REVIEW – GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 (2016)

Starring: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe
Directed By: Harold Cronk
Written By: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 2 Hours 1 Minute
Rated PG for Some Thematic Elements
Plot: A public high school history teacher is taken to court after answering a student’s question about Jesus during class.

Click here to view the trailer for this movie.

LANCE’S TAKE: EXODUS

When I first heard that there was a sequel being released to God’s Not Dead, my first thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Then, I heard it was being released in theaters on April Fools’ Day. So, I thought, “Well, that proves that it’s an elaborate joke. Good one, Pure Flix.”

But, it was no joke.

And the title was no joke, either. For whatever reason, it was released as God’s Not Dead 2.

To me, a name like that makes it seem as if the filmmakers didn’t get their point across the first time around, in spite of the movie’s message being inserted directly into the title. It looks like they could’ve at least tried to come up with something a little more creative for part two, like God’s Still Not Dead or God’s Not Dead: Same Premise, Different Setting.

As for the movie itself, God’s Not Dead 2 is just as predictable as the first film, except it’s not as interesting. I mean, even though the title of the original gives away the ending, at least it had a fresh concept that was somewhat intriguing. Here, you pretty much have a retelling of the same story: the main character has to defend their beliefs to their peers, while their future hangs in the balance.

Also like the first film, the non-believing characters are made to look like they’re out to get Christians and destroy America with their free-thinking and liberalism. Yet, at the same time, it preaches that it’s not our fellow man that Christians should be battling, it’s our spiritual enemy – the Devil.

And, similar to God’s Not Dead, the sequel tries to concentrate on multiple storylines, which don’t do much to add to the overall plot.

Obviously, a bulk of the film takes place inside a courtroom, where the teacher/faith/God/Jesus/religion are on trial for corrupting the minds of our youth. As the story moves along, these courtroom scenes become increasingly preposterous, yet somehow boring at the same time. The actors’ performances become more and more outlandish, while the religious experts brought onto the witness stand (like Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace) basically sound like they’re providing sound bites for a documentary.

Added to that, we never really see anyone on the witness stand from the secular community besides the principal of the school and the student’s father (who filed the lawsuit against the teacher). But, the father isn’t on the stand for long, and the principal gets “outsmarted” by the Christian teacher’s attorney pretty quickly. There are no Atheistic scholars who take the stand in response to the religious experts, so the audience isn’t allowed to think for themselves or draw their own conclusions.

To an extent, the filmmakers also make it sound as if Atheists not only believe that God doesn’t exist, but that Jesus never existed, either. A good chunk of the story is about proving that Jesus was real, and He’s a historical figure who can be talked about in the classroom. However, there are a lot of Atheists who don’t dispute the existence of Jesus – many of them say he was a wise teacher who offered sound advice like “love your enemies” and “help the needy.” They just don’t believe he’s the Son of God.

Overall, God’s Not Dead 2 is simply an overdramatized film that pushes most of its scenes into worst-case scenario territory. A lot of it plays out like a daytime soap opera, with certain scenes looking unintentionally comical.

Ironically, a pastor in the movie says he feels like he’s been hit with a truck carrying thick-covered Bibles. Oddly enough, that’s exactly how I felt after watching God’s Not Dead 2.

But, if you need a distraction from all the unbalanced sermonizing, you have an unneeded Newsboys concert at the end of the film and a good amount of product placement for the Toyota Prius to look forward to.

God’s Not Dead 2 gets an “Exodus” from me. And, if for whatever reason you decided to stick around until after the closing credits, you know that there will undoubtedly be a third God’s Not Dead. My hope is that the concept will be more original, and that the title will something better than God’s Not Dead 3… but I kind of doubt it.

MARY’S TAKE: EXODUS

I was kind of surprised when they announced a sequel to God’s Not Dead. After watching it, I feel it’s almost more of a remake in a different setting than a sequel. Granted, a few storylines did carry over, but the main plot just seemed redundant, which made it harder for me to get engaged in.

Truthfully, I liked God’s Not Dead better than God’s Not Dead 2. For one thing, the acting in this film wasn’t as good as in the first movie. Most of the characters seemed one-dimensional and were hard to relate to.

Not to mention the filmmakers used the witness stand as an excuse to hit you upside the head with their Bibles. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some interesting points made. But, I felt more like I was watching a Case for Christ documentary than a movie made for entertainment. This is an example of preaching with your words instead of your actions.

And, of course, this movie was extremely predictable. Although, like its predecessor, I did like that not everyone ended up being saved at the end. That may seem like an odd thing for a Christian to say, but I’m just asking for a little believability. If I know at the beginning of the story how it’s going to end, and that everyone is going to have a happy ending, I quickly lose interest. What’s the point, unless I’m sitting down to watch a fairy tale? Because that’s definitely not what happens in real life.

And speaking of unbelievability, Christian or not, what famous band do you know that’s going to answer their cell phone during a concert? Actually, what small-time garage band do you know that would do that?

Along the same lines, how likely is it that a legal aid lawyer for an unknown school teacher is going to be able to get famous authors as witnesses? Sure, they’re Christians, and they undoubtedly want to help a sister Christian out, but if I’m ever on trial for my faith, I’m not going to be holding my breath for a famous person to come to my aid.

Because of the far-fetched script and the cheesy acting, I’m giving God’s Not Dead 2 an “Exodus” rating. This leaves me dreading part three, which was hinted at after the closing credits. I just hope it turns out better than its predecessors.

How would you rate this film?

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REVIEW – GOD’S NOT DEAD (2014)

Starring: Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo
Directed By: Harold Cronk
Written By: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 1 Hour 53 Minutes
Rated PG for Thematic Material, Brief Violence and an Accident Scene
Plot: A college professor challenges one of his students to prove God’s existence, after the freshman refuses to hand in an assignment stating that “God is dead.”

Click here to view the trailer for this movie.

LANCE’S TAKE: EXODUS

You want to get a sense of how predictable Christian movies can be?

Take a look at the title of this one: God’s Not Dead.

We all know the premise. It’s a faith-based movie about a college student trying to prove God’s existence. So, based on the title, how do you think it’s gonna end?

This is, without question, one of the most predictable movies in the faith-oriented genre, complete with an extremely heavy-handed and downright corny ending to one of the movie’s many storylines.

It’s also one of the most stereotypical when it comes to portraying Atheists. It’s true, a lot of Atheists tend to think that most Christians are nothing more than a bunch of easily offended, naive Chick-fil-A customers who worship an imaginary dictator in the sky and hate to see the world evolving. But, for the most part, we Christians have a knack for pegging Atheists as smug, cynical know-it-alls that love nothing more than to make others feel inferior.

That’s the approach God’s Not Dead takes in its portrayal of the Atheistic professor. He’s an arrogant jerk who will stop at nothing to put the Christian student in his place, while also attempting to embarrass him in front of his peers and trying to ruin his future at the college.

Now, I’ll confess, the student makes some decent points during his presentations to prove that God exists. But, for a full-time student who’s constantly studying to get his arguments in order, he somehow manages to design some of the flashiest graphics and animations to back up his statements that any college freshman has probably ever used in a non media-related class.

And the tension between the teacher and student isn’t the only storyline in this film. Not by a long shot. As I mentioned earlier, there are countless subplots going on here, and even though they’re all connected in some way, it causes the movie to jump back and forth between all the different characters. That makes it hard for viewers to have enough time to really care about them, and it doesn’t give the characters enough time to develop.

Along those same lines, Duck Dynasty frontman Willie Robertson and his wife both make brief appearances in this movie, and I’m not exactly sure why. Their short-lived scene doesn’t move the story forward at all. I guess it could be argued that it shows how far the reporter character is from God as she tries to “ambush” the couple with her ridiculous questions, but then again, we see her distance from the Lord in other parts of the film. So, why was this scene needed? It just seems like the Robertsons were thrown in so that Pure Flix’s marketing team could say, “Hey. We got people from Duck Dynasty in our movie.” (I could also rant about the relentless Newsboys promotion as well, but at least the band played a pivotal role in the plot.)

I’ve also mentioned in other reviews that cancer is the most overused disease in Christian cinema. So, it figures that one of the characters gets diagnosed with cancer in this story. But, it doesn’t stop there. Cancer is also used as part of the backstory of one of the other major characters. So, you have double the cancer of a normal faith-based movie. You know, there are other deadly diseases out there, Christian filmmakers. You don’t have to use this illness so frequently as a plot device.

Truthfully, the only bright sides of God’s Not Dead that I can think of are that the production value is good, and the acting is okay (albeit overdone in parts).

So, although God isn’t dead, my patience certainly was by the time the closing credits rolled.

Just like the ending of God’s Not Dead, it’s easy to predict what rating this movie is getting from me: a big “Exodus.”

MARY’S TAKE: PURGATORY

I may be in the minority here, but I was not a big fan of God’s Not Dead. It was far from the worst movie I’ve seen, but nowhere near the best.

Overall, the acting was pretty good in this film. However, there were a few characters who were overdramatized and their scenes were definitely overacted. I understand that when you take a stand for your faith, you’re going to be met with opposition. And I know a lot of this opposition, ironically, is going to come from fellow believers.

But, I feel like the girlfriend of the main character is not a realistic depiction of this opposition. She was an irritating, one-dimensional character that should have been more fully developed and given a more realistic approach to her disdain for Josh’s actions.

I know God’s Not Dead had good intentions. trying to pave the way for believers to start standing up for their faith. It’s a very noble message, and I hope it reached a lot of people and that Christians will stop being satisfied with sitting in the shadows.

I like something Kevin Sorbo’s character said, something along the lines of, “Some of the most devout Atheists were once Christians.” That’s definitely something to think about, and it’s really sad that it makes total sense. I wish it didn’t, but it does. That’s why I applaud the filmmakers for trying to start a “God’s Not Dead” movement and get Christians to step out of the churches and live their faith out in the open.

I also liked the ending of God’s Not Dead. Yes, for the most part, it was predictable. But, not everyone lived happily ever after. And believe it or not, not everyone (gasp!) was even saved by the end. Now, that’s a real change of pace from most Christian movies.

Even though God’s Not Dead had its pros, I feel like the cons outweighed a lot of them. If it hadn’t been for the overdramatizing that took away the relatability of the film, I would have probably scored this movie higher. But, with all things considered, I’m leaving God’s Not Dead with a low “Purgatory” rating.

How would you rate this film?

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REVIEW – MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN (2016)

Starring: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers
Directed By: Patricia Riggen
Written By: Randy Brown
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Rated PG for Thematic Material, Including Accident and Medical Images
Plot: The true story of a young girl suffering from a rare digestive disorder, and the toll it takes on her and her family.

Click here to view the trailer for this movie.

LANCE’S TAKE: PURGATORY

As Christian films become more and more popular, we’re starting to see a growing number of faith-based releases in theaters and, with the increase in revenue, studios can now afford to hire some big-name actors and actresses to join their projects.

That means a rise in the quality of acting in Christian movies, and filmmakers are more likely to get the emotions they’re looking for out of their viewers (depending on the talent of the director and screenwriter).

That’s certainly the case with Miracles from Heaven. Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah, and Kylie Rogers (who plays Anna) all give incredible performances, and you can’t help but get wrapped up in the story they’re helping to tell.

And it’s a downright sad story for a good majority of the film. The Beam family just can’t seem to catch a break, no matter how hard they pray. Their little girl is forced to go through endless tests so her doctors can find out why she’s suffering from such enormous pain, and her parents are on the verge of going broke from all the medical treatments she has to endure.

That, I think, is one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of this movie. Typically, in a faith-based film, the characters pray a single prayer, and it’s answered exactly when and how they want. That doesn’t happen here. Miracles from Heaven gives us a dramatic depiction of the trials the entire family faces, and Anna’s mother has her faith stretched far enough to where she reaches her breaking point. We actually get a sense of the challenges and unanswered questions Christians go through, and it gets really emotional.

That’s where the weakness comes in. To me, this film is almost too emotional. Yeah, I’ll admit, I welled up a couple of times, especially during one of the scenes where Anna’s struggling in the hospital. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel any form of sadness when it happens (I’ll leave you guessing as to which scene I’m talking about).

But, that’s a major moment where tear-welling is actually justified. It seems like most of the movie tries to drain our tear ducts dry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when a Christian movie can actually pull emotion from its viewers, but to try to do so for over half the film is overkill. I don’t want to have to keep checking around to see who’s judging me if my eyes start gushing like Old Faithful.

Besides that, Miracles from Heaven sort of feels like it’s riding on the coattails of Heaven is for Real, particularly since Heaven is for Real was still fresh on audiences’ minds when Miracles was released. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but if you watch the two films in a short time frame, you can definitely see the similarities.

This one, though, is the sadder of the two. And it is relentless. If you’re looking to cry like you’ve just suffered a major breakup, then Miracles from Heaven can certainly help you with that. If you’d still like to see the film but avoid the tears, just watch the trailer – it gives away the whole movie.

In all, I genuinely liked Miracles from Heaven – the acting and production value are outstanding. But, it’s not one I would want to see again for quite some time due to it’s heavy level of tear-jerkiness. That said, I’m left giving it an extremely high “Purgatory.”

MARY’S TAKE: REVELATION

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of movies that are based on true stories. Miracles from Heaven is no exception. This is one faith-based film that I’ll happily give a “Revelation” rating.

This film had one thing in its favor from the onset: a good cast. We’ve seen numerous times in other faith-based films how bad acting can ruin a story. Luckily, this time that wasn’t the case.

Although I was a little questionable about the believability of Queen Latifah’s character at first, I have to say there wasn’t one bad acting job in this whole film. And that is definitely a rarity in this genre.

If you choose to watch Miracles from Heaven, which I highly recommend you do, make sure you have plenty of tissues nearby. The wonderful acting makes the emotional scenes that much more emotional. It’s so easy to not only see the struggle, pain and doubt of the characters, but actually feel it along with them. I’ve seen this movie twice, and the second time, I seriously brought a pack of tissues along for everyone going to watch it with me.

It wasn’t just the fact that the acting makes the emotions seem real, the script actually included emotions and responses that “real” people would experience in those situations. Too many times, a filmmaker is afraid to show doubt in a Christian character, but it’s what makes the story so relatable. I don’t want to watch a movie about a bunch of people who have everything together and never question their faith in God, because that’s just not how it is in real life. I feel like Miracles from Heaven did a great job of showing that it’s okay to question your faith, and that God’s actually going to use this instance to strengthen your faith.

I love something Anna says when talking about people doubting. She says, “It’s okay, they’ll get there when they get there.” I think that simple statement is something we all need to remember throughout our everyday lives. It’s okay that not everybody is where we are in their walk of faith. They’ll get there when they get there.

The only issue I have with the movie is actually pretty minor. One of the big obstacles the family faces is having enough money for the treatments and the airfare back and forth. It shows them selling possessions they love, just to be able to pay the bills. This leaves me asking myself how Anna and her mom are able to make so many trips to the aquarium in Boston. As any mom who has planned spring break or summer trips to the zoo or aquarium can tell you, it gets expensive very quickly. I could understand one trip, rationalizing that it’s worth the money to raise Anna’s spirits. But, numerous trips seem excessive and they start to make the story somewhat unbelievable. But, as I said, it’s a pretty minor part of the film, and most people probably wouldn’t even notice.

Last, but not least, I love how the writers took the time to point out the “everyday heroes” and how important they are in our lives. It was a quick, but effective, reminder that sometimes a simple gesture could mean very little to you, but it may change someone else’s life. Or, it could at least give them the hope they need to hold on for one more day.

And who knows, maybe it’ll only take one more day for their miracle to arrive.

How would you rate this film?

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REVIEW – WAR ROOM (2015)

Starring: Priscilla Shirer, Karen Abercrombie
Directed By: Alex Kendrick
Written By: Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 2 Hours
Rated PG for Thematic Elements Throughout
Plot: With her marriage on the brink of collapse, a real estate agent receives advice and support from an elderly client.

Click here to view the trailer for this movie.

LANCE’S TAKE: EXODUS

You’ve heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.”

You would think that holds true in all things, whether it be playing sports, learning an instrument, or in this case, making movies.

War Room is the fifth feature film that the Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen, have produced. As far as shooting and editing go (and to an extent, the acting), these guys have come a very long way since their debut film, Flywheel.

However, their methods of storytelling – which are packed to the gills with Scripture quotes, preaching to the choir, lame jokes, flat characters, and predictability – have not changed. In fact, I’d say they’ve gotten worse in that department, especially in this film.

War Room starts off as an in-your-face sermon and it doesn’t stop preaching at you until the closing credits roll. It’s basically a remake of Fireproof, only instead of a firefighter who’s having problems with his wife, the story is about a female real estate agent who’s marriage is on the rocks, and instead of using a Love Dare for guidance, she goes into a closet to pray for her relationship. And, a lively old woman who’s selling her house is there for support, but she mostly speaks sentences that include the words God, Jesus, prayer, devil, or some form of Biblical passage or corny joke.

Now, I’ll admit, the thought behind War Room is extremely noble. There are countless marriages out there that could definitely benefit from having a “war room” for prayer somewhere in the home. And, I know that thousands of couples saw this movie, cleaned out their closets, and started praying for stronger, healthier relationships.

That’s awesome. And I hope, for the sake of them and their families, that it worked out well for them.

But, here’s my main problem: just like all the other movies the Kendrick brothers have produced (and the same holds true for Christian films in general), War Room makes it seem as if God is here to answer our prayers just the way we want, when we want, as long as our requests are sincere and heartfelt.

Anytime a Christian character faces an issue in this movie, all they have to do is pray or tell the problem to go away in Jesus’ name, and everything is fixed right away.

Now, if you ask any Christian if all of their prayers or cries to the Divine are answered instantly and just how they’d hoped, they’re going to tell you no without any hesitation. More often than not, we have to wait patiently for God to respond, and we don’t always like what His solutions are, even if they help us to grow spiritually and emotionally.

But, that’s not how War Room presents the prayer life of a believer. And as a result, if anyone watching this movie is new in their walk with Christ, or if they’re thinking about getting saved, they may get a false impression of how prayer works. I’m willing to bet there were numerous couples who got discouraged after praying for weeks after seeing this film, because they got a false hope that their marriages would be dramatically improved right away. When this didn’t happen, they may have given up, thinking, “So, we threw all of our stuff out of this closet for nothing?”

That’s the big problem. Now, onto the smaller ones.

Although the acting is decent for the most part, some of the scenes still play out like they were shot for an after school special. The standout performance is from Karen Abercrombie, who plays the elderly woman who wants to help the main character save her marriage.

The jump rope competition near the end of the movie was full of impressive acts, but it went on for way too long. Even if it had been cut in half, it still would have been lengthy.

During War Room’s initial run in theaters, there were ads that marketed the movie online, posing the question, “Is this the best Christian movie ever?” Many Christians answered with a resounding “yes,” but I disagree wholeheartedly. There are many other faith-based films out there that are much more powerful than this, and they don’t involve a woman cleaning out her closet (think of the beating and crucifixion of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ).

War Room gets a massive “Exodus” from me.

MARY’S TAKE: PURGATORY

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for some time, you’ve probably heard of the movie War Room. You’ve no doubt heard the praise of this film from a majority of churchgoers. But, even though I go to church, you won’t find me singing its praises.

Now to be fair, it’s not a bad movie. I’m actually giving it a low “Purgatory” rating. And it definitely has a very important message. It’s trying to teach people to fight life’s battles the right way… on their knees.

Putting the message aside (because, after all, if you only wanted a good message, you could probably get that from a trip to church on Sunday), War Room is a pretty mediocre movie.

For the most part, the acting is well done, but there’s a decent amount of overdramatizing. I think I would prefer bad acting to the overdramatizing of a scene. When it happens, I find myself rolling my eyes and wanting to watch something else. That happened quite a few times during War Room.

While the script has some humorous aspects, it tries too hard to be funny. I’ll admit I chuckled a few times. But, when certain actions and dialogue are solely there to make you laugh and lend nothing to the story being told, they need to be rethought, especially when these jokes are repeated throughout the movie. I may laugh along the first time, but by the third or fourth instance, I’m just getting annoyed.

Yet, I think my biggest complaint about War Room is a gripe you’ve heard from me about plenty of other faith-based films. I like to call it the “genie in a bottle” message. God is not a genie in a bottle, and even though He most certainly answers prayers, He does not answer them on our timetable.

If you’ve ever tried living a Christian life, at one time or another you’ve most likely asked why something didn’t happen that you had prayed for, or why something did happen that you had asked God to stop. It happens to everyone.

And the reason is simple, even if it’s not apparent at the time: God has a bigger plan than we do. He knows what is best for us, and when it needs to take place. So, to make a movie that gives the illusion of a genie-like God that answers our prayers on demand is kind of unbelievable and irresponsible. I just hope that no one watches this film and then begins to doubt God because of an unanswered prayer.

To quote Garth Brooks, some of God’s biggest gifts are unanswered prayers.

How would you rate this film?

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3 responses »

  1. Beth Swan says:

    I just discovered your review site! What a blessing! I watched “Billy – the Early Years” last night and was pleasantly surprised. Many people were critical of the conflict between agnostic Templeton and faithful Billy. But I, along with you, realize it’s okay to struggle with these issues. I like what the actor who played Templeton said about him. He just couldn’t reconcile the simple truth of free will and consequences of sin. What a great dinner conversation/discussion could be had on that topic alone!

  2. Great to see you back! Our movie Providence released to theaters Valentine’s weekend as part of AMC Independent and will be releasing to DVD in May. We’d love to have you review it. http://www.providencemovie.com

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