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.

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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

 

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