TCFF Day 4 & 5 Recap: Ordinary Family, Machine Gun Preacher, Where Soldiers Come From

The fun TCFF film fiesta continues! I think Day 4 breaks the record for me as far as movie watching. I saw three films in the theater which is the most I have done ever in my life. It’s quite a hectic day for me even though I took a day off from work after working half-days most of the week. It’s also a ‘historic day’ for me as I’ve never done an ‘official’ press interview right after a screening before. Hopefully this is the first of many 😀

Well I have summarized the Like Crazy interview and panel yesterday, so I’ll just jump into the other films I saw on Friday and Saturday. This is the beauty of the programs of this year’s TCFF, there is quite an eclectic mix of mainstream/indie and documentary films to satisfy any film fans, and it’s only going to get better!

Ordinary Family

This is one of TCFF lead programmer Steve Snyder‘s recommendations, and y’know what, it did not disappoint. The premise is pretty simple but you could see how it had so much potential for a humorous drama. The Biederman’s annual family reunion starts off rather well with everyone gathering at the table to enjoy a family meal together… that is, until the ‘prodigal son’ Seth suddenly reveals that the male friend he invites along is actually his boyfriend. Everyone seems to handle it quite well except Seth’s brother Thomas, who’s a pastor at the local church where he and Seth used to serve together in their younger days.

At first I had trepidation about how the film will play out, I wonder if they’d make the Christian person to be the ‘villain’ or at least the unsympathetic character, which is often the case in films these days. So it’s quite refreshing to see that it’s not the case here. I think the filmmaker did a pretty decent job in presenting a balanced approach to both sides, even though it doesn’t go in depth into the matters of faith apart from showing the church setting where Thomas serves in a straight-forward manner. I also appreciate of the positive portrayal of marriage as the married couples are shown as loving and supportive despite their occasional difference of opinions.

The film depicts a pretty realistic American family life, at least it appears that way from what I’ve observed having lived in the States for half of my life. Montages of family bonding in various setting as well as the nonstop bickering between various members, especially Thomas and Seth, make up most of the film. There are also equal number of scenes depicting the gay lifestyle and church life and both characters making the effort out of each other’s comfort zone out of their deep love for one another.

In the end though the filmmaker seems content with making a ‘safe’ film that show the best of both sides. That is perhaps intentional, though I’m totally unsure what their position is about homosexuality and matters of faith.

Machine Gun Preacher

This is the film I’ve been waiting for, as those who’ve been reading my blogs already know. Well, I feel like I need to give it a proper review but for now I’m going to say that I totally disagree with the critics’ take on this. 22% on RottenTomatoes?? Wow! But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, a film with such a strong spiritual Christian message like this is likely to be butchered by the same people who hated The Passion of the Christ (which only garnered 49% on RT). Interestingly, both films have a much higher Audience Rating (both around 80%) so the contrast between the two is quite staggering.

The reaction from the screening seemed positive, some people clapped at the end and most of them stayed in their seats until after the end credits rolled which showed footage of the real preacher. In fact, all of my friends who came to see the film (I went with a group of seven) loved the film and was really moved by the story. A fellow blogger who saw the film also praised it and called it an “… amazing film will want you to stand to your feet and take action as you see through the life of Childers…”

Now I’m not saying the film is without its problems and I did read this article about the real preacher Sam Childers about some of the inaccuracies of the films, particularly in regards to his faith crisis. This isn’t the first time Hollywood isn’t being faithful to the source though, but I think overall Childers’ humanitarian zeal and his deep compassion for the African children came through in the film and Butler did a good job portraying Childers.

I will have my full review of the film later in the week. For now, check out the behind-the-scene featurette from the film:

Where Soldiers Come From

This is the second documentary I was looking forward to see at TCFF and it also came highly-recommended by Steve Snyder.

As I’ve mentioned on this documentary list, director Heather Courtney explored the four-year journey of childhood friends from the Upper Penninsula (U.P.) of Northern Michigan who enrolled in the Army to pay their college tuition and saw how their lives are turned upside down when they get sent to Afghanistan. This doc puts a real personal spin to the effects of war on not just the young soldiers, but also on their families and loved ones in their community. Whatever your position is on the matter, you can’t help being moved by it.

Courtney did a remarkable job in framing their story, presenting each individual (Dominic, Cole & Bodi) in a straightforward journalistic style which is not overly political other than some footage of the election results playing on TV. It mostly shows an intimate look of this group of friends who sign up for the National Guard after they graduate from high school. None of them really have aspiration to be in the military, and didn’t seem to give a lot of thought into what entails in becoming one. It is clear a lot of them have very limited experience of the world they’re about to be thrown into, even during the briefing, the presenter not only know didn’t how to say Hamid Karzai’s name, but didn’t know if he was still the leader of Afghanistan. Once there, the filmmaker also had access to placing her cameras within the barracks and tanks as the young soldiers patrol the rural roads searching for IEDs (improvised explosive device).

The film does feel a bit long and tedious at times, but it really gives me an insight into what it’s like for a lot of families with their children being deployed to war. It’s definitely worth seeing for any documentary fans. It’ll be shown on PBS on November 10, check your local listing.

That’s it for now folks. Thoughts about any of these films are most welcome in the comments.

27 thoughts on “TCFF Day 4 & 5 Recap: Ordinary Family, Machine Gun Preacher, Where Soldiers Come From

    1. Yeah, I read about it and saw him tell the story on Leno. Ouch, he definitely suffered for his art, hit by a shell’s got to be painful, let alone two!

  1. weetiger

    re: the disparity between critics and audiences ie Machine Gun Preacher. I’ve ranted about it before and am in the middle of doing so again (if I find the time to finish the damn thing lol) Everyone I know who’s actually seen the film has found it deeply moving and inspirational with nothing but praise for the performances etc. I’m sure some would argue “well, you’re a GB fan, you wanted to like it.” To which I reply “why would you go to see a movie unless you wanted to like it?” I am counting down until I can finally see this on Friday and I look forward to reading your thoughts (as well as finally being able to write my own!)

    1. Hi Sherry, yeah that’s what I heard too. When I left the theater and submitted the ballot card, a lady behind me yelled ‘excellent, excellent’ and all my friends was really moved by it too, and not all of them are believers. I have to admit that one of the reasons I was into this film was because I’m a GB fan but even if someone else had been in the lead role, it’s still an amazing story. Of course GB was perfectly cast and he really embodied Childers’ sensibilities so that made it better of course. I’m excited that you’re seeing this on Friday. I’ll probably review it this weekend so we’ll compare notes 😀

  2. I actually do agree with the negative responses to ‘Machine Gun Preacher’. It ambiguously floated from theme to theme without ever nailing down an actual point. I thought Butler was almost comically over the top with an emotional range that went from grumpy to furious.

    I would have loved the film to actually have a Christian message, but it seemed to shy away from showing the true transformative power that faith can have. I would have also liked to see it investigate the effects of violence on him and his family more, but it never did.

    (On a lighter note, it’s great to see another MN blogger covering the fantastic Twin Cities Film Festival!)

    1. Hi Alex, welcome to FC! Well, I disagree with you but to each their own I suppose. I think the point for me is that despite his flaws, Childers’ heart is in the right place and that he deeply cares for these children, so that point came across loud and clear to me. Sure he made mistakes and after coming to faith he still wasn’t a perfect person (nobody is, hence the need for God’s grace & forgiveness), but he never stopped caring for his family and his adopted African family.

      As for your point about the Christian message, I agree that I wish the filmmaker hadn’t altered Childers’ true story as he said in interviews that the faith crisis part was a ‘Hollywood fantasy’ so for that I’m not going to give this film a high mark. But it doesn’t make it a BAD film the way the critics made it out to be.

      Glad to hear you’re an MN blogger as well!

  3. PrairieGirl

    I thought MGP was a stellar film. It told a moving, complex story the best way it could in 123 minutes. I never thought is was disjointed, and I think Gerard Butler played Sam almost exactly the way he is – a man with many emotions, who doesn’t hesitate to express them all, vigorously. But the main message of the plight of the children came through loud and clear. God bless Sam Childers. Not many people would ever think of risking themselves the way he has, nor the courage to actually do it. I hope his great work continues long into the future.

    1. Hi Becky, it really was a moving film and Childers is such an inspiration. But a few things keep me from calling it a ‘stellar’ film though, which I will talk about more in my full review. Butler’s performance was what I was most curious to see and he didn’t disappoint. I don’t think he was over the top at all like Alex said, Childers is a larger-than-life character so at times the intensity may seem severe but no, not necessarily over-the-top IMO.

      Yes, I’m thankful God calls Childers and he has a willing heart to do what he’s called to do. I hope the film will shine a light to a subject matter we don’t often hear in the media.

  4. Well done for staying awake through three films! I saw two films one after the other at Big Screen and felt very sleepy.

    Where Soldiers Come From sounds like a very intimate documentary and it’s interesting that the men didn’t have any real aspirations to join the Army. I wonder whether their families will watch it? Obviously they know their children are soldiers but it would be a very unique experience being able to see them ‘at work’.

    I look forward to reading your full review of Machine Gun Preacher 😀

    1. Ha..ha.. well it was quite exhausting to see 3 films in a day, and the last two I saw within an hour of each other. Fortunately they were 3 very different films.

      I think lots of families with the military connection will appreciate ‘Where Soldiers Come From,’ it’s very well-documented and shows a side that we don’t often get to see in a military-themed films.

      I’m hoping to write my MGP review this wknd, need to take a bit of break from blogging for a few days 😀

  5. I would probably give MGP a rental even despite the dismal Rotten Tomatoes score. I guess I will see for myself then whether you are really biased because of GB or not muahahaha 😀

    1. Right on Castor, thanks for being so open-minded 😀 Well I’m a bit biased because of GB naturally, but even if you’re not a fan of GB, Childers’ story is definitely worth-telling.

  6. I will still probably give Machine Gun Preacher a chance, but as for me Passion of The Christ didn’t really do anything for me. Hopefully i will end up agreeing with the audience on that one.

    1. Oh so you did see The Passion of the Christ? I’m glad you did though I’m a bit surprised you’re not affected by it in any way. Still, I appreciate that you gave it a shot. MGP is a totally different film even though it’s also based on a true story. I hope you get to see this and judge for yourself. Thanks Julian.

  7. Happy to hear about MACHINE GUN PREACHER. And thanks for the heads up about staying after the credits!

    I’m surprised to hear about the RT rating of PASSION OF THE CHRIST. I thought it was acclaimed both by critics and audiences. Huh. Personally I thought it was a terrific film, PASSION. And I don’t even really care for religious flicks. Continue the great coverage, mate!

    1. Yep, don’t believe the critics. I don’t expect people to embrace the Christian message but I feel that some people are so cynical about it and just downright hateful. Yes it is ‘preachy’ at times but the real life character it’s based on is a preacher, so why wouldn’t there be scenes of him preaching??

      I’m glad that despite your personal belief, you can still appreciate a film for what it’s worth and can see it as an art form. I don’t believe the Hindus or Buddhist teaching but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a Bollywood film or a film like Ghandi.

  8. Ted S.

    Wow I didn’t know Machine Gun Preacher got such a low rating on Oh well, I usually don’t listen to critics, so I’ll see it and judge it for myself.

  9. I don’t really have much of a religious belief myself but I think it’s too easy for people of faith (mostly Christians but all faiths) to be stereotyped as narrow minded and poisonous so it’s quite interesting to see a couple of films which will hopefully challenge the easy perceptions.

    1. Childers isn’t your typical Christian, at least what people usually think an evangelical Christian is like. I agree that people automatically dismiss a faith-based story, which is too bad. Despite your belief, we can always learn from someone who sacrifice a lot for a good cause, like Childers did.

  10. An Ordinary Family seems rather interesting. I hadn’t heard of it before. It is interesting that the first 2 films you mention here both have comparable roots in Christianity…and that critics don’t seem to praise them too highly.

    Machine Gun Preacher looks great. Looking forward to seeing it myself. Can’t wait for your full review!

    1. I hope MGP gets to NM soon, T, I think it’s supposed to open in wider release this weekend but not sure if your city is included. I’d be curious to hear what you think as we share the a similar worldview.

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