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Stephen Lamb

Fireproof (2008)

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Christian wrote:

: The depiction of the wife's black, female co-workers really pissed me off. Some "Mmmmm-hmmmm," and "girl" references, that sort of thing.

I can appreciate that. But this is one of those places where I, a Canadian, tend to defer to the Southerners who made this film on their own home turf. I don't really feel I'm in a position to judge whether this is too extreme a caricature of their culture.

I do believe that, in the making-of on the Flywheel DVD, the filmmakers talk about a scene in which a black woman talks in a similar manner, and it turns out that the woman in question was basically ad-libbing and just being herself and the filmmakers decided to leave it in there.

My problem with the "Mmmmm-hmmmm" was not the racial-cultural thing, but the fact that it underscored, in triple bright red lines, the fact that the doctor was interested in someone else's wife, and that these co-workers had noticed that he was interested in someone else's wife, and that these co-workers had TALKED about the fact that they noticed he was interested in someone else's wife. So much underscoring already. And then they added the "Mmmmm-hmmmm."

: BTW, my review has a stupid error. I wrote that Facing the Giants had a budget of "just $1 million," but I must have added a zero when I transcribed; the movie reportedly had a budget of $100,000.

Heh. FWIW, when I interviewed the Kendricks, they said Flywheel had cost $20,000, Facing the Giants $100,000, and Fireproof $500,000. So if they keep multiplying their budgets by five, the next movie oughtta cost $2.5 million. :)

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Nikki Finke wrote:

: Also a surprise was the 3rd place debut of Provident/Sony's Fireproof whch opened to $2.6 million Friday even without stars, and a weekend estimate of $7.5M even though it was released into only 839 dates.

FWIW, the biggest opening weekend for any independent evangelical film to date is the $6.2 million earned by Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie in 2002. (It went on to gross $25.6 million in total, easily the top gross of any indy evie film to date. 2nd place goes to One Night with the King, 2006, $13.4 million.)

: The reason why is that the studio targeted the Christian audience and hired a Christian PR/marketing firm to push the PG-13 film starring the grown-up child TV star Kirk Cameron. "Just between you and me, keep your eye on the Fireproof per screen averages this weekend," a Grace Hill Media source tipped me. "On Sunday, I think there will be some distribution execs around town who will be asking 'What the hell is Fireproof?' The answer is Sony

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One other fun stat:

Fireproof is on track to be one of the top five films of the weekend, and possibly one of the top three. Either way, this is a first for an evangelical film.

The highest ranking any evangelical film has ever had before is the 6th-place start that Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie had in October 2002. It slipped to #11 in its 2nd week, but then rose back to #9 in its 3rd week and #10 in its 4th week. So it spent 3 of its first 4 weeks in the Top Ten.

Only four other films have ever cracked the Top Ten, each of them for one week only: End of the Spear debuted at #8 in January 2006, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything at #9 in January 2008, and The Omega Code at #10 in October 1999 and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at #10 in April 2008.

So three evangelical films have opened in the Top Ten this year alone. One was a kid-oriented cartoon, one was a documentary, and one was a grownup-oriented drama. That suggests a certain diversity, at least.

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I noticed earlier today that Finke had revised her weekend estimate down to $6 million. If that holds up, I guess that means Veggie Tales keeps its record. (Which makes me happy because I love Veggie Tales. :) )

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Heh.

Looking at Kirk Cameron's filmography, BTW, I see that everything he's done has been for TV or video, with the exception of five big-screen movies -- including this one.

The other four movies are:

So Fireproof is guaranteed to beat pretty much all of them, at least before inflation is taken into account, with the probable exception of Like Father Like Son.

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cbd.com sent out an e-mail blast telling people to go see this movie. Here are their reasons:

Why do we recommend you watch this movie?

We believe in the mission of the producers, who are trying to influence the culture positively from a Christian perspective through mainstream media.

Fireproof reaffirms the sacred institution of marriage in a culture plagued by divorce.

The movie strongly advocates faith, family, and Christian values.

It dramatically displays the power of forgiveness.

The film is a product of Sherwood Pictures, a media ministry that grew out of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, whose goal is to reach the world for Christ.

Fireproof presents God as the source of unconditional love.

You can take the same 40-day challenge as Caleb does in Fireproof with The Love Dare.

The profits from Sherwood's last film, Facing the Giants, were used to build a sports complex to serve the needs of youth in Albany, Georgia, and to show them the love of Christ in community.

No matter where your marriage is, you can relate to the real-life struggles portrayed in this film.

Fireproof reminds us that no situation is too desperate for God to redeem

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Okay, so they're basically saying that the movie *is* propaganda. And the fact that somebody somewhere has *prayed* about a work of art makes that work of art required viewing.

In other words, they're doing all they can to convince me that this movie has nothing to do with artmaking whatsoever.

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In other words, they're doing all they can to convince me that this movie has nothing to do with artmaking whatsoever.

Or, at least, they're doing all they can to convince you that they think that the target audience of the e-blast (if not the film itself) will be best motivated to see the film by reasons that have nothing to do with artmaking whatsoever.

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Mark Joseph's site, The Press, is forwarding an e-mail that excerpts the Boston Globe's review of this film. I don't agree with some of its reasons for dismissing the film, but the conclusion made me chuckle:

With the production values of a straight-to-video cheapie and the script of a mediocre soap opera, "Fireproof" is good for just about one thing: dousing whatever flames might be left in your marriage.

I wouldn't go that far! :)

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Gina wrote:

: I noticed earlier today that Finke had revised her weekend estimate down to $6 million. If that holds up, I guess that means Veggie Tales keeps its record. (Which makes me happy because I love Veggie Tales. :) )

Alas for VeggieTales fans, the current estimate for the weekend is $6.5 million, which is just a hair above Jonah's $6.2 million. But I'm sure that, if you adjusted for inflation, Jonah would still come out on top. :)

cbd.com wrote:

: Any movie that has in its credits a "prayer coordinator," you should see.

Really? What if they're, like, Mormon or Muslim prayers, etc.?

Overstreet wrote:

: Okay, so they're basically saying that the movie *is* propaganda.

Well, there may be a fine line between "propaganda" and "ministry", but I'd tilt towards the latter word, m'self, in this case.

: And the fact that somebody somewhere has *prayed* about a work of art makes that work of art required viewing.

I suspect the "prayer coordinator" was involved in organizing the praying that took place on the movie set, in adjoining rooms, while the movie was being filmed. It's probably not just a case of "somebody somewhere" doing the praying; it was as much a part of the filmmaking experience as, e.g., getting a good caterer. (They say that if the cast and crew of a movie have not been well fed, it shows in what ends up on screen.)

Christian wrote:

: Mark Joseph's site, The Press, is forwarding an e-mail that excerpts the Boston Globe's review of this film. . . .

Yikes!

FWIW, some of the secular reviews I've liked so far have included, e.g., Variety's Joe Leydon:

. . . pic represents a notable uptick in tech values and narrative sturdiness for the filmmakers.

. . . Cameron is genuinely compelling as Caleb, a work-obsessed firefighter on the verge of divorce from his neglected wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), a hospital PR rep.

. . . Happily-ever-aftering is inevitable in this type of pic, especially when characters rely heavily on the power of prayer. But the Kendricks test their aud's patience by unduly delaying the feel-good payoff to Caleb's "Love Dare" crusade.

Bethea's lack of acting experience is too obvious by half. But supporting players cast as Caleb's firehouse buddies -- most of them non-pros -- provide snatches of welcome comic relief.

Or the New York Times's Neil Genzlinger:

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Granted, I haven't seen this yet, and was only able to stomach the first half hour of "Facing the Giants..." but I find myself struggling with the placement of ministry films in the regular film world. I certainly appreciate what the church is doing, and think it is really cool that they are putting so much time and effort into a rather unique ministry. But as my theater prof (at a Baptist school, no less) always said: "Effort does not equal excellence."

Opening weekend has already shown there is a market for it, and the Sony quote reveals that, of course, the film industry is ultimately a money-making game.

But should there be lines on what is mass-marketed in an entertainment industry? Should these low-budget, volunteer efforts be applauded, but confined to other venues?

Of course, not everything high-budget and out of Hollywood can be considered "excellent" either, and I guess that hasn't cast it out of the public theater....

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There is a very important question raised by Fireproof. If someone were to make a movie about your conversion experience: Who would play you?

Our home group is going to spend a few weeks trying to deal with this important theological issue.

Edited by MLeary

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JennyLynne wrote:

: I find myself struggling with the placement of ministry films in the regular film world. I certainly appreciate what the church is doing, and think it is really cool that they are putting so much time and effort into a rather unique ministry. But as my theater prof (at a Baptist school, no less) always said: "Effort does not equal excellence."

Heck, as a church-drama veteran, I'd say you're lucky if it equals mediocrity. :)

: But should there be lines on what is mass-marketed in an entertainment industry? Should these low-budget, volunteer efforts be applauded, but confined to other venues?

That's a very interesting question. In the old days, Billy Graham films were "four-walled", meaning that the organization rented the theatre outright and sold/distributed tickets as it saw fit, with ALL the proceeds (if any) going back to the organization. So those films simply did not show up on the box-office charts, which as I understand it are limited to films that do the usual Hollywood thing of splitting revenues between the studios and the theatres. (It is because the studios share the revenues with the theatres, and with movie stars and others who keep a percentage of the gross, that it is so important to have an accurate, objective record of how much money was earned at the box office.)

What we have seen in the past decade is a tendency to release "Christian films" like regular movies, instead of as special ministry-outreach deals. And part of this is, admittedly, driven by a desire for bragging rights. When The Omega Code opened in the Top 10 in 1999, it shocked everyone, and suddenly "Christian films" were something that people had to "pay attention" to. A year and a half later, the makers of Left Behind proclaimed that they wanted to open at #1 ... but they opened at #17 instead. Still, the point is, they made box-office ranking a part of their stated mission. They wanted to prove their (sub)cultural clout.

Now, paying attention to the box-office stuff isn't so bad if the films you're putting out are regular family films (e.g. the VeggieTales movies) or regular dramas telling stories about famous Christians (e.g. End of the Spear) or openly political-activist kind of movies, where the whole POINT is to shake up the broader culture (e.g. Expelled). But if the film you're making is designed as a "ministry tool" rather than entertainment -- and I don't think there is anything wrong with that -- then yeah, treating it the same way you'd treat Lakeview Terrace or Eagle Eye is a little weird.

It is certainly absurd -- or creepy, according to taste -- for a studio to look at something like Fireproof and start asking how they can replicate that sort of box-office success. The whole POINT of Fireproof, supposedly, is that the people who made it did so because they felt led by God to do so, and because they covered the moviemaking in prayer, and so on, and so on. The financial success of Facing the Giants surprised everyone, and even with Fireproof, I think there was a degree of surprise; I mean, Facing the Giants had a major controversy stoking its success, and Fireproof didn't, and how often does lightning hit twice anyway, etc., etc.

So, these movies have, so far, been motivated by something OTHER than profit. And it's going to be very hard for someone else to come along and "copy" that if profit is their MAIN motive, let alone their only motive. How do you "copy" the leading of God? But when the film is released like most other films, and its box-office success is celebrated the way it is, you can hardly blame a studio for thinking that way.

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Ok, first what I liked:

The production itself was a huge improvement over Facing the Giants. The camera work in particular has gotten better. The Kendrick's obviously got ahold of a crane and used it every chance they got.

Most of Kirk Cameron's performance was pretty strong. I was not expecting him to be so believably explosive (at the beginning) and tearful (at the end).

What I did not like so much:

Kirk Cameron looks like a 12 year old in all the firefighter gear.

I didn't believe for a second that Mrs. Holt would fall for cheesy doctor guy.

As others have pointed out, the Kendricks are still telling more than they are showing but they are getting better. The brief scene where we learn

the doctor is married

was handled really well compared to everything else. No words, just a character doing something that gives us all the information we need.

This is not a great film by any stretch but I'm glad I saw it and I hope the Kendricks keep improving.

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I posted a few reviews (Peter's, the NY Times, EW) on my blog.

It inspired this response:

Ultimately, it is the people who aren

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A friend of mine hosted the radio broadcast for the Hollywood premier. The mp3 is on his website, and includes comments from most of the cast, and people like Ted Baehr, who says that by showing up at the theatre and buying popcorn, "You're not spending money at the theatre, you're spending money into the kingdom of God."

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The latest "love note" from a reader of my review, currently appearing on Crosswalk for all to see:

Please, PLEASE: no more reviews by Christian Hamaker. He's horrible. He has no more insight than a bat. Obviously, he has neither the gift of cinematic criticism nor the gift of spiritual discernment. He judges a movie by its overall gloss, without any concern for heart, story, character development, vision, inspiration or anything else that goes into good story-telling or godly filmmaking. I hate to be so blunt, and I hate to sound unkind, but you guys have subjected us to his worldly opinions long enough. It's time to get a real Christian film critic in there. Please take Mr. Hamaker off the dole before we take you off our e-mail lists. Thanks. Waitsel Smith

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I print them and pin them to my bulletin board in my office. They keep me motivated and remind me how far we still have to go in our crusade. Did I just say "crusade"?

And then I also pin up those in which I've been thoroughly and rightfully cut down to size. Just to keep me humble. I deserve about 1 in 4 of my angry letters. The other three usually don't even have anything to do with what I've written, and end up revealing more about those who wrote the letters than they probably would ever guess.

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Yeah, my first inclination when I get nastygrams is to kick myself for not making myself clearer, for not being a better writer, for not expressing my opinion more persuasively. Often, however, it's apparent that no amount of finesse and writerly ability would change the reader's opinion.

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From the Crosswalk comments:

Kirk Cameron, so I hear, did this movie without taking a salary, and, at the end when he kissed his on screen wife, did not really kiss the actress who played her--his real life wife filled in as her double! Kudos to the filmmakers. I highly recommend this movie!

:unsure:

Christian, I thought your review wasn't all that harsh, certainly not enough to warrant that kind of response. But I think it's clear from browsing Crosswalk for a bit... your comparison to a Seventh Heaven episode, while framed as a negative, may be exactly what a lot of readers are looking for in their movies.

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I print them and pin them to my bulletin board in my office. They keep me motivated and remind me how far we still have to go in our crusade. Did I just say "crusade"?

And then I also pin up those in which I've been thoroughly and rightfully cut down to size. Just to keep me humble. I deserve about 1 in 4 of my angry letters. The other three usually don't even have anything to do with what I've written, and end up revealing more about those who wrote the letters than they probably would ever guess.

Dear Jeffrey Overstreet. You suck at life, and everything you do with yours.

Sincerely,

popechild

[/trying to make Jeff's bulletin board] ;)

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