How We Choose Which Movies to Review

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Two years into my tenure as Mixed Media editor, I still am trying to figure out what our readers like to watch when they hug a tub of popcorn at the Cineplex or stream movies from the comforts of their living rooms. One thing I do know is that our readers love movies and watch a wide array of them, from horror to big-budget “popcorn movies” to quiet indie films. And few of these movies being watched by our folks are overtly Christian.

Why? The top answer to that, I believe, is our denomination’s belief in common grace: “the idea that while man is fallen, there remains good and blessed aspects of his humanity due to a measure of grace God has given to the whole human race. We understand and take for granted that fallen, unredeemed humans can make excellent works of art due to common grace,” says Alan Noble in a 2008 article titled “Reviewing the Critics: Can We Trust the Secular Movie Critic?” Mainstream movies are just more accessible on Netflix and other streaming services, and often—but not always—the quality of Christian movies are not at the same level as what you would expect from Warner Bros. or Universal Pictures. It is pretty understandable why Christians on the whole mainly consume mainstream movies.

Besides, for those who are watching and listening for it, there are shimmering glimpses of truth and light to be absorbed in many of these mainstream movies. Like every form of storytelling, movies teach us about ourselves and our fellow human beings, and sometimes the insights gleaned can be transformational. I think of the 2004 movie Crash, in which Los Angeles citizens with vastly separate lives collide in interweaving stories of race, loss, and redemption. There were definitely language issues and sexual situations that made me uncomfortable, but the powerful insights I gained about justice made my discomfort well worth it.

That being said, we try to be careful about including content warnings so our readers can be forewarned about any potentially offensive content. This is important, even though what is offensive to some is not to others.

Here are the past eight movie reviews we’ve published in The Banner, plus a note from me about my rationale for assigning the review, writing the review, or accepting a pitch for a review from one of my reviewers:

The Florida Project

Reviewed by Patrick Haywood

This darker, “uncomfortable” movie looks into the lives of impoverished families who live in a motel just outside of Disney World in Florida. Rated R for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material, the movie offers vivid insights into our broken humanity. I accepted this pitch from Patrick, a reviewer in his mid-twenties drawn to darker themes in movies, because I knew he could bring out the redemptive value of the film. And he did.

The Father

Reviewed by Jenny deGroot

The Father took my breath away,” Jenny writes in her glowing review of this Oscar winning movie. Besides the fact that the film features two powerhouse actors—Oscar winners Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins—in an iron-sharpening-iron tour de force, this movie was a shoo-in for The Banner. It’s about a father sinking deeper into Alzheimers and his interactions with his middle-aged, helpless-feeling daughter. Rated PG-13 for a bit of strong language and thematic maturity, it probably won’t offend anyone but surely will bring deep value in its heartbreaking and hopeful insights.

Godzilla vs. Kong

Reviewed by Trevor Denning

After more than a year stuck at home, we probably needed the mindless thrill of a giant gorilla and a fire-breathing lizard doing battle. This is the ultimate popcorn movie! Trevor Denning often brings an artful biblical reference into his movie reviews, and this time was no different: “In an odd way it brings to mind the book of Job, when God speaks of the mighty Leviathan. ‘If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering’ (Job 41:8, 9). With the right attitude, monster movies can remind us that as clever as we think we are, there are things in creation beyond us that only God can control.”

The Midnight Sky

Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

Had I been a huge fan of visual effects, I might have appreciated this gloomy George Clooney movie more. However, I found it to be slow and depressing and did not recommend it. (Since my tenure as Mixed Media editor, we now include more critical reviews, with my rationale being that Banner readers want to know our take on the movies that are out there, even if our take is to pan it.) Still, I fell into watching this one night with my husband and decided to include it in a roundup of 2021 Oscar nominees. (The film was nominated for best visual effects.)

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is as fast and snappy as The Midnight Sky is slow and plodding. Oscar-nominated for best picture, best supporting actor, original screenplay, cinematography, and editing, this thought-provoking film easily found its way into my Oscar roundup article, despite its R rating for language throughout, some violence, bloody images, and drug use. Like Crash, the shockingly relevant themes in the movie of rioting, protests, and policing made the content issues worth it. Still, I made sure to include a clear content warning.

Nomadland

Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

Now here is the kind of movie I love to recommend to Banner viewers: a high-quality and creative piece of moviemaking teeming with insights into our shared humanity, and wonderfully discussable for Christians to converse about together or with non-church friends and family. For those who balk at the movie’s R rating, consider that it is in place because of a nonsexual nude scene that serves the character and story. I was not surprised that Nomadland won best picture at the Oscars (and its lead, the astounding Frances McDormand as van-dweller Fern, won for best actress). It’s also available on Hulu, not just in theaters where I saw it.

The Man from Nowhere

Reviewed by Trevor Denning

I was delighted to accept this pitch for Trevor Denning’s review of a faith-based film available for streaming at home. From his review: “The Man from Nowhere manages to pack in more story and emotion than many films that are twice as long. Nick Searcy, the only recognizable star in this low-budget film, brings a quiet elegance to what would be pure cheese in less capable hands. So while it has all the hallmarks of a Christian movie, The Man from Nowhere never feels thin.”

Minari

Reviewed by Daniel Jung

Minari is another no-brainer for Banner readers. Not only was it nominated for Oscar best picture (and in many other categories), but it also deals with matters of faith, church, and redemption. Like reviewer Daniel Jung said in his review, “Leaving one group of people only to find that you don’t quite fit in with the other—that is the quintessential Korean-American faith story.” I was also thrilled that Daniel is Korean himself and could review this Korean-American story from his own perspective. His review was mentioned and linked to in a story by Religion News Service, which was subsequently picked up by The Washington Post. Yeah, that was cool.

About the Author

Lorilee Craker, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., in a 1924 house full of teenagers, pets, exchange students, and houseplants. The author of 15 books, including Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me, she is the Mixed Media editor of The Banner. Find her at Lorileecraker.com or on Instagram @thebooksellersdaughter.

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