The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus came to change the world, but He was also a man Who could relate to each person He came into contact with.  He performed miracles unlike the world has ever seen and changed many lives, all in route to laying down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The religious leaders nearly always opposed Jesus’ work, but His work is still alive and well today.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Gospel of John follows in the footsteps of the other Visual Bible films by having a high-quality production, but it’s possible that John is the best production of the group.  This is evident through great video quality, camera work, and audio quality, including a culturally authentic soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are excellent in demonstrating authenticity and realism.  The only minor issues therein pertain to some odd and sometimes cheap special effects, such black and white flashbacks and unnecessary ‘flashy’ elements.  However, this aside, this is a top-notch production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Where the production succeeded, unfortunately, the plot did not.  Where other portrayals of Jesus in The Visual Bible saga are fair and interesting, the portrayal of Jesus in this version of The Gospel of John is not very inviting.  Instead, the Jesus in this film is a throwback to the 70s and 80s ‘zen’ portrayals of Christ.  Sometimes, he comes off as lofty and even a bit crazy at times.  Other characters come off as too dramatic, and some sequences are too sensational.  Like the other Visual Bible films, John has narration by design, which does not give us many good opportunities to get to know the characters very well.  However, there are a handful of positive elements here that keep this section from being zero, such as the opportunity to see some less-focused on portions of the gospel.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While other Visual Bible casts tried to include more culturally authentic cast members and less British ones, John does not always succeed on this front.  There are too many obviously non-authentic cast members, besides the fact that there are a lot of dramatic and theatrical performances.  In situations like this, where narration is built-in, acting is very important since there are limited opportunities for lines.  However, though there are some moments of overplaying, there are plenty of good sequences throughout this film that are enough to make this section average.

Conclusion

While The Visual Bible projects are commendable and ambitious, John does not seem like as helpful of a resource as the others, especially since it tends to take a turn for the dramatic and sensational.  Portrayals of Jesus are hard to pull off, but there’s no need to make them more difficult with ethereal loftiness.  Still, there are plenty of good parts to The Gospel of John, and many audiences will enjoy it.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

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Bells of Innocence (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When their small plane crashes in a weird little town that appears to be controlled by a Satanic cult, three men try everything they can think of to escape the madness as their townspeople, especially their creepy children.  But they find themselves taken captive by them and saved only by a mysterious man who appears to have power over the evil in the town.  He tells them that he has brought them to the town for a purpose—to drive out the evil and save the children.  Will the men be able to dig deep and find faith in the midst of evil?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As some production elements are fine while others are definitely not, Bells of Innocence is mostly an average production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine, even though there are some overused and cheesy sound effects.  The soundtrack is average.  Sets, locations, and props are pedestrian.  There are too many montages and choppy sequences designed to waste time, but by far the worst production element is the use of very stupid and cheap-looking special effects that are supposed to be ‘horror-themed’.  They put a huge drag on the movie and make it seem like a joke.  In short, it feels like this film was just slapped together for the sake of having a horror plot featuring Chuck Norris.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As we have mentioned before, horror is extremely difficult to pull off properly.  It must be done with the right motives and must never be taken lightly.  Bells of Innocence appears to be taking the issue lightly with this very bizarre idea that has a fixation on creepy children.  The premise is extremely juvenile and eye-roll-inducing.  As the writers try very hard to make this a ‘scary’ horror plot, it only comes off as desperate, wacky, and outright ridiculous.  The characters are completely empty and the villains are beyond cheesy.  Dialogue only serves the purpose of dumping information on the audience.  There are too many leaps in logic and time jumps for there to be any shred of sense or understanding of what is happening.  If you were wondering, this is another failed horror effort.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Who knew that there was a movie cast that included David A. R. White, Carey Scott, and Chuck Norris all in one package?  This collection of jokers is simply too much, considering the already absurd horror elements present.  Everything they do is overly dramatic and cardboard, like usual.  There are some other cast members too, but they are mostly irrelevant, like this movie is now.

Conclusion

The White\Scott\Norris collaboration has collectively and independently tried a little bit of everything to sell Christian movies just for the sake of being called Christian.  They dabbled into all kinds of different genres to cover the Christian entertainment market with their products.  It matters little at this point what their actual return was, because the legacy they left in their profit-seeking wake was a laughingstock and a blight on Christian film.  Hopefully, as new film makers are succeeding in the market, we can move past this unfortunate era of movies that produced garbage like Bells of Innocence.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

The Veritas Project: Hangman’s Curse (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Veritas Project consists of the Springfield family—their job is to work with local law enforcement undercover in order to discover the origins of unusual happenings in small towns.  Their next job is to go undercover at a high school that seems to be haunted by the curse of a teen who hung himself inside the school one night.  Seemingly random deaths keep happening that are tied back to the hanging and to dark happenings at the school.  Will they be able to get to the bottom of it before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Like many early 2000s productions distributed by Fox Faith, Hangman’s Curse has its high points and its issues that keep it from being all it could be.  For example, the video quality is unnecessarily grainy and there is poor lighting throughout.  However, the sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  Audio quality is fine except for the cheesy soundtrack and the cheap sound effects that are dubbed on top of the normal audio.  There are also a lot of very juvenile horror-related special effects that are actually quite annoying.  Finally, the editing is fairly choppy as scenes end abruptly, off-screen content is referred to often, and transitions do not flow well.  In the end, it’s possible that this production team’s budget was not ready to handle a sci-fi\horror film, so they might should have rethought this effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though Frank Peretti knows how to craft an interesting enough Christian horror\sci-fi plot, Hangman’s Curse crams too much content into a short amount of time.  This stunts character develop and forces dialogue to be rushed and packed with information.  Sometimes the premise of this ‘horror’ concept is hard to believe and is even a little silly at times.  We are supposed to treat the issue as serious, but it is difficult to do so because it all seems too shallow.  There are too many very cheesy half-attempts at horror that are more annoying than effective.  Like too many sci-fi plots, this one relies too heavily on the ‘twist’ and the concept revealed near the end rather than actual character development.  It’s hard to care about what’s going on when it all rushes by so fast all in the name of solving the mystery in under two hours.  In the end, some will find this story interesting, but it does not appeal to every audience.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The casting and acting of this film are definitely its strong suit.  Though there is nothing truly dynamic about the cast members’ performances, they are also not detracting or negative.  Their emotions are mostly believable and their line delivery is professional.  This should be the baseline for acting in Christian film.

Conclusion

Frank Peretti has always been a genre pioneer in Christian entertainment.  He went where other Christians were afraid to go and opened up a whole new world for both writing and movies.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with his work, this particular film does not capture it well, and this could be due to the early days of Christian productions.  Perhaps if this film were made today, it would be better.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Luther [2003] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Martin Luther was a radical in his day who wanted to see sweeping changes in the Catholic Church.  He was tired of seeing the poor oppressed and abused while the Church made money off of their fear by selling indulgences.  When he tried to make a difference, he received major pushback and was forced to go into hiding after posting his 95 Theses.  While in hiding, he sought God and translated the Word of God for the common people to read.  Though he was not perfect and struggled with despair, Luther was a man of God who truly changed his world for Christ.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In this rendition of Luther, it’s clear that great care was given to historical authenticity, including excellent sets, locations, and props.  Other aspects of production are also professional presented, including camera work, video quality, audio quality, and an original soundtrack.  There is little to complain about here except for some slightly choppy editing as it seems like too much content is attempted to be covered in one film.  But nonetheless, this film is an example of what a historical biography should look like.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The portrayal of Martin Luther as a real man who struggled with different issues is refreshing and realistic.  Other historical events are also portrayed properly, especially the follies of the Catholic Church in the Dark Ages.  There are understandably quite a few characters in this story, so most of them are not developed as well as others.  However, dialogue is effective and historically authentic.  While the first half of this film handles the large amount of content well, things begin to go downhill in the second half.  There is too much information crammed into the second half, and a lot of it is not very engaging to the average audience.  The story tends to hop from one high point to the next, yet this is an overall good effort and one that is worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is overall fairly professional—each character is cast appropriately for historical authenticity.  They clearly know what they are doing, but sometimes they tend to be overly dramatic and theatrical.  Line delivery is on point and emotions are mostly good with some moments of being over the top.  But overall, this is a respectable effort.

Conclusion

This idea probably would have worked far better as a miniseries because it would have given the writers freedom to slow down and develop the characters better.  It would have also allowed them to more effectively convey key historical events instead of just jumping from one to the next.  Yet as it is, Luther is a good film many people will enjoy.  We need more films about historical Christianity, and they should be crafted in the mold of this one.  This sort of movie should be the norm, not the exception.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love Comes Softly (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Taken to the unknown Western lands of America by her husband Aaron, Marty Claridge doesn’t know what to do when her husband dies in a tragic accident.  Alone in a strange land, she accepts the offer of a widower named Clark Davis to marry him for convenience until she can go back home to the East.  As she struggles to cope with her own loss and deal with Clark’s spirited daughter Missy, who is still dealing with the tragic loss of her mother, Marty slowly realizes that she will miss the Davis home when she has to leave.  She will have to decide what will prevail—her heart or her head.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Michael Landon Jr. knows what he’s doing when it comes to production.  This was during the heyday of Fox Faith and Hallmark, and it is easy to understand what set inspirational semi-Christian films like this one apart from movies in its genre before it.  The video quality is clear and outside scenes are filmed well.  The camera work is professional.  Care was taken to make the surroundings and props authentic to the time period.  However, the musical score is stock and the editing is just average.  Too many events take place off screen, things that could have set this movie apart from other romances.  But in the end, the production is likely this film’s greatest asset.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the first novel of Janette Oke’s famous series, Love Comes Softly is an intriguing plot.  This film is likely the most accurate to the original story of the whole movie franchise.  A marriage of convenience plot is not that uncommon, yet it was common for the frontier settlement time period.  Other authentic historical factors are captured.  The dialogue is good, but not great, but the characters are at the very least believable.  But with a simplistic commonly used plot, character deepening is greatly needed.  Unfortunately, Love Comes Softly, though it had the runtime to accomplish this, did not do it.  This is why the plot comes out of just average.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This was a small cast and was far better than many Christian film casts of the time, but it still was plagued with errors.  Some characters (as we will see later from Michael Landon Jr.) are too done-up for the time period, i.e., too much makeup and manicures.  But compared to later, Love Comes Softly was great in this area.  Yet other problems remain.  Only two or three actors are truly good.  Katherine Heigl and Dale Midkiff are okay in their roles, but they needed refining.  Once again, in a small-scope, simplistic plot, acting is essential, and this cast was only marginal.

Conclusion

Love Comes Softly marked the beginning of an era for Michael Landon Jr., Hallmark, and popular author Janette Oke.  Oke captured believable, seemingly common historical characters in her novels and brought them to life for audiences to enjoy.  However, the film franchise did not necessarily do this.  Love Comes Softly is a strong enough beginning and demanded stronger follow-ups.  But if you are looking for a well-produced, semi-typical Christian romance, this is the film for you, and you will not be disappointed.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Flywheel (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jay Austin is a typical used car salesman: dishonest and unashamed of it.  He will do anything to make good margins, including cheat old women and lie outright about the quality of his vehicles.  However, his financial situation is not what he wants it to be, as he is at risk of losing his business to foreclosure.  He calls himself a Christian, but he does not feel conviction for his actions until one day, when he is desperate, he happens upon a television sermon that pricks his conscience regarding his common business practices.  In order to receive God’s favor, Jay turns his philosophy around and begins to build a reputation of integrity for himself.  This causes him to part ways with some of his salesmen, who learned Jay’s former dishonest ways.  On the brink of losing his business, Jay cries out to God and obeys His prompting to return money he cheated out of people.  Following this, a miracle occurs when Jay sells nearly every car on his lot on the day his bill is due at the bank.  It was that day that Jay truly learned what it meant to serve God in all areas of his life.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Anyone who knows anything about the Kendricks knows that Flywheel is not their best movie by far.  The camera work is very poor, as is the editing.  Sometimes the video is hard to make out and there are frequent background noises that disrupt viewing.  Camera angles are not the best.  There are quite a few lighting issues.  While this looks like an overall cheap production, first time film makers get a break on production quality, especially if the budget is tight.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The plot of the inaugural Kendrick film is not bad, but it could be better.  It showcases the beginnings of the trademark Kendrick non-linear plot style, but not to its full potential.  Most of the characters are stereotypical and the dialogue is un-compelling.  There is really nothing dynamic here except for some brief comedy scenes that hold the attention.  The ending is fairly predictable, but Kendricks do a pretty good job at driving home the parable narrative.  They showed great potential, even early on.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The poor acting can be excused by not only the early stages of Kendrick productions, but also the fact that this movie is made of entirely inexperienced or semi-experienced actors.  While many of the actors are seemingly down to earth and realistic in some respects, they are not up to par with high quality productions.  Thankfully, Kendrick movies did not remain on the level of Flywheel.

Conclusion

In the end, Flywheel shows a lot of raw talent, initiative, and want-to.  The production is raw and honest.  The plot is semi-complex and the actors are close to home.  However, it is not enough to warrant a re-watch.  Flywheel will forever serve as a reminder of how blockbuster moviemakers get started.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points