Thomas, Close to Jesus {The Friends of Jesus – Thomas} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Thomas followed Jesus for the three years of the Lord’s earthly ministry, yet Thomas always struggled with belief. His doubt was only compounded when he witnessed the brutal arrest of his Savior and heard how he was violently flogged and executed at the hands of the Romans. At the darkest hour of history, Thomas’ small faith would be tested like never before.

Production Quality (2 points)

As an early 2000’s production, Thomas, Close to Jesus is mostly respectable, including historically authentic sets, locations, and props. Video quality is passable, and audio quality is fine except that the soundtrack is somewhat generic. The camera work tends to be shaky at first but gets better as it goes. To round things off, the editing is fairly pedestrian yet isn’t bad. In the end, this is basically an above-average production that doesn’t make many positive or negative impact.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lux Vide and TBN had interesting ideas in this early era of Christian entertainment to make a series of films focusing on different disciples, so a film centered around the less-emphasized character of Thomas is refreshing. However, like other Biblical films from this creative team (Mary Magdalene and Judas), the characters cannot be easily accessed due to stiff and pedestrian dialogue that feels like a Bible play. There are too many boring asides and vanilla conversations that waste time and focus on vague concepts without developing accessible characters. While there were good attempts to connect the films of the series together, there were some unnecessary alterations to the historical account. Further, the portrayal of Jesus is once again too ethereal and otherworldly, and too many scenes either contain forced drama or lag on. In the end, there was probably not enough actual content to sustain full-length movie without slid dialogue and flashbacks.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the cast of Thomas isn’t entirely culturally authentic, but some attempts are made. Moreover, there are a lot of dramatic and theatrical performances as if this is a stage play. This brings overdone and unnatural emotions with it. Even still, the costuming is mostly historically accurate, and there are some good moments in acting, which is enough to keep this section average.

Conclusion

On a number of levels, creating Biblical fiction entertainment is extremely difficult to pull off, which is why it should never be done lightly. Since TBN’s early attempts at depicting the lives of Jesus and His disciples, Christian movies and series have definitely improved in how they portray these historical characters. They were real people, so when they are properly cast in this light, audiences everywhere can relate to them, which makes the message more powerful and meaningful.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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China Cry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sung Neng Yee was glad when the Chinese Communists rose to power in her homeland to drive out the occupying Japanese, but she never anticipated the ultimate consequences this would cause. First, it cost her father his wealth and respect as a successful doctor, and then, the Communists began to tighten their grip on every aspect of Chinese life. However, she and her fellow people adjusted and went forward. Moreover, after beginning a family of her own, Sung Yeng Nee was accused of consorting with Westernizers and Christians. In the darkest moment of her life, she reached out to the God she had always shunned for the help only He could give her.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 1990s production, China Cry has a handful of concerns with it, such as a loud, outdated soundtrack and odd soft lighting at times. Video quality is also sometimes blurry even though the camera work is overall fine, including good establishing shots. For the most part, audio quality is average, and the sets, locations, and props are very realistic, culturally accurate, and historically appropriate. Although the film overall seems outdated and has a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions due to time jumps in the plot, the production does enough to achieve an average rating, especially considering the time period it was made in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Right out of the gate, unnecessary narration tends to hurt the plot development, but once it ceases, things begin to unfold naturally without hindrances even though the narration does pop up here and there afterward. Had more substantial and qualitative flashbacks been employed to replace the narration, this plot would have been even better. This would have better helped to bridge the large time jumps throughout the story (non-linear plot structure is the only way to effectively handle lots of content), yet on its face, this narrative is still engaging and very intriguing due to the obscurely interesting portions of history it explores. Key themes are subtly introduced in order to let the character feel more authentic and real than they otherwise would be; the writers definitely did a good job at presenting people at face value rather than trying to push messages via strawmen. Even still, there are some lagging scenes that could have been better re-purposed to improve character growth even more, especially since the second half of the story tends to rush through a lot of content that would have been better explored slowly. This is why a non-linear plot style centered around the weak explanation for the narration would have been appropriate. In the end, China Cry still packs a very powerful message that’s still relevant for all Christians today. It’s too bad that’s is hidden behind poorly designed storytelling, but this true account is nonetheless engaging for all audiences.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although many of the cast members tend to be dramatically stiff, the lead actress and lead actor are standouts for their comfortably real line delivery and believable emotions. Others tend to lack natural flair for acting, but it’s refreshing to see a culturally authentic cast. Costuming also reflects this commitment to cultural accuracy. In the end, the acting improves enough by the second half of the movie, and the lead acting carries it most of the way.

Conclusion

China Cry definitely deserves a remake, possibly in a miniseries form to further explore alternate subplots and to present the story in a more comprehensive and non-linear fashion. In the end, this film was made very early on in Christian entertainment, but it was onto something we don’t see in many newer movies: a poignant message about relying on God during difficult times and witnessing His miraculous intervention. Thus, many audiences will enjoy this movie, and maybe, new film makers will be inspired to try something outside the norm.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t want to get involved as the Nazis rose to power in Germany and demanded absolute submission from all institutions, including churches. However, after taking time away in America, he sensed God calling him back to his homeland. Then, the Nazi regime hit home as his twin sister and her Jewish husband had to escape Germany for fear of Nazi nationalism. Thus, when a close friend invited him to get involved in the underground working against Nazi power, Bonhoeffer felt he had to do something to stand against tyranny. Nonetheless, he never anticipated how far he would have to go and what he would experience as a result.

Production Quality (2 points)

For an early 2000s production, it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into Agent of Grace to make it historically authentic, which is evidenced by a great use of realistic-looking sets, props, and locations. Also, the video quality is mostly good except for some outdated-looking portions, and the camera work is standard. Audio quality is on the mark, but it would be nice if there was a more substantial soundtrack to enhance the emotional experience. At the beginning of the movie, the editing is commendable as it uses an overlaying style with effective out-of-order storytelling, yet this is discarded in the last two-thirds of the film and replaced with a very standard linear style. There are also some abruptly awkward cuts that put a damper on things, but overall, this is a respectable production, especially for the time period, and is good enough to be above-average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There’s no doubt that the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an excellent and worthwhile one to tell, and in this endeavor, this storyline makes good attempts at character development via adequate dialogue. Where the beginning and the end are interesting, the middle of the story tends to sag a bit as it’s not very engaging and merely presents a collection of isolated and disconnected scenes where things sometimes happen without much lead-up. The good thing is that narration, while it would have been easy to lean on, is entirely avoided, and the conversations between characters are realistic enough. The quick passage of time in the narrative is often difficult to deal with, so it might have been better to frame the entire story as a flashback from the ending sequence since bridging large time gaps while also keeping audience isn’t an easy feat at all. Even still, many sequences are quite good and make the movie worth your time although the amount of off-screen content shows there’s too much in this story to cover in one film. In the end, Agent of Grace is a great effort and is one that was rarely seen in the early 2000s, so at the very least, it makes for a good historical experience.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The best part of this movie is the culturally correct acting and the culturally authentic casting. The costuming is also historically accurate. Besides this, the actual acting quality is very professional, including line delivery and emotional expression. There are very few errors to note here…there are just a few lapses, but this may be due to other elements. Overall, this strong section is enough to push the film past the halfway mark.

Conclusion

This historical account would definitely work better as a miniseries, especially since there are many side plots that didn’t have a chance for exploration in Agent of Grace. There’s a lot of interest and intrigue surrounding this period of history, so more time would have been good. Unfortunately, this film was made before Christian series were even considered outside the children’s entertainment realm; thus, a remake of Bonhoeffer’s narrative and the related elements would be pertinent. Nevertheless, this movie is still worth your time as it portrays a highly important tale that’s still relevant for us today.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Ragamuffin [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rich Mullins never fit in as a kid, especially when it came to his father’s lofty expectations for him.  As a young boy, his father usually criticized him for not being the boy he wanted him to be since Rich much preferred the piano over the tractor.  Thus, when Rich had a chance to strike out on his own, he took it and sought to express his artistry wherever he went.  However, when his music became famous virtually overnight, he wasn’t able to handle the success.  In the end, he had to discover Who God really is in order to free from the past.

Production Quality (2 points)

As a whole, this is a respectable, above-average production, starting with the artistic camera work that serves to enhance the overall experience.  Although scenes are sometimes unnecessarily dark, as well as black and white, this isn’t too big of an issue since the video quality is overall clear.  The audio quality is also a plus, and the soundtrack is okay even though it could have been better due to this film being about Rick Mullins.  For the most part, the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized such that the story feels real.  Further, there are a few awkward cuts, but the editing is overall fine considering the large amount of content covered in this movie.  In the end, this is an acceptable production, especially for the time period, yet it could have done a little but more.  Even still, it does enough to make the film enjoyable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The life of Rich Mullins was definitely worth portraying in the context of film, and you could say this film was made before I Can Only Imagine started a new trend of Christian artist biopics.  Within Ragamuffin, there is an excellent exploration of real family of origin problems that exist in small town America as well as the emotional struggles of a performer while traveling on the road.  Thus, the plot contains great life philosophies and an artistic look at things, yet it’s bogged down with early and intermediate narration that tells us things without showing them.  Sometimes, expository dialogue is also used to save time due to the large amount of content that’s covered in this story, but there’s still a great exploration of relevant, authentic issues that many people struggle with.  Hence, the characters are raw and good even if they could have been better without so much narration, exposition, and time jumps that only allow a cursory glance at elements that need more focus.  Although some of the scenes could have been used better, Ragamuffin is still a believable journey of mental health, substance abuse, and relationship issues that come as a result of toxic family messages.  There’s also an honest portrayal of church problems in the 1990s that confused a lot of Christians, and the good parts of the dialogue are very worthwhile.  Near the end, there’s a collection of exquisite psychological sequences that make the entire film worth your time, but it would have been better to see substantial build-up to these.  In the end, this is a great film because of the topic it’s based on; there are plenty of opportunities for improvement, but it’s still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other portions of the movie, the acting of Ragamuffin could be a bit better than it is, mostly by being more dynamic and less static.  There are some sequences of blank emotions, but on the whole, emotional experience is adequate.  The lead actor takes on the role of Rich Mullins quite well, and other cast members assume their respective roles with ease.  In summary, this film had a lot going for it that helped it rack up plenty of good marks, but there’s still more that could have been done here.

Conclusion

Basically, Ragamuffin is in desperate need of a remake because it was made before Christians were beginning to learn how to tell stories well in movies.  It’s a face value, here-are-the-plain-facts approach to things, but modern Christian entertainment demands more.  We can tell stories better than this; even so, Ragamuffin was ahead of its time for taking on an unpopular topic in Christianity in a time when everything was assumed to be fine, so for this reason alone, it’s worth your time.  We’d like to see the creators of this film collaborate with a good team because they could do great things together.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Christ Slayer (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Longinus was raised by the Magi, but he never fully believed the stories they told of the Messiah as he rose through the ranks of the Roman army. he was at the pinnacle of his career, but an injury led to blindness, forcing him out of service. As he languished in darkness with a servant to guide his daily activities, he never dreamed that his life would be forever changed when he helped end a seemingly meaningless crucifixion of the One they called the King of the Jews.

Production Quality (2 points)

Over time, DJ Perry and his creative have definitely improved their production skills as The Christ Slayer demonstrates good camera work, effective camera angles, and professional video quality. The audio quality is also fine for the more part, and the soundtrack is culturally authentic. While the sets, locations, and props are great, the outdoor scenes are better since some of the indoor shots are a bit too dark and disorienting. Some of the editing could have been more consistent and understandable, but on the whole, this production is adequate and shows commitment to improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Quest Trilogy has taken many different turns, and at this point, the ending is better than the beginning. At its inception, some parts were hard to grasp and a bit too abstract, but the unique turn in The Christ Slayer definitely helped things. This is a unique extra-Biblical plot that gives a fresh perspective on the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and it sports the typical abstractly creative concepts of the CDI team. The spiritual elements from Forty Nights and Chasing the Star are included in this third installment, but they are presented in more accessible fashions. Similarly, the psychological themes of The Christ Slayer are fairly well-utilized, and integration of Biblical accounts is creatively woven together with the main plot. There are a few drawbacks, however, that keep this plot from being all that it could be. For instance, there are quite a few slow scenes that tend to be too artistic such that the audience has trouble understanding them, and some of the characters’ dialogue is a bit archaic and drawn-out. There are some expository conversations that replace better character development, and sometimes, the Jesus character is a bit too ethereal and inaccessible, but as a whole, this is a fine Easter plot that demonstrates unique storytelling.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Probably the brightest spot of this film’s cast is the awesome idea to cast a special needs cast member in a role that doesn’t over-emphasize his condition. Treating him as a regular actor is a huge step forward for disability rights, so this creative team’s decision to do this shows a deeper care for inclusion in the arts. Elsewhere in this cast, some of the main cast members are good while some could use more efficient coaching to avoid being too theatrical and dramatic. As a whole, the acting is average, but it could have been better if emotions were more accessible. In the end, The Christ Slayer is a good end to the Quest Trilogy.

Conclusion

DJ Perry and company have a lot going for them, so it will be interesting to see how they will be able to collaborate with other talent in the future. Throughout their careers, they have only gotten better as they have adapted and changed, which is encouraging to see. Sometimes trilogies end worse than they begin, so since the Quest Trilogy has ended on a good note, this will hopefully be a springboard to better things in the future for CDI entertainment.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Unplanned [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and abortion rights advocate, was taken by God on an unforgettable journey of redemption and forgiveness that led her to reject her former way of life and trade it for a ministry of pro-life activism. Though no one could have ever dreamed that an abortion clinic supervisor would switch political sides and join her former enemies, there is no end to the power of prayer.

Production Quality (2 points)

As expected at this point from PureFlix, the production of Unplanned is above-average and hits all the right notes, for the most part. On the surface, it looks good due to high video quality, professional camera work, and adequate sets, locations, and props. Audio quality is also good. They’ve checked all the typical boxes, but there are some issues with the soundtrack as many of the songs don’t properly fit the situations they are played in. However, the most glaring problem is the horrific editing that takes the viewer all over the map of a story that could have been good but only ends up playing like an audio book, as we see next.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At this point, it’s painfully clear that the current PureFlix team can’t even properly portray a great true story even if it hit them in the face like Abby Johnson’s story did. Even if the book is already written for them, you can count on PureFlix to fumble the ball at the goal line by falling back on their old tried-and-failed pitfalls of trying to be too obvious without trusting the audience to read in to the subtlety and of crafting too many climax scenes for dramatic effect. The obvious goal was the hit all the high points of the story in order to maximize the most shock and awe possible with the hopes of scaring people about abortion. There’s no doubt that there were many powerful parts of Abby’s story, but we’ll never really know as the demonstrative elements are over-emphasized in the movie while the potential for character building is simply replaced with incessant and heavy-handed narration. They seem like great characters, but it’s impossible to know them due to the narration and the wild time jumps that leave the viewer disoriented. Since there’s a lot of content in this story, it could have been effectively laid out via flashbacks that built character motivation, yet instead, we were left with talking-points conversations and overly emphasized strawman villain moments. The film is written for basically one good scene near the end where we actually get realistic dialogue uninterrupted by Bratcher’s narration, but it’s too little too late. Unfortunately, where Abby Johnson’s story could have been a powerful treatise on prayer and a change of heart, all we’re given is a smile-and-wave, run-of-the-mill experience dedicated to grossing people out about abortion whose R-rating is warranted due to lack of balance.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, Ashley Bratcher is a bright spot in this cast, which suggests her performance in Princess Cut was heavily controlled by the creators of that film. While the supporting cast might have been interesting, it’s hard to tell due to the famine of lines and dialogue in this film. Even still, the casting and acting are mostly good without many glaring errors…it’s just basically unfinished and left wanting, like the overall feel of this movie.

Conclusion

There’s absolutely no doubt that Abby Johnson and David Bereit played integral roles in bringing the pro-life movement out of the dark ages through prayer and expert leadership, and Abby’s story is an amazing one that deserved a movie of its own. However, PureFlix’s treatment of the story doesn’t do it any justice. Moreover, Unplanned, in a way, represents the current state of the pro-life movement: lots of well-meaning people who want to do the right thing, along with a collection of more influential people who believe that ‘gotcha’ talking points and graphic displays of the evils of abortion will change things. The early marketing for this film proclaimed it to be (another) death knell for the corrupt Planned Parenthood, yet we beg to differ. Any success the pro-life movement will find moving forward is by both listening to and telling actual stories of real people, not by falling into the trap of unleashing smoking guns that will ‘sink’ your opposition. There was a massive opportunity to tell a real story in Unplanned that could actually reach people, but once again, PureFlix proves that they can’t tell stories properly because this requires actually knowing people. Unfortunately, while the gory moments of this film can be powerful if packaged properly, when they are separated from an emotional connection with the characters, they can re-traumatize those who have been hurt by abortion, which doesn’t win any ‘converts.’

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

40: The Temptation of Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Jesus’ baptism and before his earthly ministry officially began, he went into the desert for forty days, where He was tempted by the devil to forfeit His work before it even began. Satan used many tactics to convince Jesus to fall, yet Christ remained without sin in the trials. As Jesus endured the hardship, He experienced human pain and suffering that prepared Him to relate to those who needed His power the most.

Production Quality (2 points)

While this film’s budget was somewhat limited due to its independent nature, resources were clearly allocated responsibly. Although there are some cheap special effects and sound effects, mostly toward the beginning of the film, there is plenty of positive to note here. The first thirty minutes of the movie are the hardest because these contain some poor editing and lagging scenes, but once the film progresses past this point, things begin to look up. There are some elements of shaky camera work throughout, but the outdoor locations used are very engaging and professionally shot. The perspective filming is effective, and the soundtrack is highly engaging in many parts as it adds to the viewing experience. Further, video quality is crisp throughout, and even though it takes a bit, the production slowly becomes a great one, which is a testament to what this team could pull off with more resources under their belt.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Like the production, the plot is a bit shaky at first, mostly due to immediate and unnecessary narration. Jesus is also a bit too theatrical and inaccessible as a character at first, but He definitely gets better as the story goes on. It’s somewhat difficult to get through the first thirty minutes of the film because of these issues and because of some lagging scenes, so it’s possible that this idea may have worked better as a short film. However, once the thirty-minute mark has been passed, things change for the better since a really good idea is revealed. The use of flashbacks and flash-forwards is very effective to bridge time and to reinforce the psychological elements that the temptations are based on, which are very well-constructed. The core of the plot is based on a collection of very engaging and creative conversations that clearly show what the film was made for. Old Testament prophecies are integrated very well into the dialogue, which is something we don’t see enough of in Bible films. As a whole, this creative team’s take on the temptations of Jesus is very interesting and innovative, mostly due to well-executed psychological sequences that go hand-in-hand extremely well with the flashbacks, mostly because the viewer doesn’t always see the temptation coming. In the end, the use of symbolism and artistic elements are effective in presenting a familiar Bible story in a new, creative way, and the horror elements are handled well without being too sensational. Thus, there is a lot of potential for this creative team through future collaborations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the cast is not entirely culturally authentic, this can be forgiven due to the limited budget of the project. At first, the line delivery and emotions come off as too forced and theatrical, but they moderate as the film progresses and show concerted improvement. Due the small cast, they carry the whole film on their shoulders, and for the most part, they post good performances by the movie’s conclusion. This rounds out an overall refreshing independent effort, which plants promising seeds for the future.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to portray the temptations of Jesus properly without a good understanding of human psychology. As a whole, this creative team appears to have such an understanding. The Temptation of Christ is everything a first-time, self-funded project should be: as good of a production as possible, a well-written plot that demonstrates talent that can be developed in the future, and a good enough acting performance to carry the day. Thus, we can’t wait to see what these film makers have to offer once they are given better funding opportunities.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Mary Magdalene: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary Magdalene lived a dark life before she encountered Jesus of Nazareth, and her bondage and past mistakes always tried to call her back. However, her experience with Jesus forever changed her life. She sought to serve Him and follow Him whenever she could, and her influence that came as a result of her time with Jesus had a positive effect on those around her.

Production Quality (2 points)

The early 2000s Bible films produced by the collaboration between the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Lux Vide were certainly well-funded, which translated to great attention to historical detail. Other production elements were also professional, including video quality and camera work. The sets, locations, and props reflected attempts at authenticity, and the editing was streamlined. However, there were a few issues with audio in Mary Magdalene. For one, there are a lot of very obvious overdubs that seem unnecessary. On paper, the audio seems fine, but the soundtrack is sometimes archaic and incongruous, and any presence of overdubbing speaks to sound problems. Nevertheless, this film has an above-average production that is good enough but not dynamic.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The story of Mary Magdalene is definitely an interesting Biblical account this isn’t focused on enough; however, this rendition gives an odd take on the story since there isn’t enough exploration as to how she became originally possessed. This is a central point in the story, so focusing on tangential content instead of this core concept is unusual at best. Lacking a coherent bondage storyline makes it hard for the viewer to appreciate Mary’s redemption arc. Elsewhere in the story, time seems to move too quickly, and there are some unnecessary alterations to the historical account. All of this hampers proper character development due to stunted dialogue and little continuity. While the portrayal of Herod is fine, John the Baptist is too nutty, and Jesus is too inaccessible and ethereal. There is also some unnecessary suggestive content that could have been shown more tastefully. In the end, while the movie’s plot had a lot of potential, it falls flat for a number of reasons and shows that unskilled screen writing can hurt any good idea.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the cast of Mary Magdalene is not completely culturally authentic, which is manifest in unrealistic accents. However, the historical costuming is one of the stronger points of the film. Nonetheless, emotions among the cast members are often too forceful, dramatic, and theatrical. Line delivery is too robotic at times, but there are some positive elements that keep the acting from level zero. In the end, this section is still below average, and this movie is another not-good-enough Bible film.

Conclusion

The TBN\Lux Vide combo definitely tried to blaze some trails in the early 2000s with regard to Bible films, but they too often missed the mark. It wasn’t for lack of budget; rather, inadequate screenwriting held their Biblical accounts back from being all they could have been. Having the characters cross back and forth between the different films was a great universe-connecting idea, but it was in vain since they didn’t have wide appeal. For future learning, current film makers can take notes from these films on how to go about crafting Biblical epics without repeating the old mistakes.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Palau: The Movie (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Luis Palau, a world-renowned missionary, had meager beginnings in his life, but this did not hold him back from being all he could be for God. Under the mentorship of key people God placed in his life, Palau brought the Gospel to the countries and locations God laid on his heart and set an example for evangelism. Even today, the impact of his work is still being felt.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While this is obviously a good idea on paper for a Christian film, it seems like the execution was only partial due to budget constraints. This fact is evident in the limited sets, locations, and props, even though they still demonstrate great attempts at historical and cultural accuracy. The lighting of the scenes is back and forth with indoor scenes mostly poorly lit while outside scenes are fine. The camera work is also acceptable, along with the audio quality. At times, there are background noises, however, and the soundtrack, while culturally authentic, seems forced at times. Further, the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is basically average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the story of Luis Palau is a great true story to base a film upon, but the way it was conducted with this rendition wasn’t adequate in fully communicating the important messages therein. From the beginning, the attention of the audience isn’t effectively held due to an overall feel of the film being a sort of docu-drama. This attitude is demonstrated by collections of boring scenes that simply depict characters sitting around or standing while reciting lines. As such, the dialogue isn’t enough to drive the character development to where we can relate to them; we don’t know character motivations well enough even though there are some backstories portrayed. It’s a nice authentic touch to use the original language, but it tends to cloud things when it the whole film already comes off like a collection of Bible study skits. Because of this dynamic, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but representations of ideas, which is a real shame since the movie could have been a true epic story. The time jumps are a disservice both to continuity and proper development of concepts, and it ruins any chance of having central themes or concepts to center the movie around. In the end, this film is mostly benign, which also means it’s not ground-breaking.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the acting mostly means well, it tends to fall flat due to its vanilla nature. The attempts at cultural authenticity are definitely commendable, but each cast member would benefit from improved coaching. However, it has to be considered that the lack of good written lines puts a damper on their ability to deliver them well. Nonetheless, the smaller cast tends to amplify the errors, and in the end, this is basically an average performance overall.

Conclusion

In summary, it can’t be discounted that commendable effort was made to craft a film depicting an important true story that has impacted thousands of people around the world. Since it’s such an important account, we would have liked to see a much more substantial approach that did it justice and sought to produce a dynamic experience for the viewer. However, the film makers definitely meant well, so it will be interesting to see what they put out next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Least Among You (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Richard Kelly was one of the first African-American students admitted to a traditionally all-white and all-male seminary and California, and in the the beginning, the seminary president says he’s on his side to break down racial barriers among Christians. Though Richard had no interest in going to seminary, he does have an interest in racial justice, but the further he goes with his miniature revolution, the strangers things become as former enemies become friends while former friends become enemies. Nothing is at it seems, and Richard will have to decide if he will trust in God more than he trusts in people.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, The Least Among You comes off as well-funded and well-orchestrated on the production side of things. This is evident in the authentic sets, locations, and props that reflect historical accuracy and attention to detail. There is also a lot of good artistic and creative camera work that seeks to establish things, and the audio quality and soundtrack are adequate as well. The only drawbacks to this production are some poorly lit scenes and some slightly choppy editing, but they aren’t enough to keep this production from being all that it can be, which is dynamic and respectable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The story behind this film is somewhat obscure, but this doesn’t make it any less necessary or poignant. It’s actually a very relevant tale that explores uncomfortable racial problems within the church that many Christians would like to easily forget. The Least Among You portrays and very realistic and gritty look at a hidden history of American Christianity that needs full exploration if we are to learn anything in our present era. This is coupled with great attempts at character development through effective dialogue and flashbacks that demonstrate real character motive and help us to understand where they are really coming from. All of this is done without narration, and there are no ‘villain’ characters as some characters are two-faced and are crafted very well accordingly. While each character actually feels like a real person with a real backstory, there are a handful of seemingly unnecessary scenes, especially ones containing realistic but distasteful language; it really feels like the film would have been fine without these inclusions. Further, the climax scene is somewhat cheesy and not well explained, and it leads to a rushed ending where many things are patched up. As such, the middle of the plot is the best portion as it presents very important and excellent messages and themes that are still highly relevant for the church today, which makes it worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, The Least Among You demonstrates culturally authentic casting except for some cast members that demonstrate slightly fake accents that are a bit outside of their realms of expertise. Otherwise, there is a lot of great cast work to see here, including professional acting and great acting coaching. While some emotions are a bit forced and overdone, they are overall fine, along with line delivery. As a whole, this film is so close to the Hall of Fame, but it’s still enjoyable as it is.

Conclusion

As we’ve said many times before and will likely say again, films like The Least Among You should be the norm in Christian entertainment. Plenty of care, time, and funding was put into it, and the story is enjoyable, realistic, and poignant. While the ending may fall a bit flat and while other portions leave something to be desired, there is still plenty of good to note here that many audiences will enjoy, which makes this film worth your time.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Manav Banerjee only wanted to be a successful journalist in the late 1990s India, when the country was full of social unrest due to religious persecution and restlessness. Thus, when Banerjee was given a chance at big story – finding a reason to arrest American missionary Graham Staines – he jumped at the chance to infiltrate the Christian cell who cared for the leper outcasts in order to trap Staines with Indian religious laws. However, the longer he knew Staines, the more perplexed Banerjee became, and he inadvertently set off a chain of events that would change both of their lives forever.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Least of These is a production that was a long time coming, and the finished product was definitely worth the wait as the on-location filming location paid off. This gives it an air of authenticity that there wouldn’t otherwise be in an international film. Video quality, camera work, sets, and props also live up to these high standards set by the hard work put into it. Audio quality is also mostly adequate, and the soundtrack is culturally appropriate, even if it is a bit loud and invasive in some scenes. The only other minor error to point out here relates to some quick cuts and abrupt scene transitions, but the editing is overall good, including some artistic overlays that are executed well. As a whole, as we kick off 2019 in the world of Christian entertainment, The Least of These is an almost-perfect production in the new era of Christian film that demands higher quality productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s definitely clear why this true story was chosen for a film, and it’s refreshing to see a unique, non-Western perspective on white missionaries coming to a third world country, which can be attributed to the Indian creators of this film. We’ve had plenty of films told through the eyes of the ‘benevolent’ white missionaries, so seeing a culturally authentic perspective on this true story makes this plot very worthwhile. However, there are still some pitfalls of freshman story-telling to note here, such as the heavy-handed narration that doesn’t allow the plot to unfold naturally. Nevertheless, for the most part, character development appears to survive mostly intact, which can likely be attributed to their being based on real people. A good use of effective flashbacks also aids in this effort. Further, the Christian message is presented very well without being too forceful. Unfortunately, while the beginning and middle of this plot are quite good, it tends to lag at the end and to not discover the dynamic feel that it needed to push it onto the Hall of Fame. There are one too many abstract scenes that don’t have enough meaning attached to them. Nevertheless, this is still a great film about an excellent real-life story that is definitely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It seems like there were better cast members to cast for Australian roles than non-Australian cast members Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby, whose Australian acting accents are either non-existent or extremely inconsistent. Despite these obvious errors, however, Baldwin and Rigby do well in fulfilling their DVD-cover roles by being in less than half of the film’s run time. They are definitely overshadowed by the excellent cultural casting for all of the other characters, which is a refreshment. Not only do the Indian cast members fit into their roles very well, but they are also skilled in line execution and emotional delivery. Further, costuming throughout the film is authentic and culturally accurate, which rounds out an overall above-average effort.

Conclusion

While The Least of These didn’t go as far as it could have been, this is absolutely a great start to a film-making career for all of those involved. Not only did Stephen Baldwin show that he can actually pull off a semi-normal role, but Aneesh Daniel and his team have showcased great skill and talent that will hopefully be applied to even better movies in the future. While we can’t wait to see what they have next, this film is definitely worth your time.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Spent [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eve believes her husband is going to die soon, so she and her son Lonnie are planning on inheriting his million dollar fortune, so they think. They’ve grown tired of his constantly cheap lifestyle that he forces them to go along with, and with the brain tumor advancing, they feel like their freedom is close at hand. However, when something unexpected doesn’t go quite their way, they are forced to come up with a new plan.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For an indie film, there are several good production elements to note, such as the great video quality and the professional camera work. The sets and locations are also fine and mostly well-utilized. While the soundtrack can be intriguing and creative at times and while the audio quality is mostly fine, there are also instances where the music covers up spoken words and where background sounds can overpower the scene. Also, there is some weirdly soft lighting at times, and some scenes are randomly in black and white for no particular reason. Perhaps the oddest part of this production is the usage of cheesy props from different time periods that creates a lot of confusion as to when this film is supposed to take place. Further, some scenes are strangely drawn out in unnatural ways, which speaks to somewhat of an editing problem. As a whole, this is basically an average indie production that could have been slightly better than it was and seemed to get in its own way.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Even more so, the plot certainly gets in its own way. In a quest to be creative and artistic (the effort is definitely noted), this story comes off in a very strange way with a weird sarcastic tone that’s not explained very well and with a collection of bizarre and slightly inappropriate scenes. It’s very difficult to discern what this film is actually going for without having the confusion about the time period. The attempts at artistic psychological elements fall flat, and a lot of the dialogue is basically cringe-worthy. It’s unfortunately a collection of odd cardboard scenes of nonsensical recitations that is very purposeless and aimless. To top it off, the ending is very strange and leaves a strange flavor in your mouth, which rounds out a section that basically confused itself along with the audience.

Acting Quality (.5 acting)

Indie film acting is fairly difficult to pull off, and while there was a slight amount of potential with this cast, a lot of it is very awkward and forced. The eccentric portions would work better if that’s what these characters were intended to be, but again, it’s very unclear what the film is even going for. This fact is also reflected in the weirdly inconsistent costuming efforts. As a whole, line and emotional delivery are stilted, which doesn’t leave much positive to state about this indie effort.

Conclusion

It’s great to want to try to create an original indie film, but Spent either takes things a step too far or a step too short. It’s a mystery what sort of Christian message is meant to be conveyed by this ‘dark comedy,’ and it’s unfortunately a waste of time due to its jumbled and confusing elements. The best an indie film maker with a small budget can do is to present a masterful plot, but this was unfortunately not done in this film.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

On Wings of Eagles [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Eric Liddell was a Scottish Olympic gold medalist, an accomplished educator, and a dedicated family man who was called to take the Gospel to China in the 1930s and 1940s. He faced hardship and persecution from the Communist government, but he never gave up in his mission to run, to educate children, and to share the Gospel with whoever he came in contact with. Though he died in captivity, he left a lasting legacy with all who knew him and beyond.

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s apparent that good effort was put into making this production professional, which is evidenced by great video quality and camera work, as well as a good use of international sets and locations. The props are culturally authentic, and the soundtrack is very effective. However, this production is kept from being perfect because of some inconsistent audio quality and some fake-looking special effects that should have been better. Further, the editing is fairly poor as there are some awkward cuts and transitions and since there is a lot of content that is not handled very well. Even so, this is a good production that is above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Due to taking on a large amount of content from the life of one person, this plot relies too heavily on time jumps and excessive, unnecessary narration that short-circuits any hope for actual character and plot development. While this is a great true story with a lot of potential to be an epic, we have a hard time understanding who the characters are beyond historical bios. Any hope of dialogue is mostly rushed and choppy due to the storyline jumping all over the place. There are also too many wasted and drawn-out scenes that could have been maximized to fuller potential, but they cause the story to not flow well at all. However, there is still a lot of good content here due to the fact of it being based on a real story, and the ending likely makes it worth a watch, even though it could have been much better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, this cast is fairly culturally authentic and professional as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective character role. If they had more lines to work with, things would definitely be even better, even if there is some inconsistent line and emotional delivery in some places. Though there is some over-acting, this section is overall above average, which rounds out an average film that could have been much better.

Conclusion

On Wings of Eagles had so much going for it: a well-funded production, culturally accurate casting, and an excellent true story that had the makings of a real epic. Nevertheless, this great potential was seemingly forgotten as half-measures were settled for. Just fixing one of these elements listed would have likely qualified it for the Hall of Fame, but it unfortunately fell short of the mark. Even still, many audiences will still enjoy this film, and it can serve as a blueprint for how to take things one step further into greatness.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Dress (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary and Leland Jeppson feel like they won’t have a good Christmas because the year has been hard on their finances, and they won’t be able to give their children anything good unless the shipment comes in from the big city, which a snowstorm has put in jeopardy.  However, the courage of a local boy who likes their oldest daughter might be able to make it happen if he and his father can brave the storm and make it back safely.  Will everyone be able to have a good Christmas after all?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Even for short films like this one, the Covenant Communications team is mostly committed to having an at least average production.  This is evident in the fine video and audio quality, as well as the average camera work.  The most obvious problems are the somewhat cheap and limited sets, locations, and props.  However, it’s definitely evident they are trying in this production, even though the otherwise good soundtrack can be too loud at times.  Further, the editing is average, which rounds out an overall average effort that actually could have been a bit better due to its limited runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, with such a small scope to work with, the drama of the plot overtakes the characters and doesn’t allow them enough space to be developed properly.  This is caused by flat dialogue and unclear conflict that makes it hard for the audience to properly relate to the struggles of these characters who may otherwise have realistic problems.  While the Christian messaging is good and somewhat accessible, the short and limited nature of the plot is too cheesy and makes it hard to justify this short film’s creation.  Basically, it’s a nice, safe story that’s mainly benign and without any true impact.  We like to see more than this from Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While these is evidence that this cast means well and is trying, there appears to be a lack of coaching.  This issue seems to cause some acting to be slightly awkward and to create a lot of robotic line delivery.  The costuming is also a bit cheap and cheesy because it doesn’t entirely fit the time period, but there’s enough positive in this section to make it average.  As a while, however, this film isn’t much to write home about.

Conclusion

In Christian entertainment, short films definitely have their place, but they really need to be more dynamic than this.  This can be done through deep character growth and meaningful plot development.  Shorter films mean smaller productions, so resources should be allocated more responsibly with them.  In the end, it’s already hard for short films to make a full impact, so extra effort should be put into them to make this happen.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Tortured for Christ (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Born to Win [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Faith Like Potatoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

The Identical (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Wrestling With God [1990] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Alexander Campbell was a religious radical in a day when man was seeking to corrupt the true theology of Jesus Christ, so he left Catholic Ireland for religious freedom in America.  However, he finds the same doctrinal problems when he enters the New World, but at the same time, he also meets like-minded people who want to follow the true Gospel and worship God freely without man’s intervention.  Alexander eventually settles down to raise a family, and he faces many new challenges along the way.  Ultimately, he will have to discover God beyond theology and doctrine and meet Him for himself.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a 1990s production, Wrestling With God is understandably archaic, which is evidenced by one too many dark scenes and grainy video quality.  However, camera work is okay, and there is obviously a lot of attention to detail in this production as its sets, locations, and props reflect a commitment to historical and cultural authenticity.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, however, and the editing is quite choppy, including too many long, lagging scenes and too many leaps in time.  Overall, due to the issues that add up and the attempts at authenticity, this production is just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this obscure true story is a bit out of left field to choose for the film, the historical account is slightly interesting, even if it is mostly based on niche theological debates that will likely isolate and bore most audiences.  It is difficult to see the wide appeal of this concept, especially since it doesn’t hold the attention very well at all.  While there is potential here for real historical characters to come to life, this storyline is a bit too long to cram into less than two hours, and the large time jumps short-circuit any ability to get to know these characters as people.  The inconsistent story presentation, the expository dialogue, and the boring conversations about theological eccentricities also hurt the opportunity to develop authentic and relatable characters.  As a whole, historical accounts are typically better than your run-of-the-mill inspirational fodder, but Wrestling With God is just a bit too boring to work out.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Accompanying this 1990s production is 1990s-style acting, which tends to be too theatrical and overly practiced.  While the costuming and accents are historically authentic, the emotional performances are not entirely convincing, and this amateur cast could use a bit more coaching.  However, this area is not all bad, which make this section basically average.

Conclusion

The creators of this older film probably meant well in making it, but they might should have considered using a more recognizable and engaging historical account to make into a movie.  The theological debates encapsulated in this tale might be consequential and important to some people, but it will be lost on most audiences because it is more important to depict real people experiencing a real God Who is truly beyond theology and man-crafted doctrines.  This would be a worthwhile message to share in movie form and one that would have a larger impact.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Paul, Apostle of Christ (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Paul had completed many full years of missionary work across the continents of Asia and Europe and after carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands of people, both Jews and Gentiles, he appealed to stand trial in Rome before Caesar, but this decision only caused him to suffer further for the cause of Christ at the hands of cruel Romans.  With the church in Rome on the brink of total annihilation, Priscilla and Aquila house many wanted Christians in their home, and Luke is sent to tend to Paul in prison.  As many Christians begin to question the words of Christ, Luke begs Paul for a fresh word to strengthen the church in her dark times, yet Paul is plagued by his thorn in the flesh–namely the lives of all he killed while he was a religious zealot.  With darkness seeming to close in on Christ’s people, the story of Paul’s life carries the same message that saved all followers of the Way: where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gone are the days when ‘Bible plays’ like The Book of Esther are socially acceptable as Christian films.  We are in a new era of Christian productions, and Paul, Apostle of Christ is another hallmark of this era.  Similar to recent Biblical depictions, such as Risen, this new look at Paul’s life is gritty and authentic and has no fear of being painfully realistic.  This is evident in the excellent and historically authentic sets, locations, and props.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also what a professional production should be.  The soundtrack is very engaging and thought-provoking, and the editing is quite creative and effective in presenting the story.  The only drawback to this production is a collection of very dark scenes that may be realistic but do not make for great viewing.  Nevertheless, this is a top-notch production that we should see over and over again in Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While most standard Biblical plot fare is very flat, face-value, and vanilla, Paul, Apostle of Christ rejects this mold and upends the Biblical genre once and for all.  By inserting extremely creative and well-crafted psychological elements into the core of this storyline, Andrew Hyatt and his team have created a point of no return for films based on Biblical events.  Much like their work in Full of Grace, which showed the potential they have always had, their portrayal of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the trauma he went through in his life is revolutionary in this genre.  This is exactly what needs to be done to show the humanness of Biblical characters through the exquisite use of effective flashbacks and through processes that demonstrate real motive.  Elsewhere, dialogue is rich and meaningful, and the other subplots are intertwined very well as each character is very well-developed.  Care is given to demonstrate great historical accuracy, and while there are some slightly slow scenes and areas that could have been fleshed out with further dialogue and flashbacks, this storyline is a breath of fresh air in a world of very poor Biblical screenwriting.  To top things off, the ending sequence completes the film excellently and is well worth the wait.  In short, this film is a job well done in nearly every area.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

While there were a few missteps with cast members that are not entirely culturally authentic, they are trained to appear culturally authentic, which is leagues better than having a fully BRITISH cast.  Elsewhere, there is plenty of culturally authentic casting to make this section great, and there is clearly a presence of professional acting coaching.  There are very few errors to point out here, and costuming and makeup are also extremely realistic.  In summary, there are many positive elements to point out in this breakout effort.

Conclusion

This film receives a full x-factor point for its effective use of poignant psychological elements as Paul, Apostle of Christ takes its rightful place among the greatest Christian films of our time.  Andrew Hyatt and his team are clearly going places, and even though their sophomore effort was somewhat muted by the blockbuster release of I Can Only ImaginePaul is a signal that a new force to be reckoned has finally arrived in Biblical films.  It will be exciting to see what this team puts together next, but for now, we can enjoy this great movie.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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

Road to Emmaus [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Come Follow Me [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: Matthew (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Time Collectors: Return of the Giants (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (0 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

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

Acting Quality (0 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

 

Under Jakob’s Ladder (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Nail 32 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Harlem Grace (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (3 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Same Kind of Different As Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Freedom [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Samuel Woodward and his family escape a cruel Virginia plantation one night, they are aided by Christians on the Underground Railroad.  However, they are also pursued by cruel slave bounty hunters.  When Samuel wants to give up on his faith because of what they are going through, his mother tells him the story of his great grandfather, who was a boy on board one of John Newton’s slave ships.  The two lives parallel as they each face their own struggle for freedom and discover faith in God.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a hefty budget and cable television backing, Freedom had many positives going for it from the get go.  For the most part, the money is well-spent, including great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Obviously, the standout feature of this film is supposed to be its historical live soundtrack sung by the characters like a musical, but this is an area that needs some further refinement.  There are also some lingering small issues in this production pertaining to some fake backgrounds and some slightly rushed editing, yet on the whole, this is a very respectable production that was helped by the money behind it.  The one caveat to point out is that with this kind of money, Freedom *should* have been flawless and likely would have been in the right hands.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Freedom is an attempt at a historical musical epic, and it succeeds on some fronts, even though it fails on other fronts.  For one, there is a lot of unnecessary narration throughout that hurts natural character growth.  Characters are also not helped out by the fact that there are so many of them.  Also, the parallel subplots from two different historical time periods is an interesting touch, yet it is not handled very well as time tends to jump all around.  The sheet amount of content that is being handled here may just be too much for one film, and the dialogue is not substantial enough for the epic style this movie is trying to adopt.  However, this is a mostly realistic and touching story that has a lot of historical backing and interest.  It is extremely important for more Christian movies to be made about history, especially the Underground Railroad.  However, Timothy Chey makes a mistake in portraying most, if not all, the pro-slavery characters as atheists, which is not entirely accurate.  Nonetheless, the second half of Freedom does show improvement, even if the better parts tend to be squeezed out by the wasted time at the beginning.  In summary, Freedom is a good film, but it is frustrating to see the higher potential that it did not reach.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With professional cast members and fairly good coaching, Freedom had a successful acting run.  Line delivery is on point, and emotions are effective, except for some minor moments of unnecessary drama.  Also, the costuming is very authentic and historically accurate.  There is some odd makeup work in some parts, but as a whole, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

As a side note, John Newton died almost 70 years before the hymn “It is Well” was ever written, so there’s no way his fiancée was able to sing it in church.  Also, it’s also highly unlikely John Newton sang “Amazing Grace” at his own wedding since he wrote it almost 15 years after he got married.  This isn’t the first time Timothy Chey has disregarded historical facts in his films, but his ambition to create a Christian historical epic\musical is noted, even if it is misguided in the beginning.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of positive elements in this film, likely because Chey had assistance from other sources.  However, there were definitely areas it could have been improved in, especially since this was a rare chance for a film with a Christian worldview to show that it was a great historical epic on a cable television channel apart from it being a Christian movie.  There was so much going for this film, especially the budget, so it really should have achieved a higher rating.  Even so, many audiences will still find enjoyment and meaning in it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Stephen’s Test of Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Stephen doesn’t like to be picked on by bullies at school because of his Christian faith.  When he complains about it to his father, his dad decides to tell him three stories of Christian martyrs in history, including the stoning of Stephen from the book of Acts.  Thus, when Stephen falls asleep that night, he has three dreams about the three stories, in which he is also a character.  Will his visions teach him how to not be afraid of the atheist bullies at his school???

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though Voice of the Martrys has crafted quality productions in the past, Stephen’s Test of Faith is not one of these.  This film contains somewhat cheap and limited sets, props, and locations, which doesn’t bode well for the historical parts.  There is also some poor lighting throughout.  Further, this production has some odd camera angles and slightly shaky camera work, although the video quality is fine.  Audio quality is also fine, even though the editing is somewhat poor.  Overall, the low quality of this production, combined with the shortness of its duration, makes its creation slightly unjustified.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This is combined with the fact that its premise is very unusual and almost insulting.  Equating real martyrdom and persecution with getting made fun of by immature kids at school is very odd and off-putting.  Did Voice of the Martyrs mean to tell kids they don’t have it as bad as people who are killed for their faith?  That’s almost worse.  Either way, it’s a mishandling of first-world problems.  Besides this, the story of this film has a disorienting progression and sequencing, which is helped by its short time frame.  Even so, the plot jumps from one thing to the next as it tries to cover far too much content in a small amount of time.  It seems like it is unable to focus on any one thing, and this makes the characters too one-dimensional and swept along by the plot’s circumstances.  Unfortunately, though Voice of the Martyrs might have meant well with this film, it’s a swing and a miss.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, this cast tends to be dominated by child actors that have an annoying delivery style.  Other cast members tend to be too forceful and dramatic, while others are unsure of themselves.  However, not all is bad in this cast as there are some good moments, yet this is not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

With films like Bamboo in Winter, Behind the Sun, The Eastern Bride, and Closure, Voice of the Martyrs is usually able to capture the real struggles of persecuted Christians around the world, but trying to transpose these struggles onto the first world problems in modern America is just wrong.  This may have not been intentional, but it came off that way in Stephen’s Test of Faith.  We have to be careful not to demean the actual persecution Christians experience outside of the Western world by trying to make our minor issues into persecution.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Waterproof [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eli Zeal is just minding his own business as a convenience store owner when Thaniel Battle, a kid mixed up with the wrong crowd accidentally shoots Eli in an armed robbery.  This prompts his mother, Tyree Battle, to take Eli and her son back to her hometown to escape trouble with the law.  Basically a hostage, Eli meets Tyree’s eccentric family in a backwards small town, who try to heal his wound using their own sort of medicine.  Will Eli ever be able to escape the crazy house he’s stuck in?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s\late 1990s production, Waterproof tends to have an air of looking archaic most of the time.  This mostly pertains to the odd video quality, even though camera work is professional.  Audio quality is okay except for the loud soundtrack and some random background noises.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are realistic, thus making for authentic historical surroundings.  The editing is fairly good throughout, and other elements show improvement as the film goes on.  In the end, this is an average production, which is pretty good for the time frame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Waterproof begins in a very odd manner, with a very eccentric tone and premise that dominates nearly three-fourths of the film.  The circumstances presented are almost unrealistic as they come off as cobbled-together and forced.  This story is mostly a return-to-hometown plot combined with a prodigal plot, only it comes with extremely off-the-wall characters that are trying too hard to provide comic relief.  Sometimes the story comes off as downright crazy as it is quite hard to take seriously.  For the first half of the film, it tends to meander along with no real purpose, and then near the end, it suddenly produces a profound message that is tied to an important character backstory.  However, for most audiences, this gem will be too late into the movie for it to be found due to the unusual beginning.  On the whole, it is very difficult to understand the true meaning of this story, apart from the good ending.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With professional cast members, this cast is mostly fine, even though some actors and actresses tend to be a bit forceful and stilted with their line delivery and emotions.  Other cast members are being purposely eccentric to fit their characters, but I guess they didn’t have a choice.  In the end, this is an above-average acting job that makes the film at least half-palatable.

Conclusion

It is hard to know or understand what this movie was actually going for.  Was this intended to be a satire?  If it was meant to be realistic, the eccentricities needed to be packaged a little differently.  It seems like there were many different and better ways the important message at the end could have been presented.  We may never know what was meant by this film, but perhaps someone can make an improved version of it one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Oranges (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose is an orphan girl who lives in Mrs. Hartley’s orphan home.  However, when Mrs. Hartley and some of the children die of illness one fateful month, all of the orphans are sent to other places.  Rose and some of her friends are sent to live in the orphanage of the angry Mr. Crampton, who has strict rules and doesn’t want children messing around with his stuff.  However, the more Rose learns about Mr. Crampton, the more she learns that he is hurting during the holiday season and needs someone to love him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for John Lyde and his creative teams, Christmas Oranges is a professional production.  This is evidenced by good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it is fine for the genre.  Locations are mostly fine, even though there are few of them, but the sets are limited in scope.  There are also some random scenes that are poorly lit for no clear reason.  However, on the flip side, the editing is surprisingly effective.  On the whole, this is a high quality effort that has become commonplace from this group.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In a different turn from other stories from John Lyde and company, Christmas Oranges has a uniquely substantial plot that contains the accessible struggles of relatively believable characters.  Though there is narration that hurts things, the child characters are actually pretty good, even if the orphan premise is slightly cheesy.  There are also some silly ‘kids’ sequences and montages, along with some strawman characters.  However, for the most part, the dialogue and the ideas therein are mostly meaningful and do their best to avoid cliched Christmas concepts involving orphans.  Probably the best element of this storyline is its use of realistic character backstories to humanize the ‘bad’ characters.  On the whole, while this movie did not go as far as it could have, it is still enjoyable and is worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While most of the cast members are definitely professional, this section still tends to be a mixed bag.  Some cast members seem to be overdoing their performances just a bit.  However, on the whole, emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  As a side note, costuming is historically authentic.  Overall, this rounds out a very professional effort.

Conclusion

The Covenant Communications\Paulist Productions\Mainstay Productions collaboration has been working for years to make respectable films, and for the most part, they have succeeded.  However, they have been plagued by an inability to get over the last proverbial hill that stands between them and film greatness.  Nonetheless, they have all the tools necessary to do so.  Thus, we believe that sometime in the near future, they will finally break through and make that dynamic film that has alluded them for years.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Joseph and Mary (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph was tasked with being the earthly father of Jesus, the Messiah, while Mary was chosen to be the biological mother of the Savior.  However, they were just ordinary people who wanted to follow what the Lord wanted for them.  They watched as Jesus grew up before their eyes, and they were also apparently preoccupied with the life of a random rabbi who was their friend.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new Bible production, Joseph and Mary is mostly respectable.  It’s clear that care was given to the authenticity of the production, even though the sets are somewhat limited and reused a lot.  Nevertheless, props are appropriate, and the outdoor locations are great.  This film checks all the typical boxes of good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is adequate.  The only other problem to raise is the choppy editing that poorly handles the large amount of content in this movie.  But in the end, John Patus and the others at Leif Films are definitely improving over the years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So you want to make a movie about Joseph and Mary, yet you decide to use at least half of the runtime depicting an otherwise interesting story about a fictional rabbi who shadowed Jesus in the Lord’s early years.  This is a fine idea, but why not make the movie primarily about the rabbi?  Joseph and Mary are almost supporting characters in this story.  There is also unnecessary narration that hurts character development.  The healthy construction of the characters is also hindered by the rapid passage of time that follows the same characters as they keep meeting in the same places over several time periods.  There is also a tendency to hit the high points of the story rather than to settle down and let us get to know them as people.  The stoic and overly formal dialogue certainly does not help.  However, this film is an interesting perspective on the early years of Jesus through the eyes of a flawed and accessible character that is not Joseph or Mary.  Yet this good idea is somewhat soured by the strange ending sequence that leaves the audience wandering what this movie is supposed to teach us.  In the end, the Leif Films team is usually closed to good things, as evidenced in The Apostle Peter: Redemption, but they can’t seem to get there.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, there is not much good to say about the acting of this film.  For one thing, it is very poorly cast and lacks authentic cultural cast members.  Kevin Sorbo, a generic white guy, really has no business playing Joseph, besides the fact that he is awkward in this film.  Rather than being too BRITISH, this cast is too American.  The costuming is also somewhat cheesy, yet there are a handful of good moments that keep this section from being nothing.

Conclusion

Bible films are almost always problematic.  If the production isn’t a problem, it’s the casting.  If not that, then the plot suffers.  There are so many variables that have to be aligned in a Biblical film; after all, they are historical accounts.  Thus, they needed to be treated with more care.  We can’t have any more of these Bible plays coming out because even Christian audiences are getting tired of that.  We need dynamic authenticity, but perhaps the Leif Films team will keep trying and find the mark one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Messenger’s Box (Movie Review)

It’s magical!

Plot Summary

Jake Casper is just a random teenager who stumbles upon a magical box while cleaning out his late grandfather’s attic.  He discovers a magic nail inside that was used to piece the hand of Jesus.  Since it’s Christmastime, Jake decides to go around and heal people with the magical power of the nail, even the most evil bully in town, who’s dying in a hospital bed.  But will Jake and his friends be able to get past the security guards to save him?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Messenger’s Box has plenty of issues, but at least the production is mostly average.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all mostly fine.  However, the soundtrack is generic, and sets, locations, and props are somewhat cheap, even though there is definitely effort here.  Some flashbacks have an odd quality about them, and there are some cheesy special effects.  The most obvious error here pertains to the very abrupt scene chances and transitions, like this film was chopped together in post.  Basically, though there is effort here, it still only comes out as average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This film has one of the dumbest magical Christmas device plots ever.  Everything about it is extremely juvenile and overly dramatic.  Even with all of this, there is still not much content to speak of as not much happens outside of the magical elements and the awkward forced comedy sequences.  Most of the dialogue is very forced and scripted, and a majority of it focuses on the magical plot device and other insignificant asides.  Thus, this creates characters that are all fixated on either the magical ‘thing’ or on the dumbest sidebar topics.  Besides this, they come off as uninspiring and flat rather than accessible and realistic.  Essentially, whoever dreamed up this stupid idea of a film needs to seriously revamp their movie making process.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To match their characters, this cast is very robotic, stiff, wooden, and empty in most of their performances.  Emotions are basically non-existent as everything is either very dramatic or very matter-of-fact.  Line delivery is overly practiced.  Unfortunately, there is very little positive to say about this extremely cheesy film.

Conclusion

Gary Bosek and his team obviously did not think this one through very well.  Using Crystal Creek people as cast members is one thing, but basing your entire plot on a stupid ‘Bible’ magical device in a Christmas context is a completely worn out idea and is so juvenile that it has no place in Christian film.  This is just all wrong as a movie and should have been scrapped from the beginning.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Wesley [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In 1732, John Wesley had fully embraced the religious piety of English Christianity, but his life was changed forever when he was assigned to be a missionary to the American Natives in the colony of Georgia.  He always strived to be what he considered to be a perfect Christian, but his world was transformed when he encountered real people and was forced to come face to face with God’s grace and love for all humanity.  Only then did John Wesley become the spiritual giant he is known as today.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production of Wesley is very rough at the beginning, including a lot of dark scenes and an obvious use of poorly disguised fake background, as well as some cheap special effects.  Also, there are some moments of odd video quality.  However, regardless of these struggles, there is a concerted effort in this film to demonstrate historical authenticity, especially through the use of realistic sets, locations, and props.  Also, audio quality is fine throughout the film.  Though there are some awkward cuts and transitions, this is at least an average production and is likely good for the limited funding.  With a little more honing, this creative team could be exemplary.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Since this is based on an engaging true story, this plot already has a lot going for it.  This historical account was definitely worth portraying in film, and there are many attempts even in the story to preserve authenticity.  The use of flashbacks is also effective.  While dialogue is good, it could be better and more meaningful.  As it is, it tends to make the characters too stuffy.  Yet the characters tend to improve as they go on, and the characters definitely experience realistic circumstances.  In the end, this plot is actually better than a lot of plots out there and is certainly worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The strongest point of this section is likely the historically realistic costuming.  At first, the cast members tend to be too theatrical in their performances, including some forced emotions and lines.  However, there is definite improvement throughout in the acting, which makes for an overall average performance.  In short, there are plenty of good points in the film, yet it tends to be tripped up by little things.

Conclusion

We definitely need more engaging historical Christian films, and this creative team is definitely on the right track with films like Wesley and Newton’s Grace.  With a little bit of tweaking in some parts, along with better funding and acting coaching, this team could soon be going places.  Even so, their movies are at least worth a watch and tend to bring a different perspective to Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Judas: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Brother’s Keeper [2015] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Come Unto Me [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samuel and Mary make their living stealing from others because as young orphans, they have no one to turn to.  However, while on the run from the Romans one day, they are sheltered by a woman they have never seen before.  After talking with her and her carpenter son, Samuel and Mary are intrigued by them and want to know more about them.  Yet little do they know that the woman’s son, Jesus, is about to embark on the ministry work of His Father in order to change the world.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Come Unto Me is the best production yet in this short film series, including high video quality and audio quality, along with great camera work and soundtrack work.  There is still a concerted commitment in this series to use realistic and high quality outdoor locations and props, which is a huge plus.  This is mainly what sets these films apart from your average Bible play movie.  There are really no concerns to point out here except for some small editing concerns pertaining to scenes that overstay their welcome.  Yet on the whole, this is another great production effort that continually shows needed improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot takes a small step back in this film as the cumbersome dialogue returns and Jesus is still portrayed as a lofty and inaccessible individual.  There is also too much talk about off-screen events without showing them.  Indeed, a majority of this film is sitting around talking without developing the characters well enough.  Nevertheless, despite the someone boring progression of the film, there are a lot of interesting ideas here that need further development.  It’s possible that this could only be done in a series format, because the short film series has likely run its course at this point.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting remains relatively stable in this third installment as the same positives and negatives as before are present.  Costuming is good, and the cast members are still not completely culturally authentic.  Though there are still some moments of unnecessary drama, this cast is less theatrical than the others, which shows coaching improvements.  Thus, in the end, Come Unto Me rounds out another average film.

Conclusion

The good thing about John Lyde and his team is that they are focused on quality Bible films rather than churning out a bunch of cheap Bible plays.  Thus, they are definitely on the right track here.  Yet it still seems like No Ordinary Shepherd, He Knows My Name, and Come Unto Me are already set up to be a miniseries.  There are already three episodes made—now others just need to be filled in to create continuity.  Series’ and miniseries’ are likely the future of Christian entertainment, so we’re still waiting for someone to step up and show what they can do.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

He Knows My Name (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ever since Rebekah’s father died tragically, Rebekah’s mother has not let her do much of anything.  Rebekah wants to go with her neighbor Isaac to see the miracle-working man named Jesus, but Rebekah’s mother doesn’t trust anyone.  Rebekah is only left to listen to her blind grandfather’s stories about being an innkeeper with no room for a young pregnant couple from Bethlehem.  One day, Rebekah finally gets her chance to meet Jesus and her life is changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

He Knows My Name demonstrates production improvement over No Ordinary Shepherd.  There is still some odd lighting in some scenes, the sets, locations, and props are all very high quality, especially the realistic locations.  Likewise, video quality and camera work also demonstrate high quality, along with the audio quality and soundtrack.  There are really only some minor production errors to address here which typically pertain to some editing concerns.  The presence of one too many lagging scenes raises some small issues, but it’s not enough to derail this production.  Improvement is what we look for across time, and this film shows it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Again, we wonder if the plots of No Ordinary Shepherd and He Knows My Name could have been combined somehow, yet this film clearly has a good message and effort behind it.  This second installment is more well-thought-out than the first as the characters are slightly more accessible and less lofty than before.  However, the portrayal of Jesus has still not improved as he seems like a character on another plain of thought from the others.  The dialogue, especially Jesus’, still tends to be a bit archaic and isolating, but there are better attempts here.  Overall, this seems like a more true-to-life story than the first, and it shows a continued effort to improve, which is all we can ask for.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting also shows improvement, even though the cast members are still completely culturally authentic.  Yet the realistic costuming is still present and the cast members appear to be more well-coached than before.  There are some small trip ups pertaining to theatrics, but on the whole, this upward trend is encouraging to see.

Conclusion

In many ways, this unofficial short film series plays out more like a miniseries should.  This why I have to wonder if it would do better in a miniseries format rather than a short film format.  Miniseries’ certainly receive more attention than short films.  Besides, we really don’t have a notable Bible miniseries on the market.  With the advent of more streaming service options, there is really no reason why we don’t have more series’ like this.  Perhaps one day we will.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

No Ordinary Shepherd (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Saul is a crippled shepherd boy who longs to meet the mysterious, miracle-working man all of Judea talks about.  Saul remembers the stories his father told him about being a shepherd and witnessing the heavenly host of angels tell him and his friends about the coming of the Messiah.  Saul’s father saw the baby Who was called the Messiah, and wondering if he could be the same miracle-working man everyone talks about.  Little does Saul know that he will be given an opportunity to see Him face to face.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good effort was put into this short film, most notably the historically realistic props and locations, there are still some issues that keep it from being all that it could be.  There is too much soft light throughout, as well as one too many dark scenes.  The sets are also somewhat limited.  However, video and audio quality are fine, as well as the camera work and the soundtrack.  Also, the editing is surprisingly good, even though this is almost too short of a film.  In the end, this production shows good effort and is at least average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes it is better to just make one short idea to get started with film making.  An extended and protracted film can waste a lot of time and resources.  However, since this is such a focused movie with limited time, the characters need to be given a lot more intense attention.  They need to be more accessible rather than a collection of lofty Bible figures that use too much archaic dialogue.  Also, the use of narration should never be used as a crutch in a short film.  In the end, it is clear that this film means well and carries a good message, so the effort is definitely applaudable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast starts out tending to be too theatrical in their delivery and not natural enough in their emotions.  However, there is some improvement throughout, even though the case members are not culturally authentic.  But perhaps this was all they had to work with.  The good thing is that the costuming is realistic and avoids looking like a Bible play.  Thus, this rounds out another average section that demonstrates good effort.

Conclusion

With three installments in this short film series, it seems like they could have been synthesized into one film.  Yet one can understand why a responsible film maker would begin their work with a short film—indeed, there are many films that should also be in the short film category.  Therefore, in the end, this is a commendable film that shows great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Jeremiah [1998] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeremiah grew up in the reign of Josiah, the last golden era for Judah as a nation.  As a young boy, God called him to be a prophet; however, he did not always accept this call.  As he grew, he knew he was destined to be a Levitical priest, but God gave him a message to tell the people that no one wanted to hear.  Jeremiah was persecuted for what he had to share and suffered terribly as Jerusalem’s days were numbered by the Babylonian siege.  Yet through it all, God was with him as he carried out the Word of the Lord.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a late 1990s production, Jeremiah has plenty of good elements.  Affirm Films’ older Bible movies were certainly not perfect, but they definitely showed good effort.  The biggest plus to this production pertains to the excellent sets, locations, and props, which all demonstrate historical authenticity and great attention to detail.  Video quality and audio quality are also what they should be, including an effective soundtrack.  However, there are some drawbacks to point out, such as weird lighting in some scenes for dramatic effect, quick and rapid time jumps, fast cuts and transitions.  Thus, this production is overall average, but this is very good considering the time period.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Like too many other Bible movies like it, such as Affirm’s rendition of Esther, Jeremiah tends to portray Biblical characters in a too lofty fashion through the use of odd and cumbersome dialogue styles.  It would be nice if Biblical characters were not so inaccessible and theater-like.  But nevertheless, this is an interesting and noteworthy portrayal of a different Biblical account that often goes unnoticed.  It’s refreshing to see a different story, but at the same time, it is frustrating to watch because it had such potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the cumbersome dialogue, too often in this film, the cast members use weird, archaic annunciation, like this is a 1970s or older Bible film.  In a similar vein, a lot of the acting is too dramatic and theatrical at times, and too much of the line delivery is breathy.  While some cast members are culturally authentic, others are not, including several British people.  Yet there are plenty of good moments here and some cast members tend to improve throughout.  In the end, this rounds out a nearly average film.

Conclusion

It would be great to see this idea remade because it is a very interesting story that deserves to be portrayed.  Yet this movie can also serve as an example of how not to portray Biblical characters.  Audiences want to see people they can relate to, not lofty characters in a play.  The Bible needs to be brought to life in authentic and even gritty ways because it’s real life and deserves to be portrayed that way.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 pointsj

 

Come the Morning (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Constance Gibson decides to take her three children to the growing city of Los Angeles in search of her absent husband in the hopes that he has been able to start a new life for them all.  However, as they arrive in the strange new city, they find that not all is as they expected, and they will have to make some hard decisions in order to face the future.  Through it all, will they be able to press into their faith in God to get through the dark times?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a production created in 1993, Come the Morning is excellent.  Worldwide Pictures has always been a standout company for their commitment to production quality.  Video quality, audio quality, soundtrack, and camera work are all what they should be in this film.  There was obviously great care given to the historical authenticity of this film’s sets, locations, and props.  The only small issues to point out here pertain to some slightly low-quality lighting in some scenes, as well as some quick cuts and transitions in the editing.  However, in the end, this is an excellent effort and is one that can serve as an example for future films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unlike other Christian films newer than it, Come the Morning exhibits Worldwide Pictures’ ability to capture the real-life struggles of accessible characters.  This story is not afraid to portray gritty circumstances and contains a lot of good ideas.  The characters are very believable, yet they could use a little more personality through more complex dialogue.  They have a tendency to be swept along by circumstances.  It also seems like this story could be longer than it is, since it leaves a lot of potential on the proverbial playing field.  But regardless of this, Come the Morning is an accessible story that depicts a realistic story that many audiences will enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is the strongest section of this film since there are no real errors to point out here.  This is a very encouraging acting job to witness, as emotions are all believable and line delivery is very much on point.  The costuming is also authentic, which show great effort.  This rounds out a very respectable creation.

Conclusion

We desperately need more Christian film making groups and creative teams who are consistently committed to rolling out movies that are quality on all fronts.  Five- and six-point ratings should be the norm in Christian film, as Worldwide Pictures always did.  If this were the case in Christian entertainment, we would be looking at a completely new field filled with greater opportunities and successes.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Saint John: The Apocalypse [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a Roman soldier is exiled to the island of Patmos for insurrection, he does not expect to meet the infamous and fabled Theophilus, who happens to be the aging Apostle John.  A group of Christians whom the Roman solider knows also comes to the island in search of the mysterious Theophilus, all the while John is experiencing the visions from God that later became the Book of Revelation.  All of their lives intersect in a way they could not have previously believed.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

There is a lot going on this early 2000s production from Trinity Broadcasting Network and others.  Though there are plenty of attempts to create historically and culturally authentic sets, locations, and props, there are some other issues here that hamper the production.  These include some randomly poor lighting and wild zooms for dramatic effect, as well as some unnecessarily overdubbed audio.  The voice of God that echoes throughout the film is also a bit annoying.  A lot of the special effects used are very obvious and poorly done—if you are making a production about the Book of Revelation, you’d better have some well-funded special effects.  Yet on top of this, there are plenty of realistic gritty elements throughout, as well as good video quality and average editing.  Essentially, this is a very unique production and is a mixed bag at that, thus warranting the average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot writers decided to consult The Robe and the old Ben-Hur for how to make a first century Roman\Jewish story and cast of characters most like a soap opera.  This includes a cheesy romantic subplot and a lot of overly dramatic dialogue.  All of the characters are impossible to access due to their lofty and inhuman demeanors.  However, there is a very realistic historical context portrayed here, as well as a lot of good plot ideas that are basically wasted.  Yet these elements save the plot from being a total loss.  There is a lot of content here, and in the right hands it could have made a great two-part movie or miniseries.  They needed a better writer to be able to handle the complex content from the Book of Revelation properly.  But unfortunately, anything that involves TBN is guaranteed to be overly dramatic.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The same can be said for the casting and acting, as nearly every cast member uses a breathy line delivery reminiscent of Nicholas Cage and the actresses from the old Ben-Hur and The Robe.  Thus, line deliver is too measured and drawn out, like a Bible soap opera.  However, though the cast is not entirely culturally authentic, the costuming is at least historically accurate.  There are also some good acting moments that save this section from being a total loss.

Conclusion

One thing can be said for this film: it’s not your run-of-the-mill cute\boring Christian film.  It’s ambitious, but perhaps too ambitious for the resources the creators had at their disposal.  It’s very difficult to depict the visions of Revelation properly—this requires state-of-the-art special effects, which usually do not exist in Christian films, unfortunately.  Yet there is no excuse for having acting this bad, even though it’s not BRITISH.  This plot needed a total rewrite, but the idea definitely needs to be retained for future reworking and improvement.  Maybe one day it will be remade.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Wings of the Wind (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose Cornell aspired to be a pilot in the 1940s, which was unheard of for a woman at the time.  However, due to her father’s insistence, and a set of tragic circumstances, she was unable to fulfill her dream.  As one tragedy after another impacts her life, Rose struggles with her faith and whether or not God actually cares about what happens to her and her family.  Will she be able to come to grips with the truth before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

KICKS Flicks always demonstrates some measure of commitment to production quality, yet Wings of the Wind is an improvement over past low quality efforts, such as Sybil Ludington and The Light of Freedom.  They always show definition dedication to historical authenticity in their films, especially when it comes to authentic set, locations, and especially props.  These are all well-constructed and thought out.  Video quality is also mostly good, except for some odd blurry flashback sequences.  Lighting is also fine except for some scenes where there is not enough.  Audio quality is stable throughout, even if the soundtrack is underwhelming.  Finally, the editing is relatively poor as the story is presented in a confusing fashion.  But overall, this production demonstrates continual improvement, which is all we can really ask.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, this plot is extremely hard to follow as it lacks clear direction and purpose.  It depicts a vague historical story that is very difficult to put your finger on for some reason.  There is definitely not enough dialogue, which leaves the characters flat.  There are also a lot of tangential subplots that have no real resolution or explanation.  However, there is still too much wasted time and there are too many pointless sequences that lack substantial content.  Overall, while it’s likely this story meant well, it is so poorly presented that it is impossible to understand fully.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

KICKS Flicks always saves themselves from total irrelevancy by committing to historical authenticity, especially when it comes to the costuming.  When it comes to acting, however, they are lacking.  While there are plenty of good moments with this cast, there are one too many scenes of over-acting and yelling, which demonstrate overly dramatic emotions.  Yet line delivery is mostly on point throughout.  Overall, Wings of the Wind is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

KICKS Flicks is showing improvement, which is one of the main things we want to see from film makers.  They also continually build their own brand to help themselves stand out in the sea of mindless and mediocre independent Christian films.  If they continue on their upward progression, then they will find themselves on top eventually.  Yet in order to do this, they seriously need to retain better plot writing and acting coaching.  But it seems like they want to get better and likely will in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points