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June 2016

Appalachian Trial (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Hart family wants to help the hurting Crandall family, so they decide to take them to their favorite camping spot in the Appalachian mountains.  However, the Crandall family, a father and his two sons, are not well suited to the outdoors at all.  Thankfully, the Hart patriarch is an expert outdoorsman and is well-versed in his ability to impersonate an Animal Planet narrator when he instructs others in his art.  But the most horrific thing happens when the Hart siblings and the Crandall brothers get lost on ‘the trail’ and take a wrong turn that sends them out into no man’s land.  But never fear, because Mr. Hart is ready to save the day with his Discovery Channel knowledge as Mrs. Hart does her women’s duty by staying at the tent and praying.  In the end, both families will learn heartwarming lessons of friendship, family, and faith.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Appalachian Trial is about what you can expect from a C-grade fundamentalist Christian production outfit.  The only positives are the fairly consistent sound quality and the pretty good camera work.  Otherwise, there’s nothing good to say here.  The video quality is grainy and the sets and locations are severely limited.  While the surroundings are basically realistic, no one really wants to watch a movie shot entirely inside of vehicles, at a fire pit, and in the flora and fauna of Appalachia.  The musical score is just about as annoying as it gets, like it was recorded by Bob Jones’ star music students on a flute and an old piano.  Finally, the editing is abhorrent.  This ‘film’ plays out like a bunch of outdoor and camping tutorials spliced together.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Unusual Films saw the tutorials they play in class and decided to add some ‘drama’ to them, to splice them together in the reel to reel room, and to call that a movie.  Like seriously.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

There is zero plot content in this eighty-minute camping docu-drama.  The storylines are flat; no one wants to watch a grainy depiction of people driving, trudging through the forest, stacking wood, building fires, and making hot dogs.  The characters are childish, with the exception of Mr. Hart, who is a walking encyclopedia of outdoor knowledge with a radio voice.  Mrs. Hart fulfills all stereotypes of how fundamentalist Christians think motherhood should be.  Mr. Crandall is obnoxious and petty.  The kids remind us too much of kids from homeschool groups gone by.  The dialogue throughout is absurd and wooden.  If it’s any consolation, there is a pretty good gospel presentation, but it’s so deep into this mind numbing reject video that I seriously doubt anyone will ever find it.  Simply put, there is no plot here and therefore no points are awarded.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This tiny cast was never suited to be in a movie.  Not a single cast member needed to be cast.  This is not a personal attach on the actors and actresses, but some people should never be forced into acting.  I know I would never want to act and I would likely never allow myself to be cast.  Bob Jones seems intent on constantly casting awkward white people in all of their ‘films’.  Emotions are not conveyed well by the cast members and line delivery is terrible.  I’m sorry, but this just wasn’t their calling.

Conclusion

Another Bob Jones creation, another disaster.  But hey, at least it’s better than The Treasure Map!  Of course, improving from -10 points is a feat that could have been accomplished by anyone.  Unusual Films existed so early on in Christian entertainment history that they were likely the only ones making these sorts of films of their day, which should explain why entertainment is where it is today.  All Bob Jones ever wanted to do with these ‘films’ was push their white patriarchal fundamentalist Christian propaganda.  With no real ideas and terrible delivery, there was no reason to ever make ‘films’ like this.

 

Final Rating: .5 point out of 10 points

 

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Hall of Fame Rewind: Woodlawn

Check out our review of Woodlawn here!

Hall of Fame Rewind: War Room

Check out our review for War Room here!

What Audiences Want

Per the Calgary Herald, When Calls the Heart fans, also known as #Hearties, are very much in love with the Hallmark series because it’s family friendly and wholesome.  At the beginning of the show, there was an attempt to craft meaningful characters, and fans still hold on to this, even though character quality has significantly decreased since the inaugural season.  Michael Landon Jr. right hand man Brian Bird has said before that their show fills a deep desire in fans for wholesome entertainment.

So what does this mean?  It means that however cheesy and disappointing WCTH may become, they still have a devoted fan base because there’s nothing else. WCTH exists in a vacuum.  They were obviously trying harder at first because they had to, but now they don’t have to try because there’s no competition in their genre.  This is a sad reality, because there is so much potential in WCTH alone, but we firmly believe that this genre of TV series is largely untapped.  What if there were even better family-friendly weekly series on television and on-demand services?

Christian and inspirational viewers may like certain aspects of non-family-friendly entertainment (this definition is very broad and subjective), they still desperately want wholesome entertainment.  So where are the Christian creative geniuses?  Entertainment still remains to be another area where western Christians have allowed other ideas to fill the vacuum.  The inspirational genre is starved for quality creations.  Hallmark, despite their flaws, would likely approve any series that marketed well and was crafted for their target audience.  The vast world of on-demand entertainment remains untapped by Christians.

What we need is a generation of creative Christians to rise up and redeem entertainment by making better entertainment.  Due to financial constraints, they would obviously have to start out small, but it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere.  If God wants you to create redemptive entertainment, then He will provide.  We must be open to what God wants us to create, because as we have seen, entertainment has a profound effect on western culture and even the entire world.  Christian entertainment has too long been dominated by low-quality and propaganda-ridden sediment, and it’s time for that to change.

Saving Sarah Cain (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sarah Cain used to be a successful column writer, but lately she’s been experiencing writer’s block.  To make matters worse, her Amish sister, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, suddenly dies, leaving Sarah as the legal guardian of her five Amish nieces and nephews.  In a moment of desperation, Sarah writes a column about the children and accidentally stumbles upon success.  Therefore, she agrees to take the kids to her Chicago apartment in order to secretly continue writing about them.  The five children discover that they are in the midst of culture shock when they must assimilate into big city life on a steep learning curve.  In the end, they will all have to be honest with themselves and each other in order to find the lives they were meant for.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a part of the Fox Faith era of Christian film, Saving Sarah Cain enjoyed increased production success compared to movies before it.  The camera work is good, but the video quality could be better.  The sound quality is a little above average while the use of music throughout is actually really good.  This is something more Christian films need to do effectively.  The set and locations are believable and diverse.  The editing is pretty good, though there are some parts that leave you scratching your head as to what is actually going on.  Overall, there is really not much else to say regarding Sarah Cain’s production; it all comes out as just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the innovative Amish novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis, this film almost captures the original purpose of the book, but not entirely.  The elements are there, but there just isn’t much feeling in this movie.  The characters are portrayed as very one-dimensional, not putting forth the depth they should in this highly character-driven plot.  Since the storyline is so linear, the characters have to take up the slack, but they do not go as far as they need to.  This is likely because the dialogue is very pedestrian and safe.  Safe is actually a good word to use to describe this film.  No risks are taken and no rewards are reaped.  While it is an interesting fish-out-of-water tale, it’s not dynamic enough or deep enough to warrant a higher score.  While there are some interesting psychological elements and backstory throughout, the ending is enough to put a damper on anything creative in the rest of the movie, as it leaves viewers wondering what they were supposed to learn from it.  This film is basically a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the acting really drags down the characters.  Most of the characters are cast very poorly; some seem like they are forced into roles not suited for them.  There is the usual touch of Michael Landon Jr. evident in over-costuming the cast members, including those playing Amish characters.  Emotions are overplayed throughout and line delivery is forced most of the time.  While there are some funny moments, the acting is overall a disappointment.

Conclusion

Honestly, this is an instance when the book is better than the movie.  The movie removes meaningful elements from the novel, which is probably why they ended up with the paint-yourself-in-a-corner ending they did.  In addition to being safe, Saving Sarah Cain is also forgettable.  Were it not for its creative use of music (it’s sad that other better movies are not doing this), we probably wouldn’t even remember this film.  While it has plenty of potential, it is a very forced screenplay that unfortunately had little to no impact on Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

PureFlix Goes to Court (Updated)

According to multiple sources, Michael Landon Jr. and co-writer Kelly Monore Kullberg are suing David A. R. White and PureFlix, citing large similarities between their film Rise and the PureFlix film God’s Not Dead. Since God’s Not Dead has grossed over $100 million worldwide, Landon Jr. and Kullberg want $100 million in damages for White and company stealing their plot structure and movie idea and using it for their own good.

We’ve never seen the film Rise, so we cannot comment on the similarities, but if this is true, this is a huge setback for the Whites and PureFlix. Even if this comes to nothing, it should be a huge wakeup call for them to create original content and to avoid shady notions. It would be a blow to Christian movie marketing if PureFlix loses this full amount, since they have proven themselves to be effective in marketing Christian films. Yet it would also not be surprising to find that the Whites have been doing funny business all along. These are the kinds of things that can majorly hurt the image of Christian movies even further.

As for the plaintiffs…both of them claim to be Christians and Kullberg is an outspoken atheist convert to Christianity. Landon Jr. has multiple deals with Hallmark to generate his creative content. We can understand their frustration over a stolen idea, but the Bible does warn Christians not to sue other Christians (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). We in no way are ready to defend PureFlix of wrongdoing, but Landon Jr. and Kullberg need to tread very carefully and determine what kind of image this gives to the Christian entertainment world. Satan would like nothing better than to destroy and divide the progress being made in Christian film making.

UPDATE: According to our research, it looks like the movie ‘Rise’ never even made it to production. Instead, the plaintiffs claim that they know their idea was copied because they shared their almost-movie idea with people close to PureFlix while God’s Not Dead was being created. This may or may not strengthen their case, especially if they can prove that they definitely shared the idea with PureFlix while the movie in question was still being written and that they were not compensated for sharing their idea. Of course, they will also have to show that they have exclusive creative control over that movie concept and that their original idea was explicitly copied by PureFlix.

God’s Compass (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Suzanne Waters is giving her official retirement address from her position as a school principal, something happens that night that alters the path of her life and the path of her family.  Her daughter-in-law does into labor while en route back home and is saved by a would-be car thief.  Suzanne’s busy son, an ER doctor, has allowed himself to become swamped with work so much that he barely has time to care for his wife.  Everything changes for them when their baby is born with a potentially life-threatening condition.  As Suzanne tries to support her son and daughter-in-law, she also seeks out the now-arrested criminal who saved the life of her grandson.  Through God’s leading, she does the unthinkable and takes a huge step of faith that changes her life forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Having good quality production elements was obviously a key focus of new filmmakers Stephan Schultze and Scott Curlee.  They used their somewhat limited resources wisely and focused on amplifying their strengths.  The video quality is fairly good throughout, as is the sound quality.  The camera angles are sometimes artistically enhancing and sometimes a bit odd and confusing.  There is some obvious CGI throughout, but it is not completely negative.  The soundtrack is very frustrating because it is sometimes very good and other times non-existent; it needed to be more consistent.  The sets and locations are simple yet realistic.  The editing is good considering the small scope of the plot.  Overall, this is an average production, but it’s really good for a freshman voyage.  Schultze and Curlee stuck to the basics and didn’t get too crazy, which is the most you can ask from new filmmakers.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, the plot is small in scope and little bit too simplistic.  But there is also a creative element that underlines the story and is revealed through creative flashbacks.  Without these flashbacks, the story would be very drab.  Psychological elements such as these should be used more in Christian film, since they make the movie more than what it would have been in their absence.  The characters are few in number, but they are mostly well developed.  We would have liked to see a little more development since there aren’t very many, but they are adequate as they are.  The dialogue is simple yet believable.  There is only one minor twist in the plot, but everything that happens to the characters is very down to earth and accessible by all audiences.  The purpose behind the plot is clearly communicated without being too obvious—the same goes for the Christian message.  In the end, going with a simple plot to begin with is a good idea so you don’t get too far ahead of yourself.  We realize that complexity comes with time and experience, and we also know that God’s Compass will still be popular as it is in many Christian circles.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Having a solid cast in a rookie film is key.  Schultze and Curlee accomplished this.  Though it is small in size, they carry the movie on their shoulders.  Karen Abercrombie and T. C. Stallings remain to be solid cast members.  Jazelle Foster and Joey Ibanez show a lot of potential for the future.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are professional throughout.  The major drawback to this cast is Erin Bethea, as she is awkwardly inserted into the cast for no particular reason or function.  Also, Robert Amaya seems downplayed; it seems like he could have had a larger role.  Otherwise, this is a great casting job.

Conclusion

God’s Compass is a solid beginning to a promising film career.  ‘Solid’ is a word that can easily define this film.  It takes time and experience to make a groundbreaking film, especially when the budget is limited.  Schultze and Curlee did the right thing with a direct to DVD release and they made the right waves in the right places with Compass.  With more creativity coming down the pipe from Liberty University’s film department, we heartily expect even greater things in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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