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

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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

Shifting Gears [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Tom has worked hard to become a regional manager, which is why he’s so disappointed when his self-absorbed boss lets him know that he needs a four-year college degree to achieve this position. Frustrated, Tom quits on the spot and decides to look into the property he inherited from his recently deceased father. His wife convinces him to take on his father’s old gas station business as their new source of income. Will they be able to handle the new business while patching up hidden family issues?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

One thing that can be said for newer Christian films, especially those in the last few years: no matter how forgettable or lame the plot is, the productions are absolutely getting better. Shifting Gears has a fine production without many issues, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. For the most part, audio quality is fine, even though there are some loud portions of the soundtrack and some annoying sound effects, but these are the only issues with the production. It’s clear that time is spent on all aspects of the production, especially the sets, props, and locations that make this movie better than it would be without it. Overall, since the editing is also respectable, this is a high-quality production that unfortunately went wasted.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As such, it’s very hard to understand the actual purpose of this plot as it meanders around peppered with head-scratching cliches and under-developed characters. It borrows a lot of elements from a typical sports underdog plot combined with a return to hometown plot, which implies that there’s nothing creative going on here. The forced and cringe-worthy comedy elements and asides waste valuable time that could have been used to craft better dialogue, but we are only left with cheesy half-measures. The story is based on too many coincidences, and the Christian message comes off as plastic and manufactured. As many of the scenes are downright eye-rolling and funny for all the wrong reasons, it goes without saying that there is little to no point in making this movie with a plot this bad.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members are fairly over the top with their performances, they aren’t all bad since some of them are somewhat professional and seasoned in their work. However, some of the cast members are trying way too hard to be funny most of the time, and many emotions come off as painfully forced. Even so, despite the awkward and unsure moments, there are also plenty of good moments that make up for these, and this overall makes this an average section, which rounds out a below-average film.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to see all this good production go to waste when films that have better plots have worse productions. This is the plague of independent Christian film: if one thing works, another thing doesn’t. The cause of this is obviously a lack of proper collaboration. The writers need to be the writers, and the directors need to be the directors. Until creative-minded Christians lay down their differences and begin working together more, nothing much will change, unfortunately.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was chosen to be a judge of Israel by Yahweh, but he did not always do as he was supposed to do.  He was anointed by God with superhuman strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, but when he disobeyed, there were serious consequences.  God used Samson to deliver His people from the oppressive Philistines, and He used an imperfect man to accomplish His will in the most extraordinary ways.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has clearly come a long way since the abysmal production days of The Book of Esther and the half-hearted production of movies like Apostle Peter and the Last Supper.  This newer rendition of Samson boasts a surprisingly high production quality, which is manifested in gritty and realistic elements that are not afraid to make the characters get dirty.  Action scenes are filmed very well with good camera work.  Video quality is crisp, and sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and culturally authentic.  The editing is also good, but this production is held back from being all that it could be by weird cuts and dramatic zooms that are reminiscent of Revelation Road and by very obvious CGI architectural shots.  However, on the whole, Samson is a huge step forward for PureFlix Bible productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Right off the bat, the plot of Samson is hamstrung by immediate and unwanted narration.  Accompanying this story crutch is a typically PureFlix ‘creative license’ that they give themselves to do whatever they want with historical narrative.  As this film was shamelessly pushed as a ‘Christian superhero’ flick, it is full of mostly mindless action scenes and is actually quite violent for a Bible film–even rivaling The Bible miniseries for gory content.  With so many battle scenes and bodies flying around, there is no room for character development as dialogue is instead used to fill time, dump information, and force the story along in the direction the writers wanted it to go in.  In molding the story however they wanted, the PureFlix collective whitewashed the obvious mistakes of Samson the historical figure and made this movie into some kind of romance-revenge plot.  However, in some ways, they made some interesting connections between the true events of Samson’s life, which keeps this section from being zero, but they took too much ‘creative license’ with historical fact to be acceptable.  Regardless, we have no idea who Samson is as a character due to massive time jumps, and the recurring villain character is beyond cheesy.  In the end, plot was basically tossed by the wayside in the making of this pandering film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Somewhere out there, there is a Christian movie consultant who constantly advises film makers to cast BRITISH people as Middle Eastern characters.  Sure, Middle Eastern cast members can be somewhat difficult to find, but what is the idea behind casting people with such obviously culturally inauthentic accents?  I’m sure with this budget PureFlix could have found some authentic cast members.  This consistent problem aside, the acting of this film is mostly fine except for the overly dramatic moments and forced emotions that are apparent here.  Also, it goes without saying that PureFlix consulted with Timothy Chey on how to give PhilistIne characters the worst possible makeup jobs.  On the whole, this section is average.

Conclusion

What to do with another Bible film?  Samson fulfills the gritty category, and the production is fine, but the other categories are greatly lacking in what is needed.  With a budget this big, better cast members could have been employed and better screenwriters could have been retained.  Then again, it’s doubtful that PureFlix actually cares about making a truly quality film.  Samson was just another attempt at a cash grab–PureFlix adapts with the times as needed to do the bare minimum to get enough audiences to pay for a ticket.  Now most people have forgotten this film even happened.  Oh well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Charlie and Alice began their parenting journey sooner than they expected, but they quickly adapted to their new life as a family, even as their family continued to grow.  They encountered many different struggles and challenges as their family dynamic changed and expanded, but they always did their best to rely on wisdom from God in their parenting.  However, when they reached a breaking point one day, their wise friends invited them to a church conference that helped them fix all of their mistakes and begin building a lasting legacy!

 

Production Quality (2 points)

On the surface, Like Arrows has a decent enough production, which is no doubt due to the consultation of the Kendrick Brothers.  This is evident in good camera work, crisp video quality, and mostly fine sets, locations, and props.  Unfortunately, audio quality is quite up to par as many lines are difficult to discern; however, the soundtrack is mostly fine.  While most scenes are well-lit, there are some head-scratching moments of poor lighting with little to no explanation.  Further, it goes without saying that the major detractor of this production is the atrocious editing, which can mostly be blamed on the ridiculous amount of content that is shoved into this film.  On the whole, this production is fine and passable, but the issues with Like Arrows go much deeper.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This ‘movie’ was originally a collection of skit clips to accompany FamilyLife’s new curriculum called The Art of Parenting.  It’s painfully obvious that this choppy and rough presentation of random ideas was borne out of these beginnings.  What begins as a semi-interesting storyline quickly descends into a roller coaster of content that takes the viewer from one high point to the next at breakneck pace.  The audience is dropped into a moment in time to look at one spoon-fed issue that needs to be highlighted, and just as soon as the sequence began, it comes to a predictable conclusion as the audience is prepared to zoom forward in time to another ‘important’ tidbit from FamilyLife’s outdated worldview that needs to be included.  This wild ride wreaks havoc on any hope of character development as dialogue is stilted and programmed based on what the ministry needed to push to whoever may watch this mess.  This section is only saved from nothingness by a semi-effective final scene that has absolutely no build-up or justification due to the fact that nobody knows who the characters even are at that point even as more characters are constantly introduced.  Also, it goes without saying that the FamilyLife product placements are vomit-inducing.  Essentially, Kevin Peeples was saddled with the impossible task of trying to force a collection of worldview-heavy curriculum skits to be a continuous and understandable screenplay.  No one should have been expected to pull this off since, based on the content provided, the task was a losing one to begin with.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of this ‘film’ is very uneven.  Alan Powell has had better performances, and a lot of the cast members seem lost and unsupported by coaching.  However, it’s not like they had any good lines to work with in the first place.  Also, the sheet number of cast members required for the constantly changing ages (with the exception of the parents) causes a lot of confusion and extra work for directing.  Once the parent cast members are finally changed (there is a point when they seem like the same age as their adult children) and once other professional cast members are brought on (Alex Kendrick, Garry Nation, etc.), the acting actually improves for the final sequence.  However, it’s simply not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

Space does not permit a full discussion on the myriad issues actually present in this film, including the mindless and patronizing treatment of women (what do you expect?), the trippy ‘futuristic’ elements in the final sequence, and the general lack of regard for understanding the struggles of real people.  This film claims to show real people doing real things, but it actually demonstrates just how far out of touch FamilyLife really is.  Did I mention how horrible their product placements are?  Implying that a family is totally fixed by going to your conference and buying your merchandise is the height of arrogance and is extremely tone-deaf.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this film will make any lasting impact.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Extraordinary [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. David Horton is known as a great professor in Lynchburg, and his ‘running’ class is extremely popular.  His reputation is that he helps all of his students by connecting with them on a personal level.  Dr. Horton is also a marathon enthusiast, but his passion often takes away his time from his family, which is something his wife greatly struggles with.  Much to her chagrin, David embarks on a dangerous cross-country marathon for two months, even though he is secretly battling health problems.  Will his health and their marriage survive the trek?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Liberty University has all of the toys and resources an independent film maker could dream of, yet they consistently settle for just above average productions.  There’s no doubt that Extraordinary has some great cinematography, even if it’s mostly a collection of American landmark shots.  Nevertheless, camera work is excellent, and video quality is great.  Sets, locations, and props also make this production a mostly good experience.  Editing is standard, and on the surface, this is a well-produced film.  However, beneath the surface, there are some head-scratching inclusions, such as silly production gimmicks and weirdly bad special effects.  These elements are reminiscent of film school professors playing around to see what they can do with what they have.  However, most audiences will likely look past these issues and see the above-average production that it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Based on a true story, the Liberty University team had a lot to work with, even though they have struggled in the past with storylines.  However, in Extraordinary, the Curlee\Schultze team continued their issues with very thin and empty plots and characters.  Though this is based on real people, they clearly had no idea how to craft realistic characters as the story does not translate well at all.  The characters are empty due to dialogue that is full of title-dropping, pedestrian platitude-pushing, and repeated content.  Many scenes are basically filler with no substantial contribution to the overall plot.  There are one too many ‘funny’ scenes, and the majority of the movie is packed with musical montages and dramatic moments that have no meaning.  In the end, though the basic idea behind this story was great, the film version leaves the audience with no real focus or purpose as it tried so hard to drive the point home that it fell flat.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Acting coaching and casting is another area the Curlee\Schultze team struggles in, which is a shame since they claim to be prodigies of the Kendricks.  The lead actor of this film is particularly weak and awkward, and several supporting cast members are annoying.  Kirk Cameron is beyond obnoxious, and Shari Rigby struggles without better directing.  However, there are enough good areas here to make this section at least average; one has to consider that this cast didn’t have many substantial lines to work with.  Nonetheless, the Liberty University team continues to disappoint.

Conclusion

Scotty Curlee and Stephan Schultze have the film world at their fingertips, yet they constantly settle for half-measure and expect you to deal with it because at least it’s a Christian movie or something.  Unfortunately, they are consistently wasting the time and money of Christian audiences as all of their marketing is for nothing but a quick cash grab.  Extraordinary is another example of a squandered opportunity because Curlee and Schultze refuse to retain a truly talented screenwriter (like Sean Morgan) and have demonstrated time and again their lack of regard for improvement.  Now we can just wait with bated breath for their upcoming Trump film.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

No Lost Cause (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After BethAnn is the victim of a car wreck, she is left paralyzed and angry at the world.  She feels like God hates her, and she definitely does not want to go live with her Christian father.  She is also angry that she is now behind in school.  BethAnn feels like her life has no meaning, but her father and his farm hand help her see otherwise.  Only when BethAnn is able to forgive the man who put her in the wheelchair will she be able to move to a new place in life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, No Lost Cause has a mostly average production.  This is evident in the fine video quality, yet the camera work and audio quality are inconsistent, including a generic soundtrack and some echoing audio.  Sets, props, and locations are somewhat limited to a few options.  However, there is improvement to these issues as the film goes on.  Editing is fairly standard, which overall rounds out an overall average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this film is an interesting attempt to develop realistic characters with realistic struggles, it definitely does not go deep enough.  Dialogue stays around the surface rather than showing character motives, back stories, and personalities.  The premise is also somewhat limited and needed deeper characters to sustain it.  This is a nice idea with a slight amount of potential, but it needed definite upgrading.  Also, the romantic subplot is too predictable and shallow.  The characters arcs that are created are far too steep and suggest that being a good person will automatically heal you of physical ailments.  Further, the ending and resolution of problems are too rushed and unrealistic.  Thus, this idea could really use a rewrite.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While there are some moments of over-acting, including some forced emotions and lines, most of the members of this small cast are trying to be realistic and interesting in their characters, even if they didn’t have much to work with.  There are some awkward moments and a few random outbursts, but on the whole, this is an above average effort.

Conclusion

No Lost Cause is a good first-time film as it keeps things simple and doesn’t try to go too far outside of its bounds.  Even still, since this is a character-driven plot, it would have been much better to see deeper characters through more substantial dialogue and clearer character motivations.  However, perhaps this creative team still has better things in store.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Come Follow Me [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Peter never thought he would experience what he experienced.  Jesus called Peter to follow Him no matter what, but Peter faltered at the darkest hour of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Peter could not understand why Jesus was allowing Himself to be overpowered by evil, so he took matters into his own hands and found himself fallen away was Jesus was taken captive.  However, Jesus gave Peter a second chance after His Resurrection and led Peter to change the world for the sake of Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a short film with a loose association to The Visual Bible, Come Follow Me is almost an afterthought, even though the production is mostly good.  Video quality, camera work, and audio are all on par with what they should be, even if the soundtrack is a bit odd a times.  There are some random bouts of odd lighting, but the sets, locations, and props demonstrate a lot of attempts at authenticity.  There are also some intermittent sequences of slow motion, and the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is good enough to be above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although Come Follow Me is not a word-for-word rendition of the story, there is still unnecessary narration presented.  However, not being tied to the word-for-word model helps to develop the characters better, even though they could still use some deepening through more substantial dialogue.  It is good to see a portrayal of different aspects of familiar stories, even if some parts are overly dramatic.  As previously mentioned, this short version of the story of Peter is a bit rushed as it comes off as choppy and even flat at times.  It tends to only hit the high points, even though this could have been a feature length film, as there is plenty of Peter content to work with in the historical accounts.  Thus, this section can’t warrant very many points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unlike his original performances in The Visual Bible, Bruce Marchiano shows his darkly dramatic side in Come Follow Me, which is off-putting.  Other cast members also tend to be too dramatic and theatrical in their performances.  On the bright side, costuming is fine, and there are some attempts at cultural authenticity, even though this is not consistent throughout.  In the end, however, this film comes off a mediocre and forgettable.

Conclusion

There was a lot of untapped potential left at the table when it came to this film.  There are plenty of Peter movies on the market, but we could use one that truly captures Peter as a real person who can be related to by many.  The Bible and other historical accounts have plenty of content on Peter to use, so it’s up to a responsible film maker to use them well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Carpenter’s Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though John Camdenis is just an average carpenter who doesn’t think much of himself, when his touch appears to bring a dead boy back from the dead, the small town he lives in immediately becomes ground zero for media attention and controversy.  He appears to perform more miracles, but he has no idea what to do with his newfound abilities.  John wants to go back to the way things were, but now it’s no turning back for him or the boy who came back to life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a made-for-TV production from UP, there are some surprising production errors here.  While video quality is fine, there is a high amount of shaky camera work throughout this film, probably for dramatic effect.  However, it doesn’t come off right.  There are also some awkward camera angles that give off a feel of the camera being moved around manually.  Nonetheless, there is a lot of great attention to detail when it comes to sets, locations, and props, especially the medical elements.  The soundtrack is also very interesting, as the audio quality is also good.  Finally, the editing is mostly fine, and overall, this production is above average, despite the odd oversights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At first, the plot of The Carpenter’s Miracle is hard to understand, but it doesn’t get much better from there.  The plot is presented in a very confusing fashion, and it is very unclear what is meant to be learned from this story.  It is only very vaguely Christian as the underlying message is mostly unknown, except for several obvious Easter themes.  Sometimes it seems like the story is hiding some great secret from you, but no clarity is ever offered.  Is the main character supposed to be Jesus or not?  Did he perform miracle or get involved in coincidences?  Besides these unanswered questions, the characters are too one-dimensional due to stilted and under-developed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is very head-scratching, thus completing a very unusual experience of a film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast tends to be professional and mostly means well, there are a handful of awkward moments, especially in the beginning.  However, there is a lot of potential here, and the acting overall improves as the film goes on.  Emotional delivery is particularly believable and realistic.  In the end, however, this punctuates a unique experience that is difficult to quantify.

Conclusion

One can understand why UP would want to make another made-for-TV film to tap into a Christian audience, but this is an unusual choice.  Why not make the message more obviously Christian or at least try to offer some clarity as to what the underlying point of this story is?  Instead, we are left with more questions than answers, yet many people probably won’t ever know this film exists.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Saving the Tin Man (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As one teenager lies in a hospital bed waiting for a heart transplant, the lives of several families around the small town are impacted in different ways.  One family waits for the father to return home from prison, while another prays for their son to live.  The pastor’s family wants to know why he is rarely home, but all of them want to know where God is in all of the pain as they try to medicate their hurts with many different things that will not satisfy.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The opening sequence of Saving the Tin Man is interesting, but it’s still a bit confusing.  However, the soundtrack is definitely creative, even if there is a lot of shaky camera work and poor lighting in the beginning of this production.  There are also some weird sound effects and some moments of randomly bad audio and loud background noises.  Flashbacks are also of an odd quality, and the editing has a strange penchant for cutting to the characters being talked about.  There are also quite of few awkward and even abrupt cuts and transitions.  Nonetheless, there is definite improvement throughout in all production areas, which is enough to earn this section an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story tends to be a bit vague and artistic, it portrays the realistic struggles of the characters, even if they are a bit hard to access at times due to the fact that there are many of them.  In fact, this plot has a hard time deciding on which character to wants to focus on, and thus elects to present their stories in an odd overlapping fashion.  This makes the film very fractured and disjointed, and the sheer number of subplots hurts character development and makes dialogue too shallow.  Also, the Christian message is a bit too trite at times.  However, there is plenty of potential in this plot, and the ending is fairly though-provoking.  With a bit more organization, this could have been a great film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Portions of this section show an amateur nature, such as strange makeup work and some out of place line delivery.  Other lines seem like they were done in only one take, while others are overly robotic and practiced.  However, most mistakes are near the beginning and are mostly ironed out as the film proceeds.  Thus, the acting becomes much better in the second half of the film, thus earning it an above-average score.

Conclusion

Movies like Saving the Tin Man are frustrating because it seems like they have the potential to go further than they do.  Most of the time, movies like this one appear to be rushed, which prevents them from being all that they could be.  With some improved production quality and a more focused plot, this film could have gone further.  However, it will be interesting to see what this team does next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Waterproof [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eli Zeal is just minding his own business as a convenience store owner when Thaniel Battle, a kid mixed up with the wrong crowd accidentally shoots Eli in an armed robbery.  This prompts his mother, Tyree Battle, to take Eli and her son back to her hometown to escape trouble with the law.  Basically a hostage, Eli meets Tyree’s eccentric family in a backwards small town, who try to heal his wound using their own sort of medicine.  Will Eli ever be able to escape the crazy house he’s stuck in?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s\late 1990s production, Waterproof tends to have an air of looking archaic most of the time.  This mostly pertains to the odd video quality, even though camera work is professional.  Audio quality is okay except for the loud soundtrack and some random background noises.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are realistic, thus making for authentic historical surroundings.  The editing is fairly good throughout, and other elements show improvement as the film goes on.  In the end, this is an average production, which is pretty good for the time frame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Waterproof begins in a very odd manner, with a very eccentric tone and premise that dominates nearly three-fourths of the film.  The circumstances presented are almost unrealistic as they come off as cobbled-together and forced.  This story is mostly a return-to-hometown plot combined with a prodigal plot, only it comes with extremely off-the-wall characters that are trying too hard to provide comic relief.  Sometimes the story comes off as downright crazy as it is quite hard to take seriously.  For the first half of the film, it tends to meander along with no real purpose, and then near the end, it suddenly produces a profound message that is tied to an important character backstory.  However, for most audiences, this gem will be too late into the movie for it to be found due to the unusual beginning.  On the whole, it is very difficult to understand the true meaning of this story, apart from the good ending.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With professional cast members, this cast is mostly fine, even though some actors and actresses tend to be a bit forceful and stilted with their line delivery and emotions.  Other cast members are being purposely eccentric to fit their characters, but I guess they didn’t have a choice.  In the end, this is an above-average acting job that makes the film at least half-palatable.

Conclusion

It is hard to know or understand what this movie was actually going for.  Was this intended to be a satire?  If it was meant to be realistic, the eccentricities needed to be packaged a little differently.  It seems like there were many different and better ways the important message at the end could have been presented.  We may never know what was meant by this film, but perhaps someone can make an improved version of it one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Heavens to Betsy [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Betsy Simon is a struggling children’s author who wants more out of life.  After her work is rejected again, she complains to God that He never answers the prayers she wants Him to answer.  However, this complaint triggers some unforeseen and unwanted consequences as Betsy suddenly finds herself in a world where God answered every prayer she ever prayed.  While it seems good at first, Betsy soon finds that not all is as it seems and quickly looks for a way out, but finds none.  Will she be able to return to the life God has for her before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a newer production, Heavens to Betsy is an improvement over the previous effort in Angels in Our Midst.  This includes good video quality and camera work.  However, there are some cheesy sound effects, as well as a generic ‘silly’ soundtrack.  There are also some odd background sounds in some scenes, as well as randomly cutoff audio at random times.  Nonetheless, sets, locations, and props are great and appropriate.  The editing is mostly okay, but this story basically writes itself, so not much effort is needed.  On the whole, this is, for the most part, what a modern Christian production should look like.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In the beginning, Heavens to Betsy is a ridiculously forced comedy that is trying way too hard to be funny.  This is evident in the very cheesy comedy elements and the forced dialogue that causes the characters to be one-dimensional and even mindless at times.  Besides this, the premise is based on the predictable wish-comes-true-in-alternate-reality-to-remind-protaganist-they-don’t-like-that-idea-anymore storyline.  This predictable convention is coupled with a cheap Christian message in the beginning, yet it becomes more meaningful as the movie progresses and even ends with a slightly interesting lesson that is based on a partially creative idea.  Though this story gets better in the end due to some unexpected turns, it is still too little too late as the beginning of the film is likely to lose a lot of viewers before they get to this point.  However, the effort is commendable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the plot, the acting begins as awkward, unsure, and trying way too hard to be funny.  Lines and emotions come off as overly practiced in the beginning.  However, there is improvement after the middle point of the film as there are some better, more well-acted moments.  Thus, this rounds out an almost-average film.

Conclusion

Believe it or not, Heavens to Betsy, especially the second half, is an idea that is worth remaking or redoing in some way.  While the premise has been used before, transposing unanswered prayers into it gives it more than just a ‘Christian spin,’ even though it can come off that way at times.  This is a pertinent issue that needs to be explored in a far better forum, preferably not in a comedy.  Regardless, Christian film makers need to continue to shed their ‘silly’ or ‘cute’ image, and this film doesn’t really do its part on this front.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Note III: Notes From the Heart Healer (Movie Review)

For some reason, we needed another one of these

Plot Summary

After famous feel-good columnists Peyton MacGruder and Kingston Danville get married, they are suddenly the new parents of a child who was left on their doorstep by a young and desperate mother.  Unsure of what to do, they turn to the authorities and accidentally get the struggling mother in trouble.  Peyton than feels bad about what she did and tries to rectify it.  Will she be able to save this hurting family before they hate her forever and ruin her reputation as a columnist?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of this unnecessary series, The Note III is a very standard Hallmark production with no surprises or deviations.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what you can expect from a made for television film.  The soundtrack is what you can expect from a Hallmark movie.  Sets, locations, and props are fine.  The only small issue to raise here is the slightly choppy editing, but that comes with this territory.  On the whole, this is a fine production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s beyond asking the question as to why we needed another one of these lame rip-off sequels, but does it really matter?  The Christian message, whatever there was before, diminishes throughout this series until it’s unrecognizable in this third film.  At this point, it’s impossible to understand how these plastic ideas even relate to the original Angela Hunt novel or why these stories are put in this trilogy.  They could have been shoved into any Hallmark movie on the assembly line, and they probably actually were.  Note From the Heart Healer is a cheesy, cliched story with basically no purpose or direction.  The characters are fake and plastic, mostly due to manufactured and uninteresting dialogue.  If it seems like this review has been put on repeat, it’s because Hallmark pushed repeat and replicate on this inept trilogy.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned in the other reviews, Ted McGinley is unbearable and ruins whatever cast he is in.  This cast tends toward the more modern plastic cast that Hallmark favors these days, but at least they are not all bad.  Emotions are inconsistent, depending on the cast member.  The same can be said for line delivery, which makes this an average section.

Conclusion

Hallmark is Hallmark, plain and simple.  They take an idea and run with it.  Sometimes they run it into the ground and even twist it, especially if a Christian novel is in the mix.  Creativity isn’t even an option as an idea is ripped off and #Hallmarked.  Thus, as this trilogy thankfully comes to a close, there’s nothing else that can really be said here.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Theory of Everything [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Doug Holloway’s charter plane business is struggling, and his marriage is strained by busyness.  On top of all of this, he receives word that his biological father is having medical complications and may be ruled psychologically incompetent.  When Doug arrives at his father’s house, he discovers that he is half-crazy and is obsessed with solving his theory of the universe before he dies so that he can know whether or not God exists.   Will he find out before it’s too late for him?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Theory of Everything begins as a very rough production, including some unusually crazy camera work and strangely poor lighting.  There are also some odd sound effects and an odd soundtrack.  Another strange element is the unusual use of overlaid and disorienting audio throughout.  This goes without mentioning the wild cuts and transitions that make for a confusing experience.  However, the good thing is that there is production improvement throughout, even though it has a lot of strange elements in the beginning.  These factors are hard to overlook, but at least the production becomes more palatable as it goes on.  Ultimately, it is an average production that needs some further work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The best thing you can say for this plot is that it is trying to be different.  However, in doing so, it is too confusing.  It includes random Christmas elements and a lot of other random ideas that need severe organization.  At times, there are far too many things going on at once.  Thus, the story tends to lack focus and overall purpose.  The characters begin flat, but they do become more realistic as the story finds a better focus in the second half.  For the most part, dialogue is fine.  However, despite the improvement near the end, things become too rushed, which is a product of the whirlwind beginning.  In the end, it comes off as an incomplete idea in need of some serious direction and reorganization.  While this was a creative idea, unfortunately, it needs a major rewrite in order to become understandable.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like the other elements of this film, the acting begins a bit raw and under-coached, yet it shows definite improvement as it goes on.  The cast members settle into their roles better as the movie progresses, even though there are some annoying arguing sequences.  Yet for the most part, emotions are realistic and line delivery is on point, thus rounding out an above average section.

Conclusion

Regardless, this film cannot shake its rocky start, and it thus falls short of what it could be.  However, these ideas are good enough to be used in a different context, with better production quality and a more organized storyline.  Thus, The Theory of Everything joins the ranks of films that are almost there and are thus in need a remake or a redo.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Christmas on Salvation Street (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After his wife dies, Noah Davis decides to accept the invitation of a friend to become the pastor of a California street mission that serves the poor.  One of his daughter objects to the idea, while the other one goes along with whatever he says.  While in the urban areas of southern California, the Davis family ministers to the forgotten and the lost and finds themselves in some harrowing situations with a local gang and some foster kids.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Christmas on Salvation Street is average.  Video quality is good, but audio quality is inconsistent since it is sometimes too loud and sometimes has too many echoes.  Camera work is also good, but there are some cheap looking sets and limited locations.  However, there is improvement in these areas throughout the film.  The editing is also fine except for one too many montages and reused scenes.  On the whole, as previously mentioned, this production is average and definitely has some room for improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At first, the story behind this movie is an interesting idea, but it is seemingly too vague at first.  It is difficult to understand the motivations of the characters as the plot tends to meander with no real focus.  The dialogue also tends to be a bit pedestrian.  Most of the time, Christmas on Salvation Street seems more like the installment of an already-existing series or the beginning of one rather than a standalone film.  While sometimes it is unserious, it is clear that the writers meant well with this film, even if the idea is incomplete.  It’s also hard to see how this needed to be a Christmas film, and things tend to be too easily fixed in the end.  But at least there was an effort here to make it somewhat interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Sometimes the cast members can be a bit too enthusiastic about their lines and emotions, but they settle in as the film progresses.  As time goes on, the cast members become more natural in their roles.  Emotions and lines, for the most part, are delivered effectively, which rounds out a nearly average film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas on Salvation Street are problematic because they show potential to do more than actually deliver on.  Movies like this do not dwell in the basement of Christian film, but they are not in the top group either.  There are a lot of movies like this that don’t quite go the distance, but perhaps one day, their creators will break through and change the film world with more quality movies.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Joseph and Mary (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph was tasked with being the earthly father of Jesus, the Messiah, while Mary was chosen to be the biological mother of the Savior.  However, they were just ordinary people who wanted to follow what the Lord wanted for them.  They watched as Jesus grew up before their eyes, and they were also apparently preoccupied with the life of a random rabbi who was their friend.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new Bible production, Joseph and Mary is mostly respectable.  It’s clear that care was given to the authenticity of the production, even though the sets are somewhat limited and reused a lot.  Nevertheless, props are appropriate, and the outdoor locations are great.  This film checks all the typical boxes of good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is adequate.  The only other problem to raise is the choppy editing that poorly handles the large amount of content in this movie.  But in the end, John Patus and the others at Leif Films are definitely improving over the years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So you want to make a movie about Joseph and Mary, yet you decide to use at least half of the runtime depicting an otherwise interesting story about a fictional rabbi who shadowed Jesus in the Lord’s early years.  This is a fine idea, but why not make the movie primarily about the rabbi?  Joseph and Mary are almost supporting characters in this story.  There is also unnecessary narration that hurts character development.  The healthy construction of the characters is also hindered by the rapid passage of time that follows the same characters as they keep meeting in the same places over several time periods.  There is also a tendency to hit the high points of the story rather than to settle down and let us get to know them as people.  The stoic and overly formal dialogue certainly does not help.  However, this film is an interesting perspective on the early years of Jesus through the eyes of a flawed and accessible character that is not Joseph or Mary.  Yet this good idea is somewhat soured by the strange ending sequence that leaves the audience wandering what this movie is supposed to teach us.  In the end, the Leif Films team is usually closed to good things, as evidenced in The Apostle Peter: Redemption, but they can’t seem to get there.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, there is not much good to say about the acting of this film.  For one thing, it is very poorly cast and lacks authentic cultural cast members.  Kevin Sorbo, a generic white guy, really has no business playing Joseph, besides the fact that he is awkward in this film.  Rather than being too BRITISH, this cast is too American.  The costuming is also somewhat cheesy, yet there are a handful of good moments that keep this section from being nothing.

Conclusion

Bible films are almost always problematic.  If the production isn’t a problem, it’s the casting.  If not that, then the plot suffers.  There are so many variables that have to be aligned in a Biblical film; after all, they are historical accounts.  Thus, they needed to be treated with more care.  We can’t have any more of these Bible plays coming out because even Christian audiences are getting tired of that.  We need dynamic authenticity, but perhaps the Leif Films team will keep trying and find the mark one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Christmas For a Dollar (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the middle of the Great Depression, the Kamp family is struggling to get by, but Mr. Kamp won’t let his older children get jobs.  Norman, the crippled brother, wants to see a horse owned by a local grumpy rich woman.  All the schoolchildren want to win a special box from the teacher for doing the most good deeds, even though they are all sure the local bullies are cheating in the contest.  Will they be able to have an enjoyable Christmas together?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the case for most of John Lyde’s productions, Christmas for a Dollar is respectable and above average.  This includes good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but it’s fine.  Sometimes the sets, props, and locations are limited, but they are mostly good.  Also, the editing lags at times, but on the whole, every part of this production shows good effort, which is all we can ask for, especially considering the resources available.  John Lyde is consistent in rolling out good productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, also like other films from John Lyde and his team, the plot is this movie is fairly limited in its scope and tends to lack overall purpose.  While the characters show some realism and honesty, it’s hard to know where the story is going since there are several different rabbit trails it follows without really discovering a driving or underlying theme.  The characters could have been something, but some of the awkward dialogue holds them back.  Like other movies from this creative team, Christmas for a Dollar contains a lot of nice ideas that don’t come to full fruition.  This story needed a bit more work before going to production.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite the unrealistic costuming, this cast was definitely trying.  They overcame a rough start of awkward and forced lines and emotions to improve throughout the latter half of the film.  They seem like they are receiving some good coaching most of the time and really seem like they care about their roles.  This is more than can be said of most casts.

Conclusion

John Lyde and his creative team certainly care about their movies: this much is evident.  However, too often, their ideas get lost in translation and do not fully come through.  Films like this one tend to come off as nice little kids’ movies with no mass appeal outside of a small audience.  It’s a shame, because it seems like they could go further a lot of the time with their ideas.  Maybe one day soon they will finally break through to the next level, because they certainly have the ability to do so.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Silver Bells [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bruce Dalt is obsessed with his job as a local sports anchor.  He is also obsessed with his son getting a good basketball scholarship.  However, he lets his emotions get the best of him when he gets angry at a referee who made a call on his son, Bruce finds himself in the middle of a public relations nightmare.  His media employer determines that he needs to complete community service before he can come back to his job.  Thus, Bruce is stuck ringing a Christmas bell for the Salvation Army.  Will he be able to learn the true meaning of Christmas?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Silver Bells is a typically professional PureFlix and UP production collaboration.  As such, there are few errors to note here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too holiday-ish, but it’s fine.  Sets, locations, and props are also fine, albeit filled with Christmas stuff.  There are also a lot of Salvation Army ‘product placements,’ but at least this is a good ministry to promote.  Finally, there are some small editing issues to note, but on the whole, this is a model production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, despite the influence of Andrea Nasfell, this plot suffers from a bout of forced comedy and cardboard cutout characters, including a stereotypical over the top holiday-hating character that is forced to like Christmas throughout the course of the film.  Also, the holiday-hating character constantly reminds the audience of his unexplained cold attitude towards Christmas.  Thus, the Christian message is quite cheap.  There is unfortunately nothing truly creative in this plot as it seems like it was manufactured in a Christmas plot factory.  Any issues raised are too easily resolved, and even though the Salvation Army has some great causes, it’s not enough to save this story from itself.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Mostly, the lead cast members trying too hard to convince the audience of who their characters are, much like many PureFlix movies.  In doing so, they come off as very disingenuous and plastic.  However, there are plenty of good moments from the supporting cast members that help this section from being nothing.  Emotions are overall average throughout, thus rounding out a nearly-average film.

Conclusion

Films like this one can’t help but be seen as just one made on the assembly line of holiday inspirational films.  If you’re going to reuse an old plot concept, at least make it was accessible and believable characters that audiences can relate to.  As it is, Silver Bells just seems like it’s trying to check the boxes so it can be a packaged made-for-television film.  We need more creativity than this, but the good thing is that Andrea Nasfell has shown that she has the ability to do this when she is supported properly.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Carman: The Champion (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Orlando Leone is not in good health, but after inheriting his father’s gym, he finds himself with mounting debt and not enough income to cover his bills.  His only choice is to re-enter the boxing scene and win a high-stakes prize fight in order to earn the money he needs to save the gym.  However, the fight will be against his gravest rival.  Will Orlando’s medical condition keep him from being the hero?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For an early 2000s film, Carman’s self-titled ego trip is not a bad production all around.  This means, as usual, that video quality and camera work are good, even in the sports action scenes.  Audio quality is adequate, even though there are some minor background noise issues and the soundtrack is sometimes too loud.  Yet there are plenty of good sets, locations, and props, especially pertaining to the sports elements.  However, there are also some editing concerns, mostly pertaining to the sports montages and the slightly choppy presentation.  But on the whole, this is an acceptable, above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there is some potential in this story, mostly pertaining to the realistic circumstances portrayed in this plot, there are also a lot of formulaic elements here.  This film is basically your average sports redemption arc combined with a predictable save the farm with an impossible sports feat subtext, mixed with a dash of the medical complications subplot.  Thus, the characters are too shallow as they mainly function as pawns in the plot’s circumstances that are inevitable regardless of what they do.  Things happen because they need to and mostly consist of typical scenes and sports montages, as previously mentioned.  The romantic subplot is cheesy and rushed and the villain is a strawman.  There are also some unnecessarily edgy elements just because.  Basically, while this was a nice try, it’s not good enough.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite Carman being a lead in this film and putting a damper on things, the other cast members aren’t really half bad in this film.  However, there are moments of emotion that are too dramatic and forced.  The villain cast member is basically annoying.  On the while, this is just one of those films that has good elements but is mostly forgettable.

Conclusion

Carman the Champion was a part of an early 2000s push from Trinity Broadcasting Network and others to bring a diverse collection of Christian films to the big screen, but the effort was not entirely successful.  While this movie was sort of the first of its kind in Christian circles, replicating the basic Rocky plot using Carman isn’t really worth doing.  Christians should be more creative than this, so maybe future film makers can take cues from this.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Jeremiah [1998] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeremiah grew up in the reign of Josiah, the last golden era for Judah as a nation.  As a young boy, God called him to be a prophet; however, he did not always accept this call.  As he grew, he knew he was destined to be a Levitical priest, but God gave him a message to tell the people that no one wanted to hear.  Jeremiah was persecuted for what he had to share and suffered terribly as Jerusalem’s days were numbered by the Babylonian siege.  Yet through it all, God was with him as he carried out the Word of the Lord.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a late 1990s production, Jeremiah has plenty of good elements.  Affirm Films’ older Bible movies were certainly not perfect, but they definitely showed good effort.  The biggest plus to this production pertains to the excellent sets, locations, and props, which all demonstrate historical authenticity and great attention to detail.  Video quality and audio quality are also what they should be, including an effective soundtrack.  However, there are some drawbacks to point out, such as weird lighting in some scenes for dramatic effect, quick and rapid time jumps, fast cuts and transitions.  Thus, this production is overall average, but this is very good considering the time period.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Like too many other Bible movies like it, such as Affirm’s rendition of Esther, Jeremiah tends to portray Biblical characters in a too lofty fashion through the use of odd and cumbersome dialogue styles.  It would be nice if Biblical characters were not so inaccessible and theater-like.  But nevertheless, this is an interesting and noteworthy portrayal of a different Biblical account that often goes unnoticed.  It’s refreshing to see a different story, but at the same time, it is frustrating to watch because it had such potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the cumbersome dialogue, too often in this film, the cast members use weird, archaic annunciation, like this is a 1970s or older Bible film.  In a similar vein, a lot of the acting is too dramatic and theatrical at times, and too much of the line delivery is breathy.  While some cast members are culturally authentic, others are not, including several British people.  Yet there are plenty of good moments here and some cast members tend to improve throughout.  In the end, this rounds out a nearly average film.

Conclusion

It would be great to see this idea remade because it is a very interesting story that deserves to be portrayed.  Yet this movie can also serve as an example of how not to portray Biblical characters.  Audiences want to see people they can relate to, not lofty characters in a play.  The Bible needs to be brought to life in authentic and even gritty ways because it’s real life and deserves to be portrayed that way.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 pointsj

 

Scattered [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a group of friends gathers at a mutual friend’s house to celebrate her graduation from law school and upcoming bar exam, none of them could have anticipated or predicted what would happen to them that night.  Some of them are frustrated that their old friend has become a Christian and refuses to get high with them, so they decide to have their own ‘party’ secretly in her house.  However, what they do not know is that supernatural forces beyond their control are at work and they will be taken for the psychological ride of their lives—whether they want to or not.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Much like The Basement, Scattered begins with very poor production quality, including too many tight, awkward camera angles and too much shaking camera work for dramatic effects.  Though video and audio quality are relatively stable throughout, there is really only one set in this film with no outside locations except for within flashbacks.  Props are mostly fine throughout, but there are some cheesy ‘horror’ special effects that really need to be eliminated.  There are also too many choppy cuts and transitions, as well as a lot of disorienting editing to try to add to the psychological effect.  However, relatively halfway through the film, a switch if flipped and it suddenly becomes a respectable production.  Thus, it ends up average in the end, but that is not all that changes throughout this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Scattered begins as annoying as The Basement was throughout, including a lot of stupid and mindless dialogue that makes non-Christian characters very bad and Christian characters too good.  It’s also hard to keep up with all the characters at first as the first half of the plot really has no coherent thought or direction.  However, it is clear that the first half is trying to kick the can down the road to get to the big twist this movie hinges upon, however, this is not done in a very good fashion.  The tone and premise of the first half is very strange and off-putting, including ridiculous horror elements.  Though this part drags on way too long due to wasted, pointless conversations and empty scenes, the middle of the story totally flips the script and suddenly becomes the best Christian horror plot written to date.  Flashbacks are used very effectively to suddenly build the characters into real people and the ‘horror’ elements become justified and actually realistic.  The plot is not afraid to take on realistic gritty issues that people endure and suddenly makes its characters more gray rather than so black and white.  Thus, the ending is interesting and actually makes one want to see more.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the other elements of the film, the acting is quite bad at first.  The makeup is a standout problem in the beginning.  A lot of the cast members are trying way too hard at first, including forceful line delivery and wooden emotions.  However, even these issues demonstrate improvement as things completely change in the middle of the film.  The difference between the two halves is so stark that one has to wonder if the creative team completely changed in the middle.

Conclusion

Scattered bears a strong resemblance to Pendragon as a rare film that changes and improves throughout and is actually sustained by a strong and unique plot idea.  Yet the question still remains: since they showed they could improve, would it really have been that hard to go back and fix the beginning?  Sure, it would have taken more time, but think of the impact this film could have had.  This is likely the only good Christian horror concept on the market right now, and it most definitely needs to be reused in some way.  After the debacle of The Basement and the first half of this film, it seemed like JCL Production was just another failed venture, but with the total turnaround in Scattered, they have demonstrated that there is more to them than meets the eye.  Thus, it will be very interesting see what they can come up with next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Fix it Boys (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ben and Cricket and their friends make up The Fix It Boys, a group of boys determined to make things that were once broken working again—at least over the summer break.  Together, they hide in their forest getaway and think up ways to make the world better.  However, when a friend of theirs asks them to make her parents’ marriage fixed again, they don’t have any answers for her, and they also don’t know what to think about the faith that she never lets go of.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2017 production, this is an understandably professional production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit underwhelming at times.  Sets, locations, and props are all well-constructed and appropriate for the film.  Though there are some minor editing concerns, this is still a great production and is of a type of quality that we need to see more of consistently in all Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

However, the good production does nothing to help the floundering plot quality.  The first half is dominated by narration that stunts character growth and leaves nothing to chance.  But even after this is over, nothing useful as accomplished as the impossible-to-access characters wander around in the forest and sit around and talk with quirky dialogue.  With no clear direction or purpose, this film boils down to a silly kids so-called comedy that’s full of awkward and forced humor that falls flat.  The premise is too juvenile and under-developed to go anywhere.  In the end, it’s very unclear what is meant by this film, but it’s hard to believe it was even made.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With a cast composed mostly of child\teenager actors and actresses, the performances are inconsistent.  There are some bright spots, but there is also a lot of forced line delivery and emotional delivery.  Some cast members seem bored and appeared to be phoning in their performances.  However, there is improvement throughout, making this section at least average.

Conclusion

It’s great to be able to pull off a professional production and halfway decent acting, but if you have no real idea to work with in your plot, then what’s the point?  Films like this one look good on the surface, but they will have zero impact because they have no purpose or direction.  Unfortunately, this is basically just another silly ‘nice try’ Christian movie that will be forgotten in roughly six months.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Ultimate Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeff Warner is now a street pastor, but he wasn’t always that way.  He grew up in an abusive home and found solace in being able to hustle people on the streets.  He became involved with dangerous gangs and eventually entered the wrestling scene to make some extra cash.  However, the sport soon consumes him and his family.  Only because of the prayers of his wife does Jeff ever find the redemption he always needed, so he can in turn help others find the same.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though it’s clear that the team behind this film meant well, it’s also clear that they definitely had low funding for it.  This is evident in the random nature of the production.  It has some good elements and showed slight improvement throughout.  However, lighting is too inconsistent throughout, as is the video quality.  Audio quality is fine even though it is sometimes too loud, and the soundtrack is average.  Some portions of the film are randomly black and white or sepia for no particular reason.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly realistic.  The editing is slightly confusing, but it is mostly okay.  That really tells the tale of this production: mostly okay.  They really did mean well in making this, I believe, but they might should have waited for better funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The true story behind this film was definitely worth telling, but the full arc of redemption is blunted by the flat presentation.  Though characters and the circumstances they endure are realistic and believable, they still need some more development and deepening through more meaningful dialogue.  There is not enough focus in the plot as it is quite disorganized.  What the writers are going for here can be seen somewhat, but the impact of what they are trying to do is not as much as it could be due to some rookie plot-writing mistakes.  However, there is definitely potential here that hopefully will be used in even better ways in the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s interesting to have the main character played by the real person.  Though this cast is amateurish and somewhat inexperienced, they are clearly trying to post good acting performances.  Though there are some lagging issues with forced emotions and some unsure line delivery, this cast is mostly good and demonstrate a lot of potential for the future.

Conclusion

Sometimes it’s better to wait for more funding, but other times you just have to get your movie out there to start somewhere.  This is a hard call to make and there is a balance somewhere in between to be found.  Yet sometimes better funding only comes by putting yourself out there.  Ultimately, you have to do what you feel like God wants you to do with your film.  Films like Ultimate Redemption join a long list of Christian movies that are close to being great and show potential for the future.  The question is, which ones of these will rise up and make a movie that improves upon what they already have.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Redemption Way (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jenny and Autumn were best friends growing up, but life took them different directions.  Jenny is now a Christian, working as a hospice nurse.  One day, her path once again crosses with Autumn’s as she is assigned her as a hospice case, which she had to refuse.  However, Jenny still goes to visit Autumn since she feels guilty about leaving her behind.  Jenny wants to save Autumn before it’s too late, but she will have to learn that only God can save people.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s probably not the best idea to make two movies in one year.  This puts a strain on the creative team, and it shows up in the production.  Though video quality, camera work, and audio quality are okay in Redemption Way, the soundtrack is basically pedestrian and the lighting is too inconsistent.  Sets and locations are quite limited as well.  Furthermore, the editing is quite bad as there are some very long and lagging scenes that pump the film’s run time.  It is extremely difficult for this movie to hold the attention for this reason.  However, this is a first-time production shows some slight potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there is a good idea behind this film, it is certainly not communicated well at all.  Everything is too drab and dour.  I would say it’s melodramatic, but then again, it’s just not dramatic at all.  The messaging is too dry and simplistic as the story plays out like a long funeral.  It is difficult to relate to the struggles of the characters because they are so one-dimensional and because the plot is so narrow-minded.  The dialogue is also very dour and pedestrian; thus, it is not inspiring.  There are no twists and turns—just one long and sad story that fails to connect with the audience.  In the future, this team needs to work on making their plots more engaging.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though the acting shows potential and though the cast members are certainly trying, their performances are just too overly practiced and robotic to be dynamic.  Some care was given to line delivery, but believable emotions are almost non-existent.  Basically, the acting is too textbook and not natural enough, but there are enough good moments to keep this section average.

Conclusion

This film really contains an incomplete idea that needs deepening, especially since grief plots are already quite hard to do.  It can be easy for plots like this one to fall into the slog that it fell into.  In order to understand what the characters of this plot are going through, we need to be able to connect with them as people.  Also, the cast members need to be coached to be more interesting, yet they also need better lines to help them out.  In the end, this film is mostly just a rough start, so it is possible that this team could improve down the road.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Pawn’s Move (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jimmy unexpectedly inherits the secretly wealthy estate of his eccentric antique-collecting mentor, he doesn’t quite know what to do with it.  Therefore, in order to escape from people who only want him for his money, he decides to take a trip to the small town where his mentor grew up so he can sort things out.  But what he finds there is unexpected and reveals a side of himself he never thought he had.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a first-time, limited-funding production, Pawn’s Move is raw and honest.  Camera work is mostly good, as is video quality.  However, lighting is sometimes inconsistent and audio quality tends to pick up a lot of background noises.  Yet the soundtrack is okay.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and authentic, even if they are a bit limited.  Finally, the editing also needs some improvement, even though it shows plenty of potential.  In the end, this is an average and honest production that definitely showed potential for the future, as we saw in The Matchbreaker.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Much like their second film, the Vetter Brothers’ freshman effort Pawn’s Move is artistic and creative.  It utilizes quirky yet believable characters in a muted romantic comedy setting.  Yet despite the huge amount of potential here, this story is severely underdeveloped and understated.  The characters are accessible, yet they need more exploration.  Comedy is subtle, and sometimes too subtle.  Overall, there are too many random ideas floating around in this plot that need better organization, but it was a great start that led to better things.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this amateur cast is somewhat awkward, they are definitely trying.  Sometimes it seems like they need a little more direction than they are being given.  They would have definitely benefitted from upgraded coaching, especially when it came to emotional expression.  Yet nonetheless, like the rest of this film, it showed promise for the future.

Conclusion

There are few film makers that can pull off comedy properly because true comedy requires an understanding of flawed and human characters, as well as superb dialogue.  While Pawn’s Move does not necessarily fully meet these requirements, it is still a step in the right direction.  All film makers, even the best, sometimes have meager beginnings, so the important thing is to keep moving forward and to keep trying to improve.  The ones who do this are set apart from the rest and make a real difference.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Andy’s Rainbow (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Rayne is caught shoplifting, she is given the choice between juvenile detention and community service.  She opts for community service and is assigned to a local home for special needs teenagers who have nowhere else to go.  She is immediately befriended by a resident named Andy, much to her chagrin, who constantly shows an interest in her as a person, something no one has ever done before, especially her drunk father.  Will Rayne’s walls come down and will she learn to love another person?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the effort that went into this film was honest and caring.  The budget was likely limited in this effort, however, which keeps the production from being all that it could be.  Video quality is fine, as is camera work.  Yet there are some minor audio issues, although the soundtrack is fine.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited and are sometimes oddly lit, but they are mostly realistic.  There are some odd special effects throughout, but they really appear to be trying.  Editing is just average but is better than most films.  Overall, this is an applaudable effort that will hopefully yield better results down the road.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story is quite simplistic and linear, it’s an honest look at real people and is a realistic portrayal of people and the struggles they endure.  Special needs people are given a good platform and character backstories are believable and demonstrate and connection to the real world.  Thus, character development is mostly good, even if the dialogue isn’t as creative as it could be at times.  The writers definitely meant well with this plot, yet it needs a little more development and complexity to be dynamic.  The ending is very touching and shows that this creative team isn’t afraid to take risks.  It will be interesting see what they write up in future projects.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a semi-amateurish cast, they post some good performances.  However, there are some forced emotions and line delivery throughout.  Yet like the rest of this film, it seems like they mean well and have a general grasp on what they are doing.  Some upgraded coaching would make them dynamic.

Conclusion

Andy’s Rainbow is another one of those low-budget first-time films that desperately needs a remake because it presents realistic and honest characters that the audience can connect with.  Yet the plot needs an upgrade, as does the acting coaching and the production.  With these minor changes, this creative will make a big difference in the Christian film world.  Hopefully they will be able to have the resources to make a better project soon.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Remember the Goal (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Courtney Smith-Donnelly, an inexperienced coach, is given the job as the new cross country coach at Orange Hills Christian Girls Private School, many parents are skeptical of her ‘unusual’ training methods.  She insists on not wearing the girls out, but the parents want a winning team.  Under the threat of being fired, Courtney pushes forward and encourages her girls to remember the goal no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

At least since they have been making films for nearly two decades, the Christiano brothers have learned how to craft a professional production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit silly at times, but outdoor locations and indoor sets are on market standard.  The only real issue to point out here is the slightly poor editing job, which manifests in too many sports montages.  But in the end, at least the production quality of this film is fine.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, after all these years, the Christiano brothers have not been able to figure out how to craft a plot that relates the real people and real circumstances.  They still demonstrate a trite and sometimes childish outlook on life, which includes a silly and plastic handling of otherwise important issues.  The characters are also extremely thin and one-dimensional due to mindless dialogue.  There is hardly any content in this plot except for sports sequences and lingo and there are a lot of disjointed subplots.  But perhaps the most memorable part of this plot—for all the wrong reasons—is the forced and confusing parallels between Christianity and cross-country, as well as the ridiculous persecution the main character undergoes for training her team in a supposedly controversial fashion.  This component dominates the film and is downright laughable, not to mention all of the quick fixes in this film.  Basically, there is still nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though the Christianos mostly departed from their usual cast in his film, there are still issues here.  The lead actress is often overly practiced yet unsure of herself at the same time.  Other cast members are fine, but emotions often seem forced.  Overall, this is an average performance.

Conclusion

Remember the Goal is a departure for the Christianos in that they have finally allowed a female character to take a lead role in a plot that does not involve them being confined to the house.  Yet it still contains a lot of their typical shallow elements and their limited outlook on life and faith.  Unfortunately, they’re not going to improve until they learn how to relate to real people and stop thinking that everything is a persecution ploy.  But after all this time, why would they change?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Scarlett [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chase and Scarlett and two architects who are in love and are engaged to be married.  They love God and want to help people, which is why they open their home to a pregnant victim of domestic violence on the run from her evil husband.  But their lives are also changed when Scarlett discovers that she has an aggressive form of cancer.  Will they be able to hold on to what they believe despite tragedy?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though Scarlett has a smaller budget, it shows that Strong Foundation Films has finally learned how to put money to good use by having a semi-professional production.  Video quality and camera work are on standard, and audio quality shows marked improvement.  The soundtrack is also better as it flows more smoothly.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate more professionalism than in the past.  The only negative to discuss here is the bad editing that keeps this production from being all that it could be.  Yet nevertheless, Strong Foundation has finally found a good production style.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there is some heavy-handed narration and though this story is just another repackaged downtrodden character plot, there is some better dialogue throughout that keeps this plot from being as bad as past efforts.  Yet the characters still need further development as they are only halfway there.  There is a lot of melodrama surrounding the disease plot and there are laughable product placements for The Prophet’s Son.  Yet it seems like the Strong Foundation team is trying, even though they suggest of a lot of childish fixes for problems.  There is at least some hope for this team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The creative team did find some better case members and better coaching for this film, yet Josiah David Warren’s unsure performance is still front and center, and is thus distracting.  The presence of Stephen Baldwin is also an automatic detractor.  Some emotions are believable while others are not.  Line delivery is mostly okay.  In the end, this rounds out of a much-needed improvement.

Conclusion

We would much rather see a company start with a 4-point movie and progress beyond that, but it’s better late than never for Strong Foundation.  They have certainly had an odd existence, but perhaps they are finding their way now.  Josiah David Warren still needs to look over his past performances and see how he can improve so he doesn’t keep doing the same thing every time.  They also still might want to consider hiring a different writer.  Who knows where they will go as a company next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Music in Me [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jessica leaves the small town she grew up in to pursue her musical dreams, she never thought she would get a second chance with the people she once knew.  But she is given that second chance when she is down on her luck and offered the position of choir director at the church she once called home.  Little does she know that she can turn their whole music program around, plus get a well-groomed man on the side.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Up Entertainment has proven that they know how to fund and executed a production, even if their plots continually suffer for creativity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on professional standard in The Music in Me.  However, the ‘original’ soundtrack that includes the main actress singing is awful.  Also, sets and locations are sneakily limited.  Some other small shortcuts are taken, but the editing is mostly fine.  In the end, Up has borrowed from the Hallmark model and has learned how to churn out made-for-TV films that look pretty good on the surface.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there are some half-hearted attempts to develop the characters and there is like one character that’s not stereotypical, everything else from The Music in Me has already been done on Hallmark, ten times over.  It’s the same old prodigal character returns to their hometown shtick, with all of the predicable character molds to fill.  Dialogue is very stock and there are too many attempts at forced comedy.  The Christian message is plastic and trite; it seems like this film is only Christian because it needs to reach a certain audience.  In the end, there is nothing new here, this is business as usual, same old, same old, move along, nothing to see here…

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though there is a slight air of professionalism among this cast, they all look fake, like they were just rejected from a Hallmark audition.  Did we mention that the singing is grating?  The singing, especially from the main actress, is grating and cringeworthy.  Besides this, it seems like a lot of these performances are phoned in.  Like we said, there’s nothing new here.

Conclusion

Up has the ability to do something different, to stand out from Hallmark by using their money to fund a creative plot.  But no, they choose to fall into the same old patterns.  Sometimes they try, like with Love Finds You in Charm, but this time they have not.  Perhaps one day someone will be able to use a platform like this to produce a great idea that is actually worth watching on TV.  I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for that to happen.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Esther [1999] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When King Xerxes banished his wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing to obey him, he called all the young women of the Persian kingdom to come and audition to be his new queen.  Among them was Esther, a Jewess, whose cousin Mordecai instructed her to hide her ethnic identity from the royal leaders.  Little did either of them know that she had been raised up by God for such a time to save His people from certain destruction.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this film was made before the 2000s, Affirm Films demonstrated even in 1999 that they were committed to professional production quality.  Video quality and camera work are good in this film, even if lighting is sometimes inconsistent.  Audio quality is average, and the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  The biggest win for this production is the professional and historically authentic sets, locations, and props which demonstrate care for accuracy.  The editing is fine but it could use a little improvement.  Overall, this is a respectable production and shows why Affirm is where they are today.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This rendition of the story of Esther was likely the first of its kind in the modern era, later to be follow by For Such a Time As This, One Night With the King, and the deplorable Book of Esther.  In this 1999 version, care is also given to an accurate retelling of the story, even if it is a little too literal.  This is the only film we’ve seen that portrays Xerxes very well and likely accurate to the historical figure.  At least this story shies away from the silly ‘love story’ trope that modern film writers try to force into the account.  However, the characters in this version still don’t seem like real people as they are too dramatic and boring at the same time.  There are a lot of dead sequences and not enough substantial dialogue.  Overall, this was a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast, though semi-professional, is overly theatrical and too practiced.  Though costuming is culturally authentic, the casting is not always this way.  Emotions are also forced and feel manufactured, like this is some sort of Bible play.  Yet not all is bad here and this rounds out an acceptable effort.

Conclusion

A lot of time and money was likely spent on sets and costumes in this film, much like its later relation, One Night With the King.  However, what both of these films forget is substance.  Though Esther is better at adhering to the true historical account, it is still not presented in an interesting way that will engage audiences.  Biblical film makers can learn from this to not abandon accuracy but still develop the characters like they’re real people, not lofty ‘heroes’ that have no connection to us today.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Playbook [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Thomas family is successful and seems to get along on the surface.  However, they struggle with as many issues as anyone does.  They are involved in their community, including local sports, and are well-liked, but when tragedy strikes one of their own, they all find themselves struggling with forgiving those closest to them.  Will they ever be able to reconcile and find healing?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although The Playbook is a somewhat rookie production, it is mostly good and is at least average.  Video quality is fine, but some of the camera work is shaky, especially in the sports action shots.  Lighting is sometimes inconsistent, but sets, locations, and props are all above board.  Finally, as usual for films of this caliber, the editing is lacking the necessary push.  Yet in the end, this is a respectable production is something to build off of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though the idea behind this plot is interesting and has potential, the story gets too lost in melodrama at times.  There is too much wallowing in self-pity and anger without any real plot focus or meaningful redemptive elements.  Rather than developing the characters so we can appreciate their struggles, this film spends a lot of time on sports montages, musical montages, and other useless sequences that really put a drag on the viewing experience.  Stuff just happens but nothing holds the attention or is enough to sustain a full story because the characters are under-developed due to poor dialogue.  The Christian message is also a little bit too vague.  In the end, it’s likely that this creative team meant well—they just need some help with their execution.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is ‘amateur’, they do a decent job without any real errors early on the film.  Yet their performances tend to digress in the middle due to extreme emotions and poor drama acting.  However, by the end, they have righted the ship again.  Despite the errors, this is a good model for amateur casting.

Conclusion

Tragedy plots are notoriously difficult to pull off without stepping into common pitfalls.  The same goes for sports plots.  When combined together, there are all kinds of issues that can come up.  Yet despite the rocky road plot, this movie isn’t all that bad, even though it may not have mass appeal.  It shows raw talent and could be a stepping stone for future work.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of this creative team.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Current [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Dialtone [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a disillusioned Christian lawyer receives a very unusual visit from a man that claims to have access to a special phone that allows the caller to call people in the past who have died in the present, he is very skeptical at first.  However, he finds himself intrigued enough to try to call his recently deceased wife in the past.  But the deeper he goes, the more he discovers that he needs to get right with God before he is ready to truly make a difference.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a very low-key film, attempts were made to make the production worthwhile.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all good, including a creative and intriguing soundtrack.  However, there is some unnecessarily poor lighting and a lot of the sets and locations are quite limited, probably due to budget limitations.  Also, the editing of this film is not really what it should be, especially considering how short it is.  Nonetheless, this is a good effort for a low-budget production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Dialtone is based on a very unique idea, but it is still a time travel plot, and like other time travel plots, it has a lot of continuity and logic problems.  Sci-fi is one thing, but a logic-defying story is hard to justify, even though the effort to be creative is commendable.  Since this idea is so short and underdeveloped, it’s hard to see the justification for it except to beta-test movie-making.  It’s great to have a creative idea, but it needs to be expounded upon.  The characters are also pretty well-developed, but we need to know more about them since there are so few of them.  In the end, creativity should be rewarded, but time travel plots should mostly be avoided.  An idea isn’t enough to carry a film—you need characters to do that for you.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is a small cast, they post good performances that lack glaring errors.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The only drawback is that they can be underwhelming at times, but they really showed effort to make this portion good.

Conclusion

Movies like Dialtone are hard to figure.  It seems like the creative team behind these sorts of films really has potential to do something great, but they just don’t go quite all the way.  It could be that films like this one were started projects, but there isn’t any follow-up, which is unfortunate.  But perhaps one day they will pick it back up again and improve on what they already have.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Behind the Sun [1995] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a young Muslim convert to Christianity returns home to Iran from America, he wrestles with how he is going to tell his staunch Islamic family and community about his conversion to ‘treason’.  He is also trying to understand God’s call on his life and to continue to grow in his newfound faith.  As he comes to grips with the persecution of Christians in his country, he must decide whether he will run back to safety or face the hard road in front of him.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though the production of Behind the Sun is archaic, it is good for its time frame.  Camera work is shaky and video quality is somewhat grainy.  Yet audio quality is fine, even though the soundtrack could use a little improvement.  The strongest point of this production is the highly culturally realistic sets, locations, and props throughout the film.  Editing is okay, but there are some abrupt cuts and transitions.  Overall, this film was unfortunately made in a time frame that did not allow for better production, so a remake might be in order.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Behind the Sun addresses a storyline that is often never addressed in Christian film and does so in a realistic way.  The characters are interesting, but we would like to see a little more development from them, yet we can appreciate the struggles they encounter.  What they need a little more backstory and dialogue to help deepen them as people.  We would also like to see some of the subplots developed more to give the film more content and effectiveness.  As it is, the story is engaging but would be better with a more flowing plot and fewer leaps in logic.  Too much of the story is told through headlines and not enough through dialogue.  However, the ending is interesting and is worth a watch.  We only wish it could have been better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

International films are notoriously difficult to cast due to limited resources, but this team did an excellent job finding cast members that fit the depicted culture properly.  Costuming is also authentic.  The acting is also great, except for a few bouts of extreme emotions.  Otherwise, the acting and casting is the strongest point of this film.

Conclusion

Behind the Sun is an obscure Christian film, yet it carries with it a lot of potential.  Had it been better funded and had the plot been written a little more complex, it could have been Hall of Fame.  As it is, it seems a bit rushed since it was perhaps not completely intended to be a Christian film to be sold on the market, but rather an awareness-raising project.  However, think of the impact it could have had if a little bit more time had been invested in it.  Perhaps one day someone will remake it or make one similar to it.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Adrenaline [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph Jenkins is a hotshot drag race car driver, but when he is suddenly crippled in a wreck, he feels like his life is over.  As he sulks in a hospital room, he doesn’t want to see anyone, but his roommate pulls him out of his shell and gives him a new purpose in life.  Then Joseph suddenly reconnects with an old friend of his father, whom he never knew.  Joseph soon finds a new lease on life and a chance at redemption, but will he be able to make his newfound faith his own?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Adrenaline is overall a mixed bag, including the production.  Video quality is fine, but camera work is too shaky, including a lot of odd camera angles.  Lighting is poor at first, but it improves as it goes.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is sometimes too loud.  However, sets, locations, and props are very professional.  Yet Adrenaline commits a common error of indie films—imperfect editing.  Cuts and transitions are very confusing and even sometimes spastic, thus making for a lot of choppy editing.  In the end, this is a good production effort, but some kinks still need to be worked out of it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, though it has some good messages, Adrenaline is a formulaic sports redemption plot with a predictable sequence.  The characters are somewhat stereotypical, though attempts are made to develop them.  However, it would be better to see them deeper because they are intriguing characters.  This can be done by making the dialogue more creative and complex.  Elsewhere, there are too many (unfortunately expected) sports and training montages, as well as a lot of wasted time.  It’s too bad because it feels like this plot has a lot of potential that it doesn’t reach.  Perhaps things will improve next time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Even as a slightly amateur cast (except for John Schneider), the acting isn’t really that bad.  Even John Schneider is better than he has been in the past.  The cast members embrace their characters well.  The only issue to point out is some overdone emotions, but that’s easily fixed.  This shows great hope for the future.

Conclusion

With some experience working under the Kendricks, this creative team did pick up on a thing or two that they will likely be able to use to get even better in the future.  First movie mistakes can easily be forgiven, so it will be interesting to see what they have planned next.  With some better production funding and a more creative plot, as well as a continuously good cast, this team will be going places.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Boonville Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Melinda was always told that she was an illegitimate child.  Her mother is superstitious and has a secret she is trying to hide as she is under the thumb of the ruthless Maddox, Melinda’s stepfather.  When Maddox sends Melinda away to Melinda’s grandmother, Melinda sees a whole new outlook on life, including insights into who her father really is.  She discovers that everyone in the small western town of Boonville is hiding a secret, and only courage and faith will help them to disclose what they need to disclose.

 

Production Quality (2 point)

Since there is a lot of mainstream experience on the production team, the production of Boonville Redemption is understandably professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is pedestrian, but the sets and locations are historically realistic.  The biggest errors to highlight here pertain to editing, as there are a lot of abrupt transitions and choppy sequences.  There is too much content that has been crammed into the 100-minute runtime of this film.  Basically, this film is professional on the surface, yet it lacks the necessary substance to be any better than it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though Boonville Redemption attempts to explore a unique plot style and genre, it does so in all the wrong ways.  Constant narration from the unnecessarily omniscient Pat Boone doesn’t leave anything to chance and makes sure the ending is obvious in the beginning.  Pretty much every character is a cheesy stereotype, especially the ridiculously monologuing villain.  The characters that have potential to be good are barely given any screen time, probably due to the large number of characters in general.  Though there is a lot of content, as previously mentioned, time is frivolously wasted on very unnecessary sequences.  Any good parts are very rushed and are drowned out by too many quirky elements.  Everything culminates in a gag-inducing “it’s my diary” climax sequence that really just puts the icing on this rotten cake.  Unfortunately, while this could have been a creative and interesting story, it falls very much short of expectations.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The good news is historical costuming is realistic, although there are some minor shades of Michael Landon Jr. frontier makeovers present.  The acting is mostly professional with only some minor errors, such as some overly dramatic moments.  If Edward Asner, Richard Tyson, and Pat Boone were removed from this cast, it would have been perfect.  But at least this casting job is somewhat palatable.

Conclusion

Boonville Redemption demonstrates mainstream professionalism in the production and acting departments, but the plot severely suffers from lack of creativity and forceful delivery.  Throwing a bunch of big name cast members into a well-funded production does not equal a good movie.  The story seems like it had too many writers in the story room, but that isn’t really the case.  Essentially, writers need to trust their audiences to figure things out rather than have Pat Boone tell them what to think about stuff.  Also, the last thing we needed was the Pat Boone credits number, but who really cares at this point?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Confessions of a Prodigal Son (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sean Matthews couldn’t wait to strike out on his own and get out from under the confines of being a pastor’s son.  When given half of his inheritance with the stipulation of staying in school, Sean heads off to USC to live the party lifestyle.  He feels like he can do whatever he wants—that is, until he meets Ali, a girl who seems immune to his usual manipulation.  Thus, he pursues her in the hopes of winning her over, even though she is not interested in having a relationship.  They become friends and she changes Sean’s outlook on life.  When Sean comes to a crossroads, he will have to decide which path he wants to take.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Confessions of a Prodigal Son starts out fairly rough, like many freshman productions.  There is a lot of shaky camera work at first, including odd artistic angles, such as filming through crowds and from behind objects, as well as a lot of close-up shots.  However, this seems to improve as the movie goes.  Video quality is relatively stable throughout, but audio quality is another inconsistent factor, as it goes from cheap to quality over the span of ninety minutes.  The soundtrack is too loud at first and some audio is overdubbed, but these issues seem to work themselves out later.  Unfortunately, sets and locations are slightly cheap throughout the movie.  The editing is actually somewhat creative as the story is presented in a semi-out-of-order fashion that enhances interest.  Overall, this production seems to be a learning experience for the Lighting Dark team, which is perfectly reasonable, considering this is their first film.  The good news is that they will likely improve down the road.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The one thing we can say for Confessions of a Prodigal Son is that while the story is somewhat overused and predictable, at least it is presented in a creative and unique fashion.  This rendition of the famous parable will stand out from others because effort was made to be artistic and different.  At first, the narration seems too heavy-handed, but it becomes more justifiable later.  The portrayal of addicts is spot-on in this film, even if the solutions are little shallow.  There seems to be a lot of edgy content simply for the sake of having it and some important issues are treated too simply, probably to fit the story into the designated runtime.  Some characters are cheesy and have character arcs that are too steep, yet there are times when they are surprisingly well-crafted.  Though the messaging is somewhat obvious, it is still at least partially meaningful and is packaged in an artistic fashion that shows potential for the future.  In short, this movie is not all bad and stands out among others like it, which is all we ask for of new film makers.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like other elements in this film, the acting begins fairly rough and inexperienced.  There are some mumbled and slurred lines, yet there are also some overly-enunciated lines.  However, these issues work themselves out over time, like the other issues that were previously pointed out.  Emotions are mostly realistic throughout the film and line delivery certainly improves in the second half.  Overall, it is encouraging to see improvement throughout a movie rather than consistent negativity.

Conclusion

Confessions of a Prodigal Son is a mixed bag that carries with it the potential for greatness.  This is normal for a first-time film, as are the early production struggles.  If production and acting had been consistently professional and if the characters had been a little deeper through better dialogue, this film would have likely been Hall of Fame.  We are always encouraged to see new film makers that are trying to do the right things, so we anticipate greater things from the Lighting Dark team in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Pieces of Easter {Backroads and Lillies} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While high-power executive Alza Bennet is on her way to see her parents, her sister, and her niece and nephew for Easter, who car breaks down, which leads to a serious of disastrous events, including her being stuck with a reclusive country farmer as her only option for transport.  Since she has not seen her family in over a year, Alza is desperate to get there on time, but things keep happening that delay their trip, not to mention the fact that she and her driver cannot get along at all.  But slowly, Alza begins to see the joy of simplicity away from her fast-paced life, even though she hates to be inconvenienced.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Over the years, Kelly’s Filmworks has certainly improved their production quality.  In Pieces of Easter, video quality and audio quality are what they should be.  There are still some trademark Jefferson Moore artistic camera angles, but that’s his brand at this point.  The soundtrack is also random and cheesy and is seemingly made up of free music.  However, sets, locations, and props, are authentic and more diverse than usual.  Finally, the poor editing mostly holds this production back from being better.  Thus, it must be rated as average.  Though this is an improvement from the past, we still feel that they can do better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Pieces of Easter is a better version of the typical Jefferson Moore two-character conversation plot because things actually happen outside of the drawn-out conversations, and they are actually less drawn out than usual and are broken up by some attempts at comedy.  However, not all of the comedy is funny and some of it is quite forced.  Though this storyline is a stereotypical fish-out-of-water plot, it is presented better and is likely as good as this type of limited story is going to get.  This is likely because attempts were made to develop the characters through dialogue, although they could be deeper.  The biggest drawbacks to this plot are the overly-plentiful dead scenes and goofy montages.  There are too many slow parts that don’t hold the attention and too many references to off-screen content.  Overall, though this is a nice try, it really doesn’t make it far enough.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With some slightly different than usual cast members, the acting is the strongest portion of this film.  However, some lines are still mumbled and some emotions are still over the top.  However, most cast members are placed in appropriate roles.  This overall rounds off a decent performance.

Conclusion

The Moores and the Kelly’s Filmworks team certainly never gives up.  They have been on a steady upward trend throughout their career.  Pieces of Easter is a far cry from low-quality productions like The Perfect Stranger saga and Clancy.  It demonstrates real effort to improve, which is encouraging.  With just a little but more work done on production, some continued casting quality, and more creative plots, this team will finally make their mark on Christian entertainment.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Like Dandelion Dust (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the Campbells adopted little Joey from the struggling Porters, they thought it was forever.  But when the Porters get back on their feet after Joey’s father gets out of jail, they file to regain custody of their son.  Heartbroken, the Campbells do everything they can do to keep their only son, but they cannot prevail.  Therefore, they resort to a drastic measure that could land them in prison, but they are committed to protecting their son from evil.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a pilot production from Jon Gunn and company, this production quality is not what it could be.  But on a shoestring budget, it is not that bad.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality and lighting are sometimes poor.  The standard soundtrack is sometimes loud enough to cover up dialogue, but audio quality is mostly fine.  For a first-time effort, the sets and locations are quite realistic, even the international ones.  The editing is a pretty good effort considering what they had to work with.  In the end, every movie maker has to start somewhere, regardless of the budget or resources.  When put in that perspective, Like Dandelion Dust is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury, this plot is somewhat slow to develop and has one too many flat scenes and dead spots.  Yet the story is true to the book and depicts unfortunately realistic happenings.  Too much time tends to be spent on trashy elements, although what happens therein is believable.  This film is a fair portrayal of real people and their struggles and highlights important issues with child welfare.  Dialogue is mostly accessible and helps to build the characters.  Unfortunately, the first three-fourths of the film may not hold the attention of most audiences.  However, once it gets to the point at the end, it suddenly becomes really good and is worth the wait.  Overall, Like Dandelion Dust improves at the end and shows great potential for the future.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast is semi-professional and mostly knows what they are doing.  Through they are small, they have some bright spots, such as well-played and believable emotions.  Their line delivery can be wooden at times, but overall, this is a good effort that shows talent in casting.

Conclusion

It is always good to choose a book plot for your first film, but we have to wonder if this was the best Karen Kingsbury book to choose.  The story is intriguing as a book, but it doesn’t translate very well to the big screen.  Yet nonetheless, it is a good effort and something to build off of for the future.  There is great potential in this team and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Cutback [2010] (Movie Review)

Dude…

Plot Summary

Luke Harris and his friend Casey have one thing on their mind as they finish up their last year of high school: surf!  But Luke’s parents are constantly pressuring him to grow up and choose a college for him to further his education.  Luke is focused on making the local surf team and beating out a new ‘popular’ guy—not to mention getting the attention of the girl he likes—but little does Luke know that despite his own plans, God has plans for him that he could never imagine.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Cutback is different from most Skipstone films, in that it is less artistic than usual.  Video and audio quality are on par, yet the soundtrack is far too loud and tends to be too ‘surf’ oriented.  There is also some shaky camera work in the action scenes.  Outside scenes are otherwise relatively fine, and the sets and locations are acceptable.  However, the editing leaves something to be desired as it falls into the sports film trap of including too many musical sports action montages.  The good news is that the Skipstone team’s production skills did improve after this effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though Cutback is mostly a formulaic high school sports plot, there are some interesting twists and turns in the middle of the film that we did not see coming.  At first, the dialogue is far too ‘cool’ and ‘surfer-dude’, almost to the point of embarrassment, and this creates very cheesy characters.  However, this subsides as the movie goes on and they actually become believable characters.  As usual, Johnny Remo and team deal with realistic life circumstances that really make the viewer think.  The messaging of this story is quite good.  However, though everything overall improves by the middle of the film, issues tend to be resolved too easily.  Yet in the end, despite some errors, Cutback becomes a somewhat meaningful film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast is fairly professional, though sometimes they seem unsure and\or lazy.  They also tend to play the whole ‘dude’ thing too much, but they are mostly fine.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is average.  Thus, an average score is warranted.

Conclusion

Like many Johnny Remo movies, we would like to see a remake of Cutback.  It has the tools for success, even if they are not always applied properly.  Remo always demonstrates a special creativity and ability to craft different types of films, but he is often hampered by a collection of small errors and some poor execution.  We believe he and his team have great potential for the future as they continue to become better film makers.  We anticipate what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Reconciler (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Bill Collector [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lorenzo Adams is a shifty sort of fellow with a past he would rather bury.  But he thinks he has it made when his boss takes a leave of absence and puts Lorenzo in charge of his debt collection call center.  However, Lorenzo suddenly gets a visit from an old enemy who has come to collect an old debt that Lorenzo owes him.  Thus, Lorenzo uses his newfound power to concoct a scheme that he thinks will get him out of trouble easily.  Yet despite his schemes, Lorenzo finds hope in unexpected places.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The production of The Bill Collector is mostly good and above average.  Camera work and video quality are professional.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is cheesy in an attempt to be funny.  Sets and locations are fairly limited but are at least realistic.  Furthermore, the editing is not the best it could be, since there are too many musical montages.  Yet overall, this is a passable production that should be commonplace in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In an effort to make a comedic take on the parables of the shrewd manager and the unforgiving servant (I guess), The Bill Collector tries too hard to be funny and ends up falling flat.  The comedy therein is not very good since it is too forced and sometimes out of place.  Too much time is wasted, as mentioned before, on musical montages and on silly asides that are trying to boost the comedic spirit, yet fail.  Sometimes the characters are okay, but other times they are far too cheesy.  This variability depends on their dialogue at the moment.  The ending is fairly predictable and leaves something to be desired.  Basically, while it’s always commendable to try to create a comedic parable, the writers of The Bill Collector unfortunately tried too hard with this one.  Maybe they will improve in the future.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With a semi-professional cast, these performances are split down the middle.  Half of the time the cast members act over the top, while the other half of the time they are fine.  Line delivery is respectable throughout, but emotions are variable depending on the moment.  Thus, an average score is warranted.

Conclusion

There are a lot of potentially funny moments in The Bill Collector that are unfinished.  There are too many missed opportunities left on the table.  While the writers were on to something, they didn’t really find it.  Unfortunately, this film is likely to be easily forgotten by most and to get lost in the shuffle of the many Christian films on the market.  In order to truly stand out, you have to do something that is memorable for the right reasons—something that really hits home with the audience you are trying to target.  The audience is there and they’re still waiting for greatness.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Uncommon [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Aaron Chase’s brother dies in a school shooting, his family moves to a new area in the hopes of starting over.  He ends up going to Rosewood High School, whose arts department budgets have been slashed due to overall budget cuts.  The students in those departments are disappointed and seek to put on their own show.  Aaron gets involved and decides to stand up for the faith he has been hiding, even though an evil atheist teacher is trying to stop him at every turn.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For what it’s worth, Liberty Counsel and JC Films made sure Uncommon looked good on the surface.  Video quality is clear and camera work is professional.  Audio quality also meets industry standards, although the soundtrack is bloated and full of cheesy songs.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate that time was put into them.  Yet editing is quite poor, as there are far too many musical montages and filler scenes that appear to just be filling up the runtime rather than imparting real content.  Essentially, care was put into making this production look good, which is fine, but it’s just not enough when it comes to substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As is to be expected, Liberty Counsel and JC Films construct a false reality where religious persecution is rampant in public schools—to a degree that is unrealistic and requires half-truths to be told—and which is full of heavy-handed propaganda messaging and narration to drive their points home.  Atheists are extremely offensive strawmen, while Christians are downtrodden and overly perfect.  Dialogue only forces the plot along, which is actually quite boring and melancholy when all is said and done.  There is an attempt to be complex and different with some of the plot elements, but it’s not enough to make up for the outright twisting of reality that has to be done to make this movie’s message work.  Basically, when all is said and done, Uncommon simply boils down to a sophisticated version of God’s Club.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another interesting element to Uncommon is that time and care were also put into the casting and acting.  This is a semi-professional cast, yet they appear to be coached fairly well.  There are some awkward moments and unrealistic emotions, but on the whole, this is actually not that bad of a performance by this cast.  If only this truth could translate to other films.

Conclusion

Uncommon is an anomaly.  Usually movies that have small-minded plots like this one are terrible in all areas, yet time and care were spent on production and acting.  It proves that anything can be done if you put your mind to it.  Just think if this type of effort was put toward other movies that have better plots than this.  But in the end, Christians overall need to steer clear from these types of plots for like forever, unless they’re going to portray real persecution that happens anywhere except the Western world.  We need to change the mentality that ‘the atheists’ are always around the corner trying to snipe us and just live out our faith the way God wants us to.  Jesus didn’t constantly gripe at or sue the Pharisees or Romans for religious persecution, and He had plenty of His ‘rights’ violated.  God’s work can proceed whether or not you have your Bible club in a public school.  People need to know that Christians care, and with stuff like this being put out there, it’s really hard to see that Christian leaders care about anything except ‘getting back’ at atheists.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Virtuous [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Love Different (Movie Review)

Thug life.

Plot Summary

When a dippy white blonde named Jenn Gotzon Lindsay decides to take a job at an African-American marketing firm, she finds herself in the midst of a major culture shock.  So the head of the firm assigns his best marketer, Neque, to help Lindsay integrate into the new culture that she is completely foreign to.  Little do neither of them know that they are both in for a new look at life, not only their own lives, but also the lives of others.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Love Different sports professional production quality.  Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all on par with what they should be.  The soundtrack is a little quirky, but it seems to work.  Sets and locations are adequate for this story.  There is really little to complain about here, except for some choppy editing as this film tends to jump from one supposedly funny sequence to another.  But otherwise, this is what productions should look like, even if the story is greatly lacking.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

What. Is. Happening.  From one forced comedy scene to the next and from one quirky racial joke to another, there is no sense here and little method to this madness.  A lot of the time, it seems like these cast members were set free to ad-lib with no real direction except to act as juvenile and silly as possible and to make as many racial jokes as they can get away with.  This story feels like it has the zany influence of David A. R. White, Kevin Downes, and Tommy Blaze, but it does not.  As previously mentioned, this story is really just a loose collection of skits about racial differences with a few ‘meaningful’ scenes sprinkled in.  It’s hard to follow the arc of these characters as one is constantly distracted by the outrageous behaviors of Jenn Gotzon that simply have to be seen for yourself.  A lot of the dialogue constantly refers back to racial differences without truly building these characters beyond their skin color.  Yet believe it or not, there is a powerful message hidden somewhere in the midst of the zaniness, if you stick around long enough to find it.  But in the end, any movie that includes Jenn Gotzon trying to act like she’s African-American cannot be taken seriously.  It’s funny for all the wrong reasons and is simply too much to be true comedy.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Sometimes it seems like this cast has potential.  But then it doesn’t.  Jenn Gotzon is a self-parody in this film with all her antics.  Other cast members seem like they have potential and even have good moments, but they short themselves by acting like fools in attempts to be comedic.  They really seem like they are better than this, which makes this performance overall disappointing.

Conclusion

In the opening credits, God is blamed as an executive producer of this train wreck.  Can I just say, please don’t blame God for your disasters.  There is certainly a place for comedy centered around cultural differences and how we tend to isolate ourselves from different people, but whatever good Love Different was trying to accomplish unfortunately falls flat.  There are simply too many outrageous sequences and purposely over-the-top comedy elements for this movie to fully accomplish its goal.  There are so many memorable moments in this movie that are memorable for the wrong reasons.  From a class dedicated to teaching white people about African-Americans to Bon Quisha and Jenn Gotzon’s thug life, Love Different is one for the history books, but we’re not sure if its original intent will be remembered in the midst of the outrageousness.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

77 Chances (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

3 Day Test {3 Day Christmas} (Movie Review)

The marauders are coming...
The marauders are coming…

Tina says no!
Tina says no!

Plot Summary

Martin Taylor, an obsessive accountant, is tired of how his family never spends any time together.  Prompted by his half-crazy prepper brother to begin preparing for doomsday by taking the 3 Day Test, Martin sees it as his last chance to get to know his family again.  So he disconnects them from modern amenities and is assisted by local police in convincing his family to endure the three days in the comfort-free world.  But little do they know that they were not at all prepared for what’s coming next…

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for Corbin Bernsen, production quality is slightly above average in 3 Day Test.  The camera work is pretty good and video quality is clear.  Audio quality is fine except for an annoyingly blaring Christmas soundtrack and dumb sound effects.  The sets and locations are slightly limited due to the premise, but they are well designed.  The editing is fairy respectable with only some minor quirks.  In short, Bernsen has always succeeded at production quality, but that’s not even the half of this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Where to start?  3 Day Test is based on a bizarrely forced Christmas apocalyptic survival premise in which you never really know what’s coming next.  Though it doesn’t have to be a Christmas film at all, it takes place during Christmas and contain many sarcastic head-scratching asides and forced comedy moments.  Since the dialogue is either information dump or downright zany, the characters come off a mostly mentally insane and unstable.  As slightly interesting concepts are shoved in your face and packaged in ridiculous ways, many occurrences are highly unrealistic and head-scratching.  The longer the movie goes on, the weirder it gets as the audience is pulled into an over-the-top descent into madness coupled with a wacky Home Alone rip off.  By the time it’s all over, no sense can be made of it and there are unexplained factors and loose ends.  Is it satire or just total insanity?  Your guess is as good as ours.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Sporting some professional cast members and some odd child actors\actresses, this cast is a mixed bag.  It’s sometimes pretty good while other times it’s histrionic and annoying.  Line delivery is actually quite professional, but there are just too many episodes of craziness to warrant any more points than this.

Conclusion

Once again, what are we to make of Corbin Bernsen?  Is he a mad satirical genius or is he just trolling?  3 Day Test is actually less satire than usual for him and more goofy madness.  While we wholeheartedly agree that families need to spend more time together, and not just during the holidays, this does not have to involve a ridiculous false survival premise.  This leads us to wonder if Bernsen is actually advocating for ‘prepping for an apocalypse’.  Who knows what he really believes; we may never know.  The bottom line is that he’s wasting his talents and resources on facepalm-inducing films that no one really cares about when he could be making a real difference.  Will he ever change?  We somehow doubt it.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

A Christmas Tree Miracle {Random Acts of Christmas} (Movie Review)

How'd I get stuck with this guy?
How’d I get stuck with this guy?

Plot Summary

When well-to-do David George is laid off from his job right before Christmas, he and his wife agree not to tell their three children until after Christmas to see if he can find a new job.  But as his job search becomes more and more fruitless and the money begins to run out, the George family begins to find themselves running out of options.  Confused and frustrated, they are forced to vacate their house and seek shelter elsewhere.  Though they are at the end of the rope, little do they know that things are about to turn around for them.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Everything about A Christmas Tree Miracle is a mixed bag.  While the video quality is sometimes blurry and outside scenes are not shot very well, the camera work is mostly okay.  Audio quality is good, but the obligatory Christmas soundtrack is wearing.  There are actually quite a few sets and locations used, but some of the outside ones seem fake.  Finally, the editing is just okay yet falls short of what it could be.  There seem to be too many useless scenes and the first half of the plot is spoiled before it even begins.  In all, this is an average production effort that should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Essentially the Christmas version of Stand Strong, A Christmas Tree Miracle sports a surprisingly complex plot, even though it has many bizarre undertones and random twists and turns.  For example, sometimes things happen just because they need to happen.  One of the main characters is a creepy and schizotypal Santa Claus figure.  Though some plot occurrences are believable, others are just too far outside of reality.  If the writers wanted this movie to be meaningful, why does it have such strange elements?  The storyline oscillates back and forth between potentially interesting and laughable.  Elsewhere, there is too much annoying narration throughout.  Though the characters have some basis of believability, they seem unfinished and at times cartoonish.  Overall, there is just a general feel to this movie that you can’t really put your finger on.  It almost makes you want to like it, but it’s just too silly to be good.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like other parts of the movie, the acting is sometimes tolerable while other times it is smart alec and over the top.  Some cast members come off as trying to make fun of the film.  Others are more professional.  Emotions are inconsistent but line delivery is mostly on par.  Basically, just another average effort.

Conclusion

A Christmas Tree Miracle is one of those odd movies that seems better than its rating.  Yet we cannot in good faith rate it any higher when it has so many goofy elements and logical inconsistencies.  The idea is interesting and might even be worth a remake.  The creators seem semi-genuine in what they are doing and produced a good amount of content to back it up.  However, this film just isn’t up to par with what it should be.  They should have spent less time on quasi-fantastical ideas and more time trying to bring this story into the real world.  But perhaps they have better things in store for the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Climb [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Derrick and Michael are professional mountain climbers who collaborate after assisting in a mountain rescue mission together.  With the backing of a top mountain climbing sponsor, they endeavor to scale a massive peak in Chile in a way that no climber has ever done before.  But the more they spend time together, the more obvious their differences are.  Michael is an outspoken Christian who believes Derrick needs to take more responsibility for his personal life.  But as they clash, they also find a common bond and becomes extremely important in a pivotal moment of crisis.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Even in the earlier days of Christian film, when Worldwide Pictures was the only reliable producer on the market, they were still committed to quality production.  The Climb is no exception.  Camera work and video quality are state of the art for the era, including complex outdoor filming and action shots.  The sets and locations are fairly diverse, including great mountain scenes and realistic surroundings.  Props are used effectively and appropriately.  However, the soundtrack leaves much to be desired.  Also, the editing job isn’t the best it could be, as some scenes last far too long.  But overall, even though this film has obvious flaws, WWP made sure that its production quality was above average.  If only all low quality Christian films adhered to this practice.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As the film arm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, WWP was always committed to presenting a clear-cut gospel message in their films; The Climb is no exception.  However, coupled with this message is a major turn-off for most audiences.  Non-Christians in the movie are portrayed as very ‘bad’ and reckless, while Christians in the movie are portrayed as very ‘good’ and wise.  Important issues that are presented in the film are too black and white; causes and effects are too obviously stated.  Thus, the characters are not able to be related to.  Their dialogue is forced and ridden with empty textbook theology; a connection to real life is not made and leaves the viewer feeling cheated.  While the end is interesting and thought-provoking, there is much wasted time throughout the film that will cause many viewers to glaze over.  In short, there was so much that could have done here—the plot is unique and interesting—but it was wasted.  It’s so frustrating to watch movies like this.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Using the typical model of some popular actors and other not-so-popular, The Climb assembles an okay cast.  On paper, it seems to work, but not in reality.  Line delivery is sometimes good, but sometimes not.  Emotions are not realistic—either too extreme or too muted.  Basically, this cast had the potential to be successful, but they just didn’t quite make it, thus contributing to further frustration surrounding this film.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures actually had a great thing going.  They had funding, good production, and name recognition.  But unfortunately, The Climb only contributes to the stereotype of Christian films—they appear out of touch with real people and portray otherwise important issues in very black and white terms.  Christians are not perfect, yet this film makes it seem like they are.  It’s a shame to see this money go to waste, but hopefully someone was converted by watching this movie.  The gospel message is clear, and we can’t fault anyone for that.  This film can simply serve as a lesson on how to improve Christian movies in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points