Posts Tagged ‘faith-based films’


Beyond the Mask” is a handsome production. As a period piece set in 1775, the costumes and sets are spot on. Great work by Production Designer Nicholas Burns, as he cuts no corners and it is easy for the viewers to become transported in time back to the late 18th century.

The story revolves Will Reynolds (played by Andrew Cheney of “Seasons of Gray” fame), the leading mercenary and assassin for the British East India Company. Reynolds has just been double-crossed by Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies from “The Lord of the Rings”), one of the company’s supervisors, and is now on the run in the American Colonies. Working to redeem his name and win back the affections of Charlotte (Kara Killmer of “Chicago Fire”), the woman with whom he’s never been fully truthful, Will now hides behind a new mask in hopes of thwarting his former employer. As his past life closes in on him, Will must somehow gain the trust and the help of his beloved Charlotte – as well as Ben Franklin – while he races against time to defuse a plot of historical proportions.
The acting is strong in “Beyond the Mask.” As the rogue assassin turned masked super-hero, Andrew Cheney does a great job handling the romance and daring-do with equal aplomb. His Will Reynolds is very easy to root for; however, I did want to be able to identify with him better. This would have gotten me more involved with the action where and the story was headed. Kara Killmer as Charlotte plays through the ranges of emotions quite well, and John Rhys-Davies is quite delicious as the nemesis and bad guy. They all seem to be having a great time, and with all the action and adventure, it’s understandable why.

Beyond the Mask” is not a history lesson in the least bit, but it is quite fun to play around in Revolutionary War times, and we get to meet Ben Franklin and even George Washington, both played well by Alan Madlane (Franklin) and John Arden McClure (Washington).
The best thing about this movie is the theme of “not being good enough—not measuring up.” What a great theme for a faith-based film. And the theme is handled admirably. You have the added theme of sacrificial love, again handled with great style. The only wish is that the filmmakers would have stopped here and let the audience connect the dots. This would have taken the film to a higher level. Instead they include a Sunday School moment that explains what just happened, and it really dumbs-down the film and makes the audience feel somewhat cheated and manipulated. Why faith-based films seem driven to this is one of the biggest strikes against faith-based films: please respect your audience and let them work out the details for themselves.
Overall, “Beyond the Mask” is a solid film. How can you go wrong with a historical romance full of action and adventure, with a masked superhero and an evil scientist thrown in to boot? Maybe “Beyond the Mask” tries to do too much in this regard, but it is fun entertainment, and isn’t that why we watch movies? Look beyond the few faults and enjoy “Beyond the Mask.”

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or
services mentioned above in the hope that I would mention it
on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally
and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance
with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the
Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



“Pass the Light” revolves around Steve Bellafiore (played by Cameron Palatas), a high school senior who takes issue with a local politician’s political campaign, using Christian beliefs as an excuse to instill hate and belittle those who do not agree with him. Steve thinks Christ would follow a more loving road, and Steve hopes to debate the politician, Frank Baumann (played by Jon Gries), on this very issue. Thus begins Steve’s campaign for congress, albeit unrealistic given his age is seven years short of the required 25. But along the way he is able to stir up his fellow classmates in this campaign to live life under love and not hate – a worthwhile endeavor indeed.

“Pass the Light” is a well-directed and acted movie with a great message, wonderful production values, and a nice, polished look to it. Directed by Malcolm J. Goodwin, the movie moves along at a crisp pace, and the attention given to the acting is spot on. Cameron Palatas does an exceptional job as young Steve, the anchor – it seems – for his family as well as his high school’s student body. His out-of-work father is played by Colby French, and the range of emotion he has to display is wide ranging, and the subtleness he dedicates to each is rich. Steve’s mother Anne is played by Milena Govich, and she, too, hits her mark consistently. The rest of the cast is made up mostly of young actors in high school roles, and director Goodwin helms this young cast exceptionally well. Other than Cameron, stand outs include Alexandria DeBerry as the popular girl, and Dalpre Grayer as the friend and sidekick. A good, strong young cast.
The biggest downfall of “Pass the Light” is the story itself, and not so much the story arc and character development, but the plausibility of the story. You have to enter in with a high level of suspension of disbelief; otherwise you will be distracted. Beside the fact that the law requires a candidate be 25 (the movie actually plays this concern off fairly well), there are other factors that are hard to swallow: some of the characters are harsh stereotypes, and the mass movement by the entire student body is challenging, but if the viewer allows these discrepancies and just sits back and the enjoys the ride, “Pass the Light” will draw you in well enough to spend a couple of pleasurable hours exploring this message of hope. “Pass the Light” of this message.

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or
services mentioned above in the hope that I would mention it
on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally
and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance
with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the
Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


“The Identical,” now available on Blu-ray and DVD, tells the compelling story of Ryan Wade, a young man of many musical abilities hoping that these talents will take him to the big time. What stands in his way is his father, a successful pastor whose dreams for his son are much different and center around the ministry and pastoring a church. Meanwhile, another young man is taking the world by storm with his new style of music, and not only his appearance, but also his talents, mirrors those of Ryan. Ryan is a dead ringer for this superstar, Drexel Hemsley, in both sounds and looks, and he builds a successful career as a Drexel impersonator – known as The Identical. It’s the secret behind this similarity that propels the story forward.

Newcomer Blake Rayne plays Ryan (and Drexel), and viewers will certainly notice parallels between this fictionalized account of Ryan and Drexel and that of the real-life Elvis Presley story, in part due to Blake’s resemblance to Elvis, and the fact his real-life career is as an Elvis impersonator. But the story content parallels Elvis, too, and embracing this element of the film allows the viewers some “inside” fun as it progresses. As an actor, Blake holds his own and carries the film well. He does a great job with the emotional roller coaster of his on-screen characters, and he handles the dual roles with equal aplomb. It doesn’t hurt to be surrounded by an all-star cast featuring Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green, Joe Pantoliano, Brian Geraghty, and Amanda Drew. Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas,” “Field of Dreams”) is incredible in his juicy role as Ryan’s preacher father: from fire and brimstone preaching to delicate counseling, through anger and sadness, all the while aging from a young man to an old man, he is phenomenal as Reece Wade. Equally impressive and enjoyable to watch is Ashley Judd (“Divergent,” “Dolphin Tale 2”) as Ryan’s mother and the preacher’s wife. She too moves through the ages and the emotions in this convincing portrayal, arguable one of her best roles in years. Rounding up the stellar all-star cast is Seth Green (“Austin Powers,” “Family Guy”) as Ryan’s friend and band mate Dino, who introduces Ryan to the “worldly joy of rhythm and blues;” Brian Geraghty (“The Hurt Locker,” “Ray Donovan”) and Amanda Crew (“Charlie St. Cloud”) as Drexel’s father and mother; Joe Pantaliano (“The Sopranos,” “The Matrix”) as Ryan’s employer and mentor; and Erin Cottrell (the “Love Comes Softly” series) as Ryan’s wife. This all-star cast is top notch.

“The Identical” is an extremely good-looking movie with a well-executed production, and the attention to detail in recreating several historical time periods (yes, not one, but four) is stunning. No short cuts here: using many period automobiles and trucks (and one gorgeous motorcycle), the sets are simply amazing; the costuming is spot-on and very detailed (an afro comb, no less, from the ’70s; groovy psychedelic ’60s garb; as well as precision period costumes from the ’40s and ’50s). Soaking in the recreations from the past is just one more joy while watching “The Identical.” Five stars for Production Designer Keith Brian Burns and Costume Designer Karyn Wagner.

On another note, this film is being promoted as a faith-based film, and certainly there are elements of religion throughout this picture, but it is not an in-your-face conversion sort of picture, nor one filled with sermons from the pulpit. No, this movie merely tells a compelling story wrapped in a religious worldview, filled with religious people, and with religion presented as “normal” or a basic way of life. Refreshing indeed, and the kind of movie that many in the industry say is lacking, with most movies being extremely secularized or extremely “religious,” with nothing in between: good solid family fare movies with a moral worldview. “The Identical” is this sort of a family fare picture. Kudos to the producers for this, and hopefully this will be a trend in Christian and Hollywood films.

“The Identical” is the perfect movie to enjoy with your family, appropriate for tween, teens, parents and grandparents. Pick up your copy of “The Identical.” There’s nothing quite like it.

Secrets 2

“When disaster strikes you – better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away…” Proverbs 27: 10

Six teenagers and one teacher are stranded overnight in their high school while a blizzard rages outside. The generators go out and the lights and heat go down, while tempers go up and wills are tested, and deep secrets are brought to the surface. Forced to hang out with people not of your choosing (some whom you don’t even like!) can make things extremely uncomfortable, especially if your guard is let down and the mask you wear tumbles off to reveal what is beneath: grief, insecurity, body image struggles, identity crisis, hidden disease, family bankruptcy, and all the other junk that life serves up. But as the doors are locked, they are forced to rely on each other to survive the night, and these teens (and one administrator) discover that “getting along” may be the biggest obstacle of all.

These are the “Secrets in the Snow,” a film reminiscent of the old “Breakfast Club,” a rich character study that allows viewers to get to know these people and maybe recognize themselves. For don’t we all experience peer pressure? Struggle with “who we are?” (Or who we want to be?) Look for answers without revealing private problems? Or deal with the myriad of other high school (and life) problems? Maybe this will help us develop a better understanding and more empathy for others (and ourselves?), as we all find blankets to huddle together and stay warm.

There are fun elements, too, of course, because what would you do if you had the entire school to yourself? Explore the places you’ve never been? An impromptu talent show? A basketball version of “Truth or Dare?” A cafeteria raid? (How many chips can one guy eat?)

First time feature director Brittany Goodwin has really challenged herself with this film, and she appears more than ready for the challenge. Directing ensemble is not the easiest – from keeping all the actors in character and consistent, to keeping the camera moving around without stumbling over itself, Goodwin does a stellar job and is backed up by a strong cast and creative Director of Photography (Tripp Green). The action is kept moving by utilizing various locations to mix it up, and allow characters a chance to be alone and get to know each other (and us know them, too). There are some sweet camera angles and nice transitions from Director of Photography Tripp Green. Especially impressive is the recurring transitional technique of using large objects in the foreground while the action takes place behind it, effectively done with the basketball, and another time with the lamp being shut off. And I’m still wondering if there was a message in the way the six characters were divided when the principal stood with his back to the camera (or was it just a nice balance)? Ensemble shooting is especially challenging for the camera, and Green makes good use of rack focusing to direct our attention as needed.

“Secrets in the Snow” has a strong cast, although most with only a handful of other productions on their resumes, and further evidence to the ability of director Goodwin. The veteran of the group is Karen Boles, and she brings great believability as the novice high school administrator who has been stuck “babysitting” the teens:
Vincent R. Seidle is the basketball star that has it all (or does he?) A cold knock at the door brings one of his secrets to the forefront, but I like how he downplays his first revealed secret, through his acting, yes, but also through the way his character Grayson handles the situation, and hopefully showing others with similar issues an honorable way of dealing with it.
Aaron Michael Johnson is Brant Journigan, the “good kid” from a large family who appreciates what he has and what he needs. Johnson does an excellent job of softly preaching while not sounding “preachy” – something missing from many faith-based films and greatly appreciated in this film.
Katie McCaffrey is Camille Sanders, the girl no longer the person everyone remembers, changed by growing up and starting high school. She really brings her self-image struggles to the camera in a way that many others will be able to relate. Great job! (And boy, can she sing! Her “Deck the Halls” is impressive. Someone needs to sign her up!)
Hollie Shay is MaryJake Harper the poor little rich girl, popular with the class, but none too popular with her new overnighters. Shay treads the fine line of being a witch while keeping our empathy, and she does a first-rate job of this.
Elizabeth Potthast is the girl struggling with self-image. Her story is one heard again and again in our society, and hopefully, how others really see her, will be heard by those viewers with the same struggles. Potthast is perfectly cast in this role of a beautiful woman inside and out, who only needs to realize it.
Ashley Murray plays Anthony Goodwin, the new kid in town who wants to get to know everyone else’s secrets while keeping his own hidden. Murray does a crackerjack job of revealing his secret slowly and persuasively.
All the characters are well acted, and I really get the feeling that I know these people (and yes, there are people I know who are like them.)

Now for a negative: the biggest downfall of the film is the big outside snow scene – it is obvious this is not blizzard-depth snow. Maybe some CG on the rooftops would have helped? Or editing the scene out? Or placing the scene in the gym – although I get the idea of needing to take the film outside and playing in the snow. On the flipside, the other snow scenes are handled very well, so this one comes as a surprise.

“Secrets in the Snow” is a totally enjoyable film. There is a lot to learn, and it’s easy to see yourself and others in these 90 minutes of snowstorm. I liked not having everything wrapped up pretty and sweet, but still coming away with solid solutions, and, perhaps, a new way of looking at life’s problems and how to deal with them. The subtle Gospel message was refreshing. More faith-based films would benefit by mirroring how “Secrets in the Snow” presented the Word of God and its life-changing message. Nice use, too, of the Christmas Eve service as the perfect denouement.

“Secrets in the Snow” is a great film for all ages, especially senior and junior high youth groups (it will ring true for many in this demographic), but even elementary school age children will enjoy this movie.  The accompanying Discussion Guide is a great plus, and perfect for that youth group or Sunday School viewing.  So snuggle up with “Secrets in the Snow” and get snowed-in at Eastbrook High.