Movie Review Link: Bella

Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's Bella is coming to a theater near you. This independent film has gotten some great reviews and won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Click on the poster to go the official site

Leticia of Cause of Our Joy has a review of this film over at MercatorNet





Here is the trailer

In Good Company: Views on Christian Film



Following up on my post on the negative aspects of the Christian label for films - Christianity Today has an article questioning the effectiveness of FoxFaith and "Christian" films. In the article producer Ralph Winter (X-Men, Thr3e) follows the same thinking as Rick Eldridge (The Ultimate Gift). Fox Faith, and by extension the label of "Christian" film can be a unneeded burden for films that provide strong Biblical messages and/or themes but are not intended to be mission works.

In the article, Fox Faith: Is It Working? Winter admits the error of going with the Fox Faith brand:

Another producer, Ralph Winter, who helmed Fox Faith flicks like Thr3e, The Visitation, and Hangman's Curse, said he will take some of his future projects to Lionsgate for distribution— starting with House, which will release sometime in 2008.

Winter clarified that he has nothing against Fox Faith; indeed, he was one of its original founders, and he praises the brand to this day. But he says the smaller films he produces—typically spiritual thrillers—aren't a good fit for Fox Faith.

"Our movies are more edgy and are not necessarily served by that label," Winter said, citing films derived from books by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. "We are working with stories that have a wider appeal than just Christians. Producing a spiritual thriller that is limited to Christians limits our general market appeal. It gets 'labeled.' Audiences that see a Fox Faith label have trouble seeing our spiritual thrillers as being legitimate—they feel it might be watered down and reject the movie without giving it a chance."

Winter said that's what happened with Thr3e, which earned $1 million at the box office in January. "In hindsight, we believe Thr3e would have done better without that label. To get to the audience that enjoys these kinds of thrillers, the Fox Faith label was an oxymoron. It made our movie seem 'soft.' How could this be a thriller if it is Fox Faith?" I come down hard on Fox Faith and the genre of "Christian" film precisely because of the obvious consequences of relegating works to these pigeonholes. Moving away from tagging ourselves with exclusive labels can only improve our box office and distribution in the future.


Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews


The Christian Brand is a Marketing Loser


Terry Mattingly of the Scripps Howard News Service published an article on August 22nd titled Movie Gets Tagged as “Christian” and Loses Out. The piece attempts to explain the financial failure (or at least lackluster showing) of The Ultimate Gift at the box office. The Ultimate Gift was distributed by FoxFaith which is the “spiritual” branch of Fox’s distribution arm. Mattingly cites the film’s producer Rick Eldridge who was surprised and dismayed to learn his film was being released as a “Christian” film.

Eldridge is quoted as saying:

"I told the Fox people this movie was going to resonate with the Christian audience and that's fine with me, because I am a Christian," said Eldridge. "But I was worried that this movie would get tagged as a little “Christian” movie, like that was some kind of Good Housekeeping seal for the Christian marketplace. ...”

"I think it's obvious that this is what happened and that caused some people to distance themselves from this movie. There was no need for that to happen."

The film does have Christian messages and direct references to Christ himself, but doesn’t slather its narrative with the divine. Both Mattingly and Eldridge clearly see this label as a hindrance to getting an otherwise worthy piece out to the general public (and to higher receipts.)

The film, which is quite good, did marginal business on DVD and almost nothing at the box office (a tad over $3 million domestically.) This is probably due to a limited release in theaters and a meek marketing campaign to promote the product. Most people probably haven’t heard of the film and that is why they didn’t see it. It is likely that the distribution ran into some roadblocks when the film went down the same old FoxFaith marketing stream that flows mostly to churches and other heavenly minded groups. Being a FoxFaith product tends to mark a work as a “Christian” film and that limits its ability to be distributed to larger audiences.

 

In reaction to this piece, Dr. Ted Bahr wrote a retort on September 19th titled Mean-Spirited Attacks on Faith-Filled Movies on WorldNetDaily.com. In this reaction, Dr. Bahr is indignant and refuses the notion that the Christian label is an issue. He further sees the article as an attack on the faith. He argues that faith-based films are solid box office winners. Pointing to last year’s Facing the Giants as an example (the film grossed over $10 Million with a budget of only $100,000). He also includes the perennial favorites Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia as additional examples. Where Dr. Bahr errs is in his failure to acknowledge the inherent limitations of a “Christian” label on a product. His argument is solidly one-sided with Christian films seeming like a no-brainer for potential marketers. His view is that the lack of business The Ultimate Gift received was an issue of bad marketing (or bad filmmaking) not a damaging label.
“In every genre, there are winners and losers. Some children's films bomb at the box office. Some romances bomb. Many horror movies bomb. Many movies about African-Americans fail. But, they don't bomb just because of their genre or their faith. They bomb because of their lack of entertainment value and/or their limited marketing. Thus, poor marketing and a lackluster release in a limited number of theaters (which is another skill of the marketing craft) can doom a smaller movie, or even a big one.”
The problem Dr. Bahr’s argument is that the marketing and the labeling of the film as “Christian” are inclusive of one another. A film marked as “Christian” has the inherent issue of appearing to be created with only one group in mind. Horror films don’t purport to speak to any specific group while denying others entry simply by their creation. Anyone can approach a horror film and enjoy it. This is the same for “African-American films” or romances. When a film is labeled “Christian” it is saying that the piece is intended for Christian audiences and contains an overt and probably evangelistic message. This gives a sense of exclusivity – and for good reason. The label essentially wards off atheists or folks of other faiths (or milquetoast Christians for that matter). The biggest hindrance for a film labeled as “Christian” is every other Christian film ever made.

We can cherish Passion of the Christ all we want, but we still have to contend with The Omega Code, Left Behind and The Last Sin Eater. “Christian” films stink. They stink badly – they are a rotten egg inside of Michael Moore’s sweat sock, buried in a shallow hole under a cage filled with monkeys who have contracted dysentery kind of stinky.

After years of “Christian” films being low-budget, sanctimonious and poorly executed disasters, people have learned to be leery. The best marketing campaign a “Christian” film can have is to put a message on the movie poster that says “This is the one that doesn’t reek.” Dr. Bahr cites a number of films from 2006 (The Pursuit of Happyness, Superman Returns and Cars) as being examples that prove that films about faith and values are winners at the box office (we'll ignore that Superman Returns promotes Superman siring a bastard child.)

This is a misdirection of sorts. None of these films were released as “Christian” films but rather just films that contained some Biblical themes. If anything, the citing of these films works against the concept of offering Christian labeled films. They managed to successfully deliver Biblical themes without the troubling label. This is the model Christian filmmakers should be following. I believe Dr. Bahr's response to Mattingly’s article is littered with errors and misstatements. It is important for us to protest when our brothers and sisters are attacked, but it is just as important for us to acknowledge when they are being criticized properly.






Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

The Ultimate Gift (2006)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring


The Ultimate GiftShould I see it?
Sure.


Short Review: This film has moments that are sappier than a thousand-year-old maple tree papier-mâchéd with Hallmark cards.


Director: Michael O. Sajbel
Written by: Cheryl McKay
Starring: Drew Fuller, James Garner, Abigail Breslin, Lee Meriwether, Bill Cobbs and Brian Dennehy


Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence and language


Rent or Buy This Movie Here


If you can handle sentimentality and don’t mind a meandering plot, you will probably enjoy this film. The film tells the tale of belligerent rich kid Jason (Drew Fuller) who is sent on a series of tasks laid out in his grandfather’s will. If Jason passes these tests he will receive “the ultimate gift” which is expected to be a large sum of money. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the tests are character-building activities and the big gift at the end isn’t about money at all. This is an obvious piece with plain intentions and no surprises. This said, it is also a well done piece with some good performances and a likable narrative.

The story does takes an unfortunate detour in the final hour by inserting a side step into a hostage situation for no reason. This distraction threatens to destroy the momentum built previously to these scenes. The hostage tangent doesn’t last long thankfully and the plot does manage to find its footing. This distraction however does enough damage to be pointed out as a serious mistake. Even if this is a part of the original book on which this film is based, it doesn’t fit in the film and should have been excluded.

The production itself has all the markings of a “Christian film”, low budget, the name actors are ones not working in the prime of the careers, and a simplistic view of the world. This film does avoid many of the other trappings of being a Christian film – poor writing, bad acting, obtuse “spiritual message”, etc. This is the kind of film I like to see. It is Christian without being a “Christian film”. In other words it contains Christian messages and themes without getting so soaked in its own sanctimonious overtures that it becomes useless. This is a piece that looks to inspire and to acknowledge where the inspiration comes from. This is a great goal for any production.

Looking at the piece as a whole, it could have been a complete syrupy mess but director Michael O. Sajbel (One Night with the King) manages to avoid sentimentality, for the most part, and handles the material with some grace. If you enjoyed The Five People You Meet in Heaven, you will most likely enjoy this one.


Worldview: This film promotes a clear Christian viewpoint with many references to the Almighty and contains many unapologetic scenes of faith. One of the characters in the film is a small girl dying of leukemia. Her faith is handled logically. She’s scared of dying, and being a child, doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to complete understand her faith. The moments where this girl copes with her impending death are some of the films best moments.

The faith in the film doesn’t weigh the piece down. In many films made by Christians where they are attempting to inspire and/or promote the faith, they overload the piece with shoehorned Biblical messages and themes. This usually leads to obtuse narratives that don’t speak to the real world and fail to glorify the Word of God. This movie does it right. It presents clearly Biblical notions and moments but does so within the frame of the real world (for the most part, see below). Faith is treated seriously, which is something many Christian films seem unable to do. The characters have faults and doubts and are troubled by their pasts. These dimensions are treated fairly and are no resolved magically by the end of the piece. This is a far more real handling of sin and redemption than most films of this genre attempt to present.


Production Notes: Where this film falls flat is that the world is sometimes treated in a cut and dry fashion. Those obsessed with material gain are bad people, seemingly without depth or internal contradiction. They simply want money and speak of business in the cruelest ways possible. Those in the moral right are either conflicted (in the case of the hero) or just plain smart and kind. Wouldn’t the world be better if this were the case? Those consumed with materialism are just as conflicted by their choices as those looking to The Lord, they’ve just chosen unwisely. To offer villains who are two-dimensional is not taking sin or evil seriously. Providing complicated villains not only shows a mature view of the world, it also forces a deeper narrative (meaning a better story).

I’ve not read the book on which this film is based but I am certain this sentimental view of the world stems from the original work.


Cautions: There is nothing offensive about this work. Unlike many inspirational films, this one allows for the main character to curse (very lightly) and drink. There is nothing to offend here and can be viewed by anyone.



Related Reviews:
Scott Nehring Good News Film ReviewsChristian movies
One Night With the King (2006)
The Second Chance (2006)




Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews
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