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

Image result for thomas close to jesus movie

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

Movie Renovation: Road to Redemption

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

In keeping with most Worldwide Pictures films, Road to Redemption has a high-quality production, especially for the time period it was made in.  There are no issues to point out here except for the use of cheesy special effects that try to accompany the eccentric genre of the film.  However, if these small issues had been eliminated, then Road to Redemption would have had a perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

Road to Redemption is clearly a comedy, and it’s a pretty good one at that.  It’s also quite a departure for a typical Worldwide Pictures film, which is great.  However, sometimes the comedy is a bit cheesy, unless it is read in the context of satire, which is unfortunately unclear.  Some parts seem to be included just to be eccentric, and thus the satire is not clear enough.  For example, what’s up with the mafia subplot?  It’s funny, but is this supposed to be serious or not?  Also, character development is a bit lacking in some areas, and this is a needed element in any comedy.  We need some more back story from the main characters beyond their representing of typical family issues.  Finally, the ending too easily resolves the conflicts in unrealistic ways.  Thus, had comedy been more rooted in reality, had the satire been clearer, had the characters been developed better through personality-building dialogue, and had the ending been less unrealistically patched up, then Road to Redemption could have been a Hall of Fame film.

Acting Improvements

Much like the commitment to high-quality productions, Worldwide Pictures also always demonstrated a commitment to high-quality casts.  They were one of the few independent Christian film groups who seemed to employ acting coaching.  However, there were some opportunities for improvement in Road to Redemption, such as Jay Underwood in general, who plays Alan.  His delivery and emotions are annoying and whiny.  If his character was written like that, then it needed to be changed.  Also, the mafia cast members are a bit cheesy at times.

Conclusion

In the end, there were just a few minor issues that held Road to Redemption back from being all that it could be.  With minor production errors eliminated, with a clearer comedy premise more based in reality, with a more effective use of satire, with deeper characters, and with a slightly better cast, Road to Redemption could have found itself on the Hall of Fame.  However, perhaps someone can use the feedback here to make a better version one day.

 

Carman: The Champion (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Judas: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Miracle of the Cards (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Craig Shergold was a healthy eight-year-old boy until he began having mysterious headaches.  The doctors ran tests and found that Craig had a brain tumor, so Craig’s parents immediately began taking steps to combat the disease inside their son’s body.  As they walk on the journey together, Craig’s mother continually has premonitions and visions about her son’s future.  Craig also receives millions of get-well cards, prompting media attention to his story and talks of a world record.  Could it be that the cards are instrumental in Craig’s healing?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, as an early 2000s made-for-television production, The Miracle of the Cards is not what it’s cracked up to be.  Video quality is relatively cheap-looking, although camera work is fine.  Audio quality is also fine, except there is a cheesy stereotypical soundtrack to go with it.  Sets, locations, and props are decent enough.  There are one too many cheesy special effects that attempt to go with the ‘magical’ themes of this film.  Finally, the editing is quite choppy as time skips around to hit the high points—in doing this, the audience is left confused.  In the end, not enough time was spent on this production to make the movie worth it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, there is not very much plot content in The Miracle of the Cards as time travels too quickly, thus leaving characters underdeveloped.  Dialogue only serves to report what is happening as time spends by—in doing so, the characters are left shallow  and one-dimensional.  Though this is a true story, it is seemingly based on too many coincidences; a sense of realism is missing from this plot, especially considering the number of childish magical and sensational elements.  The presence of these elements is frustrating because it’s hard to take this movie seriously when they are there.  Unfortunately, they weaken and cheapen the Christian message that is included in it.  In the end, at least this film is based on a true story (its only redeeming quality in this category), but it’s hard to see that there were any motives behind this film except making money on an easy-to-market television movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With a professional cast (even though it includes Kirk Cameron), the acting is by far this film’s strongest suit and keeps it from being left in the basement of Christian film.  There are few errors here pertaining to emotional and line delivery.  This just goes to show you that a good cast with good coaching can make all the difference in your movie.

Conclusion

What is one to do with kids-with-cancer films?  They are easy to get people to watch, especially if they’re on TV.  But despite true stories behind them, their plots are still formulaic and predictable.  Just because you use a real idea doesn’t mean you need to ignore character development.  Without realistic characters, the realism of the story is undermined.  In the end, many will view this film as fine, and it’s definitely not one of those embarrassing films, but we still feel it could have been better.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Apocalypse 4: Judgment (Movie Review)

Everything else has happened in this series, so let’s throw Mr. T in here too

Plot Summary

As the ONE has tightened its grip on the world, Christianity is outlawed and everyone must take the Mark of world leader Franco Macalousso, or they will be arrested and possibly executed.  The world must worship Macalousso or be doomed.  But when the world leader feels that excitement about hating Christians is wearing thin, he decides to stage a televised trial for infamous Christian Helen Hannah to get people interested again.  Enigmatic defense lawyer Mitch Kendrick is recruited to ‘defend’ her, even though it’s all staged.  But no one knows that Mitch is searching for the truth himself—will he be able to find it?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As this stupid series finally grinds to a halt, we can say affirmatively that production quality barely changed throughout it.  While camera work and video quality have improved in this final installment, nothing else has.  The audio quality is inconsistent and the soundtrack is quite loud at times.  Sets, locations, and props, in an attempt to look ‘futuristic’, only come off as cheesy.  Finally, like the rest of the series, editing is quite poor.  On the bright side, there’s no more product placements, but it’s unacceptable to have a series this long with such bad production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Was there really a justification for a fourth installment in this series that doesn’t include anything about the subplots that were supposedly continued at the end of Tribulation?  Helen Hannah remains to be the central Christian character of the series for some reason, but otherwise we are introduced to even more characters we’ve never seen before, including Mr. T.  The same ridiculous concepts this series has always pushed are present in this final film as well, but this time transposed on top of a staged legal battle.  Dialogue does nothing for character development as a lot of time the is filled exploring vague and isolating concepts.  It seems like the writers are constantly inventing ways to kill time without actually helping us to get to know all these characters they shove at us.  Finally, though the end is slightly interesting and has some potential, it cuts off with an abrupt transition to the nonexistent fifth film they obviously wanted to make.  Thankfully, their funding was finally cut.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

As Corbin Bernsen and Mr. T join this crowded cast, things really do not improve.  There are too many over the top emotions and shouting sequences.  There is some potential with line delivery, and this cast seems professional on the surface, but it’s just not good enough.  This is another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Well, it’s finally over.  What did we learn?  When you can’t even create an average production, don’t make four movies.  When you don’t have any plot or character development to speak of, don’t make four movies.  When you can’t focus on a central story or character arc in your series and instead constantly come up with new characters and subplots with each installment, don’t make four movies.  When you cast all kinds of ‘big names’ but don’t bother to coach them, don’t make four movies.  Are you seeing a theme here?  The Apocalypse series is just another blight on Christian film and will hopefully be forgotten one day, but at least we can learn something from it…I hope…

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Omega Code 2: Megiddo (Movie Review)

Just wait until I turn into a monster…

Plot Summary

Stone Alexander always craved power and always knew that he was meant for something bigger.  As he grew up and rose through the ranks of the military, he was ruthless and unfeeling.  His own family never understood him, especially his brother.  The older he became, the deeper he became involved in darkness and evil.  Stone quickly became a raving, power-hungry madman committed to do anything to achieve world domination.  Ultimately, it comes down to the differing choices of the two brothers and how they affected humanity.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Needless to say, The Omega Code 2: Megiddo has better production than the previous installment, The Omega Code 1.  Sets, locations, and props are all fairly professional and camera work has improved.  Video and audio quality are also improved, and the soundtrack is intriguing.  However, there are still cheesy special effects and confusing crossfades.  Editing is overall okay, but there is too much useless footage that drags down the film.  In the end, this is just an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though it portrays an odd view of the Thousand Year Reign, this story shows an interesting side to the development of the antichrist.  Thus, it jumps back in time to before the first movie ever began and works its way up to where the first film left off.  However, it does fill in missing parts from The Omega Code 1, which becomes sort of a crutch to ‘fix’ the first film.  Also, this filling in is not done in the best way as it relies on information dump dialogue, time jumps, and of course, over-dramatization and sensationalism.  There is, as usual, an addiction to creepy and weird spiritual elements and a fixation on the demonic.  This story gives tons of attention to Satan and barely any to Jesus and Christianity.  Finally, similar to the first one, as this movie goes on, it gets stranger and stranger until it boils down to a very bizarre ending that leaves you scratching your head.  When all is said and done, the plots of the two Omega Code films are the same—ridiculous.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Acting somewhat improves between the two films, but there are still problems here.  Lines are sometimes overly practiced and emotions are often over-the-top and extreme.  However, not all is bad here and there are some bright spots.  In the end, this portion is also just average.

Conclusion

What was ever to be gained from The Omega Code series?  Megiddo barely has any reference to the original dubious premise of printing out codes supposedly hidden in the Torah.  It’s highly unlikely anybody but white evangelical Christians will ever see these disasters, but if anybody else did, they would probably find a good laugh and then forget about them.  The creepy obsession with the demonic in these films does nothing but fuel sensationalism and the messaging only preaches to the choir.  In short, these films are utterly useless and have no part on Christian entertainment.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Road to Redemption (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Amanda decides to steal a bag of money from her boss, she and her boyfriend elect to bet it on a racehorse so that they can not only give the money back, but also keep a big portion for themselves.  What they didn’t anticipate was losing all of it at the races and suddenly finding themselves on the run from mafia hitmen.  Then Amanda has an idea—sweet talk her elderly grandfather into giving her the money she needs to pay back her boss.  But her grandfather has another idea: in order for Amanda to get the money, she has to go fishing with him at his childhood favorite location in Redemption, Montana.  Along the way, Amanda discovers something about herself and her family that she never anticipated—something more important than money.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a little known independent project, the production quality of Road to Redemption is overall pretty good.  The money is obviously spent well, with great video and sound quality throughout.  The camera work is above average, including great action sequences.  Some of the sets and locations seem cheaply limited, but others are quite good.  There are some cheesy special effects, but the editing is fairly good.  Overall, there are a few minor production errors, but it is quite good in all, especially considering the age of the film and the limited budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Road to Redemption is a rare type of Christian movie—an action comedy.  There is plenty of real humor and satire throughout, as the story pokes fun of many overused suspense antidotes.  There are some cheesy elements throughout that could be passed as satire, but some of it is hard to discern.  While the plot has a slightly improbable premise, there is pretty good dialogue that builds the flawed characters.  Some character behavior is a bit silly, but when viewed through the lens of satire, it makes sense.  Worldwide Pictures always demonstrated a commitment to a clear gospel presentation in their stories, and they do so here.  The plot’s biggest tarnish is its predictable and unrealistic end that patches everything up too well and leaves more questions than answers.  Because of this, the plot comes out as just average, but it still provides comic relief.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is mostly professional, and they appear to be coached well, which is something Worldwide Pictures did to set themselves apart.  There are some slightly forced attempts at comedy and some over the top emotions that keep the cast from being all that they could be.  But despite these missteps, the acting in Road to Redemption surpasses the average mark.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures found a way, in the earlier days of Christian films, to present a Gospel message to their audiences packaged in a quality Christian movie that is enjoyable and watchable.  No one was doing what they were doing with movies in the late 90s and early 2000s.  It’s a shame that they no longer are actively making films, but their work can serve as a model to follow today.  It’s also a shame that Road to Redemption didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame—it was so close.  But it still is a great comedy movie that we would recommend.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points