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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Sat Sep 24, 2011 1:04 am

'Machine Gun Preacher' review: Shooting blanks

Truth is stranger than fiction.

But that doesn’t necessarily make it better.

“Machine Gun Preacher,” for example, is based on the life of a real man, Sam Childers, a charming gentleman whose great loves in life used to be heroin, his Harley and the tips his wife earned swinging around a stripper pole.

But then Childers was born again. He started going to church. Then he started his own church. And finally he established his own mission in Africa, where he tried to minister to children being orphaned there every day by a brutal civil war.

Occasionally taking a break to hunt down some of the murderous rebels, and empty a couple of clips in them, too.

It gives a whole new meaning to “muscular Christianity,” but just because it’s a real story doesn’t mean that any of it feels realistic. The whole thing is awash in cultural stereotypes and cinematic clichés — and a slightly distasteful aura of self-congratulatory righteousness.

Some of that is on-screen, with Sam’s wife staring at him with worshipful eyes and occasionally piping up with things like “God gave you purpose, Sam Childers!” Some of it hovers off-screen, centering on a star who undoubtedly saw this project as a chance to “stretch.”

Perhaps that’s because, after catching American audiences with his lead role in “300,” Gerard Butler has been mostly playing “amusingly” macho pigs in romantic comedies like “The Ugly Truth” and “The Bounty Hunter.” And there’s only so far that shtick will take you.

So now we get this film (which Butler helped produce) — and we get endless scenes of Butler weeping over children, shooting up rebels and screaming at his congregation that they’re a bunch of sheep and he can’t do this alone. (Why they keep showing up every Sunday for this abuse is one of the many questions the film can’t answer.)

At least Michelle Monaghan taps into some of the surprising blue-collar grit she showed in the barely seen “Trucker.” And the always-just-slightly-askew Michael Shannon does a lot with the underwritten part of Butler’s former partner-in-crime, a biker who seems destined to keep finding salvation only to misplace it again.

But Butler just snarls his way through the whole movie, and whatever good Sam Childers has actually accomplished — and is still accomplishing — is lost in movie mediocrity. The filmmakers may have started with a real story here. But all they’ve come up with is a real chore.

Ratings note: The film contains graphic violence, strong language and drug and alcohol abuse.

Machine Gun Preacher (R) Relativity (128 min.) Directed by Marc Forster. With Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan. Now playing in New Jersey.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Sat Sep 24, 2011 1:19 am

‘Machine Gun Preacher (2011) Review Gerard Butler finds religion and humanity to save children in Africa.

In our times, it sometimes seems like the best men lack all conviction to stand up to injustice. Because of this, it is a rare and intense thing to witness the true story of Sam Childers, a former Hell’s Angel biker-turned-preacher, who dedicated everything he had to save orphaned and kidnapped children in the heart of Civil War Sudan. The story of The Machine Gun Preacher is both dark and uplifting – an intense experience that shows unlikely light shining through unimaginable darkness.

The opening moments of Machine Gun Preacher are emotionally shocking, for even the most hardened. It jolts audiences immediately into the hellish reality of the Republic of Sudan during a civil war in the late 90’s. The film suddenly shifts to Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a rough-looking biker, fresh out of a stint in prison, who is just returning to his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and his young daughter Paige. From the outset, he doesn’t treat them well. It’s less than 24 hours before he’s back with his shady buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon) and participating in drug-addled adventures of violent crime. As he scrapes bottom, he becomes a born again Christian. Sam discovers the Mission to Sudan through his church, and what he sees in Africa changes him. After witnessing the aftermath of a massacre, Sam decided he had to save these kids. Undeterred by the danger, he enlists the help of Deng (Souleymane Sy Savane), a rebel solder, to help him build and defend with arms an orphanage full of children in the heart of violent territory.

Gerard Butler plays Sam Childers as a force to be reckoned with. He is the storm that walks into the room – if he is angry, you are angry. If he feels hope, so do you. He is a bi-polar enigma – reaching for light, but always fighting dark forces. In an early scene in the film, a tornado rips through their mobile home park, and Sam uses a shotgun to blow multiple holes through the trailer floor to hide his family in the crawlspace below. In this scene it is he, not the tornado, that is the unstoppable force of nature.

Yet he is clearly moved to tears by the plight of the orphans in Sudan, most of them witnesses of their own families’ violent murder. He becomes hurt by what he sees, suddenly vulnerable – his eyes both unbelieving and devastated. And it becomes clear to see that he can’t stop helping them, even when he has nothing left. The price of a few thousand dollars can buy a truck that can save 20 or more children in one night. Sam’s obsession compels him to do all that he can, even at the expense of providing for his family. It is not long before he is participating in armed raids to save abducted children.

Performances are astonishing from the entire cast. Gerard Butler plays Childers’ violent redemption with seasoned depth and raw power. Michael Shannon as Donnie is an authentic wreck, whose loyalty is disarming. Souleymane Sy Savane is so quietly passionate in the role of Deng, that you believe he has been fighting this war for years. Michelle Monaghan’s Lynn demonstrates a grounded, uncompromising energy when she challenges Childers.

It is enormously refreshing to see a studio film not papering over the real life Sam Childers’ absolute dedication to his religion. His preaching and church life feel authentic and are central to his story, and the director treated this part of his life with respect. Whatever your feelings are about religion, you will come to respect Sam Childers.

Machine Gun Preacher forces audiences to ask age-old ethical questions. Does the end justify the means? Childers’ is not Ghandi. He carries an AK-47 and various other arms to kill people that kidnap children. But to paraphrase Childers, “if it were your kids that were missing, would it matter to you how someone got them back to you safely?” In order to defend yourself against darkness, must part of you become darkness? These are not easy questions and rarely asked by film anymore. This film’s hope ultimately outshines its despair, though it is not easy to witness the latter.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Wed Sep 28, 2011 4:50 am

Machine Gun Preacher

Machine Gun Preacher is a performance in search of a movie. An ostensible bit of sweeping Oscar bait, the film has its eyes on glory and yet almost any and all positives to be found in this overlong, overdramatic, and overcooked biopic come from Gerard Butler's performance in the lead. As Sam Childers, a drug-addict ex-con who found Jesus and later became a kind of guerilla humanitarian in the Sudan, Butler works hard to distance himself from the kind of hammy goons he's best known for playing.

Childers eventually dedicated his life to opposing Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army in the Sudan, both by building an orphanage in the war zone and actively undertaking missions to rescue children from their clutches. In Machine Gun Preacher, we're led to believe Childers skirted the line between charity and obsession, and Butler, to his credit, doesn't try to canonize a character who kills at random and all but leaves his family in the lurch for the sake of his cause. He plays Sam well as a loving father and husband, but doesn't skimp on the madness when Sam sells his business and funnels his family's savings to finance his mission as the Machine Gun Preacher who hunts and kills the LRA. He attacks the role with reverence and depth, and Machine Gun Preacher, if nothing else, gives him a chance to prove his mettle as an actor.
At its worst, though, Machine Gun Preacher as a movie that just isn't all that good. Director Marc Forster has a light touch when he wants to (Finding Neverland), but he goes for all-out melodrama on this one. Everything is all fire and brimstone, the movie works very hard to let you know it is an Important Story, but it's distant and cold in its superiority. It talks at the audience, not to it.

That said, Sam's scenes away from the Sudan have a kind of warmth to them, and Butler's chemistry with Michelle Monaghan (turning in a strong performance as Sam's wife) and Madeline Carroll (equally wonderful as the daughter) is palpable. The Sudan sections get a little trickier, though, since Forster does family dynamic well but has an iffy track record with action (see: Quantum of Solace). The filmmakers don't have to work too hard to get the audience's sympathies when depicting the LRA atrocities, but Forster is somehow always pushing too hard or not hard enough. He never breaches into the emotionally manipulative, to his credit, although he seems so wary of doing so that certain parts of the film (especially toward the end) should register more of an impact than they do.

Butler (who also produced) does his damndest to lift the movie up, and I'm inclined to say he succeeds to a degree. But he's one working part in an incredibly clunky whole. It's not just the heavy directing that does Machine Gun Preacher in, it's that the movie still feels just short of completion. The passage of time unfolds in an incredibly baffling manner; the plot seems to expand over several years, yet there's almost no telling where one turns into the other. The role of Sam's buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon) is either underwritten or too heavily edited; as a kind of surrogate father and husband during Sam's trips, it's easy to see how he might fit into the theme of the story or feed the conflict, but it goes almost entirely unexplored. The film puts more stock in Sam's lieutenant, Deng (Soulemayne Sy Savane) in the Sudan storyline, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does create a bit of an imbalance in the storytelling. The movie is also about twenty minutes too long.

But worst of all, there isn't a single moment of levity in the thing. Granted, Sam's story isn't exactly a barrel of laughs, but Hollywood has dealt with these sort of folk-hero stories before in, say, Schindler's List or Hotel Rwanda. Those films were serious, yes, but they had a lively, almost energetic feel to them that made them fun to watch; they could be entertaining as movies and still get the point of the story across. Machine Gun Preacher is more self-righteous posing as reverent. The comic relief bits are handled with the same kind of plodding Seriousness as the dramatic stuff. Forster clearly wanted to do Sam Childers's story justice but pushes so hard he turns it into a cliche, and he doesn't so much make the movie as direct traffic; the film unreels in such a mechanical, pre-determined way it should practically come with cue cards. Here's where you laugh; here's where you cry; submit your Oscar ballots at the end, and have a safe ride home.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:56 pm

'Machine Gun Preacher': goodwill gone amok

A movie review of "Machine Gun Preacher," a well-intended but overly earnest drama starring Gerard Butler as a real-life former criminal who established a rescue mission for Sudanese orphans while taking up arms against insurgents.

By Tom Keogh

Special to The Seattle Times

In "Machine Gun Preacher," Gerard Butler portrays the impassioned founder of a rescue operation for orphans in Sudan.

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'Machine Gun Preacher,' with Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker. Directed by Marc Forster, from a screenplay by Jason Keller. 127 minutes. Rated R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality. Several theaters.
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Well-meaning but overripe with sincerity and strained drama, "Machine Gun Preacher" is the oddball story of Sam Childers, the real-life former biker, drug addict and criminal who founded a rescue operation for orphans in war-torn Southern Sudan.

Gerard Butler delivers a self-congratulatory, subtlety-free performance as Childers, who, at least in this would-be prestige picture by director Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace"), is the kind of saint you want to keep at arm's length.

Introduced as an explosive ex-con who tries to bully his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), into returning to her old job as a stripper, Butler's Sam sees the light during a church service and turns his life around.

Sam becomes a good husband and father, and goes on a Christian mission building houses in Uganda. But while on a visit to Sudan, he learns how warlords of the Lord's Resistance Army wipe out villages and turn kids into child soldiers and sex slaves.

Inspired, Sam establishes a home and school for Sudanese children in the heart of the danger zone. But the twist is that he personally takes up arms against insurgents, a God's Rambo with no patience for government soldiers who strictly play defense.

It's easy to see how any filmmaker would practically salivate over Childers' story. He's like a comic-book hero, equally sacred and profane, who deserves his own hyper-real action movie.

Except, even better, he lives in the real world. Going back and forth between Africa and the U.S., one half of Sam is a born-again family man who rescues a friend (Michael Shannon, woefully underused) from drugs and builds a church with his own hands.

But the other half is innately reckless, drawn to Africa as an opportunity to steer chaos. Sam's duality ought to make for some interesting storytelling and a fascinating, conflicted character.

But Forster and Butler overplay that conflict, turning "Preacher" into a portrait of goodwill gone amok. Obsessed with his orphans, Sam loses perspective, alienates everyone and becomes all but dysfunctional.

Maybe that's how things went down for the real Sam Childers, but it's a drag to watch, with no real payoff, on screen.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:59 pm

Gerard Butler's love of acting takes him from Michigan to 'Machine Gun Preacher'
Tom Long/ Detroit News Film Critic

Ask Gerard Butler why he loves acting, and the 6-foot-2-inch tough-guy heartthrob turns into … the equivalent of an enthused 12-year-old.

"When I was a kid, some of my most memorable experiences — and I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing — were my experiences watching movies, or perhaps television, and how you could be moved or inspired or excited," he says. "You could come out and feel life held so many experiences for you, so many things to do and places to go and see.

"Suddenly you're chewing a piece of gum differently or you're looking at girls differently, or you want to get on a plane and go somewhere, or you want to be a better person, or you want to live on another planet. … Then you think, I want to go and live in those worlds, you know? I want to go and be part of those stories, maybe to escape from my own."

Butler, 41, has been living in those stories ever since he walked away from a career in law and onto a stage in the late-'90s. He found success in the early 2000s with fantasies like "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "Timeline" and played "The Phantom of the Opera," but his career skyrocketed when he starred in 2006's "300," which ended up earning $456 million worldwide.

Now Butler is tackling possibly the grittiest role of his career in "Machine Gun Preacher," which was partly shot in Michigan and opens Friday. He takes on the real-life character of Sam Childers, a violence-prone, drug-dealing biker who found Jesus and then became obsessed with saving children whose lives had been destroyed by internal conflict in Sudan.

It's not an easy story to tell. Aside from the awful violence in Africa, there is a violence in Childers that can't be quelled. He doesn't just go to Africa to preach; he goes to fight and kill, and his faith often verges on fanaticism.

"We had this agreement that we weren't going to try and tell this perfectly wrapped story of an American hero, because it isn't like that," the Scotland-born Butler says, pulling one leg up onto a chair in a hotel room here during the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

"There is a certain amount of fanaticism, almost radicalism in a way. Whilst many have been saved because of that, others have suffered, including (Sam's) own family," he says. "There's also a question of morality in how he did it. So that's the question where we wanted to go, to see how much faith helped and how much faith has hurt."

The movie is explicitly violent, both in America and Africa. But according to Butler, it comes nowhere near the level of violence Childers experienced.

"There are kids who've seen their whole families killed, kids who've been forced to kill their whole families. I've met kids who've killed 60-70 people: They didn't want to; they were forced," Butler says.

"I had a folder with literally thousands of photos — and you see it, I use it in the bank scene — mutilations, kids with arms cut off, feet cut off, legs cut off, lips cut off, ears, eyes burnt out. Sometimes as punishment, but often for no reason," he says.

"That's what I used to drive me to a dark place. I used it on a daily basis," Butler says. "In truth, we didn't show the violence near as much as either it exists down there or as Sam has experienced it."

Luckily, shooting the film in Michigan offered some respite.

"I was so taken aback with Detroit and the different areas. We shot it in summer, and the summers there are so beautiful. It never got too hot, the evenings were beautiful. Weekends, if I wasn't working, a lot of people had lake houses where you could kind of go and chill and get away from everything," Butler recalls.

"Downtown Detroit is not my favorite place on the planet, but a lot of the other urban areas I found really fascinating — Birmingham, Dearborn — and I found the people to be very disarming: genuine, honest, warm and excited about the movie being there and you being there. Just wanting you to have a good time and a good experience in their house, if you like," the actor says.

Butler remains in demand. He co-stars with Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain in the Shakespeare adaptation "Coriolanus," which was also featured at the Toronto fest, and has at least four more films on his upcoming slate.

Which is fine by him. The more stories the better.

"I get so excited. I can't even tell you how excited I get when I read a script and I love a character, and I know there's a challenge in there for me, and I can watch this story grow and impact people the way stories impacted me," Butler says, grinning with eyes wide.

"When I laugh, I want everybody else to laugh at that point. When I cry, I want everybody else to feel that feeling," he says.

"The fame and the excitement, it's still nice, but it quickly becomes not about that," the movie star says. "The thing that drives me is the joy, the emotion in faces when they're talking about something you did. That's a great feeling."

Gerard Butler
Born Nov. 13, 1969, in Glasgow, Scotland

Studied law at Glasgow University, president of the school's law society

Received a Certificate of Bravery from the Royal Humane Society after saving a drowning boy in 1997

Starred in the stage version of "Trainspotting" in 1996

Co-starred with Oscar winners Angelina Jolie ("Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"), Jodie Foster ("Nim's Island") and Hilary Swank ("P.S. I Love You")

Next up: "Playing the Field," co-starring Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid; and "Movie 43," co-starring Emma Stone, Hugh Jackman, Anna Faris, Kate Winslet, Kristen Bell, Liev Schreiber and Chris Pratt

'Machine Gun Preacher'
Opens Friday

Starring Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon

Rated R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality

Running time: 127 minutes

Come back to On Screen Friday for Tom Long's review.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Sep 29, 2011 8:28 pm

Roger Ebert's review:

Machine Gun Preacher (R)
Ebert:2 stars Users:3 1/2 stars You: Rate this movie right now

Machine Gun Preacher

BY ROGER EBERT / September 28, 2011

If the Lord moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to unfold, rarely can he have worked more mysteriously than in the case of Sam Childers, a Pennsylvania ex-con, drug addict and thief who was born again, and since 1998, has been leading a crusade on behalf of the wretched orphans of South Sudan. "Machine Gun Preacher" is a combination of uplift and gritty violence, and the parts don't fit.

We hear about Sudan all the time. There is little ambiguity there. In Africa, a warlord named Joseph Kony runs something called the Lord's Resistance Army that has murdered hundreds of thousands, burned villages, and kidnapped some 50,000 children, forcing the boys to become soldiers and making the girls sex slaves. He is an evil man, and while we're occupied in trying to bomb Gaddafi, we might profitably drop a few on him.

In this film, which begins in Pennsylvania, we meet Childers (Gerard Butler), who with his buddy Donnie (the always effective Michael Shannon), drinks, drugs, raises hell and makes things hard on his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), and daughter. While he was in the pen, Lynn found God. One Sunday morning, after a bloody night of violence, Sam allows himself to be dragged along to a church service, where he confesses himself to be a sinner and then undergoes a baptism of full immersion.

It takes. One day, he hears a sermon from a missionary from Sudan, describing the plight of the orphans. Sam knows the construction business and informs his astonished wife that he feels called to go to Africa and see what he can do to help. There is a lot. Faced by the specter of overwhelming suffering, he builds an orphanage, raises money from home to help out and becomes a driven man.

Eventually, so dire is the situation, Childers returns to the instincts of his violent past and finds himself fighting against the Lord's Resistance Army as a commander in the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Thus the movie's title. Well, Childers isn't the first to go to war in the name of the Lord.

The enigma at the heart of the film is the quality of his actual spirituality. He's born again, yes, but he seems otherwise relatively unchanged. He still gives full vent to his drives and instincts, and still, if you get down to it, gives himself license to break the laws, such as they are, in Sudan. I learn from an article by Brett Keller in Foreign Policy magazine that as Childers was fund-raising in the United States, the Sudan People's Liberation Army issued a statement saying, "The SPLA does not know Sam Childers. We are appealing to those concerned to take legal measures against him for misusing the name of an organization which is not associated with him."

There's more, about "his narcissistic model of armed humanitarianism." That's what bothered me. He seems fueled more by anger and ego than spirituality and essentially abandons his family to play with his guns. It's intriguing, however, how well Butler enlists our sympathy for the character.

The film has been directed by Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball"), from a screenplay by Jason Keller that's efficient scene by scene, but seems uncertain where it's going or what it's saying. Since much of the killing in northern Uganda and South Sudan is driven by sectarian and tribal prejudice, I'm not sure that shooting back is a solution — particularly when it's done by a self-anointed white savior from the West.

The sight of Sam Childers with his machine gun and his ammo belt reminds me of the night at O'Rourke's when a guy flashed a handgun for my friend McHugh.

"Why are you sportin' that pistol?" he asked.

"John," the guy said, "I live in a dangerous neighborhood."

McHugh replied: "It would be safer if you moved."
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:13 pm

Gunning on Behalf of Gerard Butler: Machine Gun Preacher

I bumped into Gerard Butler two nights in a row -- first at a Producers Guild screening of his new movie, Machine Gun Preacher, and then again at a charity fundraiser and the premiere of it. What a film! What an actor! He is engaging and charming and at the top of his career so it's an exciting time in his life -- especially with such a compelling movie to show off his talent! It represents a lot of passion that went into bringing a Dateline NBC story and book into its own powerhouse film! Do see it! Butler makes Stallone look like a titmouse -- but then again, I have a very staunch idea of what make a film star.

My dad enjoyed a deep and abiding friendship with Jimmy Stewart and I learned a lot about what it was like to have to be a movie star. He has to be larger than life -- and that certain energy -- it was easy to overlook his skill because it all looked so natural. I think this is a curse for the handsome actor and this no exception for actor Gerard Butler who not only stars in Machine Gun Preacher, a true story of Sam Childers, a bad-ass drug dealing ex-con who converts to Christianity and goes to East Africa (Uganda and the Sudan) in the midst of civil war to help coerced children get out of fighting and return to their lives as children, but executive produces as well!

It's a phenomenal movie though it has received mixed reviews -- the critics can be so wrong. One said that he is in every scene and planned it that way. Oh please! The story is about Sam Childers and this is his story! They are just jealous of Butler, who can bring movies to life and look good doing it! George Clooney has a way with others (see next week's column) and I suspect Gerard Butler's charm won't keep him far behind. I hope his humor and humility take him far in Hollywood. When he spoke of being honored to have been involved with this project, he was honest and real, just as I was honored to have spoken with him one on one.

What really counters his physicality, which opens the movie, is his sensitivity, something no Scottish lad would ever admit to. That's star quality. He becomes his characters; he feels the characters. In wonderfully gifted Joel Schumacher's Phantom of the Opera, he was a delicious Phantom. And I know Joel Schumacher loved working with this actor who began his career as a child on the stage. In real life, his salvation may have been soccer but here it is his character's wife's fervor which she shares with him.

In Machine Gun Preacher, we see a borderline madness and Butler makes the illusion complete when later in the film as Childers, he goes back to Africa on a killing spree in the name of the children. This is when we question his motives -- how much is driven by his personal demons and how much is it for the children? As someone who has been in the trenches in third world countries fighting for literacy with my own organization (see his kick-ass behavior is conflicting and confusing.

I would have loved to supply these children with books and teach them to read but our character had to murder the enemy who is stealing children and murdering their parents so that this strong moral dilemma plagued the movie. "Thou shall not kill" went right out the window -- even though it was in self-defense. Was he right in killing? The audiences seem to think so.

Butler seems comfortable with his emotions, which are something like an actor's refrigerator contents -- they have to be able to reach in and pull out a beer and serve it up on tap. Or a red velvet cake, a glass of champagne, or a cheeseburger. Here, we get a gourmet meal as Butler transforms his looks and voice into those of a "Pennsylvania hillbilly" who is unrecognizable.

He wasn't afraid to do his best for the film and involve the best people he could find including voice coach Jerome Butler, who helped him have a perfect "Pennsylvania hillbilly" accent and heavy-handed director, Marc Forster, which worked perfectly to deliver the harsh realities of the story. In one moving scene, we see the evils of the LRA, as they force a child to kill his mother so he will have to go fight with the evil Lord's Resistance Army. It's a scene that you will never forget.

Mr. Butler's intensity holds the audience hostage. He challenges you. He may not make you want to lean in and hug him but he sure makes the story come alive and it's a story that you couldn't make up if you tried. It is so compelling and raw and real that at the charity-fundraising premiere, the audience was spellbound and at the industry screening I also attended, the film received a standing ovation! It's wow factor is spelled W-O-W!

I asked Mr. Butler why he received an executive producer credit since I am a member of the Producers Guild and this is often an issue and if he earned it, I wanted to invite him to become a member of our organization. He was quiet and I could tell he was being modest and it was at this point Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh stepped in and said, "Were it not for Mr. Butler, the film could never have been made. It was his commitment to the project and story that he saw through which brought it to life." Wow! No faint praise here! I immediately thought of my own Scottish project and made a mental note to share it with him if I saw Mr. Butler a third night in a row!
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Fri Sep 30, 2011 12:05 am

'Machine Gun Preacher' review: Bad guy, good works

Action. Starring Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon. Directed by Marc Forster. (R. 127 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)

"Machine Gun Preacher" is a movie about a very tough character with a mean streak a yard long. When we first meet Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), he is being released from prison. He strolls out wearing leather biker gear and proceeds to give his wife (Michelle Monaghan) a hard time because she has quit her job as a stripper. When she informs him that she has become a Christian, he gets loud and threatening and tells her that she will always be a stripper and a junkie no matter what she says.

He shoots heroin, robs people at gunpoint and, in a particularly flamboyant moment, stabs a guy about 10 times and throws him from a car. So when Sam, too, finds religion, we never forget what is in this guy and what he's capable of.

That really is the story of "Machine Gun Preacher," which is a study of a violent man and how his violence is directed and transmuted based on where he is and what he happens to believe at any given time. Sometimes he is a Christian, sometimes he isn't. But no matter what he is, something within him makes him want to stand alone in the middle of a road with a machine gun, blasting guys out of a truck. He is going to do that no matter what.

The movie is based on a true story, and Butler plays Childers as complicated and courageous, which is by far the more interesting explanation for his behavior (the other being that Childers is forceful but weak-minded and a little nuts). As long as Butler is on screen - and he is in virtually every scene - there is something to look at and study. Butler has scored this performance so that at all times we can take Sam's spiritual temperature, which ranges from healthy humility and protectiveness to crazy confidence and out-of-control hostility.

Most of the film deals with Sam's work in the Sudan and Uganda. A missionary to Africa inspires his interest, and from that point on Africa, most particularly its orphans, becomes a focus and then an obsession for him. This is interesting only to a point. There is a sameness about Childers' African exploits, a series of attacks by evil rebels, followed by reprisals and skirmishes. The movie doesn't give us much to look forward to in terms of external action, so we focus instead on the progress of Sam's emotions: Is he losing his faith? Is he getting eaten up by hatred?

But even that kind of speculation is limited, because of the movie's reluctance to pass judgment on Sam's accomplishments. Is he a hero or a lunatic? He's possibly neither, or possibly a little of both, but this is the problem with making a movie about a real person. If Sam were entirely fictional, the filmmakers would commit in one direction or the other and devise colorful incidents to put over that point of view. As it stands, they can't. Or won't.

"Machine Gun Preacher" is Butler's show all the way. Monaghan, as Mrs. Childers, does little but stand around looking nervous - who wouldn't, married to that guy? - and Michael Shannon pops up in a minor role, not doing much, though I'd rather watch him do nothing than someone else. Director Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball") gives the movie the grainy look of a mid-1980s grindhouse feature, which is interesting. But somewhere in the middle of this 127-minute film, the energy drops out, and Forster never quite gets it back.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Sat Oct 01, 2011 12:21 am

Film review
Machine Gun Preacher: An uplifting tale falls flat 2 Stars

Why is it that uplifting movies based on true stories often feel so untrue and fall so flat? Off screen, Sam Childers is a real guy still living a really interesting life. But onscreen, despite the best efforts of actor Gerard Butler, he’s just another thin character spouting trite dialogue in a bogus melodrama.

Back to my question then, and the answer: In these true-story circumstances, writers forget that art plays by different rules than life – art is both less random and more complex. Occasionally, life rises to the challenge of imitating art, but art should never stoop to weakly mimicking life.

And that’s why the rat-a-tat-tats in Machine Gun Preacher sound so hollow. The first salvo is your basic sinner-sees-the-light scenario. Just released from jail, Sam (Butler) returns to his Pennsylvania trailer dismayed to learn that his wife has a) quit her profitable job as a stripper and b) found God.

For his part, he’s content to rediscover his Harley, his taste for cocaine and his fondness for beating fellow low-lifes to a bloody pulp. Then comes the light. A mere morning in church with his better half (Michelle Monaghan) and a suddenly transformed Sam is gainfully employed in the construction biz, reading bedtime stories to his young daughter, taking a keen interest in the Christian work of African missionaries and broadening his channels of communication: “I know it sounds crazy, but God spoke to me.”

Luckily, God’s orders are unambiguous: build a church in Pennsylvania and an orphanage in Southern Sudan. The first proves a relatively easy assignment and, in this modest place of worship, Sam assumes the preacher half of the title role.

Luckily again, his sermons are tailor-made to his status as a tattooed ex-biker: “God don’t want sheep – he wants wolves.” So off the wolf prowls to fulfill the second task, which seems a tad more difficult. As we know, orphanages are needed in Sudan because civil war is constant, villagers are routinely slaughtered, and children lucky enough not to be recruited for battle are left homeless and starving.

Understandably, such a bellicose environment requires Sam to add the machine gun to the preacher. Once more, his biker cred comes in handy – he already knows a thing or two about automatic weapons. And now, as a soldier in God’s army, he joins the freedom fighters for shoot-’em-ups against the evil government assassins. A British nurse questions his aggressive strategy, but, in this instance, violence begets nice – an orphanage does get built, hundreds of children do get saved.

Alas, back on the home front, his own family is feeling neglected. His daughter complains: “You love those black babies more than you love me.” This prompts in Sam a mini-crisis of conscience and some rather un-Christian behaviour, but, like everything else here, it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a cheesy plot twist and a convenient epiphany.

Allegedly, the saint still has a streak of sinner in him, although not so we’d notice. Packing on weight for the part, Butler wears the tattoos well but, in the absence of any credible inner turmoil, he’s all beefed up with nowhere to go. Saddled with this lumpy script, director Marc Forster seems content to march matters routinely along, perhaps looking back to better days with more convincing sinners in Monster’s Ball.

At the end of these “based on a true story” flicks, it’s customary to flash photos of the real people over the end credits. There, Sam Childers looks older and less handsome and awfully imposing, a scary sort of cat with raw but authentic tales to tell. I’d like to hear them.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Sat Oct 01, 2011 8:26 pm

Movie Review: “Machine Gun Preacher”
October 1, 2011

Gerard Butler gives the best performance of his career in “Machine Gun Preacher” as Sam Childers, the true story of an ex-con and drug addict who found God and defended orphans. At times terrifying, sympathetic, confused, enraged and desperate, this is obviously a passion project for the actor, and he creates a rich portrait of a man who hits rock bottom, turns it around and finds a reason for living.

It’s just a shame that he’s stuck in a movie that has the moralizing of a “Goofus and Gallant” comic, the emotional depth of a 13-year-old boy and the subtlety of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

The film opens as Childers is released from prison, but he’s far from reformed. After a quick catch-up session with his wife in the back seat of their car, he heads back to the bar to score drugs with his best friend (Michael Shannon). And he’s not too happy that his wife (Michelle Monaghan) has found Jesus and quit her job as a stripper. But after a violent encounter with a drifter nearly ends in murder, Childers takes her up on her offer to attend church and converts. Clean and sober, and spending more time with his family, he also opens a church for those who don’t feel at home in their local congregation (“sinners like I was”).

After a missionary visits their church, Childers heads to Sudan on a missions trip and is moved by the plight of the orphans there, caught up in a violent civil war. While building an orphanage, he sees the warlords’ brutality firsthand and, frustrated by everyone else’s hesitation, picks up a gun and takes matters into his own hands. He’s going to share the love of God, darn it…even if he has to kill everyone in his way.

Truth be told, I don’t know who “Machine Gun Preacher” is supposed to appeal to. It’s inspirational appeal is lessened by its tendency to turn into a violent “Rambo”-esque action movie in its second half, and I imagine it’s too preachy for anyone wanting an adrenaline rush. The evangelical crowd might enjoy its very pro-faith message, but shudder at its very R-rated language and violence. And those who take their faith seriously will (hopefully) be troubled by the way director Marc Forster (“The Kite Runner”) glosses over some of the more troubling aspects of its hero’s actions.

Like I said, Butler is fantastic. In the early scenes, he is a true scumbag, growling “f— you” to the prison guards and not hesitating to score heroin at home while his wife’s at church. And he truly brings out a change of personality in Childers following his conversion; I also believed his frustration and anger when he learns that his rich friends at home don’t care too much for the plight of orphans on the other side of the world.

The problem is that his admirable work is hobbled by Forster’ over-the-top direction, which eschews subtlety in favor of manipulative histrionics. Childers goes from being the chief of sinners to a saint, all in the space of a prayer. I’m sure that in real life, it took him awhile to quit drugs and turn his life around–here, it simply requires a clean shirt and a hair cut. Shannon is a fantastic actor, but he’s playing a character written only to symbolize the life Childers leaves behind; there’s no depth to him at all, he exists only as a stereotype. Even worse is Monaghan, who is forced to play the perfect wife who patiently waits for and cries about her husband. She’s so saintly, she might as well be a cartoon.

The film matures a bit when Childers heads to Sudan to start an orphanage, and I don’t doubt that what we see portrayed is but a shadow of life in a war-torn land. But we’re never gotten to know the orphans, except for a mute one that the film trots out to milk our sympathies. We also never get to know many of the people Childers works alongside in Africa–there’s the uncomfortable feeling that this story is another “white man saves the black kids” story I thought we’d outgrown.

Worse, Forster only pays lip service to some of the more controversial aspects of Childers’ work. There’s a blood lust to his actions in the last half that, the way it’s presented, is crafted to make us cheer him on. And yet, what Childers is doing seems at odds with Christ’s commands to love our enemies. “If it was your kid,” the real-life Sam asks over the end credits, “Would it matter how I got them back?” Emotionally, I imagine that answer would be “no.” But there’s the hard truth that the Bible never condones vigilante justice or taking matters into our own hands–killing in the name of the Lord is still killing. And while the film briefly suggests that Sam’s actions are making him just like the dictators he’s sworn to kill and taking him away from his wife and daughter, the resolution simply implies that Sam needs to loosen up and have an attitude adjustment–kill the bad guys and neglect your family, the film seems to say…but have a joyful attitude about it.

Forster is unable to control the tone, which careens wildly from a gritty street drama to inspirational epic to revenge-driven action story. Nothing fits together and, by the end, it’s a movie that leaves us cold and uncomfortable–and not in the way Forster intends.

I’m sure that Childers’ story is inspiring (although some are disputing that). But Forster is unable to fit the multi-year story into a 2-hour film comfortably, forcing him to take shortcuts that weaken the narrative’s power. A film about a junkie’s conversion would be fascinating. Sam’s experience with the orphans is inspiring. And the missionary revenge plot might work well in a movie more driven on exploitation (see “Rambo”). But taken together, it’s a movie that is exhausting and manipulative. Perhaps a documentary on Childers’ life would have been better than this approach.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Sun Oct 02, 2011 7:51 pm

Movie Review: ‘Machine Gun Preacher’

Gritty, gory and violent, “Machine Gun Preacher” is a better action picture than it is an uplifting story about a violent man who found religion and a cause and became better for it.

Because that, this Marc Forster film suggests, just isn’t what happened. This confused and unsatisfying “true story” has a solid, tormented lead performance by Gerard Butler and promises the arc of a tale of redemption. But in missionary-with-a-machine-gun Sam Childers, the movie has a hero it cannot make its mind up about. And that confusion muddles the movie.

We meet Childers (Butler) the day he gets out of the joint. A violent, drug-dealing biker, he has enthusiastic sex with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) in her tiny Ford Pinto, settles back into their trailer and picks up right where he left off before prison. He drinks. He fights. He takes drugs. And he robs others who have the drugs.

Michael Shannon is wonderfully cast as his biker-junkie running mate.

Sam’s wife used to strip, and he’s none too pleased when she tells him why she quit.

“It ain’t right in the eyes of God.”

But Sam eventually crosses his own line and snaps. That’s when he, too, finds religion, gets his life straight and eventually starts his own church in rural Pennsylvania. And that’s when he becomes aware of the situation in Sudan and Northern Uganda, where warring groups torture, rape and kill adults and kidnap kids to be in their armies.

Sam, now a Man of God, tries to do things the turn the other cheek way. But for a man with his access to guns and knowledge of them, there’s only so many kids he’s going to watch carried off, only so many times he’ll stand by and watch his new orphanage burned down. As he tells a rebel soldier who asks him if he’s in the military, “I just like my guns.”

Butler brings a wild-eyed bravado to this real-life character, suggesting a conflicted, blood-stained man who seeks redemption by spilling more blood. You can believe this guy as both a preacher and a can-do biker not afraid to pull the trigger.

“God don’t only call the good,” he says. “I reckon he calls us sinners, every now and then, too.”

But Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Kite Runner,” “Quantum of Solace”), working from a Jason Keller script, has made a film that is all over the place and often over-the-top. See Sam shotgun his way out of a tornado. See his fury at being unable to persuade rich townsfolk from pitching in on his cause. See him make terrible life-or-death decisions (a few of which seemed to have easier solutions than the film presents) involving the legions of kids he is obsessed with saving.

The confusing politics of that corner of Africa don’t help.

“Machine Gun Preacher” quickly descends into something far more conventional than a tale of redemption. It becomes a revenge fantasy, one bathed in gore, in which Forster unblinkingly shows the violence visited against these children as a way of saying that Childers’ ends justify the means.

But the movie never convinces us that Forster is convinced himself. The director lines up this bad good man in his sights, but he never quite has the nerve quite to pull the trigger.

“Machine Gun Preacher” opens in Orlando Friday. Here’s my piece on the real Machine Gun Preacher, and director Marc Forster’s take on him.

MPAA Rating: R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality

Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker

Credits: Directed by Marc Forster, written by Jason Keller, based on “Another Man’s War,” by Sam Childers. A Relativity Media release. Running time: 2:07

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Mon Oct 03, 2011 12:49 am

SMU review:

Daily Campus

'Machine Gun Preacher' finally gives Sudan a story
By Chase Wade

Associated Press

Don't let the title fool you, there is much more to this dramatic movie than a religious man with ammunition.

"Machine Gun Preacher," tells the true story of Sam Childers. Childers, who spent most of his early life in and out of jail, fighting drug addiction and providing for his family by robbing drug dealers or selling drugs, decides to turn to the lord after another stint in prison.

From there, Childers is a changed man. He lucks upon a construction job and in a series of events one can only explain as "divine," Childers eventually ends up opening his own construction business.

However, after finding the Lord, Childers takes it upon himself to open his own church. The church, which is a collection of broken individuals looking for a second chance, is simple and stated ­—just like its founder.

Even though the church is quite successful and Chllders' life is back in order, he wants more. After a guest preacher comes to his wife's church to plead for help in Sudan, Childers is inspired by the preacher's message and gets the idea to build an orphanage in the war-torn country.

From Childers' epiphany to build an orphanage comes the rest of the plot of "Machine Gun Preacher." Wasting little time explaining Sam's life pre-orphanage, a bulk of "Machine Gun Preacher," takes place as Sam experiences the trials and tribulations that go along with building an orphanage in a country that is in the middle of a brutal civil war.

Taking a true story (especially one as heroic as his) and transferring it to film is a tough task for any director. However, "Machine Gun Preacher's" director, Marc Foster, dealt with the heavy story line quite well, flip-flopping between his home life and the life he has on the Sahara of Sudan.

Foster seamlessly jumps from Childers' two lives without wasting any of the audience's time. In one scene, he could be reading his daughter a book as he is tucking her in and in the next, he is strapped with guns and explosives fighting off the LRA (Sudan's Lord Resistance Army) as they try again and again to take over his orphanage.

Tackling the larger than life role of Sam Childers is Gerard Butler. Butler, known mainly for his roles in movies like "300" and "Phantom of the Opera," looks more than comfortable behind the trigger of an AK-47.

Butler's portrayal of Sam is honest and courageous, everything that his real-life counterpart exemplifies. In one particular moment in "Machine Gun Preacher," Butler flexes his acting muscle as he slowly losses his mind in the orphanage in Sudan.

Most of his success can be attributed to his wife, Lynn Childers. Playing Lynn is Michelle Monaghan, known best for her role in "Source Code." As Lynn, Monaghan is tough, honest, and one heck of a wife. Lynn has scene Sam at his lowest of lows, however for some reason, Lynn sticks by Sam, even when he sells his company and empties out the family safe in hopes of keeping his orphanage afloat.

"Machine Gun Preacher," is almost as honest as films these days come. Foster takes no mercy on his audience as he displays the graphic (and very true) violence what Sudan is experiencing.

Even back in America, Foster still paints a dim picture of what Sam's life is supposed to be.

In a way, "Machine Gun Preacher," is more of a call to action than it is a feature film. At the end of the 127-minute running time, you can't help but want to donate all of your life's savings to Sam's orphanage.

However, call to actions aside, "Machine Gun Preacher" is an honest film that features enough drama, action, and emotion to make it worth the price of admission.

And if Foster found a way to end the film with ease, the movie could be hearing Oscar buzz, but for it's staggered finale, "Machine Gun Preacher" will be just another fall movie that slips between the cracks.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:30 am

Thanks very much for these reviews, Dallas. Your hard work for Pantry is never forgotten nor taken for granted.

I had hoped, unrealistically, to see the movie on the flight to Africa. Now I shall wait impatiently for my local cinema.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Mon Oct 03, 2011 4:50 am

Film “Machine Gun Preacher” Review

September 29, 2011 Jonathan Kiefer

Although not a B movie after all, “Machine Gun Preacher” does have some ’sploitation going on. Here the debased include literal truckloads of suffering black African war orphans — and, of course, their white-trash American rescuer, whose soul gets several torture scenes.

He’s played by Gerard Butler, also an executive producer and as such apparently director Marc Forster’s boss. “Machine Gun Preacher” does let Forster be himself, whipping up enough sincerity and credible horror to admonish you for seeing Butler’s name and wanting something more in the spirit of “Hobo With a Shotgun.” And Jason Keller’s script, officially “based on the life of Sam Childers,” abets Butler’s fond impression of the real-life Pennsylvania roughneck whose severe spiritual rehab required building and militantly defending a warlord-besieged Sudanese orphanage.

We first meet Sam on the day he gets out of prison, and he could probably use a cuddle. He’s supposed to be a menacing brute, but that seems phony and overplayed, like mere table-setting for redemption. Butler’s noble intentions are too transparent. Anyway, Sam doesn’t like that his languishing missus, played by Michelle Monaghan, has given up stripping and gotten friendly with Jesus. But as Michael Shannon in the role of Sam’s fellow biker-junkie pal puts it, “Better him than the milkman, right?”

The abjection is off and running by now, with Monaghan and Shannon both stifled by supporting-player doldrums. For the rest of the film, nothing they do will come as the least surprise. That also goes for Souleymane Sy Savane in a token part as freedom-fighter and translator, befriended by Childers in Uganda with a Coke and a smile. We are meant to remember that it is the Sam show, which amounts to variations on the spectacle of his murderous impulses.

This seems like a story that hasn’t quite worked out its position on deadly force. That conundrum could be plenty dramatic enough, but only with a more nuanced investigation than “Machine Gun Preacher” will allow. Forster doesn’t skimp on graphic context: a woman with her lips cut off, a pile of charred corpses, a boy blown up by a land mine. This last is pivotal for Butler, who takes the fallen boy up in his arms, opens that huge gaping “300” mouth of his and wails with new awareness of the enormity. Later another boy, still alive but rendered mute by his own suffering, summons just enough voice to offer Butler a brief platitudinous pep talk right when he needs it most. Viewed charitably, these turns read as cinematic social consciousness contaminated by vigilante-superhero plot points. And even if that is an accurate reflection of Childers’ view of himself and the world, the missing critical distance seems, well, critical.

Thus do we have one of those movies that makes true events seem too much like movie contrivance. Things get nervier with a hint that saving and avenging the children might just be Childers’ new addiction, but then the film withdraws from that unpleasant analysis, as if chastised into resuming a dubious inspirational course. Butler explores reckless bravado as a dynamic physicalization of faith, but he doesn’t examine it much. Nor do we learn anything, really, about the war in Sudan. Sober closing-credits statistics aside, all the film really says about that actual conflict is how mad it made this one guy.

As per based-on-the-life-of movie mandate, it is also over the credits that we meet the real Childers and Wife, and theirs certainly are the faces of folks who’ve done some hard living. This fact reframes the star-bright glamour of the movie as, if not quite an obscenity, at least an opportunity missed. Apparently this was possible as a documentary all along.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:23 am

A few spoilers:

FTG-Nerd Review: Machine Gun Preacher (Movie)

Based on a true story of an ex-biker gang member turned savior of kidnapped children in East Africa. Gerald Butler plays Sam Childers in the inspirational story Machine Gun Preacher. Check out the Review here!

Based on a true story of an ex-biker gang member turned savior of kidnapped children in East Africa. Gerald Butler plays Sam Childers in the inspirational story Machine Gun Preacher.


Eastern Africa is ravaged by civil war and genocide. The countries of Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan lay victim to the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) led by Joseph Kony. The LRA is responsible for widespread human rights violations including murder, kidnapping, mutilation, sexual enslavement and forcing children to fight for their cause. The problem is not that people are not willing to fight for ther freedom of the innocent, it is that people are unaware of the situation or just turn a blind eye.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Sam Childers has lived the life of a trouble maker. A biker gang member and drug user, he had no problems assaulting or robbing to make ends meet. After his recent release from jail, Sam is upset to find out that his wife has found Jesus and quit stripping in order to live a good life and be a better mother to their daughter Paige. Having no part of the Lord, Sam went out on a binge of booze and heroin. While driving with his childhood friend, Donnie, they pick up a hitchhiker; Sam opens the door and lets the stranger into the back seat. The man then puts a knife to Donnie’s throat and Sam jumps in to the back. He disarms the man and stabs him multiple times in the stomach. They dump the body on the side of the road and take off. At home Lynn is woken up by Sam in the bathroom feverishly trying to wash off the blood. Sam begs Lynn to help him.

Seeing the errors of his life, Sam joins his wife, mother and daughter at church. He proclaims he is a sinner and becomes baptized in the Holy Spirit. With his new found religion, Sam’s life makes a drastic change for the better. He starts a construction business and buys his family a house.

One Sunday a missionary from Africa talks about the need for money and helping hands to rebuild war torn Uganda and Sudan. Sam, moved by the pastor, wants to help, so he packs up his tools and flies to Africa. Whilst there his eyes are opened to the atrocities of war. One night he witnesses the mass migration of children from the villages to find safe places to sleep. He tries to help as many as he can. In the morning he goes back to their village because of reports of a late night attack. Sam walks through the village in shock, as he sees bodies hacked and burned, while the children are crying over their murdered families. One little boy runs off into the bushes to chase after his dog. Suddenly an explosion cuts the air. Sam runs over to see if the boy is OK. A mine has taken off the little one’s legs. Holding the body in his arms, Sam cries and falls to his knees, proclaiming to God that he will do whatever it takes to help the children of this land. This is the start of the legend known as the “Machine Gun Preacher.”


Based on the biography of Sam Childers, Another Man’s War, Machine Gun Preacher is an absolute in-your-face look at the horrors of genocide and one man’s struggle to save as many children as he can whilst trying to save himself. The movie will anger and shock people with very graphic images of mutilation and murders. It pulls no punches or white washes the events of the Sudan. The disturbing images may turn some people off.

The movie has a very strong religious undertone; sometimes a bit too strong, and will come across like a Jesus Freak at bible camp. But this extreme religious tone is what Sam needed to redeem himself from the extreme dark side he was living. I almost foresee Churches using this movie as a tool to teach the power of salvation.

Sam Childers is portrayed by Gerald Butler who also produced the film. His gritty performance will put you in a love/hate relationship with the character. You’ll hate him for using drugs, but then love him for buying his family a house. You’ll love him for wanting to redeem himself, but then hate him for turning down the dark path later in the film. You’ll love him for saving children, but hate him for neglecting his family to do so. This extreme teeter-tottering of good and bad inner battle will tear and pull your heartstrings. The rest of the cast of Sam’s family, friends, and soldiers in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army provide the support that Sam needs to follow the right path. But the true motivation is the children. Imagine the movie filled with the kid’s on a Unicef box.

One thing I want to emphasize is that this is not “Rambo in Africa.” Sam Childers is also not a saint or an angel. The self proclaimed “hillbilly for Pennsylvania” is a wolf battling the evil in the world that the sheep in God’s flock cannot. Many will find this movie thought provoking and inspirational, but also a topic of debate on why is it that super power governments forget many of the third world nations.

I really was moved by the film, and I walked out of the theater in silence. This movie is not for everyone, and cinematically it may have some flaws. Hell the idea of the white savior of Africa isn’t even that original of a plot. But the message is so powerful that the movie touched my heart and made me appreciate the things I take for granted on a daily basis. I highly recommend Machine Gun Preacher.

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Tue Oct 04, 2011 6:06 am

Dallas wrote:
... touched my heart and made me appreciate the things I take for granted on a daily basis.
This is exactly what it should do.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Tue Oct 04, 2011 8:33 pm

The Harvard Crimson:

‘Machine Gun Preacher’ Squanders Premise
Machine Gun Preacher -- Dir. Marc Forster (Relativity Media) -- 1.5 Stars

In “Machine Gun Preacher,” Gerard Butler plays Sam Childers, a gangster who finds God and travels to Sudan, where he builds orphanages and schools while fighting to protect his charges.
With a title as canny as “Machine Gun Preacher,” Marc Forster’s film has surprisingly little to do with the grindhouse genre it evokes. Rather than dabbling in camp or irony, “Machine Gun Preacher” is instead an exercise in full-blown Hollywood mediocrity—a dull drama of big-budget sentimentality. It’s a shame too, considering the potential of the film’s larger-than-life premise.

“Machine Gun Preacher” is based on the borderline-surreal story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a reformed convict and former heroin dealer who found the Christian faith and then moved to Sudan to found an orphanage and battle child-abducting guerillas. However, the mystique of the character of Childers and his story quickly dissolves, as the film instead refocuses on the man playing him. For Butler, coming from previous films like “300,” “Law Abiding Citizen,” and “The Ugly Truth,” being cast in such a humanitarian role could have been an inspired opportunity for more nuanced performance. Yet after watching “Machine Gun Preacher,” it is hard to conceive of the film as anything but another Gerard Butler action vehicle.

And a vehicle it is—as a biopic, “Preacher” covers a lot of ground rapidly, all with Butler on screen for what feels like 90 percent of the time. Too often the movie plays as a listless montage for the transformation of Butler’s character. The film begins with a Mad-Max-dressed Butler almost parodically spouting quotes as awful as “You’re a fuckin’ junkie stripper and you know it!” to his patient wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan). Soon enough, the gangster finds God and becomes a venerable father wearing crisp button-ups, and not long after he arrives in Sudan. There Childers juggles the responsibilities of his humanitarian work and his merciless hunting of members of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

None of this is to say that Gerard Butler is the reason why the movie is so inauspiciously bland. As the upright yet steely and resourceful alpha male hero, Butler is adept at engaging our sympathies. Rather, at the core of the movie’s malaise are the completely ludicrous scenarios and characters with which Butler has to work. The script, written by Jason Keller, does not do justice to the complicated dimensions and trials of Sam Childers’ mission, nor to Sudan’s bleak history in general. And for an action number, the film has a plenitude of lethargic scenes, many of which seem to exist purely as set-up for individual overwrought one-liners—Hollywood cant like “You’re a mercenary, not a humanitarian!”

Adding to the movie’s misadventures in tone, director Forster occasionally attempts to imbed facile social commentary about modern standards of living and consumption within “Machine Gun Preacher.” The scenes of Sudan are contrasted to back-home Pennsylvania, where Monaghan walks through fluorescent aisles of uniformly arrayed food at a supermarket. At one point, the Childers family attends an opulent fundraising party in a McMansion and the wealthy host snubs Butler’s cause by contributing a paltry $150 instead of the $2,000 requested. Enraged, Butler goes on to deliver a line so wooden for a sentiment so obvious that it is unintentionally hilarious: “$150? He spent more on salsa for his party!” These on-the-nose attempts at modern moralizing fail for the same reason as the rest of the film—its plodding approach squanders the premise’s potential.

Ultimately, convoluted drama and ponderous monotony kill “Machine Gun Preacher.” It is a movie without style or an idea of style. While the film teases viewers with the promise of multiple genres—biopic, documentary, action thriller—it forgoes them all, providing only mechanical and formulaic point A–to-B cinema. Even the title itself is a deception—for a film portending significant deployment of automatic weapons, there is actually very little gun-slinging, and those expecting a very gung-ho and kinetic film will be disappointed. Indeed, “Machine Gun Preacher” is not a movie for people who want an over-the-top military thriller, nor is it for people seeking an ethically and emotionally dynamic true story. It is more for people who want the pretense of one of those things, while Gerard Butler yells things like “I’m gonna get the kids! Cover me!”

Perhaps the most compelling part of “Machine Gun Preacher” comes during its credits, when actual footage of the real Sam Childers is shown. The man is intriguing and older, with large pistols holstered next to his great paunch. He seems a lot humbler than the chiseled, bear-like Butler. One can’t help but wonder if there were a better movie to be made here—if 15 minutes of a documentary on Childers could have been infinitely more fascinating and thrilling than this flaccid half-fiction.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Wed Oct 05, 2011 5:02 am

October 4, 2011 | 5:17 pm

The Real “Machine Gun Preacher”: Unorthodox Atonement
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman

Sam Childers, the real-life “Machine Gun Preacher” behind the Marc Forster film now in theaters, chewed his signature toothpick in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, wearing a Harley Davidson shirt, jeans, black steel-toed boots and a handlebar moustache he’s sported since his days as a smack-shooting, bar-fighting, drug-dealing biker.

In his 2009 memoir, “Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle To Save Children in the Sudan,” Childers describes wielding an AK-47 along with his Bible to protect or rescue children – as well as ambushing soldiers from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) “with an AK in my belt and a pistol on each hip.”

LRA guerrillas abduct children from their villages to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, Childers said; they terrorize the children into obedience by disfiguring them with machetes, burning them alive, forcing them to disembowel their mothers, or to perform acts of cannibalism, among other atrocities. “Who knows how many villagers have been killed while people sit around talking about what a big problem all this is,” Childers writes in his memoir. “But when you go out and kill some of the enemy, you’re making progress. You’re speaking the LRA’s language, and suddenly you’ve got their attention. Less talking, and more shooting would bring this whole conflict to an end a lot sooner and save who knows how many lives.”

With Yom Kippur approaching, I wanted to meet with Childers, 47, not only because of the intense concern Jews have had about genocide in the Sudan, but also because I was fascinated by his unorthodox journey toward redemption.

During our interview, he expressed both compassion for the Sudanese war orphans and a tough-as-nails intensity. He described how his religious awakening in 1992 transformed him from a ruthless criminal into a preacher who built his own church in Central City, PA before taking on charitable work in Africa. It was while witnessing indescribable carnage on a mission to the southern Sudan in 1998 that he was inspired to build an orphanage for children victimized by the LRA. And to protect them with plenty of firepower.

His methods have proved controversial – and have been criticized in at least several publications such as Christianity Today, Mother Jones and, which titled its story, “Machine Gun Menace.” In such articles, aide workers and others have complained about Childers’ violent tactics or suggested that he has exaggerated parts of his story – a charge he has denied. Even so, his work prompts the questio—as The New York Times put it: Can a man of God also be a man of violence?

“I would never stand up to anyone and say anything I’ve ever done was right, so I’m not here to try to say that, OK?” Childers said, bluntly, during our interview. “I believe that everyone’s got to answer for things, and I’ve got a lot to answer for. The Christ I serve would never condone violence; he was not a man of violence.”

But then Childers quotes a passage of the New Testament in which Jesus tells his disciples “the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.”

“Now why do you think he said that?” Childers asked me, with a laser-beam stare. “Do you have children?” he continued. When I replied that my husband and I have a son, he said, “Let’s say a terrorist group is getting ready to cut his lips off. You have a gun with you. What are you going to do?”

When the answer is obvious, Childers emphasized, “I want to get one thing straight with you. I’m not here to convince anybody that that’s right or wrong, so don’t try to take me there.”

I’m not the only one who has encountered both the prickly and the empathetic sides of the Machine Gun Preacher, played in the film by Gerard Butler (“300”). “Sam is a guy who often communicates through conflict,” Jason Keller, the film’s 42-year-old screenwriter, said in a telephone interview. Keller, who visited Africa with Childers and spent several weeks living with the preacher and his family at their home in Central City, PA, added: “At the end of the day, Sam is the same hustler and fighter that he was in the dark years of his life: this intimidating, sometimes violent, driven to a fault guy. It’s the same intense Sam Childers he always was, except now he’s fighting for a purpose. He is a very intense, still crazy guy doing heroic things.”

“Perhaps Sam has, in a sense, swapped his former addiction to violence and alcohol and drugs for an addiction to Africa, but he makes a world of difference there,” Robbie Brenner, one of the film’s producers, said in the film’s production notes.

I asked Childers if there’s a chance he could have substituted the adrenaline rush of drugs and crime for the rush of life as the machine gun preacher in the Sudan—in essence, swapping one addiction for another. “There could be,” he began, “but for me I’m going to say no. The devil doesn’t want you to help people. And now my entire life is about helping people.”

The preacher was protective of his story when Keller first sat down with him almost four years ago. “I was running through the process of how screenwriting works, and after about 15 minutes Sam didn’t say anything; he just stared at me across the table in this busy café,” Keller recalled. “Finally, one of the producers said, ‘Sam, do you have any questions for Jason?’ and Sam basically said, ‘Look, I don’t know you, I’ve never seen any movie that you’ve ever written, and I sure as hell am not going to trust my story to someone like you.’ I was going to storm off and never talk to this guy again, but Sam grabbed my arm, pulled me closer and smiled up at me – he can be a very charismatic guy – and he said, ‘I was just testing you, I wanted to see if you’d piss your pants. You didn’t. Sit down, and let’s talk.’ That went down in history as probably one of the most awkward meetings of my life.”

At the Beverly Hilton, Childers told me that even when he was in utero, pastors prophesized that he would become a preacher. “By the time I was 18, my mother thought they were all liars,” he joked. “But even when I was running with the worst of them, my Bible was always in my duffle bag along with my sawed-off shotgun.”

By the time Childers was in his early teens, he said, “I was selling drugs to school teachers, and sleeping with school teachers.” He became a junkie and, “because I carried a gun everywhere, bar fights turned into knife fights, which turned into gun fights, he said. Robbing other drug dealers provided some easy (and not so easy) money: One heist began, Childers said, when “I announced our arrival by busting their door in with a baseball bat.”

At one point when Sam and his wife, Lynn, were living in a filthy trailer park in Florida, he said, “I was in a bad bar fight, which turned out to be a shootout, and I almost got killed. That night I told my wife, ‘We’re moving back to Pennsylvania, because someone is going to kill me [if we stay here]. I ain’t got a problem with dying, but I have a problem with what I’m dying for.’”

Immediately after moving back to Central City, PA, Lynn – who had given up stripping several years earlier – began attending a pentecostal (Assemblies of God) church with Childers’ mother. “Lynn pestered me for years about going with her, but even though I was raised in the church, and I knew the right way, I was running from it,” Childers said.

He had, however, given up the harder drugs and was in the process of building a construction business when, one hot night in June 1992, Lynn finally talked him into accompanying her to a revival where the guest evangelist happened to be from South Africa. “I sat in the back row, and wouldn’t go up to the altar,” Childers recalled. “The preacher came back and said to me, ‘What is your problem? The power of God is all over you’—and I broke. I gave my heart to God right there in the back row of that church.

“The next night, they were in revival, so I went back to the church and sat right up front, because all through the day I was just craving what I had felt the night before. I already had made the commitment, so I was ready to go full blast. The preacher started prophesizing over me at the altar, but the more he prophesied, the madder I got.”

Specifically, the pastor predicted that Childers would accompany him to Africa during a time of war, a claim Childers found outlandish. “ I was so angry, I [thought], ‘I’m going to beat the snot out of this guy after church,’” Childers said. “I literally waited for him to come outside and then I started cursing at him, saying, ‘Don’t tell me I’m going to Africa’—and I mean I’m using some choice words and I’m cussing at this preacher. But all he did was smile at me and he said, ‘We’ll see.’

It took six years, but Childers – by then a successful contractor—finally did agree to travel to Africa in 1998 to help with construction in remote villages. He was devastated by the scars of civil war he found in the southern Sudan: “One day we were in the bush – radical Islamists had planted land mines all over the area, like they have in so many other places in the Sudan – and among the mangled corpses, we came across the body of a child,” Childers said. “From the waist down there was nothing; I couldn’t tell if it had been a boy or a girl. The body was a few days old, and you could see that it was starting to decay in the heat. I started to cry; I couldn’t understand how we could allow something like this to happen. And I said, ‘God, I’ll do anything I can to help these people.’

“When I got back home, all I could remember was people starving and going without water,” Childers continued. “Three months later, I remember sitting down at my kitchen table and just crying because there was food on the table; at that time I was making pretty decent money. And I just started selling everything I had to go back to Africa.

“First I started supporting and helping government soldiers from southern Sudan pull land mines out, and I did that for about a year; then I ran a mobile [medical] clinic for more than a year, and then I wanted to start the orphanage.

We had gone riding outside of [the town of] Nimule one day and I just stopped in the middle of nowhere and started walking around. God spoke to me inside my heart and said, ‘This is where I want you to build the children’s home for the war orphans.’”

I asked Childers what it feels like to hear God: “It’s almost like when your conscience speaks to you,” he said, adding, “in my case, I know it’s God because it’s always something I don’t want to do.”

During frequent trips to the Sudan, Childers spent long periods away from Lynn and their young daughter, Paige, and sometimes used all the family’s income on his charities. “I had a car repossessed, I almost lost my home, my marriage, and most everything I owned at one time,” he said. In his book, he describes his angst when Paige (now an adult) asked why he loved the African children more than her.

When I asked Childers about this, however, he said,“I believe you’re asking questions that are irrelevant. I’m just going to say that everything in my life is done because of God. If you can’t accept that, the interview is over.”

I change the subject to how Childers’ memoir differs from the film; one notable change is that the movie leaves out a number of the preacher’s personal experiences of faith. Why not show more of that in the film? “You need to ask whether we intended this movie to be faith-based or for the secular world,” Childers said. “If they would have included all the God [references], it would have made this a Christian movie…I could care less if a Christian person likes the movie; I’m here for the ones who need to know God.”

There is another reason, as well: The message of the film, Childers said, “is that there are still people dying in the Sudan; there are hundreds of thousands of children being killed all over the [country.] In one area of Darfur, 6,000 children are dying each month….So I use my platform to tell the world that this is still going on.”
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Wed Oct 05, 2011 5:07 am

Review: Butler's performance highlights 'Preacher'
By Christy Lemire
Associated Press

Posted: 10/03/2011

Gerard Butler gives it his all as the title character in "Machine Gun Preacher," a drama based on the true story of biker-turned-humanitarian Sam Childers.

It's a performance that's gruff and defiant, volatile and raging and even tender at times -- the kind of role Mel Gibson might have played 20 years ago. Childers lived a life of drugs and crime until he found Jesus, then traveled to Sudan to build an orphanage for the youngest victims of the ravaged African nation's civil war.

But even though director Marc Forster's film is rooted in actual events, it's hard to shake the uncomfortable sensation of watching yet another story that glorifies the white savior. Aside from Souleymane Sy Savane as a rebel soldier named Deng who serves as Sam's friend, guide and much-needed calming influence, the black characters who prompt Sam to sacrifice everything and put himself in danger feel more like ideas than fleshed-out humans.

Forster clearly means well in bringing such an inspiring story to the screen, and he does depict this place vividly -- both its natural beauty and its brutality. As he proved with his breakout film "Monster's Ball," he's not one to shy away from showing the uglier elements of human nature. Actually, some scenes at the start of the film, when Sam is hitting his lowest point, are just as startling as those that occur later on.

But Forster makes some awkward tonal shifts between the violence in Africa and the increasing instability at home in rural Pennsylvania, where Sam's ex-stripper wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), and their daughter, Paige (Madeline Carroll), are waiting for him. Michael Shannon offers some intriguing moments, as always, as Sam's former running buddy, but ultimately doesn't get enough to do.

He and Sam both undergo a transformation from shooting up in a biker-bar bathroom to shouting their love of the Lord that feels too swift, too painless. You wonder whether Sam misses his wild days, whether he struggles to stay clean. Then again, as he becomes more driven to raise more money and save more children -- and as he becomes disillusioned by the indifference of those around him back home -- it's clear he's simply traded one addiction for another.

By the end "Machine Gun Preacher" comes full-circle, depicting Sam as being just as screwed up as he was at the beginning, albeit with a higher calling that's hard to argue with. That feels a bit too tidy, too. The real Sam Childers, who's still working in Sudan, is probably more complicated than this.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Wed Oct 05, 2011 5:11 am

Machine Gun Menace
Hollywood shouldn't glorify this bible-thumping, pistol-packing vigilante.

"The Lord I serve is the living Lord Jesus. And to show you he's alive, I'm going to send you to meet him right now!" — from Another Man's War, by Sam Childers

As a blockbuster plot, it's hard to beat: The Rev. Sam Childers was on a mission from God. In an effort to escape the demons of a misspent life of petty crime and violence, he left his bad-boy biker ways behind and dove headfirst into one of the world's bloodiest civil wars, armed to the teeth, personally rescuing child soldiers from the grasp of a brutal African militia. Childers then sold his worldly possessions to build an orphanage to house the rescued children and is now going after the man responsible for their suffering -- and by the grace of God he will, with great vengeance and furious anger, kill him. Personally.

That's how Sam Childers tells his life story. He's also the hero of Machine Gun Preacher, Hollywood's latest take on the "white man saves Africa" theme. The movie stars Gerard Butler of 300 fame as Childers and was directed by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Quantum of Solace); it opens throughout the United States on Friday, Sept. 23. But as is often the case with Hollywood movies based on supposedly true stories, the whole truth is more complicated. Blockbuster movies turn rough situations into smooth narratives where the good guys know what needs to be done -- and do it, damn the consequences. In the real world, though, actions ripple out and even the best-intentioned amateur humanitarian can make a bad situation worse.

The movie is based on Childers's 2009 memoir, Another Man's War. He tells his life story in a rambling, disjointed mishmash of personal redemption and righteous African crusade. Childers starts at the beginning: He was a biker gang member who loved to fight and always had a sawed-off shotgun within reach; he used and sold drugs and once stabbed a hitchhiker. Then he found Jesus Christ. He kicked the drug habit, turned his life around, and went on a mission trip to Sudan.

Childers first went to southern Sudan in 1998, when the area was being ravaged by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal guerrilla group led by Joseph Kony that was infamous for abducting children, forcing the boys to fight and the girls to become sex slaves. There are no doubts that Kony is a callous, despicable theocratic thug -- and likely a madman -- responsible for taking thousands of innocent lives but Childers's account of his intersection with the man is troubling.

In his memoir, Childers tells the story of building an orphanage in Nimule, a small town near the Sudan-Uganda border. Between constant appeals for donations, Childers expounds shallowly on Sudan's recent history, rails against radical Muslims, brags about his guns, and offers pointers for conducting armed rescue missions (tip: tape two AK-47 clips together to speed reloading.) Childers says he started leading a heavily armed posse of Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers to rescue Kony's child soldiers by force. And, apparently, he set out to track and kill Kony himself.

It would take a miracle for all of Childers's claims to be completely true, starting with the SPLA story. In his book he describes leading a group of SPLA soldiers who call him their commander. The SPLA begs to differ: As Childers was touring the United States to promote his book and raise money for his charity, an SPLA spokesman released a statement saying, "The SPLA does not know Sam Childers ... the SPLA is appealing to those who are concerned to take legal measures against Sam for ... misusing the name of an organization which is not associated with him."

After I quoted this news release on my blog, one of Childers's backers sent me a scan of a "letter of support" that SPLA Lt. Gen. Obuto Mamur Mete purportedly sent Childers. That letter simply states that Childers runs an orphanage in Nimule and is authorized to possess a pistol and rifle for personal security -- a far cry from stocking an arsenal and running armed raids to kill Kony. Then last month, the Daily Mail quoted the same Lt. Gen. Mete as telling the Sunday Times, "Sam Childers was responsible for an orphanage in southern Sudan; that was all. His claims to have fought alongside us are a lie. He has never even seen the LRA."

There are pictures of Childers on his website, guns in hand, with current or former SPLA forces. And perhaps he did indeed take a handful of irregulars on these ill-planned missions. It's also possible that the SPLA's disavowal of Childers is part of attempts to be seen as more legitimate, especially now that it is the official military of the world's newest country, South Sudan. (Last year, the SPLA announced it would demobilize all of its own child soldiers.)

Or these inconsistencies may be just the tip of the iceberg. After I initially wrote about Childers, I spoke with him by phone, hoping to clarify some prior public statements. Various interviews have described him showing off his cache of pistols, machine guns, grenades, and RPGs. In a must-read Vanity Fair profile, Childers claimed to have sold weapons to "factions in Rwanda and Congo." I wanted to know more about his weapons -- from where he got them and to whom he sold them. But in our conversation, Childers denied having ever sold weapons to anyone in Africa.

It has been only a few months since another memoir of an American saving children in a war-torn country -- Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea -- was revealed to be a massive fraud. When the story broke, many people close to Mortenson said that they had quietly expressed doubts for years about his tales and the management of his charity. Perhaps they feared rocking the boat, upsetting the cult of personality that had grown around him -- and wasn't Mortensen's heart in the right place, anyway, even if there were some worrying inconsistencies in his story? Didn't he do some good too?

But let's put aside the question of whether every word of Childers's book and his recent interviews is true. It's his narcissistic model of armed humanitarianism that we should be worried about. In his book, Childers describes a scene in which he and his gang of SPLA soldiers drive toward a group of LRA militiamen, firing indiscriminately -- at God's urging, of course. It may look cool on the big screen, but this crosses a line from humanitarianism to misguided vigilantism. Childers's underlying assumption seems to be that the region's conflicts would end if the good guys could just kill enough bad guys. This assumes not only that the good guy can magically discern who the bad guys are, but that killing -- from attacking the LRA to selling weapons -- doesn't fuel future conflict.

Childers justifies his tactics with a shop-worn thought experiment. "Just for one moment imagine if [that child] was yours and I could go stop it," he asks.

But by conflating humanitarian work with Wild West-style vigilantism, Childers makes the world more dangerous for the many aid workers risking their lives to do good in places like South Sudan. The anonymous aid worker who writes the widely read blog Tales from the Hood makes this point: "We [aid workers] very often go into insecure places where our presence and the associated suspicion that we may have ulterior motives puts not only us, but our local colleagues and those we're trying to help at greater risk, too.... Every time [Childers] puts up another video of himself jumping into his white SUV with an AK47 across his lap, he increases the likelihood that I or someone I care about is going to get shot."

Hollywood loves a hero. And now that the silver screen has its Rambo-preacher-orphan-saver, there may be no stopping the Machine Gun Preacher. Even if many American Christians skip the movie because of its R rating, his Angels of East Africa charity will likely reap donations galore.

What's next for Sam Childers? He said he wants to set up operations in Somalia (no way that could go wrong). In the end, perhaps it's Childers himself who says it best. "Who on earth would give money to some pistol-packing ex-biker dude who might be as crazy as the rebel leader he was after?" he writes. Alas, too many already have.,0
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Wed Oct 05, 2011 5:42 pm

Review: 'Machine Gun Preacher'
By Mick LaSalle / San Francisco Chronicle

"Machine Gun Preacher” is a movie about a very tough character with a mean streak a yard long. When we first meet Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), he is being released from prison. He strolls out wearing leather biker gear and proceeds to give his wife (Michelle Monaghan) a hard time because she has quit her job as a stripper. When she says she has become a Christian, he gets loud and threatening and tells her she will always be a stripper and a junkie.

He shoots heroin, robs people at gunpoint and, in a particularly flamboyant moment, stabs a guy about 10 times and throws him from a car. So when Sam finds religion, we never forget what is in this guy and what he's capable of.

That really is the story of “Machine Gun Preacher,” a study of a violent man and how his violence is directed and transmuted based on where he is and what he happens to believe at any given time. Sometimes he is a Christian, sometimes he isn't.

Based on a true story, the movie stars Gerard Butler, who plays Childers as complicated and courageous, which is the more interesting explanation for his behavior (the other being that Childers is forceful but weak-minded and a little nuts). As long as Butler is on screen — and he is in virtually every scene — there is something to look at and study. Butler has scored this performance so that at all times we can take Sam's spiritual temperature, which ranges from healthy humility and protectiveness to crazy confidence and out-of-control hostility.

Most of the film deals with Sam's work in the Sudan and Uganda. A missionary to Africa inspires his interest, and from that point on Africa, most particularly its orphans, becomes a focus and then an obsession for him.

This is interesting only to a point. There is a sameness about Childers' African exploits, a series of attacks by evil rebels, followed by reprisals and skirmishes. The movie doesn't give us much to look forward to in terms of external action, so we focus instead on the progress of Sam's emotions: Is he losing his faith? Is he getting eaten up by hatred?

But even that kind of speculation is limited, because of the movie's reluctance to pass judgment. Is Sam a hero or a lunatic? He's possibly neither, or a possibly a little of both, but this is the problem with making a movie about a real person.

“Machine Gun Preacher” is Butler's show all the way. Director Marc Forster (“Monster's Ball”) gives the movie the grainy look of a mid-1980s grindhouse feature, but somewhere in the middle of the film, the energy drops out, and Forster never quite gets it back.

Running time: 127 minutes

MPAA rating: R (violence, profanity, drug use, sexuality)

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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Oct 06, 2011 4:59 pm

"Machine Gun Preacher"

Partly shot last year in metro Detroit, this unfocused effort is based on the real-life story of Sam Childers, a former addict and biker who became a lay minister and who is still devoting his life to the children of Sudan as they struggle in the midst of a brutal and bloody civil war. Childers' story is potentially compelling, but director Marc Forster moves from one topic to the next so quickly that the movie plays like a two-hour-plus trailer. He so desperately wants "Machine Gun Preacher" to be important -- and to get star Gerard Butler nominated for an Oscar -- that he ignores plot development and storytelling. Rated R; violence, disturbing content, language, drug use, a scene of sexuality. 2 hours, 7 minutes. By Bill Goodykoontz, Gannett News Service.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Oct 06, 2011 5:06 pm

Have gun. Will preach. Seriously? Christian ethics and Machine Gun Preacher

Monday, October 3, 2011
By Bryan Cones

The reviews are in: Machine Gun Preacher is, um, what was that again?

That would be the movie based (loosely) on the life of ex-con and ex-addict Sam Childers, who came to Christ in prison, became a preacher, and went on to build an orphanage/relief effort in the Sudan. The movie about him has him packing ammo, blowing away the bad guys in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in defense of his orphans.

The video interview with Childers, in which he says he doesn't mind being called the "machine gun preacher," is both inspiring and puzzling. He clearly has no problem with his portrayal as a Christian vigilante in another part of the world. At the same time he's trying to raise awareness about the plight of children in conflict zones throughout the world, especially when the combatants have no problem turning children into soldiers or sex slaves.

There's no doubt the the LRA is evil, pure and simple, but is the lock-and-load approach a legitimate Christian way to go? If the reviewers are to be believed (Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Betsy Sharkey of the L.A. Times), this is a blood-soaked vengeance tale given a Christian veneer because the subject is a preacher. In the end I wonder if the bulk of the folks who do the real relief work on the ground want to be associated with this kind of army. (Hard to say how much of the "action" has roots in real life; Childers has no problem with the portrayal.)

I guess we're stuck with the usual question: Do the ends (saving Sudanese children) justify the means (dispatching your enemies with an automatic weapon)?
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Oct 06, 2011 5:17 pm

Is America Ready for a Christian Rambo?
By James P. Pinkerton

Published October 03, 2011

Is America ready for a Christian Rambo? And does it make a difference if the story of this Rambo--as opposed to the Sylvester Stallone character from the 80s--is, in fact, true? Those are the questions posed by a remarkable new movie, “Machine Gun Preacher.” The film offers a peek into a once-dark, subsequently redeemed, human heart, even as it opens a window into an ongoing horror half a world away.

Ever since the days when Jesus walked the earth as a man, Christians have struggled with the question of how they themselves should live.

At different times, they have come up with different answers, In the 15th century, a Catholic monk, Thomas à Kempis, wrote Imitation of Christ, offering guidelines for a quiet and pious and life: “The pure, simple, and steadfast spirit is not distracted by many labors, for he does them all for the honor of God”; the Kempis book is said to be the most-read Christian book in history, second only to the Bible.

Meanwhile, Crusaders and Conquistadors, for their part, have had their own, far different take on Christian duty.

Today, many Americans wear the “What Would Jesus Do?” wristband, and yet they still come up with different answers.

And then there’s Sam Childers, the biker ex-con who found Jesus, and then founded a church in a gritty part of western Pennsylvania. In the film, we see Childers reaching out to his own kind: “God doesn’t call the good, he calls the sinner.” In one service, a girl sings “Amazing Grace”-- as the camera pans over a motley but salvation-minded crew of onetime strippers, drug-dealers, and other hard-lucksters.

But wait, there’s more. In the 90s, Childers felt the call to travel to Sudan, inspired to build an orphanage in that troubled African land. Sudan, of course, is one of the most blood-soaked nations on earth--although “nation” is hardly the right word for the place.

For nearly six decades the region, has been wracked by intermittent civil war, as well as by extreme poverty and that newer scourge, AIDS. The Muslim government in the capital of Khartoum has been accused of genocide on two fronts.

In the west, the regime fought against fellow Muslims in the province of Darfur--a fight that has caught the attention of George Clooney, Mia Farrow, and other Hollywood celebrities. Meanwhile, in the south, the government’s Muslim army fought for decades to suppress the mostly Christian south; that fight inspired an ecumenical relief effort of its own, led by humanitarians as diverse as evangelist Franklin Graham and Fox News’ own Ellen Ratner.

Interestingly, just this year, the Christian south won its independence from the Muslim north, and the new nation of South Sudan has been admitted to the U.N.

Sadly, fighting still rages in the area. Religion is one flashpoint, as are disputes over oil and precious minerals. Making the situation even worse, South Sudan and other neighboring countries such as Uganda have been terrorized by a shadowy group called the Lord’s Resistance Army, perhaps most easily described as an African version of the Khmer Rouge, the murderous Cambodian regime in the 70s. In fact, the movie’s “R” rating comes mostly from its graphic depiction of LRA atrocities.

So what should a Christian do when confronted with such evil? Turn the other cheek? Or, instead, fight back? Let others debate that question: We know Childers’ answer--he’s the "Machine Gun Preacher."

Movies always take liberties to make a better story, but if “Preacher” is even half-true--and there’s plenty of evidence that it is overwhelmingly true --it’s an astonishing and inspiring tale. And Childers, still very much alive, is not even 50 years old. Who knows what this self-described “hillbilly from Pennsylvania” will do next?

To help things along, Childers is portrayed in the film by the actor Gerard Butler, perhaps best known to audiences as the heroic--and bombastically Scots-accented--Spartan warrior-king in “300.” And so while the violent heroism of “Preacher” might remind some of “Rambo”--indeed, one character makes the analogy explicit--the new film is far more nuanced, far more aware of the cost of foreign adventure.

In fact, in its unsparing depiction of hard lives and in its bittersweet conclusion, “Preacher” hearkens back to another film that also begins in a little town near Pittsburgh and then shifts over to a far-away conflict. That was “The Deer Hunter,” set during and after the Vietnam War, a film that won five Academy Awards back in 1978, including best picture.

Indeed, “Preacher” has some of the same whipsaw effect. At one moment, it’s working-class Americans battling their own demons on the homefront; the next moment, it’s an American engaging in horrific combat against demonic enemies in the African bush.

“Deer Hunter,” ultimately, is about the damage done to Americans in wartime; “Preacher” chronicles the same sort of pain and loss, even as it highlights the good that Americans can do in foreign fighting. As Childers says in Africa, “Helping you kids is about the only good thing I’ve done in this life.” Meanwhile, his own family, back in Pennsylvania, loyally bears with him.

So “Preacher” raises thought-provoking questions on three levels:

First, what should people of faith and goodwill be doing to help this war-torn part of Africa? We’ve sent billions of dollars in foreign aid to the area; what more, or what else, should we be doing?

Second, what is happening to the American heartland in the globalized 21st century? Not so long ago, western Pennsylvania was the steelmaking heart of industrial America. Yet, as “Preacher” reminds us, today the working class has been eroded not only by the economic ravages of outsourcing and unemployment, but also by the moral ravages of drugs and dissolving families. Is this our future? Is this bleak vision what we have to look forward to? Or will some new Great Awakening move the soul of our nation and help restore hard-working virtue?

And third, what is the nature of redemption? How are believers changed as a result of their faith and their faith-driven deeds? “Preacher” is endlessly challenging on that score--Childers is no saint; he is moody and temperamental to the end, clearly forsaking his family as he goes off to save a distant part of the world. And yet at the same time, Christians should never expect to have it easy because of their faith.

As Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And while Childers is still alive, he has repeatedly and bravely risked his life to save the lives of others--and that’s about as Christian as it gets.
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PostSubject: Re: Reviews   Thu Oct 06, 2011 5:18 pm

Movie review: 'Machine Gun Preacher'

Gerard Butler stars as an ex-con who fights for Sudanese children, but Marc Forster's direction lacks discipline.

Gerard Butler stars as Sam Childers, an ex-con who gets religion and heads… (Phil Bray, Relativity Media)September 23, 2011|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film CriticYou may not fear God, but you best fear Sam Childers. Or at least I think that's the message of "Machine Gun Preacher," starring Gerard Butler and Gerard Butler (sorry, but it is just that emphatically his movie) as a locked-and-loaded, Bible-toting bad boy determined to take down Satan in Sudan.

If anything, watching the film is like attending an old-style Southern tent revival — you want to believe in the fight against all that fire and brimstone. Heck, you want to join the righteous brigade. But when the lights go up and the fever dies down, it feels more like you've witnessed a show than a real showdown with the devil.

Still, it's somewhat soul-quenching to get all riled up for a good cause once in a while. It's also a reminder that even in the very capable hands of director Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Stranger Than Fiction"), yet another morality tale with white man as savior of African cause is tough to pull off in this day and age even when it's based on a true story, as this is.

Butler, looking about as buff as he was in "300," slips easily into the skin of the very real, larger-than-life Sam Childers, a guy who comes with one of the great redemption stories going. Sam, once mired in a biker-drug-addicted-prison life, comes out on the other side to find religion. He gets into the construction trade and builds his own church (like a certain biblical figure he'll try, but fail, to model). On a brief mission trip to Africa, he finds his calling: helping Sudanese children who've been orphaned or conscripted by the region's brutal rebel force.

In time, though, the preacher finds his Bible and his hammer aren't enough. To make a difference against the Lord's Resistance Army in Sudan, it takes an assist from a machine gun to drive home the point. At home, back in Pennsylvania, where about half of the movie takes place, Sam proves to be locked and loaded too, his emotions nearly as lethal at times as his gun. It's clear that the aching need he sees in Africa and the affluent complacency he finds in the U.S. trigger his frustration, but as to what shaped him into such an angry man in the first place, we're never really given a clue.

Having such a complicated man as a central character is a blessing and a curse for the filmmakers, and the movie struggles because of this. There's a lot of setup that screenwriter Jason Keller needs to dispense with quickly (this is his first produced screenplay to hit theaters, though there are a fistful more on the way). It makes for a bumpy entry for most of the rest of the film's very good, but under-utilized cast — Michelle Monaghan ("Source Code") as Lynn, Childers' long-suffering wife; Kathy Baker ("Cider House Rules," TV's "Picket Fences") as Daisy, his even longer-suffering mother; and Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road") as Donnie, his addiction-plagued longtime friend.

The movie opens with Sam leaving prison, Lynn waiting outside to pick him up. Despite some energetic welcome-back sex in the front seat of their rattletrap, there is trouble in paradise. While Sam's been in lockup, Lynn's been born again and has given up stripping, which apparently provided the financial support for the family, including daughter Paige (Madeline Carroll). Even if you buy the fact that in letters, phone calls and prison visits, Lynn never breathed a word of her major lifestyle changes to Sam (despite their electric connection), it's a lot to stuff into a few scenes, and it ends up a bit of a mess.

After Forster gets us past that and Sam starts his trips to Africa, the film settles down into the action-thriller in a war-torn country that is really destined to be. Even the look is richer, from dense undergrowth where dark deeds happen to wide, unsheltered vistas that turn the orphanage Sam builds into an easy target for the LRA.

With cinematographer Roberto Schaefer (who's worked on all of Forster's films), the filmmaker gives everything to the Africa staging. Rural Pennsylvania, home base for Lynn, Paige, Daisy and Donnie, pales by comparison — both visually and in its story. There simply isn't enough time to do justice to both and so, like Sam, Forster chooses Sudan. A similar divide infected the director's 2007 film, "The Kite Runner," powerful in rendering the Afghan childhood of two boys, less so when examining the imprint it left on their adult lives.

The Sudan side of the story allows Butler to flex his action muscles as Sam finds an outlet for the rage that always seems just under the surface even when he's trying for godly. It also puts the excellent Souleymane Sy Savane center stage. If you haven't seen Sy Savane in the indie "Goodbye Solo," now is the time to catch up, and if the Hollywood gods are with us, he will soon be around for us to watch a lot more often.

Meanwhile, Sam as a character is a good fit for Butler, always a dominating physical presence on screen à la "300," a trait that tends to overwhelm and undermine his romantic comedy outings, as was the case in "The Bounty Hunter" and "The Ugly Truth." Sam's mission lets the actor combine the machismo with the emotion that you wondered if Butler could channel as well. He can. Butler and Sy Savane, an anti-LRA fighter who befriends Sam, make a good pair too — one explosive, the other introspective, those sensibilities balancing each other to give the film its most moving relationship.

For Forster, "Machine Gun Preacher" continues the director's exploration of the central theme found in virtually all of his work — the human spirit struggling to survive. He gives this uplifting saga all of his passion. It could have used a good deal more of his discipline as well.
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