Dawn [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Carrie Saunders just wants to live her normal life as a businesswoman, but her recurring nightmares about a missing girl continue to haunt her night after night. Her visions cloud her judgment and cause her to begin to suspect her husband of wrongdoing. Police refuse to believe her tales, so she decides to investigate the matter on her own. Little does she know that the wild ride she’s about to experience will change her life forever.

Production Quality (2 points)

At first, the production of Dawn begins in a rocky manner as evidenced by inconsistent camera work and lighting and some slight background sounds. However, the video quality is stable throughout, and the sets, locations, and props are mostly fine. The camera work does seem to improve as the film proceeds, and it becomes quite professional in the end. Another inconsistent area is the soundtrack since it’s generic in some parts yet quite good in others. Further, one other drawback is somewhat dizzying and repetitive nature of some of the psychological sequences, but this is also sometimes an asset. In the end, the editing is good, and the production is a mixed bag that’s overall above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Dawn dares to try something extremely different in Christian film as it takes on a very unique plot that’s often hard to quantify yet intriguing at the same time. The attempts at extreme creativity are well-noted, even if they can get a bit head-scratching at times. Although some may not like it, it’s good that the Christian elements of Dawn aren’t too in-your-face as it tries to primarily rely on good mystery plot content. However, the storyline does have a few flaws in that the characters could be a bit more developed than they are, which means the time could have been better spent on this venture rather than on repetition of key elements the audience is shown over and over again. Still, the characters are fairly good as they are, even if the villain characters are slight strawmen. The psychological elements of the plot are interesting, but they could use a bit more explanation as to why they are occurring. However, the ending isn’t quite expected, and Dawn is an overall very creative attempt at a complex mystery plot culminating with an actually effective climax that’s built throughout the entirety of the film. This is finally a real suspense plot worth watching, but it would be even better as a remake or a similar replication.

Acting Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the acting of Dawn is fine with only a few minor errors to contend with. There were definitely some opportunities for improved emotional delivery and more dynamic line delivery. However, the cast does enough to make this an above average performance, which rounds out an overall above average film that’s worth your time.

Conclusion

The potential that this creative team showed is very encouraging because it could be the start of something great for them. It’s highly possible that streaming series are in their future if they are allowed to collaborate with larger budgets and tighter writing. What we need is more psychological suspense and mystery stories, and seeing these in the context of Christian series would be awesome, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

A Murder of Innocence (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Albert and Aimee Anderson move to a small town to pastor the local church, they expect all the typical things of a small town church, but nothing in their lives ever prepared them for what happened soon after they arrived. After discovering the dead bodies of their two newest and closest friends, the Andersons are left reeling in the aftermath as they entire church turns to them for guidance during this dark time. However, answers escape them as the culprit seems elusive and the townspeople grow restless and anxious. Will evil ever be brought to justice? Will they be able to recover a sense of normalcy?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, A Murder of Innocence has a mostly fine production, including good video quality and fine sets, locations, and props, even if they are a bit limited in scope. A lot of the time, the audio is extremely quiet and muffled, and the soundtrack is either lacking or overpowering. Also, camera work is inconsistent–sometimes shaky and sometimes fine. Further, the editing is a concern as there are many awkward fadeouts throughout after scenes have gone on too long while some scenes have very quick transitions that cut things off. It seems like there was more content or some that wasn’t usable, so a lot of it appears to relate to post-production issues. Overall, this is just an average production, which isn’t quite up to modern standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although it initially was a good idea to use a true story to try something a bit different, yet much time is wasted on silent montages and clunky dialogue as everything feels very scripted and robotic, especially the ‘perfect’ Christian characters. Instead of actual character development, we’re just left with offensive gender stereotypes that paint women as less intelligent than men. Besides this, the plot is largely based on very shallow concepts and doesn’t appear to comprehend reality very well. Throughout the story, there’s a mysteriously odd tone like it’s concealing some great secret, but it all comes to nothing substantial. If you’re going to write mystery plot, you need to make sure you’ve done your homework to make criminal investigations realistic and believable. It feels like there’s too much going on here that the writers don’t quite understand, which creates the odd mysticism. Besides this, a vast majority of the scenes are slow and dour without much balance or adequate character engagement as the plot drags on and on and chases fruitless rabbit trails. After using up over an hour teasing a possibly forthcoming purpose via dramatic dialogue and randomly extra subplots, there’s little to show for the effort. While it’s commendable to try a suspense plot centered around mental health in rural areas, the very steep character arcs and magical fixes in the final minutes really do the film in, especially since there’s nothing to hold the audience’s interest or make the film worthwhile. Without a central focus, the movie meanders and flounders until a conclusion.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the other elements of the film, the acting is a bit stifled and lifeless as it comes off as over-practiced. In conjunction with the audio problems, the line delivery itself is very soft and almost muted most of the time. However, the acting is at least average in most places without any majorly glaring errors or standout performances. Though there is some unnecessary drama, this section rounds out a basically vanilla effort.

Conclusion

The good thing is that Christian entertainment is becoming broader and braver as time goes on. There was a time when mystery suspense dramas like A Murder of Innocence would have been unthinkable in some Christian circles, but thankfully, there are at least attempts to be more creative and diverse. However, there are still things to work on, most notably plot and character content. This was based on a true story, so it’s not really acceptable to have such poor characters, along with an aimless storyline. Next time, before making a Christian film, it would be better to count the cost and make sure there’s enough creativity and purpose behind it. The only stories that will be transformative are the ones that feel like real life.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

If You’re Gone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brad and Lillian believed that they were meant to be together forever.  When Brad graduates from high school, Lillian believes this will not affect their relationship as she has one more year to go.  However, on the night of the graduation, Lillian’s life is changed forever when Brad disappears for days without contacting anyone.  The town searches for him and holds vigils for him, but nothing ever comes of it all as the months go by with no word about Brad’s whereabouts.  Lillian’s emotions collapse as she can think of nothing else besides the future life she thought she had.  Will she be able to pick herself back up and remember the faith she claims to have had?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After several years of trial and error, the production efforts of husband-and-wife movie team John and Brittany Goodwin have paid off.  Though If You’re Gone had a modest budget, it was allocated very well.  This is evident in the professional video quality and camera work.  The soundtrack is a very good original creation, and the audio quality is spot-on.  Sets, locations, and props, though somewhat limited, are utilized very well.  The only minor issues to point out here that keep this production from being perfect are some inconsistent lighting and some slight editing issues, but as a whole, this is a very professional production that gives great hope for the future of Every New Day Pictures.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on the original novel from the Goodwins, If You’re Gone delivers a unique plot and a compelling message.  Though the story can be a bit slow at times, there are some great conversations and dialogue throughout that seek to build characters.  However, there were still some missed opportunities to use dialogue to deepen characters just a tad more since this is a character-based story with only a handful of characters.  These missed opportunities are most evident in the middle of the film as it appears to only serve to fill time with montages and somewhat repeated scenes in order to get to the ending.  Though some audiences may not hold on for the end, the conclusion is definitely worth the wait as it contains an unexpected twist combined with a very unique and empowering message that one does not see very often in Christian film.  This ending is very much worth your time, but it would have been even better to see some flashbacks in the middle of the film that helped us to further understand why the characters did what they did and that expanded upon the family of origin issues that were touched on.  This story was clearly written for the excellent ending, so it would have likely been Hall of Fame if the lead-up was more engaging.  Even still, some will find this movie to be worthwhile and interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast of If You’re Gone appears to be well-coached as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective role quite well.  Masey McLain is always a great lead, but it might have helped for her to have further support since some cast members come off as a bit weak and detracting from the overall score.  However, emotions and line delivery are above average as a whole, which rounds out this film very well.

Conclusion

The Goodwins have persevered for several years in pursuit of the greatest film, and they have a unique opportunity to create their own source material by writing it before making their own films out of it.  They have always been close to the mark, and with If You’re Gone, they have come even closer.  Production is in a good spot for them, and acting is nearly perfect.  The next step forward for their team is to ensure stronger plots to accompany their great messaging.  Writing stories can be difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to adapt other source material as well since the Christian fiction world is replete with options.  In summary, If You’re Gone is definitely a good film, and the Goodwins are one step away from true greatness.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In late 2009 and early 2010, the evil deeds of a rogue abortion doctor, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, were uncovered when his suspect abortion clinic in downtown Philadelphia was raided by multiple agencies due to suspected drug laundering and mysterious deaths of women who went there.  What the authorities found during the raid was shocking and appalling.  A local prosecutor and her detective friend were immediately plunged into a politically-charged trial centered around the controversial social issue of abortion.  As it becomes more evident that Dr. Gosnell exhibited the behaviors of a serial killer, the pushback from powerful lobbyists only increased until the truth was finally exposed for the world to see.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Gosnell had fairly good funding despite their persecution-complex claims.  This translated to a mostly professional-looking production, including good video quality and camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are mostly well-constructed and well-utilized.  There are some randomly dark scenes throughout, but this may be purposeful.  Also, the editing of the film is fairly choppy due to the large amount of plot content that is taken on.  However, overall, this production is above-average even if it could have been a little better than it was.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Gosnell makes many attempts to be overly realistic in its presentation of real events, including unnecessary profanity and edgy content that may be off-putting to a lot of pro-life audiences.  Besides this, there is a lot of expository dialogue throughout that is designed to mask the time jumps and to connect otherwise unconnected scenes together.  Thus, there is lots of content shoved into a small amount of time, even though the writers found plenty of time for shock-and-awe scenes.  There are one too many over-dramatized sidebars detailing the perceived persecution of the pro-life movement, and the ‘bad’ characters are flat-out strawmen.  One bright spot is the interesting use of flashbacks with characters we don’t see enough of, which is a technique that needs to be used more.  If this film’s plot had been more about detailing the real stories of the women who were adversely affected by the negligence and twisted ideas of Dr. Gosnell rather than a politically motivated trial plot reminiscent of God’s Not Dead 2, this would have been an entirely different film.  Thus, while there is some good messaging in this film that keeps it from having no potential, the real stories of real people need to be depicted in film rather than political grandstanding.  Stories and personal experiences are what changes the culture and changes people’s minds on social issues.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Some cast members are hamstrung from the get-go of this film by the poorly written dialogue that is a direct consequence of the time jumps, but Dean Cain posts another weirdly awkward performance regardless.  Cain’s fake attempts at a Philadelphia accent are annoying, and his typical forced line delivery and emotions are wearing.  However, the rest of this cast appears to know what they’re doing, and despite their shortage of things to work with, they are mostly professional and comfortable in their roles.  Overall, this film is basically average.

Conclusion

The pro-life cause does have history and science on its side, but pro-lifers must be very careful to avoid becoming caught up in the political games that are played by the pro-abortion lobby.  There’s no denying that the abortion business is gruesome and downright evil, but the pro-life cause is better than stooping to their level.  Gosnell presents a very important and real-life issue, but one has to wonder how many people will be converted to the cause due to the gruesome nature of this story.  Though it’s extremely difficult to maintain professionalism and balance in a heavily biased and lightning-rod political culture, it’s important that pro-lifers don’t adapt the pro-abortion mentality of victim status and shock-and-awe theatrics just to try to gain political power.  The pro-life movement should not be politically charged, but we are unfortunately far from that reality.  Politics is only a reaction to culture, but changing the culture is much harder to do.  However, it can be done with real stories, and there were real stories to present in this sordid tale, even if we didn’t get to see them very well in this film.  Real women are hurt everyday by the abortion business, and many of them suffer in silence or are compelled to join the pro-abortion political lobby because they feel like the pro-life movement won’t accept them.  We are seeing some change in this area, however, so hopefully we will see more movement in the right direction in the coming days.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

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

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (.5 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Colors of Emily (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (.5 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Becoming Jesse Tate (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jesse Tate feels like an outcast teenager at her school since her father is in jail as the scapegoat of his workplace’s crimes.  It seems like everybody hates her, and she is ashamed to admit she is a Christian because of what has gone on.  Though people who used to be called her friends have shunned her, Jesse finds a new purpose in helping the prisoners her father knows, and this helps her grow close to God.  However, a mysterious individual keeps instant messaging her information about her dad’s trial, and Jesse fears that her father’s lawyer does not have his best interests at heart.  Will the truth come out before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Set Apart, Becoming Jesse Tate has a fine production.  This includes good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, however, and sets and locations tend to be limited to a few areas.  However, props are well-utilized.  There are a few small editing issues to contend with as well, but on the whole, this is a respectable, standard production that makes the later production of Angels Love Donuts even more perplexing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is very little potential in this plot as the premise is fairly silly and is based on unrealistic circumstances.  The ideas therein are very trite, and the dialogue suffers for lack of substance.  Thus, the characters are flimsy and plastic, not to mention how dumb the ‘villain’ characters are.  Because the characters are one-dimensional, it is difficult to relate to their struggles.  This idea as a whole is very short and limited—it needs a lot more development to be more than the cheesy mystery that it is.  This is not to mention the plot holes and lapses in logic that keep this story moving along to the desired conclusion.  The Christian message is also very sappy and cringeworthy as problems are fixed in ridiculously easy ways.  Basically, the existence of this story is barely justified.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

These cast members are fine and seem to care about what they are doing.  However, there are some moments of forceful line delivery and emotions, especially from the ‘villains.’  Some of the teenage actors and actresses are awkward at times and need further refining.  However, there are enough good moments to keep this section average.

Conclusion

It is difficult to measure what is gained from cute little Christian films like this one.  It’s all fine and good, but is a difference really being made?  The creator may mean well, but we need dynamic films that will make a difference, not more movies like this one.  A story like this needs deep characters to carry it along, because without them, as we saw here, it just becomes trite and unimportant, even if it was meant to be serious.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Checkmate [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1 point)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

My Grandpa Detective (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Robert Whitmore III was just awarded a prestigious police award and promoted to lead detective, a role that used to be held by his famous grandfather, Robert Whitmore Sr.  However, Bob III’s world is rocked when he discovers that his new partner is none other than his grandfather, who has been pressed back into service by the force for retiring too early to collect his pension.  Together, they will have to get along to catch a notorious criminal who has come back to town with the goal of stealing the coveted Bronze Basin of Bitterness.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, the production of this film is not as bad as the rest of it.  All the usual elements, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality, are fine and professional.  There are really no glaring errors here.  The soundtrack is a bit silly, which is to be somewhat expected for a comedy like this.  Sets, locations, and props are average and passable, except for the fact that some unusual props are constantly emphasized.  Also, as usual for this sort of film, the editing is somewhat poor and disorienting.  In the end, this production is the best component of this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

My Grandpa Detective is one of the most nonsensical ‘comedy’ plots since The Takeover.  Besides having absolutely no purpose and being completely aimless, this film has an extremely absurd feel to it that includes a lot of head-scratching and deadpan-inducing moments and sequences.  There is no way to understand what is trying to be communicated in this film as a collection of very eccentric and bizarre characters fumble around, looking for a reason to keep this film going.  The premise is very trumped up and the Christian message is very forced and awkward.  Nearly every line of dialogue is stupidity, thus making the storyline impossible to take seriously.  There are also a lot of cliqued mystery tropes and a predictable ending to top things off.  Essentially, the creators of this film were either confused, delusional, or purposely satirical.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Besides the fact that several cast members are made to look much older than they are, nearly all of the acting in this cast is as absurd as the plot.  Everyone seems intent on making a fool of themselves with childish emotions and outbursts, as well as poor line delivery.  In the end, most elements in this film are completely ridiculous.

Conclusion

Why are Christian films like this still being made in 2016?  What does this sort of movie accomplish, outside of making a further mockery of Christian movies?  True comedy takes well-developed characters and realistic, witty dialogue, not all of the raving nonsense you find in My Grandpa Detective.  Alas, this is another embarrassment and one that should be forgotten, unless you need to know how not to make a movie.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Finding Faith [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Faith gets too close to a ‘boy’ she met online but never met in real life, she never imagined the trouble it would cause her.  In one fateful moment, the stalker behind the fake profile kidnaps her as Faith’s hometown descends into panic over the incident.  The local sheriff has a bone to pick with online stalkers, so he immerses himself into the case unlike any other.  What they find is a vast human trafficking scheme bigger than their small town.  Will they be able to find Faith before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As an early production for Liberty University and team, the quality of Finding Faith isn’t really what it should be.  Video quality is okay, but camera work is randomly shaky.  Audio quality is also poor, even though the soundtrack is trying to be suspenseful.  Sets are okay, but locations and props are somewhat limited.  Editing is mostly average and still leaves something to be desired.  Overall, with many other people involved in this film, Liberty University took a step back with this production, and it’s hard to see how it was justified.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Full of heavy-handed narration from Erik Estrada, the messaging of this story is certainly not subtle.  Yet at the same time, it’s also full of dead air and wasted sequences.  It’s a shame too, because this is an interesting and different idea with a meaningful message that needs to be shared.  However, the characters are so empty due to bland and vanilla dialogue that it’s hard to relate to them as real people, only as cutouts playing a part.  There was so much that could have been done with this story—with better characters of course—but the writers only barely scratch the surface.  It’s unfortunate to see ideas like this one fall so short of the mark.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this is a relatively large cast, they lack adequate coaching.  The cast members post very stiff and blank performances, but then again, they didn’t have many lines to actually work with.  They also have their good moments, and it’s not all bad, but any cast that includes Erik Estrada is always dominated by his odd demeanors and personas.  In the end, this film as a whole is mostly a disappointment.

Conclusion

The Liberty University team and the JC Films team always had big ideas and ambitions that rarely follow through and meet the expectations that are set for them.  They have plenty of resources and connections, but little to no creative screenwriting.  It seems to be consistently difficult for them to portray real people on the big screen, so it might be time for them to invest in some better writing.  Only then will they make the difference they want to make.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Persecuted [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John Luther is a highly successful ministry leader sometime in the near future, and he is being pressured by politicians to support a bill that would allow the government to regulate religion to ‘keep it fair’.  However, John refuses to comply, and thus finds himself under intense attack from faceless enemies who seem bent on destroying him and his reputation.  Injured and on the run, John will have to decide what he really believes and how he is going to defend himself.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The main redeeming elements of this film pertain to the professional production job.  It’s difficult to successfully execute a suspense production, but this team does very well.  Camera work is great, especially in the action scenes, and video quality is what it should be.  Audio quality is also good and the suspense soundtrack is a nice touch.  Sets, locations, and props are appropriate and adequate.  The only nitpick to raise here is some editing issues pertaining to the choppy presentation of this story.  But in the end, this is a respectable production that should be the norm.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this suspense story has a lot of interesting ideas in it, it is too all over the place to make any sense.  It’s great to have a different genre for once, but this isn’t really the way.  Though the persecution premise is somewhat well-explained, it needs to be explained better so it comes off as more realistic.  The protagonist is seemingly too perfect and one-dimensional, although other characters are interesting.  However, several of the villains are fairly cheesy.  We would have like to get to know some of these characters better; as it is, the dialogue is all over the place and does not help develop the protagonist.  There are also a lot of convenient suspense turns as things happens because they need to.  Too much is fixed at the end, even as the ending will leave you scratching your head.  In the end, this plot needs a serious rework.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this cast is at least somewhat professional, a lot of the performances are overly dramatic.  The lead actor does not do a very good job carrying his role, and a lot of the villain cast members are over the top.  Emotions are slightly believable, but line delivery is sometimes unsure.  In short, this is an average performance.

Conclusion

Persecuted fills a genre gap in Christian film, but that’s about the only reason why it stands out, besides professional production.  Persecution premises set in modern America are always going to need a lot of explanation and justification, and this film does not necessarily succeed on that front.  No matter the suspense film, this genre tends to suffer from lack of character development, which Persecuted also demonstrates.  In the end, while there is potential here, it needed a lot more development in order to be better.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Hollow [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jordan, a drug runner, decides to try to change his ways, he finds that it is neither easy nor safe to do so.  As the drug supplies try to get him back, they go after his girlfriend and everything he holds dear.  Meanwhile, the two detectives tasked with catching the drug supplier have their own demons to wrestle with.  Will they be able to come to grips with who they are in order to make the difference they need to make?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

For some reason, in their earlier days, PureFlix was committed to distributing and promoting all sorts of very low quality films (see Saving Winston, As I Stand, and Running Inside Out for other examples).  The only good production element of Hollow is video quality.  Otherwise, camera work is very shaky and many scenes are filmed from behind and through objects.  No audio quality is recorded on set except for loud outside sounds and train noises—all of the dialogue is overdubbed.  The soundtrack is also nearly nonexistent.  Sets, locations, and props are very cheap and most of the scenes are poorly lit.  There are far too many montages that waste time, as well as lagging scenes that drag out the runtime.  Basically, this production needed a complete redo before it was ready.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Somewhere in this story are some really interesting ideas and realistic issues that need to be dealt with in Christian films, but this is not the way to present them.  Hollow overall lacks real purpose and struggles to gold the attention.  There are too many confusing and loosely related subplots that rely on coincidences and unrealistic occurrences.  Gritty subjects are portrayed very flippantly and the dialogue is very unusual, thus crafting odd characters.  There is hardly enough content to sustain a full length film, as previously mentioned, so time-wasting tactics such as montages and empty sequences are employed.  The bottom line is that though there are some really interesting ideas in here somewhere, they are covered up by wasted time and amateur presentations.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Like the production and the plot, there is a small amount of good in the acting, but the cast members largely lack coaching and are thus extremely robotic and measured in their line delivery.  Hardly any emotion is shown among them.  This is another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

When films like this one are made, it is clear that someone is pushing just to make a Christian movie about blank.  PureFlix needed a film that fulfilled a certain genre or mold they are trying to copy, so they dialed up a desperate independent film making team to spit out something in a short amount of time.  This is how films like Hollow came to mass distribution.  Quality was thrown out the window in the pursuit of flooding the market.  This is how we have the mess we have today.  But hopefully new film makers are picking up the pieces and reforming the field, however slow it may be.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Boonville Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Melinda was always told that she was an illegitimate child.  Her mother is superstitious and has a secret she is trying to hide as she is under the thumb of the ruthless Maddox, Melinda’s stepfather.  When Maddox sends Melinda away to Melinda’s grandmother, Melinda sees a whole new outlook on life, including insights into who her father really is.  She discovers that everyone in the small western town of Boonville is hiding a secret, and only courage and faith will help them to disclose what they need to disclose.

 

Production Quality (2 point)

Since there is a lot of mainstream experience on the production team, the production of Boonville Redemption is understandably professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is pedestrian, but the sets and locations are historically realistic.  The biggest errors to highlight here pertain to editing, as there are a lot of abrupt transitions and choppy sequences.  There is too much content that has been crammed into the 100-minute runtime of this film.  Basically, this film is professional on the surface, yet it lacks the necessary substance to be any better than it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though Boonville Redemption attempts to explore a unique plot style and genre, it does so in all the wrong ways.  Constant narration from the unnecessarily omniscient Pat Boone doesn’t leave anything to chance and makes sure the ending is obvious in the beginning.  Pretty much every character is a cheesy stereotype, especially the ridiculously monologuing villain.  The characters that have potential to be good are barely given any screen time, probably due to the large number of characters in general.  Though there is a lot of content, as previously mentioned, time is frivolously wasted on very unnecessary sequences.  Any good parts are very rushed and are drowned out by too many quirky elements.  Everything culminates in a gag-inducing “it’s my diary” climax sequence that really just puts the icing on this rotten cake.  Unfortunately, while this could have been a creative and interesting story, it falls very much short of expectations.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The good news is historical costuming is realistic, although there are some minor shades of Michael Landon Jr. frontier makeovers present.  The acting is mostly professional with only some minor errors, such as some overly dramatic moments.  If Edward Asner, Richard Tyson, and Pat Boone were removed from this cast, it would have been perfect.  But at least this casting job is somewhat palatable.

Conclusion

Boonville Redemption demonstrates mainstream professionalism in the production and acting departments, but the plot severely suffers from lack of creativity and forceful delivery.  Throwing a bunch of big name cast members into a well-funded production does not equal a good movie.  The story seems like it had too many writers in the story room, but that isn’t really the case.  Essentially, writers need to trust their audiences to figure things out rather than have Pat Boone tell them what to think about stuff.  Also, the last thing we needed was the Pat Boone credits number, but who really cares at this point?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ace Wonder, aka Gator Moore, always loves a good mystery and seeks to solve whichever ones come in front of him so that justice may be served.  While traveling with his family on vacation, when their camper breaks down in a small Tennessee town, Gator accidentally stumbles upon a family with a mystery that needs solving.  Derek Morton’s grandfather died unexpectedly and left behind a cryptic message that cause many to suspect he was crazy.  However, Gator believes there is something bigger afoot and enlists his siblings to assist him in solving the case.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

After The Widow’s Might, it was difficult to see what the future of HeuMoore Productions was.  However, with Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man, the HeuMoore team has demonstrated adequate improvement.  Video quality is professional, and camera work is fine except for some weird camera angles that attempt to be suspenseful.  Audio quality is great and the original soundtrack is creative without SINGING.  Sets, locations, and props are good but somewhat limited.  There are some cheesy special effects utilized, but animation is actually used effectively and enhances the film.  Finally, editing is quite good, thus rounding out an overall average production.  This is definitely a great effort for an underfunded project, and it is great to see this team continually improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there is some potential to this Ace Wonder plot, it is still a mostly formulaic suspense\mystery storyline.  The story is based on too many coincidences, mystery clichés, and clues being found at opportune times.  Though there is way too much narration, the dialogue and characters are actually good, which shows that this team is trying to make a good film.  This story would be way better with a little more creativity and real plot twists, as well as a less fundamentalist portrayal of women.  Mysteries are certainly a hard genre to write, since it’s easy to fall into cheesy coincidences, so they might consider trying a different genre next time.  Overall, it is great to have a different genre in Christian film for once, and this team certainly has the potential and wherewithal to go further in their careers to do something great.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though Ace Wonder uses a lot of the same cast members from The Widow’s Might, there are others that make for a greatly improved acting experience.  It seems like all of the cast members from the previous film have honed their skills better.  This category is actually the most improved as there are really no glaring errors except for a few minor missteps.  Once again, this gives great hope for the future.

Conclusion

Coming back from the horrific Widow’s Might couldn’t have been easy for HeuMoore Productions, but on the whole, despite their unusual worldview that needs broadening, the Moore team really seems like they are trying this time.  They definitely put forth more effort in the production and acting departments and it is encouraging that they are showing improvements, especially since they are committed to breaching different genres in Christian film.  The biggest blessing of Ace Wonder was the lack of cast members singing.  Now if they can continue to hone their plot creativity and shed some of the odd components of their worldview, they will really be on the track to greatness.  After The Widow’s Might, I never thought I would be saying this, but the HeuMoore team has great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Reconciler (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

According to local authorities and media figures, a mysterious man who has become known as The Reconciler has been mysteriously choosing random people to force to stay together in an enclosed area until they reconcile the differences they have with one another.  No one knows how or why he does what he does, or why he chooses the people he does, but multiple people have been positively affected by The Reconciler’s work.  Will his identity ever be discovered or will it always he shrouded in mystery?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With a somewhat limited budget, it’s clear that this production team did the best they could do with what they had.  Camera work is fine, as it video quality.  Audio quality is mostly on par, but there are some lapses.  The soundtrack also needs a boost.  Sets, locations, and props are presented fairly well, even if they are slightly limited.  The biggest issue to point out here is the extremely choppy editing that creates a lot of confusion for the audience.  This is likely due to the large amount of content that is forced into this runtime.  Overall, the production of The Reconciler is average, and it’s likely it could have been better with more substantial funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The idea behind The Reconciler is very interesting and creative, but it also leaves the audience somewhat scratching their heads.  As previously mentioned, there is a lot of information crammed into less than two hours, and thus, the use of information dump dialogue is employed to fill in the viewer.  There are also a lot of interesting flashbacks that would be better if the characters therein were developed better.  However, due to the sheer amount of content here, there simply is not enough time, especially when some sequences are just wasted.  There are so many subplots that need further exploring here that The Reconciler would have been far better served as a miniseries.  The series format would have allowed the characters to develop better, would have given more credence to the idea behind this story, and would have allowed for more complexity and creativity.  But as it is, The Reconciler makes the mistake of biting off more than it can chew—by including everything, it spreads it all too thin.  For this reason, it’s difficult to appreciate what’s going on here.  In the end, though there is a huge amount of potential here, and the creativity of the writers should definitely be commended, this is unfortunately not the way to present this type of idea.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As a little-known cast, these cast members show amateurishness too much.  Some lines are forced and half-yelled, while others are perfectly normal.  Emotions are all over the place and are too often overplayed.  This cast would have definitely benefitted from better coaching.

Conclusion

This film receives half of an x-factor point for creativity.  We absolutely need different and unique films like The Reconciler, but they need to be well-developed.  Creative and complex plots are awesome when they are executed properly.  The Reconciler would have made an amazing series if done properly.  But once again, creativity is limited by funding.  We long for the day when useless movies are no longer wasting funding opportunities and damaging the reputation of Christian film so that creativity seen in movies like The Reconciler can fully thrive and flourish to be all that they need to be.  Christian film makers have the potential to change the world, but will they be given the opportunity?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

2 to Tangle [2013] (Movie Review)

I think you mean the 'coincidence of faith'
I think you mean the ‘coincidence of faith’

Plot Summary

Jessica finds herself torn between dumping her no-account boyfriend Tom and trying to fix him.  But then the unthinkable happens (one hour into the film): Tom tragically dies in a car accident, leaving Jessica and his family heartbroken.  But then Tom starts appearing to Jessica after his death.  Is she being haunted by an apparition masquerading as her dead boyfriend?  Is she going crazy and seeing things?  She will have to find out if she ever expects life to go back to normal.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Starting off, this production is less than quality, to say the least.  The camera work is very shaky and the video quality is quite grainy.  Audio quality is inconsistent, especially in the outdoor scenes, and the soundtrack is very cheap-sounding.  The sets and locations are amateurish and the lighting is terrible in a majority of the scenes.  The fades and transitions between the scenes are very awkward, sometimes cutting off characters before they are done talking.  For that matter, all of the editing is quite choppy, sometimes making scenes drag on too long and sometimes not allowing scenes to run their full course.  In other words, while money was obviously tight with this effort, there was little to no justification for creating it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

If you watch the trailer for 2 to Tangle, it partially spoils the ‘suspenseful’ plot twist this film pretends to conceal.  But if you watch the movie for roughly twenty minutes, the entire ‘twist’ is full revealed without leaving anything to the imagination.  Besides this, the ‘twist’ isn’t even realistic or feasible in the real world.  While there is quite a bit of content in this overall cheap creation, it’s just a bunch of shallow subplots spliced together with no real coherent thought.  Many elements defy logic and sense, including juvenile ‘coincidences’.  There are too many bizarre tangents and rabbit trails that do nothing except expose the wacked out worldview of the writers.  This film’s characters are extremely immature in their behavior and spout empty, programmed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is anti-climactic and trumped up.  Basically, 2 to Tangle is a ‘clever’ idea gone awry.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The creators of this film likely just cast some of their friends and people they knew, because it’s a horrible casting job.  While there’s nothing wrong with amateur casts, coaching must always be present for it to make any sense.  An actor playing two different characters should rarely be done.  Line delivery in this film is wooden and forced.  Emotions are very empty, even when the characters are working overtime to make us believe they are happy or sad.  It just doesn’t work.

Conclusion

What do the makers of films like 2 to Tangle really expect?  To make a truly great movie, regardless of the size of your budget, you have to put thought into what you do.  If God has called you to make a movie, then He will give you the resources you need to make a great one, but you have to put forth work and effort.  Independent film making is a tough business and sometimes unrewarding, but putting in the work and prayer to make a quality film pays dividends.  Movies like 2 to Tangle just seem disingenuous and lackadaisical, which is the last thing we need in the field of Christian film.  Next time, please give it a little more thought, because the reputation of Christian film lives and breathes by you.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

Redeemed [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul Tyson’s internet security business is successful, but his colleagues are calling for more.  A larger company wants to use his business’ skills and talents for their own purposes through a buyout deal.  In charge of the transition process is Julia, a seemingly desperate woman with a questionable agenda.  Distracted by Julia and the business deal, Paul continues to put off preparing for his pending vow renewal ceremony with Beth, his wife of many years.  In the end, Paul must grapple with what is really important in his life—business convenience or his marriage.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In the past two years, PureFlix has improved somewhat in their production quality; some movies are better than others.  The camera work of Redeemed is fine, but the sets aren’t very diverse.  The editing is very poor, which is not something that should occur in a plot that is out of order like the plot of Redeemed is.  Scenes cut back and forth too fast, isolating the audience.  Overall, the final cut of Redeemed seems like a rough draft rather than a finished product.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Building a strong marriage is a very important topic to depict in a Christian movie, but Redeemed only further confuses and almost ruins it.  Along with the inappropriate and suggestive content throughout, all of the wrong elements are focused on.  Besides this, all of the characters are caricatures, built on cringe-worthy dialogue.  Julia is a ridiculous unintentional parody, as is Beth.  So much of the plot is full of wasted time, and some of the characters seem un-genuine.  None of them are believable.  In short, the only good thing here is the idea that was ruined.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This is perhaps one of the worst cast movies of all time.  Ted McGinley and Teri Copley are awkward in their roles as supposed parents of young children.  Kevin Downes’ character and acting are both grating.  Some of the characters that are intended to be Brazilian do not seem to fit the bill.  In other words, there are no positive elements here.

Conclusion

Tommy Blaze’s self-proclaimed expertise is comedy, so Redeemed is a departure for him.  Therefore, what unintentionally happened is that he ended up making a mockery of an otherwise important topic.  The idea behind this plot has potential, but this plot and this cast should have been thrown out in the early stages of production.  Box Office Revolution knows that PureFlix is no longer lacking in the funding department, but they are still not using money wisely.  Better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points