FlixChatter Review: Machine Gun Preacher

The story of Sam Childers reads like a work of fiction, even Gerard Butler who played him in the film thought so when he first read the concept of the film. But no, it only sounds too good to be true. Childers was a former gang biker who led a reckless and dangerous life full of drugs, alcohol and violence who turns to God after hitting rock bottom and finds a new purpose in life. I’m always drawn to stories about redemption, and Marc Forster doesn’t pull any punches in portraying the protagonist at his worst, which made his journey even more remarkable.

Machine Gun Preacher opens with incredibly brutal night scenes in a small African village and contrasting that with the life of a man half a world away in rural Pennsylvania. It’s the day Childers is being released from prison. By the way he defiantly strode out of there, cussing at the prison guard just before he walked out, it’s safe to assume he’s been there for the umpteenth time and nothing has changed. He didn’t have much respect for his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and was downright hostile towards her upon hearing that she had quit her lucrative stripping job. ‘You found Jesus?!’ He howled at her. ‘No Sam, He found me!’ Childers then stormed out and was immediately back to his old ways of shooting heroin and ruthlessly robbing crack houses with his BFF Donnie (Michael Shannon).

But the Lord works in mysterious ways. One night Childers was close to slaying someone’s life, the next morning he’s shown getting ready for church. Soon he gets baptized and turns his life around almost in an instant. It’s perhaps an oversimplification on the film part to get things moving along to the real ‘meat’ of the story which takes place in Africa. Thus the film breezes through the part of how he came to building a church for ‘sinners like himself’ as he calls it, which led him to a mission trip that becomes a catalyst of his current humanitarian work.

Soon after Childers arrive in Sudan, he’s exposed to the atrocity of the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that routinely kidnap children to turn them into soldiers, which explains that scene shown in the beginning of the film. This film is definitely not for the faint of hearts, many times I have to cover my eyes during the violent parts, especially those involving children. Contrary to what the title suggests, Childers doesn’t immediately take up his bazooka and start shootin’. He first builds an orphanage that ends up getting burned down, but with his wife’s encouragement, he builds it again. It’s when the rebels threaten to burn it down again that Childers thought it’s best to fight them instead of waiting for them to attack again.

The story of Sam Childers is not an easy one to film. I mean, we’re talking about compressing a 30-year span of someone’s life into a 2-hr feature here. The real life preacher surely is a much more complicated figure than what’s depicted on screen, but I think the moral of the story comes through. Here’s a man who is appalled by such a grave injustice and human cruelty, but instead of simply feeling sorry for the people affected, he actually does something about it. Yes his method is quite controversial, both believers and non-believers alike question the use of firepower to protect these children that some may call a radical act. But the way I see it, I really don’t know how he could shelter these kids and make them feel safe if they’re not armed to defend themselves??

Kudos for Gerard Butler for taking a massive pay-cut to bring Childers’ story to life. He truly embodied the character with his passionate and stirring performance. I’ve always believed he’s a capable and versatile actor, so his dramatic chops here doesn’t exactly surprise me. Most people know he’s perfect for the action-packed scenes, but his interaction with the kids brings out his tender, sensitive side that’s wonderful to watch.

“If you allow your heart to be full of hate, they have won.”

This quote comes in the heart-wrenching scene between Childers and one of the orphaned kids is one of my favorites from the movie. It echoes what Childers often said in interviews, that even though people say he saved these kids, they in turn save him, too.

The supporting performances are terrific as well. Monaghan perhaps seems too glamorous for the role of Lynn, but she did a wonderful job in portraying a loving and supportive wife who is key in keeping the family together. Michael Shannon, whom I saw on screen for the first time has quite a screen presence, but I feel that his talent is sort of wasted in an under-written role. But I suppose it’s quite a challenge to write a role like Donnie who’s actually an amalgam of several of Childers’ former biker friends. I also like Souleymane Sy Savane’s performance as the Sudanese freedom fighter Deng. His calm demeanor offers a nice contrast to Childers’ impetuous nature but their bond of friendship looks effortless.

As I said briefly in this post, I disagree with the critics’ assessment. No I’m not saying it’s a perfect film and I do have some issues about the pace and the way the filmmakers take a lot of liberties in regards to Childers’ faith journey, but despite the flaws the film still works. Also, for a film where the protagonist is in fact a preacher, the film isn’t ‘preachy.’ There’s no ‘holier-than-thou’ sentiment as Childers still struggles with his inner demons even after he got saved.

Overall, it’s an uplifting story that shines a light to a subject matter we don’t often hear in the media. I don’t even mind the seemingly incomplete ending, perhaps it’s intentional as Childer’s work in Africa still continues to this day. There are some films linger long after the end credits roll, and I certainly feel that way with Machine Gun Preacher. And speaking of end credits, it’s worth staying to see the footage of the real preacher and other people portrayed in the film.

4 out of 5 reels


I hope you give this film a chance and judge for yourself. I really think that regardless of your personal belief, there is something we can all take away from this film. If you have seen this one, I’d love to hear what you think.

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.

Machine Gun Preacher Clip and Soundtrack Preview by Chris Cornell & Aaron Hendra

Happy Fiday, all! I’m certainly looking forward to a long Labor Day weekend and hopefully catch The Debt at the cinema tomorrow, been anticipating that one for a while.

Well, speaking of anticipated movies, we got some new preview clips from Machine Gun Preacher. You know I’ve been waiting for this for quite a while. If you haven’t already, check out the trailer and official poster, and previous updates about the movie. Relativity Media also released a second version of the poster for the faith community, which is certainly a lot more serene than the first one.

This ‘death comes at night’ clip below shows Gerard Butler as Rev. Sam Childers when he first saw. the Sudanese kids who came by the hundreds to sleep outside his living quarter. His friend, played by Souleymane Sy Savane, told him ‘… you can’t save them all…’ but Sam was so moved by what he saw that he invited them in to sleep inside. It’s become a catalyst of what the real-life preachers is doing now with his Angels of East Africa ministry.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


There is also another exclusive clip at EW.com which shows Butler yelling at a banker. This film is sure to showcase Butler’s undeniable intensity as well as his more tender and dramatic side that a lot of people aren’t accustomed to if they’ve only seen him in 300 and the rom-coms.

The studio also announced the soundtrack for the movie, which includes a song from Chris Cornell. His You Know My Name song for Casino Royale is one of my fave Bond title songs, and I really like this one as well. Here’s a quote from MGP director Marc Forster from Rama Screen, “We were thrilled when Chris wrote this beautiful and heartfelt song for us. The first time I heard ‘The Keeper,’ I immediately saw it in the movie. Chris was able to articulate the essence of Sam’s story.” Cornell debuted the song on his official website and partnered with Childers’ ministry so a portion of the song’s proceed goes towards Angels of East Africa.

Take a listen of the song below:

Now I’m not sure if this one is going to be on the soundtrack or not, but Australian musician Aaron Hendra recorded a song specifically by request by Childers himself, it’s called One Man’s War, which is the name of Childers’ book as well. According to Hendra’s Facebook page, the sound of kids singing the chorus of the song are from the 300 Sudanese children now living at Childers’ orphanage! I found the video of the song that shows photos of the preacher and the kids singing the end chorus. I love, love, love the song, Hendra’s got such a soothing voice and the lyrics and melody is wonderful, I’ve been humming it all day long 🙂


I am beyond stoked for this film and there is even a rumor that this movie might be shown at this year’s Twin Cities Film Fest? I’m not going to get too excited until I hear a confirmation but my, oh my, I’d be so thrilled if I could see this one ahead of its limited release on September 23!


What do you think of the clip/music? Are you planning to see this movie?

THIS JUST IN – Machine Gun Preacher first trailer is here!

It’s raining Gerry! I wonder if the studios are planning this, but for some reason, both of Gerard Butler‘s upcoming movies are gearing up their marketing campaign in quick succession. Just a few days ago I posted the poster for this movie, but now we’ve got a trailer. It’s about time!

I’ve blogged about this movie many times before, but if this is the first time you’ve heard it, here’s the premise:

The film is inspired by the real-life preacher Sam Childers in his book Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been kidnapped and pressed into duty as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.)


Wow! Just wow! I’ve always known Butler can act regardless of his recent film choices and I think this film will prove his range. Despite the lack of resemblance to the real life preacher, Butler seems to embody his tough-as-nails persona. But this is a bad ass guy with heart and the trailer shows the emotional and spiritual side too, which is what I REALLY want to see in this film. I’m hopeful that Marc Forsters will deliver something as extraordinary as Childer’s story.

Butler is joined by an excellent cast of Kathy Baker, Madeline Carroll, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon and Souleymane Sy Savane. You can read more about Childers on his official website. Oh man, I hope this will come to Minnesota when it opens in limited release on September 23!


Well, what do you think folks? Will you be seeing this one?

Poster Spotlight: Machine Gun Preacher

When it rain, it pours! Last week, I posted the trailer of one of my most anticipated movies out this Fall, Coriolanus. Today we’ve got an update of Machine Gun Preacher in the form of an official poster ahead of its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival next month. Man, I wish I could attend!

In case this is the first time you’ve heard of it, here’s the premise:

The movie is based on a true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been kidnapped and pressed into duty as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Unlike Coriolanus, this movie is clearly a starring vehicle for Gerard Butler.

Click to see a larger version courtesy of JustJarred

Anybody else get the Inglourious Basterds‘ vibe? And 300 as well obviously w/ Butler looking very Leonidas-y against the sepia-toned backdrop. As you know, I’ve been looking forward to this film for some time as the story and ministry of Sam Childers intrigued me. But this poster seems to suggest all the badassery aspect of the story, but not so much the compassionate/humanitarian side. I mean, yes sure there are brutality abounds in Childers’ autobiography Another Man’s War, but it’s not exactly violence for violence sake on Childers’ part. From what I’ve read so far, his primary mission is to save the Sudanese children whose parents have been killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army and the kids themselves are subject to torture and violent death.

I sincerely hope filmmaker Marc Forster won’t overindulge on Childers’ dark past with the [more marketable] sex and violence stuff, but also spend a great deal of time showing how God transformed this man and enabled him to build his ministry in Africa. Whether one agrees or not with his philosophy, I do believe his heart is in the right place. The film also stars Kathy Baker, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon (the soon-to-be General Zod) and Souleymane Sy Savane, the Ivorian actor who received rave reviews for his performance in Goodbye Solo.

The US release date is set on September 23 (limited release). Hope the trailer will be released soon.


What are your thoughts of the poster and/or the film? 

First Look: Machine Gun Preacher, Shame & Margin Call

Hi all, can I just say for the record that I LOVE Twitter!! I get most of my news from there and it keeps me informed even when I’m out and about on holiday… and in turn I can also inform folks of what’s going on right at that very second something is happening (i.e. when I was at Comic-con). Ok now, before you accuse me of working for Twitter, I just wanna highlight three brand spankin’ movie updates that are worth a look.

MACHINE GUN PREACHER

I can’t believe it’s been exactly a year ago that I posted these behind-the-scene photos of Gerry Butler on the set of Machine Gun Preacher, and we still haven’t got a trailer!

The only official thing they’ve released is this photo of him in Africa as Sam Childers, the former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been kidnapped and pressed into duty as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. The story is based on Childer’s autobiography, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan, and Butler has personally met with the preacher and both of them are promoting the film together, I posted a photo of both of them here.

I found the photo from USA Today, in which Butler described Childers as ‘a guy of our times.’ “There is more complexity in a modern-day character who’s a drug addict and a biker turned businessman, missionary and soldier. You don’t get roles like this very often,” the actor said. Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) explained his rationale for picking Butler to portray the flawed hero, “He’s one of those movie stars today that I feel is a real man. There are very few around. He has this incredible rawness.” I absolutely agree! I know a lot of people doubt Butler’s talent as an actor but I feel that this year is his moment to shine and prove those people wrong.

I’m also happy to report that both his films Coriolanus and this one will premiere at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starting September 8th, you can see the full program here. According to the film bio, Machine Gun Preacher runs 123 minutes and Butler also serves as executive producer. This film opens on limited release on Sept. 23, hope it’ll open nationwide not too long after that.

SHAME

This is another film that’ll premiere at TIFF. It stars the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender as a New York man who’s confronting his sexual compulsions and the self-destructive acts of his sister (Carey Mulligan). This is his second collaboration with Hunger director Steve McQueen (the British filmmaker, not the famous classic actor).

Check out the photos below courtesy of SlashFilm:

As you know, I like Fassbender and he’s really on a roll right now. Obviously Hollywood loves him and he’s in the right age where there are tons of roles available to him. It’s great to see him maximize his versatility to the fullest, playing anywhere from a superhero villain in X-Men: First Class, a historical character Carl Jung in Dangerous Method, a bad ass spy in Haywire and now this. I also admire Carey Mulligan after seeing her in An Education and Never Let Me Go. The subject matter isn’t very appealing, but depending on the trailer and reviews, I’d be willing to give this one a shot.

MARGIN CALL

I had never even heard of this one until I saw this trailer today.

Woof! That looks mighty intense. On initial viewing, it kinda reminds me of Wall Street + The Insider and seeing Demi Moore there, a bit of Disclosure. I always appreciate a smart, taut thriller and this one certainly looks promising I’m not good at all with numbers though, so there’s a chance the plot might go a bit over my head.

The ensemble cast is impressive: Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy IronsStanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, and Demi Moore. Ok so I’ve never seen anything Badgley does so he’s probably the only odd man out in this list. I had just seen Tucci in Captain America, and he’s always excellent despite his brief appearance, so he probably will be just as compelling here. Spacey seems to be drawn into ‘office’ type roles lately, I see him in business suits an awful lot, whilst Jeremy Irons seems to struggle with his American accent. He always sounds like Jeremy Irons no matter what movie he’s in 🙂

I find Quinto to be the most interesting one to watch here, he’s definitely the most promising actor out of NBC’s Heroes. FirstShowing said this movie is one of his favorites from Sundance, “…a dramatic thriller that does put you on the edge of your seat while waiting to see how everything plays out on the eve of a financial meltdown that we’re all very familiar with. Not only is it timely, not only is it entertaining, but it’s just riveting to watch.”

A good thriller doesn’t always need to have a car chase or shootout in it, it’s the impact of what a certain discovery might bring that puts you at the edge of your seat.


Does any one of these interest you, folks? Anyone going to TIFF this year?

This Just In: First pics of Gerard Butler as Machine Gun Preacher

I was going to make this week’s posts all about Inception, a tribute for Christopher Nolan and the cast of the movie. But hey, I make an exception for Gerry Butler, especially since I haven’t blogged about the guy in quite a while.

Thanks to HeyUGuys Blog’s tweet, we’ve got the first look of the Scottish actor as the machine gun preacher. I blogged about this last January when Butler was initially cast (there’s a photo of GB with the real preacher). The movie is based on a true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been kidnapped and pressed into duty as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. It’ll be inspired by Childers’ autobiography, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan.

Click to enlarge – images courtesy of http://justjared.buzznet.com
Click to enlarge – images courtesy of http://justjared.buzznet.com

According to JustJarred, in this scene, Butler’s character returns home and his daughter is waiting for him with a “Welcome Home Daddy” sign. Well, well, well, I guess this is what happens when Leonidas become a bad ass biker, eh? First the beard, now comes the mullet 🙂 Kidding aside, I’m so glad to see him tackle a serious role of someone whose story is worth telling. As I said in my open letter last March, this is a welcome departure from banal rom-com territory!

Acclaimed director Marc Forster whose work I admire, Kite Runner, Stranger than Fiction, Finding Neverland, is directing the action drama, and filming takes place in Detroit starting last week, and later in South Africa. The cast is a pretty good one, too, Michelle Monaghan as his wife, Michael Shannon his best friend and Kathy Baker as his mother. Vera Farmiga was originally cast as his wife, but had to pull out of the project due to her pregnancy. Aceshowbiz reported that since the role means traveling to Africa this Summer, she’d have been too far along to be able to make it. That’s too bad, I’d have loved to see her opposite Butler, she was fantastic in Up in the Air.

Lionsgate has acquired the rights to distribute this film, and it’s set for release September 11, 2011 (man, that date still gets me after all these years). Can’t wait to see the trailer for this. I’ll be sure to post it as soon as it arrives!

P.S. More pics available @ Zimbio of GB riding a Harley