Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

An Interview With God (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (3 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

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 (3 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.  There are really no errors to point out here as the Erwins have masterfully captured another poignant true story in the context of film.

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: 10 out of 10 points

Altar Egos (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Pastor John Bridges inherits his father’s church, he is given huge expectations by the congregation, who is led by his suspicious and controlling stepmother, Mary Margaret.  John’s wife Betsy wants him to look for a better opportunity, but John wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.  However, when Mary Margaret leads a church revolt against John, he decides to take matters into his own hands and enlists the help of his theatre-guru son to help him create an alter ego to convince his stepmother to reconcile.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

For the obviously low budget that was provided here and other limited resources, this is a highly impressive production.  This is a key example of what we want first-time film makers to do: use everything you have to the fullest potential, even if it’s small.  Every aspect of the production of Altar Egos is highly professional and there are no errors here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all flawless, even though there are both indoor and outdoor scenes.  The soundtrack is a little goofy but it works for the comedy genre.  Sets, locations, and props are all realistic and authentic and demonstrate care.  Finally, the editing is good, although there is only a small amount of plot content to work with.  In the end, this production could have easily been another Flywheel, but it wasn’t.  New film makers are raising the standard for the market.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As with most church comedies (and Christmas comedies for that matter), the plot of Altar Egos is fairly limited in scope.  It follows a predictable progression and isn’t really all that creative.  However, the characters are highly believable since the dialogue is well-written.  The comedy is subtle instead of obvious and is actually truly funny.  Yet the comedy does run its course.  Though the message presented in this film is good, this movie tends to overstay its welcome with one too many extended sequences and montages.  As previously mentioned, you can see the ending from the beginning, but nevertheless, like all comedies, the characters make this movie what it is, thus making it worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better casting and acting job than this for a first-time film maker.  Robert Amaya assume his first lead role very well, and even Erin Bethea is good as a quirky side character.  Victoria Jackson is always hilarious when she’s cast as an unserious and goofy character.  The new cast members also add a lot to this film as each of them assume their characters very well.  Basically, comedy is made or broken by the acting, and this cast passed the test.

Conclusion

Once listed in the Box Office Revolution Movie Purgatory, Altar Egos has made a comeback and has risen to the top of the market, leaving behind other 2017 films that were better funded and marketed.  This just goes to show you what can happen when a film maker really cares about the movie they are making and takes time and effort to make it happen the right way rather than just any way.  Altar Egos demonstrates top-notch production, despite low funding, as well as superb casting and acting.  Though the plot is a little thin at times, effort is put into dialogue and character development.  All of this spells a bright future for Sean Morgan and his team—so far, he’s the best Liberty University has to offer in the writing and directing department.  They should consider using him for their future projects.  Regardless, this film is certainly worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Case for Christ [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Strobel was an acclaimed newspaper reporter who had seemingly reached a new level in his career with his in-depth research pieces.  Everything in his life seemed perfect, until his wife Leslie began talking to a Christian nurse who saved the life of their daughter and became a Christian herself.  Lee’s staunch atheism was immediately challenged by his wife’s beliefs, even though she had become a better person as a result.  Thus, Lee set out to disprove the faith of his wife by attacking the core tenets of Christianity and skeptically investigating the truth behind them.  However, the deeper he went into his investigation, the less faith he had in atheism.  He would eventually have to come to grips with what he really believed and make a decision that would change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

After years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness, Jon Gunn and his team, aided by the new standards of PureFlix, have finally found the promised land.  The Case for Christ is a flawless production in every aspect and is an example of what we should see in every film.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are error free.  The soundtrack is highly authentic and appropriate for the time.  Sets, locations, and props are exquisite and demonstrate great care for historical accuracy.  Finally, editing is excellent as montages are kept to a minimum and each scene transitions seamlessly.  Basically, this is your textbook perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

What better plot to use than a real-life story that many audiences can relate to for multiple different reasons?  Not only is this film about real people, but they are actually portrayed as real people through meaningful dialogue and realistic circumstances.  This film could have easily descended into an information-saturated and message-heavy dump that tried too hard to push its point, but that is not the case here.  Both the atheist and the Christian characters are portrayed extremely well and the highly relevant message is presented in such a way that it is both clearly understood and easily received without being pushed in your face.  In the hands of a different writer, this idea could have gone south very easily.  Yet it did not, and Brian Bird proves that with good content, he can go great things.  The only nitpick to raise here is some slight choppiness, but it’s not a big deal.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent plot and one well worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this, as each member fits their character excellently.  There are zero acting errors to point out as every performance is executed with near perfection.  Emotions are highly believable and line delivery is on point.  This rounds out an excellent film.

Conclusion

In conjunction with Brian Bird, Jon Gunn has finally discovered his true talent and has struck gold.  He put previous disappointments behind him and found a way to become a great film maker.  All we ask of film makers is to show steady and consistent improvement, and Jon Gunn has done just that.  He was also afforded a great opportunity to tell the amazing true story of Lee Strobel and to have better funding due to the better decisions made by the PureFlix leadership.  This film gives Jon Gunn, Brian Bird, and the rest a platform to build off of to do even greater things.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Because of Gracia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chase Morgan is going to be a senior in high school, but he never feels like he’s been able to make a difference in life.  He is content to just hang out with his best friend OB and not really be noticed by anyone, but when a new girl, Gracia, comes to school, she turns his world upside down and he feels like he has to get to know her, even though he is terrified.  But as they grow closer and become friends, they discover that they have the ability, through their faith in God, to change their world together.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The collaboration of Film Incito, Check the Gate Productions, and Five Stones Films is a lethal combination in crafting a flawless production.  Because of Gracia demonstrates exactly what a modern Christian production should be, from excellent video quality to professional camera work to seamless audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very well-constructed and appropriate for the genre.  Sets, locations, and props are also without flaw.  The editing is nearly perfect as well as the story is presented in an inviting fashion.  In the end, Lisa Arnold and her production team have finally struck gold with this film, and the sky is the limit from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

New screenwriter Tom Simes has debuted his skills with a worthwhile plot.  Though the story is somewhat limited and tends to be a stereotypical high school romance, the characters carry the story very well and make it enjoyable.  Dialogue is mostly creative and complex, thus serving to build the characters.  The biggest issues to point out here are a lot of unnecessary heavy-handed narration and quite a few ‘silly’ sequences that keep some characters and subplots from being further explored.  It’s great that we know the main characters well and that they are not black-and-white in their construction, but we would like to get to know the supporting characters just as well.  Also, the epilogue that is tacked onto the end of this film really puts a damper on an otherwise excellent point that is shared at the end.  Nonetheless, Because of Gracia isn’t afraid to deal with some very real and serious topics in a realistic fashion, so the creative team must be applauded for this.  In the end, this is definitely a good plot to start out with since it shows further potential for the future, and it is still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this.  Moriah Peters and Chris Massoglia are excellent in their roles, as are Ben Davis, Masey McClain, and the rest.  The collective minds behind this film really hit a home run with this cast, as each cast member assumes their character flawlessly and even improves upon what is written for them.  Emotions are very believable and line delivery is excellent, which demonstrate the presence of acting coaching.  In the end, this section punctuates a very worthwhile film.

Conclusion

We should be seeing movies like Because of Gracia come out every month from Christian film makers.  This proves that with time, adequate funding, effort, and care, any film can be Hall of Fame.  With the right combination of producers, directors, and writers, greatness can happen.  Movie making, more often than not, should be a team approach, and hopefully Christian film makers are learning this now.  When it releases to the public, this film is definitely worth everyone seeing.  It lends great encouragement to the slow but sure turnaround and upward trend of Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Cokeville Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a madman and his wife entered a small Wyoming elementary school and took everyone inside hostage for an astronomical ransom, it seemed like all hope was lost.  As the hours ticked by and tensions rose, no one could have predicted how it all would end.  The crisis escalated and a seeming tragedy struck, but no one in Cokeville was prepared for what happened next.  The children of the school claimed a miracle had occurred, but many were skeptical at first—until they saw the evidence for themselves that God was at work.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Cokeville Miracle is a raw production effort that starts out, unfortunately, very cheap-looking and drab.  This mostly pertains to some poorly lit scenes, some grainy video quality, and some poor special effects.  However, as the movie goes on, all production elements improve.  It’s clear that this team stayed within their means and did not over-exhaust their resources.  By the second half of the film, there are virtually no production errors, making this a very unique production.  Overall, it comes out as average, and since the production does get better as it goes, the film is saved from total disappointment.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

We always say you can never go wrong depicting real life on the big screen, as long as it’s depicted properly.  The story of the miracles at the Cokeville Elementary School in 1986 is one that is worth portraying, but also difficult to portray since such a portrayal could easily become sensational and unrealistic.  However, this was not the case with this film.  Each character is realistic and believable—even the villains—and dialogue is effective in building the characters.  This type of story is not easy to craft properly, yet The Cokeville Miracle unfolds exquisitely and makes you stay until the very end.  Historical authenticity is preserved as this story makes everyone, even skeptics, think about the nature of modern day miracles.  In short, this is a film well-worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For an ‘amateur’ cast with not much notoriety, the cast of this film gave a slam dunk performance.  There are no acting errors here, even where there were potential pitfalls, such as villain acting and child acting.  Care was taken to preserve the original people who experienced this crisis firsthand.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is effective.  This rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

While we would have loved to see higher production quality, this team did everything they could do with what they had, and that’s really all we ask of film makers.  Whatever God has given you, do the best you can with it.  The Cokeville Miracle proves you don’t need a big budget or big names to make a great movie.  All you need is a good story and the care enough to tell it properly.  ‘Little’ films like this one put ‘big’ ones to shame and demonstrate true greatness.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

I’m Not Ashamed: The Rachel Joy Scott Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rachel Joy Scott was an artistic free spirit who longed to change the world.  When her father left the family when she was young, it left her confused and searching for affirmation in her friends.  However, after a spiritual experience one summer while staying with her cousins, Rachel knew she would never be the same again.  But she still struggled with trying to hang out with her old friends, who always tempted her to be like them.  As Rachel tried to discover her true identity, she still felt like she needed to change the world.  In the end, as tragedy hit Columbine High School, she did change the world, and touched many lives in the process.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is obviously a talented and dedicated production team, as they went all out to make this movie as realistic as possible.  They stayed true to authenticity with the sets, locations, and props, demonstrating that this was not created lightly.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are obviously flawless.  The soundtrack is effective and thought-provoking.  The only detracting factor in this movie is a slight editing issue that is mostly due to having too much content to deal with.  But otherwise, this is a high quality production that shows both the commitment and the skill of those involved.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

We say this all the time—it’s almost always better to portray a real life story in a movie.  With guidance of real events and people, the Rachel Joy Scott story has been thoroughly and effectively brought to life in I’m Not Ashamed.  The characters are highly accessible and relatable, as are the circumstances they experience.  Rachel is a real person with real struggles and real problems, as are the other characters.  The dialogue is excellent and builds strong personalities for the characters.  The only caveat to raise here is the fact that since such a large story was taken on, some parts seem rushed through, but nothing bad enough to ruin this story’s overall point.  The message that is communicated through this plot comes across very well and challenges Christians to live out their faith without compromising.  This is a job well done.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Movies can be made or broken by their casting, but I’m Not Ashamed does not disappoint.  Each cast member fits their character exquisitely.  This is arguably Ben Davies’ best performance to date.  All emotions are realistic and lines are delivered effectively.  Costuming is realistic.  There are no errors here.

Conclusion

It might have been tempting for someone with less than pure intentions to portray Rachel Joy Scott as a perfect saint, but this was not done by this writing team.  She was a teenager who struggled to live out her Christianity, just as many of us do.  Yet though she was surrounded by confusion and turmoil, she made a difference with the short life she had.  Besides being a quality film, I’m Not Ashamed succeeds in communicating this important message.  This is what Christian film should be about, so things are certainly looking up.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

 

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Gavin Stone, a washed-up child star, is trying to find his next big break when he gets himself in big trouble with the law.  As a settlement, the judge offers him a deal that includes required community service hours at a local church.  Gavin accepts the deal and returns to his hometown to stay with his father, whom he has not spoken to in years.  While working at the local church, Gavin stumbles upon a church play they are planning for Easter and decides to audition for it.  However, in order to get the part of Jesus, he has to pretend that he is a Christian.  But the longer he pretends, the more he becomes interested in what his new friends have to offer.  He will have to decide how long he’s going to keep up the charade and whether or not he wants the real thing.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

With an adequate budget, wise spending, and clear talent, the production team of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone proves that churches can make high quality productions.  There are no errors to point out here—camera work is professional and video quality is crisp.  Audio quality is flawless and the soundtrack is adequate.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  There are also no editing problems; everything flows perfectly.  In short, Vertical Church and the rest of this team set their minds to making a top-notch production, and it paid off.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Throughout her writing career, Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always shown that she has a knack for writing real-life comedy, especially church satire—Gavin Stone is no exception.  Though this passed-around plot is formulaic and predictable, Nasfell takes it to its furthest potential, which is all we really ask of a writer.  Though this appears to be a stereotypical small town setup, it’s really not of the Hallmark brand (which actually gets a subtle jab at one point).  The characters are not plastic and cheesy, but instead are realistic and believable.  Dialogue is highly effective and drives the plot, as it must in a predictable comedy.  While the plot follows a stereotypical progression and this fact keeps it from being a higher score, this is the best anyone can do with this sort of idea.  Nasfell has always had a lot of writing talent, and Gavin Stone showcases this once again.  We can’t wait to see her break out into greatness one day.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Like the production team, the casting team went all out to make this portion quality.  One character even says “Acting is about being yourself through the character.”  This acting philosophy is reminiscent of the Kendrick\Erwin school of thought and is desperately needed in all of Christian film.  Actors and actresses do not need to be who they are not, but instead need to act naturally and professionally in their character.  Anjelah Johnson-Reyes demonstrates this extremely well in her first headlining role—she might be one of the best Christian actresses of our time.  All other cast members also demonstrate poise and professionalism in all ways, thus warranting a perfect score.

Conclusion

Dallas Jenkins, Andrea Nasfell, and the rest of the team demonstrate in this film that it really isn’t that difficult to make a quality Christian film.  With the right funding, a wise allocation of funds, a plot taken to its fullest potential, and a professional cast, anyone can make a Hall of Fame movie if they put their mind to it.  With creators like these, there is hope for the tide of Christian entertainment to continue to turn.  Now we ask Jenkins, Nasfell, Vertical Church, and everyone else involved in to use Gavin Stone as a springboard to even greater entertainment.  They are on the verge of the upper echelon and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Return to the Hiding Place (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As the Nazis strengthened their grip on the Netherlands, the brave Ten Boom family and their accomplices—a secret army of teenagers and college students—worked tirelessly to undermine the evil work of the Third Reich.  From hiding Jews and sympathizers to tracking Nazi movements to distributing illegal material to springing prisoners, the ragtag force was constantly doing something to resist the evil.  But when they are stretched to their furthest point and feel like all hope is lost, they will have to dig deep and determine what really matters most.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

From start to finish, it is evident that the Spencer family and their team are dedicated to high quality productions.  It was ambitious of them to choose a difficult historical setting to portray, but they delivered exquisitely.  Each set, location, and prop is perfectly crafted for realism.  Video quality is excellent and camera work is effective in building suspense.  Audio quality has no flaws and the soundtrack is epic.  The only nitpick to raise here is some minor editing problems, probably due to the nature of this large-scale story.  But in the end, this is a top-notch production that will take them places in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

We always say that when it comes to movies, true stories are usually better than fiction.  Return the Hiding Place is an example of this.  Though the historical topic is very large and difficult to handle, it is handled almost perfectly.  Though there are many subplots, a common thread weaves them together to forge a true historical epic.  The characters are many, but they are believable and authentic.  Real, even hard, life is portrayed effectively.  The ending is powerful and drives the point home.  The biggest issue to raise here is the constant and seemingly unnecessary narration throughout.  While the dialogue therein is great, we would have liked to see more showing than telling.  But otherwise, this is a plot to behold and one you don’t want to miss out on.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much thought was put into making this cast historically and culturally authentic, from costuming to accents.  Each character is cast excellently.  Line delivery is very much on point and emotions are real and believable.  The only compliant to raise here is some minor accent issues, but it’s not enough to detract too much.  In short, like every aspect of this film, it’s a job well done.

Conclusion

Return to the Hiding Place receives half of an x-factor point for portraying an important issue by properly connecting with audiences in multiple ways.  This is the sort of film we should see over and over again produced from Christian entertainment.  It’s high quality, plot-heavy, and well-cast.  Money was clearly spent wisely to make this film the best it could be, and it paid off.  The Spencer family and their team are truly talented, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

The Matchbreaker (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Ethan Cooper is fired from his day job, he picks up an unlikely freelance job when a friend of his parents’ pays him to break up her daughter from her boyfriend.  She then refers Ethan to other parents who want their daughters’ boyfriends gone.  His business booms almost overnight until he is hit with two difficult cases: one set of rich parents want their son to give up his ‘low class’ girlfriend and one mother refers Ethan to break a girl up from her boyfriend—only the girl turns out to be Ethan’s childhood crush.  He will have to decide whether or not to proceed with his heart or his head.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Vetter Brothers and Wesley Elder clearly have a commitment to quality and professional production that is demonstrated throughout The Matchbreaker.  Video and audio quality are crisp and the camera work is effective.  Sets and locations are highly realistic and enhance the movie.  The soundtrack is also great and down to earth.  Finally, the editing is flawless and drives the point home.  In short, there are no real errors here and it’s refreshing to see more and more new film makers committed to starting off with quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Caleb Vetter, Wesley Elder, Torry Martin, and Marshal Younger certainly make up an excellent writing team.  The comedy in The Matchbreaker is quite good, as is most of the dialogue.  Thus, the characters are all very believable and excellently developed.  However, this storyline is somewhat simplistic and straightforward, leaving it with little potential to work with.  But despite this, it is developed to its fullest extent.  There’s also some minor narration to contend with, but it’s not a big deal.  In the end, though the plot is this movie’s weakest area, it does not keep it from being a movie worth watching as there is plenty of real humor to enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Like the production, there are no errors to point out with this casting job.  Each character is cast to perfection and each cast member executes their role flawlessly.  Comedy acting takes true to talent to avoid being too obvious, and this cast delivers.  This is a job well done.

Conclusion

There is clear talent in the collaboration of the Vetter Brothers, Wesley Elder, Marshal Younger, and Torry Martin.  The Matchbreaker demonstrates a commitment to high production and acting quality.  While we would like to see a more complex storyline and a deeper Christian message, there is great potential in this team for the future.  People like these creators prove that independent Christian films can be quality if the right dedication and talent are applied.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Heaven Bound [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ted is a successful dog food marketer until one fateful day when he accidentally kills his company’s iconic mascot and becomes the town laughingstock.  Underemployed and in debt, Ted and his wife Josie are doing their best to make ends meet, but it’s not enough.  Josie is unhappy, so she concocts a plan to swipe her elderly boss’ valuables in order to pay their debts.  Accompanied by her lazy little brother, Ted and Josie attempt to pull off a caper but soon find that their intended victim has more in store for them than they thought.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Heaven Bound is a measuring rod for films with limited sets.  It uses each location to its fullest potential through effective and witty camera work and crisp video quality.  Audio quality is also exquisite, including a memorable original soundtrack.  The editing is highly effective in driving the comedy home.  In short, there are no production errors, thus giving this area a perfect score.  Adam Drake and Torry Martin show true talent with productions and great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

You can always count on Marshal Younger, Torry Martin, and Rene Gutteridge to deliver an eccentrically funny storyline filled with true comedy.  This plot is a masterful mix of humor and meaning.  They demonstrate how to write a plot with only a handful of characters: though they are few in number, each character is very deep and believable.  The biggest drawback to raise here is that the plot is mostly formulaic and predictable, but it is still highly enjoyable.  This team took the storyline to its fullest potential, and that’s all we ever want to see.  They have true talent and should be utilized in more movies in the future.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though a small cast, this group carries the film well with highly professional acting.  Each character is cast appropriately and delivers their lines effectively.  A wide range of believable emotions are also displayed.  With no errors, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

With Drake and Martin handling production and Younger, Martin, and Gutteridge handling the writing, Heaven Bound is a true work of art—a lethal combination of comic genius, thus warranting a spot on the Hall of Fame.  This film had a limited budget—imagine what they could do with more resources!  This team has true talent and they will be getting bigger and better as time goes on; we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.  In the meantime, Heaven Bound is definitely a movie you want to make time to see.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

https://vimeo.com/199484564



Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Summer Snow [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Dan Benson’s wife dies, he and his three kids are left trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how they are going to move on.  Julie is getting married soon and has big plans with her fiancé.  David is trying to find his way through teenage-hood without his father around.  Hallie is a young girl who touches everyone she meets in special ways.  Little do they know that their lives will soon be changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In Summer Snow, American Family Studios and team have shown a dedication to professional production quality.  Video quality and audio quality are clear and the soundtrack is fairly good.  Camera work is effective and sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  The only issues to raise here are some minor editing problems due to some missing plot pieces, but it’s not enough to totally derail this otherwise superb production.  We expect more greatness in the future from this team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Summer Snow is a raw character-driven plot about real people doing real things.  The dialogue is excellent and helps the viewer to really appreciate the struggles of the characters.  The plot is artistic and engaging and a good mix of comedy and hurt.  While we would have expected American Family Studios to awkwardly handle the social issues portrayed in this film, this was not the case.  The social issues are handled very well and framed in very interesting ways that make one think.  The biggest things holding this plot back are some minor plot holes and some parts that need to be expanded upon.  The end is also neat and tidy but still ambiguous at the same time.  In short, Jeremy and Kendra White need to be utilized more in writing inspirational plots because they have true talent that can be expanded upon.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is a flawless casting job with no errors.  Each person is cast exquisitely.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are excellent.  Rachel Eggleston is possibly the best child actress in a Christian film to date.  This is a job to be proud of.

Conclusion

Films like Summer Snow should be the standard for Christian movies.  It takes on family values and social issues in realistic ways without creating strawmen or making Christianity offensive.  It depicts real people in real life so that all audiences can access what they are going through.  While it’s not the most complex plot in the world, it gets the job done and deserves recognition for that.  We can’t wait to see more from Jeremy and Kendra White and American Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Candle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The people of Gladbury have always looked forward the Christmas when an angel comes and blesses a candle at Haddington Candlery.  The tradition of the Haddington family has always been to give the blessed candle to someone in need, since the candle has special powers to give that person what they needed.  This Christmas, with a skeptical new pastor in town and more requests than ever for the fabled Christmas Candle, the Haddingtons feel like they’re in over their head.  This only gets worse when Edward Haddington trips the night the angel blesses a candle and causes all of his candles to scramble in a mess on the floor.  Now, with no way of knowing which candle is the blessed one, Edward and his wife Bea decide to give a candle to everyone on the request list and hope for the best.  But little do they know that there is far more in store for them this Christmas than they could have ever imagined.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Echolight Studios has always put together top-notch productions, and The Christmas Candle is no exception.  The video quality is very clean and the camera work is extremely professional.  Audio quality is excellent, including an epic original soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and historical props are very realistic and appropriate.  The editing is flawless and presents the plot seamlessly.  In short, Echolight has always thrived with productions, but this is perhaps their crowning achievement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Adapted from a beloved Max Lucado novel, this plot is far better than one might expect from a Christmas storyline involving angels touching candles.  It is extremely character based and driven by excellent dialogue.  Though there are numerous characters and subplots, they are handled extremely well and are threaded together wonderfully.  There are some excellent points raised throughout, including a balanced view of miracles versus good works.  The issue of the angel blessing the candle is actually presented in a palatable and even believable way.  The only problems to highlight here are some convenient plot coincidences and one too many silly magical elements.  Otherwise, this is a masterpiece storyline and stands as an example of how non-Biblical Christmas plots should be written.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Christmas Candle utilizes a very professional cast, yet their ‘big names’ do not give excuse for lackluster acting.  There are virtually no acting errors here, as each member of this very well-rounded cast is coached well and delivers their lines and emotions superbly and effectively.  As a side note, each actor and actress is also cast appropriately for their characters, which is a rare feat to accomplish.  In summary, this rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

With The Christmas Candle, Echolight has finally found their way home.  For years they have searched for a great plot to combine with their excellent production quality, and they have finally achieved this.  Max Lucado has also taken his career to a new level, as this film actually improves upon his original work of fiction.  It’s refreshing to know that there are quality Christmas movies in the Christian field instead of all the usual garbage that is forced upon us.  As we come around to Christmas Day, let’s just enjoy the fact that there is still hope for Christmas films.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

Priceless [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

James never intended to become a bad man, but he slowly slipped into a destructive lifestyle after his wife tragically died.  After losing custody of his daughter and being convicted of crime, James finds himself desperate for cash.  He agrees to help a ‘buddy’ out by hauling unknown cargo across the country to an unknown buyer, no questions asked.  But just before he reaches his destination, curiosity gets the best of him and he breaks the lock to see what is inside the box truck he has been driving for days.  Inside, he finds two young women in squalid condition and is faced with the ultimate moral choice: does he complete the job for the cash or does he break protocol and face consequences?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

It is refreshing and encouraging that there are new Christian film makers coming onto the scene every year to contribute to a growing army of creative minds ready to redeem the field once and for all.  2016 has been a year for many film makers to try to make their mark, but Priceless stands alone from them all, starting with exquisite production quality.  Shot on location (there’s a concept!) with professional camera work and angles, Priceless has all the goods.  Video quality is excellent, including diverse lighting done right.  Audio quality is flawless and the original soundtrack is an epic breath of fresh air.  Sets and locations are extremely realistic; outdoor scenes are executed well.  There are no editing problems.  There are few times we have an opportunity to say this: there are no production errors in this film.  The production is easily one of the best for a rookie effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Unlike the failed Caged No More, which portrays human trafficking in a far-off location away from ‘safe’ America, Priceless shoves the issue in your face—in the middle of small town America and American suburbia.  Though the beginning sequence is a bit rushed and the narration is heavy-handed, there are no errors beyond this.  The flawed character arcs are inspiring; we really feel like we can relate to the struggles of the characters.  Dialogue is effective in building the excellent storyline, as is the use of flashbacks.  The plot itself is very gritty and down to earth; there are no unbelievable elements or plot holes.  The Christian message is neither in-your-face nor muted, but is presented tastefully.  Edgy elements are handled properly.  The creators did all they could do with this plot, including a slight plot twist and an appropriate ending.  In short, except for some minor rookie errors, this is a plot to be proud of.  It not only presents the human trafficking problem to the audience in a realistic way, but it does so with authentic characters and an engaging storyline.  We can’t wait to see more from the Smallbones.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Taking a page from the Kendrick\Erwin playbook, the Smallbone team employed acting coaching and it paid off.  Though the cast is small, they carry the movie well.  In Priceless, Joel Smallbone finally became vindicated for past uninspiring performances that were likely the consequence of poor leadership in those films.  Bianca Santos is a very promising actress for the future.  Emotions are very believable and line delivery is on point.  Costuming is appropriate.  In short, there are no errors here.

Conclusion

Priceless receives an x-factor point for presenting a highly important issue in an exquisite manner.  While watching this film, I was reminded that this is why we do what we do.  Christian film makers who care use their God-given talents to create movies that make a difference in the culture.  Similarly, we feel God has called us to critique the Christian creative so that hopefully the field will improve as a whole.  Enslaved girls is why we do this.  Lost souls is why we do this.  Mobilizing activism is why we do this.  Making a difference is why we do this.  Under such films as Priceless (and other Hall of Fame films) can we unite for a common cause and no longer remember the days of failed low-quality Christian movies.  Budding film makers like Ben Smallbone and his team are lighting the way and giving us hope for a new day in Christian film.  Since this is how he has debuted, we cannot wait to see what he has to offer next.

 

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

 

The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In this landmark Biblical epic, the suffering of Christ is depicted on the big screen.  Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing to the various trials and through brutal torture, the final hours of Jesus are shown as He struggles up the Via Delarosa to the final reckoning at the Place of the Skull.  Complete with flashbacks to Jesus’ previous ministry and windows into the spiritual battle surrounding the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ was a game-changer in Christian-based film that opened up a whole new world by refusing to fall into the trap of cute and clean Bible movies.  The real passion of Jesus Christ was horrible and wonderful, and something that we as Christians should never take for granted.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a professional and talented director and screenwriter, Mel Gibson puts his gift to a greater good in The Passion.  The camera work is epic, including great angles and clear video quality.  Sound quality is exquisite and the sets and locations are diversely realistic.  Of course, the main element of the production—the gore—may seem excessive to some and may frighten young children, but it is necessary to show Christ’s suffering in this way because any other way would minimize His sacrifice for us.  First century Judea was violent and Jesus’ persecution was intensely awful, and The Passion captures this unfortunate reality.  Finally, the musical score greatly enhances the film.  In short, while Mel Gibson is not an exclusively Christian director by any means, he has shown Christians how to make a great production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

All Christians are familiar with the basic Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden, before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate, and on the cross.  But before this movie, we believe that many western Christians did not fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s suffering.  Some may consider The Passion to embellish and sensationalize the torture, but we believe otherwise.  A majority of this film is violent and gory, but for good reason.  The purpose of Christ’s suffering is clearly communicated.  The Biblical characters are realistic and are enhanced by flashbacks.  From the beginning to the end, The Passion highlights an important and too-often forgotten aspect to every Biblical narrative: the spiritual battle that takes place away from human eyes.  Jesus’ interactions with Satan are epic and make this movie all that it is.  Of course, there are slightly too many unnecessary elements to this plot, including unusual personal beliefs of Gibson, overly sensationalized subplots, and a slight deification of Mary.  These keep it from being all that it could be.  But nevertheless, the plot, though it covers a short period of time, is very deep and profound.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The decision to use Aramaic and Latin instead of modern English was a success.  Though some of the actors and actresses are American, most are actually Middle Eastern and Jewish, which is a huge step.  The cast is obviously coached well and perform well, though most of them are not blockbuster actors and actresses.  Emotional delivery makes this movie what it is.  In short, this cast proves that ‘big names’ aren’t always needed to make a great film.

Conclusion

The Passion of the Christ was an early indicator of Christian audiences’ hunger for quality Christian films.  Some churches were criticized for publicizing a ‘secular’ film, but Mel Gibson simply did something no one else would do—he shattered Bible movie stereotypes by crafting a gritty and terribly realistic screenplay on the ultimate act of love and suffering in human history.  As mostly sheltered Christians who sometimes take for granted the gross realities in the Bible, we all need to be reminded of how real and painful Jesus’ crucifixion was, lest we forget how monumental His sacrifice for us was.  It’s only a shame that The Passion was not a perfect film, yet it still lands on the Hall of Fame as one to be remembered and one that made a difference for Christian film forever.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Seven Days in Utopia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When he blows his chance to make it big on the golfing scene, Luke Chisholm has a televised meltdown that leads to him running from his controlling father and crashing into a farm fence.  The owner of the land, rather than take him to the authorities, decides to let him stay there and learn some finer points of golf.  Frustrated and skeptical, Luke begins taking eccentric golf lessons from the older man and soon finds that the farm, Utopia, is more than it seems, just as his new mentor is more than he seems.  Little does he know that he is about learn more than just how to play golf better, but how to win in life, and that seven days in Utopia can change everything.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Seven Days in Utopia is obviously a well-made project.  The creators did their production homework and scored.  The camera work is great and enhances the film, including artistic camera angles and clear video quality.  Outside scenes are filmed well.  The musical score is intriguing.  The surroundings are authentic.  The only caveat to raise here is that some parts seem like they need to be edited better—there are some wasted scenes that only fill time.  But otherwise, Utopia is a top-notch first-time production that should serve as a model to follow.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

For a sports plot, Utopia is very unique psychological journey.  It reminds the audience that there is more to every sport than just technique—athletes are people with pasts that need to be dealt with appropriately.  While the message is not as explicitly Christian as it could have been, the point is clear: behavioral tendencies need to be explored head-on into order to live up to one’s full potential.  The plot of Utopia is a slow burn, and is more than it seems, which is also conceptualized in the plot.  Flashbacks are used exquisitely to strengthen the story.  Dialogue is profound and the characters are solid.  As previously mentioned, there are too many filler scenes that keep this plot from being all that it could be.  However the end of the movie is extremely epic and changes everything for it.  Without this end, this movie wouldn’t be what it is.  Utopia has arguably one of the best sports ends on the market.  In short, while it had room to grow, this film is definitely one of the best of its genre.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is obviously a professional and well-coached cast.  This is not an exclusively Christian cast, but there are no acting errors here.  Emotional delivery is great and line delivery is solid.  There is nothing to complain about here.

Conclusion

Utopia is a one-of-a-kind movie; there has never been one like it and there likely won’t be again.  It should serve as an example to the inspirational market of how to make a niche movie that stands out among the rest that are easily forgotten.  We were disappointed in its lack of a clear Christian message, but Christian elements exist.  Nevertheless, it earns a Hall of Fame spot and its concepts should be replicated in different and creative ways.  The Christian market desperately needs more movies like this.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Risen [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Clavius is a Roman tribune who has seen everything in battle and thinks he has encountered every type of first century person possible.  He is hardened by violence and gore and shows little emotion anymore.  Battle-wearied from dealing with zealots in the wild Roman province of Judea, the last thing Clavius wants to do is perform an extra task for Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea.  The task: make sure a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua dies so that His following disperses and things calm down in the area in time for the Emperor Tiberius’ arrival to the province.  Clavius expects his task to be open and shut, but what he finds instead is an experience that could change his life forever, as he encounters the mysterious followers of the even more mysterious Yeshua.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

So many times, bad production quality derails movies with great ideas, especially Bible movies.  Too many Bible movies give off a church play quality, but Risen takes this concept and obliterates it.  The sets, locations, props, and costuming are exquisitely authentic, which is often the first hurdle to clear for a first century narrative.  Next, it actually contains action scenes—very well crafted action scenes.  The first century surroundings are highly believable and gritty.  The video quality and sound quality are flawless.  The camera work positively enhances the film, including poignant camera angles.  A lot of Christian movies in general have a poor or vanilla musical score, but Risen uses music to bring the movie to life.  In summary, the production quality of Risen lives up to the marketing and delivers a movie to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The journey of Clavius is very linear and straightforward—if you know the Biblical narrative, you will not find any plot twists here.  However, plot twists are likely not the purpose of this movie.  Though the investigation is somewhat simplistic, the gospel message is very clear and is presented in a realistic way that can be accessed by all.  The characters are extremely authentic and the dialogue is witty.  Another common error in Biblical films is portraying Scriptural characters as inaccessible and ethereal; Risen does not fall into this trap.  Its characters alone make this plot stand alone from others in its genre.  The Peter character is likely the best portrayal to date.  Jesus’ adaptation is also very accessible for audiences everywhere.  Subtle humor is inserted into the plot that is appropriate for the historical time period and makes for a well-rounded viewing.  The only caveats to raise here are a minor plot hole, a time-filling action sequence, and the somewhat vague conclusions to the Roman political subplot.  But this small issues aside, Risen is a unique and creative take on Biblical and historical narratives, with accurate elements integrated throughout.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The cast of Risen is obviously professional and very well coached.  Each actor and actress becomes and embodies their character excellently.  The line delivery is masterful and the emotions are felt.  The only negative element here is that Risen does fall into a common Bible movie trap by casting quite a few British actors.  The only thing that keeps Risen from being completely authentic is the presence of more obviously European actors than obviously Middle Eastern actors.  Otherwise, there are no acting or casting errors.

Conclusion

Risen receives half of an x-factor point for having a dynamic underlying worldview that drives the movie.  For once, this is a film that a Christian could take an unbeliever to in order to expose them to a clearly communicated and well packaged gospel message without being ashamed of low quality.  The problems with Risen are very minor and will not be enough to keep widespread audiences from seeing and enjoying this film.  A movie in the vein of Risen has been long overdue on the Christian scene and we at Box Office Revolution heartily anticipate more like it in the near future.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Torn from their parents and hometown due to the rage of World War II, the Pevensie siblings must make their new home in the mansion of an eccentric elderly man and stay out of the way of his picky housekeeper.  Little did Lucy Pevensie know that choosing to hide in a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek would give her entrance to a mystical world called Narnia.  After meeting a new friend, Mr. Tumnus, Lucy soon discovers that all is not well in this land where winter is year-round.  After being mistreated by her brother Edmund, who also found his way into Narnia, the four siblings are forced to enter through the wardrobe, and are surprised to find that the creatures of Narnia have been awaiting their arrival, along with the coming of a legendary lion named Aslan.  Together, the siblings must band together and dig deep in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy and to save an entire land.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As is to be expected from the production crews involved, the production is professional and obviously well-funded.  The classic children’s series from C. S. Lewis was long awaiting a high quality rendition, and it was providence that his stepson Douglas Gresham was allowed to be an executive producer, so to preserve the original intent of Lewis’ work.  The camera work is great, as are the video and sound quality.  Fantasy productions are expensive and hard to do well due to difficult sets and costuming, but this one pulls it off well.  The only issue to raise in this film is some obvious green screens and CGI in some parts, but it is not glaringly obvious.  In short, this is finally a quality film based on the timeless work of Lewis.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

The book’s plot is adapted very well, even enhancing the original plot without losing the allegorical message, which is surprising with Disney involved.  Douglas Gresham can be credited for this preservation.  The character development is decent and the dialogue is both realistic and character-building.  The twists involved are true to the book; no extreme creative license is taken here.  The one issue to raise here is that some parts of the plot tend to be overly dramatic, no doubt a Disney contribution.  But the bottom line is that this is a solid plot that does not compromise the novel’s purpose.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The funding paid off—the acting is overall professional and well coached.  Though it is largely a mainstream cast, they demonstrate great acting skills, taking on the book’s characters well.  One caveat to bring up is that a few lines fall flat in an attempt to be sensational.  But this is not really a big issue and is easily forgotten.

Conclusion

A lot of things could have gone wrong with this film: Disney could have run away and destroyed the plot, the acting could have been deemphasized in favor of action sequences, or it could have been another cheap puppet production like so many Narnia movies before it.  None of these scenarios occurred, and thus, this movie lands in the Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame.  It is not a perfect film, but it was a great start to the unique Narnia movie saga and must be recognized for its strengths.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

King’s Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brendan King has been everywhere and done nearly everything.  Mike and Vanessa are not the first foster parents he has had, but they have agreed to give him one last chance to help him finish high school and turn his life around for good.  Informed by his newfound faith, Brendan seeks to leave his checkered past behind and discover exactly what God wants him to do.  But he did not expect to get pulled into the troubled life of the local homecoming queen, be harassed by a suspicious detective friend of his new foster parents, or be visited by unwelcome characters from his criminal past.  In spite of the odds against him, Brendan must dig deep in his faith in order to navigate the turbulent waters ahead.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

King’s Faith may be an obscure Christian film, but it is certainly not to be overlooked.  The production quality is envied by many low budget independent movies.  Its camera work is great, as is the video and sound quality.  The editing puts many unique scenes together skillfully.  Diverse sets are used to film many different types of scenes, from action to soft.  The costuming and makeup work are good.  The only caveat here is that there seems to be a few filler scenes to lengthen the runtime.  Otherwise, there is nothing to complain about in the production of King’s Faith.  It sets a new standard for first-time independent Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

King’s Faith is based on true events, and the plot captures a sense of realism.  It is a semi-linear plot, and not completely non-linear.  The dialogue is authentic, thus building the characters well.  The intentions and personality traits of the characters are showcased well.  Issues that face juvenile ex-convicts are portrayed well.  The end is not what is usually expected of semi-inspirational plots.  However, as previously mentioned, there is some wasted time in the movie.  Another issue is the presence of unnecessary narration.  We suggest that more flashbacks to build the characters would have remedied both of these issues, thus creating a perfect plot score.  Nonetheless, King’s Faith is a great plot and an excellent starting point for future movies from this crew.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For a cast of little-known actors in an obscure movie, the acting is excellent.  Nothing is overplayed and emotions are displayed accurately.  This demonstrates the handiwork of great acting coaching.  Though the cast is modest in number, they carry the movie well and prove that it is possible to have great acting in a lesser-known independent film.

Conclusion

Re-integrating into society after concerted jail time is difficult for a juvenile offender.  Such a person needs a social safety net, accountability, and a purpose in life.  King’s Faith deals with all of these issues without being too obvious or preachy.  The Christian worldview is slightly understated, but it is not lacking.  Overall, King’s Faith demonstrates that there is no excuse to ever make a cheap Christian film.  Though it is not dynamic, it is profound and worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

What If… [2010] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In a moment of decision that altered his life’s course forever, Ben Walker left his chance to go into full-time ministry and marry his longtime girlfriend behind and instead entered the cutthroat business world to pursue a six-figure salary.  He achieved the salary and snagged a fiancée that looked good next to him, but he never found something to satisfy the emptiness within.  Hence, his car is hijacked by a mysterious tow truck driver who claims to be an angel and Ben is transported to an alternate timeline where he gets to live as if he had married his old girlfriend and gone into full-time ministry.  Unable to escape his alternate life, Ben is forced to play along and discover what the true meaning of life is.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

There are really no production errors to speak of in What If…  The camera work is professional and the editing is straightforward.  It is difficult to pull this type of plot without including cheesy production elements, but What If… avoids these pitfalls.  The sets are diverse and there are no video or sound quality errors.  The soundtrack is effective.  This film takes the route of not committing errors and while it does not do anything dynamic, it also does not turn off the viewer.  This is a well-done production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

While there is nothing original with this sort of parallel universe plot, this rendition is a good one.  The plot twists are minor but the dialogue is good.  The characters are believable, as are most of the events of the plot.  There are some predictable elements and while the overall plot is quite simple, there are once again few errors committed.  There is truly funny humor throughout that is not overdone.  The only caveat here is the confusing end that seems to force a certain conclusion to occur.  Otherwise, this is a very good plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with the theme of this movie, the acting is good without detracting from the overall movie.  This is perhaps Kevin Sorbo’s best lead role.  John Ratzenberger is cast very well.  The only issue Box Office Revolution has with the acting in What If… is the fact that there is no excellent acting, just great acting.  But when considering many Christian films, this is truly an accomplishment.

Conclusion

What If… is a Christian film that is recommendable and may even appeal to some non-Christian audiences.  In a field of poorly production Christian films, What If… stands out.  It is created well enough to join the ranks of the best Christian movies.  Christian film makers should delve deeper into these types of psychological genres without falling into typical plot patterns.  What If… can be an example to follow.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

The Ultimate Gift (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has always had everything he ever wanted—at least everything that money could buy.  Growing up in a successful oil dynasty, he has never seen anything but money, fakeness, and broken relationships.  So when his patriarchal grandfather dies and the family gossip turns to who will get the largest share of the family fortune, Jason is uninterested and aimless in life.  However, his world takes a unexpected turn when his father’s lawyer informs him that he is the one who is to inherit the largest portion of the fortune—if he can pass a series of seemingly eccentric tests designed to help Jason learn what is most important in life.  As a result, Jason is forced to look at who he really is and what God really wants from him.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The production crew of The Ultimate Gift showed true talent in this film.  The camera work is excellent, including video quality and angles.  The sets and locations are quite varied.  The story is supposed to take place in at least two different countries, and this feat is pulled of well.  The editing is great considering the fact that there is a lot of content in this film that could have cheesily been strung together.  The series of gifts is not choppy and comes off naturally.  In short, there are no production errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As previously mentioned, it must have been hard to weave this type of content together into a clean plot line.  Screenwriter Cheryl McKay actually improved Jim Stovall’s book in this adaptation, building on the characters and the storyline and making it more palatable.  Dialogue is not forgotten in this miniature epic, even though it is concise.  There are several interesting plot twists and things do not turn out as most inspirational plots would.  Comedy and realistic drama are mixed well throughout.  The only concerns to raise here are that some of the characters are slightly shallow and stereotypical.  Otherwise, the plot content is very strong.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Ultimate Gift cast is made up of mostly mainstream and professional actors, but they do the job well.  They have obviously been coached well.  Each one is appropriate in their roles and does the best with what they have.  In short, there are once again no errors here.

Conclusion

While The Ultimate Gift is not a perfect film, it is certainly high on the list.  It deals with a very unique topic in a very unique way.  It would have been easy for the movie format to come off as amateurish, but this does not happen.  One caveat is that there is not an explicit Christian message, but there are plenty of Christian values displayed.  In short, this film is not only an enjoyable view, but it should also serve as a great example to anyone who wants to create an independent Christian film in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

The Last Sin Eater (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cadi Forbes has lived all her life in a Welsh immigrant settlement deep in the Appalachian Mountains, isolated from the world outside.  She has lived in fear, as have the people in her settlement, and now she has a terrible secret to guard.  Not only that, but she has risked trouble on her life by laying eyes on the forbidden sin eater—the cursed individual who must atone for the sins of those who die in the settlement.  Seeking a way to end it all, a mysterious girl guides Cadi to listen to a stranger preach to the forest about a hope she has never heard before.  She is now more curious than ever to learn about the stranger and even the identity of the cursed sin eater.  But what will it cost her in the end?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The production of The Last Sin Eater is excellent, with only minor problems.  The camera work is good, as is the video quality.  The only issue to raise is the inconsistent lighting in some scenes, though it could be argued as realistic.  The audio quality is overall good, though the soundtrack could be a little more inspiring.  There are diverse sets and the Appalachian scenery is realistic.  Some of the flashback content seems a little low quality, perhaps on purpose.  In the end, this production is done very well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

This is likely Michael Landon Jr’s best movie to date, but it can be credited to the writing genius of foundational Christian author Francine Rivers.  Her book that inspired this movie is among her best, and Landon’s adaptation is seamless.  The plot ties realistic historical events to an excellent fictional story built around believable characters.  The superstition is woven wonderfully with Biblical elements.  The characters are realistic and flawed, driven by true-to-life dialogue.  There are twists and turns in the plot, and the end is slightly unexpected.  In short, this excellent plot can be attributed to the genius authorship of Francine Rivers and to the honest adaptation of Michael Landon Jr.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For a cast of largely little known actors, they perform quite well.  The line delivery is mostly accurate, though it seems forced at times.  Sometimes the Welsh accents seem fake, but other times they do not.  Despite these small issues, there are no extremely negative elements where the acting is concerned.  This cast is a good example of what can be done with the proper coaching.

Conclusion

There are plenty of lesser and well known Christian novels that can and should be adapted for the screen.  Where many movie plots are stock, there are plenty of Christian works of fiction that could be portrayed through video instead of more bland inspirational films.  The Last Sin Eater is an example of what can happen when an excellent novel is adapted correctly into a movie.  This film should be a blueprint for many more movies in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Abel’s Field (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Seth McArdle didn’t ask for his mother to die or his no-account father to leave him to take care of his two younger sisters.  Despite his pleas, Seth’s brother refuses to help him or have anything to do with him.  Therefore, Seth must attempt to successfully complete high school instead of drop out like his father did, and hold down two jobs in order to barely support him and his sisters.  What’s more, the football coach and his quarterback son both hate Seth’s family, prompting Seth into a fight that lands him with a third unpaid job working under an eccentric maintenance worker named Abel.  With the bank calling to collect on the overdue house payments, Seth feels like his whole world is crashing down around him.  He must either choose to ask for help or resort to desperate measures.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

For a little known production, Abel’s Field puts many independent Christian films to shame.  The video quality is professional, and the camera work is also good, including great sports action scenes.  The sets, locations, and props are also well-placed and well-utilized.  It seems like a lot of time and effort was put into this slightly obscure film, even though the budget was not as much as some films that are much worse than it.  The editing is effective and artistic, and this production is overall a surprisingly error-free one, which is something we definitely need to see more of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Abel’s Field is a very unique character-driven biopic that conceals key twists and character motives until the right moments.  While many portions of it are fairly slow and may not hold the attention very well, the storyline patiently unfolds through subtlety and good dialogue.  It’s actually rare to see this type of dialogue in a film like this one, even though some efforts could have been made to hold audience attention slightly better.  However, the characters are still accessible as people, and their struggles can be related to.  The latter half of the film is better than the first, and the ending has several interesting twists and turns that make for an enjoyable experience, even if the plot is not as good as it could have been.  It’s a nice, simple film with a good message.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This movie is both cast well and acted well.  Kevin Sorbo manifests arguably his best role in playing a character that suits his acting strengths.  Samuel Davis is excellent, as are the supporting actors.  It would have been easy for the acting to have been bland and wooden, but this is not the case.  Emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  Thus, there are no negative acting elements.

Conclusion

With a better budget and a smidgen more time spent on the plot, Abel’s Field could have been higher rated than this.  However, this movie is a testament to the fact that it is possible to make a quality film with only a limited budget.  The plot is does just enough to be interesting, and it is filled with realistic characters living out realistic lives.  Abel’s Field fulfills the formula of great production and great acting combined with a plot that does just enough, so it will be interesting to see what this creative team produces next.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Unconditional (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samantha Crawford believes that her life was perfect when her husband Billy was alive.  Therefore, when he is murdered in a seemingly random mugging, her entire world—and faith—come crashing down.  Ready to take her own life where her husband died, Sam’s suicide attempt is suddenly interrupted by the needs of two street kids who are injured in a hit and run.  This distraction from her world of depression directs Sam down an unexpected path on which she reconnects with a childhood friend, Joe, who is now being a father to fatherless children on the streets and in the projects of Nashville.  Together, they discover that God’s unconditional love changes everything, even hurts from the past.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

For a pilot film, the production quality of Unconditional is exquisite.  The camera work is flawless.  The editing is wonderful, masterfully mixing the past and the present.  Since Brent McCorckle is a composer, the music of Unconditional gives the movie a very professional and artistic flair.  The sets are very diverse and realistic.  In short, there are no errors here as the crew obviously put a lot of time into making this film look very professional.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

Since this film is based on true events, it already has a lot going for it.  The plot is not as linear as most plots, which is a good thing.  True-to-life dialogue and poignant flashbacks build accessible and flawed characters.  The events the characters experience are very realistic and believable.  While the plot twists are minor, this is not an issue because this story could take place in any inner city in America.  There is one surprise at the end that is a change-up from most movies, thus making this entire plot a breath of fresh air.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The cast of Unconditional is experienced and professional, and they are obviously coached well.  While a majority of the actors are not explicitly Christian, they are utilized for good purposes.  The lines are delivered well and the emotions are believable.  In short, the acting of Unconditional should serve as an example to other aspiring Christian film crews.

Conclusion

Unconditional receives an extra point for presenting an important social issue in a great fashion and for including under-used movie concepts, such as flashbacks and an emotionally provoking musical score.  Fatherlessness in America is a social crime, and Unconditional brings this to light.  Though this movie is lesser known than many Christian-themed films, it deserves to be elevated above many others.  There are virtually no errors in Unconditional, thus giving it a perfect score.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

War Room (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter.  However, something isn’t right, something is just missing.  She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore.  Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara.  Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is.  After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try.  The secret weapon?  A war room, or a prayer closet.  Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself.  Little did they know that the battle had only begun.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high.  Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room.  While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present.  The soundtrack fits into the film neatly.  The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for.  In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure.  In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand.  Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect.  Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters.  However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here.  The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew.  The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable.  This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint.  A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting.  This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.

Conclusion

The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it.  War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition.  They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success.  War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films.  We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Woodlawn (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Coach Tandy Geralds only believes in what he sees in front of him.  All he sees is a broken high school in Alabama forced to integrate two racial groups who desperately do not want to associate with each.  Coach Geralds, also the assistant principle, is overworked, is unpopular with the school board, and is failing as a husband and father.  His players are frustrated with integration and racial tensions flare easily.  Tony Nathan, an underappreciated African-American athlete, is among them, yet he has been raised to treat people, regardless of skin color, the way Christ treated them.  Everything changes for the team one day when Hank, an itinerant and seemingly offbeat sports chaplain, convinces Coach Geralds to let him talk to the team.  At the end of his rope, Tandy reluctantly agrees.  What ensues from there is a miracle that transforms the football team, the high school, and the city.  One thing leads to another in a miracle season for the Woodlawn Colonels, but everything grinds to a halt one day when they are faced with adversity after adversity.  But in the grand scheme of things, each character learns in one way or another that there is one Way, one Truth, and one Life—Jesus.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Erwin team went all out for this blockbuster production that was designed to reach outside of the Christian movie circles.  The camera work is phenomenal, ranging from difficult football scenes to character canvasing.  As an epic, the story covers a lot of time, but the editing is seamless.  It is very difficult to make an epic without being too long or without letting important plot elements fall by the wayside.  The editing team walked this tightrope flawlessly.  The inclusion of alternate and historical footage throughout the movie is an artistic flair that was pulled off nicely.  This is not a cheap production, and it shows.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

As previously mentioned, epic plots are very hard to craft.  Too long, and the audience is lost.  Too quick, and no points are driven home.  Too often in potential epics, character development is discarded and scenes are wasted.  Neither of these mistakes occurred in Woodlawn.  Despite the large amount of plot and character content in this movie, nothing is missing.  The dialogue is concise yet profound.  There are no wasted scenes.  As a side note, Box Office Revolution maintains that movies based on real events are among some of the best on the market.  Nothing could be more true regarding Woodlawn.  The plot twists and turns just as real life does and the historical characters are adapted well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

BOR has long called the Erwin brothers the Masters of Casting.  There has never been a character in their movies that was not cast in the absolutely appropriate role.  Veterans Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight are excellent in their roles, along with newcomers Caleb Castille and Joy Brunson.  All actors are coached well.

Conclusion

BOR can find no flaws in Woodlawn.  It also can be awarded the x-factor point for delivering an important topic packaged in a masterful epic.  The Erwin brothers have reached the pinnacle of their career, and there is no turning back now.  The Christian movie industry is at their fingertips, and BOR expects nothing less than the best.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

Courageous (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Adam Mitchell and Shane Fuller are just average deputies in an average Georgia city.  They’ve seen humanity at their worst and have tried their best to not become desensitized to the world.  But their mediocre existence is altered when they meet Nathan Hayes, a transfer deputy who truly lives out his faith and his commitment to his family.  Hayes challenges them and a young deputy, David Thompson, and eventually a mutual friend, Javier Martinez, to commit to become better men and fathers, not to just settle for the status quo.  They don’t take him very seriously until tragedy rocks all of their worlds and they are forced to truly look at what they believe in and what they are working towards in life.  Yet as they each make their own decisions in response to the tragedy, they find that every choice has a consequence and the right way is hardly ever the easy way.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In their largest budget at this point in time, the Kendricks minced nothing.  They left everything on the proverbial production field.  The camera work is masterful, from filming difficult action scenes with skill to bringing an overall high quality and professional look to the movie.  The editing is at least average, especially when considering the large amount of plot content.  There is an excellent balance between action and serene and even sad.  Audio quality is excellent, including an effective soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are very realistic.  This was no doubt a difficult production to pull off, but the Kendricks did it very well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Courageous follows a typical Kendrick storyline, including multiple subplots and non-linear elements.  There are a lot of great attempts to develop characters through dialogue and realistic situations.  The stories of the characters are intriguing and mostly relatable, even if it sometimes seems like there is a lot going on in the film.  Many different issues are covered in the plot, which is both good and bad.  Not everything turns out to be perfect, and many very relevant concepts are included.  However, sometimes the storyline comes off as a bit disorganized, and sometimes the messaging it a bit too obvious.  Moreover, there is plenty of good here, and many audiences will enjoy this film.

Acting Quality (3 points)

What else can be said about the acting coach talents of the Kendrick crew?  Once again, seasoned actors are mixed with ‘average’ actors, and there is no difference.  Kevin Downes, with years of acting experience, is no better or worse than Robert Amaya in his masterful acting debut.  In addition, the Kendricks continue to show a commitment to diversity of actors, which something many Christian film makers struggle to do.  As a whole, the Kendricks are consistently great in the categories of production and acting.

Conclusion

The Kendrick Brothers have definitely found a Christian movie-making model, and they are sticking with it.  They have an audience, and they know what types of stories they want to portray and what types of characters they want to craft.  There is always plenty of positive to find in their films, and their consistency puts many Christian film makers to shame, but one can see how this movie model can become pedestrian.  In future films, they should consider retaining better screen-writing, but since they have something that works so well, it’s hard to see it changing.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Fireproof (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Caleb Holt is successful in his career as a fire captain.  He will risk his life for anyone, but he does not care about his marriage as it begins to fall apart around him.  His wife, Catherine, has a successful career of her own and she is tired of the conflicts she continues to have with her husband.  All Caleb seems to care about is his job, saving up for his boat, and looking for fulfillment from places other than his wife.  Catherine is lonely and becoming hardened to her husband as she tries to care for her elderly parents and directs her attentions towards a nice doctor at the hospital she works at who gives her more attention than Caleb does.  Caleb is ready to throw in the towel before his father steps in and gives him a forty-day challenge, The Love Dare, to try to save his marriage before signing the divorce papers.  Little do Caleb and Catherine know that they are in for changes and trials beyond their marital discord.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In keeping with the production spirit of Facing the Giants, Fireproof does not disappoint.  The higher budget is maintained and even expanded, and it pays off.  Difficult firefighting scenes are successfully executed, and diverse sets are used.  The editing is concise, making for an easy viewing.  As is the Kendrick norm, there are no caveats here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Another Kendrick movie, another solid Christian message packaged in a believable real-life plot executed by realistic characters.  The plot is not too preachy as it is both evangelistic and discipling towards Christians.  Strengthening weak and broken marriages is a very important message for viewers today, both Christian and non-Christian.  This could not have been pulled off without imperfect and accessible characters, which there are in his movie.  The usual comedy scenes are included.  Yet there are a few caveats here.  The plot is more linear than usual for Kendrick plots and the dialogue is lacking in some areas.  But even with these issues, Fireproof makes other movies pale in comparison.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The Kendricks departed from their usual model of only using ‘inexperienced’ actors by bringing in Kirk Cameron, but the transition is seamless.  This is likely Cameron’s finest acting work to date.  The same can be said for co-star Erin Bethea.  The supporting cast is no worse in talent than these two, thus reflecting acting coaching success for the Kendrick crew.

Conclusion

Even when the Kendricks are not at their finest, they still rise to the top in the Christian movie industry.  As their career has progressed, their quality has improved in all areas.  Fireproof marked a huge turning point in many ways, if not only for their tackling of a timely message that many Christian movies either ignore or portray incorrectly.  Yet this installment was only a harbinger of greater things to come.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 points

Mom’s Night Out (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sarah Fields just wants to know that she is doing a good job in her occupation as a full time homeschool mom to her three young kids.  But a lot of the time, she feels like she does not measure up.  She’s also a struggling blogger.  She looks up to her pastor’s wife, who seems to have everything put together.  On a whim, Sarah decides to plan an impulse night out with her pastor’s wife and her best friend Izzy, also a young mother.  Sarah’s husband Sean gets on board and agrees to help watch the kids, but none of them are prepared for the crazy night ahead.  Together, along with a cast of offbeat characters, they are thrust into an impromptu search for a missing baby and discover along the way that the things they are all looking for are right under their noses.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As expected, the Erwin brothers have put together another top-notch production, from camera work to special effects to editing to creative overlays.  Several difficult scenes are filmed with professional flair.  The camera angles are well done.  Special effects and creative overlays are used appropriately.  The soundtrack brings the movie to life exquisitely.  Finally, the movie is edited to perfection.  There are no wasted scenes and no plot holes.  To put it plainly, the Erwin brothers continue to set themselves apart in the area of production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The scope of this plot is limited, but the Erwin brothers make the best of it.  The comedy is not overdone and is actually quite funny, contrary to most attempted comedy in Christian movies.  It is driven by excellent and witty dialogue, which also supports the accessible characters.  The thing that makes the comedy truly humorous is the fact the real-life predicaments are shown in hilarious and sometimes satirical lights, such that we could easily see ourselves in these situations.  The film contains no real plot twists, but the events are realistic and true to life, as previously mentioned.  Besides the limited plot scope, the one error of this section is the overuse of narration throughout.  However, it is still a highly enjoyable storyline that provokes the thinking.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The Erwin brothers continue to make average actors great.  Each character is cast into an appropriate role, as is to be expected.  Kevin Downes and Andrea Logan White play perhaps their best roles to date.  In a comedy, the acting is the anchor that determines the quality.  The excellent acting coaching of the Erwin brothers crew hit another slam dunk.

Conclusion

In short, the Erwin brothers have defied typical Christian movie genres by creating a successful and truly funny comedy, proving that vulgarity and cheesiness are not necessary to produce laughs.  October Baby and Mom’s Night Out could not be any more opposite in genre, yet they are both executed wonderfully.  Great things can be expected from this crew in the future.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

Facing the Giants (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Nothing ever seems to work out for Grant Taylor, high school coach of the Shiloh Eagles football team.  His team is the laughingstock of the conference, his job is perpetually on the hot seat, his income is sub-par, and he and his wife cannot seem to have any children.  What’s worse, the allegedly Christian football players have horrible attitudes toward the game and toward life, thus causing their new season to go from bad to worse.  Everything comes to a head one day when Coach Taylor overhears the top men of the private school discussing his potential exit with one of his trusted assistant coaches.  This causes Grant to cry out to God for help, and He answers, telling him to disciple his players and to foster a new attitude on the team.  This is all confirmed by a faithful praying man who refuses to give up on the spiritual state of the school.  When Grant gives everything over to God, he is shocked at the results that are produced not only at his job but also in his personal life.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Giants was a landmark work in the Christian movie industry.  It upped the standard of Christian movie production quality, something that was long overdue.  The Kendrick Brothers invested in better equipment, and it paid off.  Gone are the days of poor Flywheel production.  The camera work, which could have easily been poorly done due to difficult football game scenes, is flawless.  There is no more grainy video or medieval sound; the lighting in Giants is excellent.  The soundtrack and audio quality are professional.  Box Office Revolution sees little to nothing negative about the Giants production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This is perhaps the weakest area of Facing the Giants.  The plot is fairly predictable, but it is done in the best way possible.  The characters are believable and the Christian message is meaningful without being preachy.  Dialogue is meaningful and real life events play out that the viewers can relate to.  There are no real surprises or plot twists, but after all, this was the Kendricks’ second movie on a relatively small budget.  One breath of fresh air is their continued commitment to well-thought-out comedy scenes, something that makes average movies great.  Overall, this is not a creative plot, but it is done well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Who needs ‘professional’ actors when the Kendricks are the acting coaches?  ‘Amateur’ actors are made great in this movie.  They make their characters believable rather than stereotypical.  Dialogue is delivered well.  BOR sees no real errors here.

Conclusion

In short, while Giants is not the best movie, it is certainly an above average movie.  This is due to superb leadership and a commitment to a meaningful Christian message.  Production is top-notch and the acting is excellent.  This movie’s only weak area is its average plot, but this is only a small issue when compared to other Christian movies.  The most important thing is that the Kendrick Brothers were not done yet.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

October Baby (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Hannah Lawson grew up a fairly normal girl with some slightly unusual health issues, but she adjusted fairly well and had an enjoyable albeit sheltered family life.  However, everything changes when she has another onslaught of health issues while performing a college play.  This only exposes her silent struggle with depression and a secret her parents have kept from her all her life—that they adopted her as an infant because she is the survivor of a failed abortion.  This revelation leads Hannah to confide in her childhood friend Jason, which prompts him to help her find her birth mother, who might live six hours away from her.  Against the advice of her overprotective father, Hannah embarks on a spring break trip with Jason and his friends in order to discover her origins.  However, a fight with Jason’s girlfriend causes Hannah to strike out on her own, prompting Jason to follow her.  Together, they not only discover Hannah’s past, but also the feelings they have kept hidden from each other.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a pilot movie, the production of October Baby is top notch.  The camera work, including angles and shots, is exquisite with an artistic flair.  This is not a cheap production.  Filming is not contained to buildings, and outside scenes are not cheaply produced.  Lighting and video quality are very professional.  The soundtrack is excellent and enhances the movie; audio quality is exquisite.  The only caveat here is that some scenes seem too long; some editing might have been prudent.  But besides this, October Baby is very refreshing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

October Baby has a simple linear plot, but it is a deep plot.  The Erwin Brothers did everything they possibly could to do the best with what they had.  There are some slight plot twists that are not overstated.  The characters are well-developed through believable dialogue and are very authentic.  There is even dry humor that is pulled off well and is not cheesy.  The plot is not entirely about forcing the pro-life message, but it still offers a poignant true-to-life expose on the importance of valuing all human life.  This is a truly meaningful plot that could convince someone to become pro-life.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Casting is perhaps a special talent of the Erwin Brothers.  Every actor is cast perfectly with their part.  The less experienced actors are as well coached as the more experienced actors.  In the opinion of Box Office Revolution, this is the best movie John Schneider has ever acted in, and it can be credited to the expertise of the Erwin Brothers.  The story behind Shari Rigby’s casting is a divine appointment.

Conclusion

October Baby receives an extra point for having an x-factor of dealing with the sensitive issue of abortion in a superb manner.  Issues like this can come off as too pushy or preachy, but not so with the Erwin brothers.  Instead, the issue is woven throughout the plot through believable characters.  This movie’s only weakness is some scenes that appeared to last longer than they should have.  The production is excellent, as is the acting.  In short, October Baby is the Erwin brothers’ huge entrance into the Christian movie scene—signaling even better things to come.

 

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Old-Fashioned (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Clay is a simple guy running a simple antique shop in rural Ohio.  He’s not looking for love when he rents out the upstairs apartment to Amber, an itinerant wandering woman about his age.  But when she becomes curious about Clay’s ‘theory’ regarding dating and marriage, Amber keeps coming up with reasons to talk to him, even though he will not allow them to be in the apartment alone together.  Eventually, she convinces him to go on a date with her, but she has no idea what she is in store for.  Beginning with a premarital counseling session, continuing by going over the premarital counseling workbook, and finishing with practice on feeding food to a toddler, their first date is less than typical.  As the two begin to spend more time together, their checkered pasts are exposed as they both try to come to grips with who they are in Christ.  Everything comes to a head when both Clay and Amber are forced to move beyond their sins of the past in Christ’s strength in order to embrace His new future for them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a debuting film for Rik Swartzwelder and the Skoche Films team, Old-Fashioned is huge in a good way.  The camera work is excellent, as is the editing.  The film as an artistic undertone that is fueled by subtle camera shots, scenic overlays, and thinking scenes.  The musical score is engaging.  The only issue to raise here is that some scenes seem to last longer than they should.  Overall, this is not a cheap production.  It is simple yet profound.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

The plot is linear, straightforward, and somewhat predictable.  However, Skoche did everything they could do with it.  This is a very deep plot, rather than a wide and shallow plot.  Swartzwelder and team maximized on every opportunity to make this usually typical plot structure as good as it could be.  The dialogue is excellent and drives the plot, as it should.  It also develops deep, believable, and realistic characters.  There are no real plot twists and the only flaw of the plot is that it is fairly predictable.  Otherwise, the plot is highly professional.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are no high-profile actors in Old-Fashioned, yet they are obviously well-coached and well-trained.  Absent from this movie is typical PureFlix acting, and it is replaced with professional talent that defies convention.  There are few characters in the movie, which perhaps gave the directors the opportunity to develop each actor well.  Fewer characters also keeps with the movie’s theme of having quality over quantity.

Conclusion

In summary, quality over quantity is the theme of the first box office installment of Skoche Films.  Box Office Revolution was pleasantly surprised that PureFlix discovered the rare talent of Rik Swartzwelder and gave him the space to create without intrusion.  His first movie is a rare gem in a desert of mediocrity.  Old-Fashioned can be reasonably christened a modern-day Pride and Prejudice with a Christian worldview.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Beyond the Mask (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Reynolds is not a good man.  As an unofficial contracted ‘enforcer’ for the East India Company, he has committed many undocumented international crimes.  That’s why his boss, Charles Kemp, enlists him and his partner to steal and replace an incriminating Parliamentary report that could shut down the entire company for unethical business practices.  However, after this mission is complete, William intends to put his criminal life behind him.  Little does he know that Kemp has other plans for him.  After secretly surviving a failed attempt on his life, Reynolds is forced to take on the identity of the man who foiled the murder—a young vicar headed to a local parish.  It seems easy until Reynolds must fabricate a knowledge of the Scriptures and come to grips with his newfound love for a local girl who has no idea who he really is.  What Reynolds learns is that life in hiding is anything but straightforward, especially during the tumultuous political times of pre-Revolutionary War England and America.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Burns Family Studios did an excellent job on the production of this adventure epic movie, including camera work, special effects, and historical costuming.  It would have been very easy for this type of large scope movie to be cheaply produced, but this was not the case.  The editing must have been very tricky, given the time that the movie covers, but it is done fairly well.  There are virtually no errors here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

However, the same cannot be said about the plot.  Box Office Revolution believes talented writer Paul McCusker bit off more than he could chew with this historical epic.  The movie covers at least two years of highly important content, and it walks the line of being too fast paced and being just good enough.  In some respects, the plot moves too fast to develop the characters, but in other respects, it is a very exciting movie full of intriguing plot twists.  It is creatively woven around historical events, yet BOR wonders if Mask should have been two movies or even a miniseries.  At the same time, BOR realizes that money is always an issue with independent Christian films, so it is likely that McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best they could with what they had.  In short, the only real errors in this aspect of the movie are the fast paced plot and some small yet unrealistic action scenes.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Andrew Cheney and Jon Ryhs-Davies are obviously well-seasoned actors, and they are coached well.  However, the ‘amateur’ actors are also coached very well.  BOR noted that staff positions on the production of this movie were devoted to acting coaching, something that other Christian productions need to take note of.  There are virtually no acting errors in Beyond the Mask.

Conclusion

In short, there are two ways of looking at Beyond the Mask, much like the masks of William Reynolds.  Either McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best with what they had or they did not do enough.  BOR chooses to adopt a position in between these two options.  Beyond the Mask is clearly above average and Paul McCusker has always been known as an excellent story writer.  The movie is a breath of fresh air in the Christian movie industry and has made BOR very excited to see the future movies of Paul McCusker and Burns Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points