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Checkmate [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Aaron Carlson has a dreamt to go to law school, but he feels like this will never happen because everyone keeps telling him he’s not smart enough or rich enough.  However, one night, when a secret chess society visits him, he is inspired to take up the riveting sport of chess in order to somehow win admission into law school or something.  It doesn’t have to make sense, so just sit back and watch the exciting chess montages.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Like many films PureFlix has enabled over the years, Checkmate has basement-level production quality.  Camera work is inconsistent, but video quality is mostly fine.  Audio quality is also fine except for those scenes that are obviously overdubbed and except for the loud soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly cheap and limited.  Also, editing is not really present as those chess montages and other boring sequences tend to dominate the runtime, while some scenes are cut very short.  Basically, this is not a production that should have been approved.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Between the laughable seriousness that is portrayed in this riveting tale and the overly dramatic moments with no justification, it’s very hard to put your finger on this ‘story.’  Are we supposed to believe this plot is based in reality?  Not only is it incoherent and pointless, but it’s also dominated by snore-inducing activities of daily living and you guessed it: chess montages.  It has a juvenile portrayal of life through the eyes of eccentric and weird characters.  In the end, this story is so inept and pointless that I can’t even imagine what the pitch for it was.  I guess it didn’t matter back when PureFlix was rolling out movies like Twinkies.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though there are some okay moments that keep this movie from acting purgatory, this cast is still dominated by stiff and robotic performances.  Many cast members are overly practiced with their lines, while others appear to be making a joke of the whole thing (for good reason).  Emotions are almost nonexistent.  Essentially, this rating doesn’t reflect how useless this movie is.

Conclusion

The only thing left to say is to offer another plea to future Christian film makers to work extra hard to make sure these sorts of films are no longer commonly found in the Christian movie world.  Take cues from films like this to check, re-check, double-check, and triple-check your ideas and production before sending them to distribution.  Please give us quality over quantity.  We desperately need it.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

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Carman: The Champion (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Orlando Leone is not in good health, but after inheriting his father’s gym, he finds himself with mounting debt and not enough income to cover his bills.  His only choice is to re-enter the boxing scene and win a high-stakes prize fight in order to earn the money he needs to save the gym.  However, the fight will be against his gravest rival.  Will Orlando’s medical condition keep him from being the hero?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For an early 2000s film, Carman’s self-titled ego trip is not a bad production all around.  This means, as usual, that video quality and camera work are good, even in the sports action scenes.  Audio quality is adequate, even though there are some minor background noise issues and the soundtrack is sometimes too loud.  Yet there are plenty of good sets, locations, and props, especially pertaining to the sports elements.  However, there are also some editing concerns, mostly pertaining to the sports montages and the slightly choppy presentation.  But on the whole, this is an acceptable, above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there is some potential in this story, mostly pertaining to the realistic circumstances portrayed in this plot, there are also a lot of formulaic elements here.  This film is basically your average sports redemption arc combined with a predictable save the farm with an impossible sports feat subtext, mixed with a dash of the medical complications subplot.  Thus, the characters are too shallow as they mainly function as pawns in the plot’s circumstances that are inevitable regardless of what they do.  Things happen because they need to and mostly consist of typical scenes and sports montages, as previously mentioned.  The romantic subplot is cheesy and rushed and the villain is a strawman.  There are also some unnecessarily edgy elements just because.  Basically, while this was a nice try, it’s not good enough.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite Carman being a lead in this film and putting a damper on things, the other cast members aren’t really half bad in this film.  However, there are moments of emotion that are too dramatic and forced.  The villain cast member is basically annoying.  On the while, this is just one of those films that has good elements but is mostly forgettable.

Conclusion

Carman the Champion was a part of an early 2000s push from Trinity Broadcasting Network and others to bring a diverse collection of Christian films to the big screen, but the effort was not entirely successful.  While this movie was sort of the first of its kind in Christian circles, replicating the basic Rocky plot using Carman isn’t really worth doing.  Christians should be more creative than this, so maybe future film makers can take cues from this.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Judas: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Judas Iscariot did not always intend to betray Jesus Christ, but he was always hungry for Jesus to begin a revolution to overthrow the Roman Empire.  Inspired by radicals and shunned by his well-to-do Jewish family, Judas felt he had no other options except for Jesus to fulfill his biggest dreams.  Yet when this does not happen, Judas allowed Satan to take control of his life and thus became the betrayer of the Savior of the world.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Lux Vide and the Trinity Broadcasting Network have always been committed to good production quality, especially when it comes to historical authenticity.  Video quality and camera work are good, and audio quality is also fine except for a sometimes loud soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are as usual the strongest point as they reflect at least some degree of historical authenticity.  There are really no glaring errors here except for the usual editing concerns, but other than that, this is a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lux Vide and the Trinity Broadcasting Network did push new frontiers with their Bible movie ambitions, but Judas commits the same errors others did in the past, such as Jeremiah, Esther, Paul the Apostle and The Apocalypse.  While this installment is an interesting and unique look at a different Bible character than usual, for the most part, the characters are still too lofty and inaccessible.  This is especially true of the Jesus character.  It’s like they took cues from the 1970s Bible movies again.  There is also a cheesy romantic subplot to boot.  However, not all is bad here as there is an interesting Judas character arc and there are some realistic happenings in this story that keep it alive.  Yet this overall too-dramatic presentation keeps this story from being all that it could be.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Like the other Bible films from these creative teams, the cast is also too dramatic and theatrical.  Line delivery is sometimes too breathy and even archaic.  The cultural authenticity of the cast is random and inconsistent, even including some BRITISH people.  Yet at least not all is bad here, even though this film overall does not live up to its full potential.

Conclusion

It was certainly good of TBN and Lux Vide to try to bring different Biblical accounts to the big screen, but audiences want and need Biblical characters that can be related to, not more lofty play actors.  It’s unfortunate that a lot of these otherwise well-funded efforts went to waste, because there was so much that could have been done with these films.  But perhaps someone can use these as a blueprint of what to do and what not to do in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Sins and Blessings (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sean and Cameron are friends, and they have both made mistakes in their past, but each of their lives is taking a different track now.  Cameron is trying to walk the path God wants him to walk, but Sean is stubborn.  However, life circumstances bring Sean to his knees, and God finally gets his attention to tell him that Sean needs to go meet with an old friend in order to save the friend’s life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sins and Blessings stands out from movies like it by demonstrating effort to have a quality production.  This include good video quality and camera work.  Audio quality is also good, except for some minor background noises.  The soundtrack is acceptable.  Sets, locations, and props are slightly limited, but they are mostly realistic and adequate for this film.  There are also one too many quick cuts and transitions that hamper the otherwise smooth editing, but these are really the only nitpicks to point out.  In all, this is a respectable production that reflects the (hopefully) growing movement to raise overall quality of Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The strongest point of this plot pertains to the attempts to craft realistic characters that experience believable struggles and circumstances.  However, there are some missed opportunities to develop deeper characters due to the somewhat shallow quality of the dialogue.  There are a lot of scenes depicting the characters standing around and talking without really saying much substantial that would help us further understand them as people.  The storylines presented in this film are somewhat typical and predictable, but at least they are accessible.  Though the message of this movie is slightly simplistic, it is a good message nonetheless and demonstrates a willingness to be honest about the struggles of people and God’s call.  In short, this is a good start that will hopefully be built off of in the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is a mostly amateur cast, their performances are actually better than most church films like this one.  There are good efforts to be realistic through emotions and line delivery.  Most of the time, the cast members are natural in their delivery, even though they can be underwhelming at times.  Yet in the end, this is a very good section to round out an at least average movie.

Conclusion

Sins and Blessings is an ideal start for first time film makers.  It checks all the necessary boxes to be a great jump start for better films in the future.  Once a few of the minor production and acting kinks are worked out and once the plot and characters become slightly more realistic and accessible, this creative team will be well on their way to greatness.  It will be interesting see where they go from here.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Touch [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a convicted drug dealer, Hannah has seemingly run out of options as she sits in a prison cell.  However, she accidentally stumbles upon a way for the judge to look kindly on her—a women’s Bible study group offered by a local church.  She attends the group begrudgingly and only to get out of prison, but she feels surprisingly drawn to the leader.  Thus, when she gets out and finds herself in another mess, Hannah turns to the group leader for help.  Despite opposition from within the church, a new shelter has been opened for troubled women, which gives Hannah a new lease on life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a small church film, The Touch avoids all the negative connotations that go along with this sub-genre.  Production is good due to professional video quality and camera work.  Sometimes the soundtrack is too loud, but otherwise, audio quality is good.  Sets, locations, and props are good, even though there is some slight room for improvement.  The flashbacks have some odd qualities about them, and the editing tends to be a bit too choppy at times due to some awkward cuts and transitions.  However, on the whole, this is a respectable production and one to be proud of, considering the meager beginnings.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the writers of this plot knew how to portray real people with realistic struggles and gritty circumstances.  The church people are also portrayed very well.  however, there are times when the gritty elements can be a bit too realistic, such as an overuse of ‘mild’ profanity and some edgy elements.  Though the characters are definitely believable, we could use a little more personality and character development here through more meaningful and less information-dumped dialogue.  Nevertheless, flashbacks are used very effectively to build character backstories.  Yet the issues presented tend to be fixed too quickly to suit the runtime.  But regardless of these small issues, this is a very good plot that deserves applause for not being just some stupid, self-contained church idea.  It’s unfortunate that we were not able to see more from this creative team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting probably has the most drawbacks of this film, even though there is a lot of potential in this amateur cast.  A lot of the time, emotions and lines are very much forced, as if through gritted teeth, especially from the female lead.  There is a serious need for coaching at the beginning of the film, but the good thing is that improvement is shown throughout.  Also, other cast members are consistently good throughout.  In the end, this is a fairly enjoyable movie that stands out from other church films.

Conclusion

This church really had something going for them—perhaps one day they will resurrect their filming ambitions and show other churches how it’s supposed to be done.  It’s still frustrating that average is a standout in the Christian movie world, but credit should be given to those who put forth the effort to have an amount of quality in their films.  Many film makers could learn a thing or two from The Touch.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Brother’s Keeper [2015] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Andy and Pete Goodwynn are twin brothers and always have each other’s back, even when they do not see eye to eye on things.  However, when one of them is falsely accused by a powerful man in town who can have whatever he wants, neither twin brother knows what to do.  Though it seems like there will never be justice, little do they know that they will be challenged to grow closer to God as a result of the adversity they face.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It is clear that a lot of work was done in Brother’s Keeper to have a professional production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is very engaging and interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are all appropriate and realistic for the time period.  There are really no glaring errors to point out here.  The only caveat to raise pertains to some minor editing issues, since a large amount of content is being handled here.  But on the whole, this is nearly a model production and one we should see more of in the days to come.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The storyline of Brother’s Keeper is one of the most interesting yet most frustrating plots to witness.  It depicts an unfortunately realistic corrupt small-town premise filled with believable characters that each have their own flaws.  The plot writers were not afraid to be real in their depiction of people and thus have crafted some good dialogue here.  However, despite this plot’s many positives, it is hamstrung by a very disjointed structure that includes large and seemingly unnecessary plot holes and time jumps.  The portions that are chosen to be time jumps really make no sense as to why they couldn’t have been included.  Due to the other plot elements, one would think that the story could have more continuity.  Yet nonetheless, this is an interesting story that is at least worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a relatively professional cast, and it even has an excellent villain cast for Ray Wise.  There are only minor errors to speak of here, mostly pertaining to some overdone emotions.  However, there are plenty of good moments to highlight, and line delivery is on point.  Though there are some small areas for improvement, this is a great example of good casting and coaching.

Conclusion

Due to the scope of this idea, the movie either needed to be split into two parts or it needed to be made into a miniseries.  There is enough content and character development here to sustain at least a two-part miniseries or movie.  Even though this film falls short of the Hall of Fame, there are plenty of positive elements in it that can be applied to other films, such as a non-typical, complex storyline, as well as professional production, casting, and coaching.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team makes anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

A Strange Brand of Happy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

David Weathersby has no clear direction in life, especially after being fired from his job by his hotshot boss, who is impressed with himself.  He feels like he doesn’t have any purpose and decides to languish away, so his roommate decides to introduce him to a random life coach he ran into so David can find a fresh purpose for himself.  But this introduction only creates a problematic love triable between David, his old boss, and the life coach.  Will this silliness ever be resolved?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In a change from previous Rebel Pilgrim productions, such as Hope Bridge and the awful Fenced Off, A Strange Brand of Happy at least has an above-average production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is a bit silly, however, and there is some odd soft lighting throughout.  There are also a lot of cheesy animated interludes that give the movie a juvenile feel.  Also, a lot of the sets are relatively limited, as well as the props, and there are no real locations.  Finally, editing is just average and contributes to a slightly above-average, but not quite all-the-way-there production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Full of cheesy and quirky characters, this story is just a childish romantic ‘comedy’ based on a silly and manufactured love triangle.  Nearly all the humor is very forced and dry and is thus not funny.  There is too much pointless goofiness throughout, including silliness for the sake of being silly.  At times, this story feels like a joke, and it contains some very vague Christian themes.  With no real direction or purpose, this plot is just a bunch of random content assembled in a formulaic and predictable fashion, with a side of weird edgy elements and a very strange tone throughout.  Any meaning that is tried to be inserted at the end is too little too late, thus making for mostly a waste of time.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast is very stiff and wooden in their delivery, as well as awkward.  There is definitely not enough coaching here, although there are some good moments to note.  However, there is a lot of odd makeup work throughout, as well as some unnecessary yelling throughout.  In the end, this rounds out an overall low-average and basically low-effort film.

Conclusion

Rebel Pilgrim certainly knows how to make a strange brand of movies.  What exactly are they going for?  They’ve attempted the dramatic emotional exploration in Hope Bridge and the stupid comedies in Fenced Off and A Strange Brand of Happy, but what do they really have to show for it?  They also present a strange brand of Christianity in their films, so perhaps the title of this movie is not by accident.  Are they actually just trolling like The Asylum to see what some money they can make off of their efforts?  Your guess is as good as ours.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Paranormal [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Novelist Greg Evans doesn’t believe in all that paranormal stuff, even though his son regularly goes to Ouija board ‘meetings.’  But then he begins experiencing paranormal events that he cannot explain, so he calls in a group of paranormal investigators to come check out the weird stuff going on in his house.  Meanwhile, Greg’s wife prays that he will finally see the truth about the supernatural.  Will Greg seek the truth before it’s too late for him?  Will anyone be able to make through this film in its entirety?

 

Production Quality (-2 points)

From the studio that brought you the awful Pray. trilogy comes another cringeworthy horror production literally filmed with a camcorder that somebody carries around their houses and some abandoned buildings they commandeered for this madness.  In this other worst possible production from Cross Shadow, everything is wrong.  Sound quality is terrible, including the always unacceptable overdriven audio.  The soundtrack is also strange.  Video quality is blurry at times and lighting is inconsistent, including a lot of night vision scenes.  Sets, locations, and props are very lacking and sad.  Probably one of the worst elements of this film are the cringeworthy special effects that seem like they were pasted on top of the video.  Basically, with nothing good to say here and many extremely bad elements, this is another negative production from Cross Shadow.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Much like Pray., Pray 2, and Pray 3D whatever, Paranormal is full of the worst possible portrayal of the spiritual\supernatural realm.  Demons can only gain power over people through Ouija boards and extreme hauntings are apparently very commonplace in this universe.  Stupid jump scares are used to make this movie ‘interesting,’ as if that’s possible.  The whole thing is designed to scare you into not playing with the devil, but it’s done in such a juvenile fashion that this movie is only good for laughs.  The characters are so poorly designed due to impossibly bad dialogue that there’s no way to take this seriously.  The Christian message is equally silly.  All drama is completely forced and manufactured as time is wasted on pointless night vision footage and exposition.  Essentially, the Christian horror genre is among the worst.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Much like their other awkwardly titled movies, the Cross Shadow casts are stiff, awkward, and sometimes annoying.  Of course, it’s not like they had actual lines to work with, but the lack of coaching makes matters way worse.  Emotions are forced and unnatural, thus making for an even more painful experience.  Unfortunately, there is nothing positing to note about this film.

Conclusion

Why do we need another one of these after Pray., Pray 2, and Pray 3D whatever?  Why does this sort of horrifically low quality film making need to be perpetuated?  Why is the Christian horror genre so bad?  There are all pressing questions, but none of them are answered in this film.  All we are left with is another embarrassing display of ineptitude and an example how to not make a movie.

 

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

 

Bringing Up Bobby [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

James and Bobby have taken care of each other ever since their parents died, but Bobby is stuck in high school identity crisis while James tries to figure out what he going to do about his sister trying to take him to court over their parents’ will.  Meanwhile, their other brother Dennis shows back just in time for the court hearing—especially since he’s on the run from Russian anarchists.  But things begin to change when James and his sister’s lawyer begin to fall for each other and Bobby decides he is going to change himself to impress a girl at school.  Will any of them figure out who they really are?  Will we ever be able to understand what this movie is even about?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though the production quality of this film is mostly fine, the same cannot be said about the rest of the film.  Nonetheless, video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit dumb but not all bad.  Sets, locations, and props are fine, even if they are a bit juvenile at times.  There are some weird sound effects throughout, as well as some awkward transitions and ‘artistic’ asides that tend to hamper things.  But on the whole, this production is respectable enough.  However, this trend does not continue throughout the film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

There is literally no way to understand where this plot is coming from or where it’s even going.  Full of zany, eccentric characters that spout childishly comedic and stupid dialogue, this story overall lacks focus, direction, and purpose.  A majority of the scenes are lazily designed to elicit some sort of amused snicker or even eye-roll just because they’re so stupid.  The storyline is aimless and generally lacks arcs.  It most definitely lacks depth and meaning.  The Christian message is forced and awkward.  Any lesson that is trying to be conveyed here is totally lost in the wake of nonsense.  Basically, this ‘plot’ needed a lot of vetting before it was released to the public.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Much like the characters, the cast members are mostly off the wall and over the top in their performances.  Emotions are forced and so-called comedy is painful.  Though there are some good moments here that save this section from nothingness, it’s just not good enough.

Conclusion

One has to wonder why Provident decided to stamp their name on this madness.  What is the true faith-based on even inspirational value to this film?  It’s not even marketable or watchable.  Most audiences will turn this off after about ten minutes.  True comedy takes well-developed characters and witty, well-thought-out dialogue, not just throwing stuff against the wall to see what happens.  Another day, another failed Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

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