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CHRISTIAN FILMS COULD BE BETTER

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this page today carries so many horror movies of one kind or another (it is October, after all), here’s a Deseret News column from a decade ago that seems like a nice reminder, especially this weekend (it is Conference Weekend, after all), that there are films with positive messages out there. And despite the reservations expressed here, a lot of them are worth seeking out (especially those by the Kendrick brothers; a couple of their films are mentioned below, but my favorite is ‘Courageous,’ from 2011, which I highly recommend). A few of these titles may spark your interest, and there are many more. After all, movie-watching is the go-to indoor pastime during this pandemic, right? So what’s so bad about feeling good, to quote a 1960s maxim. This column was published on April 23, 2010.

 

Last week we whined about movies that are overloaded with sleaze, so this week we’ll whine about clean films that just aren’t as good as we’d like them to be. (Notice my use of the editorial “we,” so that you, dear reader, are complicit in said whining.)

 

First of all, despite what you may think, there are movies out there that qualify as clean, wholesome and uplifting  — which, by the way, are three words that critics seem to think are dirty, or perhaps just code for pablum.

 

That’s even true of big-budget movies like “Invictus” and “The Blind Side” — which are still around, albeit in the Dollar Houses (which actually charge $1.50 these days).

 

But there are others, too, lower-budget, family-friendly, live-action pictures — specifically “The Perfect Game,” which opened last Friday, and “Letters to God,” which arrived the week before.

 

And a few weeks before that, “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry.” That one wasn’t around very long — but “Letters to God” and “The Perfect Game” are probably not here for the long haul either.

 

All three of these movies proudly wear the label “Christian Films.” That means they are clean — no sex, no nudity, no profanity, no drugs, no violence (beyond shoving or bullying). They are rated PG and try to address serious social issues, ultimately suggesting that faith in God will lead to forgiveness and redemption.

 

Unlike the vast majority of Hollywood movies, they treat religion with respect. Even encouragement. They often depict people going to church, reading the Bible and offering up prayers, both in groups and in private.

 

      

 

It is true, however, that these movies are seldom as slick and artful as Hollywood productions, or even as more professional independent pictures. Oh, they generally look pretty good. These days it’s hard for any movie to really look bad. Technological advancements are in place to belie even meager budgets these days.

But they are almost always lacking to some degree in the areas of directing, editing, screenwriting and/or acting. They are often poorly paced, so that they sag in the middle. Jokes may fall flat. The sentiment is spread on with a trowel. Music cues heavy-handedly signal comedy or tragedy. And the Christian message is rarely understated.

 

Moreover, they are well intentioned … which, by the way, is another phrase critics like to use as code for not-so-hot. But if the road to box-office failure is paved with good intentions, I’m happy to mitigate a bit of that with some of my own moviegoing dollars.

 

In fact, whenever one comes to town, my wife and I make it a point to go. We don’t have to; we choose to. We like to see movies on the big screen and try to go every week — but we have no intention of seeing such populist pictures as “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Kick-Ass,” “She’s Out of My League” or many others that are also in theaters now.

 

Not that we don’t go to R-rated movies. We sometimes do. But we avoid the obviously sleazy stuff.

 

But one reason we attend Christian films — admittedly with our expectations lowered a bit — is because it’s a pleasant change to see religion celebrated instead of ridiculed, which is by far the rule in Hollywood movies.

 

       

 

True, Christian films tend to wear their religion on their sleeves; the messages are obvious and sometimes preachy. But faith is integrated into the story, with prayer depicted as normal behavior, with discussions of scripture or gospel lessons part of normal conversation, with church attendance a normal activity.

 

And there are rewards. Sometimes these films rise above the expected sentimentality to become unexpected pleasures. My wife and I found some truly worthwhile themes in “Fireproof” two years ago, and a couple of years earlier, “Facing the Giants” was a nice underdog sports film with a faith-promoting component.

 

Right now, “The Perfect Game” is another underdog sports picture, a true story about a Mexican team that won the 1957 Little League World Series, and it features a strong Christian theme. It also benefits from some top-line talent that most of these films don’t have (the cast includes Cheech Marin, Louis Gossett Jr. and Frances Fisher, among other recognizable faces).

 

“Letters to God” — about a boy dying of cancer whose optimistic spirit cheers a community — isn’t quite as good, and it certainly could have pulled back on the sentiment and used more humor to offset the tragedy. But it nonetheless tugs at the heartstrings while providing a message of hope.

 

None of these movies will ever be up for an Oscar. But if you ever tire of Hollywood movies that leave you grumbling about all the profanity or violence or sexual content, about how none of the characters are likable or how you’d like to see a movie that could cheer you up instead of dragging you down. …

 

Well, you could certainly do worse than these — yes, I’m not afraid to say it — these well-intentioned efforts.