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

 

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Adrift [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a giant hurricane threatens a non-disclosed area, everyone must take refuge in a high school gym that has been converted into a shelter.  Several trouble characters take shelter there and interact with each other in different ways.  A young mother with an unplanned pregnancy has nowhere else to turn.  A drug addict tries to steal from other people in order to get her fix.  However, there are also some Christians there who want the others to be saved, even the diabetes one of them has threatens his very life.  Who will be able to survive the deluge?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Much like their past attempts at production, Adrift is a rough one for the Cross Wind team.  While the video quality is finally okay and the audio is at least average, there are too many weird and loud sound effects throughout, as well as too many background noises and parts with loud soundtrack.  Camera work is a positive, however, even though the film is constantly interrupted by generic, low quality news broadcasts.  The sets, locations, and props are very uninspiring as they are mostly limited to a handful of rooms and a bunch of stock storm footage that doesn’t have any continuity.  Editing is thus an issue as this film demonstrates why you should never make a ‘disaster’ film when you have such miniscule resources.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The ‘disaster’ premise of this film is so vague that if it were about a bunch of random people sitting around talking, you wouldn’t really know the difference.  The storm takes place largely off-screen and in those annoying news broadcasts.  The concepts and locations of the story are very non-specific and disingenuous, and it hardly seems like a storm is going on at all.  In keeping with Cross Wind habits, the characters of this film only represent the issues they are supposed to represent rather than real people.  While Torry Martin provides some dialogue relief at times, it’s not enough to save this film from itself.  The comedy therein in too forced and cheesy, thus making the film impossible to take seriously, besides the fact that time is wasted on the dumbest asides.  Essentially, Cross Wind still hasn’t found the plot creativity they desperately need.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Outside of Torry Martin’s usual fine performance, the other cast members are awkard and stiff.  Like other Cross Wind films, the actors and actresses are mostly unnatural and overly practiced in their line delivery and emotions.  However, there are some okay moments that keep this section from being nothing, even though this is not enough to right the proverbial ship.

Conclusion

What more is there to say?  Cross Wind still needs some serious upgrades across all categories.  Unfortunately, bringing in Torry Martin wasn’t enough to save them from themselves.  If they mean well in their films, it is impossible to tell as they continually portray people in embarrassing fashions.  Perhaps one day they will finally find what they are looking for.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Angels in Our Midst {Bitterblue} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tobey Marshall lost his parents in 9/11, and now he is seen as a retarded kid at his school.  He lives with his aunt and uncle, but they don’t like him either, so Tobey decides to talk to the angels he sees, so he can be comforted.  However, one day, a girl named Suzy decides to befriend Tobey, even though no one else will.  This make the bullies pick on both of them and forces them to reply on spiritual strength to make it through each day.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In many ways, Angels in Our Midst has a lot of trouble shaking the ‘cheap Christian film’ image.  Video quality is mostly fine, as is camera work, but there are other issues that plague it.  Audio quality is inconsistent, especially in the outside scenes.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and cheap-looking.  The special effects that are used are very cheesy.  Finally, the editing is seemingly nonexistent as some scenes drag on, and there is no real semblance of flow to the film.  In the end, this production is below average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While it is great to try to portray the struggles and insight of special needs people, this is definitely not the way to do this.  The Christian message of this film is presented in such a way that it comes off as very childish and even mystical at times.  The fixation on angels is somewhat unhealthy, and this becomes more evident as the movie progresses.  Besides this, even if this was a good story to tell, it is extremely BORING.  The characters sit around without much substantial dialogue and tend to do the same things over and over again.  What little dialogue is contained here is very dry and flat.  Thus, the characters are cardboard cutouts.  There is very little content to speak of here, and the progression goes from childish to weird, ending with a bizarre climax scene that borderlines on creepy.  Therefore, there is basically no justification for this story even existing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Like the characters they portray, the cast members are less than impressive.  Many of the performances are very underwhelming and empty.  Emotions are rarely believable.  While there are some good moments of line delivery, this section rounds out a very flat and useless film effort.

Conclusion

It is very hard to comprehend what this film was really going for, and we are not sure we want to know.  Sometimes it seems like a joke, and other times it seems like they really didn’t know what they were doing.  Either way, somebody needed to censor this film before it got released to the public because it’s mostly embarrassing.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Mister Scrooge to See You! (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if a year after his transformation, Ebenezer Scrooge, with the help of Jacob Marley, was randomly transported through time to the modern era, where the descendant Jacob Crachit was being just as miserly was Scrooge once was?  Puzzled by modern things, Scrooge tries to fulfill his mission to save a struggling small town diner from the cold heart of Crachit.  Will he be able to do it in time?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Much like other productions from Salty Earth, Mister Scrooge has its share of drawbacks.  Video quality is fine, as usual, as is audio quality, except for some weird echoes for dramatic effects.  The soundtrack is generic.  However, there are some very cheap special effects throughout that make for an odd experience.  There are also some cheesy props to contend with, as well as limited sets and locations.  Furthermore, as is to be expected, the editing is relatively choppy.  Thus, this is just another low-quality production with too much ambition.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s one thing to craft a creative take off of a familiar story, but this film goes a bit too far.  The intertwined past\present plots are too confusing to follow, and creating a cinematic universe for the characters of the famous Charles Dickens novel is problematic.  What’s the point of the unexplained time travel elements?  As we’ve said before, all time travel should be avoided in stories.  Besides this, Mister Scrooge is just a blatant retread of the former story, just with a Christian spin and a worn out save-the-diner plot.  There are also too many strawman characters, including a cheesy and stereotypically evil anti-Christmas businessman villain.  In addition to this is mindless dialogue, forced comedy, and too many head-scratching moments to take this movie seriously.  It’s very hard to understand what was meant by this plot.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Most of the time, this cast is overplaying their roles, as if they do not trust the audience to understand what they are doing.  This comes off as annoying, as do the plastic emotions.  However, there are a few good moments here, such as Torry Martin playing Santa.

Conclusion

We can understand the desire to be creative and to offer a unique take on a familiar story, but this is just all wrong.  You can’t be so different that you isolate your audience.  Besides this, the production is too low quality, and the acting is too off-putting for the film to truly be taken seriously.  Most of the time, it’s difficult to understand what exactly Salty Earth is going for, but maybe one day they will find their niche.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Savior [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if Mary and Joseph lived in modern day Britain rather than the fantasy world of British Judea?  What if the Magi were random business people who read about it all in the newspaper?  This unique movie reimagines the Christmas story in a way that even BBC has not thought of yet.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

This film is basically a small church production, and thus it has its share of quality concerns.  This includes a lot of shaky camera work and sequences of odd lighting.  While video quality is fine, there are also a lot of strange close-up shots of cast members that are off-putting.  There are also some minor background sound issues to content with, as well as some weird sound effects and not enough soundtrack.  As is customary for these types of productions, sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and low-budget.  Furthermore, the editing has some signs of amateurism.  In the end, this is a nice try, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At least since they had a lot of British people at their disposal, they decided to go ahead and commit to the idea properly by setting the story in modern day Britain rather than in an imaginary location like British Judea.  But even so, there are plenty of problems that come of these sorts of modern-day Bible allegory things, as usual.  For one, time progresses far too quickly to the point of stunting proper character growth.  Thus, they come off as stiff and unnatural due to rushed, uninspiring dialogue.  There are also too many unrelated asides that waste time, as well as a lot of boring conversations that do nothing to help the characters.  The ending is confusing and isolating, thus hurting any chance of meaningful impact.  In short, while it is always problematic to transpose Biblical events over modern-day circumstances, the plot doesn’t have to be this drab, boring, and confusing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As an amateurish cast, these cast members would have benefitted from upgraded coaching.  Most of the time, they come off as flat and forced.  There is too much melodrama and yelling throughout.  However, there are some good moments that redeem this section from being worse.  Yet this film overall struggles to find identity.

Conclusion

When a Biblical event is recast in a modern setting, a lot of care needs to be taken and a lot of planning needs to be employed.  This is not a venture to take lightly.  Even so, we don’t try to reconstruct other historical events into modern venues, do we?  This method of storytelling is somewhat questionable, but even if you’re going to use it, it has to be done right, not haphazardly, as this movie was.  Better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

1500 Steps (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jobe O’Brien has never been treated right by his drunken father, but he finds an outlet for control and energy when he takes up track and field.  However, even there, he finds himself plagued by cruel bullies.  But he keeps on working to become the best runner he can be.  Along the way, he seeks to discover what Christianity really means as he pursues the prize and a girl he is falling in love with.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As an indie, likely under-funded production, 1500 Steps is a bit raw at times.  Camera work tends to be random and there is some poor lighting and odd video quality throughout.  Audio quality is fine except for the very loud soundtrack and some obvious background noises.  However, not all is bad here as the outside scenes are mostly filmed well and props are used well.  It’s hard to pinpoint what the editing plan here was, because there isn’t really much to speak of.  On the whole, it’s clear that funding was stretched for this film, but it’s hard to know if they did the best with what they had.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, this film is very aimless in its storyline and mostly consists of mindless sports montages.  The first half of the film especially has no clear purpose or direction.  A majority of the dialogue is quite empty, thus creating vague characters, except for the strawman villain character.  Other characters tend to be off-putting and annoying.  The Christian message is very vague as it tends to focus on a lot of dumb and fruitless high school subplots.  The rest of the story focuses on a predictable sports redemption arc that leaves us without the ability to appreciate the characters and their struggles.  While there are attempts at realism here, the presentation doesn’t do enough to make the film interesting.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast is mostly inexperienced, it seems, but they are at least trying to be realistic.  A lot of the time, they are quite drab in their performances, while some cast members tend to be loud and uncouth.  However, not all is bad here, and further coaching would help some of the cast members show more emotion.  Unfortunately, there was a lot in this film that just didn’t come through properly.

Conclusion

It’s really hard starting out in the indie film world, but even when funding suffers, you can always amplify your plot to make your work stand out in the sea of ambitious film makers.  This is what we really need anyway: dynamic plot writing to transform the Christian movie field.  Once this happens, the entertainment world will never be the same.

 

Final Rating: 2 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

 

Unexceptional Love (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Demetria and Shaun always wanted a family and prayed to God for a child, but when He answered, they never expected Him to answer the way that He did.  Their daughter was born with special needs, which caused Shaun to have compassion of her, but Demetria rejected her daughter and even mistreated her.  After a decade of this, it all came to a head one night when Demetria did something she would regret that would change her life forever.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Like many small church films, Unexceptional Love struggles with a lack of funding and professionalism.  Though video quality is fine, the camera work tends to be too stationary and immovable.  Similarly, while audio quality is fine, the soundtrack is too generic.  Furthermore, sets, locations, and props are severely limited and confined.  Pertaining to the editing, some scenes lag on far too long and the transitions are punctuated by odd title cards in between the acts.  In the end, this is just another low-end production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though this plot attempts to portray realistic circumstances, the dialogue needs work, which thus means that the characters need deepening.  The dialogue merely reports information rather than assist us in getting know the characters better.  Besides having a small amount of under-developed characters, the character development is also hampered by the large time jumps in the plot.  Accordingly, there is not enough substantial content in the story and this film really would have worked better as a short film.  It’s a very straightforward, linear plot that offers unrealistic quick fixes to problems without anything believable to back it up.  Unfortunately, this can be said for a lot independent Christian films.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While this small cast appears to be trying and appears to mean well in what they do, they are often too dramatic and forceful in their emotional delivery and line delivery.  There is too much yelling throughout.  While there are some good moments, it’s really not enough to overcome the detracting elements.

Conclusion

So many small church films have some slightly good ideas that get mired in poor production and acting quality.  Yet in order for these creative teams to achieve higher funding, the key is to demonstrate high plot quality to show that future investment is worthwhile.  Unfortunately, until this happens, small church films like this one will still be stuck where they are.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

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