Quick Review: The Hobbit–The Battle of the Five Armies

December 24, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

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If you’re planning to see The Hobbit during the holidays, here are some suggestions for enjoying the film, particularly if you have read and loved the book.

(BTW, just so you’ll know, I began reading Tolkien when I was 15 years old and have lost count of the number of times I’ve read The Hobbit and LOTR.)

1. Enjoy “The Hobbit” on its own terms and resist the temptation to make comparisons. Books and movies are apples and oranges–totally different mediums. A movie can never be totally faithful in reproducing a novel. Novels are much richer in detail and even the best film adaptations are only able to hit the highlights of the book (case in point, “To Kill a Mockingbird”).

2. Understand that some “additions” are market driven (e.g. the Tauriel-Kili love story, the inclusion of Legolas, etc.) to appeal to fans of the LOTR films and certain demographics (female filmgoers). I learned this when I was writing my second novel (Mercy Killer) and was encouraged to have a strong female lead character because so many readers are women.

3. Keep in mind that other “additions” are actually extrapolations from Tolkien’s vast mythology. For example, the events at Dol Guldur, where Gandalf & Co. drive out Sauron are referred to in The Hobbit and LOTR. The filmmakers just expanded on what Tolkien wrote.

4. As for the “bloated” nature of the whole series, chalk that up to the need to have “The Hobbit” films measure up to the standard of the LOTR films. One could argue that Peter Jackson would have done better with two films rather than three, but what’s done is done.

I could go on, but my main advice would be to just go and enjoy the movie. I had a good time and found it to be a fun, well-acted, film.

That’s not to say that I thought everything was great.

The actual battle goes on for roughly the same amount of time as World War II. (However, the length of the battle sequence did allow me a much needed bathroom break without missing any important plot points.)

And there were some serious eye-rolling moments when Legolas repeatedly defies the laws of physics. (I know elves are agile and all, but come on!)

But over all, the film was a satisfying, fun time. And it neatly segues into the first LOTR film. So, soon you’ll be able to watch all 6 films in sequence in an 18+ hour marathon. (Won’t that be fun!)

So if you’re looking for something fun to do with the family this Christmas/New Year’s week, check out “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” and enjoy the experience.

(But don’t drink a large drink at the beginning of the film. And if you do, just wait till the battle starts. You’ll have plenty of time to make a restroom run without missing anything of importance.)

Out of five stars, I give it four.

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A Powerful Movie

December 10, 2014 by · 2 Comments 

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Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

As a rule, I am not a fan of Christian or Bible-themed movies. I find that most of them tend to be preachy and agenda driven. The filmmakers set out to communicate a message, and often that message takes precedence over the quality of the storytelling. I know there are exceptions, but in my opinion they are few and far between. So I didn’t know what to expect when I received an invitation to a private screening of the new film, Cast the First Stone.

I was pleasantly surprised.

No, let me rephrase that.

I was blown away.

Cast the First Stone is a documentary, set inside Louisiana’s Angola prison. It follows seventy-five inmates as they rehearse for a production of the Passion play. When I watched the trailer, I assumed the movie was simply the life of Christ as dramatized by the inmates.

It was much, much more than that.

Cast the First Stone takes us inside one of the most notorious prisons in America and shows us men and women preparing to tell the greatest story ever told. In addition, it tells us their stories.

Cast the First Stone – A Powerful “Christian” Movie

I’ve been involved in prison ministry going on twenty years now. One thing that struck me early on was the realization that the men and women in our prisons are just that—men and women. They are not monsters. They are not raving lunatics. They are not “evil”—at least no more evil than I am.

They are people.

Granted, they are people who did bad things, sometimes horrible things. But they are people nonetheless. And they are behind bars paying for their crimes.

Cast the First Stone shows us those people as they rehearse their parts and scenes. And it shows us the impact of the teachings of Jesus Christ on these people in the world where they live—a harsh world where often the only freedom comes with death.

Bobby Wallace, “Jesus”

In addition to the rehearsals, the film takes an occasional detour with the actors, revealing little slices of prison life. In one scene, Bobby Wallace, who portrays Jesus, visits patients in the prison hospital and prays with them. He confesses that he doesn’t feel particularly confident doing this.

Another slice of prison life comes in the middle of a rehearsal when the correctional officer calls count. The rehearsal stops; the inmates line up; the officer counts the inmates; and the rehearsal resumes.

When the women actors are bussed in from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (fifty miles away), we see them shackled and cuffed. The ladies refer to the handcuffs as their “platinum jewelry.”

We also enter into the inmates’ personal pain. Patricia Williams, who plays Mary the mother of Jesus, tells about being incarcerated for embezzlement and how it has isolated her from her children, who now want nothing to do with her.

Justin Singleton, “Peter,” is serving life without parole. He shares how portraying Peter is part of his personal redemption from his past acts.

Patricia Williams – “Mary”

Although many of the actors are Christians, others are not. From the film’s website:

Amongst this extraordinary group of men and women are Christians and Muslims, believers and agnostics, those of deep faith and those with none at all. Yet, regardless of their background, the wisdom in the teachings [of Jesus] served to guide each of them on their own personal path of redemption.

Judas Iscariot is played by Levelle Toliver, a devout Muslim. (Toliver gives one of the most powerful performances in the movie.) Gary Tyler, the director, describes himself as “spiritual but not religious.”

Levelle Toliver – “Judas”

Although this may make some Christian audiences uncomfortable, I thought it was one of the most powerful aspects of the film. For one thing, it shows the power of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ impacting even those who have not, as of yet, professed faith in him. The diversity of opinion represented in no way dilutes the power of the message of Christ as demonstrated in the lives and actions of the inmates.

Cast the First Stone is not a “Christian” film; it was never intended to be.

Highest Common Denominator Media, which has done other  documentaries inside Angola, was invited to produce a film of the inmates’ Passion play. Instead, they decided to tell the stories of the actors in the play. In doing so, they allowed the power of the gospel to be displayed in a way it never would have been otherwise.

Sadly, the film is not yet available to general audiences. The producers are hoping for a theatrical release around Easter, 2015, but that isn’t a certainty. In the meantime, they are willing to set up special screenings to help build an audience. You can get more information on this from their website: http://castthefirststone-themovie.com/

I, for one, am going to try my best to build buzz for Cast the First Stone.

Whether or not it was intentional, it’s the best Christian movie I’ve ever seen, bar none.


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