Second Glance [1992] (Movie Review)

Jesus man!
Jesus man!

Plot Summary

Back in the Dark Ages of Christian film, when David A. R. White was a fresh new face on the scene and when the Christiano brothers competed with Bob Jones University and WorldWide Pictures for control of the market, this movie was borne.  Depicting the iconic struggles of a perfect Christian teenager in an evil fallen high school world, Second Glance has been called ‘the best Christian film ever’ by dubious critics.  This teen feels like he’s not making any difference at all, so he wishes the unthinkable—that he wasn’t a Christian anymore.  He wakes up with this wish come true, so guided by a creepy angel, he is forced to take a second glance at his life.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

In this barely one-hour length extended short film, production errors are aplenty.  Camera work is bad, including a lot of awkward tight shots, and video quality is very poor.  The audio quality is replete with background noises that often drown out dialogue.  Also, a stupid soundtrack blares constantly.  The sets and locations are severely limited, and characters are awkwardly placed in them.  Editing is virtually nonexistent, since they basically cut nothing from this film.  They needed all the wasted time they could get to stretch this glorified skit into an hour-long ‘movie’.  In short, there is nothing positive to highlight here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This movie might as well be called Randy’s Party, because that’s the focal point of the entire plot.  This illustrious event, and that creepy King-James-Version-only angel that keeps following David A. R. White around are the highlights of the film.  In this character-based coming-of-age biopic, the characters are extremely shallow.  The high school kid White plays is extremely perfect and holds his universe together while everyone else is either beholden to his wisdom, neutral, or obviously wicked.  This makes the entire premise of this film absurd and unrealistic.  The dialogue that can be discerned is uninspiring.  There’s really nothing else to say here except that this It’s a Wonderful Life plot concept has been thoroughly worn out at this point.  Next time, please think through your idea before forcing it to happen.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, easily half the lines are unable to be deciphered, partially because of background noises and partially due to mumbled delivery.  Emotions are awkwardly delivered, as with most things involving David A. R. White.  Behavior is extremely obvious and forced, trying to drive home concepts that should be subtle (gee, that sounds familiar).  As with everything else in this film, there is nothing good to note here.

Conclusion

This is such a half-baked idea that it doesn’t even warrant creation.  Couldn’t they have just dumped this one in the early stages?  But no, Christian movies must be made at all costs!  If you stand in the way, you are a persecutory extremist humanist atheist propaganda machine bent on controlling the minds of children.  The world in this movie is portrayed as very bad and oppressive to Christians (an early David A. R. White concept), and Christians must stand up against it or something.  Second Glance could almost be a prequel to Holyman Undercover.  There is really nothing learned from this work, so unless you just want to watch the infamous final scene (depicted above), don’t waste your time.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Advertisements

A Letter for Joe [2013] (Movie Review)

Forgiveness...................is no joke
Forgiveness……………….is no joke

Plot Summary

When a collection of ‘troubled’ guys who hang out in a bar all the time decide to pick on Joe, an impressionable ‘seventeen-year-old’ (for no particular reason), by forging a letter for him from millionaire Howard Hughes.  This letter instructs Joe to fly to Las Vegas and meet Hughes for an important job interview.  Without question, this clueless ‘kid’ jumps to ‘free-wheeling Las Vegas’ and lands himself an accidental job working for the eccentric entrepreneur.  As he jets around the country buying up supposedly historic artifacts, the troubled guys suddenly fall into personal ‘tragedies’ of their own.  Will they ever be able to reconcile and show that forgiveness……..is no joke?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Obviously shot using a limited budget, A Letter for Joe screams cheap church production.  There are many more like this film that are not ninety minutes long and do not make it to on-demand video services.  It boasts all the trademarks of this indie subgenre: shaky camera work (replete with tons of character close-ups and tight shots), grainy video quality, an ear-piercing soundtrack, inconsistent audio quality, and poorly designed sets and props.  Does that about cover it?  I think it does.  Nothing else to see here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This is supposed to be an allegory of the story of Joseph from the Old Testament, but the correlation is so loose that it’s nearly unrecognizable.  All we’re left with is endless scenes of planes flying in the sky, montages of Joe buying ‘historic stuff’, random high school football scenes, a laughable scene that includes a character running with a broken leg, an intelligent discussion on provisional scholarships as two characters sit in a very poorly designed car simulator, and yes, tons of vintage cars.  The so-called plot is head-scratching and downright confusing.  The dialogue that isn’t horribly mumbled does nothing to assist in character development.  Many events happen out of context and there is really no reason for the major plot points to occur.  Basically, whatever was trying to be accomplished here totally fell flat.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Starring as Joe, Evan Schwaaaaab Schwalb delivers the most unsure and low self-esteem acting job since John Carmen as The Rev.  Many other acting performances are also particularly memorable, but not in a good way.  As previously mentioned, many lines from all cast members are terribly mumbled.  Emotions are out of place for the situations they are in.  I think that about covers this area.

Conclusion

A Letter for Joe is essentially a bunch of college guys in Florida who got together to try their hand at movie making.  While they put a lot of effort into acquiring 1970s-era vehicles for visuals, they totally failed at actually making a movie.  This effort makes us nostalgic of unmentionable church films of days gone by.  When dealing with films like this one, the question is always a resounding “Why?”  What’s the purpose of this movie?  Does it provide us with anything besides unwanted laughs?  We seriously doubt it.  A word of advice: film makers, please save your funding for something that’s going to truly make a difference.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Right to Believe [2014] (Movie Review)

What a strange idea.......
What a strange idea…….

Plot Summary

Tony Morris, a reporter for a local newspaper, suddenly finds his faith tested when he is instructed by his maniacal boss to cover a local gay pride parade.  This assignment consists entirely of him interviewing a gay activist in a coffee shop to get that hard hitting piece done.  As they argue back and forth on a wide variety of topics and employ outdated textbook arguments, the audience is left breathless in wonder.  The plot twists and turns even more when Tony and his plastic wife discuss his occupational dilemma while sitting on the world’s most hideous couch (pictured above).  Suspense builds when a random gun-wielding man threatens the lives of the two debaters.  In the end, as the film’s original soundtrack asks us, will anyone have the right to believe?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Being forced to sit through this docu-drama should be a crime.  With poor video quality and amateurish camera work, Right to Believe is a loser in every possible way.  The lighting is very inconsistent in the three sets that are used to film this wonder.  That’s right: there’s only three sets.  Audio quality is the pits, especially when you’re compelled to have the most obnoxious non-Hallmark soundtrack shoved into your ears, complete with the garage band original number that shares its title with this movie.  To round things off, prop usage is high school caliber.  In short, this is perhaps the cheapest looking production we have ever witnessed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This is not a plot.  There is zero plot content and the entire film consists of two long-winded coffee shop debates on homosexuality, sin, Christianity, and other related topics.  Both sides of the issue use strawman arguments, like the Christian character saying that sin is worse in modern times because of technology.  The portrayal of the gay character is cringe-worthy.  Despite there only being three or four main characters, there is no development of any of them as we are forced to watch them stiffly converse in a coffee shop environment and lounge on the world’s most hideous couch.  They are talking points robots programmed to say stereotypical things.

No one will be converted based on the empty arguments offered by either side of the issue.  There’s really not much else to say here except for this film is a total embarrassment.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With literally eight cast members to work with, the acting should be flawless due to efficient acting coaching.  This is not the case (shocker).  More than half the time, spoken lines are indiscernible and mumbled.  There are no realistic emotions to speak of.  But after reviewing the other elements of this film, who’s really surprised?

Conclusion

At the end of this film, there is a black and white epilogue depicting the main character’s confession article as an internationally acclaimed piece, even appearing in Chinese and Russian (?) newspapers and books.  Are we really supposed to believe this is the case?  The writers were obviously bigger in their own heads.  If they really wanted to craft an unforgettable epic on the Christian response to homosexuality, they should have taken more time to actually listen to the other side rather than paint them as illegitimate and stupid.  There is no care or thought in this film as sensitive issues are clinically diagnosed and ‘fixed’ with empty arguments and rhetoric.  In some ways, Right to Believe is an example of the sad state of the American church: cold, unfeeling, entitled, and somewhat delusional.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Heart of the Country [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Faith left her rural North Carolina home to pursue her musical dreams in New York City, she never expected to meet the man of her dreams—or so she thought.  After a whirlwind romance and marriage to Luke Carraday, they are horrified to discover that the investment firm he worked for came under audit by the federal government, landing all employees in jail, including Luke.  Dazed and confused and with no one to turn to, Faith returns home and finds her ailing father the same as he always was.  Though Faith’s sister is not excited about her coming back, Faith’s whole family supports her no matter what happens.  However, none of them foresee the events that about to unfold—events that have the potential to change the direction of their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a modest budget, Heart of the Country did pretty much all they could do with the money they had.  The video quality is excellent and the camera work is professional.  Sound quality is consistent throughout, and the soundtrack is fairly good, even though it’s dominated by Jana Kramer, the lead actress.  The sets and locations are relatively diverse—jumping back and forth from New York City to rural North Carolina works very well.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  The only caveats to raise with this film are some minor editing issues.  Though flashbacks are utilized wonderfully, there are some choppy elements of the production that derail its pursuit of perfection.  But these minor issues aside, this is a formidable production model to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

From the beginning, the plot of Heart of the Country is unique and outside of the norm.  Few movies ever attempt to depict a newlywed couple’s struggles—most movies retreat after the wedding vows are said and we never hear from them again.  The premise of this film is a brave idea that deserve resounding applause.  As previously mentioned, flashbacks enhance this film and make it what it is.  The characters are fairly believable, though they could use a little more development in this character-based plot.  For the most part, this plot avoids the usual return-to-your-hometown clichés.  Unfortunately, the Christian message is quite muted and needed to be a little more meaningful.  Another problem is a number of wasted scenes that could have been used to develop characters and deepen the storyline.  Some elements are understated while others are overstated.  The end is meaningful even though it is slightly expected.  Overall, this is an above average plot that had the potential to be even better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a formidable cast made up of B-grade cast members.  They seem to be coached fairly well.  Line delivery is above average, as are emotions.  One big drawback here is that most of the cast members make excessive use of makeup and costuming.  In the end, this is a respectable acting job.

Conclusion

We’ve said it before, but we really wish that films like Heart of the Country were the baseline of inspirational film.  It includes a unique idea, professional production, believable characters, and commendable acting.  We also wish films like this one would go all the way and achieve Hall of Fame status.  But nonetheless, films like this one are still enjoyable and definitely worth your while.  It’s unfortunately still a rare find in the industry.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Seven Deadly Words (Movie Review)

They're always watching.........
They’re always watching………

Plot Summary

When the Bennett family moves to Connorsville, Indiana, to lead a struggling small church that’s running low on funds, what they find there is not what they expected.  They find a very small congregation who is largely controlled and influenced by a local rich family.  When Pastor Evan Bennett decides to disagree with them on a riveting budget line item, they unleash their full wrath on his family.  Can the Bennett family survive the onslaught and get their budget passed before darkness descends on the church forever?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Where to begin?  Seven Deadly Words is an experience unlike any other.  For starters, the movie is framed as a fake documentary, sort of like a found footage film, but lacking the usual elements of this indie film genre.  Needless to say, this docu-drama concept just serves as a crutch for poor production quality.  For example, shaky camera work and inconsistent video quality throughout are ‘masked’ by the ‘raw footage’.  The film is filled with constant reality show ‘confessional’ style interviews, which pump the runtime.  Aspect ratios are inconsistent, sometimes trying to depict camcorder recordings.  The audio quality is spotty, as is the lighting.  The editing is spliced together, like it’s literally an amateur documentary.  Again, all of this is chalked up to the documentary style footage, but it’s a stupid excuse for bypassing quality.  Watching this film is very isolating and confusing because of the choice to use this type of delivery.  Essentially, this is just a cheap production that poorly masquerades as a professional one.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This entire film has a strange undertone, like there’s an inside joke we don’t know about.  The movie gives off a very twilight zone feel.  It’s also filled with stupidly unnecessary concepts like the main character always riding a bike instead of driving.  As the so-called plot limps along and jumps from one thing to the next, you have no idea what you’re going to experience next.  Therefore, there is no coherent plot structure and zero character development.  All the characters are just randomly used, and some have next to no air time.  The villains are extremely obvious and over the top.  Dialogue is offbeat and off the wall.  The saddest thing is that this good movie idea about small church corruption is totally squandered.  After much discussion on complex church budget drama and other fake suspense, the movie lurches towards the most bizarre ending ever since Decision.  The bottom line is that there is basically no sense in this storyline and it just reflects another wasted idea ruined by poor planning and little effort.

Acting Quality (0 points)

While having an amateur cast is not an inherent problem, it’s usually ill-advised unless you’re going to employ some series acting coaching.  As can be expected, this was not done in Seven Deadly Words.  The actors and actresses often have random outbursts and rants that have no context.  The emotional vacillations are dizzying.   Some cast members cannot be taken seriously at all.  In short, this section rounds off a truly embarrassing creation.

Conclusion

By the way, there is no explanation of what the ‘seven deadly words’ are or why this movie is entitled that.  As mentioned before, while we know from firsthand experience that small church corruption (i.e. being controlled by one rich family or a handful of them) is very common in America and needs to be exposed in film.  However, like far too many movies before and after it, this one only serves to further blacken the name of Christina film.  The fact that this mess won any awards at all is truly disturbing.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

The Pastor (2018)

Taylor Kalupa and T.C. Stallings in The Pastor (2018)

Coming in 2018 from Action Faith Media and Destiny Entertainment Productions

 

Writer(s): Hector Echavarria

Director(s): Paco Aguilar, Hector Echavarria

Producer(s): Hector Echavarria

Starring: Kevin Sorbo, T. C. Stallings, Abigail Duhon, Hector Echavarria, Cameron McKendry, Taylor Kalupa

 

Plot Synopsis:

In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment. But all that is about to change.

God’s Not Dead 2 (Movie Review)

Is this thing over yet?
Is this thing over yet?

Plot Summary

When Christian teacher Grace Wesley is sued by a student’s parents for daring to mention the name of Jesus in her classroom, she is confused as to what is even happening to her. Yet, inspired by the wisdom of her ailing father whom she takes care of, Grace refuses to back down and begins working with her union-appointed lawyer to fight back in court. With her faith under fire, Grace’s case draws the attention of many from the town of Hope Springs, including Pastor James White David Hill, who serves on the jury. As Grace’s beliefs are attacked and tested over and over again, she must dig deep to withstand the world’s onslaught so that Christianity is not snuffed out forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In the new era of PureFlix, video quality and camera work are no longer in question.  The sets, locations, and surroundings are respectable.  The musical score is average.  On the surface, God’s Not Dead 2 looks like a professional film, but there are many hidden issues therein.  Of the high profile Christian movies we have reviewed, this is possibly the worst edited one to date.  The many-subplots addiction from God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe? is back, and this time, they are more empty than ever.  As will be discussed next, there long sections of this movie that consist of characters staring into space and attempting to sing.  Essentially, this was just a lazy production effort that looks good on the outside but not on the inside.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In this plot, Christian characters are very perfect in every way while atheist characters are hopelessly evil.  What’s more, atheists are borderline ridiculed, giving an embarrassing feel to the film.  Subplots jump all over the place, confusing the viewer.  The premise and other plot happenings are unrealistic and cannot be reconciled with reality.  The storyline is saturated with legal rhetoric that is either only half-true or isolating to the audience.  Besides these glaringly obvious issues, the plot does not hold the attention and is very drab.  There are many slow and melancholy scenes that seem to be designed only to pad the runtime.  Large portions of the film are dedicated to advertising apologetic books and other Christian ‘celebrities’.  While there is a lot of good information in these product placements, it flies over the audience’s heads and is not remembered.  With all this wasted time, there is zero character development, therefore we cannot even appreciate the struggles that are portrayed.  In addition, the dialogue is chock-full of swipes at atheists and ‘worldly’ people.  The ending is very empty and anticlimactic (despite desperate attempts) and even includes an off-the-wall post-credits scene.  Basically, David A. R. White and company just phoned this one in, hoping that the title name recognition would garner them some more cash.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

While this section is not all bad, there is a lot of monotone acting in this film.  In another attempt to create buzz by trotting out C-grade ‘big name’ actors and actresses (in addition to the typical PureFlix clowns), this attempt basically flops.  Most of the characters carry a Hallmark-ish look to them, with far too much makeup and costuming.  Other cast members are just blank—even though they show potential, there’s no one to draw it out.  In the end, there is really nothing new here.

Conclusion

In our experience, the world portrayed in this film has never existed.  This is not to diminish the plights of some, but the realm PureFlix constructs in many of their films is over the top and outside of reality.  Rather than preaching to the choir with a juvenile us-against-the-world narrative that further divides Christians and atheists, the money spent on these types of films would be better spent on films that actually strengthen the church as a whole and tastefully address how American Christian behavior can improve.  No one will be saved as a result of God’s Not Dead 2.  Christians will not be inspired to grow closer to God as a result of viewing this movie.  I would never recommend this movie to a non-believer because the creators give no concern to opposing points of view.  Since we as Christians have the truth, we have no need to force it down people’s throats with no regard for their feelings.  Delegitimizing someone else’s beliefs has no place in the gospel message.  Yet with an awkwardly placed post-credits scene, we are all but promised more of the same nonsense from PureFlix.  This is not the direction Christian film needs to go in and now more than ever we need someone who will stand up and combat the image movies like this one project.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Left Behind 3: World at War (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With Nicolae Carpathia increasing his grip on international politics, President Fitzgerald of the United States is highly skeptical of the United Nations leader.  The President’s suspicions are only raised when his vice president is killed in a sudden car bomb.  He also receives an anonymous tip about secret plans that threaten to overturn the delicate balance of the world.  Elsewhere, the Tribulation Force continues to seek converts and spread the gospel as the world becomes darker and darker.  When an unexpected evil strikes the planet, they must dig deep in their faith and band together under the banner of Christianity.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After two previous productions failed even though they had money behind them, this creative team finally put the money where their mouth was and spent it correctly on World at War.  The camera work and video quality are excellent.  Props have a major upgrade and appear very realistic.  This movie finally lives up to its international intrigue expectations by providing wide ranging sets and locations to the viewers.  It also delivers on this franchise’s previous claims of action entertainment by pulling off action scenes very well, including professional use of special effects.  Watching this movie actually makes you feel like you’re watching an apocalyptic film with international ramifications.  The only complaints to bring up here are some minor editing issues.  Otherwise, this is a production to be proud of for once.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

World at War is actually an engaging apocalyptic plot that holds the attention, which is an unfortunately rare find in Christian film.  Subplots built up from the two previous installments are used very well, and even though this storyline departs greatly from the novels, it is still enjoyable.  New subplots are complex and hold the viewer’s attention until the end.  The dialogue is finally well-constructed and the characters are finally believable.  The apocalyptic concepts and surroundings are finally realistic and highly possible in the real world.  Although there are some unnecessary elements, there are not a few suspenseful twists that make this an apocalyptic plot to be proud of.  Finally, World at War packs perhaps the most epic action ending in Christian film to date, putting many other action film attempts to shame.  Yet two things derail this movie from being Hall of Fame: the lack of buildup from previous films and the lack of continuation.  The writers set us up with an engaging franchise reboot, if you will, yet did not deliver with a follow-up.  What happens next?  We may never know.  But for now, this is one of the most applaudable Christian action films on the market.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Acting also greatly improves in this installment not only because of improved coaching but also because of better additional cast members.  Once again, Kirk Cameron posts one of his best (probably his last) acting performances.  Line delivery is effective, but sometimes emotions are over the top.  In the end, there are only minor errors here.

Conclusion

It’s so frustrating to watch films that barely miss the Hall of Fame because of the potential they did not live up to.  World at War had everything going for it—except for better predecessors and a real follow-up.  If the franchise was going to be dropped here, it would have been better for World at War to either stand alone as a separate apocalyptic film outside of the series or for the absurd Left Behind reboot of recent to become the fourth movie rather than just a rehashing of the first installment.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s unlikely World at War will be remade for a myriad of reasons.  But it can at least serve as a testament to what can be done in Christian film if proper money and effort are applied.  We need many more films like this one on the market.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With the world still reeling from the Rapture, those left behind who became Christians band together to form what they call a Tribulation Force to stand against the forces of evil.  Their leader, Bruce, encourages each of them to not hide from the new evil world but to find a way to reach other for Christ in it.  Rayford struggles with a decision to pilot the plane of Nicolae Carpathia, the suspected antichrist.  Buck Williams chases down a story regarding a messianic prophecy expert and two mysterious men at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  In the strange new world they live in, they also discover everyday struggles and the realization that following Jesus is no longer easy.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The second installment of the original Left Behind series is a low point.  While video quality and camera work are okay, there are a host of other production errors.  Special effects are cheesy, especially when it comes to action scenes.  Many scenes have very poor lighting.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but they are littered with cheap looking props.  The soundtrack is pedestrian.  Furthermore, the editing is very sub-par and fails to cut down quite a few long and drawn out scenes that drain the viewer’s attention span.  Essentially, not much effort was put into this creation.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Once again, for an apocalyptic thriller, there’s not much apocalyptic or thrilling about Tribulation Force.  The film takes a very melancholy tone, choosing to spend time on silly conflicts like lover’s spats and peripheral character issues.  There is little central focus as the plot meanders from job decisions to church services to turning the church into a hospital to chasing leads in the Middle East.  There is also not enough suspense or plot twists as the monotone dialogue centers on theological discussions and information dumps.  There are attempts at twists and psychological\spiritual elements, but they fall flat.  There are too many one-dimensional characters that are juggled and we can’t really get to know any of them.  Like its predecessor, Tribulation Force just gets ready for the inevitable next film without giving the viewer any reason to watch it except for the book series popularity.  The actual end of the plot is quite cheesy and non-suspenseful.  In short, if you missed this film, you didn’t miss much.

Acting Quality (1 point)

At least they returned all the same cast members.  I hate it when movie franchises try to change out actors and actresses and pretend you didn’t notice.  There is slight improvement among this cast and Kirk Cameron delivers arguably one of his best career acting performances.  My how time has flown.  This cast could have actually been great with better coaching.  Alas, what could have been.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, John Patus and company elected to follow the standard Hollywood path of bringing a popular book franchise to the big screen and relied on the series’ popularity to carry it.  There is little reason for this film to even exist except for the fact that it needed to for the series to continue.  If you skipped to the third film, you didn’t miss anything in this one.  This is the central problem to movie sagas: each one needs to be a good movie by itself without the other ones holding it up.  There are few who have gotten this right.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind [2000] (Movie Review)

Kirk Cameron, the early years
Kirk Cameron, the early years

Plot Summary

In an instant, millions vanish all around the world, causing the planet to descend into chaos as planes go down, cars drive into buildings, and unrest erupts everywhere.  Pilot Rayford Steele finds nearly half of his plane’s manifest (haha) missing.  Reporter Buck Williams is on the flight at the time and believes it has something to do with the vast globalist conspiracy he has uncovered.  As order dissipates around the globe and as many theories are posited as to what happened to those who disappeared, those still remaining look for a world leader who can bring global peace to the chaos.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a late 90s\early 2000s production, the original Left Behind film has many of the marks of this era of filmmaking.  Opening credits sequences were common back then, but they weren’t ever justified.  The video quality and camera work are fairly well produced.  However, action scenes are not filmed or produced very well and include poorly crafted CGI and other special effects.  Kirk Cameron provides some slight yet unwanted narration throughout the film.  Elsewhere, location subtitles from JAG are awkwardly inserted and the soundtrack is cheap.  Finally, the editing is pretty good, but as will be discussed next, there is too much content to cover and not enough continuity.  In short, this ‘classic’ Christian film has some good quality, but not enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Based on the blockbuster apocalyptic fiction series by popular authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the original Left Behind film is not without its plot errors.  The premise is trumped up, lacking a touch of realism, but this may get a pass since it was based on the international politics of 15+ years ago.  The movie is focused on big world-changing issues, but they come off as simplistic and not groundbreaking enough.  The creators perhaps took on more than they could handle as many subplots are juggled throughout.  While it’s commendable for this early film to take on a new genre in Christian film (apocalyptic), the plot lacks the intrigue necessary to make it great.  For example, there are too many slow and melodramatic scenes—the storyline is anti-climactic and contains to many convenient occurrences.  The dialogue is full of information dumps that overemphasize apocalyptic elements.  This builds empty characters that are swept along by the plot and are thrown together for no particular reason.  On a positive note, the climax scene at the end is slightly interesting and well-crafted.  But overall, this first installment spends too much time getting ready for the next film and not enough time building the characters and a realistic apocalyptic landscape.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Apocalyptic action movies require dynamic acting, but this cast lacks this quality.  Line delivery is stiff and not engaging.  Emotions are overdone and too dramatic.  Kirk Cameron is a better actor than he is of late, but that’s not saying much.  In short, there’s not enough positive here.

Conclusion

This was definitely a groundbreaking Christian film that brought a popular Christian novel series to the big screen.  It was a hit, since the Christian market was starved for quality.  However, this does not mean it was a great film.  It had a lot of good ideas behind it, but not enough quality to back them up.  They had an amazing budget for the time, but it seems like it was mostly squandered.  Needless to say, the old is just marginally better than the new.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Touched by Grace {The Senior Prank} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a high school class is given the decision to vote for a ‘popular’ girl for homecoming queen or a Grace, a girl with Down’s syndrome, the latter wins in a shocking upset.  One of the ‘popular’ girl’s friends, Cara, accidentally befriends Grace and her friend Brandon as they try to find Grace a partner for the homecoming dance.  Cara finds herself torn as her ‘popular’ friends try to ostracize Grace and as she begins developing feelings for Brandon.  In the end, the entire school will be faced with the reality that special need people are just like everyone else and they should be treated thus.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With an obviously limited budget, Touched by Grace sometimes does the best it can with what it has, but other times it does not.  The sets are quite limited, but this is not entirely a negative issue due to the small scale plot.  They are realistic, which is important.  The camera work and video quality are quite good for a production this small.  The soundtrack is average; we would have liked to see more here.  There is much positive to say about this small time production, but the biggest issue is the editing.  There is virtually no editing present in Touched by Grace.  Too many scenes are long and drawn out, making for a disappointing experience.  All in all, there are both positive and negative aspects to this film, which is very frustrating.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There was so much potential in this movie.  It’s based on a great idea and has believable elements.  It could have been very touching had more time been spent on character development.  Sometimes the dialogue is meaningful, and other times it’s not.  There is far too much understatement in this film; sometimes things happen for no reason.  A common mistake in Christian film is overstating the obvious, but Touched by Grace has the opposite problem.  More needed to be emphasized regarding the important issue of treating special needs people as equals.  Where this movie could have been heartfelt, it just came off as somber.  The main redeeming quality is the effective end that the movie was obviously written for.  The end was powerful enough to make this movie something great had the remainder of the plot been adequate.  In short, it’s a disappointing plot and one that desperately needs a remake.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With a largely amateur cast, the actors and actresses sometimes come off as awkward, but other times they shine.  Ben Davies as a high school student doesn’t really work and he definitely needed more coaching.  On the flipside, the casting of special needs people was a score as they were some of the best cast members.  Overall, this cast wasn’t bad, but it could have been a winning cast with better coaching.

Conclusion

Touched by Grace receives half of an x-factor point for presenting an important issue in a semi-meaningful way.  Overall, while this movie was sometimes heartwarming, it was also frustrating to watch, knowing just how much potential it could have achieved.  This is not one of those Christian productions that has no heart or care behind it.  We truly believe that the creators sincerely cared about this issue and wanted to make a movie about it.  Their heart was in the right place, but their film inexperience derailed it.  Inexperience is probably not their fault either—it’s a tough world out there for independent Christian filmmakers.  This is why it’s all the more important for Christians to come together and pool their resources to produce quality over quantity.  Just think of what would have happened if two stupid Christian movies were defunded and the money was given to this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

In-Lawfully Yours {Jesse and Naomi} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jesse catches her husband Chaz cheating on her, she immediately files for divorce.  But as they are trying to finalize the details, Chaz’s father dies, leaving his mother in turmoil as she fights against an evil company trying to buy her house so they can tear it down. Jesse feels an obligation to take care of her ex-mother-in-law as her ex-husband tries to hurry her out of her own home.  As she helps her ex-mother-in-law pack up her belongings, Jesse finds herself falling for Ben, the local pastor, who is actually her ex-brother-in-law and used to be married to her ex-husband’s sister.  But as the two of them grow closer, Chaz works to stir up the small town of Bethel Grove against them, possibly threatening to end their relationship forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In-Lawfully Yours checks the box of having a nice surface appearance.  Money was obviously spent on camera work, video quality, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a silly ‘small town’ composition, but it’s obviously a jab to stupid Hallmark soundtracks.  The sets and locations are pretty good for this type of movie and obviously showcase the ‘small town’ elements this movie is trying to make fun of.  The biggest problem here is the editing.  Even if you’re creating a satire, this does not mean that editing should be ignored.  In-Lawfully Yours is just a random collection of spliced together ‘funny’ scenes with little continuity between them.  In short, this film meets the minimum production standard Christian films should meet, but this does not mean that it’s flawless.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In-Lawfully Yours is obviously an attempt at satirizing a stereotypical Hallmark small town romance film.  The problem is that the satire is not completely committed to.  At times, the satire is painfully obvious, though not always funny, yet at other times, satire is arbitrarily abandoned.  Dialogue is purposely nonsensical, ripe with offhand swipes and nods to cheesy movie concepts.  But sometimes meaning is awkwardly forced into the dialogue.  Characters are noticeably empty, but they don’t live up to their full comic potential.  Satirical scenes and concepts, like the infamous interrupting-church-services bit from Hidden Secrets, are vastly overused to the point of embarrassment.  This aside is actually the entire purpose of this plot, and its overuse is cringe-worthy.  In the end, everything is neatly fixed in purposefully childish ways.  Essentially, In-Lawfully Yours is a poor man’s Christian Mingle.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, satires still need good acting.  Throwing your cast members into scenes without giving them coaching is no better than Hallmark.  Had the acting been better, this film might have actually been funny.  Emotions are either stale or over the top.  Line delivery is mostly lazy.  It’s disappointing that the acting wasn’t better, because I think there was potential here.

Conclusion

Corbin Bernsen has become somewhat infamous for creating subtle parodies of Hallmark movies, but In-Lawfully Yours tries a bit too hard.  Where Christian Mingle was organic satire, this new film wears out the same concepts over and over again and forces comedy down your throat.  It could have been interesting—tongue-in-cheek references to small town movie clichés are perfectly adequate when executed properly.  But when it comes to satire, familiarity breeds contempt.  Silly Hallmark concepts deserve to be made fun of, but this one is just too repetitive to be funny.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Heaven is for Real (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Colton Burpo is forced to undergo an emergency surgery at a young age, his parents’ worst nightmare comes true when he flat-lines on the operating table.  But Colton survives the procedure and lives to tell about his near-death experience with Jesus in Heaven.  The young boy claims to have met dead relatives he never knew and his miscarried sister, whom he never knew about.  As a pastor of a small Nebraska church, Colton’s father Todd is faced with the tough decision to make this news public and risk ridicule or to keep silent about it.  Do miracles really exist or are they just stories?  Ultimately, this is what they will have to decide.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With obvious backing from big Hollywood names and the right amount of funding, Heaven is for Real looks good on the surface.  The video quality is top notch, as is the camera work and audio quality.  The soundtrack could use a little work, but this is only a minor problem.  The sets and locations are professionally done and the surroundings are authentic.  Prop usage is appropriate and adds to the plot.  The use of special effects is intriguing, especially those that accompany the spiritual\psychological elements.  The only complaints here pertain to the editing, which of course goes hand in hand with the plot.  There is little continuity as the creators try to cover too much ground at once.  But otherwise, whatever you might think about those behind the movie or their motives, this is the almost ideal production quality for a Christian-themed film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Heaven is for Real is about far more than just an attempt to prove or discuss the existence of the afterlife.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but there is just too much content that is forced into this film.  One would expect the real people that are supposed to be portrayed in this film to have multiple facets to their lives, but there is no focus among the various ideas that are floated throughout the storyline.  In the nearly two-hour runtime, you can learn a lot about small town stuff, small church issues, financial struggles, the counseling process, philosophical discussions on miracles, the ins and outs of a volunteer fire department, the daily issues that face a rural working class family, a girl that claims to have painted Jesus, and oh yeah, a boy who had a near-death experience with heaven.  With the proper continuity, all of these issues would have been pertinent and interesting to watch, but this does not exist in Heaven is for Real.  Despite spending a lot of time with the characters, by the end of the film, we don’t really know them.  Dialogue is flat and only serves the purpose of driving the plot along.  While the spiritual\psychological elements regarding the afterlife and the spiritual realm are inspiring, they are passive and are not given enough attention.  The end is fairly interesting, but there is little buildup to it.  Basically, there was a lot of potential here, but it was poorly handled.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With ‘big name’ cast members and clear money spent here, there are few errors to point out.  Coaching is obvious present and a general air of professionalism is evident.  Even though the lines aren’t very good, they are delivered well.  Emotions are believable.  In short, this is the way the cast of a Christian-themed film should be.

Conclusion

This movie was marketed on an inspirational platform that promised to rally Christians and ‘prove’ that Heaven is for real (duh).  But in reality, Heaven is a very small player in this film as runtime is spent on other various topics.  Whatever you might believe about near-death experiences and their plausibility, it’s still something that needs to be discussed in the context of film—and we’re still waiting.  Heaven is for Real did not deliver on what it advertised, and while it was obviously well-funded and well-marketed, it did not leave a lasting effect on the field.  It takes meaning and heart to do this, and when it comes down to it, it feels like all the creators of this movie wanted to do was make easy money.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Catching Faith {The Elijah Project} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On the surface, the Taylors are the perfect white suburban family.  The twins Beau and Ravyn are getting ready to go to college.  John is a successful businessman.  Alexa is popular with the women of the town.  Beau is a high school football star and Ravyn is one of the smartest students.  But all is not right.  After one evening of tragedy and bad choices, Alexa is forced to look at who she has become and who her family has become.  She decides to attend a women’s group in the hopes of discovering some meaning, but she finds herself faced with her own issues.  Only when she is ready to be honest with herself and her family will she start to see real change.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Catching Faith is clearly an underfunded production, which is not entirely the creators’ fault.  The production quality is inconsistent on all fronts, with sometimes good video quality, and other times not good.  The camera work is okay throughout, though action scenes not as professional as they could be.  Audio quality is also inconsistent—some lines require captioning to be heard.  Props are used fairly well throughout and sets and locations are at least average.  Unfortunately, the editing is all over the field, sometimes conveying a thought-provoking film and other times leaving the audience confused as to what is happening.  In short, this is a good effort as the producers appeared to do the best they could with what they had.  With a little more funding, this could have been great.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

This film is built on very good ideas; it’s not your typical sports film, although it has some predictable sports elements.  The writers were not afraid to take on unpopular issues as they portray the hidden struggles of an average white yuppie family in a smallish town.  The characters are developed fairly well, although sometimes there is too much overstatement regarding their tendencies and interests.  Yet at other times, plot elements are far too understated.  The dialogue is also inconsistent as it is sometimes well-thought-out and other times too obvious or even too vague.  Catching Faith provides a surprisingly correct portrayal of counseling, probably because a mental health professional was actually involved in the making.  However, this poses a unique problem in that the professional’s curriculum is very prominent throughout the film, pretty much giving it awkward product placements.  It would have been better if the counseling concepts were naturally woven into the plot structure rather than inserted from a textbook.  Another drawback to the plot is that the end is too neat and tidy—some characters avoid consequences for their actions entirely.  But all in all, Catching Faith is a great effort, one that we would expect would be the norm in underfunded independent Christian film.  Yet unfortunately, it’s an outlier.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the other elements of the film, the acting of Catching Faith is very inconsistent.  Sometimes cast members are right on point while other times their efforts trail off in the distance.  As a small amateur cast, they would have benefitted greatly from more professional coaching.  This is not to say that there was no coaching—there just needs to be more.  There was real potential here that could have been emphasized.

Conclusion

We would love to see this film remade with more funding, more thoughtful writing, and better acting coaching.  There was a real heart behind this film, which is really what makes it so different from your typical fly-by-night independent Christian movie.  We understand the struggles of independent filmmakers in getting the funding they need; we just ask that creators do the best they can with what God has given them.  The creators of Catching Faith mostly did this, and with continued effort in the future, they will make their mark.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Dancer and the Dame (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Demoted from his detective position because he took a conspiracy theory too far, Rick Dancer feels like an outcast in most people’s eyes.  But then he stumbles onto something new about his theory regarding the city’s richest philanthropist, whom he believes is corrupt.  Yet this only serves him orders for a psychological evaluation, which leads to him taking on a new partner—a traumatized police dog.  Rick will have to learn to work with her while trying to regain the trust of his boss all while he still chases leads regarding his theory.  In the end, he will have to decide if he is going to let himself care again in order to succeed.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In a break from the typical PureFlix model, most production element of Dancer and the Dame are okay.  Video quality is clear and camera work is pretty good; they’re getting better with action shots.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is annoying.  Prop usage is as cheesy as can be expected from a PureFlix action film attempt.  The sets and locations are fairly realistic but are also stereotypical.  As for the editing, there’s basically none of it.  The entire film is face value: what they filmed is what you get.  Every scene is run as long as it possibly can be and there’s really nothing else there.  But the rundown is that Dancer is pretty average on production, which is actually a step up from the norm.  This fact alone is disturbing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

So essentially, this story is about a washed up cop doing office work at the precinct because his conspiracy theory about a local rich guy blew up in his face.  But he gets a second chance in his career when his theories start to be ‘proven’ true.  Then he’s sentenced to a suspect mental evaluation which consists of the psychologist pushing her opinions on him and then forcing him to take her dog off of his hands.  From there, doggish ‘comedy’ ensues as Dancer stumbles upon ‘clues’ like a children’s mystery (or maybe a Hallmark mystery).  The characters are flat and comedy is typical Tommy Blaze style.  Once again, another horrible portrayal of counseling\psychology in a Christian film.  The odd thing about this Blaze creation is that it’s not entirely committed to crass and cartoonish ‘jokes’, but instead tries to insert inspirational themes into the movie, such as the typical feel-good pet storyline.  This is not to mention the Christian-sounding messages awkwardly forced into key parts of the plot.  And what’s with the constant cheesy references to dog breeds ‘hidden’ in people’s names?  In short, this film is a usual Blaze train wreck—a little less zany than usual, but still a mess.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The sad state of Christian casting is that ‘secular’ actor Billy Gardell is substantially better at acting than most PureFlix actors and actresses.  David A. R. White, Tommy Blaze, Brad Heller, Carey Scott, and Anna Zielinski are all their typical selves.  There is really no regard for any professionalism, yet line delivery is not terrible, just awkward.  Basically, nice try, but not good enough.

Conclusion

Year after year PureFlix rolls out laughable films in the name of Christianity.  They are rarely received well and seem to accomplish little for the Kingdom.  We’ll never understand where they constantly get their money from or how they convince more popular actors and actresses to appear in their films.  If you’ve seen one dumb PureFlix movie, you’ve definitely seen Dancer and the Dame.  It’s better to not waste your time on another one.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

My All-American {Courage} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Freddie Steinmark was trained all his life to play college football.  When he finally gets his chance at the University of Texas, he takes the opportunity to let his work ethic stand out.  He tries to make a difference with everyone he meets, all the while planning his future with his girlfriend.  But as Freddie drives to be better and better, although the team improves around him, his health begins to deteriorate.  He tries to shake it off, but the day finally arrives when he can no longer ignore his poor health.  Freddie will have to make tough decisions and remember why he got to where he is.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With obvious funding and professional equipment, My All-American sports clear video quality, great camera work, and good audio quality.  The props that are used look very realistic and specific to the time period.  The sets and surroundings are fairly diverse, if somewhat too varied, as scenes jump all over the place.  The soundtrack is okay for a generic inspirational sports film.  Action sequences are executed very well, but choppy editing plagues this movie.  As previously mentioned, the film jumps all over the place and leaves the audience extremely confused as to what is going on or what may happen next.  This will be discussed in depth next, but the main point here is that a lot of money was spent to make this film look good, but it’s clear that the effort was only ever meant to go skin-deep, so to speak, as the project has little substance underneath the pretty lights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This was a very good idea for a film based on a true story, but far too much content is crammed into a small time frame.  Trying to cover a character’s several years before college plus his four years in college in less than two hours calls for dizzying time jumps and information-dump dialogue that creates cardboard characters.  One minute, characters we barely know are in high school, then they are teleported to college one fall, then suddenly it’s spring, then we watch an interlude to discuss the historical time period in an obvious fashion, then it’s back to fall and all over again.  Thus, there is far more telling than showing, since there’s not enough time to show everything the writers want to shove into the plot.  The main focus of the film is sports action sequences, which definitely have their place, but their constant presence leaves little room for character development.  Non-action sequences of characters talking are head-scratching in that we are not provided enough context; we cannot appreciate them or their struggles because of the breakneck pace of the storyline.  As a side note, there is minor inappropriate language throughout for some reason.  The bottom line is that the creators never intended to make this a movie of substance—they just hoped to make a quick buck off of the inspirational audience.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Despite the presence of ‘big name’ actors and actresses, no care was given to coach them or guide them.  Some cast members show potential, but they are not properly developed in their skills.  Emotions cannot be felt or appreciated.  Line delivery is sloppy and forced, probably because there’s not much time to say things in preparation for the next scene.  Like the rest of the film, this area is half-hearted for a reason.

Conclusion

With the rise of successful inspirational films, mainstream creators are trying to dip into the cash pile.  My All-American is one of these movies that is strictly designed to make money at the box office by marketing it alongside more popular inspirational films.  They invest only in production quality and one or two ‘big name’ cast members and let everything else fall by the wayside.  In their opinion, audiences only care about a nice looking feel good movie, but we beg to differ.  Movies like this one are a waste of your time and only designed to get your money.  But Christian film makers can take note: unless your production quality is as good as half-effort films like this one, you’re also wasting your time.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

A Time to Dance [2016] (Movie Review)

Why are we even here?

Plot Summary

Abby and John fell in love in high school, went to college together, got married, and came back to the small town where they grew up.  They raised a family together, but now they are growing apart.  They are ready to file for divorce when their daughter comes home from college suddenly engaged to her boyfriend.  Not wanting to spoil her time, they decide to hold off until she gets married.  However, Abby’s father uses this time to step into their business to find out what’s really going on between them.  Forced to work together for their daughter’s wedding, Abby and John begin to relive why they fell in love in the first place.  But they must rekindle their romance before time runs out.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Not to be deterred from their endless factory model of manufacturing inspirational films ripped off from popular authors, Hallmark always spends the money on production quality.  Clear video quality is evident, as is professional camera work.  Audio quality is consistent throughout, but there’s the ever present generic melancholy-serene Hallmark soundtrack to listen to throughout the scenes.  While the sets and locations seem above board, they are actually quite limited and dressed up to have that ‘magical’ Hallmark look.  As will be expounded upon shortly, the editing is lazy and sloppy, leaving the viewer with a half-effort plot.  In other words, A Time to Dance is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything good about this plot can be credited to Karen Kingsbury, not Hallmark.  The otherwise interesting novel A Time to Dance has officially been #Hallmarked.  What was an intriguing plot about a highly pertinent issue facing many Christians—namely broken marriages—has been transformed into a mellow and boring snoozefest full of the typical Hallmark emptiness and the unrealistic fairy tale alternate realities.  Complete with cardboard characters that spew obvious dialogue designed to drive the plot along, viewers who choose to watch this disaster will be dragged out over a nearly one hundred minute runtime of melancholy delay of the inevitable just to have the so-called conflict resolved in five minutes or less.  The conflicts therein are extremely empty, as are the relationships between the characters.  We can’t appreciate or understand anything they’re going through because it doesn’t seem real.  There is far more telling than showing; for example, we are told about things that happen off screen or are informed of things that happened in the past rather than being provided with a flashback.  Also, the Christian message is very manufactured and plastic.  I could go on and on, but the same old truth remains: Hallmark has no regard for preserving good plot ideas, they only care about making money.

Acting Quality (0 points)

What else is new?  The acting is forced and stiff.  Line delivery is very awkward and sometime monotone; emotions are almost nonexistent.  As usual, every cast member has far too much makeup and look like either washed up wannabes or desperate wannabes.  The Hallmark acting rule is to throw a bunch of big names in the film so the commercials will catch people’s attention but to do nothing to actually coach them.  But at this point, we don’t expect anything different.

Conclusion

Hallmark has a real chance to bring great Christian novels to life.  They have the resources, they have the connections, and they have the marketing to do this well.  But instead, they settle for half-measures to improve their profit margins.  People desperately want to see wholesome entertainment, and Hallmark claims to provide this, but they are short on delivering it.  A Time to Dance could have been an inspiring Christian film on an important topic, but instead, it just became another forgettable show of Hallmark pageantry.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points