Vice (2018)

Vice

Christian Bale as Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

 

Very few actors do as well as Christian Bale when it comes to immersing into a character, and his take on Dick Cheney in Vice is no exception. It is a knockout performance, but it is one that I wished were in a better movie.

The film begins by telling us that the makers of the film did the best they could since Cheney is such a private man. As is the case with most biopics nowadays, we get a bit of jumping back and forth thru points of history (though thankfully it is not too confusing). We see the beginning of the marriage of Dick and his wife Lynn (Amy Adams, who always does even better work when working with Bale), his meeting of Donald Rumsfeld (an oddly cast Steve Carrell), and his workings all the way to the post of VP to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).

The biggest flaw I feel the movie does it is goes for more exaggeration over realism. That is not to say some of the exaggerated parts aren’t funny (such as rolling credits a little too soon). I knew little about Cheney going in, but enough to know how much the man has suffered from heart problems over the years. Eventually, too many heart attack jokes can be pushing it.

Still, none of this takes away from the acting, and while most are well cast (even Tyler Perry does well as Colin Powell), it is clearly all to show more proof how ridiculously talented Christian Bale is as an actor. Yes, the make up department did a fabulous job, but acting is far beyond make up or even imitation. It is about connecting to one’s inner feelings, which Bale is always great at doing (though at some times, it seems he isn’t. This is not because he can’t, but because Cheney struggles to).

Parents, the movie is rated R for good reason, as it is filled with swearing and footage of violence. High School and up.

It seems that the only thing harder than playing Dick Cheney would be making a film about him. Director Adam Mckay (who won an Oscar for helping write 2015’s The Big Short) has given a movie that, even with a wonderful lead performance (and a nice post credit scene), seems a bit too off-putting.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

The Shack (2017)

The Shack

Sam Worthington’s Mack gets an invitation to “The Shack” by God (Octavia Spencer)

First, a question:

Am I the only one who thinks a movie titled The Shack is a horror movie?

I can’t be alone, can I?

 

I have a feeling that I would have rated The Shack a lot more highly if I had read the book before hand, though I know of a few people who say it does the book justice (one even says it is better than the book). While it is no secret that a lot of movies that are “Christian” are not well received, I feel quiet a few of them can be very overlooked.

The Shack is one more Christian movie that starts off with normal christian characters.: a nice loving family man named Mack (Sam Worthington, who is already immortalized after being in 2009’s Avatar) who takes his three children Josh (Gage Munroe), Kate (Megan Charpentier) and Missy (Amelie Eve) out on a camping trip (his wife Nan has a seminar). We have already learned that Mack is not much of a church going man, as demonstrated by his childhood: His father was a drinker and would beat him and his mother. Luckily, his wife is still able to get him and the kids to come to church (where his youngest daughter, Missy, likes to call God “Papa”.)

Sadly, more tragedy strikes, and Missy is abducted during the trip. All that is a piece of clothing inside a shack, next to a bloodstain on the floor. Months pass, and everyone says they have moved on (though it is clear that Mack and Kate have not). Mack gets a letter in the mailbox, asking if he would come back to talk to “Papa” at the shack. There are no tire tracks, so it surely does seem odd.

I read other user reviews on IMBD saying how they did not like the movie once the movie shows us what Mack sees at the shack. It was actually the time the movie spent at The Shack that I admired about the film. Here Mack meets God/Papa (the always delightful Octavia Spencer), Sarayu/The Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) and Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush).

Say what you will about portrayals of God and Jesus (God being most memorably played in the past by George Burns and Morgan Freeman), but what I liked about the portrayals here is how down to earth they are. God appears as a mother type character because he knows that is what Mack needs at the moment, though later in the movie he does appear as a needed father figure (played by Graham Greene).

Much of the time Mack spends with these three is one that can easily be used in discussion for church groups of all kind, especially when you consider what each of the three uniquely brings to Mack’s life through their individual lessons. It is here where the movie really gets close to being on the breaking point of being a great movie.

Without giving too much away, one of the main issues I had with the film was the end being beyond cliché, even for Christian movies. I will just say that something happens to Mack that I feel was totally thrown in for no reason at all, only to add more drama when we have had just the right amount of it.

Parents, the movie is PG-13 mainly for the subject matter (a little girl dies, after all), so 13 and above is the right choice (no swearing or sexual content).

While I am not a parent, I do know the pain of losing a loved one (a friend of mine actually lost his daughter in a school shooting, and his response through the years has made him a personal hero of mine). The Shack does dive deep into those feelings and confusions one would feel, and almost comes out a great movie. It would have been if it did not have so many of the Christian movie clichés along with it.

Overall: Three Stars ***

Left Behind (2014)

Left Behind

Nicolas Cage as the pilot, who is also Left Behind…

Since I am not a paid movie critic (as of this writing), it is a blessing and a curse when movies go under my radar and others have to watch them. I am not just talking about missing hidden gems that deserve a wider release, but those that are butchered by the critics. It seems that the best critics can do is have fun saying how bad a film is, which is why I seek them out from time to time. Enter the movie Left Behind, clearly one of the worst, um, things, ever to be called a full length feature film. I doubt you will ever come across it, but in case you do…here is your warning.

The movie stars Nicolas Cage, and (believe it or not) that is far from the worst part of the film. I still believe that Cage is a great actor (he is even an Oscar winner). It is really just the fact that he picks some bad movies to be in. Here he plays Rayford Steele, a pilot on his way from New York to London. His daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) is home from college to surprise him, but learns from her mother Irene (Lea Thompson) that he won’t be home. We learn he is in fact cheating on his wife with a flight attendant. We also get Chad Michael Murray as a popular reporter named Buck Williams, who falls for Chloe.

We get scenes of characters who believe in God warning that the end will come on any day. Steele and his daughter don’t believe it, even though Irene has become a firm believer. Eventually, in the blink of an eye, people vanish. No trace except for the clothes they were wearing and their belongings. This is happening all around the world. All the kids (including Chloe’s little brother Raymie) are gone, and so is Steele’s co-pilot.

The panic scenes show one of the major flaws of this movie. While all the actors (and I mean all of them) give bad performances, none do worse more than every single extra in the film. Ok, it is understandable that extras may not have as much talent or experience as veteran actors (like Cage), but it seems like these people did not even get time or direction to know what to do and how to do it. It is like the director (Vic Armstrong) just told everyone “When I say go, PANIC!”, and nothing else.

It also takes everyone in the movie a long time to find out that God has taken those that are not left behind. After they finally do, it is a lame and bland (understatement) attempt to finally see if Cage can land his plane (he does. I doubt I am spoiling it because it is doubtful anyone else will see this movie.)

Parents, if all you care about is if a film has sex or violence in it, don’t worry. It is just thematic elements. If, however, it is quality, wit, and over all good in a movie you want, keep your kids far away.

I have stated before that I am saddened by the fact that most movies that are “Christian” movies are not always done well (let alone received well). Left Behind is on a whole level of awful by itself. How many other movies are hated by both non-believers and believers as well? They may despise the movie for different reasons, but that alone shows more of why the film sucks in general.

As for me, I am a believer, and hope to be taken in heaven with God for eternity. The alternative (hell) is by far the absolute number one worst thing that could happen. While I have not made a list of other bad things that can happen to me, watching Left Behind again may be up there.

 

Overall: 1/2 Star

God’s Not Dead 2 (2016)

God's Not Dead 2

Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) is put on trial for her response to a question about Jesus…

I was not a big fan of the first God’s Not Dead film. While I liked what it  had to say, I did not agree with the way the film said it (it had far too many characters and story lines that did not mesh together well). That being said, I gave it three stars, the same rating I am giving to the sequel.

Yet the sequel is better. Sure, it has some of the same flaws as the first, but it did what I wished the first one did: it stuck to one story (for the most part: there were some character arcs that were superflous). The main character is  History Teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart, doing a good job of acting). She is a single woman who still lives at home with her Grandpa (Pat Boone), still giving her extra faith every morning with breakfast.

One day, Brooke Thawley (Haley Orrantia), one of her students, asks a question about Jesus during their lesson on non violence. Brooke herself had just discovered the bible from her recently deceased brother (we learn he died in a car crash). During Grace’s answer to the question, an unseen student is shown texting home, letting his parents know what had happened. Eventually, she is brought to trial, and is appointed a lawyer, Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe). He is not a christian, but he says that will help the case.

There are some characters from the original in the film, mainly Rev. Dave (David A.R. White), Rev. Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango), and Martin Yip (Paul Kwo). Kwo has talent as an actor, but there is really no reason for his character to be here. There are also appearances by Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson as Brooke’s best friend Marlene, Fred Dalton Thompson (in his last film role before his 2015 death) as the Senior Pastor, and Mike Huckabee as himself.

There is also a lot of legal talk in this film. Personally, I do not go into a movie wanting to make sure it is entirely accurate, and I know nothing about the legal precedings in a court room. I am sure there are some holes here and there, but not enough to make me dislike what happens.

Parents, like the first movie, this one is fine for kids.

As I stated in my review for the first film, Christian Cinema can be done right (the Kendrick Brothers are a good example, as their movies get better with each release). Those behind God’s Not Dead and the sequel still have some work to do, but they are getting there.

Overall: Three Stars ***

 

War Room (2015)

Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) greets Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) in "War Room".

Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) greets Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) in “War Room”.

When it comes to Christian Cinema, no one does it better than the Kendrick Brothers.

After movies such as Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008), and Courageous (2011), they have made movies that have improved overtime with the quality of the filmmaking. While the message of the film is truly the most important thing, they supply us with filmmaking that is truly underrated.

Directed by Alex Kendrick (who also has a cameo, along with his brother Stephen), it tells the story of the Jordan family. The father is Tony (T.C. Stallings), a workaholic who believes his wife Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) is wasting “his” money (not theirs, but his) on her sister who married a lazy man. Tony also does not seem to have much time for his 10-year-old daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts).

Later on, Elizabeth (who works in realty) meets Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) who begins to tell her the true way to fight. The scenes with Abercrombie as Miss Clara are the ones you will be remembering the most when you leave the theater. She steals the show.

Last year, I had to defend my stance against another Christian film that I did not like: God’s Not Dead. That movie, I felt, tried too hard to drive the point home, with way too many characters and plots. This film keeps it simple, with some supporting characters that actually support and don’t try to take away from the main story.

Parents, it is a christian film, so it really is ok for any age group (if you have daughters, they will love the ending scene of the film, I guarantee it). The film does have its flaws (the scene in the parking garage seemed well-intentioned, but totally superfluous), and it does seem to go a little long. Still, it is one of the best christian flicks I have seen in quite some time.

(I even seemed to think of redoing my own closet when I got home.)

Overall: Four Stars ****