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Christian Movie News and Reviews

Month

July 2017

Catching Hearts [2012] (Movie Review)

Why am I here?

Plot Summary

Professor Mark Gavin is a successful atheist speaker and author, but what happens when life causes him to begin questioning his beliefs?  Rachel and Dean are two young adults who have been influenced by Gavin’s work, and they both feel like there is no true purpose for them in life as they meander along and wallow in their problems.  Will any of them ever be able to find meaning and purpose in their lives?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there’s really not much good to say about this production.  Video quality is grainy and camera work is all over the place.  Audio quality is lacking and the soundtrack is very generic.  Sets, locations, and props are very limited and cheap.  Finally, there is really no editing as this film as the content meanders along aimlessly with no real purpose.  Basically, this is an underfunded production, but it’s easy to see why there’s not much investment here—because there’s really no point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Catching Hearts (whatever that title means) explores the seeming meaninglessness of life, but it gets lost in the purposelessness itself.  Its subplots are very disjointed and full of silly coincidences and unrealistic occurrences.  The characters are stunted and empty.  Too many moments are too melodramatic and the Christian message is very trite, while at the same time, the portrayal of atheists is laughable.  There is no gist or driving purpose in this story—it’s just a bunch of random sequences thrown together with problems that are fixed very easily.  There’s nothing to learn from this film and it’s embarrassing to watch.

Acting Quality (0 points)

It’s evident that there was no acting coaching present with this plot as the performances are lazy and the emotions are too extreme.  Line delivery is sometimes phoned in and it doesn’t feel like the cast members cared about this film.  Then again, who can blame them, since they really didn’t have much content to work with.

Conclusion

What’s the point of films like this?  They begin with a half-hearted idea and somehow materialize into a feature length film of pointlessness.  Catching Hearts has nothing whatsoever going for it, so it’s hard to see how this idea was even pitched.  It’s little wonder that the funding was lacking and the cast members were unmotivated.  Movies like this only further clutter the field.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Esther [1999] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When King Xerxes banished his wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing to obey him, he called all the young women of the Persian kingdom to come and audition to be his new queen.  Among them was Esther, a Jewess, whose cousin Mordecai instructed her to hide her ethnic identity from the royal leaders.  Little did either of them know that she had been raised up by God for such a time to save His people from certain destruction.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this film was made before the 2000s, Affirm Films demonstrated even in 1999 that they were committed to professional production quality.  Video quality and camera work are good in this film, even if lighting is sometimes inconsistent.  Audio quality is average, and the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  The biggest win for this production is the professional and historically authentic sets, locations, and props which demonstrate care for accuracy.  The editing is fine but it could use a little improvement.  Overall, this is a respectable production and shows why Affirm is where they are today.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This rendition of the story of Esther was likely the first of its kind in the modern era, later to be follow by For Such a Time As This, One Night With the King, and the deplorable Book of Esther.  In this 1999 version, care is also given to an accurate retelling of the story, even if it is a little too literal.  This is the only film we’ve seen that portrays Xerxes very well and likely accurate to the historical figure.  At least this story shies away from the silly ‘love story’ trope that modern film writers try to force into the account.  However, the characters in this version still don’t seem like real people as they are too dramatic and boring at the same time.  There are a lot of dead sequences and not enough substantial dialogue.  Overall, this was a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast, though semi-professional, is overly theatrical and too practiced.  Though costuming is culturally authentic, the casting is not always this way.  Emotions are also forced and feel manufactured, like this is some sort of Bible play.  Yet not all is bad here and this rounds out an acceptable effort.

Conclusion

A lot of time and money was likely spent on sets and costumes in this film, much like its later relation, One Night With the King.  However, what both of these films forget is substance.  Though Esther is better at adhering to the true historical account, it is still not presented in an interesting way that will engage audiences.  Biblical film makers can learn from this to not abandon accuracy but still develop the characters like they’re real people, not lofty ‘heroes’ that have no connection to us today.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Investigator [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sergeant James Buanacore loved his job as a leader on the police force, but when he got caught up in a street fight that ended with a gang member shot to death, he is pressured to retire from his post to mitigate bad publicity.  At the same time, tragedy strikes his family and blindsides him, which causes him to lose his faith in God.  Thus, James’ brother gets him a job as a baseball coach and criminal justice teacher at a local private Christian school to help him find new meaning in life.  But what James finds there is students searching for hope and a corrupt leadership, so he sets out to use his investigative skills to determine whether or not Jesus was a historical figure.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a slightly unknown independent Christian film, The Investigator has a surprisingly good production.  Video quality is great, but the only issue in this production is the odd camera work that is sometimes employed.  Otherwise, audio quality is professional, as is the soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are well-funded and appropriate.  The editing is quite good and is successful in most ways.  If it weren’t for the unusual camera usage, this would have been a perfect production.  In the end, this is an excellent example of how an independent production can succeed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Investigator has a lot of interesting ideas and takes big risks in breaching less-discussed topics such as corruption in private Christian schools.  However, the story is all over the place and is somewhat disorganized as a lot of ground is attempted to be covered.  The circumstances portrayed are realistic and honest, and the characters are actually quite believable and realistic, but the organization of this story is greatly lacking.  The creativity here needs some serious honing and better development.  Too much time is wasted on sports montages and unrelated scenes.  In the end, this is a very unique plot, so it’s a shame it couldn’t have been better.  Yet it does show potential for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a semi-professional cast, and they post mostly good performances, but emotions tend to be too extreme at times.  Line delivery is nearly perfect and it’s evident that acting coaching is present.  Only a few minor problems hold this portion back.

Conclusion

There is a lot of good content packed into this film, but there is perhaps too much that is included here.  It’s great to deal with the issues of tragedy, corruption, and apologetics, but in this disorganized fashion, it’s difficult to follow.  Yet the production and the acting successes show that independent films can be professional if the proper resources and effort are put towards them.  Regardless, it should be interesting to see what this creative team comes up with next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Break Away [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Francois is a hard worker, but when he suddenly loses his job in the struggling Johannesburg economy, he is at a loss as to how he is to provide for his family.  He feels like God gives him an idea to start his own bicycle delivery business, and he does so, aided by a friend.  But as his financial situation goes from bad to worse, out of desperation, he decides to enter a cycle race in the hope of winning money.  Will he be able to recover what he has lost and keep his family from poverty?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good efforts were made with this production, there are still some pesky errors that hold it back.  Camera work and video quality are good, especially in the actions scenes, even though there are some odd camera angles throughout.  However, audio quality is sometimes poor, including a random soundtrack and outside noises.  Yet sets, locations, and props are quite good and authentic.  Also, the problem areas do tend to improve throughout, which is a plus.  The editing is also a mixed bag, with some good moments and some poor moments.  Overall, this is a good first-time independent production and something to build off of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Break Away is based on a realistic and interesting story, even if it is somewhat boring at times.  There are unfortunately too many montages that fill up the runtime, thus hurting the development of the characters and causing dialogue to be shallow and stunted.  There are quite of few interesting subplots besides the main plot that warrant further explanation.  It’s difficult for this plot to hold the attention as it is, even though the struggles of the characters can be appreciated on some level.  Though it’s sometimes overly dramatic, it’s clear that this creative team meant well in writing this.  Once again, this is something to build off of.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a semi-amateur cast, these actors and actresses do a decent job, even if they are a little stuffy and robotic at times.  Sometimes lines are mumbled, but emotions are mostly believable.  In the end, this is an average performance to round off a decent effort.

Conclusion

It’s never easy to make a movie of your own, especially since funding is hard to come by for international films.  Regardless, all that matters in this sort of situation is that you do your best, and it seems like, for the most part, this was done in Break Away.  It always feels like plots are suffering in Christian film, however.  Sometimes it’s better to use a plot that’s already written, but perhaps one day, the stories that are told in Christian movies will be more creative and engaging.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Redemption Ride (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Colter Reese tests positive for performance enhancing drugs, he thinks his professional cycling career is over forever.  His son is dying of cancer and he has seemingly no purpose in life, so he begins to train again in the hopes of earning enough money to pay off his hospital bills.  Will he be able to find redemption in his cycling?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Redemption Ride is a relatively cheap production.  Though video quality is fine, there are some odd camera angles and shaky camera work.  As for audio, there is too much dead air and not enough soundtrack except in musical montages.  There are also a lot of loud outside noises.  Sets and locations are quite limited and props leave something to be desired.  Finally, as usual for films this low quality, the editing is poor and adds nothing to the film.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for this movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Redemption Ride really just boils down to a formulaic story about a troubled athlete character returning to his hometown, and this is only combined with a sick child plot and a sports redemption plot.  There is also a typical romance rekindle subplot to pad the runtime.  Besides this, there are tons of dead scenes and empty sports montages.  The characters are very quirky and the dialogue is too full of dry attempts at humor or nothing substantial at all.  Overall, this story is incredibly boring and little to no point at all due to its predictable nature.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This cast is definitely not the strongest cast.  A lot of the time, their performances are very flat and seem unmotivated and lazy.  Yet other times, they are overly demonstrative and over the top.  Overall, this is not a very good casting or coaching job, which tops off a disappointing and empty film.

Conclusion

Movies like this likely mean well, but it’s difficult to understand how they came to be.  With a such a low budget, one would think films like this wouldn’t make it to even limited distribution, much less become a feature-length film.  The Christian film field really needs a lesson in quality over quantity.  Please don’t make a film just for the sake of having a film—it’s just not worth it.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings (Movie Review)

British Moses the Madman

Plot Summary

Moses, the son of Hebrew parents, was raised an Egyptian in a golden age of Egyptian culture.  But this culture was built on the backs of Moses’ people, who were enslaved by cruel Pharaohs.  Moses was always torn between two cultures, but he was forced to choose when he killed a fellow Egyptian and was driven out into the desert, on the run for his life.  After discovering and immersing himself in the Midianite culture, God called him back to Egypt to free His people, the Hebrews.  Though reluctant, Moses assumed his role as God’s deliverer.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Since this is a highly-funded Hollywood production, of course it’s going to be highly quality.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all highly professional, especially in the action scenes.  The soundtrack is also quite interesting and creative.  Sets, locations, and props are excellent and clearly had a lot of money spent on them, even though there are some obvious special effects.  The only other error to point out is the very poor editing that causes the story to jump all over the place, but that’s not only a production issue.  Overall, it would be nice if a Christian film maker had this much money and spent it this well (coughcouchTimothyCheycoughcough).

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Like many Hollywood forays into the Biblical market, Exodus: Gods and Kings is an epic failure.  Far too much time is spent on extra-Biblical content for no reason, as well as the dumbest head-scratching asides.  Historical truth is bent very freely as Moses is transformed into a sword-wielding maniac (with a British accent) and God is turned into a creepy, angry, and manipulative pre-adolescent boy who pours tea and stacks little metal blocks.  As time speeds by for the convenience of the runtime, characters are left in the wake and are made lifeless.  There’s no way to know what’s happening next as the audience is thrust through time without warning.  Iconic and historical sequences are framed in very odd and dark ways, thus making for a very strange and altered account of the story.  Many Christians complained about the cavaliered nature of this film, and they were actually justified.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although some attempts were made to make this cast culturally authentic, this rule mostly only pertains to the supporting cast and the extras.  The white guys of Egypt get to take over the lead roles of this cast.  However, a lot of money was put into historically authentic costuming, so that’s a plus.  However, too many lines from these ‘professional’ actors and actresses are mumbled, thus giving off the impression that they are phoning in their lines and were rather be somewhere else.  For authenticity’s sake, I wish they were.

Conclusion

I’ll take singing and disproportionately-shaped cartoon priests played by Steve Martin and Martin Short over this madness any day (nothing beats the Plagues sequence in that film either).  DreamWorks may not have nailed historical accuracy either (Moses was 80 when he went back to Egypt guys), but who can beat that soundtrack?  Maybe one day I’ll post a review of that animated film, but for now, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a total wreck and waste of Hollywood’s money and your time, KTHNXBYE.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Angela Elwell Hunt: The Dangerous Beauty Series Book 1

Image result for esther royal beauty angela hunt

In her newest series of novels titled Dangerous Beauty, Angela E. Hunt takes up the gauntlet to provide depth and meaning to the stories of women in the Bible. She includes both tales that you would expect, and those that many in the church are afraid to speak aloud. Where others have romanticized, sensationalized, and heavily edited certain stories in the Bible, Hunt speaks out with a refreshing boldness not found in many Christian authors. Esther, Bathsheba, and Delilah were three women whose stories were included in the Bible to teach us important life lessons. So far Hunt has written novels about these three women of the Bible, it is currently unknown as to whether she will continue the Dangerous Beauty series or end it as a trilogy. The first novel in the series is titled Esther: Royal Beauty. This novel tells the story of Esther from a fresh perspective, and what I believe to be a very accurate depiction of what her life really was. Esther was a brave Jewess who answered God’s call when it was not the popular thing to do, nor the safest option. In this novel, Esther is depicted as a real person who made mistakes, as someone who has both strengths and weaknesses. As per usual for Hunt, she combines the perspectives of Esther herself and influential people in her life to create a well-written story that will hold the attention of any reader. I have always found that a good Christian novel is one that you read in one sitting; one that holds the attention for an extended period of time. This series measures up to it’s heritage by bringing fresh content and continuing refreshment in the world of Christian fiction. Many Christian filmmakers have attempted to make movies based on Esther’s story, and every one of them has failed. I would be interested to see a Christian filmmaker think outside the box and use Hunt’s novel to create an Esther character that is a real person, not an subservient, angelic character (The Book of Esther), nor a hollow shell who performs a dramatic act (One Night With the King). It is time for Christian filmmakers to either make a real film about Esther, or stop trying! Hunt’s book provides more than adequate content with which to create a landmark Bible film, so if you want to make another film about Esther, do it right this time and use her book as a master plan.

The Frontier Boys (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a tight-knit group of high school basketball players and fans is directly affected by a seemingly random drive-by shooting, they band together to discover the truth behind the evil deed.  However, unbeknownst to the others, one of them is holding a terrible secret that would affect his very life if he disclosed it.  But as the trail grows cold, will be speak the truth and risk it all to save his friends?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Frontier Boys starts off as a very raw and rough production, which is not characteristic of Echolight Studios.  Camera work is quite shaky at first and video quality is inconsistent.  However, audio quality is always good and the soundtrack is creative.  Sometimes lighting is randomly poor, but this and other productions elements at least improve as the movie goes on.  Sets, locations, and props are stable throughout the film, but for some reason it takes until the middle of video quality, camera work, and lighting to improve.  However, the editing is bit odd as it leaves too many lagging scenes and unexplained sequences.  Overall, this production is a roller coaster and probably should have been redone.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Frontier Boys is a rare circumstance in which the creative plot saves the film from total mediocrity.  Though it begins in a confusing fashion, the story becomes more interesting as it goes, even though it does take a while to get to the point.  Regardless, the characters are surprisingly well-developed through unique dialogue and realistic circumstances.  However, there are some typical sports and mystery story elements and sometimes it seems like the creativity of this suspense idea is not reaching its fullest potential.  It feels like this film was just a beta test because a lot of factors are too downplayed and not taken seriously enough.  Had they been taken more serious, this would be a whole different ballgame.  But in the end, though things tend to be fixed too easily in this plot, it is still a commendable effort and one that demonstrates story-writing talent, which is hard to come by in the Christian movie field.  Perhaps this talent will be utilized further in the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is some off-putting and unusual at first, they work well together and assume their roles very well.  Line delivery is on-point and emotions are believable.  This is a professional casting job and one that should be replicated in the future.

Conclusion

There’s really not a movie out there that’s like The Frontier Boys.  It actually follows a non-typical plot structure and dabbles into an untapped genre.  If the production were upgraded and the plot even slightly improved, this would have been a Hall of Fame film.  Perhaps with the backing of Echolight, this creative team has a chance to really make a difference in the field, if they put their mind to it.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Pitching Love and Catching Faith {Romance in the Outfield} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Heather and Tyler meet on a softball field in the heat of a game and of course don’t like each other at first until they are randomly thrown together in a quirky relationship in which Tyler doesn’t want to kiss her until the right time.  Heather makes it her goal to kiss him, but she soon discovers that his faith is more important than she realized.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a freshman production, this confusingly-titled movie is pretty good.  Video quality is professional, as is the camera work, even though there is some unnecessarily poor lighting.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Sets, locations, and props are fine but slightly limited.  Finally, the editing is too amateurish, including very choppy cuts and transitions that make the viewing experience confusing.  But in the end, this is fine for a first-time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It seems like this film with the long title was pitched (haha) to Hallmark, UP, INSP, or even the abysmal ION in the hopes of a TV deal, but there were no home runs (lol).  It has all the trademarks of Hallmark cheesiness, including a cheap Christian message and the most juvenile romantic plot ever.  Every romance cliché and conversation in the book of stock romances is used in this film.  The plot progression is so predictable that it seems like someone wrote it in their sleep.  Their nothing new or creative here as two empty and cardboard characters are inevitably thrown together into a plastic romance full of forced drama, fake breakups, and an unhealthy obsession with kissing.  Maybe even Hallmark was tired of this.  Then again, maybe not.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though this cast is not all bad, it is a small cast, thus amplifying the errors.  Most cast members are very awkward and flat.  Many of them are unsure in their line delivery, while emotions are forced and stiff.  This is definitely not a good way to top off a textbook romance movie.

Conclusion

It seems like a Christian message was slapped onto this film just to sell it to a certain market.  There’s really no other reason why it should be considered Christian.  Regardless, there is nothing whatsoever creative about this movie.  Thus, there is zero justification for its creation as it clutters an already-crowded field and genre.  The last thing we need is more of these plastic romances.  But last time I checked Hallmark, there’s still plenty more to come.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

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