Ben-Hur (2016) [movie review]

From executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett comes an epic and awe-inspiring story of faith and forgiveness. Based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the film tells the uplifting story of Judah Ben-Hur, who is enslaved by the Romans after being betrayed by his brother Messala.  Separated from his family and the woman he loves, Ben-Hur is rescued from near death by the mysterious Ilderim. He returns to his homeland seeking revenge against his brother and an empire, but instead he finds a chance for redemption.

Watching the remake of a classic movie is tricky. On one hand, it’s exciting because you love the movie and want to see it modernized. On the other hand, what if the new movie is awful? Will it be a devastating experience?

I felt this way about Ben-Hur (2016). This is a classic. A CLASSIC! Could a remake do it justice?

Before Ben-Hur (2016) was released I saw a 15-minute preview at a conference. It was still in post production and there were some glitches but it was an impressive preview (they showed the chariot race scene). Feeling confident with the remake, I set my expectations to moderate.

But when I received the new release of Ben-Hur on Blu-Ray I procrastinated watching it. Because the fear. What if the chariot race was the only good part? What if the glitches stayed? What if it ruined the story for me?

Well, of course I watched it. And I thought it was well done. The CGI and filming were remarkable, the acting was emotional and compelling, and the film stayed true to the original story. All good things. It brought out the themes of right versus wrong, love versus revenge, forgiveness and understanding.

I’ve re-watched the film a couple times and although it’s a good film, it doesn’t replace the original. Perhaps they weren’t trying to (and I’m glad about that!). This remake brings the classic story into the 21st century and nothing more.


Ben-Hur (2016) synopsis

From executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett comes an epic and awe-inspiring story of faith and forgiveness. Based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the film tells the uplifting story of Judah Ben-Hur, who is enslaved by the Romans after being betrayed by his brother Messala. Separated from his family and the woman he loves, Ben-Hur is rescued from near death by the mysterious Ilderim. He returns to his homeland seeking revenge against his brother and an empire, but instead he finds a chance for redemption.

Extortion Movie Review

Extortion Movie Review

Extortion Movie Review

It’s the worst-case scenario. You’re on holiday and you become stranded on a deserted island. Just when you’re desperate a rescuer comes. But then the person you think will save you ends up holding your family for ransom. This is what happens in Extortion.

What would you do?

How much is your family’s life worth?

This is the question asked of Kevin Riley (Eion Bailey) when he’s at his most desperate—or so he thinks. After two days of being stranded he’s dehydrated, exhausted, and starving. And to make matters worse, his wife and son are barely conscious. As his rescuer demands a reward for saving them, the situation escalates and Riley discovers how desperate things can become.

It’s a race against time to save his family in a foreign place with no one on his side. As I watched the situation go from bad to worse (and a solution unfold by the end) I reflected on how easy a picturesque vacation can take a bad turn. There is much we take for granted when travelling. Should we allow fear to hold us back? Of course not, but it’s a good reminder to take precautions and make wise decisions.

Extortion is an emotional, nail-biting 109 minutes. It is well acted, well produced, and I even believed the story line and the reasons behind Riley’s actions. As I reflect on the movie it’s difficult to say I enjoyed it because it was so intense, but it does make me wonder what I would do in the same situation. Would I put everything on the line to save my family? What wouldn’t I do?

Extortion is available on VOD/Digital/DVD across all platforms through Lionsgate.


Extortion Synopsis

An American family vacationing in the Caribbean find themselves stranded on a deserted island without food or water. They are discovered by a cold-blooded fisherman who demands a ransom for their lives. A gruesome turn of events leaves the father in a terrifying high seas race to save his wife and son, and punish those behind the cruel extortion plot.

Lionsgate’s “Extortion,” a new action-thriller in the vein of “Taken” and “Captain Phillips,” stars Oscar Nominee Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips,” upcoming “Blade Runner 2”), Eion Bailey (“Ray Donovan”, “Once Upon a Time”), Danny Glover (“Lethal Weapon series, 2012”), Joy Lenz (“One Tree Hill”, “Agents of Shield”), and Tim Griffin (“Central Intelligence,” “American Sniper”).

Enter to Win The Resurrection of Gavin Stone Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital HD!

Enter to Win The Resurrection of Gavin Stone on Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital HD!

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The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone Review

If you’ve seen inspirational movies before, you’ve seen this plot: Bad boy gets in trouble. Bad boy gets community service. Bad boy meets good girl. Good girl inspires bad boy. Bad boy has transformation. Everybody’s happy.

While The Resurrection of Gavin Stone follows this basic plot line, it manages to take viewers on a journey of surprise, delight, and entertainment along the way.

The film was both funny and cute, although I’m partial to lead Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) so I don’t take much convincing.

Dalton plays Gavin Stone, an actor whose destructive lifestyle has forced him into community service in his hometown, a place he’d rather leave in the dust.

Tasked with janitorial duty, Stone negotiates his involvement with the Easter play—starring as Jesus—as a way to complete his community service instead. There’s just one hitch. Stone must be a professing Christian to take part.

How to be a Christian

From Googling “How to be a Christian,” Stone learns two tips: 1) Go to church and 2) Wear the costume. Watching Stone muddle his way through fitting into the classic Christian stereotype is hilarious, if not a bit revealing. Though at first he treats playing a Christian like any other role, the relationships Stone develops through the church teach him a lot about love, truth, and forgiveness. In the end he experiences a transformation where his old life stops making sense and he begins to understand what the Christian message really means. Stone is even able to face his past and reconcile with his father.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a heartfelt look at the power of the Gospel to transform even the most unlikely person. It’s a study in contrast, temptation, and hope.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD!

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone synopsis

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is an inspirational comedy rated PG about faith and forgiveness. Gavin Stone, a washed-up former child star is forced to do community service at a local mega-church and pretends to be Christian so he can land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.


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Review originally published January 2017

Champion (2017) [movie review]

champion movie review

Champion (2017) Review

Champion (2017) starts out as a race-car movie but after 30 minutes transitions to a forgiveness movie. Or, rather, a top 10 list teaching us how to forgive and why it’s so important.

Did I stir up a little drama for you? I hope so, because it’s worth the watch. In Champion, you meet Sean Weathers, the cocky know-it-all who’s at the top of his game, Gracie “Junebug” Weathers, his nine-almost-10-year-old daughter who steals every scene she’s in, Jack Reed, the big-city-business-guy looking to reconnect with his estranged son, and Ray Reed, the up-and-coming race-car driver (and estranged son).

Both families seem to be—on the surface—in good shape until an accident during a race changes everything. Sending everyone into chaos, families are broken, lives fall apart, and just when it seems like they’re on the brink of losing everything…forgiveness steps in.

champion screenshot

Sean and Jack are encouraged to work together fixing up lakeside cabin. They discover a top 10 list Ray wrote and decide to complete each item—the final task being “learn to forgive.”

The big idea in Champion is “forgiveness doesn’t erase your past, but it does help to rewrite your future.” Forgiveness isn’t easy, in fact, it was searched for and lost several times throughout the story. And the truth is, the characters had every right to hold back forgiving. The film explores the ideas of grudges, pride, humility, challenging yourself, letting go, breaking/keeping promises, and being brave.

Champion is a touching story with only a moderate amount of preachiness. I enjoyed the story (once the car racing part was over) and loved the top 10 list. That spoke to me. I always knew top 10 lists would save the world.

Champion hits theatres May 19, 2017.


Champion (2017) Synopsis

Race-car driver Sean Weathers was at the top of his game…beautiful daughter, top sponsors, the best crew money could buy and an ego that trumped them all. Just weeks before ending the best season of his life, he was in control—or so he thought. When a grudge series with another racer turns personal, the ego and arrogance that propelled him to the top causes a tragedy that sends his life spinning.

Jack Reed was successful as a businessman, but he struggled as a father. Just when they were reconnecting, he got the news his only son Ray was dead. Through his grief Jack discovers the truth that Ray had wanted to share with him, that the road to understanding and peace would have to begin with forgiveness.

Andrew Cheney (BEYOND THE MASK) stars with Gary Graham (Star Trek “Renegades”, ALL THE RIGHT MOVES) and Robert Amaya (COURAGEOUS, MOM’S NIGHT OUT). Directed by Judd Brannon (WAR ROOM), the film is produced by Brannon Pictures.

Priceless Movie Review: Blu-Ray + DVD Release February 14

Priceless Movie Review

Priceless Movie Review

When I saw the Priceless movie come up in my review queue I wondered what an inspirational film “shining a light into the dark world of human trafficking” would reveal. I mean, how do you do that?

Dubbed a romantic drama, Priceless follows James Stevens (Grammy-award winning singer Joel Smallbone from For King and Country) on a red-eye delivery with a mysterious package. Sketchy. Stevens is troubled, complicated, and in over his head. He realises this once he hears crying coming from the back of his delivery truck. What are those girls doing back there? Now what does he do?

As Stevens bonds with his delivery he’s faced with an impossible choice: deliver the girls to their destination (where they’re expecting to work as domestics to pay off their father’s debt) or…or what? So he drops them off.

The problem is, in his heart he knows what’s going on and compassion compels him to do something. This is where things get gritty. Stevens, with the help of a new friend, dives in headfirst trying to save the girls. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, he doesn’t know what he’ll do next, but he is driven—to the point of risking relationships with his family.

There aren’t any surprises in this indie drama but it does pose important questions we might find easier to ignore.

  • What does love look like?
  • What is my responsibility when I see injustice?
  • What’s a life worth?
  • How far would I go to do what I believe is right?

Answer these questions and you may find yourself in James Stevens’ shoes. Because the truth is, it’s not somebody else’s job to fix the world’s problems, it’s your job and it’s my job. It’s our job to stand up for those with no voice. If you’re a Christian, you may find some motivation from 1 John 3:17. “If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.” Or how about Proverbs 25:26, “A good person who gives in to a bad person is a muddied spring, a polluted well.”

So, do I agree with Stevens’ methods to bring about change? In truth I feel conflicted, he used violence and I found it troubling. But was there another way? I don’t know. And if faced with the same situation, would I be brave enough to stand against oppression and do what I know in my heart is right? I hope so.

Priceless reminds us that human/sex trafficking is not something that only happens in other countries, but happens in our country and we all have a responsibility to do something.

Priceless is available today on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Amazon and Walmart and available on Digital HD from iTunes.

Priceless Synopsis

Inspired by true events, PRICELESS is a powerful drama/thriller about James Stevens who was, at one time, a good man with a great life—but that was then and this is now. After the tragic death of his wife and losing custody of his little girl, James is at the darkest crossroad of his life. Angry, desperate, and unable to hold down a steady job, he agrees to drive a box truck on a shady, one-time trip cross country for cash—no questions asked. But when he discovers what he is delivering is actually who, he is compelled to save two beautiful and frightened sisters who are unaware of the danger that awaits them.

Can love, strength, and faith redefine his past and change the course of his future? This unlikely hero risks it all to save these women, confront the forces that oppose him and ultimately discover the life he was meant to live.

From the creative minds behind the two-time Grammy Award-winning band for KING & COUNTRY, PRICELESS stars Joel Smallbone (for KING & COUNTRY), Bianca Santos (THE DUFF), Amber Midthunder (“Longmire”) with Jim Parrack (SUICIDE SQUAD, “True Blood”) and David Koechner (ANCHORMAN, “The Goldbergs”). PRICELESS is the first film from the Smallbone Brothers. Ben Smallbone directs from the script by Chris Dowling & Tyler Poelle. The film was produced by Steve Barnett (300). David Smallbone and Luke Smallbone serve as executive producers, and Jacob “Cubbie” Fink is co-producer.