Heaven’s War {Beyond the Darkness} (Movie Review)

Image result for heaven's war
The magic of the cosmos…

Plot Summary

Senator Jonah Thomas is a rising political star who wants to be the good guy in Washington, but evil individuals, both human and spiritual, have their own plans for him. Jonah’s political career is pushing his family to the brink, and he doesn’t realize the evil devices that await him in one fateful meeting. As his soul hangs in the balance, he will be given one last chance to battle for his eternal destiny in a very poorly-animated CGI world.

Production Quality (0 points)

Imagine you have this great idea for a complex sci-fi plot that requires a lot expensive CGI and animation tools. Would you go ahead and make it even though you didn’t have the funding to make it on a level we see in theaters today? Essentially, Heaven’s War is a poorly funded attempt at a possibly good idea that will fall totally flat due to how bad the production is. The extremely cheap special effects and the cheesiest possible animation and CGI draw so much attention to themselves that they negate any possible good elements in other parts of the production. They affect everything and make it an unpleasant experience whether via disorienting editing, cheap flashback quality, weird sound effects, or wild and quick cuts between scenes. Even if other elements of the film are fine, the special effects failings are the types of issues that infect everything, which keeps this production rated at zero.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides this, the plot is fairly confusing and hard to follow. Even though it’s an interesting idea to explore the spiritual realm, everything is too focused on American politics, which begs the question why the major spiritual battles highlighted here center around raising taxes and finding a vaccine for cancer. If this isn’t the intention, it comes off that way through expository dialogue and devices that move the plot forward, such as news reports and phone conversations. As the story wildly jumps from one random idea to the next, the slightly interesting flashback\psychological vision elements had something going for them, but the way they are presented is a disservice. Poor delivery and unclear direction doomed this plot from the start, not to mention the extremely cheesy portrayal of the spiritual realm that is almost a laughingstock. After lots of disorienting battle sequences and explorations of alternate realities, problems are suddenly quickly fixed at the end with no feeling or reality behind it, and by the time it’s all over, you suddenly realize that this film barely had any actual content in it. Hence, no points can be awarded in this section either.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Surprisingly, as bad as it is, the acting is the strongest point of this movie because it’s the only section that gets any points. Even still, the acting often comes off as un-earnest, overly practiced, and robotic. For the most part, emotions are black, forced, and unnatural. There are some good moments for some of the cast members that are basically just average, but as a whole, the acting is cardboard and the casting poor. This rounds out an unacceptably bad film in the new era of Christian entertainment.

Conclusion

Danny Carrales’ intentions to make different types of Christian films are definitely noted, but their application is way off the mark. It would have been better to make Heaven’s War fully animated so that more time could have been spent on making a real plot. Relying only on special effects of any quality level is never a good idea because they can’t write the story for you. Even the best sci-fi idea will fail if the characters can hold it up for you because the audience has no real connection to the concept without feeling like real people are experiencing it. Basically, better luck next time.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Advertisements

Following the Subplots of The Chosen (Season 1, Mid-Season Update)

Image result for the chosen Christian series jesus

The Chosen has certainly been a transformative series already, and it’s barely gotten off the ground. It has grassroots appeal and will likely grow into a larger and larger movement as time goes on. As the first multi-season Bible series to be created, it has the potential reach beyond traditional Christian audiences and transform the culture both inside and outside the church. The series’ connections with real people in a Jewish cultural context as they encounter the Messiah are its biggest assets, so here’s a helpful guide to help keep up with the core subplots we’ve seen through episode four of the first season.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

Mary Magdalene

The series started off with a bang as Mary’s demonic bondage was explored from multiple angles while at the same time providing key flashbacks to her character’s core motivations. Her father taught her Isaiah 43:1, which she clung to during her darkest hours. After neglecting suicide to follow a bird to her only friend’s (Sol) eating establishment, Mary encountered the Messiah, Who quoted her favorite Scripture to her before setting her free. She then set her mind to helping her friend at the hairdresser shop and re-adapting Jewish customs in her new life, including preparing Shabbat for local outcasts. It was there that she encountered Jesus again and first learned His Name.

Thus far, Mary’s storyline has intersected with Jesus and Nicodemus. She has primarily been in Capernaum.

Nicodemus

Nicodemus’ opening scene–the journey to Capernaum with his wife Zohara–was interrupted by Quintus, a recurring magistrate character, who wanted the rabbi to assist the Roman Empire’s effort to stop fishermen who worked on Shabbat in order to avoid Roman taxes. Nicodemus is a very staunch interpreter of the Torah, which is why another Roman official asked him to cast demons out of Mary Magdalene, who was causing havoc in the Red Quarter, where she worked as a prostitute. Nicodemus reluctantly went, but his exorcism was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, Yussif, a local Pharisee, later informed Nicodemus that he witnessed Mary in her right mind, so Nicodemus paid her visit again to see for himself. He learned her true name and discovered that his work had nothing to do with her freedom. Mary told him of Jesus’ words to her, which prompted Nicodemus to wonder if his work as a rabbi was even honoring God anymore. After receiving word from the priests and rabbis of Capernaum that the radical preacher called John the Baptizer was speaking against the Pharisees and had been imprisoned by Herod, Nicodemus determined to ask the crazy man questions about the miracles he had heard about.

Up to this point, Nicodemus’ subplot has crossed over with Mary alone. He has primarily been seen in Capernaum.

Matthew

As an outcast Jewish tax collector, Matthew’s closest human companion is his Roman bodyguard Gaius; he also has a stray dog for company. Matthew was shunned by his family for supporting the Roman enemy, but he appears to be nonplussed by this. He is a very conscientious accountant who challenged Quintus’ scheme to relieve Peter’s family’s taxes in exchange for his turning in fishermen who worked on Shabbat to avoid taxes. Gaius advised against Matthew’s resistance to Quintus, but Matthew ignored the social cues and faced the powerful official anyway. Quintus was impressed by his courage and ordered Matthew to follow Peter to see if the fisherman was going back on his word. As Matthew spied on Peter, he was able to witness Jesus’ massive fish miracle from afar.

At this point, Matthew has also encountered Peter and Andrew; he has seen Jesus work from a distance. Matthew’s work has primarily been in Galilee so far.

Peter, Andrew, and Eden

Peter made a deal with Roman magistrate Quintus to turn in any Jewish fishermen who fished or Shabbat to avoid paying Roman taxes in exchange for his family’s taxes being cancelled, but Peter’s brother Andrew disagreed with this plan. Peter hid his secret source of income and covert tax evasion from his wife, Eden, but she was suspicious of his unusual work hours, including his work on Shabbat. Andrew has been continually trying to keep his brother from getting into trouble with his in-laws and from using schemes to get ahead in life. However, when he was assisting the Romans one night with patrolling for Shabbat fishers, Peter changed his mind when he saw remnants of Zebedee’s work since he and his sons were friends. Later, Peter confessed to Zebedee, James, and John what he had done and begged for their help to pay off his tax debts, but they refused. In midst of the turmoil, Peter had to tell Eden what was going on after her ill mother had unexpectedly moved in with them. Eden and Peter both agreed they needed a miracle to settle their financial situation, so he set out to fish all night. Eden asked Zebedee and his sons to help, so they brought Andrew as well to assist the colorful Peter with his bind. However, after catching nothing all night, the fishermen encountered Jesus on the shore, whom Andrew had already told Peter about. Jesus used Peter’s boat to briefly teach before telling people to put out the nets one more time. This led to the miraculous catch of fish, which gave enough revenue to settle the debts. Jesus promptly called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him from there on out.

Peter and Andrew have interacted with Matthew, Zebedee, James, John, and Jesus. Eden and the brothers have only been seen in Galilee thus far.

Abigail and friends

Abigail is a young, assertive girl who accidentally discovered Jesus’ makeshift carpentry shop in a clearing of the woods near her house. During the events of the first two episodes, Abigail took her friends to see Jesus each day, and He taught them rudimentary wood-working skills and reinforced His lessons for their lives. He shared with them some of His future teachings before letting them know it was time for His work to begin.

Abigail and her friends have only crossed paths with Jesus in the outskirts of Capernaum.

James, John, and Zebedee

Zebedee and his sons James and John are fellow fishermen with Peter and Andrew who heard of the Roman scheme to arrest fishermen who worked on Shabbat to avoid tax laws when peter confessed to his part in it. At first, they refused to help Peter, but at the pleadings of Eden, they decided to help Peter bail out his debts. In doing so, they witnessed Jesus’ miracle of the massive catch of fish, after which James and John were called to be His disciples.

Zebedee, James, and John have interconnected with Peter, Andrew, and Jesus and have only been seen in Galilee.

Other Characters and Notes

Blind man in Red Quarter: In the first two episodes, we saw other characters run into a blind man in the Red Quarter who is waiting for the Messiah to pass by, so we are likely to see this previewed storyline in a later episode.

Quintus: Quintus has been a recurring character who’s crossed paths with Nicodemus and Matthew already, so it’s possible we will see a larger role from him as the series progresses.

Gaius: Matthew’s bodyguard has the same name as the recipient of 3 John, so we may continue to see his character developed as more seasons are released.

Shmuel and Yussif: These two Capernaum priests have thus far been in the background of Nicodemus’ main storyline, but it’s possible that we will continue to see more of them as their subplots break off from Nicodemus’ to play the roles of future Pharisee characters who challenge Jesus.

Support The Chosen on VidAngel!

Image result for the chosen Christian series

This Easter season, as you enjoy your holiday weekend and spend time with loved ones, make time to support the new streaming series The Chosen on the VidAngel streaming service. This series alone is worth buying a subscription; the first four episodes are now available, and the last four of the first season will be available before the summer.

A full review of Season 1 will be posted here by May; have a great holiday!

The Christ Slayer (Movie Review)

Image result for the christ slayer

Plot Summary

Longinus was raised by the Magi, but he never fully believed the stories they told of the Messiah as he rose through the ranks of the Roman army. he was at the pinnacle of his career, but an injury led to blindness, forcing him out of service. As he languished in darkness with a servant to guide his daily activities, he never dreamed that his life would be forever changed when he helped end a seemingly meaningless crucifixion of the One they called the King of the Jews.

Production Quality (2 points)

Over time, DJ Perry and his creative have definitely improved their production skills as The Christ Slayer demonstrates good camera work, effective camera angles, and professional video quality. The audio quality is also fine for the more part, and the soundtrack is culturally authentic. While the sets, locations, and props are great, the outdoor scenes are better since some of the indoor shots are a bit too dark and disorienting. Some of the editing could have been more consistent and understandable, but on the whole, this production is adequate and shows commitment to improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Quest Trilogy has taken many different turns, and at this point, the ending is better than the beginning. At its inception, some parts were hard to grasp and a bit too abstract, but the unique turn in The Christ Slayer definitely helped things. This is a unique extra-Biblical plot that gives a fresh perspective on the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and it sports the typical abstractly creative concepts of the CDI team. The spiritual elements from Forty Nights and Chasing the Star are included in this third installment, but they are presented in more accessible fashions. Similarly, the psychological themes of The Christ Slayer are fairly well-utilized, and integration of Biblical accounts is creatively woven together with the main plot. There are a few drawbacks, however, that keep this plot from being all that it could be. For instance, there are quite a few slow scenes that tend to be too artistic such that the audience has trouble understanding them, and some of the characters’ dialogue is a bit archaic and drawn-out. There are some expository conversations that replace better character development, and sometimes, the Jesus character is a bit too ethereal and inaccessible, but as a whole, this is a fine Easter plot that demonstrates unique storytelling.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Probably the brightest spot of this film’s cast is the awesome idea to cast a special needs cast member in a role that doesn’t over-emphasize his condition. Treating him as a regular actor is a huge step forward for disability rights, so this creative team’s decision to do this shows a deeper care for inclusion in the arts. Elsewhere in this cast, some of the main cast members are good while some could use more efficient coaching to avoid being too theatrical and dramatic. As a whole, the acting is average, but it could have been better if emotions were more accessible. In the end, The Christ Slayer is a good end to the Quest Trilogy.

Conclusion

DJ Perry and company have a lot going for them, so it will be interesting to see how they will be able to collaborate with other talent in the future. Throughout their careers, they have only gotten better as they have adapted and changed, which is encouraging to see. Sometimes trilogies end worse than they begin, so since the Quest Trilogy has ended on a good note, this will hopefully be a springboard to better things in the future for CDI entertainment.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Run the Race (Movie Review)

Image result for run the race movie

Plot Summary

It seems like Zach and Dave Truett have always been dealt a bad hand in life. Their mother died, and their father soon after fell into alcoholism. Dave suffers from a medical condition, so when Zach tears his ACL at a party, his chances of a football scholarship, their only clear way out of their small town, are jeopardized. This forces Zach to do the soul-searching he had always avoided since their mother died, and it leads the brothers to unexpected places.

Production Quality (2 points)

As the first production funded and facilitated by the Tebow brothers, they have definitely shown that they can aggregate funds and put them to fairly good use. For the most part, this production is quite good and hits all the right notes, including good video quality, effective camera work, professional audio quality, and a great soundtrack. Sets, locations, and props are also adequately used and constructed. While the music is good, one drawback is the many dizzying sports montages that seem to eat up most of the runtime. Because of the time spent on this part, other scenes in the film are awkwardly and abruptly cut off with poor transitions. However, on the whole, this is an above-average production that is great for a first time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the money put into the production didn’t reflect well in the plot department. While something good is trying to be portrayed in this story, it doesn’t come through well at all, mostly due to the quick, clipped scenes that leave little room for proper development. Much of the dialogue refers to off-screen content or is very punctuated; this makes for awkward conversations that are inadequate in building characters effectively. While there are some attempts to take a real look at issues facing small towns in America and the people in them, too much time is spent on sports and training montages, which makes for a fairly choppy story presentation that doesn’t flow very well at all. There are too many missed opportunities as mindless sequences crowd the runtime, and many of the characters are too basic and one-dimensional. Difficult topics are mishandled with cliches, and unexpected time jumps leave the viewer disoriented to the story’s progression. Besides a handful of good scenes near the end of the film, this movie mainly talks about things without really showing them to you and fixes things without any heart behind them. In better screenwriting hands, this could have been a great exploration of relevant issues facing ordinary people, but we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

On the whole, the acting of this film could have been good, and while there aren’t any glaring errors, it’s still a bit thin. Better coaching would have likely brought out the potential in the cast members, and even so, it’s not as bad as it could have been. However, it’s not really dynamic either, which makes this an average section that rounds off a middle-of-the-road film.

Conclusion

In summary, Run the Race is fine for a freshman film effort, but with higher standards being set in the Christian entertainment market, new film makers will need to aim higher if they want to make their mark. Good productions have become more of a benchmark than they once were, and acting should at least be above average. The films that will truly set themselves apart moving forward are those that have dynamic plots and effective storytelling techniques. Perhaps in the their next attempt, the Tebow brothers can wield their fundraising skills to support a truly talented screenwriter.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Grace and Gravity (Movie Review)

Image result for grace and gravity movie

Plot Summary

While on a business trip in the United Kingdom, an American man takes a photography hike only to be shocked by a man waiting on a bridge who intends to jump to his death. The American decides to awkwardly climb up the impossibly tall bridge with no other way to get on it, for he intends to share the Gospel with the British man before he ends it all. However, the American doesn’t know what he’s in for as the two men embark on the longest quasi-philosophical debate involving Bruce Marchiano since the original Encounter film.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Since it has very limited sets, locations, and props, Grace and Gravity doesn’t make any major mistakes in the production category, but it doesn’t make any waves either. Video quality and audio quality are both fine accordingly, yet the soundtrack is very generic. Camera work is also adequate, but the presence of weird technological sound effects and other cheap elements put a drag on things. To cap things off, the editing is very basic and almost non-existent, which essentially gives us an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Did we really need another film that’s basically a long-winded conversation between Bruce Marchiano and another person? It’s bad enough that this movie is full of forced dialogue and long, drawn-out portions, but there’s hardly anything to this so-called plot. It’s intent on kicking the can down the road by wasting time as it grasps for content and produces menial flashbacks that give us little insight into character motive. While there are some slight attempts at talking about real issues, they come off as inadequate and empty. This idea is awkwardly forced to be something it’s not as there are a handful of totally dead scenes, which makes the story very fruitless as it slogs on. Further, the worldview is bit odd, and the ending sequence is highly unusual and unrealistic. In summary, with no characters to work with in a character-based plot, we’re left with a lame attempt to do something (not sure what).

Acting Quality (0 points)

With only two main cast members, they carry the weight of the film. Unfortunately, they fumble the ball often. While Marchiano is slightly better than past roles, his delivery still comes off as overly theatrical and practiced. The acting as a whole is very stilted and cardboard. There are too many scenes of only one or two cast members doing all the talking, and there are some cringe-worthy sequences of painfully forced emotions. In the end, this rounds out a very disappointing effort that had little going for it.

Conclusion

Grace and Gravity really is just another version of The Encounter, just without an obvious Jesus character. It seems like Bruce Marchiano always includes his contract that he needs a certain amount of speaking time in the film, including a hefty imparting of wisdom (see The Encounter 2 and Alison’s Choice). To many audiences, this delivery of content will be very off-putting and appear purposeless. There just isn’t anything substantial for this film to offer beyond half-baked philosophical explorations that do little to relate to the struggles of real people.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Drummer Boy (pre-production)

Image result for into the silent night cover

Currently in pre-production from Lionsgate, the Erwin brothers, and the Smallbone brothers

Writer(s):  Ben Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Richard Ramsey

Director(s): Ben Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone

Producer(s): Kevin Downes, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Luke Smallbone

Starring: TBA

Plot Synopsis: A period musical, presumably with holiday themes.

Apostles: Resurrection of Christ (pre-production)

Andy Erwin (far left), Kevin Downes, and Jon Erwin have formed a new faith-based filmmaking company, Kingdom, that will release multiple movies by different directors in what Jon Erwin calls a "leap forward" in faith moviemaking. Lionsgate will distribute them. Kingdom will announce its first slate of movies in March at the National Religious Broadcasters convention. Erwin Brothers photo

Currently in pre-production from Lionsgate, the Erwin brothers, and Kevin Downes

Writer(s):  Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn

Director(s): Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin

Producer(s): Kevin Downes

Starring: TBA

Plot Synopsis: This film is the first in a trilogy aiming to create a new cinematic universe of Bible stories. The first installment follows the growth of the early church after the Resurrection of Christ.

Jesus Revolution (2021)

Coming in 2021 from Lionsgate and the Erwin brothers

Writer(s):  Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn

Director(s): Jon Gunn

Producer(s): Kevin Downes, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Greg Laurie

Starring: TBA

Plot Synopsis: This film tells the true story of a national spiritual awakening in the early 1970’s and its origins within a community of teenaged hippies in Southern California. The story follows the early life of nationally known pastor Greg Laurie.

Unplanned [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and abortion rights advocate, was taken by God on an unforgettable journey of redemption and forgiveness that led her to reject her former way of life and trade it for a ministry of pro-life activism. Though no one could have ever dreamed that an abortion clinic supervisor would switch political sides and join her former enemies, there is no end to the power of prayer.

Production Quality (2 points)

As expected at this point from PureFlix, the production of Unplanned is above-average and hits all the right notes, for the most part. On the surface, it looks good due to high video quality, professional camera work, and adequate sets, locations, and props. Audio quality is also good. They’ve checked all the typical boxes, but there are some issues with the soundtrack as many of the songs don’t properly fit the situations they are played in. However, the most glaring problem is the horrific editing that takes the viewer all over the map of a story that could have been good but only ends up playing like an audio book, as we see next.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At this point, it’s painfully clear that the current PureFlix team can’t even properly portray a great true story even if it hit them in the face like Abby Johnson’s story did. Even if the book is already written for them, you can count on PureFlix to fumble the ball at the goal line by falling back on their old tried-and-failed pitfalls of trying to be too obvious without trusting the audience to read in to the subtlety and of crafting too many climax scenes for dramatic effect. The obvious goal was the hit all the high points of the story in order to maximize the most shock and awe possible with the hopes of scaring people about abortion. There’s no doubt that there were many powerful parts of Abby’s story, but we’ll never really know as the demonstrative elements are over-emphasized in the movie while the potential for character building is simply replaced with incessant and heavy-handed narration. They seem like great characters, but it’s impossible to know them due to the narration and the wild time jumps that leave the viewer disoriented. Since there’s a lot of content in this story, it could have been effectively laid out via flashbacks that built character motivation, yet instead, we were left with talking-points conversations and overly emphasized strawman villain moments. The film is written for basically one good scene near the end where we actually get realistic dialogue uninterrupted by Bratcher’s narration, but it’s too little too late. Unfortunately, where Abby Johnson’s story could have been a powerful treatise on prayer and a change of heart, all we’re given is a smile-and-wave, run-of-the-mill experience dedicated to grossing people out about abortion whose R-rating is warranted due to lack of balance.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, Ashley Bratcher is a bright spot in this cast, which suggests her performance in Princess Cut was heavily controlled by the creators of that film. While the supporting cast might have been interesting, it’s hard to tell due to the famine of lines and dialogue in this film. Even still, the casting and acting are mostly good without many glaring errors…it’s just basically unfinished and left wanting, like the overall feel of this movie.

Conclusion

There’s absolutely no doubt that Abby Johnson and David Bereit played integral roles in bringing the pro-life movement out of the dark ages through prayer and expert leadership, and Abby’s story is an amazing one that deserved a movie of its own. However, PureFlix’s treatment of the story doesn’t do it any justice. Moreover, Unplanned, in a way, represents the current state of the pro-life movement: lots of well-meaning people who want to do the right thing, along with a collection of more influential people who believe that ‘gotcha’ talking points and graphic displays of the evils of abortion will change things. The early marketing for this film proclaimed it to be (another) death knell for the corrupt Planned Parenthood, yet we beg to differ. Any success the pro-life movement will find moving forward is by both listening to and telling actual stories of real people, not by falling into the trap of unleashing smoking guns that will ‘sink’ your opposition. There was a massive opportunity to tell a real story in Unplanned that could actually reach people, but once again, PureFlix proves that they can’t tell stories properly because this requires actually knowing people. Unfortunately, while the gory moments of this film can be powerful if packaged properly, when they are separated from an emotional connection with the characters, they can re-traumatize those who have been hurt by abortion, which doesn’t win any ‘converts.’

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

40: The Temptation of Christ (Movie Review)

Related image

Plot Summary

After Jesus’ baptism and before his earthly ministry officially began, he went into the desert for forty days, where He was tempted by the devil to forfeit His work before it even began. Satan used many tactics to convince Jesus to fall, yet Christ remained without sin in the trials. As Jesus endured the hardship, He experienced human pain and suffering that prepared Him to relate to those who needed His power the most.

Production Quality (2 points)

While this film’s budget was somewhat limited due to its independent nature, resources were clearly allocated responsibly. Although there are some cheap special effects and sound effects, mostly toward the beginning of the film, there is plenty of positive to note here. The first thirty minutes of the movie are the hardest because these contain some poor editing and lagging scenes, but once the film progresses past this point, things begin to look up. There are some elements of shaky camera work throughout, but the outdoor locations used are very engaging and professionally shot. The perspective filming is effective, and the soundtrack is highly engaging in many parts as it adds to the viewing experience. Further, video quality is crisp throughout, and even though it takes a bit, the production slowly becomes a great one, which is a testament to what this team could pull off with more resources under their belt.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Like the production, the plot is a bit shaky at first, mostly due to immediate and unnecessary narration. Jesus is also a bit too theatrical and inaccessible as a character at first, but He definitely gets better as the story goes on. It’s somewhat difficult to get through the first thirty minutes of the film because of these issues and because of some lagging scenes, so it’s possible that this idea may have worked better as a short film. However, once the thirty-minute mark has been passed, things change for the better since a really good idea is revealed. The use of flashbacks and flash-forwards is very effective to bridge time and to reinforce the psychological elements that the temptations are based on, which are very well-constructed. The core of the plot is based on a collection of very engaging and creative conversations that clearly show what the film was made for. Old Testament prophecies are integrated very well into the dialogue, which is something we don’t see enough of in Bible films. As a whole, this creative team’s take on the temptations of Jesus is very interesting and innovative, mostly due to well-executed psychological sequences that go hand-in-hand extremely well with the flashbacks, mostly because the viewer doesn’t always see the temptation coming. In the end, the use of symbolism and artistic elements are effective in presenting a familiar Bible story in a new, creative way, and the horror elements are handled well without being too sensational. Thus, there is a lot of potential for this creative team through future collaborations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the cast is not entirely culturally authentic, this can be forgiven due to the limited budget of the project. At first, the line delivery and emotions come off as too forced and theatrical, but they moderate as the film progresses and show concerted improvement. Due the small cast, they carry the whole film on their shoulders, and for the most part, they post good performances by the movie’s conclusion. This rounds out an overall refreshing independent effort, which plants promising seeds for the future.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to portray the temptations of Jesus properly without a good understanding of human psychology. As a whole, this creative team appears to have such an understanding. The Temptation of Christ is everything a first-time, self-funded project should be: as good of a production as possible, a well-written plot that demonstrates talent that can be developed in the future, and a good enough acting performance to carry the day. Thus, we can’t wait to see what these film makers have to offer once they are given better funding opportunities.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Mary Magdalene: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary Magdalene lived a dark life before she encountered Jesus of Nazareth, and her bondage and past mistakes always tried to call her back. However, her experience with Jesus forever changed her life. She sought to serve Him and follow Him whenever she could, and her influence that came as a result of her time with Jesus had a positive effect on those around her.

Production Quality (2 points)

The early 2000s Bible films produced by the collaboration between the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Lux Vide were certainly well-funded, which translated to great attention to historical detail. Other production elements were also professional, including video quality and camera work. The sets, locations, and props reflected attempts at authenticity, and the editing was streamlined. However, there were a few issues with audio in Mary Magdalene. For one, there are a lot of very obvious overdubs that seem unnecessary. On paper, the audio seems fine, but the soundtrack is sometimes archaic and incongruous, and any presence of overdubbing speaks to sound problems. Nevertheless, this film has an above-average production that is good enough but not dynamic.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The story of Mary Magdalene is definitely an interesting Biblical account this isn’t focused on enough; however, this rendition gives an odd take on the story since there isn’t enough exploration as to how she became originally possessed. This is a central point in the story, so focusing on tangential content instead of this core concept is unusual at best. Lacking a coherent bondage storyline makes it hard for the viewer to appreciate Mary’s redemption arc. Elsewhere in the story, time seems to move too quickly, and there are some unnecessary alterations to the historical account. All of this hampers proper character development due to stunted dialogue and little continuity. While the portrayal of Herod is fine, John the Baptist is too nutty, and Jesus is too inaccessible and ethereal. There is also some unnecessary suggestive content that could have been shown more tastefully. In the end, while the movie’s plot had a lot of potential, it falls flat for a number of reasons and shows that unskilled screen writing can hurt any good idea.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the cast of Mary Magdalene is not completely culturally authentic, which is manifest in unrealistic accents. However, the historical costuming is one of the stronger points of the film. Nonetheless, emotions among the cast members are often too forceful, dramatic, and theatrical. Line delivery is too robotic at times, but there are some positive elements that keep the acting from level zero. In the end, this section is still below average, and this movie is another not-good-enough Bible film.

Conclusion

The TBN\Lux Vide combo definitely tried to blaze some trails in the early 2000s with regard to Bible films, but they too often missed the mark. It wasn’t for lack of budget; rather, inadequate screenwriting held their Biblical accounts back from being all they could have been. Having the characters cross back and forth between the different films was a great universe-connecting idea, but it was in vain since they didn’t have wide appeal. For future learning, current film makers can take notes from these films on how to go about crafting Biblical epics without repeating the old mistakes.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Palau: The Movie (Movie Review)

Image result for palau the movie

Plot Summary

Luis Palau, a world-renowned missionary, had meager beginnings in his life, but this did not hold him back from being all he could be for God. Under the mentorship of key people God placed in his life, Palau brought the Gospel to the countries and locations God laid on his heart and set an example for evangelism. Even today, the impact of his work is still being felt.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While this is obviously a good idea on paper for a Christian film, it seems like the execution was only partial due to budget constraints. This fact is evident in the limited sets, locations, and props, even though they still demonstrate great attempts at historical and cultural accuracy. The lighting of the scenes is back and forth with indoor scenes mostly poorly lit while outside scenes are fine. The camera work is also acceptable, along with the audio quality. At times, there are background noises, however, and the soundtrack, while culturally authentic, seems forced at times. Further, the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is basically average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the story of Luis Palau is a great true story to base a film upon, but the way it was conducted with this rendition wasn’t adequate in fully communicating the important messages therein. From the beginning, the attention of the audience isn’t effectively held due to an overall feel of the film being a sort of docu-drama. This attitude is demonstrated by collections of boring scenes that simply depict characters sitting around or standing while reciting lines. As such, the dialogue isn’t enough to drive the character development to where we can relate to them; we don’t know character motivations well enough even though there are some backstories portrayed. It’s a nice authentic touch to use the original language, but it tends to cloud things when it the whole film already comes off like a collection of Bible study skits. Because of this dynamic, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but representations of ideas, which is a real shame since the movie could have been a true epic story. The time jumps are a disservice both to continuity and proper development of concepts, and it ruins any chance of having central themes or concepts to center the movie around. In the end, this film is mostly benign, which also means it’s not ground-breaking.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the acting mostly means well, it tends to fall flat due to its vanilla nature. The attempts at cultural authenticity are definitely commendable, but each cast member would benefit from improved coaching. However, it has to be considered that the lack of good written lines puts a damper on their ability to deliver them well. Nonetheless, the smaller cast tends to amplify the errors, and in the end, this is basically an average performance overall.

Conclusion

In summary, it can’t be discounted that commendable effort was made to craft a film depicting an important true story that has impacted thousands of people around the world. Since it’s such an important account, we would have liked to see a much more substantial approach that did it justice and sought to produce a dynamic experience for the viewer. However, the film makers definitely meant well, so it will be interesting to see what they put out next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Trump Prophecy (Movie Review)

Image result for the trump prophecy movie shofar
Shofars!

Plot Summary

Mark Taylor was burnt out as a firefighter after nearly twenty years of service, and he began having physical symptoms of his exhaustion. He also began having mental symptoms of the trauma he experienced, which led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He went on leave from work due to the condition and eventually retired, and during this time, he believed that he received visions both from Satan and from God of how Donald Trump would become President of the United States.

Production Quality (0 points)

So Liberty University wants to make another movie to showcase their expensive equipment and unusual application of it. While on the surface this production seems fine, there are too many film school experiments exhibited throughout, such as bizarre camera work and choppy ‘artistic’ editing. Sets, props, and locations are surprisingly limited for the supposed scope of this film, and it seems like with the budget that was funded for this film, things would look better than this. The audio quality as a whole is unacceptable for a movie of this budget level since there are many weird background noises throughout and since the many musical montages use an invasive and unrelated soundtrack. Besides these obvious problems, it goes without saying that the special effects are horribly bad and very cheap-looking for a film school who purports to have some of the best resources at their fingertips. As a side note, there are too many CBN product placements, probably because they couldn’t license the big networks in a film that depends too heavily on news sequences to move time forward. In the end, any good parts of this production are cancelled out by the bad, which leaves us with nothing here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

As expected from the build-up and from the divisive political atmosphere surrounding the origin of this film’s idea, this story is utter madness. The fact that a large section of the American Christian population has embraced the bizarre ramblings of a self-proclaimed prophet who has many prophecies that never came true is very disturbing at best. Due to money, Liberty University has chosen to give a platform to these wacky theories, but they packaged them in the most boring and vanilla plot you can imagine. The weird worldview aside, this story has basically nothing to offer the viewers except for boring activities of daily living, random life montages, and off-the-wall acid trip vision sequences that have little to no explanation or understanding of what’s going on. Besides the fact that this film gives a platform to highly unusual and offbeat ideas that borderline on false teaching and peddles cult-life politically Christian propaganda, the main story is actually quite short and irrelevant. There’s hardly anything to it at all, and all of the negative brings it lower than zero, which isn’t really surprising, given the history of this story’s origins.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To combine with one of the most boring plots possible, Liberty University’s film school made sure to cast the most boring cast members we’ve ever seen, and we thought that the cast of Extraordinary was bad enough. The lead actor is extremely dead-faced for most of the movie, and most of the cast members don’t exhibit any substantial emotions except for overly practiced ones. Line delivery is very stilted and robotic, and the interactions between the cast members come off as very awkward and impersonal. In short, if there’s something bad about any movie, it’s probably represented somehow in The Trump Prophecy.

Conclusion

We have to wonder if Liberty University will ever learn from their series of colossal failures (see Extraordinary). Even if you agree with the total drivel propagated by this film of madness, there’s no way you can contort this film to be a quality movie or even an interesting one. Whoever is behind the decision making at LU’s film school clearly has no idea what they’re doing in the entertainment business because they consistently roll out some of the most well-funded and tone deaf movies we’ve ever seen. Words cannot express how far out of touch with reality they are; anyone that even thought about making a film based on a scam-worthy book like The Trump Prophecy has their priorities seriously out of whack and out of tune with what really matters.

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

Interview With Sean Paul Murphy, Screenwriter

Image result for sean paul murphy

Box Office Revolution: What inspired you to first get into making Christian entertainment?

Sean Paul Murphy: I don’t know if anything inspired me to get into making Christian entertainment. I just wanted to tell stories that resonated with me. Since I was a Christian, the stories I told often reflected my values and faith. I was writing so called faith-based films before it became an established genre in Hollywood.

I find it interesting that you call it Christian entertainment. Years ago, most of people would have shied away from that term. People would say that they were making films to reach people for the Lord, not entertain Christians.

BOR: What do you feel is your underlying philosophy of movie making?

SPM: My underlying philosophy is to tell a good story well.

BOR: What do you think we need to see more of in Christian entertainment?

SPM: Since practically everyone who watches Christian films are already Christians, I would say we should make films that meet the needs of the church, and about challenges in the Christian walk, rather than just continually retelling the sinner comes to Christ story. I deal with this issue in a long post on my blog called Building the Faith-based Ghetto.

BOR: What do you think needs to be improved in Christian entertainment as a whole?

SPM: I think we desperately need to increase the level of professionalism. This hasn’t happened as a whole in the independent Christian film business because our consumers value the message over artistic quality. They would quickly have both if they stopped supporting bad films. And I’m speaking as a guy who realizes that all of his films are flawed in one way or another. I’m not just pointing a finger at others.

BOR: How do you feel about Christian entertainment creation being a collaborative effort rather than a ‘lone ranger’ creation?

SPM: The Christian film business is cursed with far too many one-man bands.  No one person is equally gifted in writing, producing, directing and acting, and a film will only rise to the level of the weakest of those skills. Also, I tend to be suspicious of people who say “they’re doing it for the Lord” when they feel the need to write, produce, direct and star in their own films. If you’re doing it for the Lord, you would seek the most skilled and experienced people available for every job on the film. Personally, I prefer to be the dumbest person on the shoot. I want to be surrounded by people more experienced than me so that I can learn.

BOR: How has Christian entertainment improved during the time you’ve been involved in it?

SPM: The theatrical releases, like those from Affirm, are getting better every year. I liked “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” and “I Can Only Imagine.” They were both a step forward. However, technically, they were still only on the level of cable movies. We are not competing one on one with even the average Hollywood product yet. And it’s not just budget. I think the difference is that the average Hollywood filmmaker is more devoted to the craft of filmmaking. Christian filmmakers tend to think of themselves as evangelists first.

BOR: Is working on Christian movie sets any better or worse than working on ‘secular’ movie sets?

SPM: I have been working on sets since my days as an advertising producer back in the late-1980s. I haven’t noticed a real difference between secular and Christian movie sets. On the behind the scenes videos of Christian films, I always see people saying how they pray on the set all the time, but I never saw that on any of my films. Then again, I’m a writer. I never have an early call time. Maybe everyone got prayed up before I arrived.

To me, the biggest difference is between union and non-union shoots. When I was an ad producer, I was not a fan of the unions. Now, however, I am a strong supporter of them. Too many unscrupulous filmmakers would take advantage of the cast and crew if the various unions didn’t protect them. Not only that, I think crews work better when they know they are in a safe environment and that their rights are protected.

Most of the Christian films I worked on were non-union, with the exception of the Screen Actors Guild.

BOR: What are your future plans for new Christian entertainment (movies, series, etc.)?  Can you tease any specific upcoming projects?

SPM: My script. “I, John,” a 2012 winner of the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays, is currently in development. I am not working on any other faith-based scripts now. I have turned my attention to books. Touchpoint Press published my memoir “The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.” It was a great experience. I was able to discuss my faith and how it affected my life without having to filter it through the egos of producers, actors and directors. It was much more honest and refreshing. I have just finished a novel called “Chapel Street.” It is a horror story, inspired by some events in my own life, which has a strong spiritual message. You can read some samples of both books on my blog.

BOR: Thank you for your time!

SPM: Thank you!

The Least Among You (Movie Review)

Image result for the least among you movie

Plot Summary

Richard Kelly was one of the first African-American students admitted to a traditionally all-white and all-male seminary and California, and in the the beginning, the seminary president says he’s on his side to break down racial barriers among Christians. Though Richard had no interest in going to seminary, he does have an interest in racial justice, but the further he goes with his miniature revolution, the strangers things become as former enemies become friends while former friends become enemies. Nothing is at it seems, and Richard will have to decide if he will trust in God more than he trusts in people.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, The Least Among You comes off as well-funded and well-orchestrated on the production side of things. This is evident in the authentic sets, locations, and props that reflect historical accuracy and attention to detail. There is also a lot of good artistic and creative camera work that seeks to establish things, and the audio quality and soundtrack are adequate as well. The only drawbacks to this production are some poorly lit scenes and some slightly choppy editing, but they aren’t enough to keep this production from being all that it can be, which is dynamic and respectable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The story behind this film is somewhat obscure, but this doesn’t make it any less necessary or poignant. It’s actually a very relevant tale that explores uncomfortable racial problems within the church that many Christians would like to easily forget. The Least Among You portrays and very realistic and gritty look at a hidden history of American Christianity that needs full exploration if we are to learn anything in our present era. This is coupled with great attempts at character development through effective dialogue and flashbacks that demonstrate real character motive and help us to understand where they are really coming from. All of this is done without narration, and there are no ‘villain’ characters as some characters are two-faced and are crafted very well accordingly. While each character actually feels like a real person with a real backstory, there are a handful of seemingly unnecessary scenes, especially ones containing realistic but distasteful language; it really feels like the film would have been fine without these inclusions. Further, the climax scene is somewhat cheesy and not well explained, and it leads to a rushed ending where many things are patched up. As such, the middle of the plot is the best portion as it presents very important and excellent messages and themes that are still highly relevant for the church today, which makes it worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, The Least Among You demonstrates culturally authentic casting except for some cast members that demonstrate slightly fake accents that are a bit outside of their realms of expertise. Otherwise, there is a lot of great cast work to see here, including professional acting and great acting coaching. While some emotions are a bit forced and overdone, they are overall fine, along with line delivery. As a whole, this film is so close to the Hall of Fame, but it’s still enjoyable as it is.

Conclusion

As we’ve said many times before and will likely say again, films like The Least Among You should be the norm in Christian entertainment. Plenty of care, time, and funding was put into it, and the story is enjoyable, realistic, and poignant. While the ending may fall a bit flat and while other portions leave something to be desired, there is still plenty of good to note here that many audiences will enjoy, which makes this film worth your time.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Mission Improbable [2016] (Movie Review)

Mission Improbable (2016)

Plot Summary

The lives of several substance abusers and a pastor who lives a luxurious ministry lifestyle suddenly become interconnected as God leads each them down different paths to the same place: a Christian substance abuse rehab. They all have different motives and different reasons for being there, but by the time it’s done, none of them will be the same. However, when each person’s past comes calling, how will they respond?

Production Quality (1 point)

One of the most glaring problems with this production is that it’s over-extended and cannot adequately portray what it’s meant to portray. This is evidenced by very cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, as well as poor lighting throughout. The audio quality, both indoor and outdoor, are also both inadequate. While the video quality is mostly fine, there are a lot of strange camera angles. Also, while the editing is mostly fine, this is overall a very cheap production that really has no place in this era of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this film seeks to portray unfortunately realistic circumstances that can be found virtually anywhere in America, it does so in a very tone-deaf manner. Substance abuse is a real and serious issue, but this movie treats it solely like a spiritual issue (there are spiritual components, but not only that) and does so in a very legalistic and unrealistic fashion, such as implying that praying and becoming a Christian immediately cures substance abuse. However, there is a refreshingly honest look at church problems, even if the bad characters are total strawmen, especially the ‘bad’ women. It doesn’t help that all of the dialogue is painfully forced and has a very archaic style and tone about it. As such, the conversations do nothing to build or grow characters even though there are very steep character arcs that come as a result of reading Bible verses, which are also highly unrealistic. In the end, everything is magically fixed when the characters act as the plot wants them to act. Essentially, this is a worthwhile topic to explore in film, but screenwriters need to do so in the context of actual research about and\or experience with substance abuse rather than the total ignorance this film displays.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To top things off, this film contains some of the worst acting of the past few years. This poor quality includes weird scenes of cast members talking to themselves and is most represented by the very awkward and overly-practiced tone of the acting. Many cast members seem self-impressed for no reason and demonstrate tone-deaf emotional and line delivery. Elsewhere, emotions are extremely forced to the point parody. In the end, this film has very little going for it.

Conclusion

Nearly every movie starts off with a good idea. One of the most error-prone areas of Christian film is converting that good idea into a movie that’s worthwhile, high-quality, and accessible by several different audiences. If a film can’t be understood or can’t properly relate to people, there’s really no hope for it. This besetting sin of Christian film is an overall symptom of problems facing the church: American Christians, as a generalization (there are always exceptions), have difficult time understanding real people because they don’t know them very well. Until this changes, Christian film as a whole won’t change on the large scale.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Manav Banerjee only wanted to be a successful journalist in the late 1990s India, when the country was full of social unrest due to religious persecution and restlessness. Thus, when Banerjee was given a chance at big story – finding a reason to arrest American missionary Graham Staines – he jumped at the chance to infiltrate the Christian cell who cared for the leper outcasts in order to trap Staines with Indian religious laws. However, the longer he knew Staines, the more perplexed Banerjee became, and he inadvertently set off a chain of events that would change both of their lives forever.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Least of These is a production that was a long time coming, and the finished product was definitely worth the wait as the on-location filming location paid off. This gives it an air of authenticity that there wouldn’t otherwise be in an international film. Video quality, camera work, sets, and props also live up to these high standards set by the hard work put into it. Audio quality is also mostly adequate, and the soundtrack is culturally appropriate, even if it is a bit loud and invasive in some scenes. The only other minor error to point out here relates to some quick cuts and abrupt scene transitions, but the editing is overall good, including some artistic overlays that are executed well. As a whole, as we kick off 2019 in the world of Christian entertainment, The Least of These is an almost-perfect production in the new era of Christian film that demands higher quality productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s definitely clear why this true story was chosen for a film, and it’s refreshing to see a unique, non-Western perspective on white missionaries coming to a third world country, which can be attributed to the Indian creators of this film. We’ve had plenty of films told through the eyes of the ‘benevolent’ white missionaries, so seeing a culturally authentic perspective on this true story makes this plot very worthwhile. However, there are still some pitfalls of freshman story-telling to note here, such as the heavy-handed narration that doesn’t allow the plot to unfold naturally. Nevertheless, for the most part, character development appears to survive mostly intact, which can likely be attributed to their being based on real people. A good use of effective flashbacks also aids in this effort. Further, the Christian message is presented very well without being too forceful. Unfortunately, while the beginning and middle of this plot are quite good, it tends to lag at the end and to not discover the dynamic feel that it needed to push it onto the Hall of Fame. There are one too many abstract scenes that don’t have enough meaning attached to them. Nevertheless, this is still a great film about an excellent real-life story that is definitely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It seems like there were better cast members to cast for Australian roles than non-Australian cast members Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby, whose Australian acting accents are either non-existent or extremely inconsistent. Despite these obvious errors, however, Baldwin and Rigby do well in fulfilling their DVD-cover roles by being in less than half of the film’s run time. They are definitely overshadowed by the excellent cultural casting for all of the other characters, which is a refreshment. Not only do the Indian cast members fit into their roles very well, but they are also skilled in line execution and emotional delivery. Further, costuming throughout the film is authentic and culturally accurate, which rounds out an overall above-average effort.

Conclusion

While The Least of These didn’t go as far as it could have been, this is absolutely a great start to a film-making career for all of those involved. Not only did Stephen Baldwin show that he can actually pull off a semi-normal role, but Aneesh Daniel and his team have showcased great skill and talent that will hopefully be applied to even better movies in the future. While we can’t wait to see what they have next, this film is definitely worth your time.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

2018 Box Office Revolution Movie Awards

Every year, movies and series are released, and cast members show off their talents.  Writers and directors showcase their creativity. Films and series are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others.  At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those entertainment creators and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.

Staff Choice Movie of the Year: I Can Only Imagine

Runners-Up: Unbroken: Path to RedemptionPaul: Apostle of ChristIndivisibleAn Interview With God

Reader’s Choice Movie of the Year: I Can Only Imagine

Runners-Up: Paul: Apostle of Christ, God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, Indivisible

Staff Choice Actor of the Year: Dennis Quaid

Runners-Up: J. Michael Finley, Samuel Hunt, James Faulkner, Justin Bruening

Staff Choice Actress of the Year: Joanne Whalley

Runners-Up: Merritt Patterson, Sarah Drew, Madeline Carroll, Alexandra Vino

Staff Choice Director of the Year: Harold Cronk

Runners-Up: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Andrew Hyatt, David G. Evans


Image result for terence berden

Staff Choice Writer of the Year: Andrew Hyatt\Terence Berden

Runners-Up: Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle, Alex Cramer, Richard Friedenberg, Ken Hixon, David G. Evans, Cheryl McKay, Peter White

Staff Choice Soundtrack of the Year: I Can Only Imagine

Runners-Up: Unbroken: Path to Redemption, Paul: Apostle of Christ, Indivisible, An Interview With God

One Church (Movie Review)

Image result for one church christian movie

Plot Summary

Cornelius Barlow is a devious politician who has had a vendetta against organized religion ever since his daughter was killed by a cult. Instead of eradicating religion, however, once he becomes President of the United States, he decides to make his own united religion by bringing all faiths together and by forcing them to work together. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go as simply as he planned as he faces opposition from a secret resistance who claims that they know the only truth of salvation: Jesus Christ. Will their numbers be able to survive the coming persecution?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

One Church is one of those Christian suspense films that bites off more than it can chew in the production department. This is evident by the shaky camera work, the loud soundtrack and sound effects, and the inconsistent audio that is sometimes muted. There are also a lot of tight shots and a weird aspect ratio, along with some randomly blurry camera shots and odd camera angles. Some scenes also cut off very abruptly as if this is an early cut that wasn’t finished. However, not all is bad in this production as there are some elements that are fine throughout, such as the sets, locations, and props, which keep this production from being below average. Even still, if the funding and resources aren’t there for a good suspense plot, it’s better to not make it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While this is an interesting attempt at a different type of plot, it’s based too much on far-fetched concepts and ‘bad’ characters that are total strawmen and get worse as the film progresses. The premise also progressively become more unrealistic, and large time jumps hurt any hope there was of plot and character growth. Time is mostly spent on montages, which leaves characters shallow and the purpose of the film unclear. One thing happens after the next in very rapid fashion, and expository dialogue is used as a shortcut. There are too many vague ideas that are started without backup or follow-through, and sequences of boring activities are used in place of actual conversations between characters that could help us get to know them as people. In the end, the story ends in a very awkward and abrupt fashion that makes it even more unclear why this movie was even made.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting is fine without any major problems, even though it’s underwhelming and vanilla at times. Sometimes, dialogue is slightly mumbled, and line delivery is under-performing at times. It seems like some cast members become more and more dramatic as the film goes on, and other case members don’t do enough to make up for these poor performances. However, the early acting does enough to keep this section average, which rounds out an overall blah movie.

Conclusion

The JC Films team still hasn’t found itself in movie-making. They are disjointed and disconnected from both reality and relevance in the film world. They have a lot of ambitions and want to try different things (sometimes), but they have no foundation or basis for what they do. This likely won’t change until they begin retaining real screenwriters and actually put their funding and resources to good use.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Overcomer (August 2019)

Coming to theaters August 23, 2019

Writer(s): Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick

Director(s): Alex Kendrick

Producer(s): Stephen Kendrick

Starring: Priscilla Shirer, Alex Kendrick, Cameron Arnett, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Shari Rigby, Ben Davies, Elizabeth Becka, Joseph Curtis Callender, Cameron Arnett, Jared Stanley, Christian Gabriel Anderson, Dave Blamy, Jack Sterner, Scotty Curlee, Denise Armstrong, Jessie Gunn, Sam Beman

Plot Synopsis: Life changes overnight for coach John Harrison when his high school basketball team and state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news. When the largest manufacturing plant shuts down and hundreds of families leave their town, John questions how he and his family will face an uncertain future. After reluctantly agreeing to coach cross-country, John and his wife, Amy, meet an aspiring athlete who’s pushing her limits on a journey toward discovery. Inspired by the words and prayers of a new-found friend, John becomes the least likely coach helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the year.

Inheritance [2018] (Movie Review)

Image result for inheritance christian movie andrew cheney

Plot Summary

The Delvecchios have always been a tight-knit family centered around their restaurant business, but now things are changing as their patriarch is stepping away from the leadership role he’s held for so long due to his failing health. As he hands the reins over to his sons, old wounds are re-opened as past sins and grudges are exposed once again. When the unexpected happens, will they be able to put things back together the way they once were?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Inheritance is overall a surprising movie albeit a frustrating one due to its conflicting elements. One of these conflicts involves the production, which is seemingly unnecessarily low-quality. This is evidenced by some inconsistent lighting and some weird aspect ratios, which both seem unnecessary. While camera work is mostly fine, video is sometimes low quality. However, on the bright side, the audio quality is good, including an effective soundtrack. Moreover, the editing is slightly choppy at times due to a large amount of content being handled. Overall, this is a mostly average production that has elements holding it back that seem very avoidable. Had these issues been taken care of, we could be looking at a entirely different film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

One of the most intriguing aspects of Inheritance is that it presents a very good study on family systems and generational patterns, which causes the characters to be almost good enough to sustain an entire miniseries. This makes this film a rare case in which character and plot development actually outshine other elements of the movie. However, there are still some issues here, such as a choppy plot presentation that is evidenced by scenes that randomly cut off with no warning at times. There are also times when subplots end very abruptly without any real resolution or understanding of why it happened the way that it did. Even still, there are some great attempts at ambiguity and the portrayal of imperfect, face-value characters without any major agendas to push. The dialogue is somewhat inconsistent, however, as it is sometimes quite good while too expository and shortcut-creating at other times. It’s almost like too much content was written in the initial creation of the film, which required cutting, which happened in some inconvenient places. This possible cutting also caused some unnecessarily steep character arcs that lead up to an almost too-perfect ending. Even so, there’s a ton of potential here that could be used in future projects.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Inheritance contains a mostly professional cast of experienced cast members, such as Robert Miano and Andrew Cheney, even though Cheney’s fake accent can get a little annoying at times. This is easily one of Miano’s best performances, but there are also some other fake accent issues to contend with. Even still, line delivery is mostly on-point, even if emotional delivery is slightly inconsistent and overplayed at times. In the end, every cast member is cast appropriately, which rounds out an above-average film that could have been better.

Conclusion

Inheritance does what every low-budget independent Christian film should strive to do: craft a meaningful plot that outshines it budget, which will cause the film to stand out in the sea of mediocrity and possibly open new doors for the future. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does stand out, and it makes us want to see what else could be done with these characters if more money was put towards the effort. It’s highly possible that a series or miniseries format would have been better for this idea. Regardless, we can’t wait to see what this creative team produces next.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Gloria Dais (in progress)

Coming Soon from Rossetti Productions

Writer(s): Chip Rossetti

Director(s): Chip Rossetti

Producer(s): Mark Potts, Chip Rossetti

Starring: Marion RossErik EstradaKaryn Williams

Plot Synopsis: Gloria Dais, named as such because of her parents love of Bruce Springsteen, has always lived in the city. After her mom and dad divorce, Gloria is forced to move to the tiny town on Wishem, Kentucky, against her wishes. As she begs her mother to let her go home to her friends, she unexpectedly ends up in the adventure of a lifetime. Along the way she meets people that will change her forever, and learn lessons in life and love. “Gloria Dais” is an adventure story for the whole family, where Gloria discovers that “True Adventure Takes You Home.”

Daily Bread [2017] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

When a solar flare passes through the earth’s atmosphere, all electricity and electronic devices cease to work, which throws the entire planet into chaos. The cast and crew of a famous cooking show are stranded in a mansion in the middle of nowhere, a group of isolated preppers, and a homeschool colony are all forced to cross paths in unlikely ways as they fight for survival with guns and MRE’s. In the end, who will survive the deadly new world that’s been created since the power went off?

Production Quality (1 point)

On the bright side of this season, a lot of good time and money was spent on the video quality and drone shots in the episodes. Thus, for the most part, camera work is acceptable. The same can be said for the sets, locations, and props, even if some of them are overused (liked num-chucks). One of the most glaring issues to point out in this production relates to audio quality, as there are a lot of loud background sounds in outdoor scenes and echoes in indoor scenes. The audio as a whole is very uneven as many scenes are full of clattering noises and as the soundtrack is all over the map since many songs are not situation-appropriate and since the music often overpowers spoken dialogue. It goes without saying that the introductory sequence is arguably better than the rest of the series, mostly due to the fact that the editing throughout the season is horrific with many cut-off scenes and many choppy transitions that throw scenes at the audience one after the other with little organization. As a whole, unfortunately, while there could have been something here, it just didn’t pan out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Needless to say, it gets worse too. The most glaring issue with the plot is obviously the 48340982 characters that have to be kept up with due to the sheer number of subplots that this season forces upon the viewer. For the first half of the season, every episode is constantly introducing new characters to the point of embarrassment. Thus, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the sheer number of subplots throughout the course of this season, and this causes many subplots and storylines to become ‘extra’ and easily discard-able. Even if these subplots were the best in the world, it’s very difficult to understand the actual point of people randomly wandering around and acquiring guns and possessions in violent ways immediately after the power grid collapses. What are the characters defending themselves from? How are we supposed to know who they are as people? What does any of it have to do with a cooking show? Any hope or time there was for real content was frivolously used on trivial scenes and utterly purposeless asides. Narration randomly pops up throughout the course of the season, and flashbacks are used inconsistently where they should have been a focal point. A more consistent use of them would have been one of the only ways to fix this mess, along with eliminating nearly half of the characters and coming up with a real central focus other than prepping for an unknown and unseen apocalypse. What’s going on in the world outside of these characters? What is the government’s response? These are all unanswered questions that would be pertinent in this genre rather than sequences of forced drama, conversations depicting off-screen content that seems way more interesting than the actual season, cooking montages, and literal recitations of the Constitution and other forced Christian content. Basically, it’s better luck next time with trying a different genre.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Due to the high number of characters, this obviously leads to the assembling of a giant cast. One would think this would mask the minor weaknesses of some cast members, but that’s not the case as there are many acting errors, including overly practiced line delivery and stiff emotions. Some line delivery is half-hearted, unsure, and slightly mistaken at times, and many scenes depict cast members awkwardly standing around talking to each other like they’re not really filming a scene because it seems impromptu. Besides this portion of acting, the costuming is extremely random, and the hair and makeup do not jive with the notion that these people have been trying to survive an apocalypse away from civilization for days. Basically, this is just another mistake-prone aspect of this season.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, there are many, many storylines to contend with here, but despite this, there is actually some continuity between the episodes. However, the story and character arcs aren’t any good since there are no substantial instances of character growth or dynamic storytelling. There are, of course, the usual instances of romantic subplots and villain plans, but other than that, there’s not much continuity to mention here.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt in the world that Christian entertainment is starved for new genres and new concepts, and we have to commend this creative team for sticking their necks out there to try something unique, but this isn’t the way to do it. Regardless of genre, characters have to always be deep because audiences want to connect with real, accessible people. Science fiction stories can be difficult to write and even more difficult to produce professionally, which is why proper planning and truly creative writing are essential. The budget may not be there, but if the storyline is dynamic, it shows that the creator is ready for bigger and better things. If you’re faithful with the little God’s provided you, He will give you the bigger budget down the road.

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points


Spent [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eve believes her husband is going to die soon, so she and her son Lonnie are planning on inheriting his million dollar fortune, so they think. They’ve grown tired of his constantly cheap lifestyle that he forces them to go along with, and with the brain tumor advancing, they feel like their freedom is close at hand. However, when something unexpected doesn’t go quite their way, they are forced to come up with a new plan.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For an indie film, there are several good production elements to note, such as the great video quality and the professional camera work. The sets and locations are also fine and mostly well-utilized. While the soundtrack can be intriguing and creative at times and while the audio quality is mostly fine, there are also instances where the music covers up spoken words and where background sounds can overpower the scene. Also, there is some weirdly soft lighting at times, and some scenes are randomly in black and white for no particular reason. Perhaps the oddest part of this production is the usage of cheesy props from different time periods that creates a lot of confusion as to when this film is supposed to take place. Further, some scenes are strangely drawn out in unnatural ways, which speaks to somewhat of an editing problem. As a whole, this is basically an average indie production that could have been slightly better than it was and seemed to get in its own way.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Even more so, the plot certainly gets in its own way. In a quest to be creative and artistic (the effort is definitely noted), this story comes off in a very strange way with a weird sarcastic tone that’s not explained very well and with a collection of bizarre and slightly inappropriate scenes. It’s very difficult to discern what this film is actually going for without having the confusion about the time period. The attempts at artistic psychological elements fall flat, and a lot of the dialogue is basically cringe-worthy. It’s unfortunately a collection of odd cardboard scenes of nonsensical recitations that is very purposeless and aimless. To top it off, the ending is very strange and leaves a strange flavor in your mouth, which rounds out a section that basically confused itself along with the audience.

Acting Quality (.5 acting)

Indie film acting is fairly difficult to pull off, and while there was a slight amount of potential with this cast, a lot of it is very awkward and forced. The eccentric portions would work better if that’s what these characters were intended to be, but again, it’s very unclear what the film is even going for. This fact is also reflected in the weirdly inconsistent costuming efforts. As a whole, line and emotional delivery are stilted, which doesn’t leave much positive to state about this indie effort.

Conclusion

It’s great to want to try to create an original indie film, but Spent either takes things a step too far or a step too short. It’s a mystery what sort of Christian message is meant to be conveyed by this ‘dark comedy,’ and it’s unfortunately a waste of time due to its jumbled and confusing elements. The best an indie film maker with a small budget can do is to present a masterful plot, but this was unfortunately not done in this film.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

A Horse from Heaven (coming in 2019)

Instagram page

Writer(s): David de VosStephanie de Vos

Director(s): David de Vos

Producer(s): David de Vos, Stephanie de Vos, Fozounmayeh Michelle, Dana Risvold

Starring: Mandy Grace, Devan Key, Donna Rusch, David de Vos, Isabella Mancuso, Ariana Guido, Caris Kozak, Ryan O’Quinn, James Mulligan, Austin Brooks, Sonia Huffman, Joelle Mancuso, Candace Kozak, Michelle Fozounmayeh, Joe Mancuso, Ashlynne Mulligan, Jackie Kozak

Plot Synopsis:

A Horse from Heaven is an upcoming movie about a lonely teenager girl who finds love and healing through a relationship with a wounded horse.

On Wings of Eagles [2016] (Movie Review)

Image result for on wings of eagles christian movie

Plot Summary

Eric Liddell was a Scottish Olympic gold medalist, an accomplished educator, and a dedicated family man who was called to take the Gospel to China in the 1930s and 1940s. He faced hardship and persecution from the Communist government, but he never gave up in his mission to run, to educate children, and to share the Gospel with whoever he came in contact with. Though he died in captivity, he left a lasting legacy with all who knew him and beyond.

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s apparent that good effort was put into making this production professional, which is evidenced by great video quality and camera work, as well as a good use of international sets and locations. The props are culturally authentic, and the soundtrack is very effective. However, this production is kept from being perfect because of some inconsistent audio quality and some fake-looking special effects that should have been better. Further, the editing is fairly poor as there are some awkward cuts and transitions and since there is a lot of content that is not handled very well. Even so, this is a good production that is above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Due to taking on a large amount of content from the life of one person, this plot relies too heavily on time jumps and excessive, unnecessary narration that short-circuits any hope for actual character and plot development. While this is a great true story with a lot of potential to be an epic, we have a hard time understanding who the characters are beyond historical bios. Any hope of dialogue is mostly rushed and choppy due to the storyline jumping all over the place. There are also too many wasted and drawn-out scenes that could have been maximized to fuller potential, but they cause the story to not flow well at all. However, there is still a lot of good content here due to the fact of it being based on a real story, and the ending likely makes it worth a watch, even though it could have been much better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, this cast is fairly culturally authentic and professional as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective character role. If they had more lines to work with, things would definitely be even better, even if there is some inconsistent line and emotional delivery in some places. Though there is some over-acting, this section is overall above average, which rounds out an average film that could have been much better.

Conclusion

On Wings of Eagles had so much going for it: a well-funded production, culturally accurate casting, and an excellent true story that had the makings of a real epic. Nevertheless, this great potential was seemingly forgotten as half-measures were settled for. Just fixing one of these elements listed would have likely qualified it for the Hall of Fame, but it unfortunately fell short of the mark. Even still, many audiences will still enjoy this film, and it can serve as a blueprint for how to take things one step further into greatness.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Shifting Gears [2018] (Movie Review)

Image result for shifting gears christian movie

Plot Summary

Tom has worked hard to become a regional manager, which is why he’s so disappointed when his self-absorbed boss lets him know that he needs a four-year college degree to achieve this position. Frustrated, Tom quits on the spot and decides to look into the property he inherited from his recently deceased father. His wife convinces him to take on his father’s old gas station business as their new source of income. Will they be able to handle the new business while patching up hidden family issues?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

One thing that can be said for newer Christian films, especially those in the last few years: no matter how forgettable or lame the plot is, the productions are absolutely getting better. Shifting Gears has a fine production without many issues, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. For the most part, audio quality is fine, even though there are some loud portions of the soundtrack and some annoying sound effects, but these are the only issues with the production. It’s clear that time is spent on all aspects of the production, especially the sets, props, and locations that make this movie better than it would be without it. Overall, since the editing is also respectable, this is a high-quality production that unfortunately went wasted.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As such, it’s very hard to understand the actual purpose of this plot as it meanders around peppered with head-scratching cliches and under-developed characters. It borrows a lot of elements from a typical sports underdog plot combined with a return to hometown plot, which implies that there’s nothing creative going on here. The forced and cringe-worthy comedy elements and asides waste valuable time that could have been used to craft better dialogue, but we are only left with cheesy half-measures. The story is based on too many coincidences, and the Christian message comes off as plastic and manufactured. As many of the scenes are downright eye-rolling and funny for all the wrong reasons, it goes without saying that there is little to no point in making this movie with a plot this bad.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members are fairly over the top with their performances, they aren’t all bad since some of them are somewhat professional and seasoned in their work. However, some of the cast members are trying way too hard to be funny most of the time, and many emotions come off as painfully forced. Even so, despite the awkward and unsure moments, there are also plenty of good moments that make up for these, and this overall makes this an average section, which rounds out a below-average film.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to see all this good production go to waste when films that have better plots have worse productions. This is the plague of independent Christian film: if one thing works, another thing doesn’t. The cause of this is obviously a lack of proper collaboration. The writers need to be the writers, and the directors need to be the directors. Until creative-minded Christians lay down their differences and begin working together more, nothing much will change, unfortunately.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Dead Man Rising (Movie Review)

Image result for dead man rising movie

Plot Summary

Daniel is a death-row inmate awaiting the lethal injection, but he will be one of the first prisoners to receive the new experimental injection drugs. Desperate for an out, he convinces his lawyer to lobby for him to have limited and monitored internet access in order to research the drug in his last days. He is granted this privilege, but a fellow inmate keeps provoking him to research arguments for and against Christianity, and Daniel keeps taking him up on the challenge, even though he has never believed in God. before he knows it, something is changing inside of him, but is it too late?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a more recent film, Dead Man Rising lives up to the expectation of higher production quality, which is evident in the professional camera work and video quality. Audio is also good, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic at times. It’s noted that the sets, locations, and props are relatively limited by the design of the plot, but the props are nonetheless realistic. It’s definitely a better idea to live within your means as far as the production goes rather than to over-extend and look silly. This is really the only issue with this production since the editing is good. Moreover, this limited production design definitely puts more pressure on the plot and characters to deliver…

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

…which they unfortunately do not do as much as they could have. While the plot is a unique idea, it too easily devolves into a boring philosophical conversation between two characters that appears to push a pre-determined agenda a bit too strongly rather than to let things develop naturally. There are also some slightly unrealistic plot circumstances that are designed to make the story happen, even if there are portions of intriguing dialogue that make attempts at character development. However, since there are so few characters, they needed to be developed deeper than they were with more effective flashbacks and clearer character motivations. While there are some attempts at flashbacks, we needed to see more in this area and less in the area of apologetic information dumps that sacrifice precious time that could have been used to increase character growth. We needed a story that tells us about actual people, but we only got half-measured. Nevertheless, the ending is very interesting and effective if you make it that far, but after the wearing apologetic dumps in the middle, many people won’t get to the meaning in the end. Basically, this movie, like most other films, was made or broken by the plot, which didn’t deliver as much as it could have.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, this small cast demonstrates good acting skills even if there are some forced lines and emotions that seem out of context for their situations. Although each cast member assumes his or her respective role well, due to the small size of the cast, each error is more pronounced. There are also some unnecessary yelling scenes that can become wearing. However, as a whole, this is an average performance that rounds out an average film that could have been more.

Conclusion

A common theme in Christian film that few Christian movie-makers have discovered and remedied is that audiences want characters they can relate to as real people. This is done through effective flashbacks and conversations that reveal to us what the character wants, why he does what he does, and how he got to where he is. Filling time with worn-out Christian debate talking points only implies that a film maker doesn’t know how to relate to real people on this level. However, when this trend changes in Christian film and when Christian movie creators begin depicting real characters we can relate to on these levels, that’s when the Christian entertainment field will finally take the culture by storm, which is good food for thought as we begin a new year.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Pick the Best Christian Movie of 2018!

Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas princess up movie

Plot Summary

Donaly Marquez is glad her foster family adopted her and her siblings, but she will carries inside of her the stigma of being a foster kid, and she still can’t shake the painful memories of her drug-addicted mother that continually make her feel inadequate. However, she’s always wanted to try out to be a Rose Bowl Parade Princess, so when she gets the opportunity, she jumps at the chance. Will she be able to overcome the past that wasn’t her fault or will she not allow herself to shine?

Production Quality (3 points)

In keeping with most UP Entertainment films, Christmas Princess exhibits a highly professional production, starting with great video quality and camera work. The audio quality is also on-point, and the soundtrack is effectively composed. Also, the sets, locations, and props are very much well-constructed and well-utilized, which contributes further to the professional of the film. Further, the editing is flawless, which rounds out a basically perfect production that should be the standard for made-for-TV inspirational films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s always clear that using source material from true stories that allow the audience to connect with believable and realistic characters is the key to having a good plot. Christmas Princess, though the title suggests otherwise, is a great example of what can be done when real-life events are depicted in the context of a movie that seeks to build accessible characters through great dialogue and an exquisite use of flashbacks and other psychological elements. The conversations do a lot to build character motive and personality, which in turn makes them feel like actual people that audiences can relate to. It’s rare to see such a consistent use of flashbacks to build the storyline in this type of film, but it’s extremely refreshing, especially in a Christmas film about a topic that could potentially be very sappy. Instead of this, however, the writers took the professional and realistic route that allows many different people to relate to this true story, so it’s definitely worth your time. The only drawbacks to mention here relate to some slow parts and montages, but as a whole, this is the best that could have been done with this story, which is all we ever ask.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is not a ‘blockbuster’ cast, each cast member does a great job assuming his or her respective character role, and the cultural authenticity is refreshing. For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are believable, even though there are a few weak moments. Even so, this acting and casting work is very professional and rounds out a very surprisingly worthwhile Christmas film.

Conclusion

Sometimes good films come from the most unexpected of places, but it still remains that true stories make some of the best films. When the writing is left to a talented writer or to real life, the production team can focus on maximizing the other elements of the film, and it’s clear the UP TV is outpacing other inspirational channels with quality content like this film. As this Christmas season comes to a close, this is another movie to add to your collection.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas manger movie

Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Beyond the Farthest Star (Movie Review)

Image result for beyond the farthest star

Plot Summary

Anne Wells hates that her family has been forced to move to a podunk Texas town. Her father is a pastor who demands perfection from his family, and she hates him for it. Anne always does her best to get into trouble and to do whatever she wants because she wants to know if God really cares about her and what the actual purpose of life is. She escapes into her music, and her father escapes into his work as he runs from the ghosts of his past. When their family is faced with several life-changing decisions, which way will they go?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that this film has a professional production that was given a lot of care and effort, which is evidenced by good video and audio qualities, as well as skilled camera work. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized, even if there are a few unnecessarily dark scenes. Further, the soundtrack is highly effective and engaging. The only drawback to point out here is some choppy editing, but this is also due to the large amount of story content. As a whole, this is a very respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As Beyond the Farthest Star is based on good source material, it demonstrates a very profound understanding of the real problems facing real people, especially the struggles of people whose personalities are not appreciated by the church. This plot has an exquisite use of flashbacks to develop character motive and backstory, and the content of the flashbacks is extremely believable. Through the flashbacks and dialogue, there are excellent efforts to develop the characters and to develop the interactions between teenagers and adults. However, this plot is almost schizophrenic with its presentation because one minute, the dialogue is great, only to have it undermined with an out-of-left-field scene that makes no sense. There is a strange lack of understanding of certain aspects of reality, such as the acquiring of confidential documents. There is also a highly unnecessary religious freedom\persecution subplot to contend with that wastes tons of time and puts a damper on everything. Further, there is narration present throughout the story in the form of journaling, and sometimes it is tolerable because of its philosophical nature, but other times, it gets in the way and takes up valuable time. Thus, even though there is a large amount of content in this complex storyline, not every scene is used very well as some are unnecessary and contain some edgy content. Even still, there is tons of potential in this plot and in the people who wrote it because it’s not afraid to expose hidden ministry problems and to use unashamed small town satire. The message therein is excellent and very worthwhile, but there are too many dramatic scenes with no break, and the cheesy ending tends to fix everything, even if the climax scene is effective. Basically, Beyond the Farthest Star is a giant mixed bag of potential, some of which panned out, so it’s likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is sharp and adept as each cast member appears to comfortably assume their respective character roles. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. There are only a few minor issues throughout that pertain to some overdone drama and seriousness, but this section rounds out a very respectable film.

Conclusion

Movies like Beyond the Farthest Star are both engaging and difficult to watch because it’s clear that there is a massive amount of potential with this type of idea. A movie about rebels from Christian families combined with hidden ministry problems is exactly what we need now, but there is too much confusion in this film that holds it back from reaching its highest possibilities. Even so, this movie is worth a watch this holiday season, and it bodes well for any future projects from this creative team.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Silent Night [2012] (Movie Review)

Image result for silent night 2012 christian movie

Plot Summary

In 1818, Joseph Mohr was transferred to the small Austrian town of Oberndorf to be the assistant priest at the parish there.  He wants to make a difference wherever he goes, but he feels like the leaders of the Catholic Church don’t allow him to fully minister to the common people of the town.  The powerful people in the parish want everyone in the congregation to look nice on the outside, but Joseph has a heart for the poor and the outcast.  As he ministers to people against the will of his superiors, God inspires Joseph to write a Christmas song to encapsulate the season.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

When working with the Mainstay Productions team, the Covenant Communications team always showed a consistent commitment to high-quality productions, so this is also evident in Silent Night.  Besides the good video quality and camera work, this film demonstrates great attention to historical and cultural detail through realistic and accurate sets, locations, and props.  There is also a very effective cultural soundtrack; the only errors in this production pertain to some very poor lip-syncing and obvious overdubs when the the cast members are supposed to be singing, but this is the only real error in this production, which is otherwise quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story behind the Christmas carol Silent Night is a great true story to base a film on, and this one does a very good job of honestly portraying the two sides of the Catholic Church.  The other good thing is that Silent Night avoids falling into the trap of only basing the film on the idea behind it rather than developing characters through dialogue.  For the most part, the characters in this story are accessible and can be related to due to the dialogue that reveals their personalities and motivations.  However, there are quite a few slow parts throughout that detract from the movie’s dynamic value.  Since the film is mostly dialogue-based, it might have been better to include a few more engaging conversations and to develop the ancillary characters a bit better.  Even so, there are several very good scenes near the end that help us understand the characters better, even if the very end of the film (the predictable singing of the title song) falls a bit flat and is anti-climatic.  In the end, this is a great story model to follow and is one that can be built off of for future work.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, this case has great authentic accents and cultural costuming, which keeps with the earlier themes of production quality in this film.  For the most part, line delivery and emotional delivery are fine, but some parts are too dramatic or seem a bit unnatural.  However, there is plenty of good here, and this rounds out a very well-done film.

Conclusion

On paper, Silent Night is a great film, but it just doesn’t have that final push it needed to make it a dynamic Hall of Fame film, which is unfortunate because it has plenty of good going for it.  Even still, this is a movie that many will enjoy because it is well-made and well-funded, and it has a great story to tell.  Thus, this is a good one to add to your holiday list.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

Image result for maggie's christmas miracle

Plot Summary

Maggie has always hated Christmas ever since her father left the family during the holiday season.  Ever since then, she’s sought to control everything around her, especially her young son’s life.  However, when his grades begin dropping, she is forced to entrust him to the care of an after-school tutor, but Maggie soon finds that she isn’t like what she expected from a tutor.  Will she decide to open up her heart over the holiday season to love again?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As expected, Maggie’s Christmas Miracle is a typically fine Hallmark production with good video quality and camera, as well as good audio quality.  The soundtrack is predictably generic but not as bad as usual.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, but the Christmas decor is expectedly overwhelming and beyond belief.  Further, the editing is average, and thus, everything in this production is standard and expected from the Hallmark assembly line of Christmas films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Hallmark movies are always better when using source material, especially from authors like Karen Kingsbury, there are still plenty of typical elements in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle.  While Karen Kingsbury characters run circles around typical Hallmark fare, there are still a lot of cheesy feel-good elements throughout this plot.  However, the dialogue is mostly good enough to develop character motive and personality, even if the plot is extremely predictable with a cookie-cutter romance plot where two people who don’t like each other at first are thrown together at Christmastime.  The story includes all the expected turns and conventions, and all of the stereotypes are too easily fallen into.  Since this is a character-based plot, we needed to see deeper character growth than this, and we also would have liked to see relationship twists and turns that were more based on past and present personality and behavior issues rather than on unrealistically stupid miscommunication problems (see The Bridge).  Unfortunately, the story gets worse as it goes on as cheap Christian messages are awkwardly inserted and end up hurting any good portions of dialogue there may be.  Essentially, the source material is helping this plot to be more than it would otherwise be, but there’s still a lot more that could have been accomplished here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As expected, the casting and acting of this film is mostly professional with typical Hallmark elements, such as some overdone makeup.  For the most part, the line delivery and the emotions are natural, but there are some portions that are a bit too sappy.  However, as a whole, this cast is professional enough to know what they’re doing and to produce an above-average performance.

Conclusion

If Hallmark only used books and true stories as source material from here until eternity, the channel would be a much better place for it.  However, this is highly unlikely to happen.  Even still, there is enough good in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle to make it a passable holiday film to watch if you want a safe, benign movie that’s not too old and not too cheesy.  Also, if you like Karen Kingsbury novels, this film is definitely for you.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

My First Miracle [2016] (Movie Review)

Image result for my first miracle movie

Plot Summary

Angelica, a sixteen-year-old girl, is battling a rare form of cancer around the holiday season, and her family is struggling financially.  She keeps crossing paths with a boy on the run from his past and a fellow cancer patient who tries to cheer her up.  With everything going wrong for her family, as well as the boy she keeps meeting up with, for the holidays, could a miracle for just right around the corner for them?

Production Quality (2 points)

My First Miracle is basically a standard inspirational production with good camera work and good video quality, even if there’s some inconsistent audio throughout.  As a whole, the audio is mostly fine, but the soundtrack is a bit generic.  Sets, locations, and props are standard and good, and the editing is a bit average.  As a whole, this production is above average without anything specific or significant to stand out about it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

My First Miracle follows the predetermined mold for an inspirational quasi-Christian Christmas movie as narration is disguised as characters ‘thinking’ even though the attempts at psychological elements are noted.  It’s cheesy how the same characters keep crossing paths at Christmastime, and musical montages are used to fill the runtime.  There are too many slightly unrealistic coincidences that drive the plot along, and there are plenty of filler scenes and references to the disease-at-Christmastime plot conventions.  While there are some attempts to develop characters, most of the dialogue is pedestrian.  In addition, the storyline follows a very predictable progression and even includes odd medical concepts and silly magical Christmas elements.  To top things off, the epilogue fixes basically all the problems just in time for the holidays.  In short, this is just another throwaway plot that had some potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting is definitely one of the strongest points of this film as there aren’t any glaring errors throughout.  Even still, there’s also nothing particularly dynamic about the cast although they are mostly professional.  Coaching is evident as emotional and line delivery are good with only a few minor issues.  In the end, this is just another average Christmas film to play in the background.

Conclusion

Streaming services have created a good home for films like this one because they are safe and benign and can be played while other things are being accomplished.  If you’re going for this type of film, this is definitely a model to follow.  However, if you want something more dynamic and culture-changing, this definitely isn’t the type of film for you.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Secrets in the Snow (Movie Review)

Image result for secrets in the snow

Plot Summary

When a snowstorm hits unexpectedly, six teenagers are trapped at Eastbrook High to wait it out.  None of them want to be there, and each of them as a secret to hide.  As time goes on, frustrations and stress increase, which causes the secret stories to come to light one by one.  However, the storm also continues to worsen, which threatens their safety.  Will they be able to make it out before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2 points)

Although it appears the budget was somewhat limited, Secrets in the Snow has a mostly good production, including fine audio, video, and camera quality.  However, the soundtrack is a bit generic and loud at times, and the sets, locations, and props are understandably limited by design, even though they are well-utilized for the most part.  There is also some inconsistent lighting, as well as some randomly shaky moments of camera work, but the editing is good.  As a whole, this is an above average production that could have been slightly better than it was.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John and Brittany Goodwin have always attempted to develop their characters through backstories, so the effort to do this in this film is definitely commendable.  However, since this is a heavily character-based plot with almost nothing but the characters to hold it up, we needed to see much deeper character development and growth through meaningful conversations and flashbacks.  The dialogue therein needed to be less shallow and less scripted, and there are too many wasted scenes on activities that don’t build characters or help us to understand who they are as people.  Even still, this is a non-typical and mostly creative plot structure that demonstrates the true potential the Goodwins have as both screenwriters and film makers.  As they continue to grow in their careers, we expect great things from what they have to offer as they continue to deepen their character development over time because we know that they mean well and want to do their best.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other parts of this film, the cast members also mean well, but some of the line delivery and emotions come off as overly practiced and not natural enough.  Some performances seem to stilted and measured while some lines appear to be read.  However, there is plenty of positive here as most of the cast members appear to be comfortable with their character roles and seem to be committed to the process.  As a whole, this is an average film, which is great for a debut.

Conclusion

After this film and If You’re Gone, the Goodwins and their team are definitely on the cusp of something great.  Once they are able to deepen their characters and refine their plot structures, they will definitely be a force to be reckoned with since they have already rectified their production and acting shortcomings.  As the Goodwins continue to produce their own source material for films, we anticipate better things from them in the near future.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Dress (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary and Leland Jeppson feel like they won’t have a good Christmas because the year has been hard on their finances, and they won’t be able to give their children anything good unless the shipment comes in from the big city, which a snowstorm has put in jeopardy.  However, the courage of a local boy who likes their oldest daughter might be able to make it happen if he and his father can brave the storm and make it back safely.  Will everyone be able to have a good Christmas after all?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Even for short films like this one, the Covenant Communications team is mostly committed to having an at least average production.  This is evident in the fine video and audio quality, as well as the average camera work.  The most obvious problems are the somewhat cheap and limited sets, locations, and props.  However, it’s definitely evident they are trying in this production, even though the otherwise good soundtrack can be too loud at times.  Further, the editing is average, which rounds out an overall average effort that actually could have been a bit better due to its limited runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, with such a small scope to work with, the drama of the plot overtakes the characters and doesn’t allow them enough space to be developed properly.  This is caused by flat dialogue and unclear conflict that makes it hard for the audience to properly relate to the struggles of these characters who may otherwise have realistic problems.  While the Christian messaging is good and somewhat accessible, the short and limited nature of the plot is too cheesy and makes it hard to justify this short film’s creation.  Basically, it’s a nice, safe story that’s mainly benign and without any true impact.  We like to see more than this from Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While these is evidence that this cast means well and is trying, there appears to be a lack of coaching.  This issue seems to cause some acting to be slightly awkward and to create a lot of robotic line delivery.  The costuming is also a bit cheap and cheesy because it doesn’t entirely fit the time period, but there’s enough positive in this section to make it average.  As a while, however, this film isn’t much to write home about.

Conclusion

In Christian entertainment, short films definitely have their place, but they really need to be more dynamic than this.  This can be done through deep character growth and meaningful plot development.  Shorter films mean smaller productions, so resources should be allocated more responsibly with them.  In the end, it’s already hard for short films to make a full impact, so extra effort should be put into them to make this happen.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Ranch (Movie Review)

What?? A horse movie without the horse’s name in the title??

Plot Summary

Lizzy is a bad teenager girl whom her parents can’t handle during the holiday break, so they sentence her to live with her aunt on her remote and rural horse farm during the Christmas break.  Her parents are always busy with work, and Lizzy hates being somewhere that doesn’t have good cell phone coverage.  To make matters worse, Lizzy discovers that her aunt is about to default on her mortgage, which is due for payment for Christmas Eve!!!!!  Thus, Lizzy suddenly makes a miraculous behavioral change and teams up with a local country boy to save the day!

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, it appears as though thought and effort were put into this production, which is evidenced by fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, although they could be a bit more engaging.  However, the soundtrack is fairly generic, and there are constant Christmas chimes sound effects that litter the listening experience.  Further, editing is just average, which rounds a good production on paper, but it simply doesn’t do enough to be truly transformational.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Has this plot seriously never been done before?!?  This is seriously one of the worst plot stereotypes featuring one of the worst character stereotypes as a bad teenage girl is forced to live in the country on a horse farm with no cell phone coverage, where she meets a local country guy.  Said teenage girl hates everything until she’s magically fixed by the horse and the guy, and there’s also a save-the-farm-with-a-racehorse plot to boot.  Seriously, since when are mortgages due on Christmas Eve?  Besides the fact that this story has been done before and has no potential, the dialogue is extremely uninspiring, which causes the characters to be flat and cardboard.  Since the plot always has everything going wrong with it, the best a screenwriter can do is at least attempt to craft good characters using engaging conversations, flashbacks, and motives, but, of course, this is not done.  On top of this, the corny Christmas premise of this plot is forced, as if they decided to add it in at the last minute; further, the Christian messages are awkwardly inserted into the film.  ‘Bad’ characters are magically fixed when the plot needs to them to be without any real arcs, and the runtime is filled up with training montages until everything is perfectly fixed in the last 10-15 minutes.  Basically, there’s not much good to mention here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members in this film are fine, others are drab, and this movie has some of the worst teenager acting ever.  Emotions are extremely forced, and line delivery seems very unnatural.  However, there are enough okay portions of this section to warrant an even score, but it isn’t enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

What is truly gained in films like these?  Rehashing and reusing same-old, worn-out story ideas is a drag on the industry.  Rather than force and rush through another half-baked idea, we need future Christian film makers to give us truly dynamic entertainment that’s rooted in high quality productions, engaging storylines, and authentic acting.  Otherwise, we’re not making any difference at all.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Megan’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Meghan and her father were forced to move to West Virginia when he lost his job, she absolutely hated it.  However, in the future, as she looks back upon this time, she likes how she was able to teach some local girls how to dance and how she was in a Christmas play that year.  She was able to reestablish her relationship with her father, which still affected her as she grew older.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Megan’s Christmas Miracle, though it’s a 2018 production, is one of the cheapest-looking in recent memory.  Although video quality is fine, the camera work is a wild ride that includes bizarre camera angles and roving shots that are dizzying.  Besides this, the limited sets and locations are very cheaply lit, like this was literally filmed in somebody’s extra house, and the props are also lacking.  There’s also weird audio quality with obvious background sounds and barely any soundtrack, and there is no editing to speak of or any substantial transitions between scenes.  This rounds out a very poor production effort for 2018.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It was a monumental struggle to even fabricate anything to write for the plot summary of this film because it’s so wanting for content that it’s sad.  With basically no storyline or plot concept to work with, the characters are extremely empty and cheesy due to flat and uninspiring dialogue.  Other than predictable Christmas concepts and stereotypical small-town and ‘bad teenager’ characters, there is little to sustain this movie’s painful runtime other than drab conversations and riveting activities of daily living (ADL’s).  For a brief moment, some confusing ‘magical’ elements are teased out of left field before they disappear just as soon as they came.  Essentially, as one thing after the next happens with no organization or continuity, there is little to no nope of potential in this ‘story.’

Acting Quality (1 point)

Understandably, a majority of the cast members in this film seem bored and uninterested with the job they’ve been subjected to, and who wouldn’t be with this little amount of lines to work with?  No coaching is evident as lines are half-heartedly delivered and as emotions are flippant.  While some cast members appear to actually care about this film enough to put forth some sort or effort, it’s only enough to keep this section from being zero, which surprisingly makes this area the best of the film.

Conclusion

What exactly is this film going for?  I feel like we ask ourselves this question a lot when reviewing Christian films – especially Christmas ones.  It would be one thing if Megan’s Christmas Miracle was from the early 2000s, but 2018 films are expected to be higher quality than this with the recent upgrades and newfound advantages for independent Christian films, especially in the area of production.  A production this bad is unacceptable in this new era, so any production below average is basically an automatic disqualifier because there’s no more excuses.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection (expected Easter 2020)


Movie Informational Trailer

Currently in pre-production

Writer(s): Randall Wallace

Director(s): Mel Gibson, Randall Wallace

Producer(s): Mel Gibson

Starring: Jim Caviezel, Christo Jivkov, Maia Morgenstern, Francesco de Vito

Plot Synopsis:

In this follow-up, viewers will see Jesus walk through hell and resurrect.

The Christmas Reunion (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a group of four unlikely friends from high school reunites in the small town of Cave City, Kentucky, for a brief Christmas reunion, they suddenly get stranded by the snow and are forced to recount the old days they had together.  However, Cave City is falling apart at the seems as it gets bought up by some Eastern Syndicate – even the old diner!!  Will they ever be able to save the small town from ruin?

Production Quality (1 point)

In this 2016 production, there are many elements that should not be for one this new.  This includes poor audio quality that sometimes echoes, as well as a cheesy holiday soundtrack that sometimes overpowers the scenes.  There are also very cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, including an overpowering amount of Christmas decor.  The only good areas of this production that keep it from being zero points are the fine video quality and camera work.  However, the editing is fairly poor, and the use of special effects is cheesy, which keeps this at a one-point production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In keeping with his past script-writing practices, Chip Rossetti includes 
extremely stilted and unnatural dialogue throughout this story that makes the characters seem like robots.  Another commonly used Rossetti theme that’s present in this film is the heavy-handed small town values that are under attack by big city corporations.  Paired with this are 
constant return-to-small-town conversations and plenty of exposition through conversations that might as well be narration.  All of these elements severely cripples any potential for character growth and reduces it to a church play feel.  Besides this, there is really little to not plot potential here at all as the characters are cardboard cutouts instead of people.  Instead of trying to develop the characters, the storyline seems to grasp at anything it can do to fill time with except for actually developing characters, and this includes poorly constructed flashbacks.  As extremely convenient dialogue forces the plot along, the audience is forced to listen to the message that small town values fix everything even while big city evils try to destroy them.  Essentially, there is little interesting to mention here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In keeping with the way the lines are written, the delivery of them is also extremely practiced and measured, as if the cast members are robots.  Acting is either overdone or underwhelming, and while it’s fine sometimes, it’s mostly very wooden and stilted.  There is such a thing as over-coaching, and Chip Rossetti’s teams have consistently done this in nearly all their films (except Fathers).

Conclusion

Chip Rossetti has an unusual production model to say the least.  He advertises 3-5 movies throughout the year, and one of them might be released, but the rest disappear into the black hole while one or two other random films pop up on PureFlix on Demand with no warning or marketing.  We have to give it to Chip, however: he never gives up on making more films.  Nevertheless, all of this film-making experience should have amounted to something better than a two-point half-baked Christmas film by now.  There’s something to be said for doing the same thing over and over again with no results.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Clara’s Ultimate Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for clara's ultimate christmas

Plot Summary

Clara wants to have the ultimate Christmas or something, but her dad is always working on ‘projects’ and ‘contracts’; he even has to fly out to finish a project in NEW YORK on CHRISTMAS EVE!!!!!!  Thankfully, Clara has plenty to keep her busy with her VLOG and her dog, which keeps getting lost.  She also hangs out with her awkward cousin, uncle, and aunt while her mother sees how bored she can be with this movie.  The real question with this film is can it get any less creative?

Production Quality (1 point)

As Clara’s Ultimate Christmas is basically an enhanced collection of home videos, production is greatly lacking.  This is manifested in random and off-the-wall camera angles and shaky camera work.  While video quality is fine, audio quality is inconsistent as there is basically no soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are severely limited for good reason since the entire movie basically takes place in one house.  In keeping with the home video theme, editing is virtually non-existent, which rounds out a very poor production score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The home video theme continues with basically no plot content as Clara’s Ultimate Christmas is essentially Clara’s and her family’s activities of daily living (ADL’s), including eating breakfast, playing with dolls, walking the dog, crafting, cooking, vlogging, and talking on the phone.  I don’t know about you, but one-sided phone conversations aren’t what Christmas is all about.  In pursuit of ADL’s, characters and dialogue fall flat as we don’t really know these characters as real people but as pawns in the chess game played by the Hallmark Holiday Syndicate.  Granted, this isn’t a Hallmark movie, but the plot might as well be.  Every scene is squeezed and stretch to manufacture any possible content out of it, and the Christian messages are extremely vague and forced.  Essentially, there’s nothing good to say here since there’s nothing to this ‘plot’ at all.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The horrific child acting in this film is almost enough on its own to make this section negative, but the vanilla acting from other cast members just makes it zero.  Since this cast is so small, errors are greatly pronounced, especially when the child acting is forced through a strainer.  The adult cast members come off as very awkward and uncomfortable in their interactions with each other, and some cast members seem very bored with the film.  Emotions are either over the top or too bland, and line delivery is mostly lazy.  As a whole, there’s really very little good to say about this ‘film.’


Conclusion

It’s great that Bridgestone gives independent Christian film makers chances to get their content out there, and it’s been helpful for films like Altar Egos that people disregard for no reason, but movies like Clara’s Ultimate Christmas have literally nothing going for them.  There’s no purpose or point to them, and they just used worn-out and recycled ideas that nobody cares to see again.  Maybe we will see fewer and fewer of these sorts of films moving forward.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

The Prayer Box (Series Review)

The Prayer Box, DVD -

Plot Summary

Welsey wants to do the right thing even as his sister lays in a hospital bed struggling in her battle with cancer.  Wesley faithfully attends church, even though his mother has forsaken the faith for now, and he fervently prays at the altar every week.  However, he is hurt when he sees that his pastor is throwing away the prayer requests people put in the prayer box at the altar.  Thus, Wesley launches a plan to redeem the prayer box and convince God with his deeds that his sister deserves to survive the battle with cancer.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that although the budget for this miniseries was somewhat limited, Kevan Otto used his funds responsibly and maximized the potential from them.  This is evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, and professional audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it gets better as the series progresses.  The sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized as they appear to be realistic for the situations.  The main drawback here is the slight need for refined editing in order to avoid including as much B-roll footage for filler scenes as it did.  However, this is a very good production, which signals that Kevan Otto has finally turned over a new leaf in his career.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Prayer Box is a testament that even Kevan Otto can create good entertainment when he has a good team and when he actually uses employs a talented screenwriter.  Using an actual screenwriter in a series rather than having the director double as the screenwriter is rare, but it great assists in the proper development of story and characters.  This definitely an advantage to this miniseries as a majority of the dialogue is well-crafted and serves to develop character personalities and character motivations without having them fall into stereotypes or pre-determined molds.  Also, the conversations among the characters drive the plot forward rather than having them tossed along by random circumstances.  The premise of the story is also realistic and believable, including the portrayal of churches.  There is also quite a bit accomplished in the story without narration, and the Christian messaging is very poignant and on point.  However, there are a few drawbacks to this plot, including some slightly boring elements in the first episode and some scenes that feel like they’re just kicking the can down the road instead of developing the characters deeper like a series should be able to due to having more time to do so.  One example of this is one too many off-screen characters that are only talked about rather than seen, but this could be due to budget constraints.  There are also other opportunities for content enhancement, and while the ending is effective, it’s somewhat vague, but it definitely does its job.  As a whole, this is easily the best Christian series to date and a great opportunity for Kevan Otto to start afresh in his entertainment ambitions.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting of The Prayer Box is definitely one of its strongest points.  This includes surprisingly good child and teenager acting and arguably the best performances to date from Carey Scott and Reginald VelJohnson.  The only drawbacks here are some slightly overdone makeup from some cast members and some slightly under-performed scenes, but it’s nothing too major.

Continuity Quality (2 points)

One big question with The Prayer Box is whether or not it really needed to be a series since it only has two total hours of runtime.  While it’s great to create a miniseries out of a book to release it directly to PureFlix on Demand rather than making a half-baked direct-to-DVD film no one will ever see since this is something we absolutely need to see more of, it’s hard to see why a two-hour series was needed.  If the funding allowed, more runtime would have been good to further develop the characters if at all possible.  However, despite these minor nitpicks, the flow of this series is mostly good except for a few abrupt episode endings.  As a whole, it’s refreshing to see a series, albeit a short one, that is committed to above average continuity and flow between episodes.

Conclusion

Even though The Prayer Box is a very basic and generic storyline, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done when streaming series employ true screenwriters to create content.  Trisha Mammen definitely has a lot of talent as a screenwriter, and Kevan Otto has definitely found a new stride in his career that needs to continue; it’s highly possible that this film could have made the Hall of Fame as a film.  Though we’ve criticized Otto in the past for his poorly created films like A Question of FaithGrace of GodIn the Name of GodOnline, Lukewarm, Decision, and WWJD 1 and 2, after The Prayer Box, it’s possible that his future entertainment ventures could be transformed with a second wind of much better source material and more well-funded productions.  It just goes to show that anyone can make a turnaround with better resources and that we are always willing to recognize improvement and success – no matter who it comes from.

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

Malibu Dan the Family Man, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Just in case you didn’t get enough stereotypical PureFlix stupidity from the first season of Malibu Dan, the old gang is back with a new ‘season’ that they refuse to call a season for no reason.  This collection of new episodes (totally not a season) offers more of the same stick-your-finger-down-your-throat humor we had from Season 1, only with an even cheaper production setup and a smaller cast.  It’s basically like the second season of Hilton Head Island: nobody asked for it and nobody cares that it’s here.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Now that we’re on the topic of Hilton Head Island, the Whites and company borrowed their horrible green screens that make everyone and everything have an obvious outline, like they’re cardboard cutouts.  Oh wait…  But I digress.  As previously mentioned, this non-season of Malibu Dan has even fewer sets than the first and even more reuses of the same old ones.  This gives it an overall cheap feel, and it goes without saying that the ‘blooper episode’ is virtually indistinguishable from one of the other episodes because it merely depicts the cast acting like idiots, which is what the other episodes are all about anyway.  Did we mention that this new non-season of no one’s favorite sitcom contains another endless and obnoxious laugh track that cues every five seconds whether the scene is supposed to be funny or not?  Basically, the only thing keeping this entire mess from 0 points or less is the fine video and camera quality, in conjunction with professional audio work.  But that theme song gets annoying over and over again.  As a whole, there isn’t much good to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What could be done in a new non-season that wasn’t done in the first season?  This new batch of episodes that’s totally not a season is virtually indiscernible from the other season, but it’s actually possibly worse due to the painfully-forced so-called comedy that contains nothing funny whatsoever.  Basically, this collection of fingernails-in-the-chalkboard creations is just as mindless and ridiculous as regular TV shows that PureFlix and their audience would complain about.  Malibu Dan no better than something typical you would see passing by on cable TV as it has just as little potential and just as little hope for any.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Whenever the old PureFlix gang gets together (see Hitting the BreaksHolyman Undercover, and Me Again), they are content to act like imbeciles.  The only consolations this second season cast provides to us is that Jennifer Lyons makes a long-overdue cameo to continually make a fool of herself and that Carey Scott reprises his insultingly fake European accent from Holyman.  Steered by the comedic anti-genius of David A. R. White and the sadistic mind of Tommy Blaze, Malibu Dan offers more of the same absurd and zany acting from the expertise of Brad Heller.  What’s surprising is that Kevin Downes still puts up with this nauseating experience when he has much better things to do.  The constant funding of this insanity is beyond us.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

The second season of Malibu Dan takes on the typical mistakes of sitcoms, besides not developing characters properly, by repeating the same thing over and over again in each episode with no continuity between them.  Episodes exist in its own isolated universes as each one appears to have no bearing on another.  It seems like they were all filmed in one day with no story-boarding, which is a likely method that has been employed by PureFlix in the past.

Conclusion

With not much else to say, it’s time to address the obviously elephant in the room (no, it’s not David A. R. White dressed up again).  What’s the point of randomly pretending that this collection of new episodes isn’t a new season?  It’s a very common practice to release an entire season at once with streaming series like this one.  Nevertheless, one must take a step back from this mess that’s so easy to make fun of in order to examine what the true state of Christian series is.  What are we really accomplishing?  Is there any true inspirational or culture-changing value to things like Malibu Dan?  I can’t even foresee a monetary gain in it.  This begs the question “What is it even for?!?!?”  The only answer we can discern is that it’s just another outlet for the twisted comedy desires of White and Blaze, which further goes to show the true darkness behind the PureFlix giant.  Needless to say, let’s hope Kevin Downes wipes this from his memory (again) and is able to help the Erwins produce a truly good TV series next year.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 14 points

 

A High School Story (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Faith High is a seemingly ordinary private Christian high school with all the typical high school issues, but one student is intent on forcing the daily events she sees unfold around her into some kind of Biblical parallel so that she can have an interesting end-of-the-semester school project to talk about.  A new kid comes to town as the backup quarterback and falls in love with a mostly silent ballet dancer, so this is naturally the stories of David and Esther mashed together.  The vain and self-impressed starting quarterback is obviously Saul, and you can see how this keeps going.  With this movie in the works for so long, you would think some better content was created.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Ever since 2nd Greatest, Kingdom Sight Studios has been committed to crafting more professional productions than A Perfect Chord.  Thus, A High School Story has a mostly average production that’s fueled mainly by good video quality, find audio quality, and professional sets, locations, and props.  However, the soundtrack is sometimes too loud, and there are some odd camera angles and wild camera work, especially in the poorly filmed sports action scenes that feel like nothing is really happening even though you’re supposed to think there’s an actual game going on.  Scenes like these show the true genius of Facing the Giants in the independent film world (A High School Story even has a discount version of Bobby Lee Duke).  Elsewhere in A High School Story, there are too many stupid slow-motion scenes, as well as self-serving product placements and unwarranted self-love for A Perfect Chord.  In the end, this is a mostly average production that could have done better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, annoying narration decides to explain things to us that we should be about to figure out on our own if the dialogue was any good at all.  We apparently have to be told who the characters are instead of letting them develop on their own through actual conversations.  There are also plenty of weird attempts at cringe-worthy bad comedy as ‘bad’ characters are over the top bad while ‘good’ characters are too perfect.  As is commonplace in cheap sports films, training montages displace opportunities for plot and character growth, as do ridiculous high school nonsense and predictable love triangle stupidity.  There are too many cheesy attempts at ‘young people’ dialogue, and we mention the beyond-cheesy attempts to force Bible stories into this modern-day plot?  This seriously needs to stop.  In the end, this plot contributes nothing to the film’s score.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With mainstay Kingdom Sight cast members, this acting job is another average one as there are some fine moments that are cancelled out by other moments of awkward and forced acting.  When some cast members attempt their own brand of comedy, it’s quite bad.  It goes without saying that some cast members seem desperate to advertise their horrid local comedy act throughout the film.  Essentially, while these often-used Kingdom Sight cast members are definitely gaining experience with each film, there’s just not enough coaching present here to sustain a higher score.

Conclusion

There’s one thing Kingdom Sight is getting right: releasing films directly to PureFlix On Demand and Amazon Prime in order to get them out there rather than to waste time and money on limited screenings no one will go see and DVD’s that will end up in the $5 Walmart bin.  However, 3 points is basically the ‘best of the worst’ score according to our review scale.  After 2nd Greatest, Kingdom Sight likely hit their ceiling of potential with their current model, so it’s time for them to take the next step in movie making.  They seem committed to trying different things, and their production model is mostly fine.  Thus, with their next film, they need to take a bigger step towards greatness by employing a better screen writer and a better acting coach (plus maybe some new cast members).

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points