her instead. I simply hit record and transcribed our entire conversation, with very entertaining results.  As you’ll see, the family resemblance is quite strong. Enjoy this special guest appearance. (My questions are in bold, and her answers are in normal type.)

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A New Christian Movie (That Might Actually Be Good!)

Rik Swartzwelder and Elizabeth Roberts in “Old Fashioned”

As a die-hard movie buff, I have to be candid and admit that I don’t typically walk away from a Christian film enthusing, “BEST MOVIE EVER!” It’s not that I look down my nose at people who aren’t cinephiles, it’s just who I am and what I like. The truth is, I could quite literally talk all day long about great movies (although it’s better when someone else is actually in the room listening!) I’m one of the only people I know who could watch a Tom Cruise action movie but only get really excited at the Robert Duvall cameo. And if you have no idea who I’m talking about, that’s totally fine. Moving on…

Nonetheless, I still observe the Christian movie industry with hope. And I try to give the trailers for coming Christian film attractions a fair shake. This past month, a little film came out that piqued my interest, and it may pique yours too. It was cleverly marketed as the “anti-Nifty Blades of Hay” (my fake name for the Cult Phenomenon Which Shall Not Be Named, on which you can read more of my thoughts here). The marketing trick worked, and the small film generated a lot more buzz than usual as a result. My question was, is it actually any good? While I have yet to see it myself, I am pleasantly surprised and hopeful based on a few clips and trailers. Continue reading

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Monday Morning Humor: The Best Pictures Never Made

Wow, quite an Oscar night this year, wasn’t it? The beautiful stars parading down the red carpet, while you ignored them because they’re mostly ill-behaved louts who despise you, your country and everything you hold dear! The celebration of the cinematic arts (and their steady decline since 1939)! Well, just to keep the mood going, here’s Andrew Klavan discussing some movies that weren’t nominated for any Oscars this year, for the simple reason that they’ve never been made. I can’t think why. Though to be fair, this video is actually a few years old, and there were some bright spots in 2015’s Oscar lineup, including Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (Klavan-approved and reviewed by me here). I also enjoyed a smattering of the other Best Picture nominees and was truly moved by some Oscar-worthy performances. (If you haven’t checked out Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he is really phenomenal.) But still, Andrew is not far off the mark.

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Focus on the Family and Reviewing Bad Movies

This past weekend, Focus On the Family’s media outlet sent a representative to watch and review a wildly successful, wildly inappropriate movie. I shall henceforth refer to this movie as Nifty Blades of Hay (adapted from the wildly successful and inappropriate novel of the same name). If you have any idea what I’m talking about, you will understand exactly why I’m not even calling this toxic cult phenomenon by its real name. If you don’t, that’s just fine too. I really have no interest whatsoever in discussing this movie. I am interested in the fact that Focus On the Family chose to review it, and I’m interested in the considerable backlash from other Christians and Christian ministries that they’ve incurred as a result. Especially since the Christian film critic who wrote the review has become a friendly acquaintance of mine over the last few months.

Without going into any details, suffice it to say that this particular movie probably shouldn’t even have qualified for an “R” rating—by which I mean “R” is too soft. The abusive relationship that it chronicles is that vile and twisted. It may not be marketed and sold as “a p*rn film” in so many words, but that’s essentially what it is, in the guise of a Valentine’s Day blockbuster. So, naturally, some fans of Focus on the Family preemptively wrote and urged its “Plugged In” reviewers not to bother informing us that this movie is Bad. Even those of us who have striven mightily to avoid reading about it have managed to piece that much together. Wrote one concerned follower, “I’m fairly confident anyone who visits this website will not be interested in seeing the film, and I am troubled at the thought of sending one of your employees to go see it.”

But Plugged In disagreed. In a blog post written before the review went up, editor Paul Asay explained that he believed it was his duty to see and review this film. He begins with an uncomfortable but sobering fact: Not only are a lot of Christians very interested in reading about this thing, but some of them are even buying the tickets. Continue reading

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My Top 5 Underrated Love Songs

You’ve danced with your spouse to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “I Will Be Here.” You’ve sniffled and reached for the tissues at “Bless the Broken Road.”  You’ve sworn to throw random objects at the radio if they spin “I Will Always Love You” one more time. Now Valentine’s Day has rolled around once more, and you’re in the perfect mood to enjoy a romantic musical something. Or maybe not. Either way, I would like to shine a spotlight on five songs that you won’t see on most any Top 100 lists when people rank their favorite ditties about “luuuv.” In fact, I guarantee that half if not all of them will be new to you. Further, I guarantee that they are much deeper and more thought-provoking than what often passes for a love song in today’s cultural milieu. Think of it as my heart-shaped candy gift box to you, dear readers. Go on. Open it up and savor my Top Five Underrated Love Songs.

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Answering Your Questions About “American Sniper” [UPDATED]

American Sniper Kyle and Cooper collage

Top: SEAL sniper Chris Kyle ; Bottom: Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

[UPDATE: 1/25/15 Since first writing this post, I’ve found more information on one of the slanderous claims that’s going around about Kyle, and I’ve updated it accordingly.]

Whether or not you’re the movie-going type, you’ve been hearing an awful lot about this one movie lately. It’s breaking box office records, FOX news is promoting it like crazy, and wild-eyed leftists are feverishly tweet-blogging their hatred for it and its subject. I’m talking about Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, based on the best-selling book by Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.

With over 150 confirmed kills, Chris Kyle is the most lethal sniper in American history. After ten years of putting country before family, he resigned from the Navy to recover from post-traumatic stress, save his marriage and get to know his own children. He chose to put his story in book form to give people a candid look at the Iraq conflicts and the sacrifices made by military families. A compelling war memoir and a painfully honest love story, it shot to the top of the charts, and Kyle’s public profile soared. But he took the most pride in the organizations he founded to help other struggling veterans cope with the transition back to civilian life. These included veterans with PTSD. On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle was shot and killed by one of those veterans at a gun range. All of Texas mourned.

Those who knew Chris Kyle well remember him as a war hero, a loving husband and father, and a humble man who shied from the spotlight and never stopped pouring himself into the military community. But as always, the left-wing media knows best. Meanwhile, you, a fairly pro-military conservative Christian (if previous surveys of my readership are a clue) are watching it all unfold and getting curious. If you’re like me, you may not have even heard of Chris Kyle until this movie came out. You now have conservative friends who are raving about the movie, and you’re wondering if you should see it too, just to find out what all the fuss is about. You’re probably wondering how much of it is Hollywood and how much of it is Kyle’s true story. You wonder if it’s really as conservative as Fox News says. You wonder if it’s any good. And you wonder if there’s anyone out there discussing Chris Kyle’s story from a Christian perspective, as distinguished from a purely conservative perspective.

Wonder no more, because [Larryboy voice] I. Am. That. Hero. Having seen the movie, read the book, and listened to every interview with Kyle that I could find, I’m here today to answer all your questions about American Sniper. Continue reading

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