Virtuous [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Simone Burner is attacked by the grandson of a powerful man, she is arrested for the grandson’s murder and mostly everybody in the city turns against her for no particular reason.  Therefore, she has to seek out the help of an estranged attorney who doesn’t really like her as her last resort.  Meanwhile, there are tons of others subplots are all going on at the same time as other random characters are briefly introduced who have very loose connections to the original point.  With so much going on, the question is not what will happen, but will anyone understand what is happening?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Virtuous has a professional and adequate production, as evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, acceptable audio quality, and an intriguing soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are professionally chosen and presented.  On the surface, it seems like Virtuous checked all the necessary boxes to receive a passing score.  However, the major detractor here is the horrific editing.  Somewhere in post-production, someone needed to sit down and have a serious talk with the JC Films team about whether or not it’s justified to have a 150 minute film that has next to no continuity.  This was the editor’s job; however, this was not done, and thus, it leaves a gaping hole in this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this perhaps the most convoluted and non-continuous plot in all of our viewing days.  With hundreds of subplots that have very little connection to one another, there is no way to make sense of what is going on as the story hops from one random thing to the next.  There’s all kinds of intrigue with this local judicial and law enforcement system and how corrupt businessmen are trying to control stuff, plus some stereotypical down-on-his-luck who takes on a seemingly impossible case that has some ties to a non-profit involving Erin Bethea, and this doesn’t even cover the random guy in the hospital and the nurse who takes care of him who also has a questionable position on the jury of the original trial.  This previous run-on sentence doesn’t even cover all the points Virtuous tries to expand on.  It’s like twelve different people all had ideas and decided to shove them all together into one bloated film.  With so much going on, there is no hope for character development as dialogue is stunted and all over the place.  The only characters that stand out are strawmen villains, unfortunately.  Yet despite all of this massive blending of concepts, there is a really interesting idea somewhere lost in the fray that would be better served in a miniseries format.  It’s disappointing to see good ideas go to such waste, especially when it’s like this.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With so many cast members, it’s really hard to keep up.  This is an unusually large cast for a Christian film, thus making the performances inconsistent and random.  Sometimes line delivery and emotional delivery are good, while other times they are not.  Overall, it comes out as fairly average.

Conclusion

When you’re in the process of making a film that is over two and a half hours and you actually have the budget to make a film this long, perhaps you need to stop and consider: with so much content, I should make this a series!  People love series: just look at the unexplainable success of When Calls the Heart.  Why not, instead of making a cumbersome film like this one, try something different and create an interesting genre-busting Christian series.  It would be a huge hit.  Yet once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

So Help Us God [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Eddy gets laid off from Fazzle Glue, whom he has worked for over twenty years, his self-parody gothic daughter decides that the only logical thing to do is to take Grandpa Will to the magical tree where he used to go with Eddy’s mother so Grandpa Will can bury her ashes under it.  Yeah, he carries her ashes around in an urn all the time.  So they decide to take Eddy’s wife, who somehow has Parkinson’s disease, and both annoying daughters along for an RV trip into the middle of nowhere.  And the youngest daughter brought her pet goat along, naturally.  Come along for a goofy ride you’ll never forget!

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Surprisingly, So Help Us God is an improvement from past Faith House productions, but that’s not really saying much.  At least video quality is clear and camera work is somewhat improved.  Audio quality is still a problem, however, and this film has the goofiest soundtrack ever.  Sets and locations are on the rise, if you count having a few buildings besides the RV.  Also, the flashbacks have an unusually different quality about them for some reason.  But as usual for Faith House, there is no editing present—all content is included, which isn’t much to begin with.  In the end, this is Faith House’s best production to date, which really shows how much of a mess they are.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Similarly, this is the most complex plot Faith House has to offer, but once again, this is not saying much, as it still makes no sense.  The entirety of the plot can be found in the trailer.  Most of the comedy is very corny and forced, and thus, it falls flat.  This story is funny for all the wrong reasons.  The premise and the characters therein are highly eccentric, seemingly on purpose.  It wastes tons of time on silly asides and typical activities of daily living, not to mention long and confusing flashbacks that only convolute things.  Finally, everything is easily and juvenilely fixed in the end, leaving the audience feeling like they just wasted their time.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Besides some typical Faith House cast members, we see a few additions in So Help Us God, even though they are all overall wacky and self-parody.  Though they can sometimes be funny and entertaining, there is too much shouting and mumbling.  Emotions seem childish.  Basically, another standard Faith House acting job.

Conclusion

This title is highly apropos as we conclude our Faith House binge.  Faith House certainly needs help from a divine source if they are going to continue to roll out silly and nonsensical films.  For that matter, the whole of Christian entertainment needs divine intervention if these are things that are being made and are being marketed as accessible Christian film.  What are non-Christians and sensible Christians supposed to think of this childishness?  There is such a thing as a good comedy, and there’s also unfortunately such a thing as an unintentional comedy.  Unfortunately, So Help Us God is more of the latter.  But at least we’re done with Faith House…for now…

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Desert Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

A family that no longer spends very much time together decides to go on a long-planned desert hike to try to mend what is broken.  The father doesn’t take things seriously at first, but as things begin to go from bad to worse, he sees the cost of his actions.  His wife falls unconscious after falling off of a cliff face, his daughter sustains a leg injury, and he sustains multiple life-threatening injuries.  As they limp around the desert in search of food, water, and help, will they ever be saved?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

In an attempt to shoot and outdoor adventure, some elements of the production of Desert Redemption are not half bad, such as the video quality and the realistic sets.  Lighting is improved outside, but there are still a myriad of issues that detract from these small positives.  Camera work is very shaky and audio quality is often so bad that the characters cannot be understood.  While the soundtrack is interesting, it is often too loud and out of place.  There are also a lot of loud outdoor noises.  The runtime is dominated by scenery footage, and thus, no editing is present.  Essentially, this is more of an effort than usual for Faith House, but still not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Once again, there is barely any plot to speak of in this film.  Three characters go into the desert and start getting tons of injuries.  From there, it’s just one manufactured drama after another with a dose of juvenile Christianity.  Everything bad happens at once and in a laughable fashion.  It really just boils down to a predictable survival plot, just done very poorly.  Though there are only three main characters in this film, they do not develop into realistic people but instead remain wooden due to lack of substantial dialogue.  Instead, there are too many sequences of characters laying around grunting and breathing hard.  Then, when the time runs out, everything gets fixed through narration.  As if it couldn’t get any worse, this is probably Faith House’s thinnest plot to date.  So why are they still writing plots?

Acting Quality (0 points)

In perhaps the smallest cast ever, the three main cast members are very juvenile and amateurish.  They have no clear direction in their acting as they awkwardly force emotions and lines.  They also demonstrate some of the most laughable injury acting we have ever witnessed.  If they mean well, which we are sure they do, it’s unfortunate that they are portrayed in this fashion.

Conclusion

We ask ourselves time and again: how can a studio this juvenile and unprofessional continually fund feature-length films?  How were A Calling of Courage, A Box of Faith, and this one not forced to be short films?  They barely have enough plot content to be thirty minutes long without all the wasted footage and activities of daily living.  What has happened in the world of Christian film to allow films such as these to exist?  Somebody has some serious soul searching to do.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 point

 

A Box of Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Dior’s father is framed and arrested for something he did not do, she has no choice but to abandon the motel room they were living in so that she can hide from the social worker who wants to help her.  Because otherwise, this movie wouldn’t have a plot.  As Dior walks from one park bench to another and one street to another, her social worker does crossword puzzles and randomly drives around hoping to find her.  Dior must live in a storage unit during all of this and wait for the plot to come to an end so everything can be fixed.  The question is not will things for resolved, but will you stick around for them to be resolved?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The one thing we can say for this half-baked production is that it has clear video quality.  Otherwise, there are no positive aspects.  Camera work is very shaky and lighting is very inconsistent.  Audio quality is very poor, including loud outside sounds and an annoying soundtrack.  Sets and locations are very limited, as usual for Faith House.  Once again, there is no editing present as every possible amount of content is squeezed out of this non-film.  Essentially, A Box of Faith is another lame excuse for a production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With barely any plot content to work with whatsoever and a completely aimless story, what is anyone supposed to learn from this.  Due to the silly dialogue and a shallow and trumped-up premise, it’s very hard for the audience to connect with the struggles of the characters.  They just wander around the whole time and do absolutely nothing of note.  With so few characters, we should know a lot more about them as they stand around and talk, but we don’t.  The plot overall is too trite and unserious and there is thus no real justification for its creation.  The Faith House team needs to take a serious look at the content they are spitting out.  Constantly generating half-wit ideas just for the sake of creating more movies is a blight on Christian film.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

While there is some good here, A Box of Faith provides yet another empty and robotic cast.  We’re sure these people mean well, but they have absolutely no coaching.  Just stiffly sitting there or standing there saying lines doesn’t cut it.  There is no emotion exhibited at all.  But this is just another day at Faith House.

Conclusion

Complex story ideas are hard to come by, but extremely limited yet forced plots like this one should be a thing of the past.  There is very little potential and\or purpose to movies like A Box of Faith.  Faith House movies are a total embarrassment to Christian film, and we hope the day comes that movies like it are no longer so common place.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Unlimited [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When an old friend of his reaches out to him to give him a second chance, Simon takes the opportunity to cross the south border into Mexico, but soon finds himself on the run from a drug cartel.  With his passport stolen, Simon is forced to take refuge in a local orphanage, where he learns of his friend’s untimely death.  Strange things are happening around him and the only way he can solve the mystery is to face dark past he is running from.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that a lot of thought and time was put into making the production of Unlimited.  Shot on an authentic location with realistic sets, this film is very quality.  Video quality is crisp, and audio quality is flawless, including an excellent culturally relevant soundtrack.  However, there is some out-of-place shaky camera work that makes no sense, considering the quality of the rest of the production.  The editing is error-free, thus making this a top-notch production that should be commonplace in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Unlimited is based on creative ideas and concepts, the plot itself is a fairly typical and formulaic suspense storyline.  The characters are fairly realistic, but they tend to fit too easily into predictable predetermined molds.  However, though the progression is predictable, the story is still crafted well and is very engaging.  There is a lot of professionalism here and with this much positive, we really wish the plot scope wasn’t so limited by mediocrity.  There is so much to offer here, yet we feel that full potential was unfortunately not reached.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Unlimited is cast very well with highly professional cast members.  However, just because they have ‘big names’ like Robert Amaya and Fred Thompson, they do not neglect acting coaching, which has a clear presence.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are on point.  The cast is also culturally authentic.  There are no errors here.

Conclusion

It’s a shame that Unlimited couldn’t take that next small step forward onto the Hall of Fame, but this is still an enjoyable movie nonetheless.  While the plot is not super creative, it’s in a different genre than usual and shows just how much we need a breath of fresh air like this in Christian film.  We can’t wait to see more from Gundersen Entertainment and others that have unique ideas like this.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Movies That Are So Bad They’re Not Even Worth Our Time, Part 4 (MTASBTNEWOT 4)

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.

 

Living Water [2006]

From the obnoxious blaring harpsicord soundtrack to the generally terrible production quality, Living Water is possibly one of the worst films on record.  Based entirely off of borderline offensive racial stereotypes, there is really no pot here to speak of except for a save the church concept and a bunch of heavy-handed radio preaching that drives the so-called story.  As the movie goes from one juvenile drama to the next, the viewer (if they last through it) finds themselves either laughing or crying from embarrassment.  A word of advice: steer clear of this one unless you’re really bored.

 

Running [2015]

Made by a ministry of some sort, it’s unclear whether or not the creation of this film was justified.  The production money was spent on the wrong things, such as fancy vehicles, instead of spending it on practical things, such as better audio and video equipment.  The story is very thin and empty—it seems like nothing is really happening except characters pretending like they’re doing stuff.  Finally, the acting is deplorable, rounding out a very uninspiring movie you probably won’t ever get around to watching.

 

Only Once [1998]

Only watch this barely-one-hour Mormon movie if you like to laugh at extremely awkward and wooden teenage cast members trying to convey an otherwise important message.  There is an unbelievable amount of silence in this film as mindless and empty characters just stare at each other and as useless montages go by.  This story is overall childish and overly simplistic.  There is no way to understand the end, much less what we’re really supposed to get out of this.  But if you want a laugh, have a go at it.

 

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

The Cokeville Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a madman and his wife entered a small Wyoming elementary school and took everyone inside hostage for an astronomical ransom, it seemed like all hope was lost.  As the hours ticked by and tensions rose, no one could have predicted how it all would end.  The crisis escalated and a seeming tragedy struck, but no one in Cokeville was prepared for what happened next.  The children of the school claimed a miracle had occurred, but many were skeptical at first—until they saw the evidence for themselves that God was at work.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Cokeville Miracle is a raw production effort that starts out, unfortunately, very cheap-looking and drab.  This mostly pertains to some poorly lit scenes, some grainy video quality, and some poor special effects.  However, as the movie goes on, all production elements improve.  It’s clear that this team stayed within their means and did not over-exhaust their resources.  By the second half of the film, there are virtually no production errors, making this a very unique production.  Overall, it comes out as average, and since the production does get better as it goes, the film is saved from total disappointment.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

We always say you can never go wrong depicting real life on the big screen, as long as it’s depicted properly.  The story of the miracles at the Cokeville Elementary School in 1986 is one that is worth portraying, but also difficult to portray since such a portrayal could easily become sensational and unrealistic.  However, this was not the case with this film.  Each character is realistic and believable—even the villains—and dialogue is effective in building the characters.  This type of story is not easy to craft properly, yet The Cokeville Miracle unfolds exquisitely and makes you stay until the very end.  Historical authenticity is preserved as this story makes everyone, even skeptics, think about the nature of modern day miracles.  In short, this is a film well-worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For an ‘amateur’ cast with not much notoriety, the cast of this film gave a slam dunk performance.  There are no acting errors here, even where there were potential pitfalls, such as villain acting and child acting.  Care was taken to preserve the original people who experienced this crisis firsthand.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is effective.  This rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

While we would have loved to see higher production quality, this team did everything they could do with what they had, and that’s really all we ask of film makers.  Whatever God has given you, do the best you can with it.  The Cokeville Miracle proves you don’t need a big budget or big names to make a great movie.  All you need is a good story and the care enough to tell it properly.  ‘Little’ films like this one put ‘big’ ones to shame and demonstrate true greatness.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

77 Chances (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Shaw is a photographer who always wants to capture the right moment.  But what happens when the same moment repeats over and over again?  After meeting Mackenna, his life is never the same as the day of their meeting continues to repeat itself.  Jason tries to change the fate he is left with, but is unsuccessful.  Will he be able to come to grips with the truth God is trying to tell him before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

EchoLight Studios and Liberty University clearly have the resources and know-how for crafting a top level production.  This is evident in the professional camera work, video quality, sets, and locations of 77 Chances.  However, there are some minor audio issues, such as an overbearing soundtrack.  Also, editing issues plague this movie as there is too much wasted time and incongruence.  But otherwise, this production is above average—we just feel that it could have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At this point, it’s likely that the Groundhog Day plot concept is a little worn out.  There is little that can be done with this idea, and the story only ends up being filled with montages and copied or varied scenes.  Therein, there is too much ‘silent’ dialogue covered up with music, which stunts the development of the few characters there are.  Nevertheless, some of the ideas and psychological elements presented in 77 Chances are interesting and intriguing, albeit sometimes too mystifying and confusing.  After establishing the repeating day and subsequently playing around with it for about an hour, a unique and creative concept is introduced with about ten minutes left to go.  Due to time constraints, this idea is not fully developed or completed, thus leaving the audience with a half-hearted effort.  This is frustrating to watch because there is actually a lot of potential here.  But alas, we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Erin Bethea, Andrew Cheney, and Rachel Hendrix have all had their better movies, but this is not one of them.  They come off as stiff, awkward, and flat.  Scotty Curlee and Stephan Schultze are supposed to be Kendrick prodigies, yet their acting coaching comes up short here.  Though not all is bad, this is another disappointing element.

Conclusion

We know that EchoLight has the ability to create a quality film, but the Liberty University team has even more potential they are sitting on that they are not properly using.  Tracy Trost, Curlee, and Schultze all have the training and the talent necessary to take the next step into greatness, but they are stuck in mediocrity.  As a side note, we would like to see this movie have a remake, if possible.  The bottom line is that this creative team has more resources than many film makers dream of—they just need to use them properly.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Fourth World [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Hudson is a young film maker in search of his big break as he tries to find a big story to film on the streets of Thailand.  Then he accidentally stumbles upon an underground world of kids struggling to survive on the streets and to stay safe from the dark world of child trafficking.  Hudson decides to film them for personal gain but soon finds that they are changing him.  As he begins to care more and more, he becomes determined to do more to change their world.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Shot on authentic international locations, Fourth World has an air of professionalism and tough realism about it.  Video quality is clear, as is the audio quality.  The soundtrack is effective.  However, the docu-drama\reality show premise is used to take some production shortcuts, such as shaky camera work and inconsistent lighting.  However, the editing is mostly average with a few minor issues.  Overall, this is a good start for production, especially considering the international sets and locations.  It will be interesting to see what this team does in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Fourth World is based on a good idea and built on a realistic premise that highlights important issues that need to be highlighted in film.  There is no doubt that this film supports a very worthy cause, but the story leaves something to be desired as it seems to lack general focus.  The storyline is somewhat simplistic and the characters need further deepening with more meaningful dialogue.  There is also too much unnecessary narration that could have been used as transformative dialogue.  However, the ending is touching and includes a slight twist.  In the end, this is an adequate call to action, but we feel that the impact would have been deeper with a more complex plot and characters.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While there are fairly good performances from most of the cast members, this is unfortunately not Andrew Cheney’s best performance.  A lot of the child actors and actresses are good and make this section overall above average.  Also, care is given to make this cast culturally authentic.  In short, this is one of the movie’s strongest points.

Conclusion

Human trafficking, especially child trafficking, is a serious issue that must be spoken about in the context of film, especially Christian film.  Non-profits like Bring Me Hope are no doubt leading the way in ending this horrible practice.  We know that this was a first time around film for them and we applaud them for taking a step of faith and making this.  Fourth World is a great start and is something to build off of.  We look forward to whatever else they have planned for the future.

 

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

 

Polycarp: Destroyer of Gods (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Polycarp was a great Christian who led the church at Smyrna in the second century just as the Roman Empire was becoming more radicalized and hostile towards Christians.  When a couple in his church rescues a young slave girl named Anna, Polycarp takes a personal interest in her, as he was also rescued as a slave boy.  As times become tumultuous for Christians, Polycarp seeks to lead his flock to always be strong in the Lord and to stand firm in the day of trouble.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It is evident that the Henline Productions team cares about historical authenticity, as a great amount of time, effort, and resources were put into the realistic sets and props of Polycarp.  This is difficult for an independent film to pull off, yet they did it anyway.  Camera work is highly effective and professional.  Video and audio quality are also top-notch.  However, the soundtrack needs an upgrade, as it rarely can be heard.  Also, the editing needs to be worked on, since some scenes drag on too long and there are too many seemingly unnecessary or repetitive sequences.  But in the end, this is an excellent place to begin for a freshman production and gives great hope for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The plot of Polycarp starts out with an excellent historical idea, however, it wastes too much time getting to the point.  The first half struggles to hold the attention and we fear many viewers will give up on it halfway through.  However, once the second half of the movie begins, the real meat of the story is finally uncovered and things become interesting.  The characters are pretty good throughout, especially at the end, but we would have liked to see more development and deepening.  There is plenty of interesting and meaningful dialogue, but not all of it builds the characters as it should.  But as everything progresses, the ending sequences are very effective and drive the point home well—we hope the audience will stay until the end, because it is worth it.  In the end, though we can’t help but think what could have been, this is a formidable effort and shows potential for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is a largely amateur cast, most of the cast members deliver solid performances with few errors to speak of.  Line delivery is on point and emotions are believable.  The main thing that drags this score down is very over-the-top acting by one or two cast members that perhaps took their parts too seriously.  But overall, like the rest of this film, this is an excellent start to a budding career.

Conclusion

The story of Polycarp the bishop and martyr is a long and complex one, and the Henline team obviously did not have the resources to fully capture it in an epic, but it still may be worth doing in the future.  There are so many things the Henline team can do with more resources, so we pray that they are provided with what they need to take that next step into greatness.  With slight production upgrades, a more complex plot, and slightly better acting coaching, they are going to go places.  We know they have the ability to do so and can’t wait to see what comes next from their studio.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 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

 

2015 Box Office Revolution Awards

Every year, movies are released and cast members show off their talents.  Writers and directors showcase their creativity.  Films are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others.  At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those movie makers and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.

 

Reader’s Choice Movie of the Year: War Room

Runners-up: Woodlawn, Beyond the Mask, Old-Fashioned

 

Staff Choice Movie of the Year: Woodlawn

Runners-up: War Room, Old-Fashioned, Beyond the Mask

 

Staff Choice Actor of the Year: Caleb Castille (Woodlawn)

Runners-up: T. C. Stallings (War Room), Sean Astin (Woodlawn), Andrew Cheney (Beyond the Mask), Rik Swartzwelder (Old-Fashioned), Nic Bishop (Woodlawn)

 

Staff Choice Actress of the Year: Priscilla Shirer (War Room)

Runners-up: Karen Abercrombie (War Room), Kara Killmer (Beyond the Mask), Elizabeth Roberts (Old-Fashioned)

 

Staff Choice Directors of the Year: Andrew Erwin\Jon Erwin (Woodlawn)

Runners-up: Chad Burns (Beyond the Mask), Rik Swartzwelder (Old-Fashioned), Alex Kendrick (War Room)

 

Staff Choice Writers of the Year: Paul McCusker\Stephen Kendrick\Brennon Smith\Aaron Burns\Chad Burns (Beyond the Mask)

Runners-up: Rik Swartzwelder (Old-Fashioned), Jon Erwin\Todd Geralds\Quinton Peeples\Mark Schlabach (Woodlawn), Alex Kendrick\Stephen Kendrick (War Room)

 

Staff Choice Soundtrack of the Year: Woodlawn

Runners-up: War Room, Old-Fashioned, Beyond the Mask

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

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.  For now, here’s a collection of Christmas films that fall into this category.

 

It’s very hard to explain

Beverly Hills Christmas

This is barely a Christmas movie at all except that it’s based on the typically bizarre magic premise you find in many knockoff holiday films.  Dean Cain and a Meryl Streep lookalike star in this movie that’s filled with wacko works-based theology and abstract vague fantasy lingo and concepts.  Apparently some dead woman has to get into heaven by making her spoiled brat daughter act good, so she decides to bring a nice kid back to life by shooting lightning into his skull even though Dean Cain told her not to touch people.  It’s a shame this off-the-wall movie wasted a decent character arc and a remotely interesting idea.

 

Look, a rose!

Natalie’s Rose

Also barely a Christmas film (or a Christian one), this time about a horse named—guess what—Rose.  Basically, this movie wastes an hour of your time on farm footage and sitting around talking before coming to the shocking conclusion: the horse is a “special” horse that turns into a rose.  [ENTER GIANT FACEPALM HERE].  No joke.  The production is terrible and most people won’t even make through the entire slogfest to see the main character having hallucinations about glowing horseback riders at night.  How this garbage gets made is beyond us.

 

DAX!

The Heart of Christmas

When you use kids with cancer as props and parade vain Christian actors and actresses in front of the camera in some kind of lame attempt to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in a shameless commercial soliciting you for money, we don’t have much respect for you.  Sure, St’ Jude’s does some great things and helps families in need, but can’t we just have a normal movie without all the advertising, drama, and pageantry?  They didn’t even try to make this true story a realistic plot.  It’s really shameful when you have characters telling you to make donations.

Gallows Road (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When his wife and kids are tragically murdered by local racists, Bob Collins decides that God doesn’t care about him anymore and gives up on his faith.  His brother and family continue to try to get through to him, but all to no avail.  Jake Knight was there the night of the murders and feels guilty about the part he played, even though the corrupt sheriff has pardoned them all.  All of their lives must intersect as they come to grips with the harsh realities of life—and the power of forgiveness and redemption.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Gallows Road definitely demonstrated effort in production.  The video quality is good throughout and the camera work is above average.  Audio quality is fairly good and the soundtrack is interesting enough.  Sets and locations are slightly limited and there are some inconsistencies throughout.  As with most independent productions, the biggest problem relates to the lack of editing.  The plot meanders too much with no direction.  Scenes are disjointed and appear to be unrelated to each other.  This will be discussed in depth next.  Basically, the tools are here to make this a great production, but they are not used, thus causing it to be stuck at average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In an endeavor to be too big of a plot, Gallows Road falls flat.  As previously mentioned, there are too many subplots that have very loose connections to each other.  There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with the subplots themselves, but they need to be synthesized and fleshed out better than they are.  There are actually quite a few profound ideas hidden among this frustrating plotline, but they easily get lost.  The characters of these subplots are intriguing, but we hardly have a chance to get to know any of them as the story skips around so much.  The premise seems a little bit thin at times and needs to be bigger and bolder.  The message of Gallows Road is actually quite powerful, presenting important issues such as broken families, bitterness, racism, and addiction.  Yet these themes needed better packaging in order to drive their point home.  The ending is slightly interesting, but again, it needed more thought put into it.  To sum things up, Gallows Road is sitting on a gold mine of content that failed to be mined.  Some parts are enjoyable, while the rest of them are extremely frustrating.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite having the creepiest cast member of all Christian film, the acting of Gallows Road is the strongest part of the film.  A few other cast members definitely need to be replaced, but otherwise, there is a lot of positive here.  Emotions are mostly believable and line delivery is effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate.  In short, this is a great acting performance that should be common place in Christian film.

Conclusion

The trailer for Gallows Road is ten times better than the film.  It also paints a deceiving picture of what the plot is actually about.  Nonetheless, it had the potential to become a major small town epic by tackling local racism, prejudice, and addiction at the gritty level.  But alas, it became another film that fell short of its full potential.  It seems like this idea should have been put on hold if the resources were not available to make it as big as it should have been.  The subplots need expanding and synthesizing and the overall feel of the movie needs to be more epic.  If there’s such a thing as Christian movie remakes, please remake this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Captive [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a struggling meth addict, Ashley Smith is trying to get her life together so that she can regain custody of her young daughter.  She is intent on starting a new life for herself, but she is still wrestling with the demons of her past.  Her life is turned upside down one night when she is taken hostage by a madman who has been making his way across the state of Georgia, leaving murder victims in his wake.  Ashley is sure her life is over, until she begins to see a new side to the killer.  In the span of a tense 12 hours, Ashley finds she has more in common with him than she previously thought and tries to teach him (while teaching herself) that his life has more meaning than just crime.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Plenty of money was dedicated to this ‘pop-up’ film, and it mostly pays off.  The sets, locations, and props are very realistic and capture the true story well.  The soundtrack is highly effective for the suspense genre and is not typical of Christian film.  However, there are some minor issues that keep this movie from being all that it could be.  For one, the use of the suspenseful shaky cam idea is a bit overused.  While the video quality and lighting are mostly good, there are some scenes where it is not.  Finally, there are too many dead scenes where nothing is accomplished except for staring.  Overall, this is a pretty good production that puts a lot of bad movies to shame, but with the money and backing it had, it should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When in doubt about writing a plot, use a true story.  It’s almost always better to portray real events than fictional ones, unless you’re really good at writing complex plots.  Real life is far more complex than fiction.  Captive meaningfully portrays real events and real struggles people go through.  Uncomfortable realities such as drug addiction and recidivism are handled properly.  The characters are developed fairly well through above-average dialogue, but we would have liked to see more here.  Some of the characters need more obvious backstories that perhaps could have been portrayed through flashbacks.  The idea behind this plot seems stretched out a little too long and but the end, the storyline has overstayed its welcome.  For this story to be as long as it was and fully interesting the entire time, it needed deeper content.  But as it is, this is an enjoyable plot that is sure to leave its mark.

Acting Quality (3 points)

In a change from most Christian films, the acting is easily this film’s strongest aspect.  Emotions are portrayed extremely well.  Cast members showcase diverse acting skills such as effectively pretending to be high.  Mental illness is portrayed poignantly.  Intense and suspenseful scenes are played professionally.  This is a casting and acting job to be proud of and one that can serve as a textbook example of how to act.

Conclusion

Like it’s always good to see real life portrayed in film, it’s also great when a Christian movie finally breaks into a new genre.  Suspense is underused in Christian movies and is hardly done well.  Captive makes a statement and will always serve as an example to follow, but we always think of what could have been.  This creation was so close to the Hall of Fame and we hate to see potential go to waste.  But still, many will find enjoyment in this film as it effectively delivers its intended message.  We are intrigued to see if this team will produce anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Catching Faith {The Elijah Project} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On the surface, the Taylors are the perfect white suburban family.  The twins Beau and Ravyn are getting ready to go to college.  John is a successful businessman.  Alexa is popular with the women of the town.  Beau is a high school football star and Ravyn is one of the smartest students.  But all is not right.  After one evening of tragedy and bad choices, Alexa is forced to look at who she has become and who her family has become.  She decides to attend a women’s group in the hopes of discovering some meaning, but she finds herself faced with her own issues.  Only when she is ready to be honest with herself and her family will she start to see real change.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Catching Faith is clearly an underfunded production, which is not entirely the creators’ fault.  The production quality is inconsistent on all fronts, with sometimes good video quality, and other times not good.  The camera work is okay throughout, though action scenes not as professional as they could be.  Audio quality is also inconsistent—some lines require captioning to be heard.  Props are used fairly well throughout and sets and locations are at least average.  Unfortunately, the editing is all over the field, sometimes conveying a thought-provoking film and other times leaving the audience confused as to what is happening.  In short, this is a good effort as the producers appeared to do the best they could with what they had.  With a little more funding, this could have been great.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

This film is built on very good ideas; it’s not your typical sports film, although it has some predictable sports elements.  The writers were not afraid to take on unpopular issues as they portray the hidden struggles of an average white yuppie family in a smallish town.  The characters are developed fairly well, although sometimes there is too much overstatement regarding their tendencies and interests.  Yet at other times, plot elements are far too understated.  The dialogue is also inconsistent as it is sometimes well-thought-out and other times too obvious or even too vague.  Catching Faith provides a surprisingly correct portrayal of counseling, probably because a mental health professional was actually involved in the making.  However, this poses a unique problem in that the professional’s curriculum is very prominent throughout the film, pretty much giving it awkward product placements.  It would have been better if the counseling concepts were naturally woven into the plot structure rather than inserted from a textbook.  Another drawback to the plot is that the end is too neat and tidy—some characters avoid consequences for their actions entirely.  But all in all, Catching Faith is a great effort, one that we would expect would be the norm in underfunded independent Christian film.  Yet unfortunately, it’s an outlier.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the other elements of the film, the acting of Catching Faith is very inconsistent.  Sometimes cast members are right on point while other times their efforts trail off in the distance.  As a small amateur cast, they would have benefitted greatly from more professional coaching.  This is not to say that there was no coaching—there just needs to be more.  There was real potential here that could have been emphasized.

Conclusion

We would love to see this film remade with more funding, more thoughtful writing, and better acting coaching.  There was a real heart behind this film, which is really what makes it so different from your typical fly-by-night independent Christian movie.  We understand the struggles of independent filmmakers in getting the funding they need; we just ask that creators do the best they can with what God has given them.  The creators of Catching Faith mostly did this, and with continued effort in the future, they will make their mark.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Dancer and the Dame (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Demoted from his detective position because he took a conspiracy theory too far, Rick Dancer feels like an outcast in most people’s eyes.  But then he stumbles onto something new about his theory regarding the city’s richest philanthropist, whom he believes is corrupt.  Yet this only serves him orders for a psychological evaluation, which leads to him taking on a new partner—a traumatized police dog.  Rick will have to learn to work with her while trying to regain the trust of his boss all while he still chases leads regarding his theory.  In the end, he will have to decide if he is going to let himself care again in order to succeed.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In a break from the typical PureFlix model, most production element of Dancer and the Dame are okay.  Video quality is clear and camera work is pretty good; they’re getting better with action shots.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is annoying.  Prop usage is as cheesy as can be expected from a PureFlix action film attempt.  The sets and locations are fairly realistic but are also stereotypical.  As for the editing, there’s basically none of it.  The entire film is face value: what they filmed is what you get.  Every scene is run as long as it possibly can be and there’s really nothing else there.  But the rundown is that Dancer is pretty average on production, which is actually a step up from the norm.  This fact alone is disturbing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

So essentially, this story is about a washed up cop doing office work at the precinct because his conspiracy theory about a local rich guy blew up in his face.  But he gets a second chance in his career when his theories start to be ‘proven’ true.  Then he’s sentenced to a suspect mental evaluation which consists of the psychologist pushing her opinions on him and then forcing him to take her dog off of his hands.  From there, doggish ‘comedy’ ensues as Dancer stumbles upon ‘clues’ like a children’s mystery (or maybe a Hallmark mystery).  The characters are flat and comedy is typical Tommy Blaze style.  Once again, another horrible portrayal of counseling\psychology in a Christian film.  The odd thing about this Blaze creation is that it’s not entirely committed to crass and cartoonish ‘jokes’, but instead tries to insert inspirational themes into the movie, such as the typical feel-good pet storyline.  This is not to mention the Christian-sounding messages awkwardly forced into key parts of the plot.  And what’s with the constant cheesy references to dog breeds ‘hidden’ in people’s names?  In short, this film is a usual Blaze train wreck—a little less zany than usual, but still a mess.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The sad state of Christian casting is that ‘secular’ actor Billy Gardell is substantially better at acting than most PureFlix actors and actresses.  David A. R. White, Tommy Blaze, Brad Heller, Carey Scott, and Anna Zielinski are all their typical selves.  There is really no regard for any professionalism, yet line delivery is not terrible, just awkward.  Basically, nice try, but not good enough.

Conclusion

Year after year PureFlix rolls out laughable films in the name of Christianity.  They are rarely received well and seem to accomplish little for the Kingdom.  We’ll never understand where they constantly get their money from or how they convince more popular actors and actresses to appear in their films.  If you’ve seen one dumb PureFlix movie, you’ve definitely seen Dancer and the Dame.  It’s better to not waste your time on another one.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

My All-American {Courage} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Freddie Steinmark was trained all his life to play college football.  When he finally gets his chance at the University of Texas, he takes the opportunity to let his work ethic stand out.  He tries to make a difference with everyone he meets, all the while planning his future with his girlfriend.  But as Freddie drives to be better and better, although the team improves around him, his health begins to deteriorate.  He tries to shake it off, but the day finally arrives when he can no longer ignore his poor health.  Freddie will have to make tough decisions and remember why he got to where he is.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With obvious funding and professional equipment, My All-American sports clear video quality, great camera work, and good audio quality.  The props that are used look very realistic and specific to the time period.  The sets and surroundings are fairly diverse, if somewhat too varied, as scenes jump all over the place.  The soundtrack is okay for a generic inspirational sports film.  Action sequences are executed very well, but choppy editing plagues this movie.  As previously mentioned, the film jumps all over the place and leaves the audience extremely confused as to what is going on or what may happen next.  This will be discussed in depth next, but the main point here is that a lot of money was spent to make this film look good, but it’s clear that the effort was only ever meant to go skin-deep, so to speak, as the project has little substance underneath the pretty lights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This was a very good idea for a film based on a true story, but far too much content is crammed into a small time frame.  Trying to cover a character’s several years before college plus his four years in college in less than two hours calls for dizzying time jumps and information-dump dialogue that creates cardboard characters.  One minute, characters we barely know are in high school, then they are teleported to college one fall, then suddenly it’s spring, then we watch an interlude to discuss the historical time period in an obvious fashion, then it’s back to fall and all over again.  Thus, there is far more telling than showing, since there’s not enough time to show everything the writers want to shove into the plot.  The main focus of the film is sports action sequences, which definitely have their place, but their constant presence leaves little room for character development.  Non-action sequences of characters talking are head-scratching in that we are not provided enough context; we cannot appreciate them or their struggles because of the breakneck pace of the storyline.  As a side note, there is minor inappropriate language throughout for some reason.  The bottom line is that the creators never intended to make this a movie of substance—they just hoped to make a quick buck off of the inspirational audience.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Despite the presence of ‘big name’ actors and actresses, no care was given to coach them or guide them.  Some cast members show potential, but they are not properly developed in their skills.  Emotions cannot be felt or appreciated.  Line delivery is sloppy and forced, probably because there’s not much time to say things in preparation for the next scene.  Like the rest of the film, this area is half-hearted for a reason.

Conclusion

With the rise of successful inspirational films, mainstream creators are trying to dip into the cash pile.  My All-American is one of these movies that is strictly designed to make money at the box office by marketing it alongside more popular inspirational films.  They invest only in production quality and one or two ‘big name’ cast members and let everything else fall by the wayside.  In their opinion, audiences only care about a nice looking feel good movie, but we beg to differ.  Movies like this one are a waste of your time and only designed to get your money.  But Christian film makers can take note: unless your production quality is as good as half-effort films like this one, you’re also wasting your time.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

God’s Club {Holy Warrior} (Movie Review)

As you can see, they spent a lot of time on that sign

Plot Summary

When his wife dies tragically in a car accident, Michael Evans falls into a funk.  In order to find new meaning and life and try to keep his wife’s memory alive, he decides to return to teaching and start an after-school Bible club, something she had always wanted to do.  But he is shocked when he is met with extreme resistance both from school authorities and parents.  As the pushback goes from bad to worse, Michael considers just leaving it all behind (after all, there’s no churches in his city).  But his daughter reminds him that her mom would never have wanted him to give up, so Michael sticks with the fight (literally) and doesn’t back down.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

It feels like we repeat ourselves all the time.  There are simply too many Christian productions that are all the same.  God’s Club offers nothing new—clear video quality along with a host of errors.  Between nearly every scene is an awkward fade to black moment that requires a fade-in for the next scene.  In many scenes throughout, especially outdoor scenes, there is shaky camera work, which seems to indicate that someone is holding the camera, which infers that the budget was too small to pay for any other equipment.  The limited funds are also evident in the few cheap sets that there are, as well as in the prop usage.  It seems like the only reason this film is ninety minutes long is because of excessive use of slow motion throughout.  Also, in an attempt to be ‘cool’, the creators crafted a weird soundtrack that sometimes covers for their lack of better sound.  In short, God’s Club commits all the usual production sins, just in different ways than usual.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In an attempts to frame a religious freedom conflict, God’s Club portrays an all out school war, complete with fistfights, brawls, vandalism, arson, and sabotage, all because of a silly after-school activity called God’s Club, also known as Bible Club or Bible Group.  The worst part is that Christian characters aren’t even able to be sympathized with because they deserve half of the treatment they get, as they either pick fights or continue them.  The Christian perspective is also very empty, lacking meaningful depth and espousing odd Christian philosophies as they try to shove the Bible down your throat.  There are very few characters in this plot; some of them we are supposed to appreciate without even getting to know them.  ‘Bad’ characters are very evil in every possible way until they are randomly fixed up.  Dialogue is in-your-face, leaving nothing to the imagination.  God’s Club also sports a growing trend in offbeat Christian films: a disdain for proper counseling and psychology.  Basically, if you are to believe the worldview of this film, churches are disappearing (the town in this plot has no churches), Christians are being persecuted for having after-school activities, it’s okay for Christians to fight back (literally), and reciting Bible verses will fix your life up.  In our experience, none of these things are true in reality, so why portray them in a film?  Because you’re trying to make some kind of quick buck by preaching to the choir.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Why do movies consistently cast Stephen Baldwin in major roles he’s not suited for?  He’s downright creepy in this movie, and when he’s not creepy, he’s lethargic.  It’s beyond me why Corbin Bernsen consistently involves himself in these sorts of messes.  The few other cast members that there are either make no positive impact or remind us why they’re not in any other notable films.  In short, there is clearly no coaching for this cast, thus obvious problems go unchecked.

Conclusion

Was there any thought during the making of this film to attempt to make it realistic and down-to-earth?  We highly doubt it.  At least the persecution subplot of God’s Not Dead is somewhat realistic.  God’s Club is a trumped up preaching-to-the-choir load of nonsense only designed to further inflame Christians against ‘the world’ and give them a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality to approaching non-believers.  None of this movie is reality and it’s a total sham and embarrassment to portray people in this way.  As Christians, our time would be better served using movies to actually reach people for the Gospel and to encourage Christians to go deeper in their faith by using meaningful and realistic plots combined with professional production and acting.  Until Christians are stronger in their faith and until more people are reached with the saving power of Jesus Christ, we have nothing else we need to be discussing.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

What Would Jesus Do? The Journey Continues (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As the mysterious drifter comes to another small town, he encounters another pastor who desperately wants to change the world around him but cannot seem to assemble the team he needs.  As he takes his brother in, who is freshly out of prison, the pastor seeks to do good to those around him and to repair the broken church bell he inherited.  He also comes into contact with a group of troubled teens who seem intent on making everyone around them miserable.  But what they will all discover is that there is more to everyone’s story than other realize, and that all Christians should act as Jesus would act.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If it’s any consolation, the camera work is better in The Journey Continues.  However, the video quality has not improved, and there are many scenes in which lighting is a major problem.  Audio quality is inconsistent and the soundtrack is as silly as usual.  The sets and locations are okay and slightly more realistic than in the first film, but they still carry an amateur quality.  In a similar vein, the editing is not glaringly horrible, but it’s not particularly professional either.  Scenes are sometimes cut off abruptly while other scenes seem to drag on too long.  In short, the production of The Journey Continues does not commit egregious errors, but it also does nothing to promote professionalism.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In many ways, The Journey Continues is just a redux of the first WWJD film, just with fewer characters.  John Schneider is still a drifter who spouts wisdom to those in need of it.  There’s a different struggling pastor who wants to make a difference in his city.  There’s other troublemaking characters who change their ways in the end.  The Journey Continues is slightly more concise in its delivery, but still not very compelling.  The premise is less absurd and the ideas are less obvious, but that doesn’t make it an interesting plot.  The characters are slightly accessible and not so outrageously stereotypical, but this doesn’t make the movie a winner.  Dialogue is sometimes strained, like the writers are searching for something interesting to have the characters say.  The issues presented are smile-worthy, but not terribly compelling.  One particular subplot is intriguing and keeps this portion from being zero points; it would have been nice to see this subplot expanded upon and given more thought.  Overall, the plot feels more down to earth than the first installment, but it’s still not very watchable.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

In the first film, it was John Schneider and a bunch of poorly coached amateur actors and actresses.  In the second film, it’s John Schneider and some slightly better coached actors and actresses.  However, the same issues as before tend to trip them up: strained line delivery and either muted or overdone emotional delivery.  There is some better acting than not that keeps the score above water, but once again, there is just not much good to say here.

Conclusion

There really isn’t that much to work with here.  The Journey Continues feels like a sequel for the sake of sequels.  It would be one thing if this were the first movie in the series, but since it’s boring and empty compared to laughable, it easily gets lost in the shuffle and really comes out no better for it.  Whatever the WWJD Trilogy is trying to accomplish is beyond us, but it certainly does plenty to further hurt the name of Christian film.  When it boils down to it, there is really no purpose to either of the first two films in this trilogy—unfortunately, neither one is going to reach anyone, Christian or non-Christian, due to low quality.  Wouldn’t it have been better to, instead of make three films, pool financial resources to make one truly great film that could have made a lasting difference?  These are the types of questions Christian film makers need to ask themselves before charging ahead with more low quality films that waste everyone’s time.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

The Ultimate Legacy {The Gift of a Legacy} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a wealthy woman approaches Hamilton’s firm to construct a legal inheritance process similar to that of Red Stevens’ due to her terminal illness, Hamilton and Miss Hastings enlist Jason Stevens as a special consultant (?).  Within a month, the woman dies and her wild grandson, Joey, inherits her fortune and the famous Anderson House—with stipulations: he must agree to live at Anderson House for a year and complete a series of ‘gifts’ in order to receive his inheritance in full.  Skeptical and frustrated, Joey decides to play along with the will’s demands and suddenly find himself enjoying life in a whole new way.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

To put it frankly, the once respectable Ultimate Gift saga has been #Hallmarked.  The only positive aspects of this entire film is the decent camera work and video quality.  Otherwise, it’s all a wash.  The film is plagued by choppy and rushed editing, as disoriented viewers are taken on a roller coaster ride from one high point to the next.  The sets and surroundings are severely limited, rivaling Hidden Secrets for how long a random collection of unrelated characters can hang around a house together and be united by completing projects related to said house.  The sound quality is average and the soundtrack is typical Hallmark.  In short, corners were obviously cut in order for this made-for-television film to happen.  There is literally no justification for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything that was bad about The Ultimate Life has been taken to new lows.  Ultimate Legacy is the most obviously ridiculous stupid rip off of an original film in the history of Christian film.  Peppered with childish references to Gift and overt copycat concepts of the first installment, Legacy makes for a sadly comedic experience.  The movie is based on an unrealistic premise of people hanging around a house with nothing better to do than devote all of time to another unusual inheritance project.  Legacy is also based entirely on legal and ethical issues by shoehorning Jason Stevens into the plot, who should have no business whatsoever in the Anderson inheritance case.  A perpetually angry character later chides a fellow character for not adhering to attorney-client privilege.  The irony!  Speaking of characters, they are either empty shells from better movies gone by or useless and unexplained caricatures driven by empty and amateurish dialogue.  Other dialogue consists of isolating architectural lingo and the plastic insertion of a trite Christian message.  The plot has no direction whatsoever except to poorly mimic as much of Gift as possible through a rushed and choppy timeline.  The ending is beyond silly and follows Hallmark’s latest habit of departing from typical inspirational conventions to exchange them for empty fluff.  To sum this disaster up, forcing a third movie installment to occur should never happen, especially when it’s built entirely off of overtly and badly copying the original idea.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark brings with them their typical casting baggage: overdone makeup and zero coaching.  The actors and actresses from previous installments are painfully forced into this film and are joined by a new head-scratching cast that doesn’t seem to know why they are there.  Line delivery is lazy for the older cast members and forced for others.  Emotions are overblown by some, while others seem dazed and confused the whole time.  In short, no thought or effort was put into this casting job.

Conclusion

If Hallmark and PureFlix wanted to be partners in crime for the destruction of a film legacy (pun intended), they could have done so without forcibly inserting previously better characters into their creation.  At least let us leave those characters in a more palatable place (I never thought those words would describe The Ultimate Life) rather than drag them down into Christian movie Sheol (look it up).  The legacy (yes, I did it again) of Jim Stovall’s creative ideas is forever marred by two film conglomerates who now make money off of trolling their audiences.  The best thing we can do now is pretend like Life and Legacy never happened and remember better days, such as the original Hall of Fame movie The Ultimate Gift.  One day we hope that inspirational film giants such as Hallmark and PureFlix will no longer be able to get away with such unethical activity as this film.

 

Final Rating: .5 point out of 10 points

A.D.: The Bible Continues (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After the death of Christ, His followers were lost and confused.  But following His miraculous Resurrection from the dead, He appeared to them and gave them new strength to carry out a new task: taking His gospel to all people.  After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, His apostles and other followers stopped at nothing to tell everyone of what they had witnessed in and through Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.  Though opposition came at them from every side, the cause of Christ did not fail but only gained more followers.  Even as Christian persecution became a global event, even the ‘worst’ of sinners came to follow the Resurrected Savior.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Following closely on the heels of mixed results of The Bible Epic Miniseries, A.D.: The Bible Continues uses similar production elements, yet improves upon them.  The surroundings are still gritty and realistic, allowing the audience to see that the events after the crucifixion of Christ were very real.  The camera work is exquisite—many things indicate that money was well spent in A.D.  The musical score is engaging and the special effects are used responsibly.  Really the only production complaint to raise is some slightly inconsistent editing—were more unnecessary parts cut and more essential parts amplified, production would have been perfect.  But there is still much to be proud of here; Mark Burnett and company definitely learned from past production mistakes and proved that they can do better in A.D.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In contrast to the breakneck pace of The Bible, A.D. elects to follow a slower pace.  Since this is not an exclusively Biblical series, historical context is responsibly explored—it actually aids and enhances the Biblical narrative.  The political elements are intriguing—some of these characters are better than others—yet this portion of the series tends to eat up too much of the runtime.  Some screen time should have been taken away from certain political characters, such as Caiaphas’ unrealistic wife, and given to Biblical characters with more potential.  Yet there is still much to enjoy in the Biblical plot lines.  The events of Acts are portrayed very well; A.D. actually accomplishes the goal of bringing a part of the Bible to life.  Historical truths are introduced in slightly unexpected ways without compromising authenticity.  While the early Christians could have been developed better, they are pretty good as they are.  There are also peripheral characters that are intriguing, yet tend to get squeezed out of the picture.  Were it not for a good deal of wasted time, the overall plot of A.D. would probably have been perfect.  It is a pretty good example of what a Biblical-historical series should be and can serve as a blueprint for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While British actors and actresses are still employed, A.D. does something revolutionary: cast diversity in first century Judea.  Some may consider African characters in this narrative to be inaccurate, and while there should still be more Middle Eastern characters, there is really no historical precedence to deny this.  In other areas, emotional expression and line delivery is fairly believable, allowing the audience to connect with the Biblical and historical characters as real people.  Overall, were it not for overuse of British actors and actresses, this portion could also have been perfect.

Continuity Quality (3 points)

The arc of A.D. is particularly epic.  The driving purpose behind the series is very clear.  There are multiple exciting character arcs that were just coming to full completion right before the series was cancelled.  But cancellation is not necessarily the fault of the writers, since we sincerely believe they were doing the best they could do.  Overall, the short time we were able to enjoy A.D. was well spent when it came to continuity, arcs, and driving purpose.

Conclusion

It’s a real shame that A.D. was cancelled, because it had nowhere to go but up.  It was progressing at an epic pace, had so many positive elements, adapted a historical approach to the days after Christ’s earthly ministry, and was ten times better than The Bible Epic Miniseries.  It had so much explosive potential, but it was cut off at the knees.  One factor that potentially led to the cancellation was trying to please too many people.  Perhaps if fewer edgy elements were employed and more family-engaging elements were used, then the show might have survived on Christian audiences.  But that may not have been enough.  Even still, A.D. was a key step in engaging even the Christian population in being more interested in the historical nature of the Bible.  There needs to be more of a bubble-up approach to these types of series, and independent means, such as on-demand series, may need to be used in order to make series like A.D. successful, since national broadcast ratings are often too fickle to sustain new concepts.  Future ideas for Bible series need to build off of the positive elements and the strong points of A.D. and to improve on its mistakes.  Such a series would be a thing to behold and something worth getting behind.

 

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

With the high-stakes trial against the corrupt Henry Gowen’s coal company brewing in Coal Valley, Elizabeth Thatcher, Jack Thornton, and Abigail Stanton all have other issues of their own to deal with.  Just as she and Jack begin growing closer together, Elizabeth feels a pull from her well-to-do family in Hamilton to come back them.  She soon feels her relationship with Jack become clouded by an old childhood friend.  Jack’s troublesome brother resurfaces and forms an ill-advised connection to Elizabeth’s family.  As Abigail discovers the hard truth about Bill Avery, she also receives word of a family member she never knew she had.  With new and sometimes frightening things on the horizon, the people of Coal Valley must band together and be prepared to face the unexpected.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite increased popularity and an obviously increased budget, Season 2 of When Calls the Heart does not gain any more ground in production quality.  For what it’s worth, it doesn’t lose any ground either.  Camera work is the same, including great angles and video quality.  Sound quality is the same, and unfortunately, so is the vanilla soundtrack.  The introduction of new surroundings—Hamilton—is both a blessing and a curse.  As they progress, series should change and do different things as to not get stuck in a location rut, but Hamilton also brings with it a license for Michael Landon Jr. and company to commit one of their favorite errors—pageantry and over-costuming.  Characters in both Coal Valley and Hamilton are transformed, almost into dolls.  It would be one thing to pose a distinction between rich city characters and frontier characters, but this does not occur.  In other issues, the editing does not improve in Season 2, as it is still equally choppy as Season 1.  In short, Landon Jr. and company once again fall into the typical Hallmark trap: pretty good production with overdone and unrealistic costuming.  This puts a damper on a series with huge potential.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The season begins on a strange note by discarding an otherwise interesting wildcard character and by quickly and easily resolving the coal mine trial without any real suspense or appreciation.  It’s like the writers were just trying to rush to something else, but it’s not clear what they were rushing to.  The Hamilton subplots are intriguing, but it’s hard to feel like there’s any real meaning or purpose behind them.  Season 2’s central plot and subplots not only water down the original Christian message, but they also feel shallow.  For the most part, the original characters remain mostly intact, but the newer characters are not developed as they should be.  Bill Avery perhaps has the most interesting character arc and shows potential for the next season.  However, Season 2 ends on a head-scratching note with a slightly forced cliff hanger that only seems to be begging Hallmark for a renewal.  In summary, while there was great potential in a Season 1 follow-up for further character development, Season 2 falls flat and does not meet expectations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite a largely similar cast to Season 1, Season 2’s cast takes the foot off the brakes, so to speak, and seems to not try as hard as before.  Several actors and actresses, including Erin Krakow and most of the Hamilton characters, seem to be overplaying their roles and forcing emotion.  Some actors and actresses remain the same, but the biggest issue here is that no one improves.  This should be the case in a television series.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Within the season, Season 2 is fairly consistent as far as internal subplots.  It is hard to discern its overall arc except for indecision.  However, the relationship between Season 1 and Season 2 is disjointed.  The increased budget popularity seemed to make the writers think that they did not need to preserve the honest originality of Season 1, because they didn’t.  This was a disappointment.

Conclusion

There was much anticipation and expectations following the unprecedented success of When Calls the Heart, Season 1, yet Season 2 failed to meet these.  As a season itself, it was about average, and would have been fine as another pilot season.  But sophomore seasons should build of the successes of the first, eliminate mistakes, and overall improve, not start over at square one.  The writers have given themselves an interesting choice and framework to work within for Season 3, and it will be interesting see how it goes.  This concept has loads of potential in its corner—time will tell how it plays out.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 14 points

 

Love Finds You in Charm {Amish Abduction} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Emma Miller is given the choice to leave her small Amish community in order to help her recently widowed aunt in Charm, Ohio, she jumps at the chance to try something new in her life.  She longs to see the world beyond the confines of her Amish life, and even though her aunt is also Amish, she sees the small Ohio town as an opportunity to experience the world she has never lived in.  But as soon as she steps foot in Charm, she meets a quiet Amish man named Noah, who is also helping her aunt in her time of need.  Emma is both intrigued by Noah but also intent on exploring the English world.  Little does she know that she will soon be faced with a choice that will determine her very future.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This movie saga based on Love Inspired novels has demonstrated an ability to create quality productions.  Love Finds You in Charm follows closely in the footsteps of Love Finds You in Sugar Creek in many ways, including production quality.  The camera work is very professional, including angles and the filming of outside scenes.  The sets and locations are considerably diverse for a small town plot.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  However, the soundtrack is pretty typical for this sort of movie.  The biggest production error is choppy editing; this film was obviously forced to be made for television when the plot scope is actually larger than ninety minutes.  But this aside, Charm’s production is something to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In the same vein of Sugar Creek, Charm has a down-to-earth, average romance plot that is neither Hallmark-horrible nor Rik Swartzwelder-good.  Once again, Amish characters are portrayed in a realistic light without even a hint of shunnings.  Yet unlike Sugar Creek, Charm has a deep well of potential that was not drawn out.  Charm is loosely based on the plot structure of the classic romance Pride and Prejudice, yet it lacks the depth of this tale.  Emma is a pretty good character, yet she needed fleshing out.  Unfortunately, most of the supporting characters are a bit stereotypical and\or too black and white.  The dialogue is believable, yet once again not taken to its fullest potential.  The biggest arching issue is that, as mentioned previously, there is too much content crammed into a ninety minute runtime.  The plot and the characters had the potential to sustain at least a two hour feature film.  The end is too abrupt and does not fully appreciate the characters crafted.  In the end, Charm has a fine plot, but it is such a shame to see this sort of potential go to waste.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For a cast of relatively little-known and small time actors and actresses, the Charm cast pulls of the job quite well.  Line delivery is professional and there are no truly glaring errors.  The biggest issue here is that emotions are not felt as much as they should be felt.  Overall, the acting is above average, but it is not dynamic.  But in the end, it is a step above most romances.

Conclusion

It is highly likely that Charm was limited by both budget and the pressure to create a TV movie.  Were the creators given more space, it is highly likely that this would have been a Hall of Fame movie.  Regardless, despite our low expectations from the beginning of this Love Inspired saga, the series appears to be improving as it goes along.  This is a great accomplishment and we are intrigued to see what will happen next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Bridge, Part 1 [2015] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following a tragic personal loss, Charlie and Donna Barton are driven to pursue their dream: owning and operating a bed and breakfast.  They lease a beautiful property and begin renovating it and open it for business, calling it The Bridge.  They seek to make personal connections with their customers through hospitality and real books.  The Bartons are able to see many personal stories unfold, including the developing love between Molly Callens and Ryan Kelly.  Though Molly and Ryan are from very different worlds, they find common ground in making future goals and in discovering their true purposes in life.  As they grow closer together, little do they know that their relationship is about to be tested to its fullest.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Hallmark is usually known for their high production quality, but corners were obviously cut in The Bridge, Part 1.  For starters, there is far too much soft lens camera used, like they are trying to cover up things.  This only lends to the overall plastic feel of the film.  However, there is some good camera work that mostly saves the production from being horrible.  The sets are severely limited, only showing The Bridge over and over again, a couple of house and outside scenes, and that old truck.  The editing is very confusing, dropping viewers in the middle of circumstances with no explanation.  The 90 minutes of runtime are very poorly utilized.  The Bridge also makes use of Hallmark’s most annoyingly loud soundtrack.  In short, this film was obviously thrown together just for the sake of making it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Bridge is not up to par with a typical Karen Kingsbury plot, and it can be understood why, since the movie departs from the original book concepts.  In this forced two-part movie, there is far too much repetition.  With 90 minutes to work with, the characters should be very deep and believable.  They are not.  Rather than being authentic, they are swept along by the plot without any control over their circumstances.  They make unexplained decisions, such as poor communication at convenient times, and are affected by coincidences just to extend the plot.  Besides this, the characters have a strange obsession with The Bridge and the Bartons have an unexplained perceptiveness.  The Christian message is watered down and replaced with trite Christmas superstitions and a crusade against ‘downloads’.  The only consolation in Part 1 is that there is a small amount of potential in the plot concept, yet it is squandered.  The end makes no sense and is anti-climactic, thus making this entire movie a waste of time.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark has coached some infamous casts before, but this collection takes the cake.  Filled with overly syrupy happiness, the actors and actresses seem like they are snorting helium.  With constant overdone smiling, they robotically deliver their lines with no emotion.  This is not to mention the very amateurish makeup jobs.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

We maintain that Hallmark contacted popular Christian author Karen Kingsbury and instructed her to write a plot that closely follows the mindless romance storyline they are so deeply obsessed with.  Hallmark essentially used Kingsbury’s popularity among Christians to spin out another two-part movie about their typical themes.  They are obviously convinced that their audience constantly wants to see mindless romances time and again.  This movie was forced to be two parts, thus totaling up three hours of runtime, which was totally washed down the drain.  Karen Kingsbury is not at fault here—this is just another typical Hallmark disaster.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Hoovey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeff and Ruth Elliot are living their ideal life on a Midwestern farm with two great teenagers before everything starts to change for them.  Their lives are forever altered when their son Eric “Hoovey” collapses during basketball practice, thus leading to a medical examination revealing a brain tumor.  Hoovey is not given long to live at first, but he is given a second chance by having the tumor removed, leaving him a fraction of what he used to be.  Unable to play basketball anymore due to danger and having to relearn motor skills, Hoovey and his family are also suddenly faced with possibly losing their dream farm to the bank.  As a family, they will have to pull together in order to face the challenges ahead.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Echolight Studios has a commitment to producing quality Christian films, and Hoovey is no exception.  The camera work is clearly professional, along with the video and sound quality.  Disability plots are difficult to pull off because they require unique props, but Hoovey does it with ease.  The only negative points to raise here are slightly isolating editing and some generally inauthentic surroundings.  For the most part, the editing is good, but there are some parts that are confusing.  The same goes for the surroundings—sometimes it seems like this film is taking place in a realistic Midwestern setting, while other times it does not.  But in the end, there are only minor issues and Hoovey passes the production bar.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Stories based on true events are almost always more complex than an average inspirational plot.  Hoovey proves this.  Believable events happen to the characters and unexpected twists occur.  Not everything turns out neat and tidy.  However, since this is a character-based plot, the deepening of the characters throughout the film is important.  Unfortunately, this does not occur to the extent it needed to.  Dialogue is pretty good, but it rarely delves below surface conventions into deeper character development.  The plot uses narration as a crutch far too often.  Also, the Christian message is not very clear—in the end, the audience is just left with a feel good story rather than a life-changing message.  In summary, the plot of Hoovey is average—it started out with a lot of potential on its side, but it only found part of all it could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is clearly a professional cast and they are coached fairly well.  Emotions, for the most part, are believable.  However, sometimes line delivery is slightly lackadaisical.  Some of the casting choices don’t seem to fit very well.  But these are just small issues—the important thing is that Echolight followed through on their commitment to produce quality Christian films.

Conclusion

Every Christian studio should be committed to rolling out quality movies on a very regular basis.  Some are willing but not able, while others are able but not seemingly not willing.  Hoovey broke into mainstream markets, which makes it even more of a shame that it did not carry with it a stronger Christian message.  Had it delivered a meaningfully obvious but not preachy Christian message, Hoovey likely would have made it in the Hall of Fame.  But regardless, it is still an enjoyable film and is worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Ark {Noah’s Ark} [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In another overly British production loosely based on Biblical events, Noah and his family are depicted as an angry, dysfunctional unit fighting to survive on their agricultural incomes in a world full of atheists and hedonists.  They’re also the only white people around.  Noah, the unquestioned but mostly aloof patriarch, is told by an angel that a flood is going to sweep across the planet and destroy everything.  Therefore, he needs to build a boat for him and his family—and a whole bunch of other random people—to be saved.  Also, there’s apparently no call for any animals to board the ark at all.  Despite opposition from his family and the people ‘in town’, Noah and his wife build the massive lifeboat almost singlehandedly before scrambling around and getting on the ark just as the flood waters rise.  Good thing they were able to fit about thirty people and no animals on that giant vessel before the hurricanes overtook the planet.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we didn’t particularly like this film.  But we will begin with this film’s one positive quality—most of the characters seem authentic most of the time, such as actually getting dirty and muffed up.  But otherwise, there is nothing good to say.  There are too many modern nuances and costumes.  The camera work is just okay—there are too many outside shots ruined by poor angles that catch too much sunlight.  A majority of the time, dialogue is indiscernible due to unusually loud and annoying background music.  The editing is terrible, with tons of wasted time and useless scenes, which we will see more of next.  In short, The Ark isn’t even partially redeemed by professional production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2.5 points)

There’s plenty of real content in the Scriptural narrative on Noah that can be expounded on, yet this creative team chose to ad lib and transpose modern family struggles on top of the story.  Noah’s relationship with God is replaced with odd conversations with an angel.  If Noah’s family isn’t shown eating that mysterious pizza from The Bible miniseries, then they’re having childish skirmishes and fistfights with each other.  Noah’s fictional fourth son has a very large role, including his nightly illicit activities.  As a character, Noah is inaccessible and lofty, a typical Bible character error.  Abstract philosophical discussions that fit in more in modern Great Britain replace meaningful dialogue.  If someone wants to complain about ethnocentrism in modern Western film, look no further than Bible films.  In short, The Ark barely attempts to stay true to the historical truth.  While some Bible movies commit small inaccuracy errors, this one uses the characters and invents a primitive soap opera transposed on top of a natural disaster plotline.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

Did we mention these actors are British?  They’re British.  Not only that, but it seems to suggest that the white characters, primarily only Noah’s family, are the ‘good’ characters, while the multicultural characters are the ‘bad’ ones.  The truth is, we can’t really be sure what ethnicity any of these people actually were—likely nothing like what we have today—but the least that could have been done was at least attempt to use primarily Middle Eastern actors and actresses.  As it is, the cast that has been assembled here is overly dramatic.  Women are portrayed as mostly silent kitchen helpers.  In short, there is no end to this movie’s problems.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, it cannot be effectively said that Christian-led Bible films are better than mainstream Bible films.  The truth is that truly watchable Scripture-based films are very few and far between.  People need to know that the Bible isn’t just a bunch of silly mostly-untrue narratives.  Movies like The Ark only contribute to this cultural storyline, and perhaps purposely so.  But Christian film makers have nothing to say about this unless they are going to make meaningful, accurate, and professional Bible-based movies that can overshadow movies like this one with better overall quality.  The world is waiting.

 

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

2015 in Review: The Turning Point for Christian Films

2013 and 2014 were billed as the ‘years of the Bible’ in Hollywood, but this never panned out.  Unfortunately, barring a few exceptions, the Christian movies from these years were largely negative.  Yet they did signal a sign of things to come.  Before 2013, Christian movies were randomly and sporadically produced.  No consistent creators existed save for the Kendrick brothers and other Affirm creators such as the budding Erwin brothers, the PureFlix conglomerate, and the remnants of Fox Faith.  2013 and 2014 also promised Hollywood-driven faith based and inspirational films and many movies crowded to seize on this new label, presumably to capture a consistent Christian audience.  But in the end, little good came out of this push except for a promise of greater things to come and a blueprint on how to do it.

Fast forward to the year 2015, by far the best year for Christian films and the start of a new Christian movie era.  With a record-breaking four Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame movies, it was a year for the books.

 

Old-Fashioned

Early in 2015, rookie film maker Rik Swartzwelder burst onto the scene with a Valentine’s Day alternate to the grotesque Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a move that Christians need to take note of the next time they complain about or embrace all the bad movies in America.  Untested and unproven, PureFlix took a chance with Swartzwelder and cashed in big.  Swartzwelder brought a fresh look at Christian romance, driven by quality production and Jane Austen-like dialogue.  Old-Fashioned not only signaled the possible beginning of a new era for PureFlix distributed movies, but the beginning of a new Christian film era.

 

Beyond the Mask

In the underrated release of Pendragon, the Burns family showcased their ability to do a lot with small resources.  Now, with better funding, better support, and a better cast and crew, they broke out with a rare Christian action adventure screenplay.  Mask not only showcases a new genre but also demonstrates the ability to craft a complex non-typical Christian plot.  We expect it to be the first of many Christian films to break into new genres.

 

War Room

Following their blockbuster Courageous and their exit from Sherwood, the Kendrick brothers’ next release was highly anticipated and highly marketed.  It lived up to its expectations, both in quality and box office success.  War Room proved that the Kendricks are not done any time soon and remain the Fathers of Christian Film Making.

 

Woodlawn

The Erwin brothers have always performed ahead of schedule, with their only three films all being Hall of Fame rated.  They demonstrate expertise in assembling and directing highly talented crews and casts and in amplifying the strengths of individuals.  Not to mention that they write some great plots.  Woodlawn was heavily marketed as well and did not disappoint on the big screen.  The future is bright for these Alabama brothers.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Do You Believe

Following their first box office success God’s Not Dead, PureFlix sought to build on it with another inspirational film about the interconnected lives of individuals in a city.  With increased production quality and interesting plot potential, Do You Believe continued a new era of PureFlix films.  However, it still did not live up to Hall of Fame status.  Nonetheless, it was something to build off of.

 

***

In summary, 2015 was a year that unexpectedly brought Christian movies to a new level—setting new standards for the industry.  No one saw it coming, but it happened regardless.  2016 promises to bring films from new Christian creators to the scene, and we anticipate a fresh wind of creativity to blow across the Christian movie landscape.  It’s time for a new generation of film makers to stand up and redeem the field—the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Princess Cut (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Grace has had her share of heartache when it comes to romantic relationships.  She feels like men have played games with her heart, even though she desperately wants to find the right man to spend the rest of her life with.  She looks to her parents for guidance, but she also wants to be her own woman.  After she finally hits rock bottom when a man treats her in a way she does not feel is appropriate, she decides to make changes in her life and to stop seeking men.  Little does she know that true love could be right around the corner.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

The production of Princess Cut is its one redeeming quality, but that still isn’t saying much.  The video quality is clear and the camera work is passable, except for in-shot zooming.  The editing is decent, but the sound quality is the biggest detractor here.  Many scenes are obviously overdubbed because of the lack of a boom mic.  Some sound is hard to hear and there are quite a few musical montages that cover up what could have been valuable dialogue.  Also, the sets are severely limited; too much content takes place off screen.  In short, we realize that Princess Cut had a very small budget, but it seems like more could have been done here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

There is an underlying philosophy in this plot that is slightly commendable, but there are so many negative issues.  Good principles of dating are talked about, but they are also forced down the throats of the audience through robotic paragraph dialogue.  Also shoved in the viewers’ faces is a far right Christian-ese worldview based on patriarchy, matronly women’s roles, anti-psychology ideals, and self-help books.  The female characters are portrayed as empty-headed and clueless.  ‘Bad’ characters are over-the-top strawmen.  As previously mentioned, there is no real dialogue that builds the characters—most of the time, the characters seem to be reading self-help books verbatim.  The plot is choppy and leaves out many key parts, some of which are made up for with extremely awkward and strange dialogue.  Intended humor falls flat.  In summary, this plot contains only a small amount of positive amid a conglomerate of strange philosophies and robotic characters.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

We felt like there was some potential in this cast—Rusty Martin Sr. and his son has both demonstrated good acting skills before—but it was not tapped in Princess Cut.  Ashley Bratcher seems like a good actress, but she is not given any help.  Unfortunately, most of the line delivery is emotionless and very stodgy.  If coaching had been employed, the acting quality could have improved.

Conclusion

It’s great that more independent Christian film-makers are making movies and are able to make them, but what is the cost of these sorts of films?  Princess Cut portrays Christians as living in their own bubble, owning a farm that the men run while the women slave away in the kitchen all day and knit.  People outside of this bubble are portrayed as bad, and psychology is a definite no-no.  Yet at the same time, the Bible is not given near as much attention in this film as self-help book product placements.  What type of philosophy is exactly being espoused here?  It is wonderful to portray healthy dating, but if you’re looking for that, we highly recommend Old-Fashioned, not Princess Cut.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Faith of Our Fathers [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John Paul George always wanted to know about his father and his experiences in Vietnam, but he could never learn any detailed information about him.  Now, on the verge of getting married, he stumbles upon a misplaced box of his father’s things and discovers a lone letter that could clue John Paul in on some more information.  He begins to search for the sender of the letter, but is unsuccessful until he accidentally reaches a cryptic character that interests John Paul just enough to make him go and see him in person.  Once he finally meets his new acquaintance, the two decide to embark on a redemptive journey to reconcile both their pasts and their fathers’ memories.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has improved over the years on production quality.  The camera work is decent and the sets seem pretty good.  The war scenes are the strongest parts of the movie, as they are actually not done in a cheesy manner.  The soundtrack is just average. However, the editing tends to be confusing.  Some scenes are wasted and drag on too long.  This is an improvement, but not quite there yet.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

This plot would have been improved with more inclusion of Vietnam War scenes.  The historical characters needed to be better developed and the present-day characters needed to be less-emphasized.  The present day plot is erratic and random; one subplot is introduced and then discarded with no real explanation to its purpose.  Some dialogue and subplots seem to just fill time.  None of the characters are believable, especially Wayne.  Perhaps the worst of all is that one character uses the same actor over a nearly forty year timespan, without aging appropriately.  In short, as far as PureFlix movies go, the plot is business as usual.

Acting Quality (1 point)

PureFlix needs acting coaching, plain and simple.  David A. R. White’s attempt at comedy falls flat.  Kevin Downes is not cast into the appropriate character.  Candace Cameron Bure and Rebecca St. James seem like Christian celebrity tack-ons, with neither one serving any real purpose.  Stephen Baldwin is passable, as are the historical characters, making them the only possible elements here.

Conclusion

In summary, PureFlix has improved a hair from the usual ways.  The production quality has improved, but that’s about it.  A potentially meaningful plot was once again wasted and the acting was once again sub-par.  Fatherhood is an important topic, as is the Vietnam War, but both seem like extra additions rather than the main points.  Maybe next time things will improve.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Hope Bridge (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jackson’s life has never been the same ever since his father committed suicide.  Searching for reasons why, he begins examining his late father’s belongings and begins to go to the places he went in order to discover his father’s secret double life.  In order to do this, he teams up with a girl he met in the office of his new psychologist.  Their journey takes them further than they ever expected as they discover a terrible family secret that could bring healing if reckoned with.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the production quality of Hope Bridge almost renders it unwatchable.  The camera work is very poor; the camera angles confuse the audience and the video quality is grainy.  The sets, in an assumed attempt to be realistic, are sloppy in their construction.  The editing is questionable, since some scenes repeat over again for no particular reason and since some scenes cut back and forth with no warning or meaning.  Any good elements in a movie can be greatly detracted from by poor production quality; such is the case with Hope Bridge.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Hope Bridge is a noble attempt to present the important issue of suicide in a meaningful way.  However, the attempt falls flat.  The plot is very vanilla and not dynamic at all.  The dialogue is head-scratching and un-compelling.  All the characters seem perpetually somber and appear generally lifeless.  Too much time is spent ‘investigating’ in night clubs and driving around and not enough time is spent developing the characters or presenting the issues in a palatable manner.  Furthermore, the few elements related to psychology and counseling are incorrect and misleading.  Were more correct elements included in regards to mental health counseling, this plot could have improved.  As it is, the only positive about the plot is its noteworthy attempt to discuss suicide and generational patterns.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

While the actors did not have much dialogue to work with, the delivery of the lines is facepalm-worthy.  Some of the actors seem aloof and detached from the story while some seem mired in self-pity.  Believable emotion is absent.  One actor in particular seems to make sarcastic jokes out of everything—Box Office Revolution is unsure whether or not she is making fun of the movie or if she is just an awkward actor.  In short, the acting is another element that can make or break a movie with most audiences, and Hope Bridge does not pass the test.

Conclusion

Suicide is a very important subject that does need to be portrayed in Christian movies.  The same can be said for mental health and generational patterns.  While Hope Bridge tries to incorporate these issues into the movie, all that ends up happening is the creation of another low-quality Christian movie, thus a disservice to the Christian cause.  BOR realizes that everyone has meager beginnings, but they should not include unintentional detraction from Christianity.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Do You Believe (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Pastor Matthew has almost forgotten why he believes what he believes.  His spiritual life is stagnant and he wonders why he is even a pastor, until one day he when he encounters an eccentric man on the side of the road carrying a cross.  The man asks him if he truly believes in the cross he preaches about.  This prompts Matthew to alter his approach to ministry by assisting a homeless pregnant girl and by learning more about the lives of his congregants.  Outside of his realm of influence, events begin to take place that indirectly affect him and the people of his church.  They are all headed for an unexpected collision and are forced to truly look at the lives they are living—what do they truly believe?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In the same vein of God’s Not Dead, the production of Do You Believe is an improvement over previous PureFlix installments.  The camera work is good; several difficult action scenes are portrayed well.  The sets are realistic and diverse.  Audio quality is also good and the soundtrack is respectable.  There is not too much wasted time in the movie, but the editing is not the greatest.  However, this is most likely due to the high amount of plot content.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There are a lot of well-meaning intentions in the plot of Do You Believe.  There are a lot of good stories, but like God’s Not Dead, they are all crammed together, thus making it hard to focus on one or for each one to develop as they should.  There are more subplots in Do You Believe, and a handful of them are unnecessary and stereotypical.  There is also too much narration that replaces the value of developing a plot.  Due to the large amount of content, most of the characters are reduced to stereotypes and are therefore not accessible.  What would have greatly improved this movie would have been to start at Do You Believe’s climax and then work backward by integrating the past and the present.  As it is, a lot is left on the field.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Some actors are professional, while others seem unrealistic in delivery.  The cast is very diverse, which is a plus.  It is possible that the many characters crowded out the scene and did not give actors enough time to work through their characters, but it is also possible that not enough acting coaching was employed in Do You Believe.

Conclusion

Do You Believe has an excellent message, but it is too issues-based.  The better production quality and the action sequences do hold the attention of the target audience, but the movie is not as good as it could be.  There is plenty of potential with some of the better story lines, but they are drowned out by too much content.  It is noble that the creators wanted to address a lot of important issues in a Christian movie, but the point may be lost.  In the end, it will be interesting to see how this PureFlix saga plays out in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

War Room (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter.  However, something isn’t right, something is just missing.  She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore.  Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara.  Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is.  After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try.  The secret weapon?  A war room, or a prayer closet.  Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself.  Little did they know that the battle had only begun.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high.  Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room.  While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present.  The soundtrack fits into the film neatly.  The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for.  In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure.  In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand.  Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect.  Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters.  However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here.  The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew.  The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable.  This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint.  A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting.  This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.

Conclusion

The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it.  War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition.  They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success.  War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films.  We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Woodlawn (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Coach Tandy Geralds only believes in what he sees in front of him.  All he sees is a broken high school in Alabama forced to integrate two racial groups who desperately do not want to associate with each.  Coach Geralds, also the assistant principle, is overworked, is unpopular with the school board, and is failing as a husband and father.  His players are frustrated with integration and racial tensions flare easily.  Tony Nathan, an underappreciated African-American athlete, is among them, yet he has been raised to treat people, regardless of skin color, the way Christ treated them.  Everything changes for the team one day when Hank, an itinerant and seemingly offbeat sports chaplain, convinces Coach Geralds to let him talk to the team.  At the end of his rope, Tandy reluctantly agrees.  What ensues from there is a miracle that transforms the football team, the high school, and the city.  One thing leads to another in a miracle season for the Woodlawn Colonels, but everything grinds to a halt one day when they are faced with adversity after adversity.  But in the grand scheme of things, each character learns in one way or another that there is one Way, one Truth, and one Life—Jesus.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Erwin team went all out for this blockbuster production that was designed to reach outside of the Christian movie circles.  The camera work is phenomenal, ranging from difficult football scenes to character canvasing.  As an epic, the story covers a lot of time, but the editing is seamless.  It is very difficult to make an epic without being too long or without letting important plot elements fall by the wayside.  The editing team walked this tightrope flawlessly.  The inclusion of alternate and historical footage throughout the movie is an artistic flair that was pulled off nicely.  This is not a cheap production, and it shows.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

As previously mentioned, epic plots are very hard to craft.  Too long, and the audience is lost.  Too quick, and no points are driven home.  Too often in potential epics, character development is discarded and scenes are wasted.  Neither of these mistakes occurred in Woodlawn.  Despite the large amount of plot and character content in this movie, nothing is missing.  The dialogue is concise yet profound.  There are no wasted scenes.  As a side note, Box Office Revolution maintains that movies based on real events are among some of the best on the market.  Nothing could be more true regarding Woodlawn.  The plot twists and turns just as real life does and the historical characters are adapted well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

BOR has long called the Erwin brothers the Masters of Casting.  There has never been a character in their movies that was not cast in the absolutely appropriate role.  Veterans Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight are excellent in their roles, along with newcomers Caleb Castille and Joy Brunson.  All actors are coached well.

Conclusion

BOR can find no flaws in Woodlawn.  It also can be awarded the x-factor point for delivering an important topic packaged in a masterful epic.  The Erwin brothers have reached the pinnacle of their career, and there is no turning back now.  The Christian movie industry is at their fingertips, and BOR expects nothing less than the best.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

Old-Fashioned (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Clay is a simple guy running a simple antique shop in rural Ohio.  He’s not looking for love when he rents out the upstairs apartment to Amber, an itinerant wandering woman about his age.  But when she becomes curious about Clay’s ‘theory’ regarding dating and marriage, Amber keeps coming up with reasons to talk to him, even though he will not allow them to be in the apartment alone together.  Eventually, she convinces him to go on a date with her, but she has no idea what she is in store for.  Beginning with a premarital counseling session, continuing by going over the premarital counseling workbook, and finishing with practice on feeding food to a toddler, their first date is less than typical.  As the two begin to spend more time together, their checkered pasts are exposed as they both try to come to grips with who they are in Christ.  Everything comes to a head when both Clay and Amber are forced to move beyond their sins of the past in Christ’s strength in order to embrace His new future for them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a debuting film for Rik Swartzwelder and the Skoche Films team, Old-Fashioned is huge in a good way.  The camera work is excellent, as is the editing.  The film as an artistic undertone that is fueled by subtle camera shots, scenic overlays, and thinking scenes.  The musical score is engaging.  The only issue to raise here is that some scenes seem to last longer than they should.  Overall, this is not a cheap production.  It is simple yet profound.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

The plot is linear, straightforward, and somewhat predictable.  However, Skoche did everything they could do with it.  This is a very deep plot, rather than a wide and shallow plot.  Swartzwelder and team maximized on every opportunity to make this usually typical plot structure as good as it could be.  The dialogue is excellent and drives the plot, as it should.  It also develops deep, believable, and realistic characters.  There are no real plot twists and the only flaw of the plot is that it is fairly predictable.  Otherwise, the plot is highly professional.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are no high-profile actors in Old-Fashioned, yet they are obviously well-coached and well-trained.  Absent from this movie is typical PureFlix acting, and it is replaced with professional talent that defies convention.  There are few characters in the movie, which perhaps gave the directors the opportunity to develop each actor well.  Fewer characters also keeps with the movie’s theme of having quality over quantity.

Conclusion

In summary, quality over quantity is the theme of the first box office installment of Skoche Films.  Box Office Revolution was pleasantly surprised that PureFlix discovered the rare talent of Rik Swartzwelder and gave him the space to create without intrusion.  His first movie is a rare gem in a desert of mediocrity.  Old-Fashioned can be reasonably christened a modern-day Pride and Prejudice with a Christian worldview.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Beyond the Mask (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Reynolds is not a good man.  As an unofficial contracted ‘enforcer’ for the East India Company, he has committed many undocumented international crimes.  That’s why his boss, Charles Kemp, enlists him and his partner to steal and replace an incriminating Parliamentary report that could shut down the entire company for unethical business practices.  However, after this mission is complete, William intends to put his criminal life behind him.  Little does he know that Kemp has other plans for him.  After secretly surviving a failed attempt on his life, Reynolds is forced to take on the identity of the man who foiled the murder—a young vicar headed to a local parish.  It seems easy until Reynolds must fabricate a knowledge of the Scriptures and come to grips with his newfound love for a local girl who has no idea who he really is.  What Reynolds learns is that life in hiding is anything but straightforward, especially during the tumultuous political times of pre-Revolutionary War England and America.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Burns Family Studios did an excellent job on the production of this adventure epic movie, including camera work, special effects, and historical costuming.  It would have been very easy for this type of large scope movie to be cheaply produced, but this was not the case.  The editing must have been very tricky, given the time that the movie covers, but it is done fairly well.  There are virtually no errors here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

However, the same cannot be said about the plot.  Box Office Revolution believes talented writer Paul McCusker bit off more than he could chew with this historical epic.  The movie covers at least two years of highly important content, and it walks the line of being too fast paced and being just good enough.  In some respects, the plot moves too fast to develop the characters, but in other respects, it is a very exciting movie full of intriguing plot twists.  It is creatively woven around historical events, yet BOR wonders if Mask should have been two movies or even a miniseries.  At the same time, BOR realizes that money is always an issue with independent Christian films, so it is likely that McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best they could with what they had.  In short, the only real errors in this aspect of the movie are the fast paced plot and some small yet unrealistic action scenes.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Andrew Cheney and Jon Ryhs-Davies are obviously well-seasoned actors, and they are coached well.  However, the ‘amateur’ actors are also coached very well.  BOR noted that staff positions on the production of this movie were devoted to acting coaching, something that other Christian productions need to take note of.  There are virtually no acting errors in Beyond the Mask.

Conclusion

In short, there are two ways of looking at Beyond the Mask, much like the masks of William Reynolds.  Either McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best with what they had or they did not do enough.  BOR chooses to adopt a position in between these two options.  Beyond the Mask is clearly above average and Paul McCusker has always been known as an excellent story writer.  The movie is a breath of fresh air in the Christian movie industry and has made BOR very excited to see the future movies of Paul McCusker and Burns Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points