DVD review: Heaven Is for Real (dir. Randall Wallace, 2014)

The first thing you notice, when you pop the Heaven Is for Real disc into your player, is the trailers. Four of the five trailers that kick things off are for “faith-based” films of one sort or another, all of them co-produced by Sony’s Affirm Films division. (The films in question are When The Game Stands Tall, Moms’ Night Out, Courageous and Soul Surfer.) But nestled in the middle of that pack is a trailer for… The Amazing Spider-Man 2. One of these things is not like the other, right?

The funny thing is, the inclusion of that ad makes perfect sense — and not just because the Spider-Man films are also distributed by Sony. If you’ve seen Heaven Is for Real, then you know that Colton Burpo, the boy whose near-death experience the film is all about, has a toy Spider-Man. Indeed, the book on which the film is based mentions this toy a few times, and on page 33, the toy is explicitly described as “Colton’s favorite toy, his Spider-Man action figure.” (The bulk of the book takes place in 2003, i.e. one year after the first Spider-Man film.)

So the presence of Spider-Man on this disc isn’t just a case of corporate synergy. Even so, the inclusion of this detail, combined with the exclusion of other, more pertinent details from the book, serves as a helpful reminder that this film is no mere independent Christian film, but reflects a major studio’s effort to cater to the “faith-based” market while appealing to the broadest possible audience.

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Christ the Lord gets an Easter 2016 release date

christthelordoutofegyptChrist the Lord now has a release date. Focus Features has announced that its adaptation of Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, the Anne Rice novel about the early years of Jesus, will come to theatres on March 23, 2016.

That’s almost four weeks after the release date for Timur Bekmambetov’s remake of Ben-Hur.

It also happens to be the Wednesday before Good Friday on the Western calendar. So, like this year’s Heaven Is for Real and next year’s Hillsong United documentary, Christ the Lord will tie in to the Easter weekend but give the holiday itself a bit of breathing room.

The film is being directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh from a script he co-wrote with his wife Betty. No actors have been hired yet, but the filming is set to take place at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome and in Matera, a southern Italian town that has appeared in other Bible movies such as The Gospel according to St. Matthew (1964), King David (1985), The Passion of the Christ (2004) and The Nativity Story (2006).

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Our first look at Moses’ wife in Exodus: Gods and Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings was shot partly in Spain, and María Valverde, the actress who plays Moses’ wife Sephora, is Spanish herself, so it makes sense that our first look at the character comes now courtesy of the Spanish magazine Fotogramas.

The photo here (click on it for a slightly larger version) popped up on Imgur, but I have not seen the actual article anywhere yet, so I don’t know what secrets from the set the actress may have spilled.

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The tallest man in Canada is playing Goliath in a new movie

The makers of David and Goliath, which recently finished shooting in London and North Africa, issued a press release Tuesday announcing that the part of Goliath is being played in their film by Jerry Sokoloski, who happens to be the tallest man in Canada.

Estimates vary as to how tall, exactly, Sokoloski is. When he visited the Canadian TV show Breakfast Television several years ago, they measured him at 7’4”, but he said he had been measured “between that height and up to seven feet, 5.5 inches.” The David and Goliath press release says he’s even taller, at 7’8”.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this film, estimates also vary as to how tall the biblical Goliath was. Most of the earliest manuscripts say he was about 6’9”, but the Masoretic text used by most English translations gives his height as 9’9”. So Sokoloski is either too tall for the part or too short.

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Box-office update: Persecuted is another “faith-based” dud

The “faith-based” genre produced another dud this past weekend. Persecuted — in which an evangelist is framed for murder by a corrupt politician, thereby unleashing “an unprecedented era of persecution” — opened to a measly $851,391 on 736 screens this week.

The film ranked #19 at the box office. Four of the films that ranked above it actually played on fewer screens (Think Like a Man Too, Edge of Tomorrow, Chef and especially Boyhood), and the film’s $1,157 per-screen average was the second-lowest in the top 25.

This comes just five weeks after the once-hyped Alone Yet Not Alone opened to $534,626 — on only 103 screens! — before sputtering out with less than a million bucks altogether. (The film had earned $887,851 as of July 2, and presumably not much more since then.)

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Hillsong United documentary tweaks its Easter release date

Apparently it just occurred to someone involved with the upcoming Hillsong United concert movie that releasing a “faith-based” film on Good Friday — a day when many people are remembering the death of Jesus with solemn church services and the like — might not have been the wisest thing. Or maybe they’re just trying to get out of the path of Fast & Furious 7 and the Nicholas Sparks romance The Longest Ride, which are also set to come out that day. In any case, Deadline reports that the release date has been moved back from April 3 to April 1, i.e. the Wednesday before the Easter weekend. In this, the film is following in the footsteps of Heaven Is for Real, which was released on the Wednesday before Easter this year.


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