Following the Subplots of The Chosen (Season 1, Episodes 5-8)

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The Chosen has certainly already been a transformational series, and it’s barely gotten off the ground. It has grassroots appeal and will likely grow into a larger and larger movement as time goes on. As the first multi-season Bible series to be created, it has the potential reach beyond traditional Christian audiences and transform the culture both inside and outside the church. The series’ connections with real people in a Jewish cultural context as they encounter the Messiah are its biggest assets, so here’s a helpful guide to help keep up with the core subplots we’ve seen through episode eight of the first season.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

Simon, Andrew, Eden, and Dasha

In the second half of Season 1, we saw Simon and his family taking more center-stage than they previously were. Simon consistently tried to assert himself as a protector of Jesus and a leader of the other disciples, including trying to be gatekeeper for who could and could not have access to his Rabbi. At the same time, Simon tried to hide the illness of Dasha, his mother-in-law, from Jesus. However, despite her mother’s sickness, Eden was glad for the turn of events in her husband’s life and formed a special connection with Jesus. Simon and Eden appear to have rekindled their romance with each other. Andrew continued to play a background role for his brother, his sister-in-law, and his new teacher; he wanted to protect Jesus as much as Simon did, but Andrew showed he was a faster learner than his brother was. In the end, Jesus healed Dasha’s malady, and Simon was forced to accept new things that were previously foreign to his culture, such as interacting with tax collectors and Samaritans.

Thus far, Simon, Andrew, Eden, and Dasha have either directly or indirectly crossed paths with Jesus and with all of the other current disciples and their families, with the exception of Matthew’s family. Simon and Andrew have additionally interacted with Jesus’ mother Mary and some of her close friends. Thus far, Eden and Dasha have only been seen in Galilee while the brothers have been seen there as well as Samaria.

Matthew, Gauis, Quintus, and Matthew’s parents

Matthew’s storyline and his related characters, including his parents, Gaius, and Quintus, have also been given more focus than before. Throughout the latter four episodes of Season 1, Matthew was consistently distracted and confused by the fish miracle he witnessed at the end of Episode 4, which was something that defied reality and could not be explained by his logical way of thinking. Thus, this drove him to seek answers from anyone who would listen; when his superiors passed it off as a trick, Matthew tried to get closer to Jesus and His disciples but had difficulty doing so. However, after witnessing the miracle of the walking paralytic and not receiving answers from a visit to his mother, Matthew made his decision and followed Jesus when the Messiah passed by his tax collector’s booth. The new disciple left his affluent lifestyle behind and began chronicling what he saw. Gaius, his former bodyguard, was stunned at this decision because he had developed an attachment to Matthew and had previously been awarded a military promotion due to the tax collector’s work. Gaius relayed Matthew’s desertion to his superior, Quintus; Gaius also took Matthew’s dog to Matthew’s parents since the former tax collector had asked that he take the pet there to protect his parents’ business from thieves. Upon hearing of Matthew’s resignation, Quintus became angry and made it his goal to find Jesus, especially since Quintus was already frustrated about Jesus drawing a crowd at Zebedee’s and Salome’s house, which disrupted the arrival of an important Roman official who was Quintus’ childhood rival. Before this, Quintus had assigned Nicodemus to meet with Jesus to find out His angle.

At this point, Matthew has encountered Jesus and all the current disciples besides interacting with his parents, Gaius, and Quintus. Gaius has also crossed paths with Matthew, Matthew’s parents, Quintus, and Jesus for a brief moment. Quintus has had contact with Matthew, Gaius, Nicodemus, and Zohora. Gaius and Quintus have only been seen around Galilee while Matthew has been in both Galilee and Samaria.

Nicodemus, Zohora, Shmuel, and Yussif

Nicodemus’ and Zohora’s subplot remained relatively stable throughout the second half of Season 1. Zohora consistently wanted to return home to Jerusalem in order to once again live their affluent lifestyle and to meet their new grandchild. However, Nicodemus was intent on remaining in Galilee until he had solved the mystery of Mary Magdalene’s transformation. In pursuit of this goal, he interviewed John the Baptizer and went to the areas around Zebedee’s and Salome’s house just in time to see Mary Magdalene and to witness the healing of the paralytic. This led to Nicodemus begging Mary for an audience with her Rabbi. Mary agreed to ask Jesus, and later, Quintus demanded that Nicodemus seek a meeting with the mysterious teacher. Jesus agreed to the rendezvous and gave Nicodemus earth-shattering teaching about being born again and about saving the world from sin rather than from Rome. Nicodemus appeared to be converted to Jesus’ cause, and the Rabbi told Nicodemus to follow Him by meeting Him at a designated well before they departed on their journey. However, as Nicodemus gave it some thought and as Zohora convinced him, the esteemed Pharisee decided against publicly aligning himself with the controversial teacher and instead provided money for their expedition. Elsewhere, Shmuel played a much larger role in the second half of this inaugural season as he developed a very legalistic stance on the enforcement of Jewish law in response to his mentor’s (Nicodemus) possible openness to seemingly new ideas espoused by Jesus. As the season progressed, Shmuel became a more extreme character who may play a larger role in future seasons, especially since he has already directly interacted with Jesus at the healing of the paralytic. After using Old Testament passages to argue that John the Baptizer and Jesus were advocating heresy, Shmuel informed Nicodemus that he intended to make his mark on Pharisaical history by specializing in studying false prophecy, possibly in Jerusalem. Further, Yussif continued to be a minor character throughout this season as he remained in the background during major events like the healing of the paralytic. His most major contribution was discovering that Jesus was having a dinner party at Matthew’s house.

Up to this point, Nicodemus has only interacted with Quintus, Shmuel, Yussif, John the Baptizer, Mary Magdalene, Andrew, and Jesus. Zohora has only had contact with Quintus and her husband. Shmuel has been seen with Nicodemus, Yussif, and Jesus. Yussif has interacted with Nicodemus, Shmuel, and Jesus. All of these characters have only been seen around Galilee up to this point.

James, John, Zebedee, and Salome

The second half of Season 1 also saw the expansion of focus on the Zebedee clan. James and John became more main characters, and the audience saw a new side of Zebedee, along with the introduction of his wife, Salome. James and John went with Jesus and the other disciples to the Cana wedding, where they witnessed Jesus’ first public miracle. Then, they returned to their own home to watch the miracle of the paralytic unfold before them. Later, John accompanied Andrew to protect Jesus while their Rabbi met with Nicodemus under the cover of darkness. Further, James and John accompanied Jesus and the other disciples on the journey to Samaria, where they witnessed the Lord’s interaction with Fortina at the well. Zebedee and Salome only interacted with Jesus and His disciples in their own home prior to seeing the paralyzed man healed after he was let down through their roof. Zebedee appears to have mended his relationship with Simon, which was previously tenuous after Simon’s underhanded plans. Also, Salome has already developed a special attachment to Jesus.

Zebedee, Salome, James, and John have interconnected with Jesus and all His current disciples. Zebedee and Salome have only been seen in Galilee while their sons have been seen in both Galilee and Samaria.

Mary Magdalene, Thaddeus, and James son of Alphaeus

After being set free by Jesus, Mary Magdalene became a slightly secondary character as she began following the Messiah along with two other secondary characters, Thaddeus and James son of Alphaeus (“Young James”). They all attended the wedding at Cana, where Mary revealed a little bit about her past while Thaddeus disclosed that he had met Jesus while working on a construction project. In a private conversation, Thaddeus told Mary that he became a stonemason even though his father was a smith because Thaddeus liked the fact that chiseling stone was more final and once the first cut was made, the block would never be the same. Also, it was suggested that Mary and Thaddeus might be forming a closer relationship with each other. Later, Young James disclosed to Simon that he was originally going to sing in a temple choir before Jesus called him.

Thus far, Mary’s, Thaddeus’, and Young James’ storylines have all intersected with Jesus and with the other disciples. Mary has had personal contact with Nicodemus. Mary, Thaddeus, and Young James have all been seen in both Galilee and Samaria.

Thomas and Ramah

Thomas and Ramah were hired by Raphi and Dinah to oversee the preparation and distribution of food and wine at the Cana wedding. It seems to be implied that Thomas and Ramah are a couple and are running a business together. Once they arrived at the wedding, they discovered that there were far more guests than they had planned for and were soon running out of food and wine to keep everyone supplied. Thomas was extremely distraught at the situation since it would make him look bad. After dilution of the wine was a failed venture, Jesus’ mother Mary alerted the Messiah to the plight, and He came to the aid of Thomas and Ramah. Jesus told Thomas to follow him so that He could show Thomas a new way to count and a new way to view time. Jesus wanted Thomas to meet Him in Samaria in twelve days. Thomas was very skeptical until he saw the result of Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine. Thomas did not think Jesus’ directions would work, but Ramah was more than willing to supply the water for the miracle. When it was all over, Thomas told Ramah that he didn’t know what to think about Jesus’ offer, but Ramah told Thomas to not think for once.

Thomas and Ramah have only been seen in Galilee and have only directly interacted with Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary’s friends.

Mary the mother of Jesus and her friends

Raphi and Dinah were implied to be longtime friends of Mary the mother of Jesus, which is why Mary agreed to assist them with their son’s wedding in Cana. Mary had been previously introduced in the the Christmas pilot episode, and a flashback at the beginning of the Season 1’s second half revealed a special connection Mary had with her Son. After inviting Jesus and His disciples to be her guests at the Cana wedding, Mary asked her Son to prevent her friends’ embarrassment after the wine ran out.

Thus far, Mary and her friends have only been seen in Galilee, and they have only been seen with Jesus, Jesus’ current disciples, and Thomas and Rama.

Other Characters and Notes

Blind man in the Red Quarter: Although we never saw the blind man from the Red Quarter in the second half of Season 1, but he may still appear again when Jesus and His disciples return to the area in later seasons.

Barnaby, Shula, Rivkah, and Mary Magdalene’s other friends: Barnaby, Shula, and Rivkah had very small parts in Season 1’s latter half as they asked Jesus questions while He was at Zebedee’s and Salome’s house and appeared at Matthew’s dinner party. Abigail’s parents also brought questions to the Rabbi. They will likely all return for more seasons, with Shula and Rivka possibly playing larger roles in the future.

Fortina, Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well: Fortina was introduced right at the end of Season 1 as Jesus and His disciples came to her Samaritan village. Jesus revealed to her that He was the Messiah, which prompted her to go tell others even though she was a social outcast due to living with a man who was not her husband and due to having multiple marriages and relationships throughout her life. It’s implied that her story is not over yet, so she may be seen again in Season 2.

Abigail and friends: Abigail and her friend Jeshua were seen outside of Zebedee’s and Salome’s home when they offered Matthew a front row seat to witnessing the miracle of the paralytic. It’s likely that they will return in future seasons.

Tamar of Heliopolis and her friends: Tamar witnessed Jesus healing the leper, which prompted her to bring her paralyzed friend to Him at Zebedee’s and Salome’s house. She and her friends fought to get to the Teacher and let him down through the roof so that Jesus could heal the paralytic. Jesus commended her for her faith and her perseverance. It’s highly possible that some people from this group of friends will be seen in other seasons.

Old Testament flashbacks: One of the arguably best elements of Season 1’s second half was the use of Old Testament flashbacks to enhance storytelling. Thus far, the viewers have been shown Moses and Joshua as Moses fashioned the bronze serpent on the pole and Jacob and some of his sons as they dug what was later known as Jacob’s Well. It’s highly likely that this Old Testament flashback trend will continue in all seasons of The Chosen.

The Beverlys, Season 1 (Series Review)

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Plot Summary

Tommy Blaze Beverly is running out of money, and his constant hustles for quick cash aren’t yielding what he needs to fund his extravagant California lifestyle. Thus, when he sees a news story about foster girls in need, he jumps at the chance to make some extra money by becoming an instant foster parent basically overnight. Thankfully, his racially stereotyped butler and personal assistant are always there to meet Tommy’s beck and call, and the foster girls basically turn his house into a giant dance studio designed to hold daily auditions for the next Disney role. What could go wrong?

Production Quality (1 point)
In keeping with PureFlix’s typical sitcom elements, the first season of The Beverlys is complete with a constant laugh track, an annoying soundtrack, and the same old sets, locations, and props. While some production elements, such as video quality, audio quality, and camera work, are fine, these limiting factors put a damper on whatever small potential it had. The editing is also littered with stock footage and corny transitions between scenes. Thus, this section only warrants a point, but this is just the tip of this season’s iceberg of problems.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)
Essentially, The Beverlys appears to be designed as PureFlix’s own version of the Disney Channel. Its first season is full of mindless conversations, dance sequences, and cheesy so-called comedy routines that are all funny for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t even mention the constant stream of extremely forced comedic diatribes and painfully shoe-horned Christian messaging. What makes matters worse is that the storylines are not only pointless but that the dialogue is littered with cringe-worthy racial stereotyping, which causes this section to be negative. Besides this, the characters are very over the top and empty at the same time. The fact that stupid antidotes are forced on the viewer just after the audience sees thinly veiled racism is very disingenuous and offensive. Further, the premise of each episode is utterly pointless, and there’s nothing good going for this season, which is why the derogatory elements overcome this section to make it negative.

Acting Quality (-2 points)
Tommy Blaze departs from his usual corny performances to post a collection that’s in-your-face, bombastic, and annoyingly over the top. Most of the other cast members in this tiny cast are also trying way too hard as many emotions are basically screamed (or sang) at the audience. Line delivery is also very strained and forced. There is very little good to speak of, and the bad greatly outweighs anything positive, which is why this section also warrants negative points.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
The eight episodes of this first season are all literally the same thing over and over again. They all take the same page from the sitcom playbook and find different ways to package it: some silly escapade or scheme entangles the characters, and they have less than half an hour to quickly resolve it and prepare for the next round. This time, however, it’s just done with a Bible thought spin. Therefore, this copy-and-paste model of episode writing warrants no points for this section, which rounds out an overall embarrassing effort.

Conclusion

Another month, another pointless PureFlix original series. For some reason, the PureFlix executives are intent on spending their funds on throwaway concepts like The Beverlys. It’s unlikely they are getting any type of return from this kind of bizarre Blaze pet project, so why make it? It just further adds to the nonsense littering PureFlix’s checkered past and contributes to the already tenuous perception of Christian entertainment. Hopefully, however, things are beginning to look up outside of the PureFlix realm.

Final Rating: -3 out of 14 points

A Child of the King (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. Wesley King and his late wife were called to the jungles of South America to aid the needy and those who were considered to be hopeless. However, after his wife died, Wesley became lonely in his mission. In the states, a woman named Donna began following Wesley’s story via the letters he sent back to his home church. Then, Donna feels called to join Wesley in his overseas mission field, and God brings them together to minister to the least of those in South America.

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there are virtually no good aspects to this production as the audio quality is poor, including echoes in the background, a random soundtrack that sometimes interrupts lines, and some invasive outside noises. Similarly, the video quality is not quite what it should be, and there is some very poor lighting throughout the cheap sets and locations. Props also leave something to be desired, and the camera work is inconsistent at best. To top things off, the special effects used therein are very bad, and the editing is extremely choppy as some scenes drag on while others awkwardly or abruptly end. In the end, any small positives in this production are outweighed by the very obvious negatives.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From beginning to end, the storyline of A Child of the King is very hard to follow since it’s filled with blank conversations between characters and lacks an overall focus or purpose. The stiff and awkward dialogue between characters makes it very difficult to relate to them as people, and the main character is basically perfect. The plot essentially meanders around without the viewer being able to easily follow its progression, and it’s really nothing more than an informational video or mock docu-drama about overseas missions. While there may be some good ideas lost in here somewhere, people who can relate these concepts to the real world are needed to bring them to life. Further, the narrative just randomly ends in an unexpected place without any warning or resolution because that would require something to resolve in the first place.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of A Child of the King is its strongest point even though it’s mostly pedestrian, generic, and boring. There’s neither anything special nor horrible about the cast members’ performances, despite the fact that they have little content to work with. One bright spot is that the cast, for the most part, is culturally accurate with real accents and dialects, which is unexpected based on the remainder of the movie. Nonetheless, this average section isn’t enough to save this failed effort from itself.

Conclusion

An international film should very rarely be made in conjunction with other projects due to the time and financial freedom it requires. However, 2019 was an indicator of how committed the JC Films team was to producing as much content as they possibly could. The result of this is even more low quality Christian films to crowd out the market. Hopefully, however, the tides are still turning since Christian audiences want and deserve better than half-baked ideas.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

A Promise to Astrid (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Astrid Nicosia lived in a small town and tries to do good to each person she comes in contact with. She freely gave the little money that she had to those who needed it. She also wanted to walk closely with the Lord and to make a difference with what time she had left. Those who were touched by her kindness and generosity made a promise to return her favors either to her or to other people who were also in need.

Production Quality (1 point)

As a 2019 production, A Promise to Astrid has no excuse to be as bad as it is. While the video quality and the camera work are okay, the audio quality throughout the film is quite bad, including loud background sounds, echoes inside of the sets, and an invasive soundtrack that sometimes interrupts dialogue and others times causes confusion since it doesn’t fit the mood of the scenes. In addition, the sets, props, and locations are quite cheap, and there are some obvious continuity errors between scenes. There are also other editing concerns, such as the quick and awkward cuts and transitions, the high number of fade-outs, and the fact that many scenes do not flow together and seem very disconnected from each other. In the end, this is an unacceptable effort with many unforced errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Even though it’s based on a book, A Promise to Astrid is not what it should be, mostly due to the lack of substantial characters. Although this is a heavily character-based plot, dialogue is usually a bit clunky and awkward and does not adequately develop character personality or motive. Additionally, it’s very difficult to understand the true purpose of this narrative beyond random people doing random things. The vague ideas behind the storyline might be interesting, but without effective connections with the audience, it really has nothing to show for its meager efforts. Essentially, the plot meanders around as a collection of random scenes before suddenly ending and leaving the viewer wondering why they just watched the movie, which is why this section warrants zero points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While the acting of A Promise to Astrid is not entirely bad, it’s very marked by incompetent attempts at obviously fake accents. Also, some cast members seem unsure of their roles, even though there’s not much to work with in the beginning. Further, other cast members are either clearly overplaying their roles or half-heartedly trying. Throughout the film, line delivery and emotions are uneven but not all bad, which is enough to warrant at least a point out of this section. In the end, however, this is a very sub-par movie.

Conclusion

Based on their 2019 slate of films, it’s evident that it was the goal of the JC Films team to flood the market with as many movies as they could squeeze into their limited budget. This was an old model PureFlix used in the early 2000s and 2010s, and they had some success due to lack of many other options. However, as the calendar turns to 2020, times have changed in Christian entertainment, and higher quality is demanded. Thus, it’s better to save your funds to make one good film or series and then to see how you can build off of the success of one quality project rather than to get ahead of yourself and to over-extend your means.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The Chosen, Season 1.2 (Series Review)

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The Critically Acclaimed Hit Series Completes Its First Season

Plot Summary

After Jesus chose a majority of His followers, He began to slowly but surely reveal His nature to the world through public miracles and teachings. Though He mostly ministered in obscurity, His work drew the attention of multiple different spheres of influence: common people, powerful politicians, and power-hungry religious leaders. However, Christ never discriminated in who He chose to follow Him as He broke down social and cultural barriers in order to proclaim His love for all humanity.

Production Quality (2.5 points)
Much like the first half of Season 1, this season’s second half boasts a very high-quality production that both lives within its means and makes the most of what it has. Though camera work can be a bit shaky at times, much like the former half, there are virtually no other production flaws to note here. Video quality and audio quality are both flawless as the camera captures poignant scenes that feel like real life. Sets, locations, and props are incredibly authentic and demonstrate extreme care for historical accuracy and attention to detail. Perhaps the most impactful element of the production is the exquisite soundtrack that is creatively and artistically placed to enhance key moments and to draw the audience into the story’s emotional experiences. Further, editing is seamless and presents a well-crafted plot in a professional manner. In the end, Dallas Jenkins and his very talented creative team have once again showcased their God-given talents in a very responsible manner that has revolutionized Christian entertainment at a time when it was desperately needed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)
However, there’s still more to say. It’s undeniable that the extreme humanity of The Chosen’s characters are what make the series more than a run-of-the-mill Bible drama. Tyler Thompson and the other writers clearly went great lengths, as prompted by the Holy Spirit, to not only ensure the accurate cultural profiles of the characters but to also make them very flawed and relatable to all audiences, which is something other Biblical productions have been allergic to. The Chosen doesn’t just show the viewers a collection of well-known miracles and stories: the lead-up and fallout of each important event is carefully crafted and woven together with other intriguing subplots. All of this is good enough without even mentioning the way some scenes are presented in artistic manners that are nearly flawless in their presentation. Dialogue and conversations between characters are very deep, meaningful, and even philosophical at times, which is something we rarely see in Christian entertainment. Basically, there are more positive qualities in this section than can be named, which has warranted a separate discussion on how the subplots interlock and interact. In the end, The Chosen creative team has transformed the development of series and characters in Christian entertainment, and there’s no going back from here.

Acting Quality (3 points)
With virtually the same cast from episodes one through four plus others who add more life than there already was, the acting of episodes five through eight does not waver from its previously perfect score. In fact, many of the cast members build off of their roles and become even more comfortable in their characters. Emotions are right on target such that they can be felt by the viewers, and line delivery is basically perfect. This cast is so heavily talented that it’s posing a good problem for Box Office Revolution’s upcoming Actor and Actress of the Year Awards, which is a type of dilemma we have unfortunately never been faced with in our reviewing experience.

Continuity Quality (3 points)
Continuity is where many Christian series completely drop the proverbial ball because the episode are often disconnected and self-contained. However, every episode of The Chosen that has been released so far are somehow able to be both self-consistent as well as connected to the bigger picture, which is an important component of a great series. One way the continuity is best demonstrated in through the use of flashbacks to cover both previously overlooked New Testament stories along with relevant Old Testament accounts, and this latter inclusion is one of the added bonuses of episodes five through eight. Finally, the ending of each episode is epic and demonstrates how much this creative knows what they’re doing and how much they have relied on God to get this project right.

Conclusion

The second half of The Chosen’s first season also receives two x-factor points for presenting the greatest stories of history in the ways they should have been portrayed all along as well as for being re-watchable and binge-able. There’s hardly anything we would want changed about The Chosen at this point except for an even bigger budget to do better things with since Jenkins and the rest have demonstrated an ability to responsibly steward the resources God’s given them. As a side note, we receive no compensation or reward for our reviews and advertising of this series, but we wholeheartedly support its full release and strongly encourage you to both watch Season 1 during this year’s holidays and to share it with as many people as you can. This is first time a season of a Christian series has been critically acclaimed and placed on the Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame. We believe The Chosen has a rare, God-given opportunity to change not only the Christian entertainment world but also Christian culture as a whole because it’s a fresh, high-quality look at well-known stories that are timelessly relevant for all people.

Final Rating: 13.5 out of 14 points

Tapestry [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Ryan’s family is already in turmoil before he loses his job, so after he’s fired, things begin to unravel even more. His mother, his only emotional support, is dying of cancer, and his wife refuses to speak to him. As he grows more and more distant from his family and as life seems to crash down around him, Ryan will have to decide who he relies upon: himself or God?

Production Quality (-1 points)

Tapestry is likely the worst production of this year due to its myriad errors, beginning with the inconsistency of its camera work: sometimes shaky and sometimes unusually angled. Similarly, a lot of shots seem very tight. There are also many, many audio concerns, including annoying background sounds, erratic volume changes, noticeable echoes in the backgrounds of some sets, and some instances of severely over-driven audio. However, none of this even speaks of the predominantly poor video quality or the very bad lighting that accompanies many of the already-cheap sets, props, and locations. Nevertheless, perhaps the worst element of the production is the truly horrific editing job. A key example of this is the fact that there is sometimes zero continuity between scenes that are merely seconds apart…in these moments, it feels like several different movies were maniacally spliced together with no reason whatsoever. Further, these problems are paired with lagging fadeouts, quick and awkward cuts, and abrupt transitions to top off this dumpster fire of a production. For these reasons, this section warrants a negative score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

During the first ten minutes of the film, there’s absolutely no way to discern what is transpiring as tons of characters are introduced in a very short span of time using clunky narration and random, disconnected scenes. From there, the story proceeds with an unusual attitude like the whole thing is meant to be one big joke; this idea is only reinforced by the extremely dramatic narration style that tells the viewer what people are thinking and the very vague plot ideas that contribute to the confusing story presentation. Due to the sheer number of characters, there are too many random subplots and tangents to keep up with, which causes the focus to jump from one thing to the next and cuts some scenes painfully short. Some scenes just pop up very quickly without warning and disappear without leaving a significant impact, and there are also unannounced black and white flashbacks as well as weird asides that have no connection to the “main point,” whatever that really is. The viewer is left guessing not only what’s happening but what’s coming next, and things trend weirder and stranger as they progress, including a bizarre obsession with multiple characters committing infidelity. Besides the obviously inexplicable elements, there are also many completely laughable moments before it all culminates in a silly, patched-up conclusion that teaches the audience absolutely nothing. In short, there’s plenty of evidence that supports this section’s negative rating.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

Despite the need for most of the characters to have northeastern United States accents, many of them, most notably Stephen Baldwin, who is mostly his usual self, do not make the mark of inflection authenticity. However, this mistake isn’t the worst part of the acting section. There are plenty of screaming scenes and extreme emotional displays that really take the cake. Elsewhere, line delivery is often forced and very strained; it’s clear that no acting coaching was present since there are basically no good performances to note. Therefore, this category rounds out a comprehensively negative effort.

Conclusion

We repeat: negatively rated Christian entertainment has no place in the year 2019 and beyond. When all aspects of a movie are this bad, there needs to be some very serious rethinking of the creation process. The fact that utter disasters like this still make it to the public is disheartening, but hopefully, we have a growing group of Christian innovators who will transform the field into something that will help us forget that negatively rated Christian entertainment ever existed.

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

When Hope Calls, Season 1 (Series Review)

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It’s like When Calls the Heart on an obscure streaming service!

Plot Summary

When Lillian and Grace, two orphan siblings, agreed to travel to a new town to run an orphanage, they had no idea what would be in store for them. Of course, they probably could have made an educated guess since they went from Hope Valley to a basic copy of this fantastical borough. This new town has equally important aspects as Hope Valley, such as the obligatory town doctor, the expected general store, and of course, a predictably hair-gelled Mountie just waiting to get hitched. What else could fans of When Calls the Heart want besides another series on the cable channel rather than on a streaming service nobody uses?

Production Quality (1.5 points)
The budget for When Hope Calls (WHC) is clearly lower than When Calls the Heart (WCTH), and this is most strikingly obvious in the poorly constructed town set that looks like a bunch of clapboard buildings plopped in the middle of a mowed-over field. The structures’ false fronts are also too much. This aside, must like WCTH, WHC is limited to just a few select sets, props, and locations, and there are some cheap special effects on top of this. Nonetheless, the production is aided by typically fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, even if the soundtrack is pedestrian and boring. The editing tends to lag at times, such as leaving scenes running too long, but this production is overall just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
Much like its parent show, not very significant happens throughout the course of the WHC “plot.” The only remotely interesting elements are used up by the third episode as the series devolves into typical small-town romance nonsense. If it’s possible, the characters are much more blank and cardboard in WHC than in WCTH even if they are less sappy in the former. This is created by a lot of stiff and awkward attempts at conversations as some characters seem to be mysteriously concealing things that are never revealed while others seem to wonder why they are even there. The dialogue is very stock and phoned-in, which creates wooden characters, and the so-called comedic elements are beyond cheesy. Any struggles the characters experience can’t be adequately related to because they seem so plastic and forced. Elsewhere, the town setup is shockingly unrealistic on a historical level, and the Christian themes are very shoehorned in. In the end, with no driving purpose or actual point, the first season’s story is basically just a lot of trumped-up drama with nothing substantial to back it up.

Acting Quality (1 point)
In keeping with Michael Landon Jr.’s common practices, the cast of WHC appears to be as fake as WCTH’s (except not as over the top). This includes how they interact with each other as well as what they look like. On appearances, none of them look historically accurate except for some slight attempts at realistic costuming. When it comes to acting, line delivery seems laborious for some cast members while others seem bored with their roles. Emotions overall seemed forced and unnatural. Some cast members show potential in different roles but don’t live up to their full potential. In the end, this section’s rating is basically expected.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)
As previously mentioned, the best potential for engaging continuity is quickly discarded in the beginning and replaced with drab procedural recurrences. In the middle and at the end of the season, many of the episodes run together and feel like the same thing is happening over and over again. Then, this is culminated with an awkwardly forced climax and alleged cliff-hanger ending in the final episode. Basically, this season doesn’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? Shows like When Hope Calls have a specific purpose in mind and do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. The storylines are predetermined, the production is as cheap as possible, and the cast is as pageantry as expected. All of these criteria are tailor-made for a reason, so we have to commend MLJ and company for at least being consistent in their poor novel adaptations. Why not try to capitalize on the success of a series like When Calls the Heart? However, what is it ultimately accomplishing besides creating more sub-par Christian entertainment?

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

The Reliant (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When the American dollar literally collapses overnight, a family is attacked by desperadoes and is forced to take their gun supply and survival gear into the woods behind their house in order to fend for themselves in the elements. However, the men who gunned their father down are still in pursuit (for some reason), which forces the family to either band together or tear each other apart as they try to defend themselves and survive in the brave new world of looting and living off the land. What will become of them all?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the money that was donated by people (so that they could be listed as executive producers on the credits) was mostly well-used and not only spent on guns and weaponry. Video quality and audio quality are good, and since the film is mostly filmed in the outdoors, this definitely helps things. The soundtrack is also passable. However, much of the camera work is shaky and dizzy in the name of being action-oriented. Also, most of the indoor scenes are unnecessarily dark and poorly lit. Further, the editing is extremely choppy, which makes things hard to follow, but there are likely other factors to this problem, such as the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

From the get-go, the story makes zero sense. There’s no reason why the world would immediately descend into chaos basically in one day due to the sudden collapse of the dollar. How did it happen? What led to this extreme result and knee-jerk looting? This idea is too big and expansive to focus ninety percent of the plot on a collection of characters wandering around in the woods with guns. Did we mention that this movie is OBSESSED with guns? It holds nothing back in being outright propaganda that’s desperate to both create further political divide and garner the attention of powerful lobbying organizations. These concerns aside, there are tons of characters in The Reliant, and while flashbacks are used throughout, it’s not enough to make up for other problems, such as awkward conversations about vague things that are occurring in the world outside the forest, shoehorned Christian concepts, cheesy survival concepts, and outright fundamentalist messaging. Much like Unplanned, there was much fake outrage about The Reliant‘s so-called undeserved MPAA rating, but once again, the rating was actually justified due to the high amount of needless violence without proper balance. Regardless of this, the characters of The Reliant have extremely steep arcs and lack proper motivation for their actions as things just randomly happen one after another, and the plot lacks clear direction or purpose other than to shove certain worldviews down viewers’ throats. Hence, this section’s negative rating is given due to propaganda and due to total pointlessness.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Throughout nearly every scene, the cast members of The Reliant are coached to exhibit extreme emotions, including a lot of yelling and screaming. Though there is some potential despite these annoyances, dramatic and tense scenes are totally butchered either with awkward line delivery, off-beat emotional delivery, or general uncomfortability with the given roles. In the end, there is little good to highlight in this movie.

Conclusion

After the screener was provided for this film, one of the creators strongly requested that they be given the chance to “approve” this review before it was publicly posted. Surprisingly, this was the first and only request we’ve ever received for this to happen. Moreover, it further shows the amount of control that’s surrounding this movie and reflects the mentality behind its creation. Films like The Reliant have a clear agenda to push on their audiences and purposely make themselves lightning rods for controversy with the hopes of garnering attention from certain groups. There were no attempts in this movie to craft a meaningful plot based on accessible characters, so even if the creative team had the best message in the world, it’s still not correctly packaged. In the end, there are just too many issues here to discern any amount of potential there might have been in this half-baked idea.

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

Be Still and Know (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Childhood friends CJ and Sophia have lost connection with each other due to various life circumstances, but they now have a chance to rekindle their friendship during a fall break getaway. Along with two other friends, they go off the grid in a family cabin in order to re-establish what they once had. However, things don’t go as planned, and their sort of vacation takes a turn for the worst, which forces them to rely on God for their help.

Production Quality (1 point)

After showing concerted production improvement in If You’re Gone, the Goodwin creative team has unfortunately gone backward in quality with Be Still and Know. This is due to many very dark indoor scenes and quite a few outdoor scenes that are dominated by background noises. Camera also tends to be shaky throughout, and some odd camera angles are used, likely for some type of dramatic effect. However, it doesn’t work, and the sets, locations, and props are fairly cheap. While video quality is one of the only bright spots of the production and although there are some good portions of this film’s presentation, there are many concerns as well, including a soundtrack that almost always plays in the background even though it doesn’t fit with the moods of the scenes. It goes without saying that many scenes are quite long and drawn out, which is due to random editing. In the end, while it’s not all bad in this section, it’s still a major letdown from a collaborative team that was headed in such a good direction.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unlike previous efforts from the Goodwin team, the plot of Be Still and Know unfortunately has no real potential since there’s barely anything to it. The characters are either blank or stereotypical, and the conflict in the story really makes no sense at all. Conversations and dialogue are very bland and uninspiring, which makes the viewing experience a drag. The premise is highly unrealistic and questionable as it tends to involve slightly illegal activity that’s nonsensically justified. Further, the Christian message feels extremely forced and contrived. In the end, there are either too many issues with this storyline or too much boredom to justify its creation; it’s rare to see a plot with no potential from a experienced creative team, but this is unfortunately the case with Be Still and Know.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In this small cast, errors are more obvious, and they tend to carry the weight of the movie on their shoulders. However, the cast members cannot be fully blamed for the lack of adequate lines to work with. Nonetheless, many of them come off as either bored or overplaying, yet they aren’t all bad. Most of the acting is very boring, unchallenging, and uneventful, and emotions are vanilla. Further, costuming is unusual at times, but this section isn’t completely lost, which rounds out a surprisingly low-quality attempt.

Conclusion

John and Brittany Goodwin definitely care about making an impact in Christian entertainment, and every creator must come to a crossroads in their career: will they choose to continue in mediocrity or step out with something even better than before? Some movie makers are better suited to be series makers (see Dallas Jenkins), so this may be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Goodwins. There’s also plenty of Christian fiction to explore, which can supply ample content for struggling screenwriters if permission is secured. In the end, one movie doesn’t define someone’s entire career, so Be Still and Know could be a rough patch before the breakthrough.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Home-Schooled, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

In just one moment, Sarah’s life is completely transformed and turned upside down. When she receives word that she has become the guardian of five of her youngest relatives–homeschooled kids in the Midwest–she has no idea how she will balance her big city life with her new, unexpected responsibilities. How will she manage this new lifestyle that has been chosen for her beyond her control?

Production Quality (.5 points)
Words cannot express how horrible this production is by 2019 standards. The only remotely positive element is the fine video quality, but otherwise, it’s a total wash. Even a $20,000 budget is no excuse for wildly shaky camera work, weird camera angles, and perspective that never stops moving around unless the cameraman sets the camera down in the most inconvenient locations, like behind a running sink. It goes without saying that the series intro sequence screams Windows Movie Maker. When it comes to sets, locations, and props, things are limited to the inside of a large, echo-filled house and blinding outdoor locations filled with incessant leaf-crunching. There are also plenty of loud background sounds, both inside and outside, and they aren’t mitigated by the extremely invasive soundtrack that’s meant to “balance” things out. Finally, the editing is as choppy as possible, including lagging scenes and abruptly cut-off sequences. Essentially, this is an awful experience.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
What exactly is the purpose of this so-called plot? First of all, there’s hardly any content to speak of, but whatever amount is there is dominated by typical family member squabble storylines and the most cringeworthy dialogue possible. This creates robotic, programmed characters that easily fall into homeschooled stereotypes. All this alleged story really has to show for itself is a bunch of awkward people hanging around a large house none of them can pay for and engaging in a lot of childish coincidences, forced drama, convenient situations, and infantile conversations. Further, the screenwriters completely bungled their portrayal of the child custody process (lawyers NEVER make home visits to check on custody situations), which makes us wonder if they did any research at all on how this transpires in real life. In the end, this “plot” has nothing good going for it.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For one thing, the cast of Home-Schooled is quite small, so errors are more easily seen. For another, the cast members are not coached very well at all, and many of them are intended to play characters who are younger than they actually are, which makes things very odd. Besides this, the acting is just generally awkward and forcibly dramatic. Line delivery is very stilted, and emotions are quite wooden. There are also some bouts of annoying yelling and screaming. In the end, there’s nothing good to highlight here.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
With such short episodes (many of them are ten minutes or less), it’s extremely difficult to justify even making Home-Schooled into a series. If you must make it at all, why not just make it a regular movie? This aside, there are no prevalent themes or overarching storylines that are even able to create continuity between the episodes. With such short runtimes, there’s really nothing to write home about in this section. The only other thing to add here is to ask the creators to not make anymore seasons without some serious changes being made.

Conclusion

The rule of thumb in Christian entertainment is this: if the story and budget aren’t there, can the project or at least put it on hold until you’re sure Jesus wants you to make it. Putting out low-quality projects isn’t being a good steward of what you feel like He wants you to do. Instead of rushing forward and clamoring to make something just for the sake of making a Christian series, wait and see what He really wants you to create because He’ll provide the budget if it’s for real. Moving forward with half-measures (or less than half-measures) is always going to be a problem.

Final Rating: .5 out of 14 points

The Unlikely Good Samaritan (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Chris Jennings is a new pastor in a small Colorado town, and he’s desperate to prove himself to the people in the church because of his young age. However, this leads him to take drastic measures, including shunning an unwanted member of the church whom the other members don’t feel fits in with their demographic. Nevertheless, Chris is battling his own demons, and once he’s exposed, the religious people turn on him as well. Now that he’s down and out, will Chris ever discover God’s true call on his life?

Production Quality (.5 point)

As a 2019 production, it’s kind of hard to believe that this lower level of quality is still being tolerated. One of the most distracting part of this film is the shaky camera work that hardly ever stops moving and even goes diagonal at times. There are also a lot of weird camera angles and even some blurry video. Sets, locations, and props tend to be cheap, and lighting is fairly inconsistent. Audio quality is okay except for the background sounds. Further, the editing is poor as there are quite a few very abrupt and awkward cuts. In the end, though there’s some slight improvement throughout the film, this production is unfortunately very low quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Unlikely Good Samaritan contains concepts similar to that of Confessions of a Prodigal Son, which was Clarkson’s freshman film, yet the sophomore effort surprisingly has more concerns than the first. In this second installment, there is a lot of blank and stale dialogue throughout the first three-fourths of the movie, which leads to a glaring lack of character development. At first, hardly anything happens except for wasted scenes that take up time but accomplish nothing; the interactions among characters seem unnatural and overly scripted. While this storyline is a commendable look at real issues plaguing the church, it loses most of its audience in the first half hour due to general boredom and unrealistic portrayals of life. However, by the last fourth of the plot, there’s actually some great flawed characters and a lot of potential in the central idea behind the story, but it’s all presented in the wrong way. The ending is actually fairly realistic and comes from a unique plot twist, but hardly anyone will make it this far into the film. In the end, this concept would have likely worked better either as a short film or as a series.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In the beginning of the movie, similar to other elements, the acting is fairly awkward and unnatural, but they also don’t have many good lines to work with. Some cast members are fine and would have been better with improved development and coaching. Many emotions throughout are very wooden and forced, yet the acting overall tends to get better as it goes, in keeping with the themes of this film. However, since there’s fairly significant improvement by the conclusion, it begs the question why it was so bad in the beginning. In the end, The Unlikely Good Samaritan is a mixed bag that doesn’t do enough to pull itself up from the mud.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Nathan Clarkson has a lot of good ideas. This fact is evident in his two films, but in this era of Christian entertainment, we need to see more. Collaboration is likely the only path forward for lone ranger creators; we can no longer afford to make movies on our own. God admonishes Christians to work together and to have each other’s backs, so if we accept feedback and ideas from others as well as ourselves, something great can happen. Clarkson’s concepts are creative enough to warrant remakes, so perhaps series-making is in his future once he’s able to work in a team approach. Many entertainment makers have the world at their fingertips if they will reach out and work together.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Decision of Faith {365 Decision Time} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

On the surface, the Miller family is the model of success in Caucasian American culture, but behind the scenes, they’re coming undone. The parents are divorced yet maintain a tenuous relationship in order to aid their grown children. Their daughter is married to a successful political staffer who has his own secrets to hide. Their son is involved with a questionable crowd of people and suddenly has a child on the way with a girlfriend they’ve never met. In the midst of all the turmoil, the Millers have a chance to find the true peace they’ve never had if they will ask for help from the right people.

Production Quality (2 points)

At first, the production of Decision of Faith is somewhat rough, including weird, unnatural lighting, dark sets, and slightly random camera work. The audio quality is also quite inconsistent at first, along with the editing, which includes some abrupt cuts and transitions between scenes. However, the good thing is that the production improves as the runtime progresses, which suggests better funding was provided later on in the process. It gets better to the point that video quality, audio quality, camera work, sets, props, and locations are all passable and even respectable in some parts. The editing remains somewhat inconsistent throughout, but this section overall does enough to go past the average mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In the beginning of the storyline, many disjointed subplots tend to come out of nowhere and meander around, but once things settle down, the subplot overlaying slightly improves even though it’s still somewhat poorly presented. By the middle of the film, one of the most interesting things about the plot is its exploration of realistic hidden issues in affluent Caucasian lifestyles. Before this point, the characters are extreme: either perfect, platitude-spouting Christians or horribly bad non-Christians. However, once things begin to change in the middle, the characters actually become authentic and believable with obvious flaws and issues that can be accessed by many people. One drawback is that large time jumps in the story are marked by time subtitles, and another concern is the unnecessary use of explicit language and edgy content in attempts to be realistic. Also, as the plot continues on past the middle, random things keep happening that have forced connections to previously highlighted elements, and in a seeming rush for time, there are quite a few very sudden conversations that seem programmed to happen at certain moments in order for the story to hit the high points it wants to hit. These types of dialogue devices create very steep and unrealistic character arcs so that things are fixed very rapidly by the time the credits come around. Overall, despite the intriguing themes that show good potential for future screenwriting, Decision of Faith tries to cover too much time and too many issues at once. Thus, it may have been better to present this story in series form to allow for better character refinement and plot organization.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, there is some poor makeup work throughout this film, and at first, the emotional performances are quite forced and un-earnest. However, like other elements of the movie, the acting tends to improve with time, which suggests a shift in leadership mentalities partway through the process. Nothing significantly dynamic occurs as a result, but the improvement is refreshing. Overall, the acting does enough to be average by the conclusion, which rounds off a mostly middle-of-the-road film.

Conclusion

First-time films like Decision of Faith are tricky because it’s difficult to get things started, but in the new wave of Christian entertainment we’ve seen over the past few years, standards are higher, which makes it harder for new voices to stand out. Thus, the planning process is key. Are you meant to make this film at this time? Has God given you the adequate funding to make it professional? Would it work better as a series? Should you collaborate with other creators? These are all great questions to ask that will help you rise above the fray.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Overcomer [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?

Production Quality (2 points)

Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.

Conclusion

Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

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

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

The World We Make (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

The Grove family has had their share of heartache over the past few years, but family friend Jordan Bishop has always been a constant support for them. However, the dynamics begin to shift when Jordan and Lee begin to develop a relationship after the grief seems to settle. Many discourage them from getting involved, and the small town seemingly works against their being together. Together, they experience unexpected prejudice and bias while discovering that they had more hiding below the surface than they previously realized.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2019 film, The World We Make is the type of respectable production we should be seeing time and again. There are very few flaws to point out here save for the slightly awkward editing near the end of the film (likely due to large story scope). Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all basically flawless even though most scenes are filmed outdoors. The sets, locations, and props are extremely authentic and well-utilized; on-location shooting is definitely a big plus. Although the soundtrack could be a bit more than it is, this is a very high-level effort for a partially low-budget film, which goes to show what a little experience and proper collaboration can do for a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Brian Baugh has always been committed to developing raw and real storylines based on accessible characters (I’m Not Ashamed). While The World We Make is one of his calmer tales, it’s nonetheless refreshing and believable. While the scope of this story may be a bit narrow, it’s nonetheless true-to-life and demonstrates great understanding of real people. The central romance is deeper than what we usually see in these types of films because it feels more believable and everyday. There are some very important themes explored, including grief avoidance, small town prejudice, and racial ostracizing. Characters make realistic decisions based on personality and motive rather than on plot necessity, and the storyline has a few slightly unexpected turns. As a whole, this is a very enjoyable plot to witness, and while it could have been a bit better since the ending is fairly rushed and somewhat cutoff, it’s still great as it is, which is enough to push this film over the top and onto the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are virtually no flaws in the acting department. Caleb Castille owns another starring role, and Kevin Sizemore adapts a unique character that suits him. Gunnar Sizemore is a supporting role, but he could be a new rising star. Further, Gregory Alan Williams demonstrates a much more effective role than he’s played in the past. Overall, there is clear acting coaching present here as emotions and lines are authentically delivered, which rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Although The World We Make could have been a bit more dynamic than this, it mostly reaches its fullest potential as a film. There are a few nitpicks, but in the grand scheme of things, Brian Baugh is continually setting himself apart as a master of characters, which seems to give him a better proclivity for series writing rather than movie writing. Indeed, not counting this year, we’ve had a longstanding drought in Christian series, so with new opportunities coming available (VidAngel), we may be poised to seeing a breakout in creators like Baugh directing their talents toward series rather than only films. Regardless of what happens, The World We Make is another good addition to the Hall of Fame and is one you’ll definitely want to make time for.

Final Rating: 7 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 Chosen, Season 1.1 (Series Review)

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Plot Summary

When Jesus first began His earthly ministry, He had already chosen those He would minister to and use to transform the world around them. They came from all walks of life: lower class fishermen, upper class religious leaders, well-to-do tax collectors, and lowly street prostitutes. Regardless of background or belief, Christ determined to use regular people to carry out His work…however, it couldn’t happen until they had life-altering experiences with Him.

Production Quality (2.5 points)
The highest independently crowdfunded effort in entertainment history has certainly paid off. There’s no question that a lot of hard work was put into making this first season, and it shows in nearly every aspect of it. Though the perspective camera work is a bit rough at first, it definitely gets better and isn’t noticeable at all in later episodes. Similarly, the lighting is realistically dark in many scenes, which was hard to perfect at first, but again, it greatly improves as it goes on. Other than the poorly animated opening sequence that has a great idea behind it, there are no other problems to point out in this nearly flawless production. The sets, locations, and props feel very realistic and authentic as the series creators demonstrate a clear commitment to looking at the characters in accurate cultural contexts. Video quality is crisp throughout, and audio quality is seamless, including a very engaging and creative soundtrack that reflects historical themes. As a whole, this production is a reflection of how this series is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the industry, and thankfully, the positive qualities didn’t stop with just this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)
It would’ve been very easy to spend all the time on making the production worthwhile after all the money and time that was invested in it, but Dallas Jenkins and company refused to settle, yet the storyline is a major reason why this series will transform Christian culture and even reach outside the church. The reason why it’s so transformative is because it demonstrates a profound understanding of the real people who encountered Jesus and portrays them in very accessible, down-to-earth ways. These Bible characters are no longer “heroes of the faith”–they are imperfect people with backstories, motives, flashbacks, and personality tendencies just like us. Not only do they feel like everyday people, but the writers also wisely chose to focus on them in their cultural contexts as a heavy emphasis on Jewish tradition is subtly explored. The use of flashbacks to build character motive and backstory is also highly effective in helping us understand where they’re coming from and why they do what they do; this is often a missing ingredient in most depictions of Bible characters. Besides the characters being so well-developed, their subplots are interwoven very well as their stories realistically cross back and forth and creatively weave together to prepare for the next steps. Further, the psychological themes and artistic concepts of the series are presented in very natural ways without forcing too much on the audience while still being creative. In the end, there are many more positive aspects to highlight about this season (more than can be listed here), which is a very surprising feat in Christian entertainment. There’s no doubt that this is the best Christian series season to date, and it’s the first one to be inaugurated into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)
The casting and acting of The Chosen show a commitment to cultural authenticity in more ways than one…where a fully cultural cast member couldn’t be used, correct accents were taught and coached, which adopted a model similar to the one used in Nativity Story. No matter what, dedication to effective coaching is evident as the cast members showcase subtle talent in their line delivery and emotional portrayals. While there are some minor costuming issues, it’s nothing much to write home about, and we can’t wait see how these recurring cast members will continue to shine in future seasons.

Continuity Quality (3 points)
Never before have we seen a Christian series (other than some parts of A.D.) that actually tries hard to interweave its subplots in ways that make them cross at appropriate times and keep the audience engaged in what may happen next. These are actually storylines you want to follow as the character arcs bend at realistic times and flow dynamically into each other. While it can be difficult to interest a Christian audience with familiar Biblical accounts, The Chosen sets up great backstories for well-known stories and provides great reasons for why things happen the way they do. In the end, there’s no question that this is the best Christian season to date.

Conclusion

Hence, The Chosen, Season 1 wins two x-factor points for re-watchability and for presenting important content in very audience-friendly ways. Dallas Jenkins and his team have established themselves as the future of Christian small screen entertainment, so your support of VidAngel is greatly appreciated (go to the link to watch the first season)! The more we support Christian entertainment that’s actually worthwhile and worthy of promoting to the people we know, the more likely it is we will see a real change in both the field and the culture as a whole. If you’ve already supported this first season, make sure to tell a friend that it’s well worth their time and money. We expect great things from this crew in the coming days.

Final Rating: 13 out of 14 points

Following the Subplots of The Chosen (Season 1, Mid-Season Update)

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The Chosen has certainly been a transformative series already, and it’s barely gotten off the ground. It has grassroots appeal and will likely grow into a larger and larger movement as time goes on. As the first multi-season Bible series to be created, it has the potential reach beyond traditional Christian audiences and transform the culture both inside and outside the church. The series’ connections with real people in a Jewish cultural context as they encounter the Messiah are its biggest assets, so here’s a helpful guide to help keep up with the core subplots we’ve seen through episode four of the first season.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

Mary Magdalene

The series started off with a bang as Mary’s demonic bondage was explored from multiple angles while at the same time providing key flashbacks to her character’s core motivations. Her father taught her Isaiah 43:1, which she clung to during her darkest hours. After neglecting suicide to follow a bird to her only friend’s (Sol) eating establishment, Mary encountered the Messiah, Who quoted her favorite Scripture to her before setting her free. She then set her mind to helping her friend at the hairdresser shop and re-adapting Jewish customs in her new life, including preparing Shabbat for local outcasts. It was there that she encountered Jesus again and first learned His Name.

Thus far, Mary’s storyline has intersected with Jesus and Nicodemus. She has primarily been in Capernaum.

Nicodemus

Nicodemus’ opening scene–the journey to Capernaum with his wife Zohara–was interrupted by Quintus, a recurring magistrate character, who wanted the rabbi to assist the Roman Empire’s effort to stop fishermen who worked on Shabbat in order to avoid Roman taxes. Nicodemus is a very staunch interpreter of the Torah, which is why another Roman official asked him to cast demons out of Mary Magdalene, who was causing havoc in the Red Quarter, where she worked as a prostitute. Nicodemus reluctantly went, but his exorcism was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, Yussif, a local Pharisee, later informed Nicodemus that he witnessed Mary in her right mind, so Nicodemus paid her visit again to see for himself. He learned her true name and discovered that his work had nothing to do with her freedom. Mary told him of Jesus’ words to her, which prompted Nicodemus to wonder if his work as a rabbi was even honoring God anymore. After receiving word from the priests and rabbis of Capernaum that the radical preacher called John the Baptizer was speaking against the Pharisees and had been imprisoned by Herod, Nicodemus determined to ask the crazy man questions about the miracles he had heard about.

Up to this point, Nicodemus’ subplot has crossed over with Mary alone. He has primarily been seen in Capernaum.

Matthew

As an outcast Jewish tax collector, Matthew’s closest human companion is his Roman bodyguard Gaius; he also has a stray dog for company. Matthew was shunned by his family for supporting the Roman enemy, but he appears to be nonplussed by this. He is a very conscientious accountant who challenged Quintus’ scheme to relieve Simon’s family’s taxes in exchange for his turning in fishermen who worked on Shabbat to avoid taxes. Gaius advised against Matthew’s resistance to Quintus, but Matthew ignored the social cues and faced the powerful official anyway. Quintus was impressed by his courage and ordered Matthew to follow Simon to see if the fisherman was going back on his word. As Matthew spied on Simon, he was able to witness Jesus’ massive fish miracle from afar.

At this point, Matthew has also encountered Simon and Andrew; he has seen Jesus work from a distance. Matthew’s work has primarily been in Galilee so far.

Simon, Andrew, and Eden

Simon made a deal with Roman magistrate Quintus to turn in any Jewish fishermen who fished or Shabbat to avoid paying Roman taxes in exchange for his family’s taxes being cancelled, but Simon’s brother Andrew disagreed with this plan. Simon hid his secret source of income and covert tax evasion from his wife, Eden, but she was suspicious of his unusual work hours, including his work on Shabbat. Andrew has been continually trying to keep his brother from getting into trouble with his in-laws and from using schemes to get ahead in life. However, when he was assisting the Romans one night with patrolling for Shabbat fishers, Simon changed his mind when he saw remnants of Zebedee’s work since he and his sons were friends. Later, Simon confessed to Zebedee, James, and John what he had done and begged for their help to pay off his tax debts, but they refused. In midst of the turmoil, Simon had to tell Eden what was going on after her ill mother had unexpectedly moved in with them. Eden and Simon both agreed they needed a miracle to settle their financial situation, so he set out to fish all night. Eden asked Zebedee and his sons to help, so they brought Andrew as well to assist the colorful Simon with his bind. However, after catching nothing all night, the fishermen encountered Jesus on the shore, whom Andrew had already told Simon about. Jesus used Simon’s boat to briefly teach before telling people to put out the nets one more time. This led to the miraculous catch of fish, which gave enough revenue to settle the debts. Jesus promptly called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him from there on out.

Simon and Andrew have interacted with Matthew, Zebedee, James, John, and Jesus. Eden and the brothers have only been seen in Galilee thus far.

Abigail and friends

Abigail is a young, assertive girl who accidentally discovered Jesus’ makeshift carpentry shop in a clearing of the woods near her house. During the events of the first two episodes, Abigail took her friends to see Jesus each day, and He taught them rudimentary wood-working skills and reinforced His lessons for their lives. He shared with them some of His future teachings before letting them know it was time for His work to begin.

Abigail and her friends have only crossed paths with Jesus in the outskirts of Capernaum.

James, John, and Zebedee

Zebedee and his sons James and John are fellow fishermen with Simon and Andrew who heard of the Roman scheme to arrest fishermen who worked on Shabbat to avoid tax laws when Simon confessed to his part in it. At first, they refused to help Simon, but at the pleadings of Eden, they decided to help Simon bail out his debts. In doing so, they witnessed Jesus’ miracle of the massive catch of fish, after which James and John were called to be His disciples.

Zebedee, James, and John have interconnected with Simon, Andrew, and Jesus and have only been seen in Galilee.

Other Characters and Notes

Blind man in Red Quarter: In the first two episodes, we saw other characters run into a blind man in the Red Quarter who is waiting for the Messiah to pass by, so we are likely to see this previewed storyline in a later episode.

Quintus: Quintus has been a recurring character who’s crossed paths with Nicodemus and Matthew already, so it’s possible we will see a larger role from him as the series progresses.

Gaius: Matthew’s bodyguard has the same name as the recipient of 3 John, so we may continue to see his character developed as more seasons are released.

Shmuel and Yussif: These two Capernaum priests have thus far been in the background of Nicodemus’ main storyline, but it’s possible that we will continue to see more of them as their subplots break off from Nicodemus’ to play the roles of future Pharisee characters who challenge Jesus.

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