Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 Christian Movies in Review

Many Christian-based movies released this year in the Hollywood system, as well as on the independent front, which created a historic year at the cinemas and on home video. I really admire how these films convey and inspire more practical action on a personal level more than escapism on an entertainment level.

These levels vary in quality, but passionate messages of faith and trust in our God usually come shining through.  Here are some notable releases from 2014 ahead of the upcoming “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (Dec. 12), which was inspired by the Biblical story of Moses and Ramses. (Note: mentioned movie available on home video unless otherwise notes; future release dates subject to change; always check the official ratings (e.g.

“Max Lucado’s The Christmas Candle” is out now on home video and is set in the 1890s. It focuses on the story of an angel that visits a village every 25 years and touches a single candle.
Whoever lights this candle receives a miracle on Christmas Eve. Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, John Hannah and Susan Boyle star. Boyle also contributes a song to the music soundtrack.

“Saving Christmas” is now in limited release in at the Hollywood 20 at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek (also coming soon to Town Square Cinema 3 in Winchester, Indiana) and stars Kirk Cameron as a man who shares about God with his family at a Christmas party (expected on home video in April 2015).

Cameron also stars with his real life wife Chelsea, comedian Tim Hawkins, and Jared Miller in the family drama “Mercy Rule” where they face challenges in the family business and on the baseball field promoting values of mercy, patience, sacrifice and trusting God.

“Left Behind”, another well-known Kirk Cameron franchise, gets a reboot starring Nicolas Cage as an airline pilot while the world encounters the Rapture described in the Bible. This action thriller is based on the bestselling book series written by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Jordin Sparks, Chad Michael Murray, and Lea Thompson co-star (home video release on Jan 6, 2015).

The inspiring dramas “God’s Not Dead” and “Heaven is For Real” make great impacts in theaters at the box office. “God’s Not Dead” is set in a college class where a new student, played by Shane Harper, challenges a philosophy professor’s ideals and practices. Kevin Sorbo (TV’s “Hercules”) stars as the professor and David A.R. White also stars as Reverend Dave.

Based on the Todd Burpo book, “Heaven is For Real” star Greg Kinnear as a business man/pastor in a small town who has a son, well played by Connor Corum, that has an incredible experience after a tragic injury. Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church (“George of the Jungle”) and Margo Martindale co-star.

“Son of God” chronicles Jesus’s life in this expanded feature film based on five episodes from the popular The Bible television series, which totaled 10 two-hour episodes, plus new footage. Actor Diogo Morgado portrays Jesus in this 2 hour and 19 minute drama that spans his life including the crucifixion and resurrection. The high quality filmmaking includes an inspiring orchestral score from Lorne Balfe and Oscar®-winner Hans Zimmer. The home video version features never-before-seen footage, the theatrical edit and a 5.1 surround sound mix.

On the streaming side, “VeggieTales in the House” just debut on Netflix while “VeggieTales Beauty and the Beet” presents “a lesson in unconditional love” and features eight songs from Kellie Pickler who voices the star character Mirabelle. Extra features include some great easy-to-make recipes, musical jukebox, sing-alongs, “Mac and Cheese” Silly Song and behind the scenes with Pickler.

Other animated offerings include the “Iesodo” (Japanese for “the Way of Jesus”) children’s series where the main dove characters lead other birds in many stories including Believe, Love, Faith and Joy. Bonus features include a family activity guide, songs, and teaching lessons.

Music is celebrated as songwriter characters are featured in “Grace Unplugged” and “The Song” (expected on home video in January 2015), which was inspired by Song of Solomon and is the directorial/writing feature debut of Richard Ramsey.

The football dramas “23 Blast” and “When the Game Stands Tall” were inspired by the true stories of Travis Freeman, who went blind as a teenager and still managed to play on his high school football team and De La Salle High School Spartans and their coach Bob Ladouceur’s 151-game record-breaking winning streak. Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) stars as Freeman also stars Michael Chiklis, Laura Dern and Alexander Ludwig (“The Hunger Games”).

“Mom’s Night Out” is the work of filmmaking brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin (“October Baby”) who direct and produce this comedy. This 98-minute laugh fest sustains impressive energy with fun running gags, impressive comic timing, helpful film editing, and endlessly entertaining situations. Sarah Drew impressively stars in the lead role of Allyson, a mother struggling to find her personal and emotional footing amid frenetic family life. Her best friend Izzy, played by Andrea Logan White, and Pastor’s wife, played by Patricia Heaton, plan a night out that predictably does not go according to plan. After the numerous character introductions, the directions and situations offer unpredictable plot lines as the kids are cared for by the wives’ husbands, led by Allyson’s husband Sean, played by Sean Astin (“Lord of the Rings”, “Rudy”). Some fantasy sequences, text graphics, and video clips help establish the characters and their life states quickly, so the comedy has time to really take hold of your funny bones.

Trace Adkins plays Bones, the owner of a local tattoo parlor and a motorcycle gang member who has a slightly heroic role that echoes his small, yet memorable performance in “The Lincoln Lawyer”.  His magnetic personality and strong acting skills enhance the film’s emotions and realism. Marc Fantini and Steffan Fantini (Criminal Minds and Army Wives) compose the musical score while the film also features a huge song soundtrack including titles from artists like Francesca Battistelli. This film has genuine moments, great comedy, and authentic situations that won’t make you feel uncomfortable because there is no inappropriate content to make you feel uncomfortable.

Like the recent “Blue Like Jazz”, “Believe Me” requires mature audiences due to the mature content/themes matters, references, and humor as the main characters take turbulent yet meaningful journeys regarding their life with God. “Believe Me” is comedy/drama about as a quartet of school friends start a scam as a Christian charity group and go on tour where the leader comes to an honest conclusion about his faith. Johanna Braddy, Sinqua Walls, Max Adler (“23 Blast”), Nick Offerman, and Christopher McDonald co-star.

In “Noah”, Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) directs this epic in a less Biblical tone and more of a creative license as the cast speaks of “the creator” instead of God. Russell Crowe stars as the man who was instructed by God to build an arc to save man from a world-ending flood. Jennifer Connelly plays Noah’s wife Naameh; Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, and Emma Watson plays Noah’s adopted daughter. Noah also has three sons who factor into the film, especially during the ark construction. The film has considerable acting and special effects creating emotional impact though the third act and a supernatural element (also relating to ark construction) did not sit well at all with this reviewer (rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content).
Future Christian movie releases will include “Mary” (April 2015), “David and Goliath” (April 24), the Erwin Brothers’ football film “Woodlawn”, the star-filled “Do You Believe?”, and the fifth untitled film from the brother filmmaking team of Alex and Stephen Kendrick (“Courageous”, “Fireproof”) described as “a family drama with humor and heart focused on the power of prayer and its primary role in the Christian life.”

Happy Holidays!

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