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


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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

On Wings of Eagles [2016] (Movie Review)

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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

Play the Flute (January 2019)

Coming to select theaters January 11-19, 2019

Writer(s): Rich Christiano

Director(s): Rich Christiano

Producer(s): Rich Christiano

Starring: Fred Grandy, Terri Conn, Brett Varvel, Kennedy Tucker, Sean Ormond, Ken Ivy, Alex Schwartz, Kylie Brown, Clint Howard, Loretta Swit

Plot Synopsis:A new Youth Director takes over an indifferent, lukewarm youth group in hopes of getting them serious about the Bible and their relationship with the Lord.

Shifting Gears [2018] (Movie Review)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

 

If You’re Gone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brad and Lillian believed that they were meant to be together forever.  When Brad graduates from high school, Lillian believes this will not affect their relationship as she has one more year to go.  However, on the night of the graduation, Lillian’s life is changed forever when Brad disappears for days without contacting anyone.  The town searches for him and holds vigils for him, but nothing ever comes of it all as the months go by with no word about Brad’s whereabouts.  Lillian’s emotions collapse as she can think of nothing else besides the future life she thought she had.  Will she be able to pick herself back up and remember the faith she claims to have had?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After several years of trial and error, the production efforts of husband-and-wife movie team John and Brittany Goodwin have paid off.  Though If You’re Gone had a modest budget, it was allocated very well.  This is evident in the professional video quality and camera work.  The soundtrack is a very good original creation, and the audio quality is spot-on.  Sets, locations, and props, though somewhat limited, are utilized very well.  The only minor issues to point out here that keep this production from being perfect are some inconsistent lighting and some slight editing issues, but as a whole, this is a very professional production that gives great hope for the future of Every New Day Pictures.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on the original novel from the Goodwins, If You’re Gone delivers a unique plot and a compelling message.  Though the story can be a bit slow at times, there are some great conversations and dialogue throughout that seek to build characters.  However, there were still some missed opportunities to use dialogue to deepen characters just a tad more since this is a character-based story with only a handful of characters.  These missed opportunities are most evident in the middle of the film as it appears to only serve to fill time with montages and somewhat repeated scenes in order to get to the ending.  Though some audiences may not hold on for the end, the conclusion is definitely worth the wait as it contains an unexpected twist combined with a very unique and empowering message that one does not see very often in Christian film.  This ending is very much worth your time, but it would have been even better to see some flashbacks in the middle of the film that helped us to further understand why the characters did what they did and that expanded upon the family of origin issues that were touched on.  This story was clearly written for the excellent ending, so it would have likely been Hall of Fame if the lead-up was more engaging.  Even still, some will find this movie to be worthwhile and interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast of If You’re Gone appears to be well-coached as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective role quite well.  Masey McLain is always a great lead, but it might have helped for her to have further support since some cast members come off as a bit weak and detracting from the overall score.  However, emotions and line delivery are above average as a whole, which rounds out this film very well.

Conclusion

The Goodwins have persevered for several years in pursuit of the greatest film, and they have a unique opportunity to create their own source material by writing it before making their own films out of it.  They have always been close to the mark, and with If You’re Gone, they have come even closer.  Production is in a good spot for them, and acting is nearly perfect.  The next step forward for their team is to ensure stronger plots to accompany their great messaging.  Writing stories can be difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to adapt other source material as well since the Christian fiction world is replete with options.  In summary, If You’re Gone is definitely a good film, and the Goodwins are one step away from true greatness.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Islands (March 2019)

Image result for the islands movie timothy chey

Image result for the islands movie timothy chey

Image result for the islands movie timothy chey

Coming to theaters March 22, 2019 from RiverRain Productions

Website

Writer(s): Timothy A. Chey, Umi Perkins

Director(s): Timothy A. Chey

Producer(s): R. Julie Burnett, Susan F. Chey, Timothy A. Chey, S. Marc Clooney, Lehi Makisi Falepapalangi, David Galea’i, Todd Kim, V. Carol Rosenthal, Ichiro Tatsume, Angela Xiong

Starring: Teuira Shanti NapaMira SorvinoRicky Sua’ava, John Savage, Ichiro Tange, Malia Marquez, Michael Camp, Malia Mahi John Huser, Lehi Makisi Falepapalangi, Harry Walia, Ala’amoe Keolanui, Boyd Lauano, Andrew Sexton Iii, David Galea’i, Shawn McBride, Clifton Burchfield, Bill Stonebreaker, Yosef Kasnetzkov, Troy Husey, Wallace Del Rosario, Kealii Kuikahi, Craig Nahale, Jessica Kamalu, Vanessa Clay, Vanessa Cadang, Frank Cozart, Ikaika Jonathan, Josephine Kueva, Kae’o Kapani, Serita Liva, Yolanda Hiapo, Sanders Kapahulehua, Rebecca Sanders, Hori Bayani, Tracy Makuakane, Mailani Makainai, Alice Nakahara, Lev Kohn, John Danilewicz, Emmanuel Gomez, Angel Lemus

Plot Synopsis:

Based on the incredible true-life story of Chiefess Kapiolani who descended into an active volcano to demonstrate her new-found faith and ushered in a new beginning in Hawaii.

The website above has a much more in-depth description that space does not permit inclusion.

Tortured for Christ (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina were active in Lutheran ministry in Romania during the 1970s Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.  The Communist regme sought to corrupt the church by ‘uniting’ the denominations as a political body rather than as a ministry.  Richard and Sabina dared to stand up against the tyranny both by speaking against it and by illegally proselytizing their faith to Romanians who struggled under the heavy yoke of the Communist government.  Because of these infractions and because they helped harbor wanted Christians, Richard was arrested and tortured for his faith.  He languished for fourteen years in a cruel Communist prison, but he did not give up his faith in Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this production was somewhat low-budget, there is still a very clear commitment to making it as authentic and gritty as possible.  Video quality and audio quality are among these good production elements.  Although there are some moments of oddly poor lighting, the sets, locations, and props are very realistic and demonstrate great attention to detail and great care to make the surroundings as realistic as possible.  This is definitely the best that could have been done with the funding available, which is all we ask of productions.  Though there is some choppy editing throughout, it’s obvious that this creative did all they could with this production, which is all a film maker needs to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Another thing film makers can do to ensure a mostly successful effort is to use good source material.  The story of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand is a very poignant and unfortunately true narrative that definitely deserved to be made into a movie.  However, one has to question whether the high amount of heavy-handed narration was necessary since it greatly stunts character growth and plot development.  Even still, the serious commitment to have each character speak in the original Romanian dialect is very intriguing to say the least as it further shows care for realism and attention to detail that we rarely find in Christian film.  Moreover, because of the narration that punctuates and explains a majority of the scenes, the movie comes off as too much of a random collection of loosely connected scenes rather than an engaging story about real people we can relate to.  There are also a few too many docu-drama elements.  Nevertheless, the strong content of this story keeps the plot from being worse than it could have been as the tragic realities of religious persecution at the hands of tyrannical regimes is brought to the big screen.  Thus, many audiences will find this movie to be worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although most of the cast members are not allowed to fully act due to the high amount of narration that only allows for rare moments of dialogue, the portions they do act in are definitely great.  The culturally authentic casting and the good use of the original language is also a huge plus.  Emotions are mostly good with only a few instances of being slightly overdone, but on the whole, this is the best area of the film, and it rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

Christian films are still getting better by using source material and by being committed to great productions.  This creative team is off to a great start in their movie-making careers, so it will be very interesting to see what they come up with next.  Until then, Tortured for Christ is an above-average film that carries a great message and a stirring theme packaged in a realistic production that will make a lasting impression on many who watch it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Indivisible [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Army Chaplain Darren Turner and his wife Heather feel that they are called to the life they live as they each minister to those who are connected to the military in different ways.  They are committed to each other and to their family, and they firmly believe God is always supporting them.  However, the months-long separation with Darren’s deployment takes a toll on their marriage and their family as they are apart for months on end with oceans between them.  When tragedy strikes close to home, they will have to decide if they will weather the storm and press into their faith or if they will let it all fall apart.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that Indivisible was a well-funded and well-organized production.  This is evident in the flawless video quality and the great action camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are also excellent and appropriate for the situations portrayed, and it was smart for the creative team to stay within their budget and to not film too many complicated scenes.  There is a very realistic feel to the film, even if there are some slight audio issues.  However, there is a relatable soundtrack, although some of the editing tends to be a bit choppy.  Nevertheless, this production is still top-notch and demonstrates very wise use of funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the growing trends of using better source material in Christian films, Indivisible seeks to tell a very engaging and poignant true story that explores realistic everyday issues that need to be discussed in the context of film.  There is a very real-life feel to the film as the day to day struggles of military families are portrayed very accurately and in a way that many can relate to.  Although there are plenty of opportunities to develop true-to-life characters based on the real people of the true story, it feels like there were missed opportunities to take them a step further beyond the typical and into the dynamic.  An example of these missed opportunities appears to manifest in the middle of the plot as this part of the movie comes off as just a collection of loosely connected scenes en route to a conclusion it wants to get to.  Time moves too quickly at times, which is never helpful for character growth.  However, even though some chances for dynamic storytelling were left on the proverbial playing field, this movie still presents a very effective and accessible view of PTSD and its psychological and emotional effects on the victim and those around him.  As a whole, this plot is definitely good on paper even though there was the greater potential to go further.  Despite this fact, many audiences will still enjoy this film for its realism.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It’s evident that Sarah Drew drew on her past acting experience and on her experience with the Erwin Brothers in Mom’s Night Out to both deliver a great performance and to assist the rest of the cast in this same endeavor.  As such, the casting and acting are both very professional.  For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are mostly realistic.  There are some slight issues at times when emotional delivery can come off as a bit forced and over the top, but overall, each cast member appears comfortable in his or her respective roles.  Though there are a few nitpicks in the various areas of this film, Indivisible still has the potential to reach many different audiences.

Conclusion

One can easily see why this great true story was chosen for a film.  There are many important messages in Indivisible that many people will relate to, especially those with close connections to the branches of the military.  The military life has never been easy for anyone, but for too long, this has been kept quiet.  Thanks to the courage of the Turner family, a great story is now being told that reaches out to families who may feel like they are alone.  While there is always room for improvement, there is still plenty of good about Indivisible due to a lot of hard work put into it.  Thus, it earns a rightful spot on the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Born to Win [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leon Terblanche was always told by his father that he would never amount to anything.  When he and his mother fled the abuse of his home only to abandon him at a hotel, Leon found himself as the only white child in a segregated African community during apartheid in South Africa.  However, the government discovered him there and took him away to be passed from home to home before he was able to strike out of his own and begin working for the railroad.  During his whole life, Leon was always angry and resentful towards his father, even after he married and began a family of his own.  He medicated this anger with alcohol, but when everything hit a breaking point, he was forced to choose between his own ways and the ways of the God he always pushed away.

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite their landmark production Faith Like Potatoes, Global Creative Studios did not have as much production success in Born to Win.  The video quality, camera work, and action shots are fine in this film, and the audio is fairly good, but there are several other issues to contend with.  While sets, locations, and props are sometimes fine and realistic, there are some very obvious fake backgrounds that put a damper on things.  Plenty of time and effort was put into this production, including a good soundtrack, but there are a handful of small things that hold it back from being all it could be.  The most glaring problem that hurts the film is the severely choppy editing, and this is also related to the plot problems.  Moreover, this production is mainly above average, but it’s still a letdown after the success of Faith Like Potatoes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Frans Cronje and his team have always been committed to telling the great and true stories of real people with real struggles, and this commitment is still evident in Born to Win.  However, despite the great source material, the presentation of it is quite poor.  This is most notable due the extreme amount of heavy-handed narration that greatly hurts character growth and plot development.  The narration is mainly used to plug up the plot holes created by the breakneck time jumps that are present in the story.  These two factors combined make it nearly impossible for characters to develop as the dialogue is stunted and choppy.  Despite the little time available, there are still lots of wasted scenes, and though there is plenty of content to work with in the real story, there is little to no story organization as it jumps from one thing after the next.  Too much ground is attempted to be covered without the effective use of flashbacks or actual dialogue.  The lack of substantial dialogue and character development makes it very difficult to appreciate the otherwise meaningful struggles of the characters due to the wasted time and large gaps, and viewers are told things that are hard to believe due to poor development.  Unfortunately, it all boils down to a flat ending with little meaning because of this.  It’s too bad because there was tons of potential here for a great message to be shared.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though the acting appears to begin well, it tends to get worse as the film goes on, especially as cast members are forced to play multiple age brackets that they are not exactly suited for.  Line delivery and emotions can be awkward at times, and there is an overall need for more coaching.  There are times when emotions are lines are too forced, and there are one too many scenes of poorly executed yelling and screaming.  Overall, this caps off a mostly disappointing effort that had so much going for it.

Conclusion

The Cronje creative team has definitely shown the height of their potential, but it’s possible they tried to do too much on their own in Born to Win.  Faith Like Potatoes obviously had a better collaborative effort behind it, which is an important lesson to learn in film making.  One success does not equal constant success; it’s something has to be continually worked for, and it’s definitely not easy.  However, it’s totally worth it in the end, especially when you have good stories that need to be told.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Faith Like Potatoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Angus Buchan has never had an easy life.  He and his family were forced to flee from Zambia to South Africa due to racism, and now, their new farm land isn’t what they expected.  Angus feels like he works all day and all week to no avail.  However, one day, when he finally comes to the end of himself, he decides to listen to a local pastor and to the testimonies of other struggling farmers who came to know Jesus Christ when they had nothing else to turn to.  Angus decides to put aside his pride and follow suit, and little does he know the huge ways God will use him to change the surrounding areas.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Global Creative Studios struggled in other international films they made in this same era, but they went all out for Faith Like Potatoes.  The end result was a very professional production with great video quality and camera work, along with fine audio quality and an effective cultural soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props give off a very realistic and gritty feel that adds to the overall authenticity of the film.  It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort were spent on crafting and constructing scenes that were difficult to film, and there was a high commitment to making the film look as real as possible.  Though there is some choppy editing, this is still a top-notch production that Affirm Films has become known to distribute.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of Angus Buchan and his family is a great true story that is based on realistic and accessible characters that are able to be related to as real people despite the time jumps that tend to hold their character growth back from being all it could be.  Fairly good dialogue helps characters to remain personable and build personality and motive despite the large amount of content that is covered, even if narration hurts character development at times by trying to create a crutch to cover the time gaps.  Even still, there is a good use of flashbacks to build character motive and personality that make it easier to connect with characters as real people, but the film may have still benefited from more flashbacks to replace the portions of narration.  More flashbacks would also help the story flow better and avoid just hashing out one important life event after another.  The plot walks the line between just being a collection of scenes and events and being a great story with a lot of content that actually holds the attention.  Finally, there are many good themes and messages in Faith Like Potatoes, even if it might have been better to only focus on a handful of them.  Overall, this is a poignant and believable historical account that is likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

One of the biggest positives of this film is the great commitment to culturally authentic casting, which was likely not an easy feat.  It was also likely not easy to have almost half of the dialogue take place in an obscure African dialect.  Besides these pluses, emotions are fairly realistic, and line delivery is almost always on point.  Though there are some moments of forced emotions and unnecessary yelling and screaming, cast members usually own roles well and appear to be comfortable in their acting, which is important.  As a whole, Faith Like Potatoes is a top-rated film, even if a few minor issues hold it back from the Hall of Fame.

Conclusion

Despite falling short of the Hall of Fame, Faith Like Potatoes is still worth a watch because of its wonderfully true stories and life lessons.  This is definitely Global Creative Studios’ finest work, and movies like this one is why Affirm Films originally gained ground in the Christian entertainment world.  We absolutely need more movies like this one that depict real life events and inspiring historical accounts with the proper production packaging and the adequate acting support.  Unfortunately, this sort of quality is hard to come by, but hopefully, we will begin to see more and more of this in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Hilton Head Island, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Following the critically denounced blockbuster debut season of Hilton Head Island, which is the world’s first ever Hope Opera, the second season appeared on PureFlix On Demand in a similar fashion as the first with no warning or marketing to proceed its release.  Nevertheless, the second season picks up at the cliffhanger where the first left off–only this time, the cast is smaller and the green screens are more obvious.  Daniel Trisk has woken up from his partially fake coma, and he’s taking the Isle News Network back over (as if anybody was watching it in the first place).  As he shakes up the staff and whips people into shape, we actually get some looks at what they actually play on their fake channel.  However, as usual, there’s a lot of trumped-up intrigue and fake drama that will have you rolling your eyes along with us.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

The second season of this ridiculous excuse for entertainment is just as cheap – probably cheaper – than they first season.  Although video quality is fine, the camera is constantly shifting around even though every shot is already as tight as possible to hide the fact that this nonsense was entirely filmed in a set.  This set was complete with a very poorly constructed green screen that gives the characters special outlines and sometimes bleeds through objects on camera.  The only parts that aren’t filmed in front of a green screen (there might have been one real set in there somewhere) utilize the exact same stock footage sequences we saw from the first season – including the ones of the false exterior of the network building that’s used about 4843928 times.  The rest of the stock footage has nobody in it, as if this island is completely abandoned save for our favorite main characters (some of which have already left the show).  Since the stock footage takes up nearly half of each very short episode, there’s little that can be accomplished.  Elsewhere, the soundtrack is cheesy and generic, and every scene feels like it begins just as characters start doing things rather than having it flow into things that are already naturally happening.  Finally, the introduction sequence was seriously made on Windows Movie Maker.  That’s about it for this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Where to start?  How about with the weird Christian worldview that earns this section a negative point?  As if Wink Martindale weren’t a bad enough TV preacher impersonator, we get strange lectures from the very white, awkward, and geriatric patriarch of the Trisk family about how Christianity is all about legalism and behavior modification (the token black woman gets to say a few things about this topic too).  All of the dialogue is overly dramatic, and Bible verses are used in bizarre ways.  In typical soap opera form, the ‘story’ is chock-full of forced and fake drama as the subplots fragment all over the place and as conversations are used to dump information onto the audience, especially when explaining where the missing cast members went.  There’s still so much going on here that there is no chance for any character or plot depth, as if the writers even knew how to do that in the first place.  The ‘plot’ jumps from one thing to the next as the characters are just stand-ins and representations of issues and circumstances.  Nearly 60% of the plot takes place in the context of phone conversations, and Christian tropes and trite lessons inserted awkwardly into so-called stories.  In typical PureFlix fashion, young people are portrayed in insulting ways as the series basically has no grasp on reality.  A lot of ‘good’ characters are questionable at being ‘good’, and the ‘bad’ characters are total strawmen to the point that it’s not even funny.  Basically, I think you can get the picture that there’s nothing good here and that there’s not even an ounce of potential in this garbage.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To say the least, this ever-shrinking cast exhibits some of the worst acting possible.  Line delivery is forced down your throat like cast members are saying lines through a strainer.  Attempts at emotions are like fingernails in a chalkboard.  A majority of the scenes appear to be one-take as cast members awkwardly stand around making annoyingly stereotypic movements and just mindlessly recite lines.  This doesn’t even cover the fact that this cast is extremely fake-looking, and the makeup work is atrocious.  It’s really no surprise that this cast is smaller than the first season (even Donna Mills had something better to do), but we can’t even do without Carey Scott’s stiff and wooden performances.  As a side note, most the time, it seems like Anna Zielinki is trolling – it’s either that, or she’s a terrible villain.  Further, there are basically no extras in this cast, which lends further to the portrayal of Hilton Head Island as a ghost town.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

Although there is some continuity between episodes, there is still little to no organization in this series.  It’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything substantial in incredibly short episodes that are replete with stock footage.  It’s also too easy to make mindless 20-minute episodes, especially when this second season is half the length of the first.  However, for all the die-hard Hilton Head Island fans, Season 2 provides us with yet another forced cliffhanger ending that’s designed to make you want another season (if they have any cast members left by then).

Conclusion

PureFlix makes garbage and just keeps trucking along.  You can’t fault them for having drive.  They try new things and attempt to pander to their audience for quick cash grabs.  Even still, I greatly fail to see the market for this ‘Hope Opera’.  There’s definitely an untapped market for good Christian series, but this ain’t the way.  This is the last thing you want in a Christian series unless you have nothing better to do with your free month of PureFlix On Demand.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In late 2009 and early 2010, the evil deeds of a rogue abortion doctor, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, were uncovered when his suspect abortion clinic in downtown Philadelphia was raided by multiple agencies due to suspected drug laundering and mysterious deaths of women who went there.  What the authorities found during the raid was shocking and appalling.  A local prosecutor and her detective friend were immediately plunged into a politically-charged trial centered around the controversial social issue of abortion.  As it becomes more evident that Dr. Gosnell exhibited the behaviors of a serial killer, the pushback from powerful lobbyists only increased until the truth was finally exposed for the world to see.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Gosnell had fairly good funding despite their persecution-complex claims.  This translated to a mostly professional-looking production, including good video quality and camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are mostly well-constructed and well-utilized.  There are some randomly dark scenes throughout, but this may be purposeful.  Also, the editing of the film is fairly choppy due to the large amount of plot content that is taken on.  However, overall, this production is above-average even if it could have been a little better than it was.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Gosnell makes many attempts to be overly realistic in its presentation of real events, including unnecessary profanity and edgy content that may be off-putting to a lot of pro-life audiences.  Besides this, there is a lot of expository dialogue throughout that is designed to mask the time jumps and to connect otherwise unconnected scenes together.  Thus, there is lots of content shoved into a small amount of time, even though the writers found plenty of time for shock-and-awe scenes.  There are one too many over-dramatized sidebars detailing the perceived persecution of the pro-life movement, and the ‘bad’ characters are flat-out strawmen.  One bright spot is the interesting use of flashbacks with characters we don’t see enough of, which is a technique that needs to be used more.  If this film’s plot had been more about detailing the real stories of the women who were adversely affected by the negligence and twisted ideas of Dr. Gosnell rather than a politically motivated trial plot reminiscent of God’s Not Dead 2, this would have been an entirely different film.  Thus, while there is some good messaging in this film that keeps it from having no potential, the real stories of real people need to be depicted in film rather than political grandstanding.  Stories and personal experiences are what changes the culture and changes people’s minds on social issues.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Some cast members are hamstrung from the get-go of this film by the poorly written dialogue that is a direct consequence of the time jumps, but Dean Cain posts another weirdly awkward performance regardless.  Cain’s fake attempts at a Philadelphia accent are annoying, and his typical forced line delivery and emotions are wearing.  However, the rest of this cast appears to know what they’re doing, and despite their shortage of things to work with, they are mostly professional and comfortable in their roles.  Overall, this film is basically average.

Conclusion

The pro-life cause does have history and science on its side, but pro-lifers must be very careful to avoid becoming caught up in the political games that are played by the pro-abortion lobby.  There’s no denying that the abortion business is gruesome and downright evil, but the pro-life cause is better than stooping to their level.  Gosnell presents a very important and real-life issue, but one has to wonder how many people will be converted to the cause due to the gruesome nature of this story.  Though it’s extremely difficult to maintain professionalism and balance in a heavily biased and lightning-rod political culture, it’s important that pro-lifers don’t adapt the pro-abortion mentality of victim status and shock-and-awe theatrics just to try to gain political power.  The pro-life movement should not be politically charged, but we are unfortunately far from that reality.  Politics is only a reaction to culture, but changing the culture is much harder to do.  However, it can be done with real stories, and there were real stories to present in this sordid tale, even if we didn’t get to see them very well in this film.  Real women are hurt everyday by the abortion business, and many of them suffer in silence or are compelled to join the pro-abortion political lobby because they feel like the pro-life movement won’t accept them.  We are seeing some change in this area, however, so hopefully we will see more movement in the right direction in the coming days.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Shake Off the World (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Austin is a talented football player, but his coach has it out for him for no particular reason, which has forced Austin to stay on the bench for most plays.  Whenever he gets a chance, Austin makes big plays, but when some off-the-field issues begin to change and move him in a different direction, Austin isn’t sure if he can live without football or his girlfriend.  However, Austin discovers a new group of friends who introduce him to Jesus, and his life is never the same after that.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a fairly new production, Shake Off the World has a good enough production to get by.  This is evidenced by clear video quality and fine camera work, including good sports action shots.  Audio quality is okay throughout, but there are too many moments where the soundtrack is simply too loud to hear anything.  Sets, locations, and props are also mostly fine, but there are quite a few scenes that are randomly dark for no good reason.  Further, there are too many quick fade-outs and transitions that appear to interrupt the flow of the film at times.  Overall, this production does just enough to get above the average mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While Shake Off the World appears to begin as a slightly interesting true story, it quickly devolves into a big nothingburger.  Predictably present are all the typical sports story elements, but it still lacks an effort to be interesting.  In between the expected sports montages are very dry and drab conversations between characters that do nothing to develop them as people.  They aren’t accessible, and the empty dialogue makes them come off as wooden and stiff.  Thus, they are hard to relate to, and they appear to be swept along in random plot circumstances that have no continuity, logic, or feeling.  Due to the high amount of time spent in montages, the story line is rushed and actually quite short and small in scope.  Most scenes and subplots come off as disconnected from the others, and by the time the film ends, it feels like it barely got off the ground.  When a film feels like it’s over before it began, something went horribly wrong in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite not having many lines to work with, the acting is actually just average.  The cast definitely means well even though they are underwhelming at times.  Some lines are mumbled, and some emotions appear to not reach their full potential.  However, they did enough to keep this area at the middle mark.

Conclusion

It’s quite hard to understand why this film was made and what it was going for.  If the creators meant well, their messaging was totally lost in translation.  They either cut too many scenes or didn’t plan enough to begin with.  While it was a good idea to make a film based off of true events, the true story definitely did not come through, and this frustrates many audiences.  Maybe this creative team will have better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Amazed By You {The Faith Club} (Movie Review)

This has basically nothing to do with this movie

Plot Summary

When Christian Andrews gets a call to attend the funeral of a friend in an obscure New Mexico town, he has no choice but to immediately hitchhike his way there.  However, when he arrives, he finds that someone told him the wrong day of the funeral, so he’s actually too late.  Nevertheless, he decides to take the opportunity to go and stay at the ranch where his friend once lived, even though he has never met the ranch owners before.  He meets the family who owns the ranch and inevitability becomes immediately interested in dating the oldest daughter and decides he wants to start building a chapel on the ranch.  Other than tangling with two drunk convicts who work on the ranch in close proximity to teenage girls, not much else happens in this story.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a newer Christian film, about the only thing going in the favor of Amazed By You is its mostly average production quality.  However, by today’s standards, this should be a given.  In this film, the video quality and camera work are fine, as are the sets, locations, and props, but there are other issues to contend with, such as the stereotypical soundtrack and the audio that is often very quiet and sometimes hard to discern.  Also, there are a lot of awkward cuts and fadeouts and seem to cut scenes short, which also relates to the choppy editing of this movie that makes it difficult to follow at times.  As a whole, this production is average and looks good on the surface, but it leaves a lot of be desired.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Exactly, what is the plot of this movie?  From start to finish, the story is hard to follow as odd things appear to just happen for no particular reason.  It really isn’t rooted in reality very well, and the plot has no clear flow or purpose other than a predictable romantic subplot.  Each character comes off as plastic, empty, and unfeeling as they just spout uninspiring lines.  Any hope of character development is definitely subverted by the many montages that fill this movie’s run time.  It goes without saying that the view of women in the film is unusual, and as a side note, the ‘villains’ are extremely cheesy.  Overall, this is mostly a half-hearted movie effort with no clear direction and no concerted attempts to make characters into real people.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although there weren’t substantial lines to work with in the first place, the acting of Amazed By You is awkward and wooden.  Emotions come off as forced, and line delivery is not convincing as there is a definite need for more coaching.  Unfortunately, this movie really don’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

It feels like Amazed By You was slapped together and forced to go into production without even deciding upon the messaging of the film.  It’s so vanilla that it lacks the typical worldview-pushing of a fundamentalist Christian film and the predictable elements of an inspirational horse film, even though on the surface it looks like it is both of these.  It’s hard to find a movie that’s so bland and empty that there really isn’t much to comment about.  If this was an attempt to make some quick cash off of inspirational audiences, the marketing really wasn’t that great.  In summary, in nearly every aspect, it’s impossible to understand how this film came to be or what it was even going for.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After surviving months being stranded at sea and being tortured in a cruel Japanese prison camp, Louis Zamperini was finally returned home as a war hero.  His family celebrated his safe return, but little did anyone know that the war still raged in Louis’ mind.  His lead torturer, The Bird, never left his dreams, and hate burned inside of him.  Louis decided to drink to cover up the madness in his head, but this got him into trouble, so he was given a chance to start over on a vacation in Florida.  It was there that he met his future wife, and he felt like his life was finally in a good spot.  They married soon after, but the war did not cease in Louis’ mind as it continued to rage and push his marriage to the brink.  There was only one way to end the war–only if Louis was willing to surrender.

Production Quality (3 points)

Harold Cronk has had decent productions in the past, but he and his team really went all out for this one.  They obviously put a lot of time and effort into crafting extremely authentic and historically accurate sets, locations, and props.  This is not just another cheesy PureFlix ripoff because time and money were spent on attention to detail and one making it look real.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also extremely professional, but these should be a given in higher budget films like this one.  Further, the soundtrack of Unbroken: Path to Redemption is very impactful as Cronk made a wise decision to depart from the typical Will Musser soundtrack PureFlix films usually have.  Finally, the editing in this film is very good as it handles a large amount of content very well.  In summary, this is a rare find as a perfect PureFlix production, and it is definitely a breakout film for Cronk and his team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Despite what some critics may say, it was an excellent idea for this film to pick up where the Hollywood version left off because this second half of the story is much better than the first.  Hopefully, this film launches Christian entertainment into a new era of effectively using source material to produce great films.  The time jumps in Unbroken: Path to Redemption are handled very well without narration, and the dialogue is very well-crafted and well-constructed in order to build the characters into real, accessible people.  It goes without saying that the psychological elements in this film are exquisite and are perhaps the best in Christian film to date.  The use of flashbacks is wonderful, and the portrayal of PTSD is very accurate and on point.  Further, the plot progression is handled well, and the messaging is effective without being too over the top.  The only issues to raise with this plot relate to some slightly wasted time at the beginning of the film that is felt later when the ending comes off as a bit rushed, but this is really nitpicking because the story is presented very well and is definitely a breath of fresh air to Christian entertainment.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It was absolute genius to cast Will Graham as Billy Graham in this film, and this is the sort of expertise we need to see more of in Christian films as we hopefully progress to a new era of Christian entertainment.  Elsewhere in this film, the acting is slightly awkward in the first few scenes, as if they were test scenes, but the acting quickly and dramatically improves as time goes on.  Samuel Hunt has a surprise breakout role as Zamperini, and he does a great job playing multiple different roles as the same character.  Conversely, Merritt Patterson cements a great role as the lead actress in this film.  Overall, each cast member owns his or her respective role very well and seems very comfortable in it.  This rounds out an excellent movie that is definitely worth your time.

Conclusion

Unbroken: Path to Redemption earns an x-factor point for portraying psychological elements very well and for having re-watchability qualities.  Much like Jon Gunn did in The Case for Christ, Harold Cronk and his team have found a new voice by effectively adapting source material into Christian film.  This is exactly what we need to be seeing more of by letting someone else take the screenwriting duties.  Building an authentic production and casting great actors and actresses is also key to success.  Unbroken: Path to Redemption will have far-reaching effects and is definitely worth your time to go see.

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

The Identical (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ryan Wade has always known the church life because he was raised by a pastor and his wife, whom he believed to be his real parents.  However, as he grew older, he did not feel the call to ministry that his father was impressing upon him.  Instead, he wanted to pursue a musical future.  However, when he got caught by the authorities doing ‘wrong things,’ Ryan’s father sent him to the military to ‘get fixed,’ with the expectation that Ryan would enter seminary afterward.  However, the military did not dampen Ryan’s musical dreams, and once he was out, he encountered a life-changing revelation: he is the twin brother of musical sensation Drexel Hemsley, which raises many questions about Ryan’s true heritage.  Will the answers he wants give him peace or more turmoil?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that The Identical is a well-funded production with a well-allocated budget.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The original soundtrack is creative, even if there is some obvious lip-syncing.  The production’s biggest strengths relate to the great 
attention to historical detail, which is evident in the well-constructed and well-utilized sets, locations, and props that reflect correct time period and culture.  The only drawback to this production is the somewhat choppy editing that is a byproduct of the plot presentation, but on the whole, this is a very good and professional production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story concept is a bit off-the-wall as the twin brother characters bear a strangely similar resemblance to Elvis Presley (not really sure why this character concept was chosen), there are some interesting messages to explore in The Identical.  For example, the story provides a realistic portrayal of historical issues of the time period, such as churches suppressing certain types of ideas, hiding issues, and expecting men to be fixed by the military.  However, besides the somewhat out-of-left-field story concept, there is way too much narration and expository dialogue to fill time gaps, which obviously stunts character growth and short-circuits the dialogue potential.  It would have been better to just let the story unfold naturally and to let the characters reach their full potential through meaningful dialogue that builds their personalities and motives.  Besides this obvious misstep, the story is based on too many coincidences and things that happen because the plot demands it.  However, despite these issues and despite the odd premise, there is lots of potential in this story–enough to warrant a remake–and many audiences will still find it to be a fine movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The Identical has surprisingly professional casting and acting.  Several cast members, such as Ray Liota, do a great job playing multiple ages.  Some emotions tend to be overdone, however, especially from Erin Cottrell.  However, line delivery is almost always on point, and the costuming is historically accurate and realistic.  This rounds out a slightly above average movie effort.

 

Conclusion

It’s great for Christian films to come up with creative movie concepts that are outside of the norm and to make films that are good because they are good without being Christian-ized.  The idea behind The Identical is one of those you don’t think of every day, so the creatively must be commended.  However, while a lot of the attention this movie received centered around the central concept, there were other pitfalls that kept it from being all that it could be.  Even still, there is plenty of positive here to build on, and there are some great cues for other films to model after.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team does anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Only God Can {Heaven’s Grace} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sara, Coley, Patrice, Glen, and Gracie were close college sorority sisters, but now that they have grown into their middle ages, they have each taken different paths in life.  Sara is weary of going to the annual get-together of the girls because of her newfound faith, but her pastor encourages her to go to witness to her friends.  However, the weekend getaway does not turn out as plan as each woman is hiding their own secrets, which lead to intense conflicts between them.  To cap things off, tragedy strikes the group of friends in a way they never expected.  Will they be able to pick up the pieces and change their ways?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though on the surface Only God Can seems like a good production, there are a handful of hiden problems that keep it from being all that it could be.  For example, the audio is strangely quiet except for the blaring and generic soundtrack.  Video quality and camera work are standard caliber, but the sets, locations, and props, though they are professional-looking, are fairly limited and underused.  Further, the editing is very disorienting and choppy, but this is likely primarily due to the poor plot structure.  However, as a whole, this production is good enough to be average, even though it could have been more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Only God Can follows a story-telling style similar to that of Do You Believe? as it juggles many under-developed and hard-to-fully-grasp subplots and tries to make nearly every scene a dramatic climax.  The presentation of the many subplots is dizzying for this reason, and flashbacks are used very poorly.  Each character is developed as a representation of an issue rather than a real person, and this is done through very forced and stilted dialogue that is designed to push a certain agenda rather than to create relatable characters.  The back stories of the characters are therefore flat and empty, and scenes that could have been used to develop them better are instead used for empty and mindless montages.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s happening from scene to scene, but it all comes down to a predictable and forced conclusion that fixes everything.  In short, this plot unfortunately had no potential from the get-go.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, many of the cast members in this film appear to be overly made-up and overly fake.  Emotional delivery comes off as plastic and unrealistic as many cast members don’t appear comfortable with their lines or their respective roles.  However, there are a handful of cast members that are okay and thus prevent this section from being null.  Nevertheless, this film is overall a disappointment and doesn’t really have much to offer.

Conclusion

Overall, Only God Can is another moderately-funded, partially-marketed inspirational film from PureFlix that falls flat and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  On the surface, it has good production qualities, but there are hidden issues that undermine this.  The plot is very empty and wanting as it tries to push typical agendas, and the acting missed the mark as well.  It’s very predictable and formulaic, yet this is the type of Christian film that no longer needs to be seen in the market.  The reputation of Christian movies is bad enough as it is, so we don’t need anymore examples of ineptitude.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Forever My Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Liam and Josie were in love all throughout high school, and many felt like they were destined to be together forever.  However, when they were on the verge of pledging their lives together forever, Liam experienced several life-changing moments.  First, his mother died suddenly, and Liam was discovered as a country artist and became successful almost overnight.  Thus, Liam left Josie behind without saying goodbye.  Now, after several years of fame and success, Liam has gotten into trouble with his drinking habit and has been advised to lay low for a while.  Thus, he returns to his hometown to live with his father, who is a pastor, and Liam is shocked at who he finds waiting for him there.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a modern, standard inspirational film, Forever My Girl checks all of the right production boxes.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic and uncreative, but the sets, props, and locations are all realistic, appropriate, and professional.  The only other minor issue to point out here is the fact that the editing isn’t the best it could be, but as a whole, this is a very high quality production that we have come to see as commonplace in recent Christian films, and it’s a trend we definitely need to see continue.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though it is based on a novel, Forever My Girl unfortunately follows a predictable and stereotypical storyline that has been done many times before.  The return-to-hometown plot has many different iterations, and this one is just the star-returns-to-the-hometown version.  However, the presentation of this predictability is not entirely annoying and does make some good attempts at being realistic, such as a good attempt to explore family systems and some general efforts to create believable characters and situations.  Even so, the characters need to be a bit deeper through better dialogue, and the main character’s inevitable arc is a too steep.  Nevertheless, the message of the movie is fine, and many audiences will find it to be a good movie.  It’s definitely ten times better than your average Hallmark throwaway.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though the lead actor and the lead actress seem confused and uncoached a lot of the time, the rest of the cast members make up for their deficiencies.  It’s unclear whether or not their characters are meant to be written that way, but it seems like the lead cast members could have contributed a bit more than they did.  However, the other members of the cast demonstrate great line delivery and realistic emotions, which is enough to bring this section over the average mark.  As a whole, this movie is good enough to be watchable.

Conclusion

It is definitely good idea to model movies after novels; if a film like this had not had a story written for it in a book, it likely would have been much worse.  This is definitely a practice we need to see more of on the coming days.  Hollywood has already figured out that using source material is the key to successful entertainment, so it’s time for Christian film makers to follow suit because if they put their minds to it, they can definitely do it better.  There is plenty of Christian source material to use, so it’s a great chance to keep using it.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Undeserved (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dawn’s life is changed when her deadbeat mother is shot dead in a bar parking lot, which prompts the state to assign her custody to her aunt and uncle until she can finish high school.  Despite her loss, things are looking up for her as she is moved to a better area.  However, it doesn’t take long for Dawn to discover that there are just as many hidden problems in suburbia as there are obvious problems on the streets.  Fearing for her safety, Dawn leaves her new home to take up residence on the streets once again.  Moreover, she soon finds herself in trouble again, and only her aunt believes that she is worth the fight.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a very small budget, Undeserved sports a lot of good production qualities, including good camera work, video quality, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also creative, even though it tends to be a bit too loud at times.  Sometimes, camera work is randomly shaky, and sometimes scenes are too dark and poorly lit.  However, these issues are not completely noticeable, even if the flashback quality is bit odd.  The editing is average overall, and these factors are enough to make this an above-average production, which is a great start for a new film maker with such a limited budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Undeserved is definitely not afraid to take on difficult but unfortunately realistic issues within the white suburban church demographic.  Though there is some obvious and expository dialogue throughout, the storyline is intriguing due to its non-typical structure.  For the most part, the story unfolds in a realistic manner with a natural progression of time, even though there are some slight coincidences that help the plot along.  The character are fairly well-developed even though the dialogue could be constructed a bit better.  Sometimes it seems like the main characters are victimized too much, but there are plenty of good attempts to develop character motive and personality through conversations and flashbacks.  However, there are a few too many montages, and issues appear to be fixed too easily in the end.  There are quite a few things tacked onto the end of the film, as if time ran out, which suggests that this idea might have worked better as a series.  However, this plot is overall average.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly inexperienced and ‘amateur,’ they appear to be professional in their performances.  There is definitely evidence of coaching, and although there are some slightly forced emotions and some moments that are partially underwhelming and awkward.  However, there is far more good here than bad, and this is only amplified by the fact that the cast does not have ‘big names’ in it.  In summary, this rounds out a very good first film effort.

Conclusion

It’s hard to get the necessary funding for a first-time small church film, so the best thing a film maker can do is craft a good plot, coaching cast members well, and get the film out there.  This creative team made efforts on all three of these fronts, and for the most part, the efforts paid off.  One can hardly do better than this with a less than $50,000 budget except perhaps forge a more captivating storyline.  In the end, a film like Undeserved is all we really ask of freshman creators, so it will be interesting to see what this team produces next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

An Interview With God (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul is a journalist who recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was reporting on the war effort there.  What he saw there changed him forever, and it sent him down a dark path as he began searching for the true meaning of life.  He began to question his childhood faith, and he asked God if He was even real.  However, Paul received an unexpected answer one day when he received a tip to interview God Himself.  Skeptical, Paul decides to follow the lead even though he is on paid leave.  What he discovers is unexpected and is destined to change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Astute Films team is fresh on the scene, and they have put together a quality first-time production, which is a great way to start out.  It is clear that they put a lot of effort into making a high-quality production in An Interview With God.  This is evident in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is creative, and the film has an overall artistic touch as a lot of work is put into establishing things without being too obvious.  Further, the sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, the editing is professional, which rounds out a basically perfect production effort.  With this film, the Astute team has sown great seeds for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

On the surface, An Interview With God seems like another version of The Encounter or The Perfect Stranger, but upon closer look, this new film is much more.  Though the plot mostly centers around lengthy conversations, the dialogue is well-constructed and holds up the plot well.  The characters explore some great topics relating to the nature of reality and the work of God.  These philosophical conversations actually hold the attention because they seek to develop the characters as people rather than to throw worldviews at the audience.  The writers were not afraid to go deep with the characters by making them flawed and accessible.  The portrayal of God is also appropriate and intriguing.  Throughout the storyline, there are creative psychological elements that appear to be building towards a possible plot twist, but unfortunately, this seeming creativity never materializes, which leaves the ending to be a bit flat and disappointing.  The story tends to limp to a conclusion with too many unanswered questions after it had so much potential going for it, but even still, the remainder of the plot is good enough to lift this film to an overall good rating.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though the cast of this film is very small, they carry the film strongly.  Each cast member portrays emotions effectively and carries his or her role very well.  Line delivery is on point, and it appears as though each cast member fits comfortably into his or her respective roles.  There are no flaws in this section, which is enough to lift An Interview With God to Hall of Fame status.

Conclusion

An Interview With God is one of 2018’s surprise breakout films, and it comes from a creative team who is not afraid to get their name out there.  When a film maker crafts a project they are proud of and one that they are not afraid to share, this immediately shows a great mentality as a creator.  It is clear that great production and acting effort were put into this movie, even if the plot department was a little lacking.  Nevertheless, the effort was enough to breach the seven point threshold, and An Interview With God is a great start to a promising career that demonstrates great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Beautifully Broken [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Hartley Family appears to have it all on the outside; they are a seemingly successful American family.  However, little do they know that their lives are about to become far more complicated than before.  They inadvertently cross paths with William Mwizerwa, a Rwandan refugee who moved from Kenya to America to try to make a new life for his family, whom he had to flee the Rwandan genocide with.  These lives also intersect with another Rwandan family who has been forever changed by the genocide.  Little do they know that collectively, they will experience both brokenness and God’s redemption after brokenness in ways they never before dreamed.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beautifully Broken is an independent film that has finally come to fruition after being in the works for a while, and it bears some key hallmarks of an indie production.  Though the production begins in a fairly rough manner, including wild camera work, weird light filters, and dizzying flashbacks, this is mainly only the first third of the film.  It seems like this part of the film was produced separately from the rest of the movie since the remainder of the film has a significant quality increase.  This is evident as the camera work, video quality, and audio quality all make marked improvements.  The soundtrack is effective and culturally appropriate; however, sometimes sets and locations do not fully live up to the hype.  Nevertheless, this production does enough in the latter two-thirds to make this section overall above average.  It seems like time was spent to improve this part of the film, and they likely did the best they could with the budget they had.  The one drawback is that the editing does not improve throughout the film, but this is is mainly due to the large amount of plot content.  As a whole, this is a great first-time production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s an excellent idea to begin your movie career with a complex true story rather than to use original content, especially since we have a deficit of creative screenwriters in Christian film.  However, one of the main pitfalls of using a true story is trying to include too much content.  In some ways, it seems like the writing team of Beautifully Broken bit off more than they could chew, but this does not diminish the great message this powerfully true story has to offer.  The downside is that there are one too many ‘filler’ scenes that waste precious time; the sheer amount of content in this plot does not allow space to develop the characters as much as they could have been, and narration and expository dialogue is used too often as a shortcut for full character and story development.  However, despite its rough beginning and inconsistency in the middle, the final third of the plot are definitely worth the wait, and they keep this section higher than it would have normally been.  This writing team definitely has more potential in the future once they master organization and character development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

It’s possible that the uneven and inconsistent acting is the main thing that derailed Beautifully Broken from a possible Hall of Fame run. While some cast members, like Benjamin Onyango, are very good in their performances, other cast members, like Scott William Winters, cancel out any good that is done.  Once again, Onyango is not given the space he needs to fully show his potential as an actor.  However, for the most part, emotional performances are believable and effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate, and great efforts were taken to cast culturally authentic cast members.  Overall, this rounds out a great first effort.

Conclusion

A lot of work has clearly been put into making Beautifully Broken happen after a fairly long period of time has passed, and the finished product is both better than most films and not as good as it could have been.  There is plenty of positive in this film, and it is likely worth your time to see when it releases.  There is a great message to learn, and this story is definitely worth being told.  In summary, this film is a great start to a promising career, so it will be interesting to see what they have to offer next.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Pastor Dave is released from prison for not turning over his sermon notes to the local government, he is immediately hit with a new persecution angle.  His father’s church, which he has pastored for years, sits on the property of a public university, so protests build on campus based on an argument that questions the necessity of the church being on public property.  Dave begins to feel pressure from the university leadership, but things hit a breaking point when the church appears to be attacked and when his close friend Jude is killed in the attack.  Dave decides to reach out to his long-lost brother for legal help as chaos reigns around him.  Will he ever be able to live in peace?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With the third installment and possible end to the God’s Not Dead trilogy, they have not backed off on their recently attained practice of high-quality productions.  On most production fronts, A Light in Darkness is a very professional production, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is even better than the previous two installments as it is mostly void of the title track and thankfully leaves us without another Newsboys concert to wrap things up.  Sets, locations, and props are also very well-utilized and well-constructed.  The only two caveats in this production are the presence of some cheesy special effects and the somewhat sloppy editing job, but on the whole, God’s Not Dead 3 is top-notch production work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In a shocking turn of events, after making us muddle through that horrible second film, the third of the trilogy has one of the best plots.  The first film’s plot had good elements due to its many fractured subplots, but A Light in Darkness has the best central and focused idea of them all.  Though it takes forever to get to the point and though there are plenty of persecution-complex pitfalls along the way, the ending of this film is very significant because it takes the franchise in a totally different direction than the other ones were going in.  Unfortunately, there are still plenty of issues with this storyline, including a lack of adequate character development due to poorly-constructed dialogue and a sloppy story construction that tends to jump from one thing to the next and include too many issues.  However, someone got ahold of the plot and decided to insert some truth about why young people don’t like the church, which was a breath of fresh air, however brief it may have been.  As a whole, this story was a good idea in the end, but it was probably too little too late.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In spite of the usual awkwardness of David A. R. White as a ‘serious’ lead, other cast members are more natural and believable in their roles, even John Corbett.  Benjamin Onyango was hardly ever afforded a fair opportunity to show his full potential in this trilogy, but his parts are still great.  The reality is that there are actually few acting errors in this film; even the emotional performances are mostly believable.  As a whole, PureFlix has made a lot of strides over the past few years, so if they will just direct their resources in a more responsible direction, who knows what good could be done.

Conclusion

The unfortunate part is that PureFlix managed to isolate everybody throughout the course of the GND franchise.  The first film was a big hit because it filled a void in the market and was basically at the right place at the right time.  It had good qualities, such as better production than usual, but it was still mostly standard and pedestrian.  The second GND film was nothing short of a total trainwreck, and this where the trilogy lost its reasonable audience.  However, A Light in Darkness isolated anyone faithful who were left by taking the narrative in a different and non-persecutory direction.  In short, it pays to know who your audience is, but it also pays to strive for high-quality Christian films that aren’t based entirely on pandering to a specific base.  PureFlix has the resources to truly blow open the Christian industry if they really want to, but will they seize the opportunity before it’s too late?

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Hepburn Girls [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Katherine likes her safe life of working at a local library and hanging out with her few friends.  She doesn’t want anything out of the ordinary to happen, so she seeks to live a seemingly controlled existence.  However, this existence is shattered one day when she finds out that she has a long-lost half-sister whom she is now the guardian of.  She will have to come to grips with this new reality and face the past she is running from in order to move forward in life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Similar to the production of the first film from Proverb Films, No Lost CauseThe Hepburn Girls is a mostly average production with plenty of potential.  Though the audio quality is a bit cheap at times, including some obvious overdubs and some unnaturally inserted background sounds, the video quality is fine, as is the camera work.  The sets, props, and locations are realistic and appropriate for the situations, and there is a general feel with the film that the creators were trying to do the right thing.  The editing is mostly average mainly due to a lot of quick cuts and some scenes that appear to be cut too short.  However, as a whole, The Hepburn Girls is an honest indie film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

When production can’t be at its best, it is always good to maximize the plot potential.  For the most part, Ashley Raymer-Brown and her team do their best to build realistic and relatable characters through witty and funny dialogue.  Though it seems like they are sometimes trying too hard to be funny, there are plenty of truly comedic moments based on character development.  While the plot tends to meander without clear direction at times, there are admirable attempts to build character motive by establishing believable back stories.  As a whole, this simple comedy form of a plot is a good idea for an indie film because it shows off a potential to build characters that can be used in later, more well-funded projects.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast members of The Hepburn Girls, though someone amateurish at times, appear to be comfortable in their roles, which makes this section above average.  Sometimes performances are a bit overplayed and sometimes line delivery is a bit too quick, but emotions are believable, and the roles seem appropriate for each actor and actress as they appear to be playing themselves.  It is encouraging that this section is the highest rated out of the others.

Conclusion

The Proverb Films team has always shown potential in their films, so it will be intriguing to see what happens once they are able to achieve a higher amount of production funding.  If they stay the course and make sure to always craft accessible characters played by natural-acting cast members, they will definitely be on the right track.  With a better budget and bit more production consultation, as well as deeper plot concepts, they could be on their way to the Hall of Fame one day.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Overcomer (August 2019)

Kendrick Brothers Productions filming a scene from OVERCOMER on the Riverwalk in Columbus, Georgia. Photo credit: Sara Burns, Courtesy of AFFIRM Films and Provident Films © 2018 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Currently in post-production

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

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.

Sense of Urgency [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Izzy already has a strained relationship with her parents, but when she finds out that they have lied to her all her life about her being adopted, she decides to take a road trip to see her biological mother without them knowing.  However, she quickly finds out that her road trip is not what it seems as things go from bad to worse.  A nightmare scenario suddenly unfolds as she finds herself a hostage in a desperate situation.  Though she has resisted the Christian faith for years now, she begins to change her mind when faced with death.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Sense of Urgency is unfortunately a fairly cheap small time production that had some obvious funding shortfalls.  This is evidenced by a weird light filter that plagues the film and gives the video quality a bizarre gray look.  The soundtrack is also generic and fairly loud at times.  The sets, locations, and props are mostly pedestrian, and audio quality is somewhat inconsistent.  While the camera work is fine most of the time, there is some weird lighting in some scenes.  There are also cheesy special effects to contend with, and the editing is choppy in some places.  Overall, while there was some effort here, this production needs a lot of work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The surprising thing about Sense of Urgency is that the core idea of the film is actually slightly interesting.  While the beginning of the movie is hard to understand since random things seemingly happen, there is some potential for the development of flawed and accessible characters with slightly complex back stories that cannot be typically found in the inspirational world.  However, a lot of this potential never comes to fruition.  Nevertheless, this plot idea is interesting enough as a suspense idea and would probably benefit from some sort of remake.  Even so, this good effort is unfortunately not enough as some of the characters are too cheesy, such as the villain and the Christian characters, and some dialogue is too forced and expository for the moment.  The conversations need to build characters better, and the circumstances need to occur more naturally rather than out of necessity for the plot.  Further, the Christian message needs to be less childish, and the ending doesn’t need to try to fix everything.  Overall, this was a nice effort, and it offers some slight hope for future projects.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As this cast is mostly composed of inexperienced members, the acting is unfortunately pedestrian and basically below average.  This is due to forced emotional performances and line delivery that needs some work.  At times, the cast members are not very convincing in their roles, but there are also moments of potential and more natural performances.  Perhaps they can continue to improve their craft with better coaching.

Conclusion

Overall, Sense of Urgency does what we ask of struggling film makers: when the budget is low, focus on the plot.  While this storyline is not the most creative in the world, it demonstrates potential and is definitely something to build off of.  It’s almost always better to depart from the average inspirational fare that crowds the market, so trying a different type of suspense plot can help you stand out.  However, what is much better is learning to portray real people in more natural ways without the message pushing.  If you get this right, God will send the funding at the right time.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Grandma’s House [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Grandma Margie’s family is a wreck even though she is always praying for them and imparting her fundamentalist wisdom to them.  She lets any and all of them come to live with her in her huge house–as long as they abide by her strict rules.  She aims to fix them up from their problems before sending them back out into the evil world.  With so many things going on in her house, she can hardly keep up, and neither can we.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, this film, which by all outside factors seems like a small church film, has an above-average production quality.  This is manifested in good video quality and good camera work, as well as professional audio quality, even if the soundtrack is very generic.  There are some random dark scenes, however, and sets, props, and locations are fairly limited by the nature of the plot and the resources available.  The editing can be oddly choppy at times despite the fact that there are useless filler scenes throughout.  Some scenes seem cut short while others drag on too long.  With the sheer amount of content shoved into this film, it’s no wonder things get confusing.  However, on the whole, this production is better than expected.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Grandma’s House is a forum to push a very close-minded and fundamentalist worldview on the audience that has an offensive view of women and a slew of quick fixes for all of your neighborhood problems.  While the movie takes an honest look at real family issues and other realistic problems, it refuses to probe the reasons behind the wrong actions and instead settles for cheap spiritualized platitudes and Bible-verse-bandaging.  The story assumes that people just need to stop acting bad and start acting legalistic in order to be ‘fixed.’  Thus, each character is designed to represent an issue rather than a person, which makes them empty and simplistic.  Dialogue is mostly expository and issue-pushing, and there is too much heavy-handed narration.  In the end, everything is fixed without any good explanation or realistic understanding of how issues progress.  

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While most of the cast members in this film are average in their performances, Loretta Devine is particularly annoying, similar to her infamous Caged No More role.  Other cast members are not the worst at acting, but they are not the best either.  There are some attempts to coach them, but there are just too many extreme emotions, including yelling and screaming outburst.  At times, line delivery comes off as too practiced, but there are enough good moments here to justify an average score.

Conclusion

Movies like this one know what they want to push on their audience or simply tell some specific audience what they want to hear.  It’s fine to want to discuss important issues in the context of a film, but treating people like pawns or one-dimensional problems doesn’t do any service to your cause.  Most people will see right through such attempts, which will only further contribute to the negative image of Christianity that films like Grandma’s House seek to reinforce for some reason.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Movies That Are So Bad They’re Not Even Worth Our Time, Part 7 (MTASBTNEWOT 7)

In our vast Christian entertainment viewing experience, we sometimes come upon films that we can hardly justify writing a full review for.  Therefore, for your convenience, so you don’t have to go watch those free films that invade your suggested watch list in on-demand video services, we’ve provided a quick overview here.  Someday we might post more, if we’re fortunate enough to find more.

 

Lazer Us: The Legend of Jimi Lazer

In this strangely-titled film that appears to convey something about Lazarus, a guitarist named Jimi Lazer is depicted as he stumbles upon a magic guitar that gets him in contact with the Devil!  As a musician, Jimi wants riches and fame just like the next guy, so he sells his soul to the Old Liar.  Essentially, Lazer Us is a trippy, LSD-style drug trip from the 60s that has an unhealthy obsession with Satanism and tries to warn aspiring artists to stay away from Lucifer.  Unfortunately, the time spent on Satan is disproportionate, and the storyline is overall extremely confusing and hard to follow, which is why it landed here.

 

Pocket Angel

As a basically unknown new film from this year, Pocket Angel is in a category all by itself–almost rivaling The Rev for cartoonishness.  Apparently some reporter is assigned to a story in Mexico, so she takes her newly adopted son along.  Most of her lines are overdubbed in the most horrible way, and she comes off as a cruel parody of a Hispanic character.  Her son is kidnapped by the most childish cartoon villains you can dream of and held for random.  As a majority of the film consists of ridiculous sound effects from Lost in Silver Canyon, it’s easy to miss the creepy angel characters that peddle Pocket Angel figurines from a Christian bookstore to the characters.  Basically, this film is mostly inexplicable.

 

A Wish For Giants

When a girl who just contracted brain cancer is given a chance to have her wish fulfilled by a non-profit, she does what every girl would do and wishes to see Bigfoot.  The non-profit actually takes her seriously and assigns a summer intern to the case.  This film is full of boring and drab sequences that utilize terrible production quality.  There is also a lot of Bigfoot message-pushing and some vague reference to the Nephilim that are off-putting.  It goes without saying that the acting is basement-level deplorable.  As a whole, this movie is extremely strange and hard to follow, which is why it has found a home here.

 

Well that’s all for now!  Maybe we’ll post another one someday…maybe not…

Love, Kennedy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Hansen has a seemingly perfect family life, but tragedy strikes when his oldest teenage daughter Kennedy is diagnosed with terminal juvenile Batten disease.  As their family grapples with this new reality, they soon find that there is hope even in the hurt and that God does have a plan for Kennedy even if her life will be shorter than usual.  Together, they find that God’s plans are always greater than people’s plans.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

T. C. Christensen has always had a commitment to professional productions, and Love, Kennedy demonstrates this commitment by having good video quality, above-average camera work, and fine audio quality.  However, there are one too many musical montages as a lot of the film is saturated with music.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate, however.  The main thing that keeps this production from being all that it could be is the choppy editing that contributes to an awkward story-telling style, but for the most part, this production is above average and professional.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though it’s basically obvious the T. C. Christensen pushes Mormon messages in his films, at least he tends to craft films about real life stories and events.  Regardless, the true story of Love, Kennedy is unfortunately stifled by unnecessary heavy-handed narration, which also stunts character development.  Since these characters are based on real people, we need a chance to get to know the characters better, but this chance does not materialize.  Unfortunately, this makes the slight Mormon message-pushing more noticeable since the dialogue is rushed and empty.  It seems like the characters get swept along in the predictable plot progression without any choice of their own.  Elsewhere, Christensen includes his typical magical elements that are a bit much.  As a whole, Love, Kennedy is a nice try but not quite good enough.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Overall, the acting of this film is mostly fine with no obvious glaring errors.  However, the acting is not dynamic either, and there are a handful of minor issues that add up over the course of the film, such as some half-hearted performances and some odd portrayals of cast members.  Moreover, as a whole, this section is mostly above average and is better than a lot of films on par with it.

Conclusion

Christensen and his team outpace many other Christian groups in film making when they make clear efforts to build professional productions and to coach above-average acting performances.  The Mormon message-pushing may be off-putting and not much better than other Christian message-pushing (see: Christiano Brothers), but at least it’s packaged in a semi-acceptable way.  Nevertheless, this still isn’t good enough to get past the halfway mark, so maybe it will be better luck next time for the Excel Entertainment team.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points