The Identical (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ryan Wade has always known the church life because he was raised by a pastor and his wife, whom he believed to be his real parents.  However, as he grew older, he did not feel the call to ministry that his father was impressing upon him.  Instead, he wanted to pursue a musical future.  However, when he got caught by the authorities doing ‘wrong things,’ Ryan’s father sent him to the military to ‘get fixed,’ with the expectation that Ryan would enter seminary afterward.  However, the military did not dampen Ryan’s musical dreams, and once he was out, he encountered a life-changing revelation: he is the twin brother of musical sensation Drexel Hemsley, which raises many questions about Ryan’s true heritage.  Will the answers he wants give him peace or more turmoil?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that The Identical is a well-funded production with a well-allocated budget.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The original soundtrack is creative, even if there is some obvious lip-syncing.  The production’s biggest strengths relate to the great 
attention to historical detail, which is evident in the well-constructed and well-utilized sets, locations, and props that reflect correct time period and culture.  The only drawback to this production is the somewhat choppy editing that is a byproduct of the plot presentation, but on the whole, this is a very good and professional production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story concept is a bit off-the-wall as the twin brother characters bear a strangely similar resemblance to Elvis Presley (not really sure why this character concept was chosen), there are some interesting messages to explore in The Identical.  For example, the story provides a realistic portrayal of historical issues of the time period, such as churches suppressing certain types of ideas, hiding issues, and expecting men to be fixed by the military.  However, besides the somewhat out-of-left-field story concept, there is way too much narration and expository dialogue to fill time gaps, which obviously stunts character growth and short-circuits the dialogue potential.  It would have been better to just let the story unfold naturally and to let the characters reach their full potential through meaningful dialogue that builds their personalities and motives.  Besides this obvious misstep, the story is based on too many coincidences and things that happen because the plot demands it.  However, despite these issues and despite the odd premise, there is lots of potential in this story–enough to warrant a remake–and many audiences will still find it to be a fine movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The Identical has surprisingly professional casting and acting.  Several cast members, such as Ray Liota, do a great job playing multiple ages.  Some emotions tend to be overdone, however, especially from Erin Cottrell.  However, line delivery is almost always on point, and the costuming is historically accurate and realistic.  This rounds out a slightly above average movie effort.

 

Conclusion

It’s great for Christian films to come up with creative movie concepts that are outside of the norm and to make films that are good because they are good without being Christian-ized.  The idea behind The Identical is one of those you don’t think of every day, so the creatively must be commended.  However, while a lot of the attention this movie received centered around the central concept, there were other pitfalls that kept it from being all that it could be.  Even still, there is plenty of positive here to build on, and there are some great cues for other films to model after.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team does anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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Movies That Are So Bad They’re Not Even Worth Our Time, Part 7 (MTASBTNEWOT 7)

In our vast Christian entertainment viewing experience, we sometimes come upon films that we can hardly justify writing a full review for.  Therefore, for your convenience, so you don’t have to go watch those free films that invade your suggested watch list in on-demand video services, we’ve provided a quick overview here.  Someday we might post more, if we’re fortunate enough to find more.

 

Lazer Us: The Legend of Jimi Lazer

In this strangely-titled film that appears to convey something about Lazarus, a guitarist named Jimi Lazer is depicted as he stumbles upon a magic guitar that gets him in contact with the Devil!  As a musician, Jimi wants riches and fame just like the next guy, so he sells his soul to the Old Liar.  Essentially, Lazer Us is a trippy, LSD-style drug trip from the 60s that has an unhealthy obsession with Satanism and tries to warn aspiring artists to stay away from Lucifer.  Unfortunately, the time spent on Satan is disproportionate, and the storyline is overall extremely confusing and hard to follow, which is why it landed here.

 

Pocket Angel

As a basically unknown new film from this year, Pocket Angel is in a category all by itself–almost rivaling The Rev for cartoonishness.  Apparently some reporter is assigned to a story in Mexico, so she takes her newly adopted son along.  Most of her lines are overdubbed in the most horrible way, and she comes off as a cruel parody of a Hispanic character.  Her son is kidnapped by the most childish cartoon villains you can dream of and held for random.  As a majority of the film consists of ridiculous sound effects from Lost in Silver Canyon, it’s easy to miss the creepy angel characters that peddle Pocket Angel figurines from a Christian bookstore to the characters.  Basically, this film is mostly inexplicable.

 

A Wish For Giants

When a girl who just contracted brain cancer is given a chance to have her wish fulfilled by a non-profit, she does what every girl would do and wishes to see Bigfoot.  The non-profit actually takes her seriously and assigns a summer intern to the case.  This film is full of boring and drab sequences that utilize terrible production quality.  There is also a lot of Bigfoot message-pushing and some vague reference to the Nephilim that are off-putting.  It goes without saying that the acting is basement-level deplorable.  As a whole, this movie is extremely strange and hard to follow, which is why it has found a home here.

 

Well that’s all for now!  Maybe we’ll post another one someday…maybe not…

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

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (.5 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: Where Hope Grows

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

For starters, like most films that need remakes, Where Hope Grows has a poor budget allocation.  The camera work needs a total rework, and the presence of a substantial soundtrack would have also helped things along.  Post-production elements, such as editing, also need to be renovated, as the way the plot is presented is a bit disorienting at times.  Overall, this film had a very indie feel to it, which is not always bad, but the lack of proper funding crippled this film’s full potential.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of Where Hope Grows also has some work to do.  There is a disproportionate amount of time spent on the woes of troubled characters.  Although this is a realistic approach, it’s not always done in a tasteful way.  This is billed as a family film, but the audience therein will likely be disappointed by the slightly overdone amount of edgy content that lacks a proper amount of redemption to help things.  Also, even though the characters are realistic in many ways, their dialogue needs deepening in order to assist the audience in relating to them better as people.  For example, some flashbacks could have aided us in understanding the motivations of the characters rather than having another scene of the main character acting drunk.  Also, as previously mentioned, the disorganization of this plot is a drag on the experience and blunts the full impact of the otherwise good ending.  Essentially, a total rewrite of this plot by the right person could have put this film on the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

This film’s important message regarding special needs people is reinforced by the excellent casting of a special needs actor.  Though there are some overly heated emotional moments that could use some toning down, this section is overall the most reliable section of the movie.

Conclusion

Where Hope Grows was closer to greatness than a lot of films with twice its budget.  This level of commitment to raw, imperfect characters is hard to come by in the plastic Christian market.  However, there is a balance to find between extremely fake and extremely realistic.  Perhaps a future Christian film maker can use this film as a model for how to walk the line between the two in order to make a truly dynamic film.

 

Movie Renovation: God’s Not Dead

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

There are really few production errors to note in the first God’s Not Dead film.  The primary issue with this production is, of course, the editing, due to the large and complex amount of content that is attempted to be used in this film.  Thus, if the plot categories were improved, the editing issue would likely also improve.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of God’s Not Dead needs some serious work.  For one, there are too many ideas shoved into one two-hour film.  A lot of these ideas really need to be movies of their own, such as the Muslim family subplot and the Chinese student subplot.  The blogger character and all of her connections (Dean Cain, the Robertsons, etc.) need to be deleted completely.  The woman with dementia is an interesting aside, but it needs better development.  Pastor Dave and his connections really wouldn’t be missed either; this area might be better if it was altered.  Finally, the portrayal of the atheist professor is noteworthy and better than most, but it still could be better and less over the top.  The “character who is an atheist because their mother died of cancer” trope is a bit thin.  Also, there are obviously instances of anti-Christian bias in academia, but this story could have been a bit more down to earth.  Thus, with a lot of separation, editing, organization, and focus, this plot could have pushed the film into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

While the acting of the original God’s Not Dead is actually a major improvement over most PureFlix casts, it still isn’t perfect.  For one, David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze rarely need to be acting.  Trisha LaFache is average at best and needs serious coaching.  Dean Cain should probably never be cast again.  Kevin Sorbo has his place, but not as a raging professor.  Otherwise, this cast is fine.

Conclusion

There was a reason the beginning of the God’s Not Dead saga was so popular, and it wasn’t because of its portrayal of atheists.  It has a lot of intriguing content and a lot of ideas that need further exploration in different venues.  Trying to lump all of it together in one film was a disappointment.  However, it was the first time PureFlix actually proved they could be at least somewhat responsible with their budget, including a high-quality production.  Perhaps one day someone will use some of the half-baked ideas of God’s Not Dead for greater purposes.

Heavenly Match (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Reverend Casey Hunt is promoted to senior minister of her church after the former one steps down, but she doesn’t like her job because she is perpetually single.  However, her plans change when she finds out that her replacement is going to be someone she met in seminary—a witty, handsome man who is still single.  Thus, they decide to hang around together and do comedic things until enough time goes by in the movie for it to come to a neat, inventible conclusion.  However, this plot isn’t complete without a typical up-and-down romance based on lack of communication.  Welcome to made-for-television films!

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like Hallmark, as we have stated before, UP has mastered the art of the quick made-for-TV production that looks good on the outside.  Heavenly Match is one of these such films.  It has good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  It has a predictably silly soundtrack to accompany this.  Though the sets and locations are slightly limited in this small-town universe, the props are fine.  The editing is also fine, considering the tight window this content has to fit into between commercial breaks.  However, it’s not like there was much content in the first place.  In the end, this film checked all the necessary production boxes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From beginning to end, Heavenly Match is filled with a ridiculous amount of constant narration that destroys any hope this film had of having natural progression.  The comedy elements are painfully forced to the point of nausea, and the dialogue is very odd.  As a whole, this story demonstrates a lack of fundamental understanding of real church work, and it is a completely manufactured plot that is hopelessly pandering to Christian audiences every second it has.  The romantic comedy elements are cringeworthy and were mass-produced on an assembly line as every possible cliché and convention in this genre is used.  In short, this film is extremely empty and mostly pointless except to just fill air time and make some easy commercial money.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast has plenty of professional elements that help its score reach above-average quality, most of the time, the main cast members are trying too hard to be interesting and funny.  At times, they are also very plastic in their demeanors.  Makeup can also tend to be overdone.  However, this section is mostly fine and rounds out a pedestrian film.

Conclusion

Another day, another run-of-the-mill television film from an inspirational network with ad spots to sell.  What do we expect at this point?  Perhaps soon there will be so many dynamic, creative, and ground-breaking Christian films that movies like Heavenly Match will be totally irrelevant.  Maybe.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

God, Where Are You? (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Sony Boone, a famous professional boxer, inadvertently kills his opponent in a fight rage, he is immediately disgraced and barred from the world of professional sports.  Thus, he loses everything he holds dear: his career, his fiancé, and his worldy possessions.  Driven to the streets as beg a homeless person, Sonny is suddenly offered a free meal at a mysterious diner by a mysterious man named Malachi.  Malachi offers Sonny a second chance at life, but Sonny is extremely skeptical at first.  Will Sonny give God a chance to turn his life around before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

At the beginning, God, Where Are You? is just like the other cheap productions put out by Lazarus Filmworks, such as Daniel’s Lot and A Letter for Joe.  This include poor audio quality, a random use of black and white, and some dark scenes.  Also, the camera is sometimes focused on the wrong things while people talk off screen.  However, the other camera work is fine, and the video quality is stable throughout.  The sets, locations, and props are surprisingly good and appropriate, and the soundtrack has an interesting feel to it.  Though there are odd quick cuts throughout the film, as it goes on, there is concerted improvement in all areas.  Even though it started out rough, this film is a milestone for the Lazarus team in production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At first, the story is hard to follow as it seems like everybody in this plot’s world is obsessed with a random disgraced boxer who’s now a homeless guy.  Things are rough at first through some obvious dialogue and forced situations, but this storyline is a definite improvement of their past failures, A Letter for Joe and Daniel’s Lot.  The middle of the film is very interesting as it contains a very good message and interesting psychological elements.  However, sometimes it is based too much on coincidences, and the premise is a bit vague at times.  There seems to be an odd underlying attitude that is difficult to quantify, and the big inevitable twist at the end is sort of predictable.  Though problems are seemingly easily fixed in the end, this story gets an E for Effort and shows that any creative team can improve despite previous failures.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For this cast, the Lazarus team looked outside of their circle of friends and found some professional cast members that make this one way better than previous casts.  However, there are some overly practiced and forced lines, as well as some overdone emotions.  Nevertheless, they are definitely trying to make this a well-acted movie, and there is concerted improvement throughout in this area as well.  In the end, this is at least a marginally enjoyable movie.

Conclusion

All we ask of Christian film makers is that they use the resources God has given them responsibly and efficiently and that they show improvement over their careers.  Surprisingly, the Lazarus Filmworks team has done this in God, Where Are You?  Though there was a time when it seemed like they would never break through, they flipped the script and tried something different.  Now they have a chance to use this film to become even better movie makers in the near future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Last Straw [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The McDonald family is full of screaming kids, and now they have taken on a trouble making relative for the holidays whose family doesn’t care about her.  As the kids perform all of their silly escapades, the shunned relative tries to fit into the neighborhood and meets a random boy next door whom she automatically likes, of course.  Then Mrs. McDonald, at the end of her rope, decides to institute a contest to see who can do the most deeds so they can put straw in their nativity manger.  It’s just another holiday tale.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Rob Diamond and his team know how to put together a respectable production.  Video quality and audio quality are what they should be, even though the soundtrack is fairly generic.  There are some random moments of shaky cam, however.  Yet sets, locations, and props are fine, albeit somewhat limited.  There are also some minor editing concerns, but there are really no glaring errors.  On the whole, this is an above average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the plot.  Besides being an extremely limited idea full of silly asides and manufactured drama, it is mostly eccentric.  The characters tend to be overdone yet not well developed, even though they spend a lot of time sitting around and talking.  With no clear purpose or direction, sometimes it seems like this story is a joke.  The ‘struggles’ of the characters are impossible to appreciate.  There is also a cheesy forced romance.  Overall, this is really not a complete enough idea to make a full-length film; the priorities of this film needed to be reevaluated.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Besides being very awkward at times, the cast members have a tendency to be overly happy and loud in most scenes.  Emotions are very plastic and laughably fake.  There is far too much shouting and yelling throughout, especially from the child cast members.  However, there are plenty of good moments, as well as improvement throughout, which saves this section from being zero.

Conclusion

In summary, it’s very hard to justify the making of this film.  It is based on a very thin idea, and it seems like it was rushed into being made without stopping to think about where this plot was even going.  Stories like this need to be seriously slowed down and evaluated for necessity and quality.  Until this happens on a consistent basis, we will keep having films like this put out.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Dragon (Movie Review)

It’s magic!

Plot Summary

After her parents are kidnapped, Ayden and her new orphan friends will have to retrieve the magical orb that keeps Father Christmas alive and will have to save the Christmas Dragon from being killed.  Will they be able to prevail against the evil creatures and people that are chasing then?  Will everyone be able to find out what the true meaning of Christmas is?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s very hard to make a fantasy movie on a low budget, so it should probably be avoided.  Nonetheless, while The Christmas Dragon has some good production elements, it also has some glaringly bad ones.  As usual, video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  Yet there are many obviously cheap special effects used throughout, including a lot of poorly animated overlays.  Unfortunately, the fantasy props used are among the worst; it also does not help that the sets and locations are fairly limited.  One consolation is that the editing in this film is fine, which keeps this production from being below average.  In the end, fantasy productions require a lot of funding, so a low budget will always be exposed by this type of film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

First off, it’s very hard to discern how The Christmas Dragon is really a Christmas film, but at least John Lyde and his team are trying to do something different.  However, it still seems like he and his team are better than this silliness.  With no clear Christian message or purpose to guide it, this storyline meanders along as a vague allegory that simply copies concepts (very poorly) from popular fantasy stories.  The characters are too one-dimensional and not dynamic at all.  They seem to be pawns in the plot, and their dialogue is stunted by action sequences.  Allegory and fantasy plots need a driving purpose that keep them from going off the rails, and some creativity is not discouraged either.  Unfortunately, this movie lacks these parameters.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Besides having the most terrible makeup jobs ever, these cast members are forced to don obviously homemade costuming (and sometimes stupid masks) that attempts and fails to make them look like mythical creatures.  Elsewhere, emotions are either too dramatic or too matter-of-fact.  There is too much yelling and forced drama, as well as poor action acting.  While some roles are poorly cast, there are some good moments here that keep this section from being any worse.  In the end, the potential here was not fully reached.

Conclusion

A word to the wise: do not make a fantasy movie with this sort of budget and don’t make one just to rip off other ideas and to smash Christmas into it for no good reason.  John Lyde and his team usually produce quality content, but this movie is an exception because they overextended themselves with a complex production.  Fantasy plots need to be well-planned from the beginning, and if they are, they can be very dynamic.  Perhaps John Lyde and his crew will continue to improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 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

 

The Borrowed Christmas (Movie Review)

More delicious cookies!

Plot Summary

John Dale is all alone this holiday season, so he wants to manufacture his Christmas by going to a random store and ordering them to buy all kinds of things that are necessary for him to enjoy an artificial holiday experience, including paying off people from the local ‘actors guild’ to play along with his games.  Will they be able to put together his borrowed Christmas before it gets too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

From the ridiculous opening sequence to the end, this production is very cheap-looking.  While camera work and video quality are fine, the audio quality has a lot of issues, including dead portions and unnecessary background noises.  The soundtrack is also a cheesy Christmas one.  The sets, props, and locations are also very limited and underwhelming.  Finally, there is really no editing to speak of as all of the content is just presented at face value.  In short, there is really not much good to say about this movie as a whole because it seems like most of the time that it is trying its best to not be interesting.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides the absurd Christmas premise, The Borrowed Christmas is probably the most anti-conflict film we have ever seen, Christmas or not.  The story is very boring, childish, and extremely contrived.  Even so, there are strange attempts to be overly dramatic for no reason at all.  Also, the characters come off as extremely cheesy and plastic due to bubbly and overly happy dialogue.  It’s really hard to understand how this idea even came to be, especially due to the fact that there is basically no conflict to drive this plot.  Thus, the story really has no clear purpose and only comes off as a silly church play.  Even though there may be some good ideas here, they are not presented properly at all.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, this cast is dry and generic, as well as too theatrical at times.  While they are fine at times, there are also some laughably random outbursts throughout.  Another unfortunate negative to note is some poorly done makeup.  However, not all is bad here, even though this movie still lacks overall purpose.

Conclusion

The Borrowed Christmas is basically a lesson in how to make a movie that completely lacks conflict.  Even most Hallmark movies have more conflict than this one—it’s kind of a requirement for plot writing.  Alas, especially in holiday films, story writing continues to suffer as it is substituted for silly and trite holiday ideas.  The time has come to move past these sorts of conventions and truly make a difference in the film world.  At least Chip Rossetti and his team showed improvement after the creation of this film.

 

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

 

No Ordinary Shepherd (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Saul is a crippled shepherd boy who longs to meet the mysterious, miracle-working man all of Judea talks about.  Saul remembers the stories his father told him about being a shepherd and witnessing the heavenly host of angels tell him and his friends about the coming of the Messiah.  Saul’s father saw the baby Who was called the Messiah, and wondering if he could be the same miracle-working man everyone talks about.  Little does Saul know that he will be given an opportunity to see Him face to face.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good effort was put into this short film, most notably the historically realistic props and locations, there are still some issues that keep it from being all that it could be.  There is too much soft light throughout, as well as one too many dark scenes.  The sets are also somewhat limited.  However, video and audio quality are fine, as well as the camera work and the soundtrack.  Also, the editing is surprisingly good, even though this is almost too short of a film.  In the end, this production shows good effort and is at least average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes it is better to just make one short idea to get started with film making.  An extended and protracted film can waste a lot of time and resources.  However, since this is such a focused movie with limited time, the characters need to be given a lot more intense attention.  They need to be more accessible rather than a collection of lofty Bible figures that use too much archaic dialogue.  Also, the use of narration should never be used as a crutch in a short film.  In the end, it is clear that this film means well and carries a good message, so the effort is definitely applaudable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast starts out tending to be too theatrical in their delivery and not natural enough in their emotions.  However, there is some improvement throughout, even though the case members are not culturally authentic.  But perhaps this was all they had to work with.  The good thing is that the costuming is realistic and avoids looking like a Bible play.  Thus, this rounds out another average section that demonstrates good effort.

Conclusion

With three installments in this short film series, it seems like they could have been synthesized into one film.  Yet one can understand why a responsible film maker would begin their work with a short film—indeed, there are many films that should also be in the short film category.  Therefore, in the end, this is a commendable film that shows great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Basement [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

You’ve heard the story before: in one second, everything is changed on the planet when millions of people suddenly disappear in the Rapture and millions more are left behind, even those who though they were Christians.  A whole bunch of random people are confused by the recent catastrophe and struggle to survive in the dark new world that is immediately created by the Rapture.  Will they ever learn the truth about what happened?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

In yet another poorly produced Rapture film, video quality is the only positive element to mention here.  Otherwise, the camera work is very shaky and inconsistent, as well as full of wild cuts and extremely close angles.  Flashbacks are set in weird sepia tones, and there are too many flashes throughout.  There are lots of poorly lit and very dark scenes.  Audio quality is very poor as well, including a generic sountrack and those annoying background sirens from Final: The Rapture.  On that note, sets, locations, and props are cheap and limited, as usual.  Finally, the editing is typically dizzying and disorienting.  Basically, this is another slipshod production about the End Times.  What else is new?

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Like many plots that lead up to the Rapture event in the middle and then depict the aftermath in the second half of the story, The Basement has no clear direction, purpose, or focus that guide it.  It is full of too many cheesy characters that crowd out the runtime so that it’s impossible to get to know any of them or remember who they are.  The non-Christian character are portrayed ridiculously, as usual, and the Christians are too perfect, all due to laughable dialogue.  There is no way to know where the story is going or coming from as there is tons of useless content and a lot of the runtime is wasted on flashbacks to events that happened minutes before.  All of this aside, the manufactured suspense is full of typical apocalyptic tropes and contains no creativity whatsoever.  After jumping all over the place for nearly two hours, basically all the problems are solved in a vague, indiscernible ending that was likely left open for a sequel.  But hey, the market needed another cheesy Rapture movie.

Acting Quality (-.5 point)

The acting is likely the worst section of this film, as a majority of the cast members act in very juvenile fashions.  Their line delivery is painfully forced, like someone is pulling the lines out of them.  Emotions are also over the top like this.  There is too much yelling throughout and too many sequences of cast members talking over each other.  This is overall an annoying and obnoxious portion, thus warranting the negative score.

Conclusion

Note to future film makers: please do make different genres of Christian films, but please please please refrain from making anymore Rapture films.  There are so many tropes in the apocalyptic genre that are complete and laughably overused, so it’s best to steer clear of this unless you have a really, really good idea.  There are plenty of other ways to make good Christians suspense plots that don’t involve End Times opinions.  But no matter what, there’s no excuse for having production and acting this bad.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Basketball 3:16 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Calvin Nichols never thought he would be able to find God on the basketball court, but God sent someone to share him the Gospel, and his life turned around for the better.  He began trying to get his life in order and became involved in the local church.  When a man comes to the church whom everyone thinks is a hopeless, lost cause, Calvin talks to him and share his story of conversion in the hopes of bringing him to Christ as well.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, like many small church films, Basketball 3:16 suffers from lack of funding.  This is evident in the cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, as well as the marginal audio quality.  Though the video quality and the camera work are fine, there is not enough substantial soundtrack in this film.  Also, in keeping with most movies of this level of funding, the editing is relatively poor and amateurish.  Thus, while films like this can mean all the best in the world, it’s just not enough to overcome the low production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 points)

This story seems to mean well and tries to portray real people in real circumstances, but it also projects a deception that everything is automatically fixed when you become a Christian.  Yet it does also try to show the need for making amends, so it’s not totally lost.  The characters are quite realistic, perhaps even too realistic, yet the dialogue is lazy and unengaging.  The Christian characters are too perfect and the non-Christian characters are too ‘bad’.  Overall, since this story is rough around the edges, it needs some refining and deepening in order to be successful.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Too often in this small cast, the cast members are overplaying their characters and trying too hard.  Other times, the line delivery is mumbled and lazy.  There are some good moments, however, but not enough to overcome the negative.  All in all, this statement tends to describe the movie as a whole.

Conclusion

Small church films are a tough sub-genre to review because funding is always going to be a problem.  For this reason, the plot and the characters need to be outstanding to show what the creative team can do with better funding.  There are always meager beginnings in independent Christian films, so it’s what you do with what God has given you that counts.  Most of the time, unfortunately, we feel like the best as not been done with what is provided.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Just a Measure of Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jacob refuses to let go of all of his problems and let God deal with them.  He goes around yelling at people all the time and can’t seem to shake those weird red demons that keep following him around.  He doesn’t want to surrender to God, but his life is falling apart.  Will Jacob ever be able to find his way?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

It’s painfully obvious that this film was not very well funded, so it’s very difficult to justify its creation.  From blurry video quality to shaky camera work, this production is your typical zero-pointer.  Audio quality is very poor, allowing many background sounds to cover things up.  The soundtrack is also very stock.  Sets, locations, and props are very cheap and limited.  There are also too many dizzying sequences filled with weird special effects.  Thus, the editing is awful and some scenes even cut off in the middle of a sentence.  There are too many obvious cuts and continuity errors as well.  Basically, this is a real mess.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

But it doesn’t end there.  Not only does this ‘plot’ have no focus, direction, or substance, it includes many wacky and laughable spiritual\psychological elements that temporarily turn the film into the cheapest possible ‘horror’ film.  The Christian message presented is extremely cheap and trite.  Too much time in this film is wasted on ridiculously forced and manufactured drama to the point of annoyance.  The characters are absurdly empty do to plastic dialogue.  In the end, this plot warrants negative points due to its abrasive and wildly off-the-wall nature.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if the other elements of this film weren’t bad, the acting is among the worst.  Emotions are painfully forced and almost desperate at times.  Line delivery is excruciatingly awkward and completely unnatural.  Everything is very much over the top and unprofessional, thus rounding out a very sad and wasted effort.

Conclusion

These ‘let’s make a movie with our church’ projects rarely end well, but few of them mess up in such a memorably horrible fashion as this one does.  No matter how well they meant, there is no excuse for putting this kind of nonsense out there as a Christian film.  This entire project needed to be scrapped and started over.  Alas, this is another example of how not to make a Christian movie, part 3930942.

 

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

 

The Congregation: The Hip Hop Gospel Church [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Church of Truth is gearing up for their new pastor—they tend to go through pastors constantly due to the scandals the pastors create for themselves.  Now the few members that are left do not trust the incoming pastor due to the antics of the previous one, so they have banded together to take their church back.  However, as usual, things do not go as they originally planned.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

It’s very difficult to discern what the creators of this film were exactly going for.  The production is one of the most unique and strange we have witnessed.  Though video quality is fine, this is the only good element of the entire film.  Lighting is weird throughout the film and camera work is extremely dizzying.  Audio quality is below par and the soundtrack is quite annoying.  Sets, locations, and props are very cheap and limited.  Finally, the editing and presentation style are off-the-wall and juvenile.  There is really little justification for the way this film is presented, which is why no one has tried to do it this way before.  Essentially, it’s hard to see the justification for this movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This movie is dominated by an absurd and obnoxious live narration trope that directs the main character to constantly interject her comments and lengthy explanations.  This plot device to truly the worst.  But even without this, the few characters that there are very annoying and over the top due to head-scratching and forced comedy dialogue.  None of it is funny—it’s not even unintentionally funny—which makes the entire movie a drag.  The storyline just continually slogs on with meandering and wearing conversations that never really go anywhere or serve any purpose except for the prolonging of this madness.  The plot scope is very limited and it’s once again extremely difficult to justify this film’s existence.  How these sorts of things are continually made is beyond us.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As can be expected, in keeping with the rest of this film’s elements, the acting is overdone, juvenile, forceful, and mostly annoying.  Cast members take their characters to the emotional and ‘comedic’ extremes and lines are forced in very awkward ways.  If this cast meant well, it’s difficult to tell.  However, it is clear that no coaching was present here, thus round out a very wasted effort.

Conclusion

It is increasingly unclear what the creators of this film were going for when they decided to make this.  This idea is barely long enough to sustain a feature length film and it’s certainly not one that ever needs to be repeated.  These sorts of films continue to serve as an embarrassment to Christian movies, but hopefully they will soon be forgotten and their mistakes can be learned from.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Coffee Shop [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Donovan has always loved her dream job as the owner of a local coffee shop, but she fears that her mortgage is about to cause her dream to end prematurely.  What’s worse is a hotshot playwright comes to town and starts off completely on the wrong foot with her, all the while Donovan’s sister is trying to get her to run back to the boyfriend who left Donovan for a big time Chicago job.  Will Donovan be able to sort out all the confusion in time to save her dreams?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Up Entertainment has perfected the Hallmark model of putting out a consistent amount of films with fairly professional production quality in each one.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too generic, however, which fits this genre to a T.  What also typically comes with this sort of made for television movie is relatively good sets, locations, and props, yet some minor editing issues that plague it, all in the name of making the runtime trim.  All of these typical elements are present in Coffee Shop, making it seem like it was made on an assembly line.  Overall, though the production is great, there are plenty of other predictable elements to point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is trying a bit harder than most made for TV romantic comedies, Coffee Shop is still an extremely typical story about a jilted girlfriend who has to save her ______ and then both her old boyfriend and a new well-groomed man whom she doesn’t like at first but grows to like show up in the small town she lives in with other quirky characters.  Though some of the characters demonstrate attempts to be creative, probably mostly the influence of the Erwin brothers, there are just too many predictable elements for this section to warrant any more points.  The entire plot follows a predictable progression and the end can be seen from the beginning.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for yet another one of these sorts of films.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Despite all of other issues, the Erwin brothers still do their thing and win out when it comes to casting and acting coaching.  There are virtually no errors in this section as line delivery is on point and emotions are very natural.  UP and Hallmark should consider hiring the Erwins as permanent casting help.

Conclusion

We realize the machine of cable television demands certain movies that fit into certain molds, so perhaps there is really no solution to this problem until cable is no longer relied upon as a source of entertainment revenue.  Creative Christian film makers need a better outlet for their films so that they can showcase their talent outside of the confines of a revenue-seeking machine.  Perhaps one day we will see more of these sorts of films on streaming services such as PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

7th Street Theater, Season 3 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

With the new cast of the 7th Street Theater finally settled down, the team begins to face new challenges that they must face.  New social issues are in desperate need of being addressed by the cast through their bland skits.  But more importantly, a new threat arises to their business model as a disgruntled rival theater owner seeks to destroy their work.  With the 7th Street Theater be able to survive the onslaught?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The newest and final (?) season of the 7th Street Theater has really no unique or surprising elements.  The only notable difference is some slightly improved camera work.  Otherwise, everything else is pretty much the same.  Video quality and audio quality are typical.  The Jasper Randall soundtrack is still intact.  There are still no locations and the same old limited sets are utilized.  Furthermore, there is really no editing to speak of.  In the end, if this is the end of this series, it’s an anticlimactic one.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Another season of this series brings another one full of forced drama and fake conflicts as everything in this universe centers around the happenings of the theater with no care about what the characters do outside of it except for a lot of references to off-screen content.  This third season continues to grasp for content as it constantly exhibits the limited and isolationist worldview of the Christiano brothers.  Even more so this season, they adapt a Christians versus the world approach and complain about common cultural problems rather than offering real solutions.  They are still lost in their own world in thinking this concept is actually interesting or even sustainable.  The ending really makes no sense, yet it appropriate for this saga, which remains empty and wanting.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As the same cast members continue to phone in their performances, there is really nothing new to mention here.  Emotions are still plastic and line delivery is still lazy.  There are fewer cast member changes this season, yet it’s really hard to believe that they were able to keep at least half of this cast together for so long.  What were they really getting out of this?

Continuity Quality (.5 point)

It’s very hard to believe there are over sixty twenty-minute episodes in this saga.  That’s a lot of dedication for not much return.  Yet this season’s continuity quality has slightly improved due to some slight attempts at continuation and arcs.  However, it’s not really enough to make any real difference.

Conclusion

It seems like this series is now over, and it has done so in the most non-dramatic fashion.  There is truly no way to understand how and why this series was made for so long except for the fact that it was extremely easy to make.  It’s very difficult to see the true benefit of this saga due to its out-of-touch portrayal of people and apparent lack of understanding of real life and real people.  If a Christian series is ever to be successful, that’s a big if, then reality needs to be portrayed in a way that engages audiences rather than bores them.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Open My Eyes [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul Sanders was a successful and arrogant model photographer before a car accident took his sight away from him.  After this, he locks himself in his house and refuses to have anyone over except his personal assistant and whichever restaurant employee brings his daily meals.  But when a new employee comes, little does he know the secrets she holds and to what extent he actually knows her.  She treats him differently than anyone else, even though he is still rude to her, which begins an unexpected change in Paul’s life.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is a lesser-known production with somewhat limited funding, it still has a lot of professional elements in it.  The only real issue to point out is the unexplainable shaky camera work throughout, even there are really no other issues with it.  Video quality and audio quality are great, and the soundtrack is very creative and interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are relatively well-constructed and realistic.  Editing is also surprisingly good, which is a plus for this type of film.  Overall, this is a very impressive effort that shows great promise for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Sean Paul Murphy and Timothy Ratajczak were likely held back in their PureFlix days, so it’s probably better that they were able to write this film out from under the iron fist of Byron Jones and company.  Open My Eyes demonstrates an interesting non-typical storyline that’s not afraid to deal with ‘worldly’ characters, even if they still need a little more refinement.  Sometimes the ‘bad’ characters are too bad and the ‘good’ characters are too good.  When a character switches between these two options, their arc is often too steep.  However, the situations and circumstances they experience are realistic and can be related to.  Dialogue is pretty good most of the time, but there are some lapses here nonetheless.  The plot progression is somewhat typical and expected, and there are one too many quick fixes at the end, but it’s clear that this writing team meant well with this story.  It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have been better, because it certainly had a lot of potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is not as well-known as other casts, they are still mostly professional in their performances.  The biggest issue to point out here is some overdone emotions and forceful line delivery on the part of certain cast members some of the time.  Yet in the end, this is a commendable effort that demonstrates potential for the future.

Conclusion

Open My Eyes is another one of those films that just misses the mark of greatness due to a few key errors that hold it back.  However, it’s definitely worth a watch and would certainly be worth remaking one day.  Sean Paul Murphy and Timothy Ratajczak certainly have a lot of untapped talent and definitely have experience.  Hopefully they will continue to be able to progress in their work unhindered by the controlling hands of PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Message of Hope (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

A group of six kids grows up together in the same neighborhood for over ten years and they always have want they want.  However, their parents do not always give them what they really need.  As they encounter various life struggles, each one of them has a different way of dealing with what life throws at them.  Unfortunately, these families do not begin to look at life in a different way until tragedy strikes.  Will they be able to see what really matters in life?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a relatively amateurish production, Message of Hope has its good points, but it also has quite a few errors.  Video quality and camera work are okay, except for some weird close-ups and some random shaky cam.  Audio quality is also quite random, including loud outside sounds.  However, the soundtrack is fine.  Sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited, yet they have some bright spots.  Furthermore, there is really no editing to speak of in this film as it’s just a conglomerate blob of random content.  When making a new movie, it’s best to know where you are going from the beginning and to communicate that well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

There is basically no way to know what this movie is actually about.  Basically nothing happens for about an hour of runtime as character just wander around and random things happen to them.  It’s hard to keep up with all the characters, especially since they’re so one-dimensional due to empty dialogue.  The Christian characters in particular are overly perfect.  Though there is a lot of message pushing in this film, it’s still aimless and lacks overall purpose until it just comes down to a random end.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing really good to say here, even if they do mean well.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting is actually the strongest area of this film, even if it’s still an average performance.  Some emotions are overdone, but line delivery is mostly okay, even though they didn’t have much to work with.  Some performances in general are overplayed, but overall, this cast shows more potential than the rest of this film.

Conclusion

It’s very hard to understand what this creative team was really going for with this film.  It’s likely that they meant well because there is a good message in here somewhere, but the delivery and presentation is all wrong.  Perhaps it would have been better to go over this film again before it went to production to make sure it came across clearer.  But maybe they will learn from their mistakes and do differently in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Dying to Be Heard [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rachel Angelo is a high-powered executive who has put in the hard work and hours to get a big promotion, and when she gets it, she goes out to party and makes a lapse in judgment regarding a man at the bar.  Thus, she ends up pregnant and her boss threatens her to get rid of the child.  However, she accidentally goes to a crisis pregnancy center and becomes conflicted about her decision.  When she watches a random music video, she also thinks back to her family’s Jewish heritage and how they endured the Holocaust.  Thus, she begins to change her mind about the life growing inside of her.

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

Tender Shoot Films is unfortunately among the worst at production.  Their productions are consistently below market standards and below even zero-point productions.  In Dying to Be Heard, video quality is poor and camera work is often filmed extremely close to people’s faces, not to mention the fact that it’s very shaky.  Lighting is somewhat poor and sets, locations, and props are severely limited.  Audio quality is also poor, picking up unnecessary background noises, not to mention the fact that the soundtrack is blaring.  But by far the worst element of this production is the terribly disorienting editing that rivals My Refuge for how bad it can be.  In the end, it feels like one has to try to make a production this bad.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Unfortunately, this theme being terrible only continues in other elements of this film.  It’s extremely disappointing that often pro-life films are so ruined in this way.  As previously mentioned, this so-called story is all over the place and lacks any continuity whatsoever.  The subplots are extremely disjointed and are only very thinly related.  Things are forced to go together as this story tries to cover way too much ground, even by having flashbacks within flashbacks.  Perhaps the worst part of this plot is the fact that the dialogue is so poorly written that the characters are laughable.  The ‘bad’ characters are extreme strawmen and nearly every conversation is either full of message-pushing or elements that make characters extremely black and white.  Problems are fixed for no good reason and the ending is a very rushed and forced conclusion.  Once again, you almost have to try to write a story this bad.

Acting Quality (-2 points)

Probably the worst part of this film is the awful acting.  The lead actress often comes off as drunk or high, and she is awful at delivering her lines, even though there’s not much for her to work with.  Most cast members fumble through their lines from time to time, like every scene was done in one take.  Emotions are among the worst and everything is so awkward and unsure that it’s nearly unwatchable.  It’s very hard to believe that movies like this are made.

Conclusion

Companies like FaithHouse, Cross Shadow, and Tender Shoot are extremely hard to figure.  They churn out film content on a regular basis, yet it’s often very bad in every way.  Production is often awful, plots are nonexistent, and acting is extremely amateurish.  Yet they truck along and keep putting out films.  Do they mean well?  Do they just need more direction?  We can only wonder about these things.  All we can do if offer constructive criticism and hope it matters somehow.

 

Final Rating: -4 out of 10 points

 

The God Question [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Stephen Kendrick (not the film maker) is a computer science expert who finds himself a part of a major project on artificial intelligence at MIT.  However, when the government shuts the project down due to safety concerns, Stephen and a friend of his decide to go underground with the project and ask the new AI software some pressing questions.  They want to know if the AI can prove the existence of God, as well as other important philosophical concerns.  Will they be able to discover the answers they are looking for before time runs out?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though it’s a clear effort was put into this production to make it professional, there are still some nagging issues with The God Question that keep it from being all that it could be.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  However, sometimes it seems like there needs to be more of a soundtrack.  There are too many cheap special effects pertaining to the technological props, which also need somewhat of an upgrade.  Sets and locations are okay, yet they are partially limited.  Finally, the editing of this film is quite poor as sequences lag too long and there is little driving purpose.  In the end, this is a good effort, but there are definitely places for improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is an interesting and unique topic to make a movie on, it’s too focused on only the artificial intelligence concept.  There is little plot content or character development outside of this one idea that dominates the film.  Though there are attempts at complexity, there isn’t any real complexity or plot development that would otherwise make this film interesting.  The story is all about the same thing and is fixated on the artificial intelligence concept, although there is some brief exploration of the philosophical debate surrounding this idea.  Yet it’s still not enough and we don’t get enough of a change to get to know the people who are involved in this story.  After killing and wasting a lot of time, the plot finally paints itself into a corner and ends abruptly without figuring out what it really wants to do.  In the end, this is an unfinished idea that feels like it was forced to happen.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this cast is semi-professional, they often come off as overly practiced in their line delivery and extremely matter-of-fact.  Emotions are not always believable, yet most of these performances are average.  But the bottom line is that there were a lot of elements in this film that feel like they’re not reaching their full potential.

Conclusion

We definitely different sorts of plots and ideas like this in Christian film, but the biggest temptation for sci-fi stories in general is to make the movie all about the centralized concept.  In doing this, dialogue and character development are left by the wayside in pursuit of the ‘big idea’.  Besides this, production and acting in this film, while passable, are simply underwhelming.  It might have been better to give a little more thought to this film before it went to distribution.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Persecuted [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was a troubled man who God used to punish the Philistines.  Samson was supposed to be set apart from his people, but he did not always obey the guidelines God laid out for him.  He became involved with women who dragged him down and eventually met his destruction at the hands of his enemies, but not before God gave him one last chance to deal a blow to the evil Philistine people.

 

Production Quality (-3 points)

This rendition of Samson is among the worst productions we have ever witnessed, rivaled only by Final: The Rapture, David and Goliath, and My Refuge.  It utilizes the worst possible sets, locations, and props that look like they are in somebody’s backyard using everyday items from Walmart.  The scenes are full of shadows and the worst lighting imaginable, a rare production fail we have only witnessed in this film.  The filters are randomly black and white, but then again, it could just be the medieval lighting.  Besides these blatantly obvious missteps, there are a myriad of other issues that time does not permit full discussion on, such as the blurry video quality and the extremely overdriven audio quality, which includes stupid sound effects.  It goes without saying that the editing is notorious as well.  In short, it’s unbelievable that this movie even exists in this form.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Since this ‘plot’ is framed as a children’s bedtime story, it’s very unusual to choose the story of Samson for this venue.  Parts of it obviously have to be whitewashed, but this story sometimes doesn’t care that it’s twisting or adding things to the historical account, while other times it makes a big deal about not doing this.  Regardless, the portrayal of Samson is bizarre, even though he was likely an eccentric person.  Yet nothing makes any sense in this film, and there are no attempts to make the characters seem even the least bit realistic.  The story jumps all over the place and pauses for important interludes such as power outages in the present-day storyline.  But in the end, this plot really has nothing to offer.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

As if the rest of this movie wasn’t bad enough, this is one of the worst casts we have ever witnessed, and is right on the level of Fathers, if not worse.  These cast members don’t appear to have any idea what they are doing and some of them seem like they are being taken advantage of.  There is nothing whatsoever positive to even mention about this entire film.

Conclusion

This film is so bad that even the reviewers at Christian Film Database, who rarely criticize anything, frown upon this version of the story of Samson.  It’s presented in the worst possible packaging you can ever imagine; you seriously have to try hard to make a production this bad.  Thus, this entire experience is either a total joke or an example of sheer incompetence.  There’s really nothing else to say.

 

Final Rating: -4 out of 10 points

 

Unwanted Presence (Movie Review)

Deliver us from stupid Christian horror films

Plot Summary

When Lindsay Parker moves to a new area for a new job, she looks forward to living in her newly-purchased home.  However, the longer she lives there, the more she realizes that evil is afoot in her home.  Things are moved on their own and she encounters strange noises and presences.  There is an ancient evil there she has no idea how to handle, so she turns to so-called paranormal ‘experts’ for help.  However, little does she know that only faith in God can save her now.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

So you set out to make a Christian horror film and you make sure to use the worst production quality possible.  Like many other independent Christian horror flicks, Unwanted Presence is an unwanted production.  Video quality is blurry and camera work is randomly shaky.  Lighting is also quite inconsistent.  Audio quality is terrible as it’s sometimes too loud but other times too quiet.  The soundtrack is also very cheesy and there are some screeching noises and ‘sound effects’ throughout.  Other special effects relating to the horror genre are also very stupid and juvenile.  Sets and locations are limited to basically one or two houses and the props are pedestrian.  Finally, there is no editing here as all possible content is included.  Basically, there’s  just nothing good to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Is there such a thing as a good Christian horror film?  They are always either extremely cheesy and obvious or too vague.  The portrayal of spiritual elements and ‘quirky’ characters in this movie is so laughable that one has to wonder if this is another one of those parody films.  But in all seriousness, the spiritual circumstances portrayed in this story are downright unrealistic and actually suggest some dangerous practices.  Besides this, there is barely enough plot content to sustain a full-length film and the subplots are completely disjointed.  There are too many sequences depicting activities of daily living or some zany character’s antics.  None of the characters are believable or accessible.  Whether or not this film is to be taken seriously, it’s still awful.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This cast oscillates from being very robotic, practiced, and overly enunciated to downright mumbling their lines.  Facial expressions are not an issue dealt with very often, but the ones used by this cast are extreme and atrocious.  Emotions are flat and empty.  Need we say anything else about this mess?

Conclusion

Spiritual activity in a house is not something to play around with.  If this were actually happening to someone (it’s not likely to happen in the fashion this movie suggests), then I would advise them to move out because a haunted location is not something you can just pray away, unless for some reason God has given you special authority over an area.  For this movie to suggest this is childish and dangerous.  Regardless, Christian horror is a lost and confused genre that should probably be put on hiatus until someone can come up with a real story that is actually funded.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings (Movie Review)

British Moses the Madman

Plot Summary

Moses, the son of Hebrew parents, was raised an Egyptian in a golden age of Egyptian culture.  But this culture was built on the backs of Moses’ people, who were enslaved by cruel Pharaohs.  Moses was always torn between two cultures, but he was forced to choose when he killed a fellow Egyptian and was driven out into the desert, on the run for his life.  After discovering and immersing himself in the Midianite culture, God called him back to Egypt to free His people, the Hebrews.  Though reluctant, Moses assumed his role as God’s deliverer.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Since this is a highly-funded Hollywood production, of course it’s going to be highly quality.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all highly professional, especially in the action scenes.  The soundtrack is also quite interesting and creative.  Sets, locations, and props are excellent and clearly had a lot of money spent on them, even though there are some obvious special effects.  The only other error to point out is the very poor editing that causes the story to jump all over the place, but that’s not only a production issue.  Overall, it would be nice if a Christian film maker had this much money and spent it this well (coughcouchTimothyCheycoughcough).

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Like many Hollywood forays into the Biblical market, Exodus: Gods and Kings is an epic failure.  Far too much time is spent on extra-Biblical content for no reason, as well as the dumbest head-scratching asides.  Historical truth is bent very freely as Moses is transformed into a sword-wielding maniac (with a British accent) and God is turned into a creepy, angry, and manipulative pre-adolescent boy who pours tea and stacks little metal blocks.  As time speeds by for the convenience of the runtime, characters are left in the wake and are made lifeless.  There’s no way to know what’s happening next as the audience is thrust through time without warning.  Iconic and historical sequences are framed in very odd and dark ways, thus making for a very strange and altered account of the story.  Many Christians complained about the cavaliered nature of this film, and they were actually justified.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although some attempts were made to make this cast culturally authentic, this rule mostly only pertains to the supporting cast and the extras.  The white guys of Egypt get to take over the lead roles of this cast.  However, a lot of money was put into historically authentic costuming, so that’s a plus.  However, too many lines from these ‘professional’ actors and actresses are mumbled, thus giving off the impression that they are phoning in their lines and were rather be somewhere else.  For authenticity’s sake, I wish they were.

Conclusion

I’ll take singing and disproportionately-shaped cartoon priests played by Steve Martin and Martin Short over this madness any day (nothing beats the Plagues sequence in that film either).  DreamWorks may not have nailed historical accuracy either (Moses was 80 when he went back to Egypt guys), but who can beat that soundtrack?  Maybe one day I’ll post a review of that animated film, but for now, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a total wreck and waste of Hollywood’s money and your time, KTHNXBYE.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Saul: The Journey to Damascus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders sought to stamp out all remaining traces of those who followed Him.  However, they were largely unsuccessful at stopping the spread of the Gospel right under their noses, so they employed a radical in their midst named Saul to lead the charge of ending the teachings of Jesus once and for all.  Though he had success at first, Saul slowly changed until he was shocked by his Damascus road experience and his life was completely turned upside down.  Then he proceeded to turn his world upside down, even as his former employers tried to kill him.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

John Patus, along with the Leif Films team, has had an up and down career mostly marked by apocalyptic failures (literally).  Yet he and the Leif Films team seem to work relatively well together in Biblical productions.  Although there is some randomly shaky camera work in this film, video quality is great and audio quality is professional, including an interesting soundtrack.  However, there are some odd and unnecessary special effects that put a damper on things.  The outdoor locations are quite good, even if the indoor sets and props need some work.  Finally, the editing of this film is inconsistent, although it’s not all bad.  In the end, this is an average production that definitely has room for improvement, yet it is a good effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Though there is unnecessary narration at first, it subsides and allows the story to unfold naturally.  Saul: The Journey to Damascus is actually an honest and accurate depiction of historical events that does not allow the extra-Biblical content to clutter things.  The Biblical characters are relatively well-developed and are real people that can be related to.  The main things that hold this plot back from being perfect are one too many slow and seemingly unnecessary scenes that put a drag on things.  Sometimes dialogue is good, but other time it just seems to fill time.  The ending is very effective and appropriate.  In the end, this is a very refreshing plot in a market that usually produces such poor storylines.  It gives great hope for the future of Biblical film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Acting is a mixed bag as the costuming is historically authentic, yet not many of the cast members are culturally accurate.  Some are British, while others are American or Canadian, but we know how difficult it is to cast Biblical films properly.  However, though this cast has plenty of talent and potential, some members need to coached a little better.  But overall, this is a mostly a job well done.

Conclusion

It’s refreshing to have a film that’s not across the board terrible, especially a Bible film.  It’s rare to have a film that has as many bright spots as this one, yet does not go all the way and reach Hall of Fame status.  Yet nonetheless, this is a film to be proud of and one to build off of.  It offers a Biblical film model that can be replicated and improved in the future.  Thus, it’s definitely worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Set Free [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Danielle relocates to Pittsburgh after her husband dies, she hopes to find a new life for her and her college-age son.  However, the more she tries to run from her past, the more it catches up with her and finds her.  She must have the courage to tell the truth to her son before it’s too late, but will her friends still accept her after she comes clean?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

As a first-time church-based production, funding was obviously limited for this film, which always has a trickle-down effect.  Video quality is fine, but it is the only bright spot in the production.  Camera work leaves something to be desired, as does audio quality and the soundtrack.  Sets and locations are quite limited, which is somewhat understandable, but props also suffer.  Finally, there is no editing work done in this film as scenes cut and transition often without warning and before they seem like they should be over.  In the end, this is another one of those productions that reflects a lack of proper application, regardless of funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What is this movie about?  Not even the plot summary above sums it up properly.  Nothing really happens in this odd story until the end when a head-scratching twist is revealed.  There are too many characters in this plot, which makes the constantly changing scenes even more confusing.  The audience never knows where the characters are at any given moment or how much time has actually passed since the last scene.  Thus, there is absolutely no continuity, flow, or purpose in this so-called storyline.  There are some realistic issues and circumstances presented, but all in the wrong ways.  In the end, the twist at the end is just too strange, even though some may be able to relate to it.  This entire story needed a total rewrite.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The acting in this film is actually not as bad as it could be, although there are plenty of amateurish moments.  Emotions are sometimes believable but line delivery is too inconsistent.  Yet these cast members show that they have some potential.

Conclusion

It seems like that this creative team meant well in making this film, even if the delivery is bit misguided.  It’s great to be honest and authentic with the struggles of Christians, but they need to be presented in a way that people can understand, without constant confusion as to what is happening.  Low-budget productions can be forgiven for a time, as long as the film making team can prove that they can craft a creative and unique plot with believable characters.  Otherwise, there is not much point in making a movie.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

The Current [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jake Larson witnesses a holdup in the city he and his family live in, his parents decide it’s time to move.  They take the chance to move to Minnesota to start a new business venture at a campground retreat.  Jake instantly hates the area and tries to make it miserable for everyone else, but when he befriends a local boy, he sees a whole new world of possibilities that he hadn’t considered before.  He also discovers that his faith in God is more than he thought it was.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a freshman production, The Current showcases great effort as it checks all of the appearance boxes.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on the standard they should be on.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however.  But the sets, locations, and props are appropriate and well-funded.  The biggest drawback to point out here is to the poor editing, but this is to be expected from a first-time effort.  Overall, this production is great for a new film maker, which shows potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this plot is trying to be different and to follow a non-typical plot line, it needs a bit of work.  There are too many awkward attempts at humor and dialogue is only there for the sake of having dialogue, not for the sake of the characters.  This hurts character development, as do the montages and juvenile conversations.  Though there is an interesting idea in here somewhere, there’s not enough content to sustain a feature length film.  Character-driven plots need deep characters, and this is something this story lacks greatly.  Also, the subplots need to be more complex in keeping with the non-traditional setup.  Overall, while there is some potential here, it needs quite a bit of development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a slightly amateurish cast, there are some rough performances therein.  Emotions are mostly over the top and there are some forced lines, but this is not to say that the cast doesn’t have their good moments.  There are plenty of reasons to believe in this cast—they just need further development and coaching.

Conclusion

Overall, The Current, though it has a good production, sports the typical marks of a first-time film.  Across the board, plots are usually the number one sticking point that holds Christian films back from being all that it could be.  Though this film does not borrow from conventional and stock plot lines, it still fails to develop the characters in such a way that the audience can relate to them and appreciate them as real people.  However, there is a lot of potential in this creative team and it will be interesting to see what they come up with next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

23 Blast (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Travis Freeman is a popular and upstanding high school football player who everyone in the small town of Corbin looks up to.  However, when tragedy strikes him and leaves him suddenly blind, he loses his purpose in life and retreats into seclusion.  He gives up on life and his parents are a loss as to what to do until his mobility coach breaks through his protective walls and lights a fire under him to get back up and find his new purpose in life.  With the high school football team struggling to find identity and success, the coach decides to put in Travis as center in the hopes that the whole team will rally around him and save their season.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

23 Blast has a respectable production with only small errors.  Video quality is professional and camera work is great, especially in the sports action scenes.  Audio quality is fine, even if the soundtrack is a bit pedestrian.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and authentic.  There is little negative to point out here except for some slightly poor editing that allows confusing leaps in time to hurt this film.  But otherwise, this is a professional effort that we don’t see enough of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though 23 Blast presents an interesting story that contains honest characters, it commits a huge error by crafting a very rapid progression of events that keeps this plot from being all that it could be.  Massive time jumps leave too many unanswered questions and stunt characters and plot development.  There are too many vague ideas that are not well explained and there are typical sports montages, along with other predictable sports elements.  There are some moments of dry comedy, but we would really have liked to get to know these characters better through deeper dialogue and more personality-forming circumstances.  It’s a shame this plot could have been better because it’s a good story.  Even so, it’s probably still worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is only semi-professional, they post some good performances.  Blind acting is difficult, yet one of the cast members pulls this off well.  Though sometimes lines are mumbled, emotions are mostly believable.  This is another respectable effort.

Conclusion

23 Blast is an enjoyable sports film that many audiences will find interesting and fun to watch.  Though there are some plot issues, the production and the acting are good enough to make this film fine on the surface.  It’s always frustrating to see a story that does not reach its full potential, but this movie shows that this creative team can do greater things in the future, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Redemption of the Commons (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Victor Clay tried to make it on his own in the business world, but he soon finds himself bankrupt, evicted, and living in his van.  With no more options on the table and not enough money, Victor decides to return to the Commons, where he grew up, in hopes of a new beginning.  But what he finds is a struggling community with no real options.  Will he be able to use what he has learned to help them all succeed?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Redemption of the Commons is another one of those slightly under-funded productions the raises the question of its own necessity.  While video quality and camera work are good, there is far too much dead air in this film, as well as inconsistent audio quality.  However, the soundtrack is at least interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are quite realistic, even if they are little uncreative.  As is common for this type of movie, there is no obvious editing as content is presented at face value.  In the end, this production is passable, but it could have been more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Redemption of the Commons is trying to inspire, but it does not inspire much.  As narration guides the story along, there are too many confusing subplots, empty sequences, and time-filling montages.  The plot follows a formulaic return-to-struggling-hometown-plotline in which the returning character is down on his luck in his ‘city’ life but then uses his ‘city skills’ to fix the problems of the small town.  But even this small town seems tiny—the premise and scope of this story is almost insignificant as it really only focuses on one neighborhood.  All the characters fit into predetermined molds and do nothing to hold the attention of the audience.  Dialogue is very flat and empty.  The storyline is extremely linear and leads to an inevitably ‘fixed’ and patched-up conclusion that really teaches nothing useful.  Unfortunately, there is really nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this cast is realistic and raw, it also includes some slight cultural stereotypes.  There is some good here, but there are too many lazy performances and uninteresting acting.  Emotional and line delivery don’t seem to be taken seriously enough.  This rounds out an overall disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Films like Redemption of the Commons likely mean well, but the idea is almost doomed from the start.  Is there really a market for this sort of predictable plot anymore?  As Christian film makers, we need to be reaching higher and aiming to be better than the mainstream market, rather than constantly letting the mainstream market dictate creativity.  We should be the leaders in creativity, and so far, we are unfortunately not.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Newton’s Grace {But Now I See} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John Newton was never a saint.  After living a wild lifestyle and trying to dodge the British Navy draft, he found himself on the high seas and eventually marooned as a slave on a strange island.  But his spirit never gave up and eventually, after coming to the end of himself, He was used of God to influence a powerful emancipation movement that changed the world forever.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though a lot of good effort is made in this film, it is clear that poor funding holds it back from being all that it could be.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality sometimes has an odd soft-light quality to it.  Flashbacks also have a weird quality to them.  Audio quality is also inconsistent as there are occasional loud outside sounds; the soundtrack is also generic.  The strongest point of this production is the mostly realistic and historically authentic sets, locations, and props, even though there are some obvious animation and some cheesy special effects combined with this.  The editing is okay, but there are some large time jumps.  Overall, it is clear that this creative team is honest in their work…they just needed some better funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The story of John Newton is definitely a great historical account to chronicle in film, and Newton’s Grace is an accurate retelling of the story.  However, this plot commits a common error of Biblical and historical stories in that it forgets that historical characters are real people that need character development.  Dialogue is a bit too formal and obligatory rather than dynamic, which leaves the characters unfinished.  As previously mentioned, the story does skip through time a little too fast and leaves the audience slightly confused.  This only leads to an anticlimactic end that does not drive the important message home enough.  In the end, while this film is a nice effort, if the story had been improved, it would have more impact.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This casting job is mostly authentic, which once again demonstrates good effort.  While there are some moments of overly theatrical and practiced acting, this section is the film’s strongest point, even though most the cast members are ‘amateurs’.  The acting caps off an overall commendable effort

Conclusion

If Newton’s Grace had been given a better budget, it could have made a strong case for Hall of Fame.  However, there are still concerns with the plot content, in that the historical characters do not feel like they are real.  When writing historical plots, writers shouldn’t forget to help their audiences access the characters more than the events depicted.  At the end of the day, audiences want to be able to connect with the movie’s characters more than they want to connect with the circumstances of the film.  There are always exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

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

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

In Gramps’ Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ty is a 65-year-old retired grandfather, and he is passionate about running.  He is also passionate about praying for his estranged daughter, whom he has not heard from in nearly twenty years.  Therefore, when he suddenly hears from her one day, he is overjoyed.  She reaches out to him for financial help, so he agrees to move in with her and her teenage children to help be a father figure for them.  However, they are skeptical of Ty at first; will they be able to come around and trust God?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Its small budget aside, In Gramps’ Shoes has an unacceptably poor production.  While video quality is fine, the camera work is too stationary, and audio quality is very static and low quality, especially with the terrible outside sounds.  The soundtrack is very generic and almost non-existent.  Further, the indoor sets are fairly cheap and limited, even though the outdoor locations are okay.  Finally, there is basically no editing present in this production.  Essentially, though this production was relatively simple, it’s still low quality for no good reason.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Basing a movie around an annoyingly perfect Christian protagonist who fixes everything he touches is never a winning formula for a movie, but that’s what In Gramps’ Shoes has done.  This is done through very obvious and forceful dialogue that shoves cheesy messaging down your throat, even though the storyline is very vague and meandering without any clear purpose or direction except to force good-ole-days fundamentalism on you.  The non-Christian characters are total strawmen, and the Christian message is very trite.  Too many sequences of this film are just characters sitting around talking about what their characters are supposed to represent rather than using the dialogue to develop the characters.  At that, this film is far too long to have no substantial content or ideas contained within it.  Thus, it’s basically a complete waste of time.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Full of typical Rossetti cast members, this group acts very robotic and overly practiced a majority of the time.  Some cast members are downright annoying, and there is a lot of poor teen acting throughout.  There are some slightly positive moments that keep this section from being zero, but on the whole, like the rest of this film, it’s all very low quality.

Conclusion

It seems like the only purpose of awful films like this one is to push an unpopular message or personal agenda.  We apparently needed another movie like this, so here it is.  In the more modern era of Christian entertainment, low-quality films like this one are unacceptable and mostly unwelcome, unless they have a really good plot to share, which is certainly not the case with this film.  Thus, In Gramps’ Shoes should be forgotten.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Walk By Faith [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Corey Montgomery must live every day with sickle cell anemia and even face stigma for it.  But he feels like he has a chance to live a normal life when he receives word of a possible but risky cure to his disease.  As he continues to hide his disease from some, he tries to convince his mother to try to cure, even though her friends are skeptical of it.  In the end, they will all have to learn to walk by faith.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

From start the finish, the production of Walk By Faith is generally horrible.  Video quality is underwhelming and camera work is very shaky.  A lot of the shots are very tight to hide a lack of extras and resources.  The audio is most often overdubbed due to lack of proper equipment—the scenes that due have live audio recording are full of outside sounds.  The soundtrack is also very loud and annoying.  Many of the scenes look like they only contain one character talking to the air, and the sets and locations therein are extremely limited.  As for the editing, the transitions are very choppy and there are quite a few continuity errors.  In summary, due to lack of funding, resources, and general expertise, this production contains so many errors that its creation must be questioned.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s very difficult to determine what message the writers of this film are trying to convey.  Sometimes they attempt to create a bizarre dichotomy of persecution between Christians who are for and against technology and medical advances.  They also sometimes advocate for ‘faith healing’ but other times they do not.  Thus, the story constantly sends mixed messages of what they actually believe and what they think other people should do in this situation.  The plot is almost non-existent as this is just a random collection of useless scenes that are constantly obsessed with talking about sickle-cell anemia without even trying to develop any of the characters.  Literally nothing happens throughout except for a bunch of unusual and hard-to-follow conversations that do nothing to build up the characters or the subplots.  Also, the ending makes no sense.  Basically, it’s very hard to grasp what the motivation behind making this film was.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As a small and inexperienced cast, these cast members were in severe need of coaching.  However, this was not present, thus causing line delivery to be very stilted and measured.  The overdubbed lines wreak havoc on everything.  Also, emotions are very awkward and ingenuine.  Unfortunately, from start to finish, this film is an absolute train wreck.

Conclusion

It’s one thing to want to create a movie depicting the struggles of people with chronic illnesses, but this is absolutely not the way.  No attempts were made to make these people seem remotely realistic or accessible.  What is the point to giving screen time to obscure and bizarre worldviews or toying with their ideas without actually advocating for them?  In the end, the funding for this film should have been saved for another effort because it was certainly wasted here.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

The Reconciler (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Turn Around Jake (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake has a dream job, a flashy fiancé, and everything he ever wanted, until one day when it all comes crashing down.  He is forced by his boss to take the fall for something illegal the company did and is left homeless and on the run from the law.  Jake has nowhere to turn, so he is forced to go back to the home he ran from—including the father and the girlfriend he left behind to pursue his dreams.  What he finds is that everything he was looking for was right in front of him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In the recent days of PureFlix, they have mastered the art of doing just enough to make a production look good on the surface.  Turn Around Jake is no exception to this rule.  Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all on par.  The soundtrack is one of those childish attempts at comedy tunes, but is mostly typical.  Sets and locations are fairly limited but are passable.  There is really no editing present as the storyline just follows a stereotypical progression.  In short, there is really nothing out of the ordinary to say about this production—it’s standard and a little above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Turn Around Jake is really nothing but a typical city-character-returns-to-struggling-hometown-and-fixes-things plots.  This is also mixed with a dose of a prodigal character plot.  Everything is there: the old girlfriend, the parental character, the city characters who try to pull him back, and the other rural caricatures.  Besides this word-out premise, there are a lot of absurdly childish characters, dialogue, and asides that really make no sense except that the writers tried to force a lot of comedy but failed miserably at it.  As the story rushes through a predictable progression that hits all the expected points, it peddles a very cheap Christian message that cannot be respected and feels like it was shoved in so PureFlix would carry it.  Essentially, there is nothing original, creative, or worthwhile here, thus warranting no points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While there is some good here, for the most part, this cast is over the top and awkward.  They are painfully lacking coaching as their attempts at being funny and witty completely fall flat.  As a bright spot, Jen Lilley continues to outshine otherwise laughable PureFlix casts.  It would be interesting to see her in a more upstanding film.

Conclusion

In the end, Turn Around Jake is business as usual for the inspirational film business.  Somewhere they keep a database of the very small and limited scope of reusable inspirational plots (we think Hallmark is the gatekeeper of such secrets) and every time a new film makers needs a story they can easily peddle to the masses, they pick one for themselves.  Among these plots are the closely related prodigal character plot, the hometown return plot, and the fish-out-of-water plot.  Turn Around Jake borrows elements from each of these conventions and mixes them into its own awkward comedy style.  Anything that involves all of these elements is probably doomed from the start.  How about trying something original?

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

A Place in the Heart [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Jason Burkey’s heart is broken by a girl he thought he would spend the rest of his life with, he gives up a basketball scholarship (as he is frequently reminded) and does the most natural thing anyone would do: run away to live on a remote island with his reclusive father, Kevin Sorbo.  But seven years later, Kevin Sorbo get tired of the island and decided to buy a sombrero and live the rest of his days on a boat.  So Jason Burkey is forced to go back to the hometown he bitterly left behind and finds everything very similar to the way he left it.  He’s still angry at Ben Davies and won’t talk to him, but he slowly finds that the plans he originally had may not have been the best for him—including that basketball scholarship!

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

On the surface, like many productions, A Place in the Heart seems fine.  Video quality and camera work are on par.  Sets, locations, and props are acceptable.  However, audio quality is inconsistent—sometimes too loud and other times too soft.  The soundtrack is regularly too loud and is at times juvenile.  As for editing, there are too many awkward transitions and there is too much choppy content as the film jumps from one thing to the next.  In the end, this production is just average, but it seems like it could have been much more than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Loosely based on The Great Gatsby, A Place in the Heart has a mild amount of complexity, yet this complexity is detracted from by a lot of amateur elements.  Narration used as a crutch to fill in the missing parts of the plot that are due to unnecessary time jumps, even though it is a stereotypical return-to-hometown style plot.  Parts of the premise are forced, unrealistic, and based too much on coincidences, while there are tons of manufactured dramas and childish sequences.  Dialogue is very stiff and stilted, including very unusual statements and asides, thus creating very awkward and wooden characters.  However, despite all of these issues, the second half of the film is slightly better than the first half, and contains a partially interesting message and point if you make it that far.  But in the end, the only reason for any plot twists is the fact that this plot is borrowed from other sources.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Any small amount of good that is accomplished in this film is totally derailed by this awful casting job.  Any cast that includes Jason Burkey, Kevin Sorbo, and Ben Davies without coaching is sure to be a disaster.  Every character is represented by a very awkward cast member that exhibits mumbled lines, fake emotions, and generally poor line delivery.  Unfortunately, this film shows that good intentions can be greatly hurt by poor casting.

Conclusion

Romance is a very difficult genre to write because it can very easily become a high-school-level of cheesy.  Regrettably, A Place in the Heart commits almost every common romance error all at once.  On top of this, the production isn’t what it should be and the casting is deplorable.  Movies like this are painful to see because they are so prominent in Christian film.  This is not what the face of Christian film should look like, as we have said time and again.  Yet hopefully, slowly, this trend is changing.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

A Calling of Courage (Movie Review)

Fauston’s brain machine

Plot Summary

Sergeant Major Kurt Roberts is called home from his duty when his teenage daughter, Zoey, is in a car accident that leaves her in a coma.  Since her prognosis is unknown, Zoey is allowed to go back home to stay until she comes out of her coma.  Under the care of her parents and an in-home nurse, Zoey lays in a coma for months.  Then her nurse decides to bring in an old friend to experiment with his new brain machine that can communicate with people who are in comas.  What could go wrong?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

It’s unbelievable that so-called productions like this are even funded.  Even so, what did they spend the money on, because there is no quality whatsoever here.  Camera work is very shaky, video quality is underwhelming, and lighting is poor in most scenes.  The sets are limited to basically one house and some outside scenes.  Audio quality is also inconsistent and the soundtrack is generic.  There is no editing as pretty much all of their empty ideas are included.  Essentially, this is not a production that needed any funding, especially since they wasted it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What is happening here?  The story starts as a half-baked idea about a girl laying around in a coma and three other characters caring about what happens to her and then suddenly transforms into an off-the-wall sci-fi concept, complete with Fauston’s special brain machine that can communicate with someone who’s in a coma.  Before this point, hardly anything happens and there is a lot of off-screen content.  The medical premise is strange and has a lot of plot holes.  Despite the fact that there are basically five characters in this plot, they are extremely empty and wooden.  Dialogue does nothing to develop them, even though they sit around talking all the time.  Basically, besides being bizarre and childish in an attempt to be creative, A Calling of Courage was barely justified as a plot as there is really no content to speak of here.  Thus, there is no point in any of this.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With basically five to seven cast members, one of which lays in a bed a majority of the film, there is not much to work with here.  The cast members are robotic and empty in their line delivery and in their emotions.  We can’t relate to them as real people.  Also, there is an odd portrayal of military service members.  In short, like the rest of this horrific mess, the acting has nothing to offer.

Conclusion

As we will see this week, the theme of Faith House Pictures is having the bare minimum resources required to slap together a half-baked movie just for the sake of making it.  Their model seems to be to acquire the funds necessary to have basically one set, less than ten cast members, and the cheapest possible production equipment, and combine this with a tiny plot idea that includes some eccentric element(s).  There is no justification for Faith House Pictures to exist, and yet they do.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Ashes of Eden (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Red is the troubled son of a local police officer, Dana, who doesn’t want to be associated with him anymore.  She is trying to raise her other son to stay out of trouble, unlike Red, who deals drugs and hangs out with gangs.  However, Dana’s own life is coming unglued as she tries to rediscover the faith she left behind.  As Red shifts from one high to the next in search of true purpose, will he ever find the Creator Who is calling out to him?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

To be billed as a high quality production, Ashes of Eden fails miserably.  It looks good on the surface with okay video quality, but other elements are highly unprofessional, such as the overdriven audio quality, the shaky camera work, and the inconsistent lighting.  However, the soundtrack is very intriguing and seems out of place in this train wreck.  Furthermore, the editing is very choppy as some scenes are cut very short and transitions are overall awkward and confusing.  In short, it seems like LightWorx Entertainment often gives themselves too much credit when it comes to production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Ashes of Eden is an unusual attempt to portray overly-realistic ‘street’ situations and focuses far too much on the down and dirty without offering much hope.  The storyline is very depressing and seemingly pointless as characters go from bad to worse, spew random and unnecessary profanity, and constantly shoot each other.  There is little redemption for these unfortunately realistic characters as the audience is left lost as to what they are supposed to learn.  Also, there are too many head-scratching scenes that have little point or purpose.  But despite all of this, the ending is interesting and shows a little bit of potential, even though it is too little too late and does not redeem the mess the viewer is forced to sit through to get to it.  Basically, Shane Hagedorn needs to learn how to be edgy without being just like your average trashy film.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This cast is trying to be something, but it just doesn’t work.  They post underwhelming performances when they seem like they could do better as they do not reach their full potential.  Emotions are very inconsistent and there is far too much yelling.  In the end, this section reflects the rest of the film.

Conclusion

We aren’t really sure what DJ Perry, Shane Hagedorn, and LightWorx are trying to do.  They have interesting ideas that are executed very poorly.  In their attempts to be artistic, they either lost the purpose or come off as very dark.  If you’re going to venture into edgy content, you have to do it tastefully and you have to provide real and meaningful redemption.  Otherwise, you’re not any better than some random PG-13 or R-rated film on video streaming services.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

 

Rumors of Wars (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Roxy, a college student, witnesses the slow but sure takeover of a one world government, she chronicles her thoughts, beliefs, and discoveries in a detailed journal that is eventually discovered by agents of the new world order.  Shaw 408, the agent who discovers the journal, is unsure of his role in the takeover regime and finds himself intrigued by the journal’s contents.  As Zurn, the leader of the new regime, tightens his grip on the world by ordering everyone to receive a microchip inserted under their skin, the world descends into chaos.  Who will survive?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

It’s clear that the Bearfruit Films team has a commitment to high quality productions, as their effort on Rumors of Wars shows in every production element.  Video and audio quality are error-free.  The original soundtrack is effective and appropriate.  The apocalyptic sets, locations and props are excellent.  The action-based camera work, which is often difficult to execute, is done quite well.  Finally, there are no obvious editing errors, thus making this a perfect production job.  This is rarely found, so we greatly anticipate Bearfruit’s future work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Rumors of Wars is a unique brand of apocalyptic storyline that actually doesn’t bite off more than it can chew by trying to cover tons of apocalyptic high points.  Instead, the story stays in a controlled atmosphere to build a good dystopian premise without jumping through time too quickly or zooming all over the world.  The mixing of the past and present subplots is interesting and is done fairly well.  However, this overall concept needs a little more explaining and development.  The characters are most okay, but some of the villains are cheesy.  Surprisingly, the antichrist character is actually different and creative.  Finally, Rumors of Wars does commit a key apocalyptic error in creating a passive-aggressive this-might-be-continued-someday ending.  But otherwise, there is a lot of potential here and room to grow.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Full of recognizable actors and actresses, this cast is a mixed bag.  Sometimes they are over the top and other times they are very much on point.  For example, this is not T. C. Stallings’ best performance, but Ben Davies is better than usual.  It’s different from cast member to cast member, thus making this an overall average performance.

Conclusion

This whole idea would work so much better either as a series of films or as a miniseries.  There are a lot of creative ideas and concepts hidden in here that require further development, which necessitates more time and money to do this.  We hope that one day this movie concept can be continued or remade in some fashion.  Regardless, Bearfruit Films has a talented team, so it will be interesting to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Good Book [2014] (Movie Review)

The Good Book (2014)

Plot Summary

The Bible is a powerful book that has been changing lives for centuries.  A group of people in a small town individually face struggles and circumstances that lead them searching for fresh help, the Word of God comes to them and helps them understand exactly what they need to do.  Each situation is difference and each struggle is unique, but the same Book shows each one the way to go.  This Good Book can do the same for your life.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As an ambitious silent film, The Good Book boasts many professional elements.  The fundamentals—camera work, video quality, and audio quality—are all excellent.  In a silent film, the soundtrack is key, and this one delivers.  An original instrumental soundtrack is very effective with this type of movie.  Sets and locations are also realistic and down to earth.  The only real problem to point out here is the editing, as it is hard to follow where the movie is going.  But overall, this is a high quality production that shows great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s not easy to integrate unrelated multiple storylines in a way that is engaging and makes sense.  However, The Good Book does this fairly well, even though we would have liked to see a little more plot continuity.  There is always going to be a ceiling for silent plots, as dialogue is absent and can only be implied.  Yet this story is understandable and powerful all the same.  The situations experienced by the characters are realistic and relatable.  The ending of the story is powerful and could almost be a movie in and of itself.  In the end, this is a great effort and shows true talent.  When Sharon Wilharm and her team make a non-silent story, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Silent acting is sometimes better for some cast members (coughcoughJennGotzoncoughcough).  With silent acting, coaching is always needed and thus, the cast members have to work to show emotion, and this usually pays off.   Though silent, what this cast is trying to convey is mostly understandable.  The main caveat here is that it seems like some cast members are trying too hard to express themselves.  But otherwise, this is a good effort.

Conclusion

The Mainstreet Productions team was wise to begin with silent films like this one and ProvidenceThe Good Book has a powerful and undeniable message and is certainly worth a watch.  We believe Wilharm and company are talented and have a lot of offer to Christian film, so it will be exciting to see what they do next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

 

Love Covers All (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Michael goes on a business trip and leaves his very pregnant wife at home, he never anticipated the series of events that would occur.  The business trip turns out to be something he never expected to happen and this is compounded when his wife goes into labor and begins having complications.  In route home, Michael becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere and feels like all hope is lost until he begins to remember the faith he has easily forgotten about.  Will he be able to reconcile his past hurts and help those around him before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though the budget and the team were limited in what they could do with this film, it’s obvious that they were trying to create a quality production with what they had available.  The highest marks go to the excellent video and audio quality.  Camera work is also highly professional and the soundtrack is adequate.  The sets and locations are limited, but they are utilized fairly well.  However, some scenes have poor lighting and there are generally not enough extras.  Yet the editing is fine and rounds out an overall above average production effort.  It’s clear that this team cares about what they are doing, so it will be interesting to see what they create in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The biggest downfall of Love Covers All is its simplistic storyline, though it does have a meaningful message.  The writers did the right thing with a limited and pedestrian storyline: craft authentic and believable characters built on great developing dialogue.  The dialogue is one of the main saving graces of this film—without it, the story would be nothing.  The life circumstances the characters experience are very realistic and accessible, and the Christian message hits home.  However, we would have liked the plot to be a little more complex and creative than this.  But still, this is a non-typical storyline that deserves recognition.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This is a very strong casting job that lifts the film away from total mediocrity.  With recognizable Christian actors and actresses, each character is cast very well.  There is clear acting coaching present here as they deliver their lines and emotions with only minor errors.  This is a job well done.

Conclusion

The Praise Pictures team, like many budding creative teams, it poised to take the next step.  They have the production and casting skills necessary to create a top film—now they just need a bigger budget and more complex plots.  As a side note, the Christian message of Love Covers All is quite profound and we hope it is transferred to another film.  In short, there is so much potential here that is just waiting to be brought out, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The War Within [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael Sinclair is a successful cartoonist with a beautiful family.  But one day, everything in his world comes crashing down, almost at once.  Tragedy hits his family, he is laid off from his job, and he and his wife begin having conflicts with each other.  Soon, Michael realizes that a war is waging inside of himself that he cannot fight on his own.  As he is torn between what he wants to do and what he knows if right, he will ultimately have to make a decision that will impact his marriage forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The War Within is very ambitious for a freshman independent film with a limited budget.  The production starts out raw with some overused special effects and choppy editing but gets better as the film progresses.  Sometimes the scenes are too ethereal, but this mostly improves in the middle.  This is also the case for camera work and video quality, as both of these improve as the movie goes on.  Audio quality is good, but sometimes the soundtrack is too loud.  Furthermore, sets, props, and special effects are used bravely and ambitiously.  They are designed fairly well and demonstrate great effort.  In short, this production is mostly limited by its financial constraints, which makes us wonder the heights this team could reach with better funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The War Within is a very creative plot idea based on innovating psychological concepts.  The plot unfolds very well as the real life and psychological subplots run alongside each other.  Good points are made and important issues are raised throughout the story.  The characters are authentic and believable, but dialogue ranges from effective to isolating.  Also, some plot elements are too abstract.  Yet the entire storyline is creative and makes more sense the long you watch it.  Like other parts of the film, this plot is very raw at first, but as it settles in, it becomes more meaningful and accessible.  In the end, this is a respectable effort and shows great potential for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is small and amateur, they mostly do the best they can with what they have.  Their performances are fairly respectable and professional.  However, there are some issues with over-the-top emotions throughout the keep this portion from being all that it could be.  In the end, like the rest of the film, the acting is good, but could be great.

Conclusion

The House of Grace team clearly has film making talent.  They aren’t afraid to try something different and seem to work hard to get it accomplished.  It seems like the only thing keeping them from reaching the next level is limited resources.  If they continue to showcase their talent, however, and work hard and commit their work to God, then they will receive the resources they need to make a truly great film.  We look forward to this happening.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

 

Return to the Hiding Place (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As the Nazis strengthened their grip on the Netherlands, the brave Ten Boom family and their accomplices—a secret army of teenagers and college students—worked tirelessly to undermine the evil work of the Third Reich.  From hiding Jews and sympathizers to tracking Nazi movements to distributing illegal material to springing prisoners, the ragtag force was constantly doing something to resist the evil.  But when they are stretched to their furthest point and feel like all hope is lost, they will have to dig deep and determine what really matters most.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

From start to finish, it is evident that the Spencer family and their team are dedicated to high quality productions.  It was ambitious of them to choose a difficult historical setting to portray, but they delivered exquisitely.  Each set, location, and prop is perfectly crafted for realism.  Video quality is excellent and camera work is effective in building suspense.  Audio quality has no flaws and the soundtrack is epic.  The only nitpick to raise here is some minor editing problems, probably due to the nature of this large-scale story.  But in the end, this is a top-notch production that will take them places in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

We always say that when it comes to movies, true stories are usually better than fiction.  Return the Hiding Place is an example of this.  Though the historical topic is very large and difficult to handle, it is handled almost perfectly.  Though there are many subplots, a common thread weaves them together to forge a true historical epic.  The characters are many, but they are believable and authentic.  Real, even hard, life is portrayed effectively.  The ending is powerful and drives the point home.  The biggest issue to raise here is the constant and seemingly unnecessary narration throughout.  While the dialogue therein is great, we would have liked to see more showing than telling.  But otherwise, this is a plot to behold and one you don’t want to miss out on.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much thought was put into making this cast historically and culturally authentic, from costuming to accents.  Each character is cast excellently.  Line delivery is very much on point and emotions are real and believable.  The only compliant to raise here is some minor accent issues, but it’s not enough to detract too much.  In short, like every aspect of this film, it’s a job well done.

Conclusion

Return to the Hiding Place receives half of an x-factor point for portraying an important issue by properly connecting with audiences in multiple ways.  This is the sort of film we should see over and over again produced from Christian entertainment.  It’s high quality, plot-heavy, and well-cast.  Money was clearly spent wisely to make this film the best it could be, and it paid off.  The Spencer family and their team are truly talented, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Summer Snow [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Dan Benson’s wife dies, he and his three kids are left trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how they are going to move on.  Julie is getting married soon and has big plans with her fiancé.  David is trying to find his way through teenage-hood without his father around.  Hallie is a young girl who touches everyone she meets in special ways.  Little do they know that their lives will soon be changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In Summer Snow, American Family Studios and team have shown a dedication to professional production quality.  Video quality and audio quality are clear and the soundtrack is fairly good.  Camera work is effective and sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  The only issues to raise here are some minor editing problems due to some missing plot pieces, but it’s not enough to totally derail this otherwise superb production.  We expect more greatness in the future from this team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Summer Snow is a raw character-driven plot about real people doing real things.  The dialogue is excellent and helps the viewer to really appreciate the struggles of the characters.  The plot is artistic and engaging and a good mix of comedy and hurt.  While we would have expected American Family Studios to awkwardly handle the social issues portrayed in this film, this was not the case.  The social issues are handled very well and framed in very interesting ways that make one think.  The biggest things holding this plot back are some minor plot holes and some parts that need to be expanded upon.  The end is also neat and tidy but still ambiguous at the same time.  In short, Jeremy and Kendra White need to be utilized more in writing inspirational plots because they have true talent that can be expanded upon.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is a flawless casting job with no errors.  Each person is cast exquisitely.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are excellent.  Rachel Eggleston is possibly the best child actress in a Christian film to date.  This is a job to be proud of.

Conclusion

Films like Summer Snow should be the standard for Christian movies.  It takes on family values and social issues in realistic ways without creating strawmen or making Christianity offensive.  It depicts real people in real life so that all audiences can access what they are going through.  While it’s not the most complex plot in the world, it gets the job done and deserves recognition for that.  We can’t wait to see more from Jeremy and Kendra White and American Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Creed of Gold (Movie Review)

The permeations are insanely complex

Plot Summary

Cody Williams was entrusted a secret by his parents, but it is a secret that could change the world forever.  When he moves to America to go to school, he feels that it is his destiny to use his secret—a list of the world’s most powerful elites—to make a difference and bring down the Federal Reserve.  With the help of God and some newfound friends, Cody sets out to do just that, but they encounter trouble along the way from those who want to silence them forever.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Creed of Gold is supposed to be some serious action adventure epic, but it’s just not.  Unfortunately, Crystal Creek Media still doesn’t have production quality down.  From poor lighting to dizzying camera angles to cheap special effects and CGI, this one is a real doozy.  With clearly no boom mic to speak of nearly all of the dialogue is voiced over in post, and it’s very obvious that they are voiceovers.  Any audio that is not voiced over is very poor, and the ‘action’ soundtrack is very loud and annoying.  In short, if you don’t have the resources to make a good action production, please don’t make one at all.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What is this plot?  From the confusing prologue to the silly unrealistic premise of a bunch of college students trying to hack the Federal Reserve, there is no sense or continuity here.  Random things just happen for no reason, subplots jump all over the place, and leaps in logic are constantly used to drive the plot.  Despite the constant in-your-face anti-Fed propaganda and many long and drawn out conversations about isolating topics, the plot is still extremely complicated and offers no explanation as to how characters go from point A to point B.  Due to the droning conversations, the characters are extremely one-dimensional and the villains are very cheesy.  Creed of Gold just feels like an idea that never figured out what it was supposed to be.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is nothing good to say here either.  The acting is very wooden and robotic.  Little emotion is demonstrated from this cast, and there are too many obviously fake accents.  I wish there was something good to say, but there’s just not.

Conclusion

We think the Crystal Creek Media team means well, but they have been short on delivery.  Since Creed of Gold is almost a National Treasure knockoff, we strongly suggest they reconsider what types of plots they are writing.  Also, until more resources are available for better production quality, action adventure films are probably not the way to go.  We believe they have potential, they just need some direction and better backing.  Perhaps they will improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

Paper Angels [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Lynn Brandt and her two children, Thomas and Sara, leave her alcoholic husband behind, they find themselves free from pain but low on funds.  As they struggle to make ends meet, Lynn realizes that she will not have enough money to give her kids Christmas gifts.  So when she hears about a charity that will help kids whose families cannot afford Christmas gifts, she jumps at the chance.  Kevin and Jenny Morrell cannot wait to have their first child, even as he tries to hide the fact that his business is struggling.  Jenny decides that they need to help someone else for Christmas and chooses two children to buy gifts for.  All of their lives intersect during the Christmas holiday in ways they never could have planned.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing about Up Entertainment is that they care about making respectable productions.  The camera work in Paper Angels is mostly good and the video quality is on par.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth—Christmas decorations are used wisely.  However, the audio quality could be better as it is sometimes inconsistent and the soundtrack is just stock.  The editing could also use a little improvement by cutting out some wasted filler scenes.  But overall, this is another good effort from Up.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is sort of a generic ‘good cause’ storyline, we strongly believe the writers’ hearts were in the right place.  The plot is a little safe and pedestrian, but the creative work of Travis Thrasher can be seen in the non-typical Christmas subplots.  The characters feel like realistic people in that we can connect with their circumstances and understand what they’re going through.  As previously mentioned, this holiday film is not ‘overly-Christmas’ but treats the situation normally.  While the plot is mostly down to earth, there are a few cheesy elements that feel forced and unnecessary.  The end is slightly predictable, but the thought does count.  Overall, this type of plot should be the baseline of Christian film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast has their good moments and bad moments.  Sometime they seem a little too wooden and insincere, while other times they are fine.  However, as a professional company, acting should be an area where Up has little to no problems as they should employ professional acting coaches.  We kind of expect better here.

Conclusion

If anything, Paper Angels highlights the need for more Travis Thrasher movies.  He’s got the resume and the content to be adapting his novels to screenplays, if anyone will have him.  He has ties to both PureFlix and Up, so rather than spin out another generic Christian movie plot, somebody needs to pick up one of Thrasher’s books and bring it to life.  Paper Angels is only the tip of the iceberg of what he has to offer.  Nevertheless, this film can also serve as an example for how simplistic Christian movies should be.  We would like to never see a film that goes below this threshold.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

By God’s Grace [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Chris Taylor’s parents and sister die in a car accident, he inherits his father’s business.  However, he is bitter, confused, and angry by the happenings and takes it out on his employees.  He is on the verge of destroying the company when his sister visits him in a dream and shows him the past, the present, and the possible future if he continues on his dangerous path.  Chris will have to decide if he’s going to return to what his parents taught him or keep going his own way.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Surprisingly, By God’s Grace is a very respectable production effort.  Though there is an amateurish opening sequence, the video quality is clear throughout and the camera work is quite professional.  Audio quality is also good, including an interesting non-typical soundtrack.  The sets and locations are realistic and believable—they also don’t overflow with Christmas decorations like some.  As for the editing, there are some unnecessary scenes and sequences, but it is overall above average.  In short, this production puts a lot of others to shame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

By God’s Grace is based on a typical A Christmas Carol premise, which has been done before, though not necessarily in this fashion.  While there are some slightly interesting psychological elements, the storyline tends to be little bit too magical.  There is also too much narration, although flashbacks are used very well.  As previously mentioned, there are bit too many slow scenes and some of the messaging is too obvious.  The obvious nature of the plot is also evident in some of the characters, although there are interesting character arcs.  Some dialogue is also too convenient, while other dialogue is good.  Overall, while the ending is predictable, the story finds a way to be meaningful.  It’s a mixed bag and is little bit too juvenile to reach Hall of Fame levels.

Acting Quality (2 points)

There are also some juvenile elements present in the casting.  Some line delivery is forced and some lines are too loud while others are too soft.  However, there are plenty of bright spots regardless.  Despite the errors, this is an overall above average cast.  Many cast members appear to be coached well.  This rounds out an overall above average effort in this film.

Conclusion

By God’s Grace definitely could have gone further than this.  Had the idea been slightly more creative, some of the dialogue rewritten, and some of the cast members coached better, this could have been Hall of Fame.  It’s a shame when movies fall short of greatness, but perhaps this creative team will learn from it and improve in the future.  They have great potential that needs to be cultivated.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points