Joshua [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a mysterious young man named Joshua suddenly appears in the small town of Auburn, the entire town is astir, especially when he begins rebuilding the Baptist church.  The local Catholic priests are disturbed at his coming, however, especially after he spends time with the ‘sinners’ and even performs a few miracles.  However, those who are impacted by the work of Joshua are changed forever, even those who least expected it.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production looks slightly old at times, it is still a good production.  It checks all the right boxes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The original soundtrack is fine.  Sets, locations, and props are all what they should be.  However, this production is held back from perfection by some avoidable continuity errors, as well as some cheesy transitions and awkward cuts.  However, on the whole, this is a fine production with no obvious errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Based on a novel, the plot of Joshua has some obvious issues that come with the territory of stories that attempt to transpose Biblical events on top of modern day settings.  Using these conventions is almost always mind-bending and problematic for a number of reasons.  In Joshua, it is impossible to know whether or not this is supposed to be a retelling of the original historical account of Jesus, or if this is supposed to be some kind of modern day reappearance before the Second Coming.  The story tries to convince you it’s the latter, but why include all of the repeat miracles in this case?  Even so, there is very little conflict in this tale as useless narration tries to spoon feed the plot to you.  There are also too many characters that are under-developed and one-dimensional due to the narration and the shallow dialogue.  The story jumps from one thing after the next with no real continuity.  Unfortunately, this section is a disappointment.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

However, the acting is the best part of this film, as there are only minor errors to contend with.  For the most part, this cast is professional and on-point in their line delivery and emotional delivery.  Costuming and makeup are also appropriate.  Overall, this section punctuates a mostly average film.

Conclusion

We definitely need more Christian novels made in movie form, as we have said before.  However, this really isn’t the sort of thing we’re looking for.  There’s nothing truly dynamic about this movie.  While it is fine and pedestrian with no obvious goofs, is it really going to make a difference?  Making more cute little Christian films isn’t good enough anymore.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

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The Christmas Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With his mother dying of cancer at Christmastime, Nathan Andrews just wants to buy his mother one last present before she goes to heaven.  However, his family doesn’t have enough money do to the healthcare treatments.  His path crosses with disgruntled lawyer Robert Layton, who wants nothing to do with Christmas since his marriage and family are seemingly falling apart.  Will Rob take the opportunity to spread holiday cheer before it’s too late for Nathan’s mom?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a Hallmark production in their movie ‘heyday,’ The Christmas Shoes is basically a textbook example of a professional one.  Though many elements of it are typical, including plenty of Christmas décor and props, there are no real errors to point out here, which is a rarity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all predictably good.  The soundtrack is a bit too Christmasy, but what it can be expected.  Sets and locations and realistic and professional.  Editing is also fine.  Overall, this is certainly a production to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As a Hallmark movie based on a popular Christian Christmas song, one can see the obvious pitfalls here.  For one, the story is told in narration before it even begins.  Even so, it is still a typical Christmas story about a busy and cold character who hates Christmas for some reason but learns to care again for some reason or another.  This is also mixed in with a diseased character at Christmastime, plus a literal save the farm plot to boot.  Also, don’t forget the Christmas pageant!  Overall, this is a touching idea, and the characters and their struggles can somewhat be related to.  However, they still tend to fit into their stereotypical and seemingly predetermined molds.  There are good issues raised about common family problems, but they are resolved way too easily.  This story fights being sappy and even plastic at times, which is unfortunate, because this could have been something.  In the end, many audiences will like this story, but it’s just one too many.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, this section is highly professional and well-cast.  The only issues to raise here pertain to some minor drama and moment of yelling.  But on the whole, emotions are realistic, and lines are delivered well.  This rounds out an above-average effort of a film that many will enjoy.

Conclusion

Movies like this one are problematic because they are popular and have plenty of good elements.  However, they are also fairly limited in scope and creativity.  If a predictable storyline is going to be used, the least that can be done is to make the characters very deep and rich due to superb dialogue and an effective use of flashbacks.  However, Hallmark likely isn’t in the business of creativity, so carry on, I guess.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Deceived [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a secret space observatory in Nevada picks up a mysterious and erratic signal from outer space, a powerful billionaire who owns the observatory forms a team made up of his spiritual guide, two investigative reporters, and his company’s computer technician to fly out to the observatory to find out what happened.  Some of them believe they have been contacted by intelligent beings from outer space, while others believe something more sinister is going on.  The signal also draws the attention of a specialized squadron of troops, some of whom have questionable abilities.  As they all meet up at the observatory, who will prevail?  Will they ever discover the truth of what is really out there?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s Cloud Ten production, Deceived is mostly average in its production quality.  the biggest detractors are the grainy video quality and poor lighting in most scenes.  There are also too many cheesy special effects that are used in an attempt to be different and sci-fi.  However, the sets, locations, and props seem realistic enough.  Audio quality is also fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Finally, the editing job is decent and overall rounds out an average production.  It certainly could have been better, but it could have also been worse.  However, there is not much we can say for the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With a cheesy sci-fi premise that’s full of technological mumbo-jumbo and empty dialogue, Deceived tries to be creative and different, yet misses the mark badly.  There is far too much time wasted on petty conflicts and not enough time spent on character development.  While some of the characters could be interesting, we barely get to know them in the midst information dump dialogue and monologuing.  The Christian characters are too perfect while the non-Christian characters are too flawed.  There are also too many spiritual elements that come off as a bizarre in an attempt to bridge the horror genre.  The ending is quite confusing and seems like the writers just ran out of ideas.  In the end, this is a very disappointing story that could have been interesting.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With a cast made up of semi-professionals, these cast members have their good moments, but unfortunately, the bad moments outweigh the good.  There are too many overly dramatic and theatrical performances.  Emotions are hard to connect with.  In the end, they do not live up to their full potential.

Conclusion

The early 2000s era of Christian film had some noble attempts to bridge different genres Christian film had never bridged before, and John Patus and Cloud Ten Pictures were on the forefront of this attempt.  However, for the most part, these attempts did not fulfill their fullest potential and settled for half-measures, probably because the market was so thin then.  Much has happened since these films came out, but they can certainly serve as an example of how and how not to expand Christian film into unique genres.  Yesterday’s disappointments can certainly be remedied in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Hometown Legend [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a struggling small town in rural Alabama, a high school is struggling in many ways, not only financially, but also emotionally.  But now that a famous football coach is back in town to revive the team, locals have a new reason to hope.  A teenager running from home finds sanctuary in this town as he uses his work ethic to get onto the football team in route to turning his life around via a university football scholarship.  But when trouble strikes again, the townspeople will have to decide whether or not they will give up or rise up.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Hometown Legend certainly spent the money pretty well.  Sports movies have to be able to nail the action shots and the outside scenes, and this film does that, including respectable camera work.  As usual, the video quality and audio quality both pass the test.  The soundtrack is a bit too pedestrian and borderline Hallmark; this is something that needed a change.  Another common theme in these types of films is weak editing, and Hometown Legend also has this attribute.  A movie like this one needs a strong edit, and this simply does not happen, as some scenes carry on longer than they should while others are underdeveloped.  In short, Hometown Legend is a very average film in pretty much every way.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While Jerry B. Jenkins’ original novel is memorable, the film adaptation does not capture its authenticity.  Where the characters are down to earth in the book, they fail to be in the movie.  The underdevelopment of these characters is likely due to the number of flat scenes throughout the film.  The storyline of Hometown Legend is neither cheesy nor dynamic—it’s very static and safe.  A plot like this one needed to have an abstract yet down-to-earth feel to it, but it does not.  It’s too generic and does not stand out in a crowded genre.  There aren’t enough plot twists and the ending is anti-climactic.  In short, where this plot could have been great, it falls short.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This movie is cast fairly well; people are placed in appropriate positions.  Emotions are fairly believable and line delivery is pretty good.  However, in keeping with the other aspects of this film, there is really nothing dynamic here, even though there could have been.  This is really the theme of the movie.

Conclusion

Hometown Legend portrays the simplicity of small town life in Alabama—with a stereotypical diner and a high school football team to cheer for.  It lives up to its simple message in every way, with a simple production, a simple storyline, and simple acting.  There’s nothing wrong with simple.  In fact, simple can be groundbreaking and profound.  However, this movie is a little too simple and does not touch the authentic thread that it needed to.  Many will find it enjoyable and it’s not half bad, but we would love to see a remake, because it can definitely be greater than this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Time Changer [2002] (Movie Review)

We should go back to the good ole' days...when old white guys ran everything
We should go back to the good ole’ days…when old white guys ran everything
My time machine is far too complex for you to understand
My time machine is far too complex for you to understand
And over here we have an even larger selection of horrid Christian films
And over here we have an even larger selection of horrid Christian films

Plot Summary

The year is 1890.  Dr. Carlisle does the unthinkable and writes a seminary textbook advocating for the teaching of morals apart from Jesus Christ, Dr. Andersen sees fit to stall his vote for the book’s endorsement until Carlisle comes and sees his time machine invention.  When Carlisle finally stops moping around and agrees to meet with the mad scientist, he is roped into travelling through time to the future so that he can learn what supposedly happens when society teaches morals apart from Christ.  What he finds is a shocking new culture he’s not familiar with in many ways.  Will he ever make it back so he can sell his textbook?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Time Changer is one of those films that is very memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  While the production team should get some slight credit for attempting to dress characters in historically appropriate attire, there are too many other negatives that outweigh the small amount of positive.  For starters, money was wasted building ridiculous time travel contraptions that look like they belong in a 1980s sci-fi film.  The camera work and video quality are okay, but the audio quality is inconsistent, including a very annoying soundtrack.  As usual, the editing is all over the board and is basically just a pasting together of heavy-handed scenes that demonstrate the Christiano brothers’ ridiculous worldview.  Unfortunately, the production isn’t the worst this film has to offer.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Time travel plots are always going to be a problem.  There’s rarely an instance when this concept can be justified.  But when you merge this mind-bending sci-fi premise with an extreme fundamentalist Christian worldview, disaster occurs.  There is no plot present here, since the Christianos are content to shove their unwanted opinions on the state of humanity in your face at every possible turn.  Who believes that if some crazy professor from the late 1800s discovered time travel, he would use it to ‘solve’ the world’s biggest theological nitpick?  Time Changer is entirely built on the incorrect assumption that the ‘good ole days’ were better, when old white guys made all the decisions, women were not allowed to do anything but sit at home, and religious idolatry reigned.  Thus, the dialogue is chock-full of religious jargon and fundamentalist talking points while at the same time making a mockery of anyone who opposes the assumptions of the writers.  Besides this, in an attempt to be ‘historical’, the dialogue is also overly awkward and cumbersome.  Because of this, the characters are extremely programmed and robotic, just waiting to spew their lingo when the time is right.  There are also subtle racial stereotypes and jabs at modern women’s roles throughout the film.  The ending of the film is borderline bizarre, as it quietly depicts the nutty professor trying to find the ‘end of time’ using his contraption.  Not only do the writers silently let you know that they think the end of time occurs before the year 2050, but they also show disdain for Jesus’ own words in the Scriptures, which state that no one knows the time or day when He’s returning.  In short, there is nothing good about this storyline, and it even goes far enough to be rated in the propaganda category.  It’s purely preaching to a small audience that already agrees with these narrow-minded views and accomplishes little else.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

As can expected, the acting is as outdated as the ideas in this film.  Line delivery is forced and awkward and emotions are not present.  Male cast members are overrepresented while female cast members are painted in a strange light.  As previously mentioned, there are also some subtle racial stereotypes.  But what else is new about this film?

Conclusion

This movie is a wide open window into the disturbing worldview of the Christiano brothers.  In the end, they blame all of society’s ills on Hollywood.  There may be some truth to this, as there are other nuggets of truth buried throughout the sludge of this film.  Immoral Hollywood movies have certainly contributed a great deal to the corruption of society, but the world is always going to do what it does best—recede into sinful entropy.  It is up to the Christians to stop this slide; we cannot expect the world to fix itself and pat us on the back for it.  What people like the Christiano brothers really want is a return to their idea of a comfortably religious society.  But what they don’t realize is that today’s culture is a reaction against that older worldview.  If a white patriarchal religious utopia built on ivory tower theology was the answer to the world’s problems, it would have never ended.  The problem is that those who claimed the name of Christ tainted His Name with their actions, not those who do not claim His Name.  Jesus is the answer for culture’s problems, not some Pharisaical dominion.  And when it comes to movies, if you don’t like what you see, make something better.  So far, Christiano brothers and everyone else who complains about the state of Western culture, you have not produced any movies that are better or more worthwhile than the Hollywood alternative.  So shame on you.

 

Final Rating: -1.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With the world still reeling from the Rapture, those left behind who became Christians band together to form what they call a Tribulation Force to stand against the forces of evil.  Their leader, Bruce, encourages each of them to not hide from the new evil world but to find a way to reach other for Christ in it.  Rayford struggles with a decision to pilot the plane of Nicolae Carpathia, the suspected antichrist.  Buck Williams chases down a story regarding a messianic prophecy expert and two mysterious men at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  In the strange new world they live in, they also discover everyday struggles and the realization that following Jesus is no longer easy.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The second installment of the original Left Behind series is a low point.  While video quality and camera work are okay, there are a host of other production errors.  Special effects are cheesy, especially when it comes to action scenes.  Many scenes have very poor lighting.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but they are littered with cheap looking props.  The soundtrack is pedestrian.  Furthermore, the editing is very sub-par and fails to cut down quite a few long and drawn out scenes that drain the viewer’s attention span.  Essentially, not much effort was put into this creation.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Once again, for an apocalyptic thriller, there’s not much apocalyptic or thrilling about Tribulation Force.  The film takes a very melancholy tone, choosing to spend time on silly conflicts like lover’s spats and peripheral character issues.  There is little central focus as the plot meanders from job decisions to church services to turning the church into a hospital to chasing leads in the Middle East.  There is also not enough suspense or plot twists as the monotone dialogue centers on theological discussions and information dumps.  There are attempts at twists and psychological\spiritual elements, but they fall flat.  There are too many one-dimensional characters that are juggled and we can’t really get to know any of them.  Like its predecessor, Tribulation Force just gets ready for the inevitable next film without giving the viewer any reason to watch it except for the book series popularity.  The actual end of the plot is quite cheesy and non-suspenseful.  In short, if you missed this film, you didn’t miss much.

Acting Quality (1 point)

At least they returned all the same cast members.  I hate it when movie franchises try to change out actors and actresses and pretend you didn’t notice.  There is slight improvement among this cast and Kirk Cameron delivers arguably one of his best career acting performances.  My how time has flown.  This cast could have actually been great with better coaching.  Alas, what could have been.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, John Patus and company elected to follow the standard Hollywood path of bringing a popular book franchise to the big screen and relied on the series’ popularity to carry it.  There is little reason for this film to even exist except for the fact that it needed to for the series to continue.  If you skipped to the third film, you didn’t miss anything in this one.  This is the central problem to movie sagas: each one needs to be a good movie by itself without the other ones holding it up.  There are few who have gotten this right.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

The Climb [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Derrick and Michael are professional mountain climbers who collaborate after assisting in a mountain rescue mission together.  With the backing of a top mountain climbing sponsor, they endeavor to scale a massive peak in Chile in a way that no climber has ever done before.  But the more they spend time together, the more obvious their differences are.  Michael is an outspoken Christian who believes Derrick needs to take more responsibility for his personal life.  But as they clash, they also find a common bond and becomes extremely important in a pivotal moment of crisis.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Even in the earlier days of Christian film, when Worldwide Pictures was the only reliable producer on the market, they were still committed to quality production.  The Climb is no exception.  Camera work and video quality are state of the art for the era, including complex outdoor filming and action shots.  The sets and locations are fairly diverse, including great mountain scenes and realistic surroundings.  Props are used effectively and appropriately.  However, the soundtrack leaves much to be desired.  Also, the editing job isn’t the best it could be, as some scenes last far too long.  But overall, even though this film has obvious flaws, WWP made sure that its production quality was above average.  If only all low quality Christian films adhered to this practice.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As the film arm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, WWP was always committed to presenting a clear-cut gospel message in their films; The Climb is no exception.  However, coupled with this message is a major turn-off for most audiences.  Non-Christians in the movie are portrayed as very ‘bad’ and reckless, while Christians in the movie are portrayed as very ‘good’ and wise.  Important issues that are presented in the film are too black and white; causes and effects are too obviously stated.  Thus, the characters are not able to be related to.  Their dialogue is forced and ridden with empty textbook theology; a connection to real life is not made and leaves the viewer feeling cheated.  While the end is interesting and thought-provoking, there is much wasted time throughout the film that will cause many viewers to glaze over.  In short, there was so much that could have done here—the plot is unique and interesting—but it was wasted.  It’s so frustrating to watch movies like this.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Using the typical model of some popular actors and other not-so-popular, The Climb assembles an okay cast.  On paper, it seems to work, but not in reality.  Line delivery is sometimes good, but sometimes not.  Emotions are not realistic—either too extreme or too muted.  Basically, this cast had the potential to be successful, but they just didn’t quite make it, thus contributing to further frustration surrounding this film.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures actually had a great thing going.  They had funding, good production, and name recognition.  But unfortunately, The Climb only contributes to the stereotype of Christian films—they appear out of touch with real people and portray otherwise important issues in very black and white terms.  Christians are not perfect, yet this film makes it seem like they are.  It’s a shame to see this money go to waste, but hopefully someone was converted by watching this movie.  The gospel message is clear, and we can’t fault anyone for that.  This film can simply serve as a lesson on how to improve Christian movies in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points