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The Light of Freedom (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In 1861, the rumblings of the Civil War were just beginning and the work of the Underground Railroad was in full swing.  Christians from the Union bravely joined the slavery abolition movement and saved runaway slaves from their evil masters.  Both the Confederacy and the Union armies pressed their male citizens into military service.  A group of friends and families is followed as they make brave and heroic decisions that forever alter the course of American history.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is an obviously amateurish production, a lot of time and money was spent on making sure that the sets, locations, and props of this film were historically realistic.  They succeeded in this goal, but it was at the expense of other production elements.  Camera work is fine, especially in the action scenes, but video quality is blurry at times.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is a bit generic.  Furthermore, there is a lot of wasted time and one too many dead scenes, which reflects poor editing, even though there is a lot of content to use here.  Nevertheless, this is at least an average production that spends time making certain elements good; it is at the very least a starting point for greater things in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is a period of history that is very much under-explored in Christian film and though there is a lot of potentially interesting content in The Light of Freedom, this film is a collection of random disjointed stories that have no real correlation or driving focus.  Care is given to historical accuracy, but with this comes archaic Shakespearean dialogue that the viewers cannot relate to.  Most scenes are full of information dumps that do not allow the content to develop naturally.  All of the subplots and characters presented need further development so that we can get to know them better and truly understand how we can relate to what is happening.  The purpose of these stories, aside from the historical content, is quite vague, even though there are plenty of opportunities for overarching themes here.  The sheer amount of scenes that contain characters sitting around and talking about trite ideas is frustrating because this time could be given instead to truly character-building, focused, and meaningful content.  In short, while we can see a lot of potential in this story, it’s disappointing that it does not follow through.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a largely amateur cast, they are mostly fine.  They are sometimes too theatrical, but costuming is at least authentic.  There is a need among this cast for more realistic emotions, but they are at least trying, which is the best we can ask for in this situation.

Conclusion

The Light of Freedom desperately needs a remake, or at least another Civil War film like it.  This is an important period in American history for many reasons, one being that it was a time when Christians made a true difference in the culture.  Thus, we absolutely need more Christian films about this era.  It is certainly hard to be historically authentic on a limited budget, but this creative team pulls it off well.  Now if they can just improve other elements, such as characters and plot, they will be well on their way to greatness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Without a Father (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Two men, Jacob Taylor and Christopher Bauman, grew up with different lives, but they both grew up without a father.  Now they live different lives—one is successful in law but not in his marriage, while the other is successful with his family but struggles for work.  Though they have taken two different paths, the truth for them still remains the same: they both have a Father in Heaven Who wants them to turn to Him in their time of need and to put their trust in Him.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, as a low-budget church production, Without a Father suffers on most production fronts.  Video quality and camera work are very inconsistent and mostly low-quality.  Audio quality is also poor, including a loud and uninspiring soundtrack.  Flashbacks are black and white for no reason.  Sets, locations, and props are limited and fairly cheap.  Finally, the editing is also bad, with very awkward and abrupt cuts and transitions that make for a confusing experience.  In short, though this church likely meant well with this film, the delivery is not very good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though Without a Father has a good purpose (which is obviously messaged in the title), the plot completely lacks focus, as it is mostly a random collection of stories all jumbled together.  Though the agenda is good, it is still pushed way too hard in the audience’s faces.  Narration is also heavy-handed and provides more message-pushing.  Trite Christian answers are provided as unrealistic quick fixes for problems.  Also, the legal premise presented here is basically not believable.  Finally, there is no justification for this film being so long, since the runtime is only sustained by long and drawn out scenes depicting the empty characters doing random things and activities of daily living.  Basically, having a low production budget is one thing, but the least you can do as a struggling film maker is make a decent plot without heavy-handed messaging.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As an amateur church cast, some forgiveness is in order here, but it still doesn’t warrant these poor performances.  The cast members are overly practiced and stiff in their delivery.  Emotions are too extreme and there is far too much yelling.  In short, from start to finish, Without a Father is unfortunately how not to make a church movie.

Conclusion

It’s baffling to me how churches make films this long.  In my experience, it’s difficult for a church to even make a thirty-minute film, much less one that’s nearly two hours.  With all the effort put into films like this, what do they really have to show for it?  We can understand not having enough money for a first-time church production, but if you’re going to make a movie like this, at least try to write a good story with realistic characters.  Otherwise, what’s really the point?

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Find a Way [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a locally popular high school football player and role model is taken to the hospital with sudden medical complications, the entire small town finds themselves lost and confused.  The head coach’s family is having hidden problems and other families are suffering from hidden secrets and sins.  The school counselor tries to help wherever anyone will let him, but most people will not let him into their world.  However, slowly but surely, walls begin to come down so that healing can start.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Find a Way is a professional production.  Camera work is mostly good, even though there are some random moments of shakiness.  Audio quality is in the same boat, with some inconsistency and a stock soundtrack.  Yet sets, locations, and props are highly professional and well-constructed.  Editing is also fairly good, which is a change from the norm in independent inspirational films like this one.  Overall, this is a respectable effort that could be a stepping stone to greater things.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Find a Way does fall into the typical pitfalls of independent film making when it comes to its plot.  This story is somewhat limited from the start, but it contains interesting ideas and realistic circumstances that need further development.  It sometimes has a one-track mind and wastes a lot of time on trite asides, which stunts character development and makes them one-dimensional.  Sometimes it is difficult to discern what this story is supposed to be about due to the multiple under-developed subplots presented here.  There are important issues explored here pertaining to broken families, but they are not handled very well due to lack of real focus.  Also, all the problems are basically solved in unrealistic fashions, which teaches the audience nothing.  It’s sad to see reality cheapened because this story could have been really interesting.  But once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though sometimes lines are mumbled and some actors and actresses are awkward, this cast posts mostly professional performances.  Emotions are believable and each cast member seems to fit their character well.  This is another respectable effort that could be a sign of greater things to come.

Conclusion

Find a Way is one of those frustrating movies that contain s creative and realistic ideas that will likely never really be seen by a wide audience because it will be lost in the endless swirl of independent Christian films that are constantly being produced.  It is not bad enough to be remembered for its badness and it’s not good enough to truly make a difference.  But perhaps this is only the beginning of good things still to come from this creative team.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Visitation [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a stranger comes to a small town begins performing miracles, he gains an immediate following.  However, a Baptist pastor and his friends are skeptical of the man, especially as his work grows more and more sinister.  As the town descends into spiritual chaos and demons take over people’s minds, will the Christians be able to stand against the growing evil that threatens the very soul of their town—or they be sucked into evil themselves?

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

As an early 2000s Fox Faith production, this team had the resources to make this film at least somewhat professional.  However, the production is neither respectable nor presentable.  It’s an absolute wreck full of cheesy special effects, constant jumps, and epilepsy-inducing flashes.  Camera work is extremely shaky and video quality is very blurry.  The lighting is very inconsistent and the sets, locations, and props are very cheap-looking.  Finally, as previously mentioned, the editing is atrocious, which makes for an unpleasant experience.  In short, there is nothing good whatsoever to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Frank Peretti was known in his time as a ground-breaking author who wasn’t afraid to breach different genres, but that doesn’t mean he always wrote good stories.  The Visitation is extremely thin on plot and character development in general.  It is beyond cheesy and includes tons of ridiculous horror elements that make for an extremely confusing and dizzying experience.  It’s really unfair to make someone watch this train wreck of a movie, as it jumps from one thing to the next, leaving the audience in a dazed wake.  It doesn’t even seem like this plot is trying to present a real story but is instead checking the box of having a Christian horror film for the sake of having it.  Needless to say, it doesn’t work—not in the least bit.

Acting Quality (0 points)

It’s probably safe to say that any cast that involves Randy Travis already has something wrong with it.  Otherwise, this cast is extremely dramatic, with lots of yelling and extreme emotions.  If they were going for a C-grade horror movie, they reached their goal on every single level.

Conclusion

It’s one thing to breach a new genre in Christian film, and it’s entirely another to butcher a film so badly that it creates a laughingstock.  Non-Christians might watch this film because it’s a horror flick, but they will find a total disaster with the name ‘Christian’ stamped on it.  To date, Christian horror is a genre that greatly suffers, but perhaps someone will turn it around one day…soon…

 

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

 

The Genius Club (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a madman takes the White House hostage with a complex nuclear bomb he has built, he demands that the Secret Service assemble the world’s highest IQ achievers to solve the world’s problems in the President’s bunker before the time runs out on the bomb.  The madman poses a series of philosophical dilemmas and questions for them to solve so they can gain enough points for him to turn off the bomb.  Will they be able to play the game to win before time runs out?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Unlike later productions from Timothy Chey, The Genius Club actually has average production quality rather than negative production quality.  Video quality is good and camera work is good, but there is some randomly poor lighting.  However, audio quality is unprofessional, although the soundtrack is interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are also somewhat interesting and creative.  However, the editing leaves something to be desired with some confusing cuts and transitions.  Overall, this is a middle-of-the-road production that is better than negative but is not what it should be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though The Genius Club has some shades of Timothy Chey wackiness, it also includes some thought-provoking philosophical concepts.  It has an interesting suspense storyline but it lacks flow and tends to jump all over the place in attempts to cover a lot of ground and information, even if it does so in an isolating way.  There are some typical philosophical regurgitations, but there are also some interesting and surprisingly well-thought-out points raised.  However, the characters, even though there are some interesting backstories, and the dialogue are not good enough to sustain a full-scale story as the conversations only seem to be used to fill time.  Finally, as with many suspense ideas, this story has a paint-yourself-into-a-corner ending that is hard to reconcile properly or creatively without being predictable.  But at least this was a reasonable attempt.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is very inconsistent, especially with the over-the-top villain constantly manically tirading.  Stephen Baldwin is always a lazy actor, but his role somewhat fits him.  Other cast members post over-the-top performances, but others are realistic and meaningful.  Overall, like other parts of the film, this is a mixed bag.

Conclusion

Timothy Chey remains to be an enigma.  He is extremely hard to figure, except for the fact that he clearly hates lawsuits, noises, war, and oil companies, as these are constant themes throughout his films.  Yet despite his zaniness, there are some interesting thought-provokers throughout The Genius Club that actually make you think.  However, they are not enough to overcome the inevitable unprofessional elements that are almost always found in his films.  But this one is at least worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Hemingway [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the patriarch of the Hemingway family dies, the future of the successful Hemingway publishing company is in limbo.  His lawyer discloses his will’s stipulations for succession: his son and his three oldest adult children must reconcile their differences in eight hours or the publishing company will be sold to another company.  They must explore family secrets and be willing to forgive each other in order to save their company.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production of Hemingway is inconsistent, but it has its good elements.  Video quality is fine, but some camera work is overly artistic and lighting is sometimes poor.  This is a very silent film with very quiet audio and not enough of a soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are fine, however.  There are some abrupt cuts and transitions, but the editing isn’t all bad.  Overall, this film is a mixed bag when it comes to production, thus warranting an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This film is based on a very interesting idea regarding broken family systems, but it is too low-key and underdeveloped.  Random things tend to happen just because as the story jumps around too much.  The characters have interesting backstories and are somewhat complex, yet they are deep enough—it would have been great to get some substantial flashbacks for these characters.  The dialogue is interesting but it needs some fleshing out.  Also, there are one too many attempts at dry comedy.  Good issues are raised in this film, but they are fixed way too easily.  Similarly, the Christian message presented needs far more substance and meaning.  In the end, this is a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast is sometimes professional but sometimes slightly awkward.  Line delivery is inconsistent, as are emotions.  There are one too many yelling scenes and the makeup is bit off.  But not all is bad, which warrants another average score.

Conclusion

There is something in this film that could have been made into something interesting, but it was never brought out.  This is a non-typical plot about an interesting idea that could have really been something great.  Had the comedy been written by a more skilled writer, things would have been much different.  With a little more investment in production and casting, this film could have gone places.  Maybe next time things will be different.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

23 Blast (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Travis Freeman is a popular and upstanding high school football player who everyone in the small town of Corbin looks up to.  However, when tragedy strikes him and leaves him suddenly blind, he loses his purpose in life and retreats into seclusion.  He gives up on life and his parents are a loss as to what to do until his mobility coach breaks through his protective walls and lights a fire under him to get back up and find his new purpose in life.  With the high school football team struggling to find identity and success, the coach decides to put in Travis as center in the hopes that the whole team will rally around him and save their season.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

23 Blast has a respectable production with only small errors.  Video quality is professional and camera work is great, especially in the sports action scenes.  Audio quality is fine, even if the soundtrack is a bit pedestrian.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and authentic.  There is little negative to point out here except for some slightly poor editing that allows confusing leaps in time to hurt this film.  But otherwise, this is a professional effort that we don’t see enough of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though 23 Blast presents an interesting story that contains honest characters, it commits a huge error by crafting a very rapid progression of events that keeps this plot from being all that it could be.  Massive time jumps leave too many unanswered questions and stunt characters and plot development.  There are too many vague ideas that are not well explained and there are typical sports montages, along with other predictable sports elements.  There are some moments of dry comedy, but we would really have liked to get to know these characters better through deeper dialogue and more personality-forming circumstances.  It’s a shame this plot could have been better because it’s a good story.  Even so, it’s probably still worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is only semi-professional, they post some good performances.  Blind acting is difficult, yet one of the cast members pulls this off well.  Though sometimes lines are mumbled, emotions are mostly believable.  This is another respectable effort.

Conclusion

23 Blast is an enjoyable sports film that many audiences will find interesting and fun to watch.  Though there are some plot issues, the production and the acting are good enough to make this film fine on the surface.  It’s always frustrating to see a story that does not reach its full potential, but this movie shows that this creative team can do greater things in the future, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Ben-Hur [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Judah Ben-Hur was a prince of the Jews, and he was close with Messala, his adopted brother.  However, after Messala leaves to make a name for himself in the Roman army, their friendship was strained.  But disaster struck the Ben-Hur family when they were falsely accused of an assassination attempt against a Roman leader.  Messala refuses to acquit them and thus allows Judah Ben-Hur and his family to be taken captive by cruel Rome.  Years later, when given a second chance a life, Judah must decide how he is going to respond.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The one thing you can say for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey is that they know what it takes to fund and create a top-notch production.  In this controversial remake, there are at least good on-set locations and realistic props.  Camera work is usually good in action and non-action scenes, but sometimes there is some dizzying and wild camera work.  Video quality is obviously clear and lighting is professional.  There are no audio errors, but the soundtrack sometimes does not fit the historical period.  Finally, the editing is quite poor as this previously three-and-a-half-hour film is shoved into a two-hour runtime.  But otherwise, this is the sort of production we need more of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

When an original film is so iconic, there is little point in trying to remake it except to make money off of the name.  The original Ben-Hur was a ground-breaking classic for its time, which makes even more ridiculous the fact that this modern take on the story completely alters the original plot for no reason.  As Morgan Freeman tells you everything you need to know through narration, time rushes by at breakneck pace in an attempt to hit all the carbon-copy high point scenes of the original film.  Thus, as the film speeds along, there is no time to get to know the characters or connect with their struggles.  One minute they’re here, and the next minute they are there.  The presentation is so lazy and pandering that it’s laughable.  The writers do just enough to remind you of the old movie while at the same time turning the plot inside out for little reason.  The whole experience is overly dramatic and off-putting, thus making for a disappointing film.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if changing the story wasn’t enough, Burnett and Downey had to drag a whole slew of BRITISH people to play Jewish and Roman characters again.  What would people have said if Morgan Freeman’s African character had been cast as a white British dude?  Besides cultural inconsistencies, the acting is simply too dramatic.  Though the costuming is historically realistic, it’s not enough to make up for the mistakes of this section.  This is another bust.

Conclusion

Burnett and Downey have perfected the model of lazily ripping off and ruining Biblical and historical plots in order to make money.  What they have not perfected is actually using the rare money and resources they are able to somehow acquire for their films for something good and effective.  They are one of the rare production teams that have the ability to actually make a respectable, well-marketed, and recognizable Christian movie, but they fail at it every time, even drawing criticism from mainstream outlets.  The question is, where do they go from here?

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Full of Grace [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary the mother of Jesus was one of the most important characters in the Biblical narrative.  She was given the privilege of bringing the Messiah into the world and raising Him as a child.  But as she grew older, she became a follower of her Son, the Savior of the world.  Some believe she had a major impact on the early church and her whole life was a testament to the grace of God.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

In attempts to be artistic, there are some unusual production elements in this film.  For one, camera work is very shaky in parts.  Video quality is strange and there is a lot of poor lighting throughout.  Audio quality is fairly inconsistent, but the soundtrack, though it is sometimes too loud, is at least intriguing and creative.  Furthermore, there are a lot of long and wasted sequences that are overly artistic.  There is also too much recycled footage.  In the end, where this could have been an interesting production, it is just not.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there are some interesting psychological elements in Full of Grace, like the production, the plot tends to get lost in artistry.  A lot of the story is extremely low-key and almost purposely understated for no particular reason.  There are a lot of scenes of characters sitting around talking about off-screen Biblical and historical events, but Full of Grace commits a common Biblical movie sin by focusing more on extra-Biblical and extra-historical content then on the actual content we have available to us in the Bible and in other historical documents.  Besides this, the characters cannot be connected with because they seem like ethereal, otherworldly figures rather than regular people.  Also, it is very difficult for this film to hold the attention as there is hardly enough content to sustain a feature length film.  This movie seems like it was written for one good scene that has a good message, but this occurs near the end, so it is unlikely many viewers will make it this far.  Unfortunately, Full of Grace is just another Biblical film disappointment.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The one thing this movie got right was culturally authentic casting without BRITISH people.  This is an amazing concept that most never get right.  Thus, though there are some overly dramatic performances, the professional and responsible acting and casting is the standout in this film.

Conclusion

There is so much in the Bible that needs to be made into movies.  The Bible is a historical document filled with real people who encountered God in one way or another, just like we do every day.  It’s time for film makers to dispense with the practice of crafting Biblical characters that we can’t even relate to and start treating Biblical narratives like real events that actually happened.  If this happens on a consistent basis, things will finally begin to change.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

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