Wild Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Civil War, Emmett returned to his hometown to take care of the widow of one of his fellow troops in order to fulfill a promise he made.  Emmett and his son live with the African-American widow and her daughter, which causes them extra scrutiny in the corrupt small town they live near.  Emmett’s father-in-law, the local pastor, is against him, as are several other colorful characters.  Everything comes to a head one day when the circus train breaks down in the forest and unwittingly releases wild beasts into the woods.  The children are caught in the middle of the animal escape and a kidnapping plot aimed at hurting Emmett, and it will take wild faith to overcome to dark night before them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For years, DJ Perry, Shane Hagedorn, and their team have struggled with poor production quality and overly artistic attempts.  However, while the artistry is still present in Wild Faith, a higher production level has finally been achieved.  This is evidenced by great camera work and video quality even in the realistic and complex war scenes.  There are great action shots, as well as historically authentic sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is also great, and the soundtrack is creative.  The only nitpick to raise here relates to some slightly confusing editing, but this is a small issue compared to the great improvement that has been shown here.  Perry and Hagedorn have proven that never giving up and working to improve pays off in the end.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the beginning of this plot is a bit disorienting at first, if you stick with it, things begin to make more sense.  Where the characters are a bit raw at first, they become more realistic as time progresses with the exception of the cheesy villains.  Some of the dialogue is a bit vague at times, but there are also some good conversations throughout that reveal character motive, which is a rarity to find in Christian film.  The overall plot structure of this film is fairly unique and creative as it effectively uses flashbacks and other psychological elements to keep things interesting.  This story is a great attempt to be different rather than the typical inspirational fodder, but there are some opportunities for improvement especially in the areas of character refinement and storyline organization.  Some of the dialogue is a bit obvious at times, but Wild Faith takes an honest look at corrupt small town Christianity and the pain of racism after the Civil War.  Overall, this film shows a lot of potential in this team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of this movie is also fairly good.  This DJ Perry character is likely his best performance to date.  Shane Hagedorn starts out a bit rough at first, but his character is a slow burn and begins to refine as it goes on.  The villain cast members are fairly poor and drag down this score, and there are a few overdone emotional moments, but on the whole, this is a good acting performance that caps off a suprisingly enjoyable film.

Conclusion

We always look for improvement across films, and we are always glad when Christian film makers don’t give up and continue to try things.  Experience is hopefully going to lead to improvement, as is listening to constructive criticism.  The Perry and Hagedorn team has wandered in the film wilderness for a few years now, from Ashes of Eden to 40 Nights and Chasing the Star.  To be honest, I did not have high hopes for Wild Faith when it was first sent to me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Whether or not this film becomes a series, it is clear that this creative team has a lot of potential in front of them, so it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

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Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was chosen to be a judge of Israel by Yahweh, but he did not always do as he was supposed to do.  He was anointed by God with superhuman strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, but when he disobeyed, there were serious consequences.  God used Samson to deliver His people from the oppressive Philistines, and He used an imperfect man to accomplish His will in the most extraordinary ways.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has clearly come a long way since the abysmal production days of The Book of Esther and the half-hearted production of movies like Apostle Peter and the Last Supper.  This newer rendition of Samson boasts a surprisingly high production quality, which is manifested in gritty and realistic elements that are not afraid to make the characters get dirty.  Action scenes are filmed very well with good camera work.  Video quality is crisp, and sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and culturally authentic.  The editing is also good, but this production is held back from being all that it could be by weird cuts and dramatic zooms that are reminiscent of Revelation Road and by very obvious CGI architectural shots.  However, on the whole, Samson is a huge step forward for PureFlix Bible productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Right off the bat, the plot of Samson is hamstrung by immediate and unwanted narration.  Accompanying this story crutch is a typically PureFlix ‘creative license’ that they give themselves to do whatever they want with historical narrative.  As this film was shamelessly pushed as a ‘Christian superhero’ flick, it is full of mostly mindless action scenes and is actually quite violent for a Bible film–even rivaling The Bible miniseries for gory content.  With so many battle scenes and bodies flying around, there is no room for character development as dialogue is instead used to fill time, dump information, and force the story along in the direction the writers wanted it to go in.  In molding the story however they wanted, the PureFlix collective whitewashed the obvious mistakes of Samson the historical figure and made this movie into some kind of romance-revenge plot.  However, in some ways, they made some interesting connections between the true events of Samson’s life, which keeps this section from being zero, but they took too much ‘creative license’ with historical fact to be acceptable.  Regardless, we have no idea who Samson is as a character due to massive time jumps, and the recurring villain character is beyond cheesy.  In the end, plot was basically tossed by the wayside in the making of this pandering film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Somewhere out there, there is a Christian movie consultant who constantly advises film makers to cast BRITISH people as Middle Eastern characters.  Sure, Middle Eastern cast members can be somewhat difficult to find, but what is the idea behind casting people with such obviously culturally inauthentic accents?  I’m sure with this budget PureFlix could have found some authentic cast members.  This consistent problem aside, the acting of this film is mostly fine except for the overly dramatic moments and forced emotions that are apparent here.  Also, it goes without saying that PureFlix consulted with Timothy Chey on how to give PhilistIne characters the worst possible makeup jobs.  On the whole, this section is average.

Conclusion

What to do with another Bible film?  Samson fulfills the gritty category, and the production is fine, but the other categories are greatly lacking in what is needed.  With a budget this big, better cast members could have been employed and better screenwriters could have been retained.  Then again, it’s doubtful that PureFlix actually cares about making a truly quality film.  Samson was just another attempt at a cash grab–PureFlix adapts with the times as needed to do the bare minimum to get enough audiences to pay for a ticket.  Now most people have forgotten this film even happened.  Oh well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Healed By Grace 2: Ten Days of Grace (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jessie really wants a horse, but her mom hates horses, so it’s probably not going to happen.  However, her father decides to send her to horse camp for the summer while her mother secretly gets treatment for the cancer she’s hiding from Jessie.  Unfortunately, the summer camp is full once her father gets there, which causes him to divert his plans to asking his wife’s long-lost father, Gauff from Healed by Grace, whom he has never met, to watch Jessie for a while.  Will their family be able to reconcile because of this?

Production Quality (.5 point)

For a 2018 production, Healed By Grace 2 is a major letdown and is actually a decrease in quality from previous Blended Planet films, with the exception of Disconnect Reconnect.  The poor production of Healed By Grace 2 is manifested in very poor audio and weird sound effects, as well as poor lighting and strange video quality.  The camera work is mostly fine, however, which is the only positive element in this production.  A lot of the audio seems overdubbed, and there are weird sequences of dead air, as well as a generic soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly limited and uncreative.  There are also a lot of awkward and strange cuts and transitions, including unexplained portions that may or may not take place in the minds of the characters.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Where the first installment of this ‘series’ had a tiny amount of potential, this sequel bears little to no potential at all.  The dialogue therein is extremely vanilla and pedestrian thus creating empty characters.  A lot of the plot elements seem to completely disregard the previous film, as if it really matters.  Some characters seem purposely off-the-wall or even ‘magical.’  There are also a collection of cringe-worthy ‘comedy’ sequences that are like fingernails in the chalkboard.  As this plot meanders with little to no purpose, there are also other odd elements included, such as odd suggestions about people getting cancer due to lacking forgiveness.  Overall, there is very little content to work with in this extremely forced and basically purposeless sequel, which suggests that it was misguided from the beginning.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The acting from the original movie was partially awkward in its own right, but the acting of this second film is much worse.  There are many very awkward moments, as well as blank emotions and half-hearted line delivery.  Many cast members appear to be trying far too hard to make their mark, and there is basically no coaching present.  Unfortunately, there was really little to no point in making this film.

Conclusion

Do we really need another horse film?  Until somebody produces a substantial, creative, and non-regurgitated film in this genre, we really need to have a moratorium on inspirational horse movies.  Besides this fact, productions and acting this bad are no longer acceptable in this era of Christian film, so it’s more than likely that Healed By Grace 2 will soon be forgotten.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Charlie and Alice began their parenting journey sooner than they expected, but they quickly adapted to their new life as a family, even as their family continued to grow.  They encountered many different struggles and challenges as their family dynamic changed and expanded, but they always did their best to rely on wisdom from God in their parenting.  However, when they reached a breaking point one day, their wise friends invited them to a church conference that helped them fix all of their mistakes and begin building a lasting legacy!

 

Production Quality (2 points)

On the surface, Like Arrows has a decent enough production, which is no doubt due to the consultation of the Kendrick Brothers.  This is evident in good camera work, crisp video quality, and mostly fine sets, locations, and props.  Unfortunately, audio quality is quite up to par as many lines are difficult to discern; however, the soundtrack is mostly fine.  While most scenes are well-lit, there are some head-scratching moments of poor lighting with little to no explanation.  Further, it goes without saying that the major detractor of this production is the atrocious editing, which can mostly be blamed on the ridiculous amount of content that is shoved into this film.  On the whole, this production is fine and passable, but the issues with Like Arrows go much deeper.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This ‘movie’ was originally a collection of skit clips to accompany FamilyLife’s new curriculum called The Art of Parenting.  It’s painfully obvious that this choppy and rough presentation of random ideas was borne out of these beginnings.  What begins as a semi-interesting storyline quickly descends into a roller coaster of content that takes the viewer from one high point to the next at breakneck pace.  The audience is dropped into a moment in time to look at one spoon-fed issue that needs to be highlighted, and just as soon as the sequence began, it comes to a predictable conclusion as the audience is prepared to zoom forward in time to another ‘important’ tidbit from FamilyLife’s outdated worldview that needs to be included.  This wild ride wreaks havoc on any hope of character development as dialogue is stilted and programmed based on what the ministry needed to push to whoever may watch this mess.  This section is only saved from nothingness by a semi-effective final scene that has absolutely no build-up or justification due to the fact that nobody knows who the characters even are at that point even as more characters are constantly introduced.  Also, it goes without saying that the FamilyLife product placements are vomit-inducing.  Essentially, Kevin Peeples was saddled with the impossible task of trying to force a collection of worldview-heavy curriculum skits to be a continuous and understandable screenplay.  No one should have been expected to pull this off since, based on the content provided, the task was a losing one to begin with.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of this ‘film’ is very uneven.  Alan Powell has had better performances, and a lot of the cast members seem lost and unsupported by coaching.  However, it’s not like they had any good lines to work with in the first place.  Also, the sheet number of cast members required for the constantly changing ages (with the exception of the parents) causes a lot of confusion and extra work for directing.  Once the parent cast members are finally changed (there is a point when they seem like the same age as their adult children) and once other professional cast members are brought on (Alex Kendrick, Garry Nation, etc.), the acting actually improves for the final sequence.  However, it’s simply not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

Space does not permit a full discussion on the myriad issues actually present in this film, including the mindless and patronizing treatment of women (what do you expect?), the trippy ‘futuristic’ elements in the final sequence, and the general lack of regard for understanding the struggles of real people.  This film claims to show real people doing real things, but it actually demonstrates just how far out of touch FamilyLife really is.  Did I mention how horrible their product placements are?  Implying that a family is totally fixed by going to your conference and buying your merchandise is the height of arrogance and is extremely tone-deaf.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this film will make any lasting impact.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

I Before Thee (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeffrey Douglas has recently lost his job as a fireman, so he decides that drinking is the best way for him to escape from his problems–both his present and his past problems.  His wife loves him, and she is pregnant with their first child, but Jeffrey can’t seem to get it together as he runs from his past.  As his life continues to spiral out of control, will he ever reach the point where he decides to rely on God?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

These days, even cheaply made films have the ability to have productions of decent quality.  Before Thee is an example of this.  Its video quality is fine, as is the audio quality and camera work.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, and there are some random moments of loud background sounds and obvious overdubs.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly cheap and limited, and editing is fairly poor.  However, this film is a step up from the early-2000s garbage productions that used to be dumped into the market, but that’s unfortunately not saying very much.  While this production is average, the movie doesn’t have much else going for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

A lot of the time, it is very unclear what message I Before Thee is trying to convey.  It raises some important points and highlights some unfortunately realistic circumstances, but there is a bit too much edgy content.  There are also a handful of unusual elements that are difficult to understand.  While there are some interesting psychological concepts that keep this section from being zero, they are mostly poorly executed.  Characters have next to no development as dialogue is very half-hearted and empty.  There are barely any attempts to make the audience understand who the characters are as real people–they appear to just be pawns in the plot.  Elsewhere, the storyline is too disorienting at times, and the ending generally makes no sense at all.  There is very little redemption for the messes that are created in the plot, which gives little purpose to this plot being made.  Maybe someday somebody can use the slightly interesting portions of this film to make a better one.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

It’s not like the cast members had any good lines to work with, but this acting is fairly poor.  While there is some slight potential here, a lot of it is very forced and unnatural.  Emotions are too cardboard and uninspiring.  Line delivery is vanilla.  On the whole, this is another throwaway film you are unlikely to hear much about.

Conclusion

The Christian movie field is beyond flooded at this point, so new creators have to do whatever they can to stand out for the right reasons.  I want to emphasize “for the right reasons.”  Film making is hard and expensive, and your first film is unlikely to have a very high budget.  That’s why you can set yourself apart by having a dynamic plot and great acting coaching.  Anyone can act well with the right coaching, and a great plot is one that captures real people doing real things without pushing a message.  Unfortunately, I Before Thee fails on most of these fronts and will likely be soon forgotten.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Believe: The Misfit Pawn (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Julian is stuck in a job he doesn’t like, so he and his buddy decide to start recording their own songs and doing their own shows.  They get popular locally and gain some ground in the local show business.  Julian meets his new girlfriend at a bar, and she introduces him to a ‘big’ record label producer that puts Julian’s gig on the map.  However, they fall on hard times and Julian is forced to get a day job to support him and his girlfriend after she gets pregnant.  Julian soon finds out the hard way what the show business really expects from him, and he’s not sure if he’s willing to make the hard choice he has to make.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Believe: The Misfit Pawn is a mostly cheap production; it seems like it was filmed in people’s houses and yards.  Camera work is low quality, and video quality is inconsistent.  There are one too many dark scenes, and audio quality is marginal at best.  The ‘original’ soundtrack is vanilla and too loud at times.  As previously mentioned, sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and uncreative.  Finally, the editing is okay, but it’s really nothing to write home about.  Overall, this production is just one of those throwaway pieces that will easily be forgotten.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s very difficult to quantify the true purpose or point of this so-called story.  The plot summary is written as incoherently as the movie is written.  The Christian message is very muted, and a lot of the elements included are just offbeat.  The characters are very empty, and dialogue is extremely uninspiring.  Many of the scenes appear to be filler content, and there are no real attempts to engage the audience in a meaningful way.  As mentioned before, the storyline muddles around without explaining why we should be watching it or what we are supposed to be getting out of it.  The underlying worldview is a bit unusual, and the ending really doesn’t make much sense at all.  In the end, this story is purposeless and not worth your time.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With such a small cast, every little error is more obvious.  While there are some good moments with this cast that keep this section from being zero, there is very little acting coaching evident in this film.  Some lines seem off-the-cuff, and most of the seems appear to be one-takes.  Emotions are average, and this section is basically vanilla and boring.

Conclusion

What is there to do with movies like Believe: The Misfit Pawn?  What does this title even mean?  Why did I watch this movie?  Actually, I watched it because I had some Amazon credits to use up before they expired.  I wanted to check it off the list, so I did.  There’s really no other reason to watch this sort of garbage that’s called a Christian movie.  All we can do now is look forward to the day when movies like this are no longer being put out.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Grace of God {The Takers} [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

First Church has been robbed by an unknown culprit!  $20,000 is missing!  However, the pastor wants to keep it all under wraps, so he can control the investigation without going to the police.  That’s why he decides to hire a private investigator who’s an atheist to track down the criminal by interviewing everybody in the church.  Though this investigator is skeptical of the faith, he decides he needs to make himself the personal bodyguard of the church secretary, who is having her own family struggles.  Will everyone be able to learn the lesson of stealing?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Kevan Otto’s production models are fairly standardized, and Grace of God is another example of this.  Video quality and camera work are fine, even if lighting is a bit inconsistent at times.  Audio quality is mostly acceptable, even if the soundtrack is sometimes too loud; there are also some unnecessary background\outside noises that come through.  Sets, locations, and props are passable, but they are fairly limited.  Further, the editing is average at best as many scenes drag on far too long and do not hold the attention well.  Overall, this is just another average production with nothing special to write home about.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In conjunction with In the Name of GodGrace of God was intended to be a part of a series about the Ten Commandments.  Undoubtedly, we would have been gifted with awkward iterations and proclamations from John Ratzenberger at the beginning of each film.  Grace of God is shockingly about ‘You Shall Not Steal’ (notice the creative original title), and it’s also somehow supposed to be about Easter (there is no way to derive this concept from the plot at all).  Regardless, this plot is as awful as can be expected from such a limited idea.  Characters are totally blank, and most of the film is filled up with them awkwardly standing around and talking without saying anything substantial.  Dialogue is mostly empty and mindless since it is so full of message-pushing and forceful ideas.  A lot of the plot points and story arcs really lack basis in reality and feel very manufactured.  In the end, the storyline lacks any real impact and falls flat on its face.  It’s doubtful that many audiences will make it through the second half of the film–even though that stand-up-in-church scene is pretty hilarious.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though there is slight potential in this acting, most of the cast members therein seem lost and struggling without any assistance.  Line delivery is choppy, and emotions come off as forced.  There is no clear presence of acting coaching, and Erin Bethea actually exhibits some of the best acting skills, if you can believe it.  Overall, most acting performances are just too robotic and unnatural to warrant any higher ratings.

Conclusion

Thank heavens there weren’t more of these films made.  I can just imagine the halting, sermonizing grunts of John Ratzenberger on keeping the Sabbath day and not coveting.  Hardly any Christian film makers make ten films period, so beginning with this sort of plan was certainly ambitious.  By now, Kevan Otto has made about ten films, so he could have forced them all to be in this ‘series.’  Online fits perfectly with the adultery commandment.  Lukewarm or Decision could be about honoring your parents or something.  A Question of Faith could reference…organ donation?  Regardless, movies that force messages down your throat in the form of sermons rarely have any real impact, so it’s best that this method is avoided altogether.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Extraordinary [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. David Horton is known as a great professor in Lynchburg, and his ‘running’ class is extremely popular.  His reputation is that he helps all of his students by connecting with them on a personal level.  Dr. Horton is also a marathon enthusiast, but his passion often takes away his time from his family, which is something his wife greatly struggles with.  Much to her chagrin, David embarks on a dangerous cross-country marathon for two months, even though he is secretly battling health problems.  Will his health and their marriage survive the trek?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Liberty University has all of the toys and resources an independent film maker could dream of, yet they consistently settle for just above average productions.  There’s no doubt that Extraordinary has some great cinematography, even if it’s mostly a collection of American landmark shots.  Nevertheless, camera work is excellent, and video quality is great.  Sets, locations, and props also make this production a mostly good experience.  Editing is standard, and on the surface, this is a well-produced film.  However, beneath the surface, there are some head-scratching inclusions, such as silly production gimmicks and weirdly bad special effects.  These elements are reminiscent of film school professors playing around to see what they can do with what they have.  However, most audiences will likely look past these issues and see the above-average production that it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Based on a true story, the Liberty University team had a lot to work with, even though they have struggled in the past with storylines.  However, in Extraordinary, the Curlee\Schultze team continued their issues with very thin and empty plots and characters.  Though this is based on real people, they clearly had no idea how to craft realistic characters as the story does not translate well at all.  The characters are empty due to dialogue that is full of title-dropping, pedestrian platitude-pushing, and repeated content.  Many scenes are basically filler with no substantial contribution to the overall plot.  There are one too many ‘funny’ scenes, and the majority of the movie is packed with musical montages and dramatic moments that have no meaning.  In the end, though the basic idea behind this story was great, the film version leaves the audience with no real focus or purpose as it tried so hard to drive the point home that it fell flat.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Acting coaching and casting is another area the Curlee\Schultze team struggles in, which is a shame since they claim to be prodigies of the Kendricks.  The lead actor of this film is particularly weak and awkward, and several supporting cast members are annoying.  Kirk Cameron is beyond obnoxious, and Shari Rigby struggles without better directing.  However, there are enough good areas here to make this section at least average; one has to consider that this cast didn’t have many substantial lines to work with.  Nonetheless, the Liberty University team continues to disappoint.

Conclusion

Scotty Curlee and Stephan Schultze have the film world at their fingertips, yet they constantly settle for half-measure and expect you to deal with it because at least it’s a Christian movie or something.  Unfortunately, they are consistently wasting the time and money of Christian audiences as all of their marketing is for nothing but a quick cash grab.  Extraordinary is another example of a squandered opportunity because Curlee and Schultze refuse to retain a truly talented screenwriter (like Sean Morgan) and have demonstrated time and again their lack of regard for improvement.  Now we can just wait with bated breath for their upcoming Trump film.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

I Can Only Imagine (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Bart Millard always loved to sing, but he grew up in a broken home.  His mother left while he was young, and his father beat him and told him he would never amount to much.  When Bart failed high school football due to injuries, he and his father spent as little time around each other as possible.  Out of this, Bart began singing in high school plays and was told that he had a special talent for the stage.  This led Bart to pursue a career in Christian music, but life on the road was hard.  When he was forced to make a pivotal decision at a crossroads in his career, Bart was finally faced with having to go back to reconcile with the person he came to hate the most: his father.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

What else can be said about the talent of the Erwin Brothers at this point?  They have clearly mastered production quality, especially when it comes to historical epics.  The attention to detail in I Can Only Imagine is exquisite.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are flawless.  With Brent McCorkle involved, the soundtrack is always going to be a hit.  Sets, locations, and props in I Can Only Imagine are excellent and demonstrate wonderful historical authenticity.  This content-packed epic is edited nearly to perfection.  In short, it’s rare to have a perfect production, but the Erwin Brothers are still schooling the industry in how it’s done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Naturally following their epic film Woodlawn, the Erwin Brothers seem to have found a niche in biopics.  The story of Bart Millard is one that is absolutely worth being told, especially since so many people are familiar with MercyMe and their original breakout hit single, which is the title of this film.  What some audiences may not expect is the profound and timely message this film has to offer.  This film is more than just another inspirational film to grab cash from a willing audience.  In typical Erwin fashion, I Can Only Imagine is the film the western church needs now.  Besides this, the characters are very realistic, authentic, and easy to access via believable dialogue and back stories.  Each character is flawed and gray rather than black and white.  The only nitpick to note here pertains to some minor typical elements and a slightly predictable ending, but the story was limited by reality, so this complaint is very minor compared to the excellent work of art this film actually is.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Masters of Casting did their homework once again in crafting a cast that was true-to-life to the real people behind the story.  Each actor and actress is cast appropriately and assume their roles very well.  Costuming is excellent and correct for the time period.  Dennis Quaid likely posts one of the performances of the year as a very complex three-part role.  In the end, there are little to no errors to raise about this film, which has become the norm of the Erwin brand.

Conclusion

I Can Only Imagine receives an x-factor point for presenting an extremely important issue in a realistic way.  Audiences will flock to this film on the basis of its title recognition alone, but many will receive a message they least expected, yet one that the church as a whole desperately needs.  Many, many Christians and those associated with the church are running from parts of their lives that are broken and are not always their fault because they do not know how to deal with them.  I Can Only Imagine brings this paradigm to front and center at a time when the message of redemption for broken families needs to be heard.  Also, in keeping with their perfect record, the Erwins have notched another one on the Hall of Fame and have possibly taken the top spot of Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

 

Saving Faith [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Faith Scott and her uncle Donny live in the struggling small town of Clifton, Tennessee.  Everything’s closing down in town, and people are either strapped for cash or leaving the area.  Thus, the theater that has been in their family for years is on the brink of foreclosure, which is the delight of the evil local businessman Peter Marsh.  Thus, Faith and Donny decide to schedule a desperation attempt to save the theater: a Christmas in June show featuring big names in Christian music.  Will it be enough to save the theater and even the town from extinction?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing for Chip Rossetti is that he has shown great production improvement over his movie career.  This fact is also evident in Saving Faith, as evidenced by great video quality and camera work.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, if not a little quaint.  However, the soundtrack can be too loud at times, and there are a handful of unnecessary background sounds, as well as some cheesy sound effects and special effects.  Moreover, the editing is pretty good, thus rounding out a slightly above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is little to nothing creative about the plot of Saving Faith as it follows a stereotypical save the _____ with a holiday show plotline.  The progression of the story is very predictable, as are the characters involved.  A good portion of the characters are also cheesy and generally eccentric, such as the head-scratching Elvis character (no, it’s not The Rev).  The villain is also ridiculous and over the top; each character fits into a predetermined small-town mold: the local eccentric, the local business owner, and the local evil bank guy.  While there are some attempts to have a good Christian message, all the problems are very easily solved in the end.  The romantic subplot is also awkwardly predictable.  In short, there aren’t many positives to note here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, the acting of this film is awkward and overplayed.  It is at least good to see Jenn Gotzon and Jim Chandler star opposite each other as a couple.  There are some good moments in this cast, but for the most part, unfortunately, it is mostly bland or silly.  Thus, this rounds out an unfortunately disappointing and pedestrian film.

Conclusion

There truly is little point in constantly perpetuating this same small-town narrative over and over and over again.  If we need more of that, we can always watch Hallmark.  There is no creativity or authenticity in this concept, unless a film maker wants to explore some legitimate reasons behind collapsing small towns.  Constantly making movies about the ‘good old days’ in the name of Christian film is disingenuous and worn out.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Colors of Emily (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Kate Montgomery is a big city art dealer who travels to a quaint small town to purchase some mysterious paints from a mysterious artist whom no one in the art dealing world knows the true identity of.  However, she is also on the run from her psychologist and her dark past.  While running away, she will have to end up facing everything she’s trying to hide from in the most unlikely ways.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While there are some positive elements in this production, there are also some negative ones.  For instance, video quality and camera work are mostly fine, but there is some poor audio quality throughout.  The soundtrack is also a bit generic.  Lighting can be a problem at times, and the sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited in some areas.  For the most part, editing is fine, even though there are a few too many lagging scenes.  Thus, as a whole, this production is basically average and has some room for improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Colors of Emily is mostly a departure for the Rossetti group.  This story tries to delve into the psychological\suspense\mystery genre, and it contains interesting attempts at psychological elements, but there is too much wasted time before getting to the substantial mystery elements.  This wasted time mostly consists of tongue-in-cheek dialogue about predictable fish-out-of-water concepts, as well as a seemingly vague premise and loose grip on reality.  At times, the storyline seems very unfinished, and the characters come off as too understated and under-developed.  Further, the villain is fairly cheesy, especially in the ‘climax’ scene that’s full of monologuing.  In short, while there is some potential in this story idea, its final product is too vague and undeveloped.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, most of the acting in The Colors of Emily is very awkward and not well-coached.  A lot of the cast members come off as too unnatural, although Jenn Gotzon posts a more authentic performance than usual.  Moreover, there are some other strange characters in this cast, and there are too many sequences of yelling and screaming, especially in the suspense scenes.  Overall, there are too many forced lines and emotions to warrant any more than half of point here.

Conclusion

The Colors of Emily has a good idea behind it, but its effort is basically half-cocked and incomplete.  On the whole, the production needs an upgrade, as does the acting.  The storyline needs more clarification and deepening, as do the characters and dialogue.  This film appears to be an example of the importance of taking time to make quality films rather than just making another movie most people are going to forget about.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

My Daddy’s in Heaven (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Becca Smith suddenly loses her husband in a tragic car accident, she feels like her world is falling apart.  Then she meets an old friend from the past who decides to introduce her to a new lifestyle of partying and drinking to help drown her sorrows away.  However, Becca is unable to fill the void.  Will she come back to the faith she was always taught before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

On the surface, My Daddy’s in Heaven has a fairly good production, as evidenced by some great outdoor scenes and good video quality.  For the most part, camera work is good, except for some weird camera angles.  Audio quality is sometimes too echoed, especially in indoor sets.  Lighting is somewhat inconsistent, including some odd sequences of soft lighting.  There are also some sequences of disorienting sound effects and special effects, but there is some slight production improvement shown throughout, thus warranting an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, though this film is based on a book and tries to have a good point, the storyline is quite thin.  There seem to be a lot of scenes grasping for substantial content as the plot meanders aimlessly and purposelessly for nearly sixty minutes.  During this time frame, a good portion of the time is spent on the main two characters getting drunk.  Dialogue is all over the place, including too many instances of forced comedy.  Though this film is billed as a family movie, there is a lot of embarrassing content within, including long and pointless bar scenes.  However, the last ten to fifteen minutes of the film take a slightly interesting turn based on some intriguing ideas.  Unfortunately, with no buildup to this point and no support from the rest of the film, these ideas are wasted, and there are too many quick fixes employed.  Thus, only half a point can be awarded for this section.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The two female leads of this cast, outside of a few good moments, do their best to make fools of themselves.  Most of the acting in this film is oddly forced and awkward, but it’s likely that the cast members didn’t have much good to work with in the first place.  There are also some mumbled and whispered lines that make for a frustrating experience.  Overall, unfortunately, there is little good to mention about this film.

Conclusion

While the effort and the heart behind this film might have been there, the good intentions were terribly misplaced.  Production was almost passable, but it’s unsure what the intention of this plot was.  Audiences who are expecting a family-friendly film will likely be disappointed at the number of drunken scenes of this film.  While it great to show the struggles of real people in film, there is a way to do this without being so embarrassing.  Unfortunately, the interesting pivotal scene near the end of the film is out of place and could have been used in a better film.  Better luck next time, I guess.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Getting Grace (March 2018)

In Theaters March 23, 2018 from Magic Bean Entertainment

Website

 

Writer(s): Daniel Roebuck, Jeff Lewis

Director(s): Daniel Roebuck, Jeff Lewis

Producer(s): James Patrick Andrew, Ashley Berman, Davie Cabral, Kim Caroddo Pulley, Garrett Clancy, Jeff DeCrosta Jr., Samantha Edwards, Cory Geryak, Brian Glassford, Jennah Groenewold, Bill Hartin, Jeff Hartney, Ann Knerr, John McPoyle, Chris Monte, Robert ‘R.J.’ Morris, Brian O’Kelly, Michael Owen, Ali Pensyl, Daniel Roebuck, Tammy Roebuck, Mark Rupp, Vipul Shah, Katina Sossiadis, Zach Tran, Mick Trombley, Hal Walther, Lori Yulanavage Stack

Starring: Daniel Roebuck, Madelyn Dundon, Marsha Dietlein Bennett, Dana Ashbrook, Duane Whitaker, Alexa McFillin, Diane Wagner, Timothy E. Goodwin, Bret Anthony, Davie Cabral, Steve Christoper, Milda Dacys, Jeff DeCrosta Jr., Preston Edwards, Liz Faublas, Rod Gilkeson, Jeff Hartney, Harri James, Eileen Lacy, Felecia Lynn White, Jerry Matz, Alexa Mcfillin, Amy Mittman, Colin Moore, Danielle Notaro, Daniel Petrovich, Richard Pryor Jr., Ana Raiola, Buster Roebuck, Wyatt Root, Jacob Williams

 

Plot Synopsis:

You would be hard pressed to find a a more likeable protagonist in any film. GRACE, our title character is funny, sarcastic, empathetic, riveting and, unfortunately, she is going to die.

Nothing, however, in this amazing story is what you would think or expect. Getting Grace will deliver the core ingredient that ensures audience interest, SURPRISE!  Although Grace’s time is short, her positive impact on the world around her is monumental. Our story, as it initially
appears, is about a young girl who knows that she is dying; Grace goes into a funeral home to learn about death and ends up teaching the disenfranchised funeral director, BILL, about life.

We soon learn that while trying to “hedge the bet” about her afterlife possibilities she is also trying her best to prepare her mother, VENUS, for her own LIFE AFTER her only child passes away.

Venus, we learn, is not dealing with the sad imminent truth well and is reverting to her old ways of drinking and “drugging.”

Simultaneously, Grace humorously hijacks an ironically named “Coping with Life” class, offered by her hospital for children dealing with their own fatal diseases, and moves it to the funeral home. Not only does she do her best to “unch” the adults in her life to live that life to the fullest, she has the same effect on her peers. And she discovers love, herself.

Grace is also desperately searching for someone to take care of her mother. Will it be Bill, REVEREND OSBURN (the hospital’s chaplin) or RON, the charismatic and successful author of a book about the afterlife.

Once those around her actually “GET” Grace (meaning they, finally, understand her) each and everyone of them is able to transition to their own new life. It is an extraordinary story with a lead character who is able to effect a chain of positive events in the lives of all she come in contact with, be they doctors or morticians.

This film would have an excellent chance to make a difference, not only to those who have suffered through such a horrible event, but it will remind all who see it that LIFE NEED NOT BE LIVED LONG TO BE LIVED FULLY!

House [2008] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On a stormy night in rural Alabama, two couples find themselves stranded at a remote and strange bed and breakfast that is run by three eccentrically creepy people.  The longer they are in the large, ominous mansion, the stranger circumstances become for the four of them.  They find themselves in a fight for their lives as they are stalked by a serial killer known as the Tin Man, who is bent on reminding each of them of their darkest secrets from their pasts.  Will they be able survive this evil night?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though House is adequately funded—more so than other Christian horror films, except for The Remaining—the production begins a bit rough.  This includes weird camera angles and moving camera work, probably for dramatic effecting.  There are also some wild cuts, as well as some odd sound effects and lighting for sensational effect.  However, video quality is fine, even if there are some cheesy special effects and zooms throughout.  Moreover, the Anberlin soundtrack is great, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized.  Also, the editing is slightly effective, and other production elements improve as the film goes on.  Thus, this production ends up average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 points)

Though House is full of unnecessary sensationalism and cheesy horror elements, these concepts reflect the flaws of the original novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, which is actually not the best book that could have been chosen from them to turn into a movie.  In the beginning of this film, everything comes off as too dramatic and too pronounced.  However, it does get better as it goes as the film explores the intriguing psychological elements and concepts of this novel, including effective character backstories and a great use of flashbacks.  In some ways, the movie may be better than the book, even though there is still a need for more substantial dialogue.  Nonetheless, the climax still makes no sense and leaves too many unanswered questions.  However, some audiences will enjoy this movie, if the horror elements do not bother them.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though some cast members in this small cast are trying too hard to be dark and to have strange undertones, the acting of House is mostly fine.  There is also some weird makeup work, but for the most part, emotions are effective among this cast, even though there were a lot of difficult acting moments due to the use of special effects.  This rounds out a mostly average film.

Conclusion

While the premise of this plot is very creative, it still needs a better explanation with more clarity as to what is happening.  Sometimes, Christian horror films, like Scattered, are better at focusing on character backstories and effective flashbacks than other films, which is one thing that keeps the genre alive.  Nonetheless, there are better Ted Dekker books to use for movies, even if future Christian horror flicks will be hard pressed to get this type of funding again without proving itself as effective.  Unfortunately, this is something the Christian horror genre has yet to accomplish.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Hope [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Andrew was a successful businessman, but when he slowly begins to lose everything, beginning with his career, he also begins to lose his grip on the life he has built.  He cannot provide for his family, so his wife walks out on him with his best friend.  Andrew turns to drinking to numb the pain, but then he experiences God reach out to him in a way he never expected.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though the budget of this film is low, the production is actually mostly average.  This includes good video quality and camera work.  Audio quality is fine except for some loud background noises and echoes and a generic soundtrack that is sometimes too loud.  However, sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, even if editing leaves something to be desired.  As a whole, this is an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, this plot really doesn’t have much potential.  It is full of odd message-pushing dialogue that espouses an unusual worldview and force-feeds the creators’ odd version of Christianity and rigid opinions about gender roles.  Thus, the characters come off as very blank as they spout trite Christian platitudes and even unnecessary, out of place profanity.  The protagonist is almost painted as a victim of circumstance, even though he is clearly not.  The plot progression is overall very rushed, even though it is short, as problems are resolved very quickly and unrealistically.  Overall, this really isn’t a story that anything going for it.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a small church cast, these cast members show some amount of potential, even if they have moments of awkwardness and unsure delivery.  Some lines come off as overly practiced, and emotions are hard to quantify.  There are also some unnecessary sequences of yelling and melodrama.  However, there is enough good here to make this section average, even if the movie as a whole is not.

Conclusion

Movies like Hope are really not worth releasing, not because of their low budgets, but because their plots are just not dynamic or creative.  Small church films with small budgets need to be able to stand out in the market by creating truly transformative plots that can make a difference and can help the church progress into better funding and better marketing.  Another flat storyline about a troubled character that contains an odd worldview is just not worth adding to the already-crowded field, unfortunately.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

A Love That Hurts (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chris and Samantha are newlyweds who can’t wait to start a family.  However, their dream ends in heartbreak as their first child miscarries.  This tragedy pushes them apart as a couple and causes them each to seek fulfillment in all of the wrong places.  When another tragedy strikes their family, they will have to make a choice: will they grow apart or seek God to save their marriage?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

A Love That Hurts has a surprisingly above-average production for such a small budget.  Although there are some moments of echoed audio and some disorienting special effects, video quality and camera work are quite good.  Sets, locations, and props are slightly limited, but they are good considering what the creators had to work with.  Further, there are some abrupt cuts and transitions throughout, but as a whole, this is a very good production considering the tiny budget that was allotted for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there are some good attempts to portray accessible characters with realistic struggles, the characters of this story really need to be deepened, not only because this is a character-based plot, but also because it would make the story more meaningful.  As it is, a lot of the dialogue is too obvious and forces the plot along.  Some characters are too robotic as they appear to be pawns in the plot, only serving the purpose of spoon-feeding the audience an obvious message.  This message comes off as a somewhat plastic version of Christianity, including an odd portrayal of women.  Also, some characters are ‘overly Christian’ or become perfect through quick resolutions and easy fixes to problems.  However, not all is bad here as the writers at least demonstrate a care for realism, even if the plot is sometimes boring and slow.  The ending is a bit forced and rushed, as well as somewhat vague and abrupt.  In the end, it’s clear the writers meant well here, even if the delivery was misguided.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is an ‘amateur’ church cast, the cast members show a lot of potential and desire to do well.  There are plenty of good acting moments as real effort is evident.  The main issue to point out here is that sometimes the cast members appear to be overly practiced in their lines and emotions.  Some cast members could use a little more natural emotion, but as a whole, this film is an applaudable effort.

Conclusion

It’s rare to find a movie this highly rated with such a small budget.  Further, it is clear that this creative team was putting their great effort into making this a good project.  However, it seems like more could have been done in the plot department.  Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if they produce any more content in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

No Lost Cause (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After BethAnn is the victim of a car wreck, she is left paralyzed and angry at the world.  She feels like God hates her, and she definitely does not want to go live with her Christian father.  She is also angry that she is now behind in school.  BethAnn feels like her life has no meaning, but her father and his farm hand help her see otherwise.  Only when BethAnn is able to forgive the man who put her in the wheelchair will she be able to move to a new place in life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, No Lost Cause has a mostly average production.  This is evident in the fine video quality, yet the camera work and audio quality are inconsistent, including a generic soundtrack and some echoing audio.  Sets, props, and locations are somewhat limited to a few options.  However, there is improvement to these issues as the film goes on.  Editing is fairly standard, which overall rounds out an overall average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this film is an interesting attempt to develop realistic characters with realistic struggles, it definitely does not go deep enough.  Dialogue stays around the surface rather than showing character motives, back stories, and personalities.  The premise is also somewhat limited and needed deeper characters to sustain it.  This is a nice idea with a slight amount of potential, but it needed definite upgrading.  Also, the romantic subplot is too predictable and shallow.  The characters arcs that are created are far too steep and suggest that being a good person will automatically heal you of physical ailments.  Further, the ending and resolution of problems are too rushed and unrealistic.  Thus, this idea could really use a rewrite.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While there are some moments of over-acting, including some forced emotions and lines, most of the members of this small cast are trying to be realistic and interesting in their characters, even if they didn’t have much to work with.  There are some awkward moments and a few random outbursts, but on the whole, this is an above average effort.

Conclusion

No Lost Cause is a good first-time film as it keeps things simple and doesn’t try to go too far outside of its bounds.  Even still, since this is a character-driven plot, it would have been much better to see deeper characters through more substantial dialogue and clearer character motivations.  However, perhaps this creative team still has better things in store.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Echo Rhyme (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Frank is a known counterfeiter and professional all-around criminal.  He has is hands in a lot of dirty businesses, but his fast and checkered lifestyle catches up with him finally, when he is faced with a medical complication he cannot overcome.  Thankfully, he is able to secure a heart donation to improve his medical condition, but this miracle sends him on a journey he never thought he would travel as he crosses paths with the family of the man whose heart he now has.  Will Frank be able to find redemption in the unlikeliest of places?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

From the studio that brought us 2 to Tangle and Time Collectors: Return of the Giants comes another poorly funded and poorly executed production mess.  However, Echo Rhyme surprisingly has the highest production of the group.  Still, this film has a lot of production problems, such as very obvious overdubbed lines, a loud and generic soundtrack, and sound effects that are not natural to the scenes they are stuck in.  Video quality is fine, but lighting and camera work are inconsistent throughout.  There are also some sequences of unnecessary slow-motion.  However, there is some improvement throughout as it seems like some parts of this film were better funded than others.  Even still, the editing is horrific, with very abrupt and choppy cuts and transitions in very awkward places.  Having a one-point production as your best achievement isn’t saying much.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unlike the severely limited scopes of their previous two films, Son Films went all out with Echo Rhyme.  They attempt a level of plot complexity that even the audience cannot understand at times, as subplots are very disjointed and confusing, especially in the first thirty minutes.  As things unfold, the premise becomes more and more cheesy as it is fixated on the organ donation of the heart and how this affects all of the characters involved in the most far-fetched ways.  This story is based entirely on very juvenile coincidences and a childish outlook on life as content meanders along endlessly for over two hours.  Everything is too connected yet not rooted in reality as one chance encounter after the next prolongs this story far beyond its welcome.  This goes without mentioning the very thin dialogue and empty characters in this story.  Although this ‘unique’ plot structure had some potential, it did not manifest in this presentation.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Son Films has put together some notoriously awkward casts, and this one isn’t much better, even though there are a few good moments that keep this section from being zero.  Nevertheless, this group needs some serious acting coaching, as they are very robotic and overly practiced.  As a whole, this movie needed a total redo, if it needed to be made at all.

Conclusion

Besides all of the other obvious issues with this film, what on earth does this title mean?  I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the studio that brought us 2 to Tangle and Time Collectors.  However, despite the myriad of problems in Echo Rhyme, there was actually a chance for a unique storyline here that was totally bungled.  Centering the plot around an organized crime character is a creative idea, but the sheer amount of coincidences and childish version of Christianity in this plot are just too much to bear.  Maybe somebody can responsibly reuse a portion of this idea in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

3 Blind Saints (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sam, Jamal, and Frankie are usually up to no good as they wander around the country, hopping from one money-making scheme to another.  However, they end up stuck in a small town in the Midwest when they get on the wrong side of the local law enforcement.  When they are about to be sentenced by the local judge, the local powerful businessman steps in to save them—in exchange for their services as his puppet pastors of the local church.  All they have to do is please the congregation and collect enough money for a month, and then they can be on their way.  However, things never really work out that simply in forced comedy films.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Surprisingly, 3 Blind Saints has a considerably good production, especially for a film with a digit in the title.  It checks all the right boxes, including video quality, camera work, lighting, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is as goofy as can be expected, and sets, locations, and props are mostly standard.  The editing is minorly choppy, but on the whole, this is a high quality production on paper, which garners a substantial amount of points.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Talk abut checking all the boxes—3 Blind Saints fulfills basically every criterion of a cheesy and predictable comedy premise that involves a collection of troubled non-Christian characters who are forced to lead a church, even though they have no idea what they are doing.  There is nothing new or creative about this idea, and this story rushes by so quickly that it seems like the writers are trolling.  The comedy therein is very forced and zany, including off-the-wall jokes, dialogue, and displays of idiocy.  As previously mentioned, the plot progression is so steep that it sometimes makes fun of itself as it hits all of the typical plot points, including a cheesy romantic subplot, an inclusion of goofy locals, and a quick turnaround of the troubled protagonists.  This goes without mentioning the generally childish feel to the film, as well as the shallow Christianity and the bizarre portrayal of God.  Some sequences come off like Mel Gibson’s acid trips, thus warranting some negative points for this section.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast seems to be in on the trolling as they act over the top and try way too hard to be funny.  There is, however, untapped potential with some of the cast members, and there are also a handful of good moments that keep this section from being useless.  However, for the most part, emotions and behaviors are overplayed and mostly annoying.

Conclusion

3 Blind Saints feels like a cheap attempt to get some attention from the Christian audience.  It can almost be passed off as a big joke, but it bears too close of a resemblance to some Christian movies that are supposed to be serious.  Whatever the creators of this film were going for, they mostly failed—perhaps on purpose.  Either way, it’s really quite pointless.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: Acts (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Jesus Resurrected from the dead, He charged His disciples to go out and complete the work He had begun by making new disciples and building His kingdom on earth.  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give His followers power, and they spread His Gospel to ends of their known world.  God also raised up an unlikely champion of the faith in Paul of Tarsus, who formerly persecuted the very people he joined forced with.  Through the power of God, the followers of Jesus turned the world upside down.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of The Visual Bible saga, Acts demonstrates superb production quality, including in the areas of video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but the sets, props, and locations are excellent in historical and cultural authenticity.  There are virtually no errors to point out here—except for the fact that there is no editing, which is by design.  In the end, however, this is a top-notch production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Acts demonstrates the same ambition as other Visual Bible films, which cover entire books of the Bible in one film.  Unfortunately, while there are many excellent stories in the book of Acts, this rendition is simply too long to have full impact.  Once again, designed narration hurts character development and thus makes this more of an informational resource than a drama film.  However, it still has its place, even though this film tends to have a strange portrayal of angels.  In the end, the historical accounts therein are very enjoyable and worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Unfortunately, Acts still contains the Visual Bible struggle for cultural authenticity as not many of the cast members are culturally appropriate.  While there are some moments that are too theatrical, this cast is mostly professional even still, with good emotions and line delivery.  Also, costuming is a major plus.  This rounds out another generally average effort.

Conclusion

At least this depiction of Acts is not cheesy, but one has to wonder what it would have been like if this was a series.  It seems like it would have had great impact.  Actually, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey already tried that.  However, I think we are still due a good series based on the book of Acts.  Any takers?

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus came to change the world, but He was also a man Who could relate to each person He came into contact with.  He performed miracles unlike the world has ever seen and changed many lives, all in route to laying down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The religious leaders nearly always opposed Jesus’ work, but His work is still alive and well today.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Gospel of John follows in the footsteps of the other Visual Bible films by having a high-quality production, but it’s possible that John is the best production of the group.  This is evident through great video quality, camera work, and audio quality, including a culturally authentic soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are excellent in demonstrating authenticity and realism.  The only minor issues therein pertain to some odd and sometimes cheap special effects, such black and white flashbacks and unnecessary ‘flashy’ elements.  However, this aside, this is a top-notch production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Where the production succeeded, unfortunately, the plot did not.  Where other portrayals of Jesus in The Visual Bible saga are fair and interesting, the portrayal of Jesus in this version of The Gospel of John is not very inviting.  Instead, the Jesus in this film is a throwback to the 70s and 80s ‘zen’ portrayals of Christ.  Sometimes, he comes off as lofty and even a bit crazy at times.  Other characters come off as too dramatic, and some sequences are too sensational.  Like the other Visual Bible films, John has narration by design, which does not give us many good opportunities to get to know the characters very well.  However, there are a handful of positive elements here that keep this section from being zero, such as the opportunity to see some less-focused on portions of the gospel.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While other Visual Bible casts tried to include more culturally authentic cast members and less British ones, John does not always succeed on this front.  There are too many obviously non-authentic cast members, besides the fact that there are a lot of dramatic and theatrical performances.  In situations like this, where narration is built-in, acting is very important since there are limited opportunities for lines.  However, though there are some moments of overplaying, there are plenty of good sequences throughout this film that are enough to make this section average.

Conclusion

While The Visual Bible projects are commendable and ambitious, John does not seem like as helpful of a resource as the others, especially since it tends to take a turn for the dramatic and sensational.  Portrayals of Jesus are hard to pull off, but there’s no need to make them more difficult with ethereal loftiness.  Still, there are plenty of good parts to The Gospel of John, and many audiences will enjoy it.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Road to Emmaus [2010] (Movie Review)

Don’t worry, Mel Gibson will tell us why Jesus looks different

Plot Summary

After the death of Jesus, two men were on the road to Emmaus when they were suddenly met by a (perfect?) stranger Who appeared both know little about recent events and yet know so much about the Jewish Law and Prophets.  As the (perfect) stranger talked with them, they became hopeful over what He had to say, but they had no idea that their encounter (lol) with Him would change their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beginning with recycled footage from The Visual Bible: Matthew, Road to Emmaus is essentially an add-on to The Visual Bible saga.  As such, the production is relatively the same, except the constantly moving camera work that gets dizzying at times.  Otherwise, video quality, audio quality, and soundtrack are all fairly standard.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate the usual attempts at authenticity.  There are some abrupt cuts that keep the editing from being all that it could be, but Road to Emmaus is generally another above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While this is an interesting idea for a short film since this is a Biblical story that often receives little attention, it is still just a short film, unfortunately.  As such, it employs unnecessary narration that is not in the typical word-for-word model, as well as information-heavy dialogue that doesn’t help to build the characters and mostly tries to force the plot along.  The conversations therein are too obvious and push an obvious message rather than letting the characters try to naturally develop as real people.  It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, to frame the entire Gospel story into this one story through the use of flashbacks, but that would have required a feature length film.  For the most part, this rendition of Road to Emmaus is fine, even if it has a below average plot.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like The Visual Bible: Matthew, Road to Emmaus has mostly fine acting, even though the cast is not completely culturally authentic.  However, emotions and line delivery are good, even though they tend to be slightly over-practiced at times.  There are some slightly theatrics, and Marchiano is not in his better role in this film, but costuming to good, and there are enough positive elements to make this section above average.

Conclusion

As previously mentioned, the story of the road to Emmaus could have been more effectively utilized as a present-day anchor for flashbacks to other aspects of the Gospel as Jesus explains the Law and the Prophets to the two travelers.  However, as this rendition is, it mainly just feels like a tack-on where it could have been the main thing.  Perhaps another film maker will remake it in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Come Follow Me [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Peter never thought he would experience what he experienced.  Jesus called Peter to follow Him no matter what, but Peter faltered at the darkest hour of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Peter could not understand why Jesus was allowing Himself to be overpowered by evil, so he took matters into his own hands and found himself fallen away was Jesus was taken captive.  However, Jesus gave Peter a second chance after His Resurrection and led Peter to change the world for the sake of Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a short film with a loose association to The Visual Bible, Come Follow Me is almost an afterthought, even though the production is mostly good.  Video quality, camera work, and audio are all on par with what they should be, even if the soundtrack is a bit odd a times.  There are some random bouts of odd lighting, but the sets, locations, and props demonstrate a lot of attempts at authenticity.  There are also some intermittent sequences of slow motion, and the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is good enough to be above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although Come Follow Me is not a word-for-word rendition of the story, there is still unnecessary narration presented.  However, not being tied to the word-for-word model helps to develop the characters better, even though they could still use some deepening through more substantial dialogue.  It is good to see a portrayal of different aspects of familiar stories, even if some parts are overly dramatic.  As previously mentioned, this short version of the story of Peter is a bit rushed as it comes off as choppy and even flat at times.  It tends to only hit the high points, even though this could have been a feature length film, as there is plenty of Peter content to work with in the historical accounts.  Thus, this section can’t warrant very many points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unlike his original performances in The Visual Bible, Bruce Marchiano shows his darkly dramatic side in Come Follow Me, which is off-putting.  Other cast members also tend to be too dramatic and theatrical in their performances.  On the bright side, costuming is fine, and there are some attempts at cultural authenticity, even though this is not consistent throughout.  In the end, however, this film comes off a mediocre and forgettable.

Conclusion

There was a lot of untapped potential left at the table when it came to this film.  There are plenty of Peter movies on the market, but we could use one that truly captures Peter as a real person who can be related to by many.  The Bible and other historical accounts have plenty of content on Peter to use, so it’s up to a responsible film maker to use them well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: Matthew (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus Christ is told, from birth to earthly ministry to death to Resurrection.  Jesus was not only fully God, but he was the Messiah, the Savior of the Jews and of the whole world.  He was a historical figure Who not only impacted everyone He came into contact with but also completely altered human history with His coming.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Visual Bible was an ambitious film project to create movies that contained entire books of the Bible within them.  Obviously, with this sort of undertaking, the films produced are going to be very long and are going to lack substantial editing.  Moreover, the Matthew installment has good production overall, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  There are a few oddly-lit scenes, but there was lots of effort put into the historical authenticity of this film, especially when it came to sets, locations, and props.  Though there are a lot of slow parts to this film, this is to be expected, and this production is overall above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Naturally, a movie based entirely on one whole book of the Bible, word-for-word, is going to have built-in narration.  Once again, this is a great take on the entire Gospel of Matthew from start to finish, but there are a handful of issues that come with this territory, such as a high number of scenes that lack dialogue and a hampering of character development due to limited dialogue options.  Nonetheless, this project is well-meaning and has its place as an informational resource rather than as a work of historical fiction.  It’s not possible to watch in one sitting, but it is definitely good and insightful to use in certain situations.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The Visual Bible: Matthew marked the beginning of Bruce Marchiano’s career, and after seeing this version of him, one can understand why he was cast so often as the Messiah.  He stood out in a world of drab, lofty, and ethereal ‘zen’ portrayals of Jesus from the 70s and 80s, thus making The Visual Bible an enjoyable experience with a positive, natural portrayal of Christ.  However, there are other inconsistencies with this cast, such as random cultural authenticity mixed with British and American cast members.  Moreover, most of the acting is fine, even if there are some slow moments, thus making for an overall positive film.

Conclusion

The Visual Bible project is a resource that can be used for various occasions and purposes, even if it is not truly a historical epic.  It played a key role in bringing Bible movies back to the correct basis of Biblical accuracy, which was a contrast from 70s and 80s attempts at using creative license with the Bible.  The Visual Bible is a good example to build off of regarding how to keep Biblical films rooted in historical fact.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Squad 77 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Allen Davis is a former military special forces operative who is pressed by a friend to train a squadron consisting of a random collection of young adults from churches in order to pull off a dangerous mission to deliver Bibles to missionaries in a harrowing location.  Though he is not completely honest about the mission’s true nature at first, he trains them hard to prepare for the worst.  Will they be able to make it through the mission alive?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Squad 77 is a classic example of biting off more than you can chew.  Action adventure and suspense films, especially in international contexts, need well-funded and responsibly-allocated budgets to meet expectations.  Unfortunately, though Squad 77 is trying to fit into these genres, it fails miserably in the production department.  This is evident in the wild and dizzying opening sequences, as well as the crazy camera work and poor video quality.  Audio quality is equally bad, with loud background sounds, dead air, overdubs, cheesy sound effects, and a generic soundtrack.  There are also dumb special effects used throughout, not to mention the poor lighting and horrific editing.  Essentially, if you don’t have the money to make it good, don’t make it all, unless you have a game-changing plot idea.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

However, Squad 77 does not have a game-changing plot idea.  The premise is silly and unrealistic, and basically half of the film boils down to endless training montages.  The plot throws a bunch of faceless and empty characters together for a vague mission of unrealistic proportions.  There is basically no substantial content to work with here, and what little dialogue there is comes off as very hollow.  Thus, there are no attempts to develop the characters.  It goes without saying that this story is not believable as the action premise is very forced and disingenuous.  Basically, this film really doesn’t have any positive elements.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Though this cast of random people does not show any substantial acting skills to their bland and blank delivery, it’s not like they were given many chances to act or to be coached properly.  Emotions are too awkward and robotic, but again, there was little to no support in the acting department.  In the end, this punctuates a disappointing effort.

Conclusion

If the creators of this film meant well, it doesn’t show.  It feels like this film was misguided and mishandled from the beginning.  With a small budget, it’s better to start out with a small production and a truly creative plot.  Unfortunately, Squad 77 joins a long list of independent Christian films that failed on this front, among others.  Perhaps future film makers will learn from these mistakes.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Time Collectors: Return of the Giants (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brad is a bad boy with a sick mother, but when his grandfather dies, the will stipulates that Brad must live in his grandfather’s house for a year before collecting his hefty inheritance.  He decides to move to Texas with his goofy friend in order to fix up the house to sell it.  While there, Brad meets Maria, one of his grandfather’s neighbors, whom he begins to grow close to.  Maria and her parents decide to try to indoctrinate Brad with their cultish philosophies, which are based entirely on a cockamamie explanation of the Seventy Weeks vision from the book of Daniel.  Thus, Brad is then empowered to discover that his grandfather was secretly hiding giant skeletons in his basement that can prove the Bible is right because God is a Time Collector or something.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Besides the other absurdities of this film, the poor production makes its existence mostly pointless.  Video quality is very inconsistent, and the camera is constantly moving around and sometimes has weird close-up shots and bizarre camera angles.  The lighting is also all over the place, and audio quality is very poor.  Flashbacks are unnecessarily black and white, and the production overall has a very cheap look to it.  Sets, locations, and props are limited and underwhelming.  Editing is also very choppy, including a lot abrupt and unnecessarily bad cuts and transitions.  Basically, this production has nothing good about it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Not only is this storyline severely disorganized and confusing, but it espouses an off-the-wall, almost cult-like message that comes completely out of left field.  Though Time Collectors pushes a predictable anti-atheist agenda, it also delves into a bizarre prophecy\time travel concept that is both unanticipated and off-putting, if not also funny for all the wrong reasons.  Nonetheless, the weirdness aside, this is just an all-around bad plot.  There’s barely any substantial dialogue, thus leaving the characters empty.  The film is full of wasted time and pointless content, such as activities of daily living and people hanging around and talking without saying anything worthwhile.  A lot of the time, it seems like this plot was written by children, except for the bizarre worldview inclusions.  In the end, this storyline is odd enough to warrant a negative point.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if other parts of this film were not bad enough, this is possibly the most amateurish and juvenile acting can get without being negative.  Every cast member is very awkward and unsure in their line delivery, besides being generally dry, drab, and underwhelming.  In short, this film is a perfect example a bunch of random people getting together to force a ridiculous film to happen.

Conclusion

When you want to convert someone to Christianity, naturally the first thing you would do is sit them down in your living room and proceed to indoctrinate them on your weird view of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy, which you know way better than anyone else.  Apparently, that’s what the makers of this film thought.  Either that, or they just didn’t think at all, which is highly possible.  A word of advice: avoid this film unless you want a good laugh or want to learn how to make a film impossibly bad.

 

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

 

Finding Cooper’s Heaven (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Jake Cooper tragically dies in a car wreck, his younger brother Bobby decides he needs to find heaven, where is brother now is.  With the Cooper family in shock and grieving in all the wrong ways, Bobby and his sister Trish set out on a silly adventure to figure out where heaven is.  What they find as a result helps them grow as kids, maybe?

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

Finding Cooper’s Heaven (whatever that really means) looks like it was filmed with a flip phone, hands down.  This is among the worst productions we have ever viewed, mostly due to weird close-up shots, blurry video quality, and awful background noises, not to mention the general lack of good audio quality and the presence of overdubbed lines.  The soundtrack is also loud and invasive.  Camera work is also very dizzying at times, and lighting is fairly poor in most scenes.  The whole experience seems very amateurish, as random, unrelated footage is included throughout, as well as weird slow-motion sequences that are off-putting.  The use of cheesy sound effects and special effects also makes for an undesirable experience.  Thus, the horridness of this production is enough to warrant negative points.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides the extremely childish premise, message, and storyline, the Christian elements are very juvenile as well.  The characters therein are empty and cardboard as they try way too hard in zany fashions to be comedic.  This ‘plot’ is funny for all the wrong reasons, because you either have to laugh at it or become depressed that this sort of garbage is even made.  Full of head-scratching and eye-rolling sequences, this storyline is utterly pointless and purposeless.  Thus, it is not justifiable, and it generally lacks potential in every way.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if other elements were not bad enough, the acting is basically cringeworthy as many of the cast members are extremely awkward.  Line delivery is downright terrible as many lines are either mumbled or seemingly incorrect due to being done in only one take.  Emotions are quite juvenile and robotic, with heavy doses of obnoxious yelling and screaming.  Cast members seem generally unsure of themselves as coaching is noticeably absent.  In the end, this punctuates a bad experience all around.

Conclusion

Of all the movies that don’t get made, garbage like this film gets made.  How is it possible, first of all, to make a film this bad?  Secondly, how it is possible to get it finished, released, and distributed?  The mind boggles, but that’s the entertainment world we live in, I guess.  We can just hope that no one sees garbage like this and that the prevalence of such things becomes less and less.

 

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

 

Under Jakob’s Ladder (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jakob is a former Communist teacher, but he was relieved of his position when he began dissenting from the Communist ideals.  After talking about Jesus at a friend’s funeral, he and several others of various Christian sects are rounded up and locked in a Communist dungeon to be starved and psychologically tortured into submission to the Communist rule.  However, Jakob leans on God for strength and helps the men he is locked up with to find common ground and faith in God, even in the darkest times.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Under Jakob’s Ladder is a mostly under-funded independent project, so its collection of production errors is understandable.  For one, the opening sequence is unusually produced with several disorienting features.  Also, there is some poor lighting throughout, and the sets and locations are severely limited.  However, there are some attempts at realistic and historical props, and the soundtrack is good throughout.  Moreover, the use of black and white flashbacks is a bit off, as is the unnecessary use of slow motion.  Editing could use a little work as well, but there is some improvement throughout the film that is enough to make this production average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the beginning and on into the movie until the end, there is annoying and echoing narration that forces the plot along in completely unnecessary fashion.  Regardless of this, however, this is a very intriguing true story that could have been a true war epic had it been presented in a different way.  Despite some of the odd flashbacks, some of them are normal and very good at providing insight into character motives.  However, there are a lot of meandering ideas in this film that do not come to full fruition, such as the creative chess themes.  There are also some parts that are too dramatic, and the plot overall needs better organization and focus, as well as better character development through deeper dialogue.  Moreover, the ending is very interesting and thought-provoking; it could have been even more impactful if the leadup was more palatable.  Unfortunately, while this story had a lot going for it, there was a lot of potential wasted here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While this film’s creators were definitely putting effort into the realistic costuming, the obviously unnatural accents need a bit of refinement.  There is definitely a lot of potential in this cast as their performances demonstrate effort and care, even if some cast members can be too drab and underwhelming at times.  Nevertheless, their performances are enough to make this section average.

Conclusion

The idea behind Under Jakob’s Ladder is definitely worth a remake.  Though this film was not funded as well as it could have been, this strong plot idea could have come through a bit better than it did.  This was a character-based plot, so we needed deep characters with strong motives and back stories, which we almost got.  Unfortunately, this rendition fell short of high marks.  Perhaps one day we will see a new version created.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Nail 32 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Buck Livingston was a sport cowboy who always ran from God, but when a tragedy leaves him lost and confused, he finds himself turning to God, even though he is told there’s no such thing as a Christian cowboy.  Even so, Buck gives his life to God and to service in the church.  However, he always had a passion for the cowboy sports, and he wrestled with how he could serve God there.  In the end, Buck’s life had a great influence on all those around him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Unlike previous JC Films projects, Nail 32 has a mostly respectable production.  This includes good video quality and camera work, especially in the action sports scenes.  However, there is some odd lighting throughout as this film is trying to have an unusual vintage look.  Nonetheless, the sets, locations, and props are great and demonstrate good historical authenticity.  Moreover, this production is mainly held back by the use of awkward fadeouts, choppy editing, and lagging scenes.  In the end, however, this production is still above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This intriguing true story was meant to be presented as an epic, but it unfortunately fell flat due to a large amount of unnecessary hand-holding narration.  This allows the plot to just hit the high points of the main character’s life without developing enough substance or true-to-life characters.  As the story jumps from one thing to the next, the characters are stunted due to flat and rushed dialogue, and there is far too much content shoved into this short time span.  While this could have been an interesting movie, we are not given the opportunity to learn about who these characters are as people as time speeds by in route to the conclusion.  Though there was potential here, it was not met.

Acting Quality (2 points)

However, this section does have plenty of positive as the costuming is realistic and there are plenty of good performances here.  While the acting is sometimes underwhelming due to some mumbled lines and muted emotions, this cast is mostly fine, and some are better than others.  Emotions and line delivery are adequate, which overall rounds out an average film.

Conclusion

Movies like Nail 32 are very well-meaning, and they have a lot of good things going for them, especially the true story elements.  However, in order to be the epic type of movie that they want to be, they have to go the extra mile in all categories, especially plot.  It’s very difficult to handle this much content in a balanced way while at the same time developing all of the characters adequately.  Thus, sometimes it’s better to focus on a portion of a character’s life, if possible.  In the end, Nail 32 is a fine movie, but it could have gone further.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Different Drummers [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When an unlikely friendship develops between David, a boy with muscular dystrophy, and Lyle, a boy diagnosed with ADHD, David sets out to show Lyle that God really does exist.  As they collaborate on a science project contest that Lyle is determined to win, they form a close bond, and David finds a new purpose in life.  Though they get into various escapades and scrapes that are not easy to get out of, their coming of age journey is one that they will never forget.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Different Drummers is a fine production that has a lot of high marks.  These include great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Though the soundtrack is a bit generic, it is not a detractor.  Sets, locations, and props are all what they should be and are utilized effectively.  Overall, this is a professional production that is only hurt by some awkward cuts and transitions.  However, this is not enough to keep this section from having a respectably high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Different Drummers, in many ways, is too much of a ‘silly’ kids story, as it is a coming of age plotline.  As such, there are a lot of seemingly unnecessary goofy sequences that tend to just fill time.  However, this storyline also presents a realistic and believable portrayal of special needs people, as well as an honest look at the dangers that come about when children are over-medicated.  However, the Christian message is a bit too vague, even though dialogue is fairly well-constructed.  Even so, there isn’t much substantial content to work with here as the story tends to hop from one thing to the next without much focus, but this could be an extrapolation of the main character’s ADHD, so it may be excusable in some ways.  In the end, this story has a realistic ending, and it will be mostly enjoyable for many audiences, so it may be worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The casting and acting of this film is mostly fine, considering the number of younger cast members.  Though there are some awkward performances (perhaps purposely) and some over the top emotions in some scenes, for the most part, this cast is professional.  Each cast member tends to be cast well, and line delivery is solid throughout.  This rounds out an above average film all around.

Conclusion

Films like Different Drummers should be more commonplace in Christian film than they are.  Funding is used well, the story is at least halfway interesting, and the acting is adequate.  Though there some clear steps that could have been taken to make this film a higher rating, as it is, many audiences will enjoy it.  Still, we can’t help but wonder the potential these sorts of films could have had.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ben Carson grew up disadvantaged and underprivileged, but his mother was determined that he and his brother would not be stuck with the street life.  Thus, she guided them to read as many books as they get could their hands on, even she herself could not read and struggled with mental illness due to what was done to her in the past.  Ben was his share of struggles as well, but he never forgot the God his mother had taught him about, and he was given great opportunities to become one of the best neurosurgeons of all time.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a well-funded made-for-TV production, Gifted Hands is very professionally done.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on industry standard, and the soundtrack is historically relevant.  Sets, locations, and props are very authentic and well-constructed, especially the historical and medical elements.  There is very little negative to point out here, except for the fact that editing tends to be choppy due to the large amount of content in this film.  However, this is only a blip on the radar and is not enough to keep this production from being great.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of Ben Carson is an excellent true story to make a movie out of, but this rendition does not go as far as it could have.  Granted, they had a lot of content to deal with, so the use of flashbacks and modern timeline intertwining together is effective.  However, it’s likely that a longer runtime was needed to handle the full breadth of content better and to give this film the epic feel that it needed.  While there is an excellent use of subtlety throughout instead of using a narration crutch, there still could have been some better sequences of dialogue to build the characters rather than the many montages that were included.  There are also some abrupt cutoffs between Carson’s life segments without smooth enough transitions between then.  Nonetheless, there is plenty of positive to note here as this realistic true story is brought to life to highlight many pertinent issues, as well as an important message of never giving up on God’s plans for you, even when you grow up disadvantaged.  Thus, in the end, this will be an enjoyable film for many audiences.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Gifted Hands is very professionally cast with no obvious errors at all in this cast.  Emotions are handled realistically, and line delivery is almost always on point.  Each cast member is cast appropriately for their character.  This is the way a cast should be assembled and coached.

Conclusion

This story idea had a lot going for it already, so it was only helped by great production and acting quality.  However, a handful of minor lingering issues hold this movie back from being what it could have been.  Movie plots centered around biopic and epic qualities need to live up to their fullest potential.  Even though this film would have flourished in the right hands, it is still adequate and will find its place among most audiences.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

A Candle in the Dark: The Story of William Carey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Carey always knew that God had called him and his family to be missionaries in a foreign country, but he never expected God to open a door in unreached India.  Unlike English missionaries before them, Carey and his family immersed themselves in the culture of the people rather than try to impose religious culture on people.  In getting to know the people and meeting their everyday needs, God opened doors of opportunity for them, but their stay in India was certainly not without hardships.  Through it all, God was faithful to them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production is somewhat cheap and under-funded as a curriculum companion, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that bad.  Sometimes the sets look fairly cheap, but outdoor locations and cultural props are fine.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all fine as well, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic.  While the editing is a bit odd at times, there is definite improvement throughout this production, which is enough to warrant an above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of William Carey is a great historical account to present in the form of a film, but this rendition tends to make the characters a bit too lofty than they should be.  This is done through dialogue that is too formal and unnatural, as well as some whitewashing of family struggles.  There is also a crutch of narration through journaling that moves the story along too quickly.  The time jumps stunt character growth as the story just tries to hit all the high points.  However, it is clear that this plot means well, and it does become more realistic as it goes on.  There are plenty of good marks here, and the ending is appropriate.  It just seems like it could have been presented in a more accessible fashion.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Plenty of care was given to making the costuming historically and culturally authentic.  There are also good efforts to have culturally authentic cast members.  However, sometimes the acting can be too theatrical and programmed.  There are one too many dramatic moments, but there are also plenty of other good moments that outweigh the negatives.  For the most part, emotions are realistic, thus warranting an above-average score here.

Conclusion

It’s frustrating when Christian films like this are so ‘Christianese.’  This curriculum clearly had an agenda to push, so it’s surprising that the film turned out this well.  As Christians, however, we’ve got to get out of our little boxes and make truly great movies that will make a difference.  We can really do without even more cute little Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Harlem Grace (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joe is a Harvard graduate from a prominent Wall Street power family, but he shocks everyone by giving up all of his social connections and bright future as an investor following in his father’s footsteps and deciding to work with the homeless men of Harlem.  He begins with grand plans, but be soon realizes that the situations people endure are more complicated than he previously thought.  He ends up living in the homeless shelter he runs, but he impacts hundreds of lives with his work for the Lord.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a 1990s production, Harlem Grace tends to be a bit archaic, even though this is slightly expected for the time period.  This is mostly manifested in the video quality.  Though there are a few funding issues, the creators of this film are definitely trying to be realistic, which is mostly evident through the well-constructed and utilized sets, locations, and props.  Though the soundtrack is a bit odd at times, and there is an unnecessary use of weird sound effects, camera work is adequate.  Also, the editing is good, even though it seems like this film could have been longer.  However, in the end, this production means well and is good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This plot is based on an excellent true story that accurately portrays very authentic circumstances and the struggles the characters endure.  Because of these positives, it makes me wonder why this film was not longer.  Perhaps funding kept it limited, and this might have been a wise move.  Nonetheless, these is enough content here to sustain a feature length film.  We need to see more of these characters and get to know them better as people.  While the dialogue is good as it is, the progression of the storyline is a bit too rushed at times.  There are also some time jumps that hamper character arcs.  However, this film has a great message that can at least spark the creation of a better film like it.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is likely the strongest point of this film, as the cast members are definitely trying to be realistic and natural in their line delivery.  They are obviously well-coached, and emotions are nearly always believable.  There are just a few small errors that keep this section from being perfect, but on the whole, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

Despite what this film had going against it—low funding and lack of attention—the creators made the best out of what they had, which is all we can really ask for.  More modern films with better funding can take lessons from Harlem Grace in how to maximize resources.  Also, future film makers might want to take note of the messaging in this film as a rough blueprint for future projects.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brandon Burlsworth always wanted to play football at the top college level, but he was always told he was never cut out for the sport due to his size problems.  However, Brandon defied all odds by adapting a strong work ethic that helped him train to become fit to walk-on and play SEC football at the University of Arkansas.  His life affected all of those around him as he made the football team better with his faith and his work ethic.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Greater is clearly a well-funded production as it is very professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The action sports scenes are filmed very well, and the sports props are highly realistic.  The soundtrack is adequate, and sets and locations are great.  The only small nitpicks to raise here pertain to some small editing issues, such as some lagging scenes and seemingly unnecessary content.  Otherwise, however, this production is top-notch and checks all the right boxes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While this film is based on a great true story, there is a lot of content that is covered in this plot.  Thus, character development suffers as the characters tend to only be pawns in the storyline.  The dialogue primarily serves to move time forward rather than to develop the characters as people.  There are also a lot of typical sports clichés and training montages.  With so much content to handle in one film, there are too many wasted sequences like this that could have been used to build the characters.  However, not all is bad here as this is a great story to tell with a worthwhile message.  Moreover, it had a lot going for it and definitely could have been better.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is perhaps the strongest section of this film.  This is a very professional cast with no glaring errors committed.  Emotions are believable and realistic, and line delivery is on point.  In the end, this section brings this movie close to the fullest potential it could have had.

Conclusion

Greater had many key elements and advantages in its corner, but it didn’t quite get the job done.  I can help but think that in different hands, this film would have been a Hall of Fame epic.  With some slightly deeper characters and dialogue, along with a less choppy presentation, it would have breached the Hall of Fame threshold.  Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable film that many audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

A Mile in His Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Arthur Murphy manages a minor league baseball team, and he is obsessed with discovering the best talent no one else has discovered yet.  Thus, when he stumbles upon Mickey Tussler, a young adult with autism, and sees his raw pitching skills, Arthur tries to recruit him immediately.  After convincing his fundamentalist and over-protective father to let Mickey try, Arthur takes him back to the team, where Mickey makes a difference in each of their lives, even Arthur’s.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Nasser brothers have had an unusual film career, but they usually are committed to fine production quality.  A Mile in His Shoes is no different, as it has good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is adequate, and a commitment to historical authenticity is evident in the good use of sets, locations, and props.  The only issue to point out here is the fairly choppy editing that hampers the plot presentation.  However, in the end, this is not enough to hold this production back from being above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

A Mile in His Shoes is another one of those sports movies that is based on a good true story, yet it is not handled as well as it could have been.  This is mainly because the characters therein are too shallow and not realistic enough.  They tend to just be stand-ins for plot points rather than real people with real lives.  Elsewhere, the storyline presentation is too pedestrian and standard.  Also, the Christian message is too vague.  As usual for sports films, the plot is replete with montages, and the story is framed as an against-all-odds plot progression.  However, although there are a few too many unnecessary asides that waste time, there are plenty of realistic life circumstances in this plot that keep this section from being zero, even if the ending is too predictable.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While Dean Cain is usually a damper on the casts he’s involved in because of his annoying demeanors, pretty much all of the other cast members of this film are fine.  For the most part, this cast shows emotions and delivers lines appropriately and adequately, and each cast member is cast well.  In short, this rounds out an overall average effort.

Conclusion

All in all, the average rating fits this movie well.  It is easy and safe to choose an inspirational and true sports story to make a pedestrian film out of, especially one made for TV.  However, it takes greatness and dynamic creativity to make these sorts of stories into truly memorable films.  Otherwise, they are just too easily forgotten.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Carpenter’s Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though John Camdenis is just an average carpenter who doesn’t think much of himself, when his touch appears to bring a dead boy back from the dead, the small town he lives in immediately becomes ground zero for media attention and controversy.  He appears to perform more miracles, but he has no idea what to do with his newfound abilities.  John wants to go back to the way things were, but now it’s no turning back for him or the boy who came back to life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a made-for-TV production from UP, there are some surprising production errors here.  While video quality is fine, there is a high amount of shaky camera work throughout this film, probably for dramatic effect.  However, it doesn’t come off right.  There are also some awkward camera angles that give off a feel of the camera being moved around manually.  Nonetheless, there is a lot of great attention to detail when it comes to sets, locations, and props, especially the medical elements.  The soundtrack is also very interesting, as the audio quality is also good.  Finally, the editing is mostly fine, and overall, this production is above average, despite the odd oversights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At first, the plot of The Carpenter’s Miracle is hard to understand, but it doesn’t get much better from there.  The plot is presented in a very confusing fashion, and it is very unclear what is meant to be learned from this story.  It is only very vaguely Christian as the underlying message is mostly unknown, except for several obvious Easter themes.  Sometimes it seems like the story is hiding some great secret from you, but no clarity is ever offered.  Is the main character supposed to be Jesus or not?  Did he perform miracle or get involved in coincidences?  Besides these unanswered questions, the characters are too one-dimensional due to stilted and under-developed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is very head-scratching, thus completing a very unusual experience of a film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast tends to be professional and mostly means well, there are a handful of awkward moments, especially in the beginning.  However, there is a lot of potential here, and the acting overall improves as the film goes on.  Emotional delivery is particularly believable and realistic.  In the end, however, this punctuates a unique experience that is difficult to quantify.

Conclusion

One can understand why UP would want to make another made-for-TV film to tap into a Christian audience, but this is an unusual choice.  Why not make the message more obviously Christian or at least try to offer some clarity as to what the underlying point of this story is?  Instead, we are left with more questions than answers, yet many people probably won’t ever know this film exists.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Too Saved (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lisa loves her boyfriend Bobby, but she doesn’t like the fact that he is not a Christian.  Thus, she prays for him to get saved, not realizing the impact her prayers might have.  Unexpectedly, Bobby gets saved one day in church, but he goes from being a drug addict (???) to being the most extremely Christian man ever.  He can’t stop talking about God, and he wanted to be the best man he can be.  Lisa become annoyed with Bobby and wonders why she ever prayed for him to change.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, Too Saved is a small church film with a very limited budget, which yields a very cheap production.  Because of the low funds and misuse of those there were appropriated, there are quite a few negatives to mention here, including poor video quality, shaky camera work, close-up shots, and inconsistent lighting.  Audio quality is also poor, and the soundtrack is cheesy.  Sets, locations, and props are severely limited and uncreative.  Finally, there is no substantial editing, thus warranting zero points for this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It is possible that a more juvenile storyline could be written?  Is this meant to be a children’s movie?  The entire premise is based on a man going from being a drug addict—who is not portrayed properly at all, mind you—to being an obnoxiously Christian person.  This plot could almost be a cartoon, but it’s really not all that funny.  The parts that are absurd are just plain boring.  There are no attempts to write a good story here or to craft realistic characters.  This movie is actually barely worth reviewing.  If the writers meant well, there’s no way to know.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Ahh, small church casts—you have to love them.  If a cast member is not acting over the top, then another is acting very awkward and unsure of themselves.  Emotions come off as forced, and this wardrobe really needs some help.  Unfortunately, there is basically nothing good to say about this fill except better luck next time.

Conclusion

Sure, the budget is tiny, but it doesn’t have to be this bad.  As I’ve said a hundred times, a low budget does not affect the plot.  If you have around $10,000 for a film, which is our minimum budget to garner a review, make sure to craft a very deep and complex plot with believable, accessible characters.  In doing so, you will prove yourself worthy to receive a larger amount of funding.  Instead, movies like Too Saved just squander what little they had.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Masquerade [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Pastor Chris Billings and his wife are at odds and are secretly separated, even though Chris is set to take over as head pastor after the previous pastor, his former boss, is forced to step down after having an affair.  Little does he know that his son knows a lot more than he lets on, and Chris’ actions are having negative consequences he has no idea about.  Will the Billings family be able to be honest about their struggles, no matter the repercussions?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a film school project, Masquerade has a lot of positive elements, despite the limited budget.  Video quality and camera work are good considering the situation, even if there are other issues that come with the territory of a limited budget, such as inconsistent lighting and inconsistent audio quality.  The soundtrack is also lacking, and sets, locations, and props tend to be limited.  However, the editing is fine, which overall rounds out an average production that is an accomplishment for a film school project.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although this story is sometimes hard to follow and is quite slow at times, there is an interesting idea here that could be further utilized in the future.  Though the characters could use some deepening through more substantial dialogue, they are at least partially realistic and are portrayed well as flawed people.  However, there are some other issues here, such as the unnecessary narration throughout and the number of boring scenes depicting characters talking without enough meaningful dialogue.  The ending is also a bit vague, although it makes a profound point.  In the end, Masquerade is like a starter idea for something greater that may or may not come.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As an amateur cast, the cast members can be somewhat robotic at times, even though they mean well.  Line delivery is a bit too textbook at times, and emotions tend to be underwhelming and flat.  Nonetheless, there is definitely potential here that could be brought out with better acting coaching.  There is also improvement throughout, and some cast members are better than others.  Overall, this rounds out a respectable effort.

Conclusion

With a better budget, a more dynamic plot and characters, and improved acting coaching, this creative team could be going places in the future.  Even if they don’t follow up on Masquerade, the idea of flawed church characters can and should be used in future films.  As always with these sort of plots, however, the characters need to be deep and meaningful.  It should be interesting to see what this team has planned next.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Voiceless [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jesse has been recently discharged from the military, so his wife Julia pulls strings at an inner-city Philadelphia church, where she grew up, to get him a job as an outreach pastor.  Once there, Jesse desperately wants to make a difference everywhere he goes, but he and Julia are haunted by their own secrets from the past.  Jesse is plagued by constantly seeing young women enter an abortion clinic right across the street from where he wants to have an outreach center for the inner-city youth, and he is determined to do something about it.  However, he takes matters into his own hands and makes things worse by inviting his church’s criticism and making himself a target with law enforcement.  Will he and his wife be able to resolve their differences and make a real difference in a dark place?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though Voiceless had a fairly limited budget, the production of this film is quite good.  This includes good video quality and fine audio quality, although there are some moments of shaky camera work.  There is also some odd filtering throughout that might have helped outdoor lighting.  The soundtrack is very good, and sets, locations, and props are very realistic, appropriate, and authentic.  Further, there are a few editing issues due to a large amount of content, but on the whole, this is a respectable effort that accompanies a very worthwhile film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

It’s rare to find a ‘cause’ movie that actually portrays real people living real lives, especially in the pro-life genre.  However, Voiceless stands out among the rest by developing flawed, gray, and accessible characters through rich dialogue, well-explained motives, and deep back stories.  The authentic struggles of real people are depicted in this plot and help to amend the common black and white perception of pro-life issues.  There are no heroes or villains here—only real people who make mistakes and try to rectify them.  Further, subtlety is employed very well without the use of narration.  The only issues to raise here pertain to a large amount of content that could not be fully included and to the lagging finish that tries to patch things up a bit too neatly.  Nonetheless, this is not enough to keep this plot from placing this film on the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film as there are no errors to highlight here.  A little-known cast of people is very well-coached and well-utilized for this film.  Line delivery is nearly perfect, and emotions are very authentic.  This is a superb acting accomplishment and a great finish to a job well done.

Conclusion

Voiceless is a rare pro-life movie that will actually make a real difference.  Many people will be able to find their own stories in the stories of these characters.  There are no strawman portrayals of pro-life people or pro-abortion people here.  This is a real story that could happen anywhere and is one that shows the only way we can end abortion is not through heroics or fighting, but through prayer and community culture change.  Films like this one can also promote culture change, which is exactly what we are looking for.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Holy Roller (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Luke is a struggling pastor with no real congregation.  Thus, inspired by the rantings of a homeless man, he decides to take his ministry to the streets.  There, he crosses paths with a desperate bar owner, Simon, who’s in need of some quick cash to pay off his gambling debts.  Inspired by a prosperity-preaching televangelist, Simon convinces Luke to start a church in his bar to raise the funds he needs, using a message of prosperity.  However, things don’t go as planned, and Luke discovers what real ministry is about.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Holy Roller has a surprisingly fine production, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also fine, although there are a lot of musical montages.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly realistic and appropriate.  The only other issue to point out here is the choppy editing that includes too much fluff content and too many odd cuts.  However, despite these issues, this is a pretty standard production that looks good on the surface.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This obviously quirky premise is meant to be a comedy, but it really just comes off as very forced and dry.  The humor is too off-the-wall and awkward to be funny.  It’s really trying too hard to be something it’s not, and it seems like satire is purposely eccentric, even though it falls flat.  Besides this, there is too much forced drama as the story rushes along at a breakneck pace that leaves no room for character development.  This leaves the characters very shallow and empty.  The fast pace of things also stunts any sense of reality and leaves the viewer disoriented and confused, without any ability to relate the struggles of the characters.  Basically, this is a dramedy that skates on top of everything so quickly that it’s over before you know it.  Actually, that might be a good thing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This amateur cast seems like they are acting purposely awkward most of the time as they struggle to get their lines out.  Emotions are either too dorky or too forced.  However, there are some good moments here, and there would have been more if there had been better coaching.  Some things just weren’t meant to be, I guess.

Conclusion

Small church films like The Holy Roller struggles for identity and specialty in a sea of a myriad small church films vying for attention and views.  Unfortunately, not many of them actually make it to the next level, and most of them get stuck where The Holy Roller gets stuck: in shoulder-shrugging mediocrity.  The status of these sorts of movies can only be ‘better luck next time.’

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Same Kind of Different As Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ron Hall is a successful art dealer who has it all—except for a successful marriage.  He and his wife Debbie have grown apart from each other, and he has been looking in the wrong directions for love.  His marital conflict has now come to a head, so Debbie decides to make Ron exit his safe, affluent world to come volunteer with her at the local homeless shelter.  While there, though his heart is not in the work at all, Ron forms an unlikely relationship with a violent homeless man whose story captivates Ron in a way he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a clearly well-funded and well-marketed production, Same Kind of Different As Me had a lot going for it from the get-go.  This production is obviously high quality in a lot of ways, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and utilized appropriately, especially the historical components in the flashbacks.  The only minor nitpick to note here pertains to some small editing issues, such as lagging scenes and awkward transitions.  Otherwise, this production is top-notch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As Same Kind of Different As Me is based on a book and a true story, sometimes it seems like it’s too much like a book turned into a movie.  This is evident in unnecessary narration and obvious dialogue that tends to spoon-feed the story to the viewer.  Some of the characters tend to be portrayed too perfectly, yet this is a great true story despite these flaws.  The flashbacks are used in highly effective ways and are actually the highlights of the film because of the story they tell.  There are a lot of great messages and lessons to learn from this story, but we would have liked it if this film indulged less in drama and more in the opportunity it had to portray an epic story full of realistic, flawed, and accessible characters.  As mentioned before, there are too many lagging and choppy scenes that hurt this goal from coming to fruition.  However, there is enough good to make this at least an interesting movie to watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this movie is mostly professionally cast, there are a few issues that keep this section from being all that it could be.  For one, the lead actor and actress sometimes seem to be phoning in their performances, and at times they are too dramatic.  However, Djimon Hounsou and Jon Voight are particularly well-cast and well-acted; these two almost save this cast on their own.  Moreover, other cast members outside of Greg Kinnear and Renée Zellweger are also fine and post good performances.  In the end, this punctuates an above average film that could have gone further.

Conclusion

Same Kind of Different As Me had everything going for it, but it stopped just short of greatness.  The excellent true story and high amount of funding almost forced this film to be above-average from the beginning, but the pedestrian nature of its presentation and its over-indulgence in drama apart from character development tripped it up.  In the end, we can’t help but wonder if this was another one of those movies designed to make a quick cash grab at the theaters rather than make a real difference, which seems like the original intent of the book’s authors.  We may never know, but this is at least a fine film that most audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Joshua [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a mysterious young man named Joshua suddenly appears in the small town of Auburn, the entire town is astir, especially when he begins rebuilding the Baptist church.  The local Catholic priests are disturbed at his coming, however, especially after he spends time with the ‘sinners’ and even performs a few miracles.  However, those who are impacted by the work of Joshua are changed forever, even those who least expected it.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production looks slightly old at times, it is still a good production.  It checks all the right boxes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The original soundtrack is fine.  Sets, locations, and props are all what they should be.  However, this production is held back from perfection by some avoidable continuity errors, as well as some cheesy transitions and awkward cuts.  However, on the whole, this is a fine production with no obvious errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Based on a novel, the plot of Joshua has some obvious issues that come with the territory of stories that attempt to transpose Biblical events on top of modern day settings.  Using these conventions is almost always mind-bending and problematic for a number of reasons.  In Joshua, it is impossible to know whether or not this is supposed to be a retelling of the original historical account of Jesus, or if this is supposed to be some kind of modern day reappearance before the Second Coming.  The story tries to convince you it’s the latter, but why include all of the repeat miracles in this case?  Even so, there is very little conflict in this tale as useless narration tries to spoon feed the plot to you.  There are also too many characters that are under-developed and one-dimensional due to the narration and the shallow dialogue.  The story jumps from one thing after the next with no real continuity.  Unfortunately, this section is a disappointment.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

However, the acting is the best part of this film, as there are only minor errors to contend with.  For the most part, this cast is professional and on-point in their line delivery and emotional delivery.  Costuming and makeup are also appropriate.  Overall, this section punctuates a mostly average film.

Conclusion

We definitely need more Christian novels made in movie form, as we have said before.  However, this really isn’t the sort of thing we’re looking for.  There’s nothing truly dynamic about this movie.  While it is fine and pedestrian with no obvious goofs, is it really going to make a difference?  Making more cute little Christian films isn’t good enough anymore.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Crossing [1994] (Movie Review)

Ah, the good ole days

Plot Summary

Matt and Jason were best friends, but when Matt dies of cancer, Jason is left asking why.  Matt was a Christian, and he wanted Jason to be as well, so Matt appears to Jason in a vision and shows Jason where God keeps the sins of everybody written down, where Jesus died on the cross, and what will happen if Jason’s mother tries to save herself without God.  Jason wakes up so scared that he has to become a Christian!

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Much like other older films affiliated with the Christiano Brothers brand, The Crossing is an archaic production with a loud and outdated soundtrack.  While video quality and camera work are mostly fine, and sets, locations, and props are okay, there aren’t any other positives to note.  There are a lot of very cheesy special effects used throughout, and there are too many background noises.  Editing also suffers, including choppy cuts and a very abruptly awkward ending.  Unfortunately, while this was intended to be a youth group film (probably from the Christian Film Library of Pamela’s Prayer), youth leaders will be hard-pressed to get anyone interested in this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

On the surface, this film has a good message, but it still has the typical overtures of films associated with the Christiano brand, such as the Christian characters being perfect non-sinners and the non-Christian characters being very obvious sinners.  Thus, the characters serve as stand-ins for plot points and spout programmed dialogue that is designed to push and project a specifically forceful and fundamentalist message.  As usual, the plot is out of touch with real people and uses tactics designed to ‘scare’ people into being saved, which are highly questionable and unlikely to be successful.  Besides this, the ‘storyline’ has a quick and rushed progression and completely lacks substance.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The Crossing reveals some of the origins of the crazy, overly dramatic acting of the dynamic duo Kevin Downes and David A. R. White.  Other cast members in this film bear the resemblance of stoic Christiano cast members.  However, there are some good moments somewhere in here that keep this section from being zero.

Conclusion

All we can do with a film like this is hope it serves as a reminder of how not to make a ‘youth film.’  People that like this sort of garbage also complain about all the ‘bad movies young people watch these days.’  Well, with stuff like this being shown in church, who’s really to blame?  Until Christian entertainment is top-notch quality, we really don’t have much to say, do we?

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Footprints [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When David Hyler loses everything, he almost gives up on life—that is, until he meets Cadie the German Shepherd.  Cadie changes his outlook on life and shows him that God has a plan for all of His creatures.  Not only does Cadie protect David and his family, but she also heals the lives of others with her presence.  Even though Cadie was abused and left for dead, her second chance on life makes a difference everywhere she goes.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although this production had something going for it, it doesn’t go quite enough to be dynamic.  Errors like long black and white flashbacks and very poor and distant audio quality hold it back from being what it could have been.  There are also too many background noises, along with a cheesy soundtrack.  However, other elements are fine, including video quality and camera work, except for the odd use of zooms throughout.  Sets, locations, and props are appropriate and realistic.  Editing has some issues, however, including some odd cuts and transitions.  On the whole, this production ends up being average, but it really should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though this is a nice, touching true story, this plot really doesn’t have the substance necessary to make us interested in its contents or sympathetic to the characters therein.  Character development is stunted by extended and heavy-handed narration.  Dialogue isn’t substantial enough, even though there are some interesting attempts to develop characters through flashbacks.  However, there isn’t really much conflict to contend with here, and the storyline is too focused on being all about the dog.  There is also a laughable and forced persecution subtext that can hardly be taken seriously.  In the end, this plot suffers for lack of meaningful content.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the production, while this cast had a lot going for it, they can’t seem to close the deal.  They begin with forceful emotions and line delivery, as well as some unnatural acting and sequences of juvenile arguing.  Although there is some improvement throughout, it’s not enough to bring this section above average, which tends to be the story of this film.

Conclusion

True story films almost always mean well, but too much of the time, they get lost in translation.  It’s great to portray real life stories in movies, but this isn’t the way to make an impact.  In order for movies like this one to be dynamic, they need flawless production and acting, along with deep characters and a complex storyline.  Otherwise, like Footprints, they fall by the wayside and are easily forgotten.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Sunday School [2008] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rachel is a new girl in town, and she is challenged to attend Sunday school for the first time in a while.  She reluctantly goes, but she finds herself interested in the new young pastor, even though she wants to travel to Hollywood and leave the small town behind to find fame.  Rachel’s presence in church causes a stir, especially due to her interest in the pastor.  Torn between two worlds, what choice will Rachel ultimately choose?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

With a very small budget, Sunday School struggles to have a quality production.  This includes some randomly poor lighting and inconsistent audio quality that has a loud soundtrack at times and other times includes too many outside noises.  However, the camera work and video quality are fine; they are the best elements of this production.  Sets, locations, and props are fine but could use some improvement.  Finally, the editing leaves something to be desired, but when looking at this film’s budget, one can’t expect much more than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is a very limited story that doesn’t really contain anything truly creative, there is a small amount of potential here pertaining to the divide between church people and ‘worldly’ people who seek the truth.  However, the characters are too generic and not accessible enough, mostly because the dialogue is very stock.  A lot of the time, the characters talk without saying much substantial.  Also, the storyline tends to have typical prodigal character elements, and the ending is fairly rushed, even though it has some good points.  Essentially, this is a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a small church film with a limited cast, the performances therein are actually average rather than below average.  There are some forceful performances from some cast members, but some cast members are better than others.  Emotions are mostly fine, but line delivery is inconsistent.  Overall, this section is par for the course.

Conclusion

Small church films are hard to pull off.  Budgets are almost always limited, yet films like this can redeem themselves by having deep, dynamic characters and a complex, thought-provoking storyline.  Unfortunately, Sunday School does not do this.  While the acting is better than it could be, this movie struggles to be relevant and will likely unfortunately be forgotten as time goes on.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Upcoming Christian Novels: The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo

The Pirate Bride: Daughters of the Mayflower - Book 2 by [Y'Barbo, Kathleen]

Release Date: April 1, 2018

Author: Kathleen Y’Barbo

Kathleen Y’Barbo is partnering with Kimberley Woodhouse to write the Daughters of the Mayflower series. This novel, titled The Pirate Bride, will be the second installment in the series that is set to come out in April of this year. The plot features a woman named Maribel who happens to be the daughter of a famous pirate. She is trying to find her father’s missing treasure. In the pursuit of this treasure, she runs into an attorney who has a less than forgiving attitude towards pirates. Will the two be able to part ways as unlikely friends, or will they fall in love? My opinion is that the latter is true. I mean, come on, the title of the book contains the word “bride”. I hope that this author will focus more on the mysterious side of the plot than the typical Hallmark-style romance elements.

The First Stone [1993] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Murrell is released from prison for serving time on drug charges, he is hired as a charity case at a local church as the janitor, even though there was opposition to him.  As he is quietly going about his work one day, he notices that the youth group has gotten out of control in the absence of the leader, so he decides to step in and teach the lesson for the day.  To everyone’s surprise, the kids respect him, so the head pastor makes a bold move to make Murrell the new youth leader.  The results of this move are surprising and unprecedented.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

As an early 1990s production, The First Stone is fairly archaic, which is evidenced by blurry video quality and poor lighting.  While camera work is fine, the sets and locations are cheap.  The props are okay, even if they are a bit outdated.  There also really isn’t any editing to speak of as this film is shorter than most.  While this movie might have meant well, it has an overall feel that screams very old and worn out.  This one was definitely due an upgrade, but funding was likely hard to come by.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

However, The First Stone is one of those rare instances in which the plot is much better than the production.  This movie tells an actually interesting story about problems in churches and in pastor’s families without white-washing it.  It contains realistic and flawed characters and exposes church secrets and broken family systems.  The circumstances therein are believable, and the dialogue is substantial enough to be interesting.  However, there are still some areas for improvement as this is basically an unfinished idea that didn’t get much funding.  The ending is unexpected and interesting, thus making this film somewhat worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, there are also some acting errors that hold this film back from being what it could be.  The cast members can be too stiff and stilted at times—they basically need some better coaching.  The costuming is old-fashioned, but it’s probably realistic for the time period.  Also, there is acting improvement throughout, as well as plenty of good moments, thus warranting an average score for this section.

Conclusion

You never know what random movies you might stumble upon.  Films like The First Stone are only halfway done, but they have potential to go further.  This movie is definitely worthy of a remake, but it’s unlikely to happen due to the age of it.  Perhaps someone can use the ideas therein to create a truly interesting small church film one day.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Saving the Tin Man (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As one teenager lies in a hospital bed waiting for a heart transplant, the lives of several families around the small town are impacted in different ways.  One family waits for the father to return home from prison, while another prays for their son to live.  The pastor’s family wants to know why he is rarely home, but all of them want to know where God is in all of the pain as they try to medicate their hurts with many different things that will not satisfy.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The opening sequence of Saving the Tin Man is interesting, but it’s still a bit confusing.  However, the soundtrack is definitely creative, even if there is a lot of shaky camera work and poor lighting in the beginning of this production.  There are also some weird sound effects and some moments of randomly bad audio and loud background noises.  Flashbacks are also of an odd quality, and the editing has a strange penchant for cutting to the characters being talked about.  There are also quite of few awkward and even abrupt cuts and transitions.  Nonetheless, there is definite improvement throughout in all production areas, which is enough to earn this section an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story tends to be a bit vague and artistic, it portrays the realistic struggles of the characters, even if they are a bit hard to access at times due to the fact that there are many of them.  In fact, this plot has a hard time deciding on which character to wants to focus on, and thus elects to present their stories in an odd overlapping fashion.  This makes the film very fractured and disjointed, and the sheer number of subplots hurts character development and makes dialogue too shallow.  Also, the Christian message is a bit too trite at times.  However, there is plenty of potential in this plot, and the ending is fairly though-provoking.  With a bit more organization, this could have been a great film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Portions of this section show an amateur nature, such as strange makeup work and some out of place line delivery.  Other lines seem like they were done in only one take, while others are overly robotic and practiced.  However, most mistakes are near the beginning and are mostly ironed out as the film proceeds.  Thus, the acting becomes much better in the second half of the film, thus earning it an above-average score.

Conclusion

Movies like Saving the Tin Man are frustrating because it seems like they have the potential to go further than they do.  Most of the time, movies like this one appear to be rushed, which prevents them from being all that they could be.  With some improved production quality and a more focused plot, this film could have gone further.  However, it will be interesting to see what this team does next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Running Forever (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After September 11, 2001, when he mother died, Taylor Sims is separated from her father for years.  However, she is given a chance to rebuild a relationship with him at the horse ranch he owns.  Taylor predictably finds a horse to bond with and a new boyfriend as well.  But when adversity faces the horse ranch, will Taylor and her father be able to get along and win the competition to save everything?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Though Running Forever (which was repackaged as the scam ‘Christmas’ film A Horse for Christmas) had a $5 million budget, this is one of the worst productions ever made.  Besides cheap video quality and shaky camera work throughout, audio quality is terrible as it frequently uses overdubs and a generic loud soundtrack to cover up loud background sounds that even still bleed through.  Sets, locations, and props are very cheap, and there are too many close-up shots throughout.  There are also unforced issues like obvious continuity errors and awful transitions and cuts.  Overall, despite the money sunk into this sinking ship, this production is a disaster of epic proportions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

A Horse for Christmas Running Forever is one of those stories that is trying to make you think it is bigger than it is.  In reality, everything about this half-wit plot has been done before, from the trouble character going to a rural area to bond with a horse and fall in love with the stable hand, to losing the beloved horse, to mending an estranged family relationship.  These clichés are not even executed in a good fashion, as dialogue is extremely thin, which creates cardboard characters.  The Christian message is plastic and seems very forced.  There is barely any substantial content in this plot, and the psychological elements that are attempted are laughable.  In the end, there is nothing good to say about this movie.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Clearly no acting coaching whatsoever was employed in this film as the film’s makers largely make up a majority of the cast.  Line delivery is awful, while emotions are painful.  Everybody is unnatural and stiff in their performances, and no care was given to casting people according to the ages of the characters they are supposed to be portraying.  Like the rest of the film, it seems like it’s all done on the fly.

Conclusion

New Kingdom Pictures seems like a total scam.  Not only did they try to re-release this film as a Christmas film, they didn’t even attempt to add any Christmas elements to it.  I guess they realized this film was so bad it needed a PR boost two years later.  Regardless, Running Forever is basically a train wreck of a film that had no business being made, not only because of its highly uncreative premise, but also because so much money was mishandled in a terrible production.  Somebody needs to stop giving these people so much money to waste.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points