Hollywood shines a light on the spiritual (Los Angeles Times)

Encouraged by the success of ‘Blind Side’ and other movies, studios are embracing star-powered, faith-based films.

'Machine Gun Preacher'From left; Kathy Baker, Madeline Carroll, Michelle Monaghan and Gerard Butler star as the Childers family in “Machine Gun Preacher.” (Relativity Media)
By Susan King, Los Angeles TimesOctober 2, 2011

In many quarters, Hollywood has long been regarded as an essentially godless place. But judging by the offerings at the movies this season, and more in the works, Tinseltown is rediscovering religion.

In the span of just a few weeks starting in late August, audiences looking for God at their local multiplex have had their choice of titles, including “Higher Ground,” a chronicle of one woman’s struggle with her faith; “Seven Days in Utopia,” an inspirational golf drama; and “Machine Gun Preacher,” about an evangelist who takes up arms in Africa.

And the onslaught isn’t slowing down. “Courageous,” about policemen wrestling with their faith after a tragedy, opened this weekend. Emilio Estevez‘s “The Way,” about a father on a religious pilgrimage, is set for Friday.

These films follow the success this spring of “Soul Surfer,” about a Christian teen surfer’s comeback after losing an arm to a shark. Released by Sony‘s TriStar division, the film brought in nearly $44 million at the U.S. box office.

In many cases, these movies are not filled with unknown actors; they star top performers such as Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Helen Hunt, Helen Mirren and Louis Gossett Jr. (all Oscar winners), plus Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen and Gerard Butler.

So why is Hollywood looking to a higher authority?

A confluence of factors — including the economic and social difficulties facing the country in the last few years, a desire among actors and directors for interesting roles and the success of 2009’s rather religious “The Blind Side” — seem to be at work.

“We are doing some serious soul-searching as a nation, trying to decide who we are going to be and what we are going to stand for,” said Craig Detweiler, director of the Center of Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University, which is affiliated with Churches of Christ. “I think that does take us back to ultimate questions, whether as filmmakers or audiences.”

“Filmmakers,” he added, “are understanding that spirituality can be a complicated rather than a simplifying aspect of rich drama. I think for actors, they also understand these are complex roles that are ripe for exploration. When you have Academy Award performers like Robert Duvall and Melissa Leo, these are not simple or stereotypical portraits” of Christians.

Emmy Award winner Kathy Baker appears in “Seven Days” and “Machine Gun,” both times as a devout woman. Though she considers herself a spiritual person, she said she was drawn to the projects because they were both strong roles. And in the case of “Machine Gun,” she had the opportunity to work with director Marc Forster. “You have this wonderful director who can do anything and you give him this great story that has to deal with international politics. It’s only a coincidence to me that it’s faith-based.”

Baker said she believes that there are more faith-based films these days in part because religious people are eager to invest in them.

“This is a relatively new concept that different groups are funding indie films and stepping up and having the courage and the knowledge to say let’s make a movie,” she said. “‘Seven Days in Utopia’ was funded by some generous faith-based people who were very open about it. That’s why it got made.”

Review: ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ takes hard look at the road to redemption (Detroit News)

Review: ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ takes hard look at the road to redemption

Tom Long/ Detroit News Film CriticWhen does faith become fanaticism?That’s the question at the heart of the wondrously titled “Machine Gun Preacher.” What looks on the surface to be yet another inspiring story of one man’s salvation turns out to be instead both an examination of modern atrocity and a rethinking of the burden/beauty of belief.

Built around a fire-breathing performance from Gerard Butler (“300”) and directed with both scope and specificity by Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland”), “Machine Gun Preacher” can be tough to watch as it closes in on the torture and violent abuse suffered by people — chiefly children — in Sudan. Those going seeking tearful uplifting moments best be prepared: This film will not pamper you.

In the film based on a true story and shot partly in Michigan, Butler plays Sam Childers, a drug-dealing biker tough guy who’s just getting out of prison. Shocked when he finds out his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), has become a born again Christian, Sam stomps out of the family trailer and reunites with his bad boy buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon).

Sam and Donnie are nobody’s idea of nice, and Forster quickly lays out just how on the edge — and violent — they are. But then Sam — and this happens a bit too easily — finds Jesus.

Actually, he doesn’t just find Jesus; he’s consumed by his sudden conversion to Christianity. Out of work, he’s forced to sell his motorcycle; but then things pick up. Thanks to an act of God — a tornado — Sam not only finds work rebuilding his town, but he also starts his own successful business.

Soon enough, he’s starting his own diverse church in town, and he finds himself pressed into duty as an impromptu preacher. Eventually, he runs into a missionary from Africa, and Sam decides he should volunteer to do some work there as well.

What Sam finds in Sudan is an approximation of hell. Rebel soldiers rule the land, often forcing children to take up guns after making them kill their own parents. People are tortured and maimed just for the random fun of it or to scare the general populace into compliance.

Sam decides to build an orphanage, but it is quickly attacked and burned down. That’s when he decides perhaps it’s best to fight fire with the kind of firepower he’s used to.

Meanwhile, his church back home is falling on bad times, his family is struggling to stay solvent, and Donnie — who has also converted — is crumbling.

But Sam has become obsessed with his project in Africa. And his religious fervor has taken on a madness that the devil might recognize.

There are a lot of blank spots in all this. Sam sells his business to finance the orphanage — so how does his family survive? How does the church stay intact without its preacher?

These sort of practical notions get steamrolled by the action scenes in Africa as Sam becomes a somewhat unholy holy warrior.

But it’s that essential dichotomy — killing in the name of God — that keeps “Machine Gun Preacher” more interesting than it might otherwise have been. The white American who is out to save the wretchedly oppressed needs more than a bit of saving himself.

Is he beyond redemption? “Machine Gun Preacher” leaves the question hanging in a way that earns admiration. The opposites in the title hold true through the film.

‘Machine Gun Preacher’

GRADE: B

Rated R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality

Running time: 127 minutes

tlong@detnews.com

(313) 222-8879

Movie review: Machine Gun Preacher (Detroit Examiner)

Detroit Movie Examiner

September 30, 2011

Genre:  Action, Drama

Opens locally Friday, September 30th, 2011 (check for showtimes)

Run Time:  2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated R

Starring:  Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Souleymane Sy Savane

Directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner)

The title “Machine Gun Preacher” implies we’ll get an intense blood-soaked action-mayhem movie, with explosions, and more than a few slow-motion shots of our hero walking into the camera with the world aflame behind him.  The reality is, we do get intense action, graphic violence and explosions, but this is no comic book movie…instead it is an intense adult drama that doesn’t exploit, and only shows us horrible violence when needed.  While not a perfect film, “Machine Gun Preacher” was an unexpectedly good film, with some pretty heavy moral issues at the center, making this a thinking-man’s action flick.

Gerard Butler stars as real-life humanitarian Sam Childers, a former junkie and ex-con who finds the Lord, establishes a church, and opens an orphanage in the heart of the civil-war stricken Sudan.  But he acts first and prays later, the kind of guy who kills to protect those he loves, and believes that murder must be acceptable if done to protect the innocent.  Michelle Monaghan is his ex-stripper wife, and the two have a young daughter as well.  At home is also Sam’s buddy played by Michael Shannon, who at first seems miscast as a drug-dealing biker, but shows that he can pretty much play anybody, as long as he is a low-life creep (nobody in Hollywood does it better right now than Michael Shannon.)

It must be stated that what is (and was) going on in Sudan is unthinkably horrifying.  Children, women, slaughtered nearly every night by a brutal dictator and his army.  Women raped, and children forced to kill other members of their family in order to stay alive.  Devastating acts of evil and violence that continue on even today, without much attention given in the media.

Sam is determined to save the lives of hundreds of children in Sudan, and what started as a curiosity turns into an obsession.  He sells the business, and the car, to fund his Sudan project.  When the killing continues, his anger rises and he decides to fight back.  He becomes a crusader of sorts, the “white preacher” who fights for justice for the under-privileged.

This obsession of course begins to impact his family.  The day to day of American life is no longer of consequence to him…how dare his daughter ask for money to rent a Limo to her formal dance, when he needs every penny to buy a new armored truck?

The best things about “Machine Gun Preacher” are the themes the film asks us to question.  Isn’t murder murder?  How can somebody hold a bible in one hand and an assault rifle in another?  We see Sam’s point about the Limo money, but should the situation in Sudan overshadow every little thing in our lives back home?  The answers are not clear ones, and the movie does a good job of presenting these themes in subtle ways.

That is, until near the end.  The last 15 minutes or so becomes a bit heavy-handed, and more of a message film as opposed to a character study.

Casting seems to be the real issue I had with the film.  Gerard Butler is great during the middle and end of the film as his frustration boils through his born-again persona.  But I just couldn’t help but think what a Russell Crowe or even a Mel Gibson could have brought to the part.  Gerard Butler, to me, doesn’t have that A-list star power, and believing he was a tough ex-con in the early scenes was a bit hard for me to swallow.

Even still, “Machine Gun Preacher” is like Rambo for Smarties, an intense action movie that stays focused on the morality at hand.  Despite not being a perfect film, I really liked it, and found that less graphic violence was actually more impactful…scenes depicting horrifying injuries were few and far between, but every time you see blood in this film you care about where it came from…and that’s rare for an action movie.

Read the entire article.

Machine Gun Preacher Review (Miami Herald)

‘Machine Gun Preacher’

By COLIN COVERT

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

What a surprise. Its grindhouse title notwithstanding, “Machine Gun Preacher” is a genuine drama. While there are a few scenes that could fit in a Rambo movie, the film intelligently explores the impact of religious conversion on a man of explosive impulses.

The story is inspired by the experiences of Pennsylvania ex-con Sam Childers (portrayed by Gerard Butler), a violent biker / drug dealer whose wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), found religion while he was in prison. She drags the reluctant ex-con to services. His baptism introduces Sam to a Christian community of fellowship and affirmation, and a new kind of addictive high.

With his substance abuse behind him, Sam establishes a successful construction business and begins building the American dream life. He becomes a better man, helping his onetime partner-in-crime Donny (Michael Shannon) to reform his life.

Then Sam visits Sudan and has a revelation. He becomes consumed by the plight of child refugees, Christian southerners pushed out of their villages by northern Muslim raiders. He tells Lynn that God has spoken to him, and returns to build a modest orphanage. This puts him in conflict with the murderous local warlords, who abduct young boys and brutally train them to be soldiers.

Sam returns to his real life in Pennsylvania, where he has established his own small congregation, urging his followers to support his crusade. His trips to Africa grow longer, his family more distant. Sam’s temper flares when one wealthy parishioner tithes less for Africa than Sam expects. Every standard American luxury that Sam worked for now appears self-indulgent and decadent. He can’t understand why the whole world doesn’t share his fervor. Sam’s sermons become bursts of street poetry that garble the standard Sunday pieties. “God doesn’t want sheep – he wants wolves.”

Ultimately Sam takes up arms against Joseph Kony’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, itself a nominally Christian guerrilla organization. Sam becomes a zealot in a war with no end in sight. This avenging-angel antihero engages in firefights with the LRA that echo earlier scenes of Sam’s shootouts with rival pushers.

Butler delivers a grand performance in a multifaceted part. Director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace”) shows violence with unflinching candor, and weighs the good that religion does against the bad, leaving final judgment to the viewers. The last scene, an aerial shot that makes Sam a speck on a vast African plain, suggests that Sam is a mad prophet wandering the desert alone. It’s a fitting climax for a sharply intelligent, disquieting and ultimately inconclusive commentary on God’s will and man’s frailties.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/09/30/2432093/machine-gun-preacher.html#ixzz1ZSuRXC2I

GLAMOURIA Meets GARY SAFADY- Machine Gun Preacher

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

GLAMOURIA Meets GARY SAFADY- Machine Gun Preacher

Finally, I get my shot with Gerard xxx

In New York, backstage at the Diesel Black Gold show, everyone was following Gerard Butler…. Honestly, I just know his name… I think I heard it because Jennifer Aniston maybe dated him, but I am not even sure. Trying to get a picture with him, someone asks me, “do you speak Arabic, Marhaba”…. I turned, and it’s????

“I am Lebanese too…”….
This is Gary Safady… (Nice to meet you!)…… “I am the producer”… I laugh and I ask him, “then you could help me get a picture with Gerard?”…
Then we talk…. And I was really curious to know more about him. So we started talking about the movie, and then the children… Suddenly this big man with muscles, softened up, with a smile….
Here’s more from Glamouria…..
– How did you start working on this project and why?
GLAMOURIA with Gary SAFADY-
Lost that interview, and had to do it again!
The film was brought to my attention through another one of the film’s producers who knew I was looking for a special project with a positive message.
– Why Gerard Butler?
We chose Gerard Butler because he embodied the essence of Sam Childers- the story is based on him. I think his performance lent a unique blend between the passion of his character’s convictions with the trial and torment of his struggle to save the Sudanese children -which ultimately the audience can relate to.
– What is the message that you would like people to get through the movie?
GLAMOURIA with Gary Safady

The message is one of hope, perseverance and the common good that man can do. The message that hopefully people will take home is that to do something good is as much a reward as it is a reason to live for.

– How could anyone help?
See the film and learn about what has happened in Sudan. I encourage everyone to go to Machine Gun Preacher and support the cause.
– What are your future plans.
I am currently in pre-production on “Cobra 405” an action thriller about the biggest bank heist and the mysteries surrounding it. It’s set in Lebanon and I’m very excited about the project.

Read Entire Article Here

Review: ‘Maching Gun Preacher’ Aims, Shoots & HITS! (Star Pulse)

Starpulse.com

Review: ‘Maching Gun Preacher’ Aims, Shoots & HITS!

September 23rd, 2011 1:00pm EDT

Machine Gun Preacher-0018-20110909-41.jpg

I respect this film. I respect this film so much; I will not go on one of my idiotic rants or raves like I normally do. It’s not to say I don’t respect other films I’ve watched and/or reviewed, I do… It’s just from the start, Director, Marc Forster engages the audience within a realm I imagine most of us are familiar with, yet, not too in-tune when it comes to the realities which are going on, as we speak, on the other side of this big blue marble we share. The opening scene commands a large degree of respect, and what ties in after, takes us on such a deep, depressing, ride of realities… After watching this film, so much resonated within me, it felt surreal to know and feel I had zero smart-ass remarks whatsoever… And even more considering its status of being a [True Story] and having read up a lot on the militant individuals which serve as the film’s antagonists – The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).

When ex-biker/gang member Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) makes the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help restore homes destroyed by civil war, he is outraged by the incomprehensible horrors faced by the region’s innocent and vulnerable—especially children. Doing aside the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it’s most needed—in the middle of land controlled by the brutal LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), an extreme renegade militia that forces children to become soldiers before they even reach their teen years. But for Sam, it’s not enough to shelter the LRA’s shattered victims. Determined to save as many as possible, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives, and eventually his own.

Read more here.

‘Machine Gun Preacher’ aims higher (USA Today)

By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY

TORONTO – There is no denying that the main attractions of the pulpy-sounding Machine Gun Preacher are the often harrowing and inspirational true-life adventures of Sam Childers, the wild-man biker, drug addict and ex-con turned self-made minister who found his calling as savior and protector of the victimized children of war-torn Sudan.

But alongside the depictions of atrocities, gruesome deaths and vigilante-style justice in the biographical drama opening Friday is an unusual and tender romance shared by a married couple (and parents of a now-grown daughter) whose devotion to God only increased their passion for one another.

“In some ways, it feels like the eternal story of a woman who thinks that eventually her man is going to change,” says Gerard Butler, 41, who plays this larger-than-life outlaw with all the red-blooded brio he can muster after spending time with the real Childers. “Though I think the essence of Sam has never changed that much. He still has all that pent-up craziness within him, which is what drives him to do great things.”

Read the entire article here.

Machine Gun Preacher Movie Review: Gerard Butler’s Brilliant (Movie Fanatic)

Machine Gun Preacher Movie Review: Gerard Butler’s Brilliant

September 22nd, 2011 9:00 AM by

When a film covers someone’s real life, oftentimes what audiences see onscreen is far from something that can fit into a neat little box. Life is messy. And, few lives have been quite as chaotic as Sam Childers, the subject of Machine Gun Preacher. Gerard Butler portrays Childers and takes us from his drug-addled past, through recovery, finding God and being moved by a sermon at his church by a minister who had just returned from Africa. Next thing Sam knew, he left his wife and daughter behind and went to Africa to help those in need. What he discovered there would not only change his life, but also save the lives of thousands of children in the Sudan, an area ripped apart by civil war and strife.

Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan in Machine Gun Preacher

Read the entire review here.