Thursday, September 29, 2011

COURAGEOUS (2011) - Film Review

Expectations can affect your mood, your perspective—even your outlook on life. Take officer Adam Mitchell in the film Courageous as an example. Shaken by tragedy, Adam is forced to grapple with what his expectations as a father should be—or, rather, what God’s expectations are for him. Adam’s growing awareness of God’s design for fatherhood creates ripple effects for his family, fellow officers, and his community.

Expectations can also affect how much—or little—you enjoy a movie. Again, take Courageous as an example. The biggest production yet by Sherwood Pictures, Courageous is still far from a major production. They still have a lot to learn, but they have obviously improved a great deal since Facing the Giants. If you’re expecting the standard Hollywood-style action and adventure with this cop drama, you’ll probably be disappointed. This is of a different ilk—although it is not like much of the Christian-themed entertainment out there (i.e., embarrassingly bad).

Here’s how the film stands up in the following three areas: content, artistry, and my own personal preferences.

CONTENT (C): 10 out of 10
Courageous deals with more weighty subject matter than any previous Sherwood Pictures film (drugs, gang violence, death), but it also has what I think are some of the funniest moments yet. There are scenes of strong pathos and scenes of inspiration and hope.

As one might expect, there is no extraneous sexual material. One character regrets making a former girlfriend pregnant, but that’s pretty much it.

All the film’s violence involves police interaction with gang members: chases, physical violence, and a shootout—but it’s all quite tame compared to the larger-than-life exhibitions moviegoing audiences have grown accustomed to.

ARTISTRY (A): 6 out of 10
This is the strongest film yet by Sherwood Pictures. With a crew consisting largely of amateur churchgoers with a vision for impacting popular culture—and with only a few films to their credit—the results are impressive. I don’t mean to damn the film with faint praise; with very few exceptions, the production values in this outing are strong.

The action scenes are pedestrian, but it could be argued that they are closer to reality than the Hollywood sensationalism we’ve been fed over the years. Most of the action scenes are short; one car chase is practically over before it begins. Yet, in their brevity, they are handled competently.

In many ways, the story is simplistic and predictable. It’s not hard to guess each revelation before it happens. Also, based on how the story is resolved, one particular plot thread involving a gang member should have been more central to the narrative; instead, it is established and then seemingly abandoned until the very end. All these things considered, it still tells an effective story. In fact, for all its faults, it is an incredibly powerful story.

I don’t want to come across as majoring on the minors. At its core, this is an engaging story with relatable characters and relatable situations. This isn’t so much escapist entertainment as it is a cathartic journey.

PREFERENCE (P): 8 out of 10
Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the creative team behind all of Sherwood Pictures’ films, are gifted at creating scenes that invoke strong emotion. Courageous is no exception. Tears and laughter abounded in the screening I attended. Most of the humorous scenes involve Javier Martinez, a construction worker struggling to make ends meet. His scene in the police cruiser is a highlight; everyone in the showing I attended laughed hysterically. Whether the characters were experiencing grief and heartache or joy and delight, we were right there with them.

I’m not sure if it was the particular storyline, the subject matter, or how everything was handled, but I found the movie to be more impactful and inspirational than any other Christian-themed film to date. Courageous is a far cry from testosterone-laced spectacles like Gladiator, but it is incredibly effective at portraying true manhood—more specifically, true fatherhood—as the God-ordained adventure that it is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film make the gospel look so attractive. That’s not to say that it is a glorified gospel tract—just that it demonstrates Christ-centered living in an appealing way.

CAP score: 80%

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Movie Rating System

Sorry, the Motion Picture Associate of America (MPAA) is sticking with its flawed movie classifications. The rating system I refer to is an updated formula I will use on the rare occasion that I write a movie review. (One such occasion is coming soon!)

I used to rate a film based on two criteria: its artistic merit and my own personal preferences—i.e., how much I enjoyed it. My desire was to provide a clear distinction between the objective and the subjective. A poorly made film might entertain me, whereas a high caliber film might leave me cold and unemotional. I wanted to separate what I liked from what I thought was good.

This is still my desire, but I want to be a little more specific, and hopefully a little more helpful. So, I have revamped my old system and come up with a three-tiered approach when reviewing a movie. Below I will give a brief description of each level of evaluation.

This section will deal with the thematic and moral elements in the film—those areas that could be considered objectionable or problematic for a viewing audience. The goal will be to observe the content through the lens of Scripture. Sexual and violent content, for example, will be evaluated not only on their presence (or lack thereof), but on the nature in which they are handled. Both are acceptable plot elements when handled with discretion, and certainly inappropriate when handled obscenely or pornographically. Even a genuinely good message can be soured with faulty or immoral methods.

Here, I will focus on the screenplay, cinematography, acting, directing, editing, musical score, and/or whatever artistic elements catch my attention. These can, to a certain degree, be dealt with in a more objective way than the other two sections. A bundle of clich├ęd sayings equals bad writing. A microphone in the shot equals bad cinematography. A jump cut equals bad editing. And so on.

This is where I will share my personal reaction to the movie: did I find it enjoyable, engaging, boring, infuriating, or a combination of the above? Did I like the film? Did I personally consider it worthwhile?

And there you have it: a movie review formula divided into three parts. I will give a numeric rating of 0-10 for each section (0 being horrible and 10 being amazing). I will then combine those numbers to come up with a total “CAP score”—an overall percentage that reflects my recommendation (or lack thereof).

Depending on the movie, I may divide my review completely into these three sections, or I may have several general things to say beforehand. Whatever the case, this is the new model I will be working with. I’m excited about it, and I hope you are too.

Stay tuned for a review of a soon-to-be-released movie coming to four theaters near you (if you live in the Knoxville area).