Faith-themed films fill one cable channel's Holy Week slate - Catholic Courier
Karen Abercrombie and Priscilla Shirer star in a scene from the movie "War Room." Karen Abercrombie and Priscilla Shirer star in a scene from the movie "War Room." (CNS photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Faith-themed films fill one cable channel’s Holy Week slate

NEW YORK (CNS) — The cable outlet UPtv, dedicated to uplifting content, will air a series of faith-themed films during Holy Week. Following are initial airtimes and capsule reviews for some of these movies.

Sunday, April 5, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT “Courageous” (2011). After the tragic death of his young daughter, a devoutly Christian police officer (Alex Kendrick) convinces a group of his friends (Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, Kevin Downes and Robert Amaya) to join him in subscribing to a Bible-based resolution designed to make them better, more dedicated fathers. But a variety of circumstances, including a couple of illustrative moral quandaries, quickly put each dad’s resolve to the test. Though occasionally heavy-handed, Kendrick, who also directed and co-wrote, crafts an uplifting message movie about the dire consequences of paternal neglect and the scriptural principles of sound parenting. Some gun violence and mature themes, including drug trafficking. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Sunday, April 5, 2-4:30 p.m. EDT “God’s Not Dead” (2014). Earnest but ineffective message movie in which a college freshman (Shane Harper) takes up his militantly atheistic philosophy professor’s (Kevin Sorbo) challenge to prove God’s existence to the satisfaction of his classmates (including, most prominently, Paul Kwo). He does so despite the active discouragement of his believing but ambitious girlfriend (Cassidy Gifford), who thinks he should go with the flow to avoid ruining their perfect future together. There might be the kernel of an intriguing documentary buried within director Harold Cronk’s stacked-deck drama about academic hostility toward religion, but even faith-filled moviegoers will sense the claustrophobia of the echo chamber within which this largely unrealistic story unfolds. Mature themes, brief domestic violence, a potentially upsetting accident scene, vaguely implied cohabitation. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may be not suitable for children.

Sunday, April 5, 4:30-7 p.m. EDT “War Room” (2015). Prayer becomes the ultimate weapon for a young family in crisis in this Christian-themed drama. The film’s battleground is a McMansion in suburban North Carolina where an overtaxed wife and mother (Priscilla Shirer) finds the demands of her job as a real estate agent leave her little time to focus on raising her daughter (Alena Pitts). As for her ambitious but inattentive husband (T.C. Stallings), with whom she constantly quarrels, his work as a salesman keeps him on the road where sinful temptations lurk, including opportunities to be unfaithful. Riding to the rescue is an elderly but feisty local character (Karen Abercrombie) who recommends calling on God for help and seeking his healing grace. As directed and co-written by Alex Kendrick, this proselytizing message movie is maladroit at times. But Kendrick’s intentions, like those of his brother and script collaborator Stephen, are obviously sincere and worthy, while their emphasis on piety, forgiveness and redemption, although cast in evangelical terms, is nonetheless fully compatible with Catholic teaching. Mild domestic discord, some mature themes. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Sunday, April 5, 7-9 p.m. EDT “The Passion of the Christ” (2004). Unflinching dramatization of the final agonizing hours of the earthly life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel), from the Garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion and resurrection, intercut with flashbacks to his childhood and public ministry. Although the film’s brutality poignantly conveys the depth of Christ’s love by showing him freely enduring such extreme agony for the redemption of all sinners, the graphic nature of the raw visuals is played to diminishing returns. Following the basic outline of the Gospel Passion narratives, director Mel Gibson embroiders his interpretive retelling of Scripture with extrabiblical sources as well as his own imagination, to craft an at times profoundly moving movie which succeeds in stripping Christ’s sacrificial suffering of its Sunday school sugar-coating. While it is the film’s assertion that responsibility for Christ’s torture and death rests squarely with the Roman authorities, and away from the collective Jewish populace, the movie presents a historically skewed depiction of the Temple elite’s sway with their imperial overlords. Subtitles. Gory scenes of torture and crucifixion, a suicide and some frightening images. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating was R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Saturday, April 11, noon-2 p.m. EDT “Heaven Is for Real” (2014). After coming close to death during an operation, a 4-year-old boy (Connor Corum) startles his Wesleyan minister father (Greg Kinnear) and choir-director mother (Kelly Reilly) by announcing that he visited heaven and met Jesus — as well as two deceased family members. But his matter-of-fact statements about paradise stir controversy in his family’s small-town Nebraska community and, ironically, provoke a crisis of faith for his dad. Director and co-writer Randall Wallace’s adaptation of Todd Burpo’s best-selling account of his son Colton’s experiences is substantial and moving, thanks in large part to the mature way in which it grapples with fundamental issues of religious belief and doubt. A few scenes involving illness and a painful accident might not be suitable for the littlest moviegoers; an unspoken innuendo between husband and wife will sail well over their heads. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Saturday, April 11, 2-4:30 p.m. EDT “Facing the Giants” (2006). Evangelical sports drama about a losing football coach (Alex Kendrick, who also directs) at a Christian high school in Georgia, who, experiencing personal and professional adversity, revives his team’s season by turning to his faith. The earnest performances from the nonprofessional cast are surprisingly competent and the movie’s look is reasonably polished, but while the film’s heart is in the right place, its positive message about putting one’s trust in God is undermined by a prosaic script that tends toward the preachy. Some mature thematic elements, including discussions about infertility. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Sunday, April 12, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EDT “The Identical” (2014). Evangelical Elvis fans seem to be the target audience for this reality-related drama in which Blake Rayne plays both a Presley-like entertainer and his identical twin brother. Though the singer believes his sibling died in infancy (as Presley’s sadly did), in fact he was secretly given up for adoption by the duo’s impoverished parents (Brian Geraghty and Amanda Crew) and raised by a Protestant minister (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd). As the vocalist rockets to stardom, his obscure but equally talented lookalike defies Dad’s plans for him to enter the ministry and instead pursues a career impersonating his long-lost counterpart under the moniker of the title. Wholesome and faith-friendly, director Dustin Marcellino’s film is a homespun piece of entertainment with a good-hearted but naive tone that will not be to the taste of city slickers. A single vague reference to the connection between romantic passion and the arrival of babies may debar those who are still members of the stork club. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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