I Saw the Light ***
Filmed in the same vain as the award-winning 2005 Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, the recently released, I Saw the Light tells part of the story of an early hero of blues and country music, the legendary Hank Williams. Well respected British actor Tom Hiddleston, who played troubled Loki in Thor, sang Williams’ material, played guitar, and donned the southern accent required of the role. Though praised for the hard work by many, Hank Williams Jr. did not feel Hiddleston was the right man for the job and publicly scorned the choice and the film itself. This a period piece carefully detailing parts of the American South of the 1940s, the rise of country music, the power of the Grand Ol’ Opry, along with the tragic death of Williams at 29. Music fans and music historians should enjoy I Saw the Light for its concise retelling of a tragic, American story. Though it lacks the same spark (and script) of Walk the Line, it still may be worth seeing as a respectable effort to tell the story of a legendary artist who fought his demons, but who also helped shape country music and, ultimately, rock ‘n’ roll.
God’s Not Dead 2 **1/2
Faith-based movies make money, and according to many, help spread the Gospel. So, there are more than ever, and they’re getting better, with bigger budgets and more talented casts and producers. God’s Not Dead 2 may not be among those in the “better” column. As an effort in preaching to the choir, most evangelical, charismatic, born again Christians will enjoy this courtroom drama. Christian teacher, Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart), answers a student’s question in Wesley’s history class, comparing Gandhi’s message with that of Jesus’. In her answer she quotes scripture while a student records her comments. One thing leads to another, the teacher is fired, and she fights back with court-appointed attorney, Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe, Desperate Housewives). This is an in-your-face, unashamed Christian-themed movie, with plenty of scenes depicting persecuted middle-class, white Christians, Bible study, prayer and scripture readings. It demonizes non-believers (no pun intended), and makes a case for the existence of the historical Jesus. Though there’s nothing wrong with most of that, it does come across as unnecessarily paranoid. There are several decent performances: Pat Boone as Wesley’s grandfather, Robin Givens as the school’s principal, Fred Thompson as a pastor (in his final screen role), and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) as the Judge who hears the case. A few brief cameos from contemporary Christian music’s The Newsboys, along with Mike Huckabee, also help make this an interesting film. As a tool for proselytizing non-believers, the $5 million-plus budget might have been better spent elsewhere, however, as Christians are fully convinced, heaven rejoices when one soul is saved, and just maybe this often heavy-handed film will lead one of His lambs home. Amen.