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.

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?

Exciting news updates for Coriolanus and Machine Gun Preacher!

I just want to share exciting news in regards to two of my highly-anticipated movies of the year: Coriolanus and Machine Gun Preacher, both of which will be released in time for Oscar season!

I’ve talked about both movies several times already, but here’s the quick summary on the plot and cast:

Coriolanus

A modern retelling of a Shakespeare political play, Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in the title role as the banished hero of Rome who allies with a sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to take his revenge on the city. The rest of the cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, and Jessica Chastain from a script by John Logan (Gladiator, Last Samurai, The Aviator).

The Film Stage reported that The Weinstein Company will release the film on limited release on December 2, 2011. I sure hope it’ll make its way to Minneapolis on that time, too, as I definitely would make my way to any theater in town on opening night!

I love what my friend Sheri wrote on her blog JHMO about the story and the casting:

I’ve read the play (although it has been many years since I have done so.) It is a story filled with passion and violence and politics and themes like ambition and familial devotion, friendship, and betrayal. While some may instantly grimace at the idea of sitting through a filmed version of a Shakespearian tragedy (and I fear some of those people will never be able to open their minds to the possibility,) there are parallels to be found in current world politics and if done right, will resonate with a modern viewer.

It is my hope that this film will not only serve to prove that Ralph Fiennes has successfully joined the ranks of a mere handful of actors who have transitioned from in front of the camera to behind it and back again, but also to prove what a small but vociferous bunch of us have known for a long time, that Gerard Butler is a very talented actor.  More talented than his recent foray into romantic comedy and action adventure would have indicated; the talent that seemed evident in much of his earliest work and seemed to want to break out of the constraints of a caged serial killer.

I’ll post the trailer as soon as it’s available, but in the meantime, check out more details and on-set pictures of the project, as well as BERLINALE review.


Machine Gun Preacher

I don’t know if this happens very often as I don’t have much knowledge in Hollywood business dealings. Lionsgate apparently couldn’t accommodate director Marc Forster request to have the film released this year due to its full lineup, so Relativity Media stepped in to distribute the fact-based drama in the US this Fall (per Deadline) and possibly making an Oscar push for this flick! There is no official release date announced yet, but most likely it’ll be sometime this Fall.

I read some snooty remarks from some sites (one of which is a very pompous site in general) in regards to hearing Gerard Butler’s name and Oscar in the same sentence, but as you know, I’ve long believed the Scot is soooo much more than his 12-pack abs in 300 and or what you see in his recent rom-coms. I always think he’s a talented and versatile actor with varied roles in the past 10 years, as I’ve outlined in my post of top five Gerard Butler roles.

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.). I recently read Childers’ interview in Vanity Fair, and he’s definitely got a story worth telling. The caption under the photo on that article reads, “I found God in 1992,” says Sam Childers. “I found Satan in 1998.” The reference is to Joseph Kony, leader of the outlaw L.R.A..

Childers & Butler at the Have A Heart For Children charity event

In addition to Butler, the rest of the cast is an impressive one as well: 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. I’m also a fan of Forster’s work, especially Stranger than Fiction and Finding Neverland (Not crazy about Quantum of Solace but it certainly wasn’t terrible). I share Sheri’s sentiment about Forster on her JMHO blog entry on this project:

I’ve had a really good feeling about this one from the moment I heard Marc Forster was directing. He’s a talented and versatile director who manages to pull the best out of his actors. Monster’s Ball was brilliant and he not only got an Oscar -worthy performance out of Berry, but he got amazing performances out of Heath Ledger and Billy Bob Thornton as well.A nomination for Johnny Depp was among the seven earned by  Finding Neverland. Hell, Will Ferrell was nominated for a Golden Globe for Stranger Than Fiction. I’m a fan of all three of these films. I’m also a fan of Forster’s much-maligned Quantum of Solace.

Filming locations took place in Michigan and South Africa. Check out these on-set photos of Butler last Summer with his biker getup, complete with the mullet 😀

Now if only the Weinsteins and Relativity Media would grant us trailers for these movies real soon, I’d be a happy camper!!


What do you think folks? Does either one of these movies interest you?