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October 2016

Healed by Grace [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Riley Adams is a talented dancer, but when she is involved in a car accident, her life changes forever.  Now partially paralyzed and being forced to relearn speech and motor skills, Riley feels like her life is over since she can no longer dance like she used to.  However, she soon discovers a special form of physical therapy involving horses that changes her entire perspective on life.  Through the newfound therapy, she not only finds a new lease on life, but a new chance at faith and love.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

With obviously limited resources, Healed by Grace is plagued by cheap production problems.  Video quality is grainy and camera work is shaky.  The sets and locations are fairly limited, but the usage of props is pretty good.  The soundtrack is okay, but we would have liked to hear something more dynamic.  There is really no editing present here; if there had been editing, this production probably would have improved.  However, there is care and thought put into this film, making it stand apart from your average sloppy and thrown-together Christian movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Despite its obvious production flaws, Healed by Grace demonstrates heart and effort.  The creators actually seem to care about what they are doing, despite their limited resources.  The plot’s message is very touching and realistic.  Though the plot is slightly simplistic, it’s based on a believable premise and is a generally interesting idea.  The dialogue is pretty good and the characters have interesting arcs.  Though there is little content here, the writers did the best they could with what they had.  We would have liked to see a little more complexity, but it’s definitely a good start.  Some things happen off screen, obviously due to budget constraints.  The ending is authentic but we would have liked to see a little more.  Overall, this is a great starter effort with room for improvement.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though the cast is very amateur, they are trying harder than most.  They demonstrate a willing attitude to act well, even though they sometimes fall short.  It’s not easy to effectively act like you are disabled from a car wreck, but the main actress pulls this off well.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are average.  Costuming is realistic throughout.  Overall, this is an applaudable effort.

Conclusion

In summary, Healed by Grace is a true-to-life story that is accessible by Christian audiences.  Though many facets of the film are amateur, the creators still show that they care about what they are doing rather than just slapping a horrible film together and sticking the name ‘Christian’ on it.  It’s hard to make independent Christian films, especially starting out.  What’s important is that you, as a Christian film maker, give it your best effort and leave the results up to God.  If He has called you into film making, He will give you the resources you need.  You just have to be faithful and do your absolute best.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

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Gallows Road (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When his wife and kids are tragically murdered by local racists, Bob Collins decides that God doesn’t care about him anymore and gives up on his faith.  His brother and family continue to try to get through to him, but all to no avail.  Jake Knight was there the night of the murders and feels guilty about the part he played, even though the corrupt sheriff has pardoned them all.  All of their lives must intersect as they come to grips with the harsh realities of life—and the power of forgiveness and redemption.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Gallows Road definitely demonstrated effort in production.  The video quality is good throughout and the camera work is above average.  Audio quality is fairly good and the soundtrack is interesting enough.  Sets and locations are slightly limited and there are some inconsistencies throughout.  As with most independent productions, the biggest problem relates to the lack of editing.  The plot meanders too much with no direction.  Scenes are disjointed and appear to be unrelated to each other.  This will be discussed in depth next.  Basically, the tools are here to make this a great production, but they are not used, thus causing it to be stuck at average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In an endeavor to be too big of a plot, Gallows Road falls flat.  As previously mentioned, there are too many subplots that have very loose connections to each other.  There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with the subplots themselves, but they need to be synthesized and fleshed out better than they are.  There are actually quite a few profound ideas hidden among this frustrating plotline, but they easily get lost.  The characters of these subplots are intriguing, but we hardly have a chance to get to know any of them as the story skips around so much.  The premise seems a little bit thin at times and needs to be bigger and bolder.  The message of Gallows Road is actually quite powerful, presenting important issues such as broken families, bitterness, racism, and addiction.  Yet these themes needed better packaging in order to drive their point home.  The ending is slightly interesting, but again, it needed more thought put into it.  To sum things up, Gallows Road is sitting on a gold mine of content that failed to be mined.  Some parts are enjoyable, while the rest of them are extremely frustrating.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite having the creepiest cast member of all Christian film, the acting of Gallows Road is the strongest part of the film.  A few other cast members definitely need to be replaced, but otherwise, there is a lot of positive here.  Emotions are mostly believable and line delivery is effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate.  In short, this is a great acting performance that should be common place in Christian film.

Conclusion

The trailer for Gallows Road is ten times better than the film.  It also paints a deceiving picture of what the plot is actually about.  Nonetheless, it had the potential to become a major small town epic by tackling local racism, prejudice, and addiction at the gritty level.  But alas, it became another film that fell short of its full potential.  It seems like this idea should have been put on hold if the resources were not available to make it as big as it should have been.  The subplots need expanding and synthesizing and the overall feel of the movie needs to be more epic.  If there’s such a thing as Christian movie remakes, please remake this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Redemption of Henry Myers (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Henry Myers never wanted to kill anyone, but since he got caught up with the wrong guys, he feels like he has to fight to survive in the wild west.  When a heist goes awry and leaves someone dead, Myers isolates himself from the world.  However, he can’t keep his demons from haunting him.  On the run from his old partners coming to collect, Henry becomes wounded and suddenly wakes up in the care of a farming family.  They have no idea who he is or what he’s done, and he fears that his past will come back to haunt him if he sticks around too long.  Little does he know that he has just been given a second chance.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Echolight has always had a commitment to quality productions, and Henry Myers is no exception.  The action-based camera work is done very well and the video quality is clear.  Lighting is consistent throughout, including outside shots.  Realistic historical surroundings are showcased through well-constructed sets and locations.  The soundtrack is highly appropriate for the genre and mostly stays away from mediocrity.  The biggest problem to highlight here is that there’s not enough editing.  There are too many wasted scenes and silly musical montages.  Nonetheless, Echolight sets a consistent standard in quality productions that should be in every Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this film opens very strong with an attention-grabbing and action-packed prologue, it quickly fades to disappointment as we are handed the highlights from the Love Comes Softly series, the Erin Bethea remix.  As previously mentioned, far too much time is wasted on ‘inspirational’ scenes.  Too many things happen off screen and are not well explained.  This predictable western plot is copied and pasted from Stock Plots Incorporated and the characters rigidly fit into stereotypical molds.  There’s the bad guy trying to be good, the really bad guys who only do bad, the young Christian widow, the grumpy son who misses his father, the overly happy daughter, and of course, the sheriff.  Things happen just because they’re supposed to and characters are swept along by the plot towards an inevitable and vague conclusion.  What’s more, silly western slang dialogue peppers the script and is quite distracting.  The one redeeming quality of the plot, besides the strong beginning, is its potential to be something great.  This could have been an epic film, but it simply wasn’t.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is actually a decent acting from Erin Bethea, but still had her cringe-worthy moments. On the flipside, the costuming is very professional and we are spared ridiculous makeup and hair jobs present in most Christian westerns.  However, there are too many mumbled lines and emotion are often too extreme.  This really could have been a better acting job.

Conclusion

The greatest sin in Christian film, besides making too many useless movies, is leaving potential on the table.  This movie was branded as a western epic, and if you watch the beginning sequence, you can believe it.  But as you continue to watch the film, you become more and more disappointed.  Epic need twists and turns, deep characters, and a landmark climax.  Henry Myers has a great message, but it’s just not enough.  If you want to go all the way as a filmmaker, don’t leave anything on the field.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Captive [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a struggling meth addict, Ashley Smith is trying to get her life together so that she can regain custody of her young daughter.  She is intent on starting a new life for herself, but she is still wrestling with the demons of her past.  Her life is turned upside down one night when she is taken hostage by a madman who has been making his way across the state of Georgia, leaving murder victims in his wake.  Ashley is sure her life is over, until she begins to see a new side to the killer.  In the span of a tense 12 hours, Ashley finds she has more in common with him than she previously thought and tries to teach him (while teaching herself) that his life has more meaning than just crime.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Plenty of money was dedicated to this ‘pop-up’ film, and it mostly pays off.  The sets, locations, and props are very realistic and capture the true story well.  The soundtrack is highly effective for the suspense genre and is not typical of Christian film.  However, there are some minor issues that keep this movie from being all that it could be.  For one, the use of the suspenseful shaky cam idea is a bit overused.  While the video quality and lighting are mostly good, there are some scenes where it is not.  Finally, there are too many dead scenes where nothing is accomplished except for staring.  Overall, this is a pretty good production that puts a lot of bad movies to shame, but with the money and backing it had, it should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When in doubt about writing a plot, use a true story.  It’s almost always better to portray real events than fictional ones, unless you’re really good at writing complex plots.  Real life is far more complex than fiction.  Captive meaningfully portrays real events and real struggles people go through.  Uncomfortable realities such as drug addiction and recidivism are handled properly.  The characters are developed fairly well through above-average dialogue, but we would have liked to see more here.  Some of the characters need more obvious backstories that perhaps could have been portrayed through flashbacks.  The idea behind this plot seems stretched out a little too long and but the end, the storyline has overstayed its welcome.  For this story to be as long as it was and fully interesting the entire time, it needed deeper content.  But as it is, this is an enjoyable plot that is sure to leave its mark.

Acting Quality (3 points)

In a change from most Christian films, the acting is easily this film’s strongest aspect.  Emotions are portrayed extremely well.  Cast members showcase diverse acting skills such as effectively pretending to be high.  Mental illness is portrayed poignantly.  Intense and suspenseful scenes are played professionally.  This is a casting and acting job to be proud of and one that can serve as a textbook example of how to act.

Conclusion

Like it’s always good to see real life portrayed in film, it’s also great when a Christian movie finally breaks into a new genre.  Suspense is underused in Christian movies and is hardly done well.  Captive makes a statement and will always serve as an example to follow, but we always think of what could have been.  This creation was so close to the Hall of Fame and we hate to see potential go to waste.  But still, many will find enjoyment in this film as it effectively delivers its intended message.  We are intrigued to see if this team will produce anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Like a Country Song (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake Reeson is an aspirational country artist trying to find ‘the big break’ in Nashville.  He’s running from a broken family life and checkered past, always thinking that the next gig and the next drink are the answer to his problems.  However, when he begins to rediscover loved ones from his past that he thought he left behind, the emptiness of his life is finally exposed and he is left dazed and confused.  The only way forward is to determine what he’s going to do with the Christian faith some of his loved ones are trying to introduce him to.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Like a Country Song, in keeping with other Skipstone productions, is a real mess that really could have been something.  The video quality is clear, but the camera work is shaky.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but they could be better.  This creative team usually prides themselves in creating innovative soundtracks, and they usually do.  In some parts, this soundtrack is quite interesting, but it other parts, it feels shoved down your throat.  The live music element is interesting but not used properly, including the stupid title track.  Sometimes artistic elements become too abstract and isolate the viewer.  Also, editing is very much absent from this film as long staring scenes are allowed to stay and many points are understated.  In short, this was a production that had a lot going for it but never found the mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This film is basically an incomplete idea.  Focusing on behavioral and family issues is commendable, but not when the characters are underdeveloped and empty.  We cannot appreciate the potentially meaningful struggles these characters experience because we cannot connect with them as real people.  There is far too much melodrama and not enough redemption.  Issues are resolved too easily with no real explanation as to how they were resolved.  The little dialogue that is in this film is filled with information dumps and clichés.  The timeline of the story jumps all around with no real explanation.  On the positive side, there are some slightly creative albeit unfinished spiritual elements in the storyline.  But this does not make up for the other issues, especially the very confusing ending.  In the end, any meaning that could be derived from this plot is forced upon you and is not conveyed in a redemptive way.  It’s just another wasted idea.

Acting Quality (0 points)

In an attempt to build a ‘star-studded’ cast, the production team struck out on quality.  For starters, all the makeup jobs are horrible.  Cast members either exhibit extreme over the top emotion or monotone nothingness.  Too many lines are mumbled.  Billy Ray Cyrus really never needs to be cast in the film, as he gives off the appearance of druggie the entire time.  Joel Smallbone constantly trying to mask his Australian accent is also annoying and unnecessary.  There is really nothing good to highlight here.

Conclusion

Sigh.  We have to wonder why this film was not cut or reworked during the storyboard process, if there was one.  All we can figure is that they got these ‘big name’ cast members to agree to a vague idea and then ‘had’ to go with it for the sake of making another Christian movie.  Redemption plots have huge amounts of potential, as do movies involving original soundtracks.  However, these concepts in and of themselves are not enough to carry a film.  You need more than this.  The day Christian movie makers learn this for good is the day that the entertainment world is finally turned on its ear.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Hometown Legend [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a struggling small town in rural Alabama, a high school is struggling in many ways, not only financially, but also emotionally.  But now that a famous football coach is back in town to revive the team, locals have a new reason to hope.  A teenager running from home finds sanctuary in this town as he uses his work ethic to get onto the football team in route to turning his life around via a university football scholarship.  But when trouble strikes again, the townspeople will have to decide whether or not they will give up or rise up.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Hometown Legend certainly spent the money pretty well.  Sports movies have to be able to nail the action shots and the outside scenes, and this film does that, including respectable camera work.  As usual, the video quality and audio quality both pass the test.  The soundtrack is a bit too pedestrian and borderline Hallmark; this is something that needed a change.  Another common theme in these types of films is weak editing, and Hometown Legend also has this attribute.  A movie like this one needs a strong edit, and this simply does not happen, as some scenes carry on longer than they should while others are underdeveloped.  In short, Hometown Legend is a very average film in pretty much every way.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While Jerry B. Jenkins’ original novel is memorable, the film adaptation does not capture its authenticity.  Where the characters are down to earth in the book, they fail to be in the movie.  The underdevelopment of these characters is likely due to the number of flat scenes throughout the film.  The storyline of Hometown Legend is neither cheesy nor dynamic—it’s very static and safe.  A plot like this one needed to have an abstract yet down-to-earth feel to it, but it does not.  It’s too generic and does not stand out in a crowded genre.  There aren’t enough plot twists and the ending is anti-climactic.  In short, where this plot could have been great, it falls short.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This movie is cast fairly well; people are placed in appropriate positions.  Emotions are fairly believable and line delivery is pretty good.  However, in keeping with the other aspects of this film, there is really nothing dynamic here, even though there could have been.  This is really the theme of the movie.

Conclusion

Hometown Legend portrays the simplicity of small town life in Alabama—with a stereotypical diner and a high school football team to cheer for.  It lives up to its simple message in every way, with a simple production, a simple storyline, and simple acting.  There’s nothing wrong with simple.  In fact, simple can be groundbreaking and profound.  However, this movie is a little too simple and does not touch the authentic thread that it needed to.  Many will find it enjoyable and it’s not half bad, but we would love to see a remake, because it can definitely be greater than this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Time Changer [2002] (Movie Review)

We should go back to the good ole' days...when old white guys ran everything
We should go back to the good ole’ days…when old white guys ran everything
My time machine is far too complex for you to understand
My time machine is far too complex for you to understand
And over here we have an even larger selection of horrid Christian films
And over here we have an even larger selection of horrid Christian films

Plot Summary

The year is 1890.  Dr. Carlisle does the unthinkable and writes a seminary textbook advocating for the teaching of morals apart from Jesus Christ, Dr. Andersen sees fit to stall his vote for the book’s endorsement until Carlisle comes and sees his time machine invention.  When Carlisle finally stops moping around and agrees to meet with the mad scientist, he is roped into travelling through time to the future so that he can learn what supposedly happens when society teaches morals apart from Christ.  What he finds is a shocking new culture he’s not familiar with in many ways.  Will he ever make it back so he can sell his textbook?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Time Changer is one of those films that is very memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  While the production team should get some slight credit for attempting to dress characters in historically appropriate attire, there are too many other negatives that outweigh the small amount of positive.  For starters, money was wasted building ridiculous time travel contraptions that look like they belong in a 1980s sci-fi film.  The camera work and video quality are okay, but the audio quality is inconsistent, including a very annoying soundtrack.  As usual, the editing is all over the board and is basically just a pasting together of heavy-handed scenes that demonstrate the Christiano brothers’ ridiculous worldview.  Unfortunately, the production isn’t the worst this film has to offer.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Time travel plots are always going to be a problem.  There’s rarely an instance when this concept can be justified.  But when you merge this mind-bending sci-fi premise with an extreme fundamentalist Christian worldview, disaster occurs.  There is no plot present here, since the Christianos are content to shove their unwanted opinions on the state of humanity in your face at every possible turn.  Who believes that if some crazy professor from the late 1800s discovered time travel, he would use it to ‘solve’ the world’s biggest theological nitpick?  Time Changer is entirely built on the incorrect assumption that the ‘good ole days’ were better, when old white guys made all the decisions, women were not allowed to do anything but sit at home, and religious idolatry reigned.  Thus, the dialogue is chock-full of religious jargon and fundamentalist talking points while at the same time making a mockery of anyone who opposes the assumptions of the writers.  Besides this, in an attempt to be ‘historical’, the dialogue is also overly awkward and cumbersome.  Because of this, the characters are extremely programmed and robotic, just waiting to spew their lingo when the time is right.  There are also subtle racial stereotypes and jabs at modern women’s roles throughout the film.  The ending of the film is borderline bizarre, as it quietly depicts the nutty professor trying to find the ‘end of time’ using his contraption.  Not only do the writers silently let you know that they think the end of time occurs before the year 2050, but they also show disdain for Jesus’ own words in the Scriptures, which state that no one knows the time or day when He’s returning.  In short, there is nothing good about this storyline, and it even goes far enough to be rated in the propaganda category.  It’s purely preaching to a small audience that already agrees with these narrow-minded views and accomplishes little else.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

As can expected, the acting is as outdated as the ideas in this film.  Line delivery is forced and awkward and emotions are not present.  Male cast members are overrepresented while female cast members are painted in a strange light.  As previously mentioned, there are also some subtle racial stereotypes.  But what else is new about this film?

Conclusion

This movie is a wide open window into the disturbing worldview of the Christiano brothers.  In the end, they blame all of society’s ills on Hollywood.  There may be some truth to this, as there are other nuggets of truth buried throughout the sludge of this film.  Immoral Hollywood movies have certainly contributed a great deal to the corruption of society, but the world is always going to do what it does best—recede into sinful entropy.  It is up to the Christians to stop this slide; we cannot expect the world to fix itself and pat us on the back for it.  What people like the Christiano brothers really want is a return to their idea of a comfortably religious society.  But what they don’t realize is that today’s culture is a reaction against that older worldview.  If a white patriarchal religious utopia built on ivory tower theology was the answer to the world’s problems, it would have never ended.  The problem is that those who claimed the name of Christ tainted His Name with their actions, not those who do not claim His Name.  Jesus is the answer for culture’s problems, not some Pharisaical dominion.  And when it comes to movies, if you don’t like what you see, make something better.  So far, Christiano brothers and everyone else who complains about the state of Western culture, you have not produced any movies that are better or more worthwhile than the Hollywood alternative.  So shame on you.

 

Final Rating: -1.5 out of 10 points

 

Taken by Grace [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While Shawn and Carrie Everett are trying to reconnect as a couple on a camping trip, they are suddenly approached by a mysterious man who talks cryptically to them before pulling out a gun and threatening them to take him where he wants to go.  As Shawn and Carrie agree to help him and as the man continues to babble on about various topics, they begin to get a picture of what this man is all about.  They eventually see him as a desperate man, not a criminal, and concoct a plan to try to intervene in his path of destruction.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

How is it possible that certain PureFlix movies have better production than others?  In Taken by Grace, there are few production problems to mention.  The camera work is good, and the video quality is clear.  Audio quality passes the test of authenticity.  The suspenseful musical score is highly effective.  Even though there are few sets, they are used well.  The only major production issue is, of course, editing.  Too many scenes feel cut short and unfinished.  Overall, while this film would have greatly improved with better editing, it’s still a production effort to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In this highly dialogue-driven psychological mystery, Bradley Dorsey does not disappoint when it comes to creativity.  Most creators could not handle writing long dialogue scenes for just a handful of characters sitting around in vehicles talking, but the philosophical and psychological elements win out.  While the characters could have been developed better, they are adequate enough.  Unfortunately, there are some typical mystery pitfalls, such as easy coincidences and ‘leads’ that are stumbled upon.  Another major problem is that there is too much wasted time and jumping back and forth.  The minor subplots are underdeveloped and almost seem forced.  Even though the creative concept behind this plot is great, it’s not enough by itself; there needs to be something added to it.  Basically, though it has many great strengths, Taken by Grace is an incomplete idea that needs a remake.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Mental health problems are actually portrayed very well through some of the acting in this film, and are not completely overdone like you would expect from a PureFlix film.  However, sometimes emotions are forced and unbelievable.  We have to question whether or not Bradley Dorsey should star in all of his films, as he seems to always underperform his potential.  But overall, this cast isn’t half bad.

Conclusion

In typical Bradley Dorsey fashion, Taken by Grace walks the line between brilliant creativity and amateurish mistakes.  All the films he’s involved are rooted in a deep and profound concept that challenges Christian movie conventions and genres.  He always employs psychological elements that should be found in many more Christian films.  But little mistakes always hold back his ideas from being all that they could be.  As is the case with Meant to Be, Taken by Grace could have been an awesome Hall of Fame film with just a few things changed and with a deeper storyline.  We hope in the future that Bradley Dorsey and company will take that next step to greatness, because Christian film desperately needs it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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