A Murder of Innocence (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Albert and Aimee Anderson move to a small town to pastor the local church, they expect all the typical things of a small town church, but nothing in their lives ever prepared them for what happened soon after they arrived. After discovering the dead bodies of their two newest and closest friends, the Andersons are left reeling in the aftermath as they entire church turns to them for guidance during this dark time. However, answers escape them as the culprit seems elusive and the townspeople grow restless and anxious. Will evil ever be brought to justice? Will they be able to recover a sense of normalcy?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, A Murder of Innocence has a mostly fine production, including good video quality and fine sets, locations, and props, even if they are a bit limited in scope. A lot of the time, the audio is extremely quiet and muffled, and the soundtrack is either lacking or overpowering. Also, camera work is inconsistent–sometimes shaky and sometimes fine. Further, the editing is a concern as there are many awkward fadeouts throughout after scenes have gone on too long while some scenes have very quick transitions that cut things off. It seems like there was more content or some that wasn’t usable, so a lot of it appears to relate to post-production issues. Overall, this is just an average production, which isn’t quite up to modern standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although it initially was a good idea to use a true story to try something a bit different, yet much time is wasted on silent montages and clunky dialogue as everything feels very scripted and robotic, especially the ‘perfect’ Christian characters. Instead of actual character development, we’re just left with offensive gender stereotypes that paint women as less intelligent than men. Besides this, the plot is largely based on very shallow concepts and doesn’t appear to comprehend reality very well. Throughout the story, there’s a mysteriously odd tone like it’s concealing some great secret, but it all comes to nothing substantial. If you’re going to write mystery plot, you need to make sure you’ve done your homework to make criminal investigations realistic and believable. It feels like there’s too much going on here that the writers don’t quite understand, which creates the odd mysticism. Besides this, a vast majority of the scenes are slow and dour without much balance or adequate character engagement as the plot drags on and on and chases fruitless rabbit trails. After using up over an hour teasing a possibly forthcoming purpose via dramatic dialogue and randomly extra subplots, there’s little to show for the effort. While it’s commendable to try a suspense plot centered around mental health in rural areas, the very steep character arcs and magical fixes in the final minutes really do the film in, especially since there’s nothing to hold the audience’s interest or make the film worthwhile. Without a central focus, the movie meanders and flounders until a conclusion.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the other elements of the film, the acting is a bit stifled and lifeless as it comes off as over-practiced. In conjunction with the audio problems, the line delivery itself is very soft and almost muted most of the time. However, the acting is at least average in most places without any majorly glaring errors or standout performances. Though there is some unnecessary drama, this section rounds out a basically vanilla effort.

Conclusion

The good thing is that Christian entertainment is becoming broader and braver as time goes on. There was a time when mystery suspense dramas like A Murder of Innocence would have been unthinkable in some Christian circles, but thankfully, there are at least attempts to be more creative and diverse. However, there are still things to work on, most notably plot and character content. This was based on a true story, so it’s not really acceptable to have such poor characters, along with an aimless storyline. Next time, before making a Christian film, it would be better to count the cost and make sure there’s enough creativity and purpose behind it. The only stories that will be transformative are the ones that feel like real life.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

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Heavens to Betsy 2 (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Betsy had a unique experience in which God allowed her to live in an alternate version of her life due to her pleadings, she was able to return to her normal life and chronicle her journey under the guise of a fictional work. Her novel made her moderately famous overnight and even attracted unexpected attention from publishers and media outlets. However, this new popularity will come at a price as Betsy will have to decide if she’s going to come clean about the true origins of her story.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although it’s a 2019 production and should be higher quality than this, Heavens to Betsy 2 is a mostly average one. Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and standard, but the soundtrack is generic and cheesy. The sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and come off as cheap. The editing is very basic as it presents the content at face value without any complex techniques. As a whole, it’s a very pedestrian offering that is neither good nor bad, yet it really doesn’t have a place in the current entertainment field. To top things off, silly magical elements really put the nail in the coffin for this plot that was really doomed from the start.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

After a long rehashing of the previous film many people don’t know about, this unnecessary sequel launches into expectedly cringeworthy comedic sequences very similar to the ones we saw in the first one. Much of the dialogue is trying way too hard to be funny, and many of the scenes are downright pointless. As if it doesn’t have anything better to do, this installment decides to go down a localized media persecution rabbit hole in order to keep the story on life support. However, this idea comes off all wrong as the ‘villain’ character is actually remotely funny for the right reasons. It’s commendable for a Christian creator to want to create a universe of characters, but are these the ones people really want to know better? There are too many coincidences in this story-world as everyone knows about the main character’s book, and lot of the conversations feel dragged out and inflated for runtime purposes. The storyline is overall aimless and lacks substantial themes as it just presents a random collection of scenes that don’t seem fully rooted in reality. In a somewhat bizarre concluding sequence, the screenwriters appear to address the logical problems of the first film, but the explanations only create more questions and inconsistencies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the production, the acting of Heavens to Betsy 2 is very run-of-the-mill and expected. Some cast members tend to overdo their roles and overplay their emotions while others appear unsure of what they’re doing. In the end, with no dynamic performances or standout roles either good or bad, this section also gets an average rating.

Conclusion

One big question we have to ask about this film is why it was even made. Rarely is a sequel justified, especially when the original film was so low-key. Sequels should be about exploring new horizons with characters who are already well-developed and deserve further screentime. Unfortunately, films like Heavens to Betsy 1 and 2 don’t rally have much to offer and will easily be forgotten as time goes on. If screenwriters are interested in trying to develop characters over time, a series would likely be a better forum for this venture.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

Blackbear {Submission} [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Blackbear was a covert military operative tasked with secretly taking out terrorists in the Middle East, but an unexpected turn of events led to his unit’s capture. While a prisoner of war, they were subjected to cruel torture, and even though they were able to escape, they were each left with serious health consequences due to the drugs that were forced upon them. Back the US, their minds are still at war as they each try to find ways to cope with the pain. Blackbear decides he needs to take up boxing again under his old coach, but he never anticipated the journey he would have to go on to find healing.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a first-time, slightly underfunded production, Blackbear (formerly known as Submission) has some positive aspects but also some negative elements. For one, the attempts are constructing realistic sets, locations, and props, especially in the war scenes, are commendable and feel authentic. However, audio is sometimes unbalanced, and at times, the camera work is quite dizzying due to dramatic effect. While the video quality is very crisp throughout, a lot of spoken lines are obviously overdubbed, and there are some loud background noises throughout. Despite some cheap and disorienting special effects and one too many dark scenes, the soundtrack is quite good as it includes relevant NF songs. Moreover, the biggest drawback to this production is the poor editing; there are a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions that make the viewer feel like things are rushing too quickly. For these reasons, the story comes off as choppy, but there are other concerns there as well. As a whole, while this is just an average production, there is potential here, and the complexity of the subject matter is definitely taken into consideration.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

All around, Blackbear is one big mixed bag. It’s clear that the creators really wanted to do something creative with this plot, but it got lost in its own head, so to speak. For one, the dialogue includes authentic military lingo that speaks to good expertise and research on the topic, but the plot itself moves forward too quickly as events occur without good reasons and as storytelling is overall disorganized. It seems like things happen because the writers need them to happen rather than natural events unfolding or characters making choices based on personality and motive. Moreover, there are still good things to note here, such as a good exploration of how self medication of military trauma comes to be and how secret government operations mistreat and abuse people for their own purposes. Nonetheless, all of these themes are just thrown into the proverbial pile since there aren’t any central purposes or focuses that keep the story grounded, which allows it to meander around various topics, like unethical value imposition in the medical field, cheesy portrayals of non-American characters, obscure boxing events, strawman sports villains, and vague references to abstract medical treatments that go over the audience’s heads. Throughout all of this spider-webbing, the dialogue isn’t enough to build believable characters, which is a shame due to the empty sequences of staring that waste precious time, not to mention some of the vague and understated subplots that need to be either integrated better or edited out. All of these issues are rolled in with typical sports movie tropes: training montages, impossible sports feat conversations, random local news reports, and unrealistic looks at heroin recovery; as a side note, this is the most addictive substance known to man, and nobody can just quit it cold turkey. Nonetheless, despite all of these complex issues, there is a surprisingly interesting and actually realistic twist at the end of the film that tries to tie things together in some fashion. The conclusion is very non-typical in most ways, but the monologue by one of the characters at the end isn’t enough to fix what could have been an interesting story. Characters all of a sudden become more interesting at the end, but it’s too late at this point; it would have been better to showcase the creative concepts throughout the movie rather than putting it all at the end. Even so, the way it ends still shows potential for future projects.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While a lot of the acting in Blackbear leaves something to be desired due to quite a bit of forceful and unnatural delivery styles, there are some good attempts at culturally authentic casting. Although there are a lot of blank and emotionless performances at key moments in the film, at least some of them can be explained by the psychological torture the protagonist underwent. In this vein, Scott Pryor is definitely good at playing a mind control victim. Elsewhere, some line delivery is very quick, and Eric Roberts is poorly cast as an incongruous character, but there are enough good performances throughout to keep this section average, which aligns nicely with the other sections of the movie.

Conclusion

No matter how convoluted it seems at times, on the whole, Christian entertainment is getting braver. New film makers are trying different things, and this is encouraging to see because it’s what we desperately need. The final sequences of Blackbear demonstrate creative ideas that can be used in more efficient ways, such as a series collaboration. This forum would allow the good concepts to be packaged in better ways that would reach audiences and get their messaging out there. The concept behind this film needs some type of redo, so hopefully, we’ll see more from this creative team in the coming days.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Heavenly Deposit (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Peter Ranos has always tried to make the big break in Hollywood, but lately, nothing seems to be working out for him and his wife. They’ve hit every financial bump possible, and no one wants to cut them a break. When they just about exhaust all of their options and almost get by, something else hits them from the blind side. Peter is eventually brought to his knees as he realizes he can’t do it on his own anymore, which forces him to return to his childhood faith that he abandoned when his father suddenly died.

Production Quality (2 points)

For a first-time, low-funded production, Heavenly Deposit is able to at least breach the average line, which is something we’re seeing more of in more modern Christian entertainment. Though it begins a little rough with some roving camera work and abrupt cuts, it overall improves as the film progresses. The soundtrack is a bit inconsistent at times, and the sets, props, and locations are somewhat limited in the beginning, but it becomes clear by the middle of the movie that the creators did have something better in mind. They do the best with what they have, and the video quality is stable throughout as well as the audio quality. The camera work and the editing calms down, and the sets become better utilized in the second half. Though it does begin a bit rough, it’s encouraging to see that this production team can improve as the film goes on, which shows good potential for future projects. In the end, this production makes enough improvements to warrant an above-average rating, and this isn’t bad considering the budget and experience of the creators.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the get-go, the protagonist forces unnecessary narration on the audience, but it thankfully subsides until the epilogue. It’s great that the writers were able to base this story off of true events because, for the most part, it does feel like realistic circumstances everyday people would experience. This gives the plot a non-linear and non-typical feel, and the premise is down-to-earth. However, in the first half of the film, the dialogue comes off as a bit generic as it doesn’t do quite enough to deepen the characters beyond stereotypical roles. Since this is a character-based story with a handful of characters, we needed deeper personalities and motives for them rather than run-of-the-mill placeholders that feel swept along by the plot. Granted, we do see more authenticity from the characters in the second half of the film as the creators’ true intentions are revealed, but it’s difficult for most viewers to stick with it that long without something substantial to hold onto. Because the first 30-45 minutes tends to meander without major themes, the good messages and understanding of real struggles depicted in the remainder of the runtime may be lost to many people. In a similar vein, though the story does become more focused as it goes, there are a few too many slightly silly coincidences and head-scratching magical elements that tend to put a damper on things. Also, the last 10 minutes rush through a lot of content with the aim of fixing things, but as a whole, this story is good enough to make the film average.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other elements in the film, the acting does get better with time. It does feel like this cast really cares about doing their best, and they are willing to be coached in some ways. There’s nothing dynamic happening here, but it’s refreshing to see a cast that’s not trying to flaunt something. The main drawback to highlight here is some weird hair and makeup work in the beginning, but as usual, this gets better later in the movie. As a whole, Heavenly Deposit is a good place to start for film makers who have potential to do even better.

Conclusion

Some entertainment creators are better with series than movies (see Dallas Jenkins and company). It’s highly possible that George Vincent and his crew fit into this category as well, and with the growth of Christian streaming services like PureFlix and VidAngel, creative teams have a lot more options than they once did. Thus, with more time and better budgeting, we have high hopes for what Vincent and his team can produce next.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Breakthrough [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through the ice one fateful winter day, she feels like she’s lost him forever. However, after praying over him in the intensive care unit, she witnesses a seeming miracle as her son is able to be stabilized into a coma rather than be on death’s door. Afterward, a battle for healing begins as Joyce faces perceived opposition on every side of her as her son keeps fighting for his life.

Production Quality (2 points)

Breakthrough falls in line with other inspirational productions DeVon Franklin has been involved with, such as Heaven is For Real and Miracles From Heaven. As such, Breakthrough hits all the right proverbial notes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality. While the soundtrack is sometimes too loud and invasive, for the most part, the sets, props, and locations are fine. This film is really just a by-the-book, run-of-the-mill inspirational production with nothing to set it apart either good or bad. The biggest glaring error therein is the poor editing, but this is mainly due to its plot problems. As a whole, Breakthrough is a safe, non-dynamic film through and through.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

On the surface, the message of the plot is fine as it blatantly panders to an inspirational audience, yet Breakthrough sets itself apart by portraying the main character in unusually perfect and un-flawed ways even though she has plenty of issues in her behavior. This premise is likely due to the original book’s content, but empowering someone who seemingly believes she never really did anything wrong and feels like everyone else in the world needs to change except for her is very suspect. The storyline and characters are required to change according to her (sometimes judgmental) standards, and she never really learns anything as she continues to live in her own little world. This is the real hidden problem with Breakthrough besides the typical spoon-feeding of inspirational messages to a hand-picked audience. While there were some interesting psychological elements in this film that had the potential to make an interesting story about the miracles of God, we are instead left with the miracles of Joyce Smith; in doing so, prayer is mis-handled and poorly portrayed as people deciding what’s doing to happen. Elsewhere, random subplots are thrown together that cause a lot of story confusion and disorganization. In the midst of the swirl, there aren’t any substantial characters to relate to because dialogue is bland and pedestrian. Even though this was a small, focused time frame, we don’t really know who these people are beyond the molds the main character puts them into. Had this story been more about miracles and prayer, we would have had another Miracles From Heaven, which was safe, standard inspirational movie designed to target a specific audience. Breakthrough tries to follow in its footsteps, yet the dictates of the main character decide otherwise.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s understandable that this mainly Hollywood cast is professional and appears to know what they’re doing. However, some cast members who have more potential, like Josh Lucas, come off as underwhelming and downplayed, which suggests they’ve been cast wrong. It feels like more could have been done with this cast even though there aren’t any glaring problems. With the money and expertise behind the film, the acting needed to be more dynamic than this, but it overall rounds out a mediocre effort designed as a quick cash grab.

Conclusion

DeVon Franklin loves to make money off of the inspirational audience, and he’s clearly good at it. He’s found something that works, so good for him. Nonetheless, with all the marketing and fluff of this film, there’s no real substance to back it up. We were promised a movie about a miracle, yet we can’t connect with the real story due to tainted views of the main character. What’s more, the disjointed subplots make for a confusing viewing experience as it mostly just boils down to a collection of platitudes you could find in a generic white Christian book for sale at Lifeway. There’s nothing special here, but then again, Franklin never intended to do anything further, so he’s sticking with his business model, which is at least upfront and honest. Regardless, Christian entertainment can do better than this.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

The Christ Slayer (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Longinus was raised by the Magi, but he never fully believed the stories they told of the Messiah as he rose through the ranks of the Roman army. he was at the pinnacle of his career, but an injury led to blindness, forcing him out of service. As he languished in darkness with a servant to guide his daily activities, he never dreamed that his life would be forever changed when he helped end a seemingly meaningless crucifixion of the One they called the King of the Jews.

Production Quality (2 points)

Over time, DJ Perry and his creative have definitely improved their production skills as The Christ Slayer demonstrates good camera work, effective camera angles, and professional video quality. The audio quality is also fine for the more part, and the soundtrack is culturally authentic. While the sets, locations, and props are great, the outdoor scenes are better since some of the indoor shots are a bit too dark and disorienting. Some of the editing could have been more consistent and understandable, but on the whole, this production is adequate and shows commitment to improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Quest Trilogy has taken many different turns, and at this point, the ending is better than the beginning. At its inception, some parts were hard to grasp and a bit too abstract, but the unique turn in The Christ Slayer definitely helped things. This is a unique extra-Biblical plot that gives a fresh perspective on the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and it sports the typical abstractly creative concepts of the CDI team. The spiritual elements from Forty Nights and Chasing the Star are included in this third installment, but they are presented in more accessible fashions. Similarly, the psychological themes of The Christ Slayer are fairly well-utilized, and integration of Biblical accounts is creatively woven together with the main plot. There are a few drawbacks, however, that keep this plot from being all that it could be. For instance, there are quite a few slow scenes that tend to be too artistic such that the audience has trouble understanding them, and some of the characters’ dialogue is a bit archaic and drawn-out. There are some expository conversations that replace better character development, and sometimes, the Jesus character is a bit too ethereal and inaccessible, but as a whole, this is a fine Easter plot that demonstrates unique storytelling.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Probably the brightest spot of this film’s cast is the awesome idea to cast a special needs cast member in a role that doesn’t over-emphasize his condition. Treating him as a regular actor is a huge step forward for disability rights, so this creative team’s decision to do this shows a deeper care for inclusion in the arts. Elsewhere in this cast, some of the main cast members are good while some could use more efficient coaching to avoid being too theatrical and dramatic. As a whole, the acting is average, but it could have been better if emotions were more accessible. In the end, The Christ Slayer is a good end to the Quest Trilogy.

Conclusion

DJ Perry and company have a lot going for them, so it will be interesting to see how they will be able to collaborate with other talent in the future. Throughout their careers, they have only gotten better as they have adapted and changed, which is encouraging to see. Sometimes trilogies end worse than they begin, so since the Quest Trilogy has ended on a good note, this will hopefully be a springboard to better things in the future for CDI entertainment.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Run the Race (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

It seems like Zach and Dave Truett have always been dealt a bad hand in life. Their mother died, and their father soon after fell into alcoholism. Dave suffers from a medical condition, so when Zach tears his ACL at a party, his chances of a football scholarship, their only clear way out of their small town, are jeopardized. This forces Zach to do the soul-searching he had always avoided since their mother died, and it leads the brothers to unexpected places.

Production Quality (2 points)

As the first production funded and facilitated by the Tebow brothers, they have definitely shown that they can aggregate funds and put them to fairly good use. For the most part, this production is quite good and hits all the right notes, including good video quality, effective camera work, professional audio quality, and a great soundtrack. Sets, locations, and props are also adequately used and constructed. While the music is good, one drawback is the many dizzying sports montages that seem to eat up most of the runtime. Because of the time spent on this part, other scenes in the film are awkwardly and abruptly cut off with poor transitions. However, on the whole, this is an above-average production that is great for a first time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the money put into the production didn’t reflect well in the plot department. While something good is trying to be portrayed in this story, it doesn’t come through well at all, mostly due to the quick, clipped scenes that leave little room for proper development. Much of the dialogue refers to off-screen content or is very punctuated; this makes for awkward conversations that are inadequate in building characters effectively. While there are some attempts to take a real look at issues facing small towns in America and the people in them, too much time is spent on sports and training montages, which makes for a fairly choppy story presentation that doesn’t flow very well at all. There are too many missed opportunities as mindless sequences crowd the runtime, and many of the characters are too basic and one-dimensional. Difficult topics are mishandled with cliches, and unexpected time jumps leave the viewer disoriented to the story’s progression. Besides a handful of good scenes near the end of the film, this movie mainly talks about things without really showing them to you and fixes things without any heart behind them. In better screenwriting hands, this could have been a great exploration of relevant issues facing ordinary people, but we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

On the whole, the acting of this film could have been good, and while there aren’t any glaring errors, it’s still a bit thin. Better coaching would have likely brought out the potential in the cast members, and even so, it’s not as bad as it could have been. However, it’s not really dynamic either, which makes this an average section that rounds off a middle-of-the-road film.

Conclusion

In summary, Run the Race is fine for a freshman film effort, but with higher standards being set in the Christian entertainment market, new film makers will need to aim higher if they want to make their mark. Good productions have become more of a benchmark than they once were, and acting should at least be above average. The films that will truly set themselves apart moving forward are those that have dynamic plots and effective storytelling techniques. Perhaps in the their next attempt, the Tebow brothers can wield their fundraising skills to support a truly talented screenwriter.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Unplanned [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and abortion rights advocate, was taken by God on an unforgettable journey of redemption and forgiveness that led her to reject her former way of life and trade it for a ministry of pro-life activism. Though no one could have ever dreamed that an abortion clinic supervisor would switch political sides and join her former enemies, there is no end to the power of prayer.

Production Quality (2 points)

As expected at this point from PureFlix, the production of Unplanned is above-average and hits all the right notes, for the most part. On the surface, it looks good due to high video quality, professional camera work, and adequate sets, locations, and props. Audio quality is also good. They’ve checked all the typical boxes, but there are some issues with the soundtrack as many of the songs don’t properly fit the situations they are played in. However, the most glaring problem is the horrific editing that takes the viewer all over the map of a story that could have been good but only ends up playing like an audio book, as we see next.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At this point, it’s painfully clear that the current PureFlix team can’t even properly portray a great true story even if it hit them in the face like Abby Johnson’s story did. Even if the book is already written for them, you can count on PureFlix to fumble the ball at the goal line by falling back on their old tried-and-failed pitfalls of trying to be too obvious without trusting the audience to read in to the subtlety and of crafting too many climax scenes for dramatic effect. The obvious goal was the hit all the high points of the story in order to maximize the most shock and awe possible with the hopes of scaring people about abortion. There’s no doubt that there were many powerful parts of Abby’s story, but we’ll never really know as the demonstrative elements are over-emphasized in the movie while the potential for character building is simply replaced with incessant and heavy-handed narration. They seem like great characters, but it’s impossible to know them due to the narration and the wild time jumps that leave the viewer disoriented. Since there’s a lot of content in this story, it could have been effectively laid out via flashbacks that built character motivation, yet instead, we were left with talking-points conversations and overly emphasized strawman villain moments. The film is written for basically one good scene near the end where we actually get realistic dialogue uninterrupted by Bratcher’s narration, but it’s too little too late. Unfortunately, where Abby Johnson’s story could have been a powerful treatise on prayer and a change of heart, all we’re given is a smile-and-wave, run-of-the-mill experience dedicated to grossing people out about abortion whose R-rating is warranted due to lack of balance.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, Ashley Bratcher is a bright spot in this cast, which suggests her performance in Princess Cut was heavily controlled by the creators of that film. While the supporting cast might have been interesting, it’s hard to tell due to the famine of lines and dialogue in this film. Even still, the casting and acting are mostly good without many glaring errors…it’s just basically unfinished and left wanting, like the overall feel of this movie.

Conclusion

There’s absolutely no doubt that Abby Johnson and David Bereit played integral roles in bringing the pro-life movement out of the dark ages through prayer and expert leadership, and Abby’s story is an amazing one that deserved a movie of its own. However, PureFlix’s treatment of the story doesn’t do it any justice. Moreover, Unplanned, in a way, represents the current state of the pro-life movement: lots of well-meaning people who want to do the right thing, along with a collection of more influential people who believe that ‘gotcha’ talking points and graphic displays of the evils of abortion will change things. The early marketing for this film proclaimed it to be (another) death knell for the corrupt Planned Parenthood, yet we beg to differ. Any success the pro-life movement will find moving forward is by both listening to and telling actual stories of real people, not by falling into the trap of unleashing smoking guns that will ‘sink’ your opposition. There was a massive opportunity to tell a real story in Unplanned that could actually reach people, but once again, PureFlix proves that they can’t tell stories properly because this requires actually knowing people. Unfortunately, while the gory moments of this film can be powerful if packaged properly, when they are separated from an emotional connection with the characters, they can re-traumatize those who have been hurt by abortion, which doesn’t win any ‘converts.’

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

40: The Temptation of Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Jesus’ baptism and before his earthly ministry officially began, he went into the desert for forty days, where He was tempted by the devil to forfeit His work before it even began. Satan used many tactics to convince Jesus to fall, yet Christ remained without sin in the trials. As Jesus endured the hardship, He experienced human pain and suffering that prepared Him to relate to those who needed His power the most.

Production Quality (2 points)

While this film’s budget was somewhat limited due to its independent nature, resources were clearly allocated responsibly. Although there are some cheap special effects and sound effects, mostly toward the beginning of the film, there is plenty of positive to note here. The first thirty minutes of the movie are the hardest because these contain some poor editing and lagging scenes, but once the film progresses past this point, things begin to look up. There are some elements of shaky camera work throughout, but the outdoor locations used are very engaging and professionally shot. The perspective filming is effective, and the soundtrack is highly engaging in many parts as it adds to the viewing experience. Further, video quality is crisp throughout, and even though it takes a bit, the production slowly becomes a great one, which is a testament to what this team could pull off with more resources under their belt.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Like the production, the plot is a bit shaky at first, mostly due to immediate and unnecessary narration. Jesus is also a bit too theatrical and inaccessible as a character at first, but He definitely gets better as the story goes on. It’s somewhat difficult to get through the first thirty minutes of the film because of these issues and because of some lagging scenes, so it’s possible that this idea may have worked better as a short film. However, once the thirty-minute mark has been passed, things change for the better since a really good idea is revealed. The use of flashbacks and flash-forwards is very effective to bridge time and to reinforce the psychological elements that the temptations are based on, which are very well-constructed. The core of the plot is based on a collection of very engaging and creative conversations that clearly show what the film was made for. Old Testament prophecies are integrated very well into the dialogue, which is something we don’t see enough of in Bible films. As a whole, this creative team’s take on the temptations of Jesus is very interesting and innovative, mostly due to well-executed psychological sequences that go hand-in-hand extremely well with the flashbacks, mostly because the viewer doesn’t always see the temptation coming. In the end, the use of symbolism and artistic elements are effective in presenting a familiar Bible story in a new, creative way, and the horror elements are handled well without being too sensational. Thus, there is a lot of potential for this creative team through future collaborations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the cast is not entirely culturally authentic, this can be forgiven due to the limited budget of the project. At first, the line delivery and emotions come off as too forced and theatrical, but they moderate as the film progresses and show concerted improvement. Due the small cast, they carry the whole film on their shoulders, and for the most part, they post good performances by the movie’s conclusion. This rounds out an overall refreshing independent effort, which plants promising seeds for the future.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to portray the temptations of Jesus properly without a good understanding of human psychology. As a whole, this creative team appears to have such an understanding. The Temptation of Christ is everything a first-time, self-funded project should be: as good of a production as possible, a well-written plot that demonstrates talent that can be developed in the future, and a good enough acting performance to carry the day. Thus, we can’t wait to see what these film makers have to offer once they are given better funding opportunities.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Palau: The Movie (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Luis Palau, a world-renowned missionary, had meager beginnings in his life, but this did not hold him back from being all he could be for God. Under the mentorship of key people God placed in his life, Palau brought the Gospel to the countries and locations God laid on his heart and set an example for evangelism. Even today, the impact of his work is still being felt.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While this is obviously a good idea on paper for a Christian film, it seems like the execution was only partial due to budget constraints. This fact is evident in the limited sets, locations, and props, even though they still demonstrate great attempts at historical and cultural accuracy. The lighting of the scenes is back and forth with indoor scenes mostly poorly lit while outside scenes are fine. The camera work is also acceptable, along with the audio quality. At times, there are background noises, however, and the soundtrack, while culturally authentic, seems forced at times. Further, the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is basically average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the story of Luis Palau is a great true story to base a film upon, but the way it was conducted with this rendition wasn’t adequate in fully communicating the important messages therein. From the beginning, the attention of the audience isn’t effectively held due to an overall feel of the film being a sort of docu-drama. This attitude is demonstrated by collections of boring scenes that simply depict characters sitting around or standing while reciting lines. As such, the dialogue isn’t enough to drive the character development to where we can relate to them; we don’t know character motivations well enough even though there are some backstories portrayed. It’s a nice authentic touch to use the original language, but it tends to cloud things when it the whole film already comes off like a collection of Bible study skits. Because of this dynamic, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but representations of ideas, which is a real shame since the movie could have been a true epic story. The time jumps are a disservice both to continuity and proper development of concepts, and it ruins any chance of having central themes or concepts to center the movie around. In the end, this film is mostly benign, which also means it’s not ground-breaking.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the acting mostly means well, it tends to fall flat due to its vanilla nature. The attempts at cultural authenticity are definitely commendable, but each cast member would benefit from improved coaching. However, it has to be considered that the lack of good written lines puts a damper on their ability to deliver them well. Nonetheless, the smaller cast tends to amplify the errors, and in the end, this is basically an average performance overall.

Conclusion

In summary, it can’t be discounted that commendable effort was made to craft a film depicting an important true story that has impacted thousands of people around the world. Since it’s such an important account, we would have liked to see a much more substantial approach that did it justice and sought to produce a dynamic experience for the viewer. However, the film makers definitely meant well, so it will be interesting to see what they put out next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Manav Banerjee only wanted to be a successful journalist in the late 1990s India, when the country was full of social unrest due to religious persecution and restlessness. Thus, when Banerjee was given a chance at big story – finding a reason to arrest American missionary Graham Staines – he jumped at the chance to infiltrate the Christian cell who cared for the leper outcasts in order to trap Staines with Indian religious laws. However, the longer he knew Staines, the more perplexed Banerjee became, and he inadvertently set off a chain of events that would change both of their lives forever.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Least of These is a production that was a long time coming, and the finished product was definitely worth the wait as the on-location filming location paid off. This gives it an air of authenticity that there wouldn’t otherwise be in an international film. Video quality, camera work, sets, and props also live up to these high standards set by the hard work put into it. Audio quality is also mostly adequate, and the soundtrack is culturally appropriate, even if it is a bit loud and invasive in some scenes. The only other minor error to point out here relates to some quick cuts and abrupt scene transitions, but the editing is overall good, including some artistic overlays that are executed well. As a whole, as we kick off 2019 in the world of Christian entertainment, The Least of These is an almost-perfect production in the new era of Christian film that demands higher quality productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s definitely clear why this true story was chosen for a film, and it’s refreshing to see a unique, non-Western perspective on white missionaries coming to a third world country, which can be attributed to the Indian creators of this film. We’ve had plenty of films told through the eyes of the ‘benevolent’ white missionaries, so seeing a culturally authentic perspective on this true story makes this plot very worthwhile. However, there are still some pitfalls of freshman story-telling to note here, such as the heavy-handed narration that doesn’t allow the plot to unfold naturally. Nevertheless, for the most part, character development appears to survive mostly intact, which can likely be attributed to their being based on real people. A good use of effective flashbacks also aids in this effort. Further, the Christian message is presented very well without being too forceful. Unfortunately, while the beginning and middle of this plot are quite good, it tends to lag at the end and to not discover the dynamic feel that it needed to push it onto the Hall of Fame. There are one too many abstract scenes that don’t have enough meaning attached to them. Nevertheless, this is still a great film about an excellent real-life story that is definitely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It seems like there were better cast members to cast for Australian roles than non-Australian cast members Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby, whose Australian acting accents are either non-existent or extremely inconsistent. Despite these obvious errors, however, Baldwin and Rigby do well in fulfilling their DVD-cover roles by being in less than half of the film’s run time. They are definitely overshadowed by the excellent cultural casting for all of the other characters, which is a refreshment. Not only do the Indian cast members fit into their roles very well, but they are also skilled in line execution and emotional delivery. Further, costuming throughout the film is authentic and culturally accurate, which rounds out an overall above-average effort.

Conclusion

While The Least of These didn’t go as far as it could have been, this is absolutely a great start to a film-making career for all of those involved. Not only did Stephen Baldwin show that he can actually pull off a semi-normal role, but Aneesh Daniel and his team have showcased great skill and talent that will hopefully be applied to even better movies in the future. While we can’t wait to see what they have next, this film is definitely worth your time.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points