Crave: The Fast Life (Movie Review)

Image result for crave: the fast life movie

Plot Summary

For years, Max has resented his father for leaving them. Now, this anger boils beneath the surface as he endeavors to make a big name for himself as a club promoter in the LA night club scene. However, when he’s faced with a lucrative offer he can’t refuse, little does he know that he’s sinking deeper into pride and arrogance. He refuses to turn to God as things seem to be falling apart around him, but a series of events begins to change his heart and remind him of his mother’s faith.

Production Quality (2 points)

Since it is a 2018 production, Crave: The Fast Life should have exhibited a bit more of a dynamic nature. As it is, the video quality is grainy at times, even though the camera work is mostly fine. At times, there is odd lighting throughout, but all production elements do get better as they go. Subtle camera angles throughout reveal well-placed recurring props, and settings are overall realistic and authentic. The soundtrack is also effectively integrated throughout, and the editing is mostly average. In the end, the production does enough in the second half to achieve and above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

From the get-go, it seems like the screenwriters have a fairly interesting story to share in Crave, which is evidenced by an effective beginning that contains a key character flashback. Other flashbacks are also well-done throughout the course of the plot, yet this technique isn’t used to its fullest potential as the storyline tends to jump around in time using only time stamps to keep the audience oriented. This method of storytelling isn’t the best, even though there are some good attempts to gradually develop character personality and motive. Even so, the time jumps can be a bit disorienting at times, and while the avoidance of narration is commendable, it’s still somewhat confusing for character continuity. Sometimes, dialogue tends to be a bit forward and forced, and the Christian message-pushing seems off-base as it’s portrayed as primarily a church-going habit combined with some behavior modification. There’s some sermonizing done by ‘perfect’ Christian characters who seem to assume that giving people verses without getting to know them is sufficient for a life change. However, one of the plot’s central themes is a hard, realistic look at how generational patterns repeat, which is good, but it tends to wade into some too realistic and slightly edgy content at times. The middle of the story lags and loses some focus and creativity as dynamic storytelling is exchanged for Christian platitudes and quick fixes. The character arcs in the last third of the film are too steep to be believed, and it all culminates in a very quick and rushed ending that easily fixes things with little to no consequences. In the end, there was a lot of potential here, so hopefully, next time, this creative team will be able to work out the kinks of their otherwise good storytelling.

Acting Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the acting in Crave is mostly average. It starts out a bit slow but improves with time like other elements of the film do. Some scenes can feel a bit awkward and have a one-take tone to them while others come off as quickly filmed. Moreover, emotional scenes can seem forced at times, but in the big picture, there is enough good here to outweigh the inexperience. The cast members appear to mean well and want to do their best, so this is a good way to approach things. In the end, this film has some positive marks, and it’s a good start for this creative team.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Christian entertainment creators are trying to expand the horizons of the genre with films like Crave that would have never been considered just under a decade ago. This progress is encouraging, so we hope to see more forward motion in this area. However, as creativity grows, we also need to see production, acting, and plot qualities grow with it, especially storyline and character growth. We’re just now getting to the point where Christian entertainment is depicting ‘flawed’ characters in the world outside the church, so now, as Christians, we need to get better at telling captivating stories that will truly reach people for Christ.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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Until the Mountains Fall by Connilyn Cossette

Until the Mountains Fall, #3  -     By: Connilyn Cossette

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Connilyn Cossette’s third installment in the Cities of Refuge series is a mixed bag that shows both potential and room for improvement. Continuing where the last novel left off, this one starts a new plot with more members of Moriyah’s extensive family. Rivkah is a young widow who feels that her father is forcing her to marry her late husband’s younger brother. She feels that her time with Gidal was too short, and her time with his brother Malakhi will be much too long. Rivkah can’t see any way out of the situation, so she goes ahead with the betrothal ceremony, however, during and after the same she does everything she can to discourage Malakhi from marrying her. Malakhi has loved Rivkah since they were children, and doesn’t understand her cold attitude towards him. From his perspective, his continual needling and teasing on Rivkah as a child was to help keep her spirit alive after her mother’s death. However, from Rivkah’s perspective, he has always been a silly boy who can’t take life seriously. Rivkah sees her way out when her friend Nessa announces her plans to escape her own impending arranged marriage to a less than desirable mate by looking for job opportunities at the festival in Laish. The two depart as planned, but the two women soon find themselves in difficult situations that lead to hard decisions. Overall, the plotline continues in a mostly predictable fashion, and unlike the previous novel, this is just a romance. There is no mystery or intrigue to speak of here. The storyline in this novel is not as good as its predecessor, and leaves room to be desired in creativity. While some good ideas are displayed, and at times implemented, the reader is left wanting depth. It was a semi-interesting idea to use a levirate marriage as the basis for a storyline, however, at times this part of the plot feels like a book of Ruth redux. Furthermore, the plot feels a bit rushed – there is a five-year time jump halfway through the book – and the romance a bit forced at times. Cossette has shown us that she has more potential than this, so she earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, Cossette’s characters remain her strongest point. Even though the plot leaves room to be desired, the main characters are quite good. Rivkah is the best character because she makes realistic choices and displays many relatable though processes throughout the story. It is also important to note that Rivkah’s character is based off of real events from Cossette’s life. This gives the protagonist depth and believability. Malakhi is a good character because he has a defined personality and consistent tendencies, however, he seems unfinished in the end. In contrast, Cossette does a good job of contrasting how scenarios are viewed differently by various people throughout the novel. On the whole, Cossette’s female leads are always good, but her male leads always feel unfinished. For instance, Eitan has more depth as a minor character than he did as a protagonist. Furthermore, the other minor characters are a mix of good, average, and unnecessary, so a little more editing was necessary here. These strengths and weaknesses level out to an above average score for Cossette in this section.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Cossette earns a half a point in originality for her good characters. However, there is, unfortunately, not much creativity to speak of here. Most of the storyline feels like it was made with the purpose of writing an epilogue for old characters – I believe Cossette has more to offer than this. This flaw may exist because of contract constraints. Therefore, I still believe that the Cities of Refuge series has potential to be a good Christian series. The screenwriter would need to downgrade Rivkah and Malakhi to minor characters, and use characters from previous novels as protagonists, but it can be done. Additionally, he/she would need to use the potential in the city of refuge foundation to craft a story that contains more than romance.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Journey Begins

The Pilgrim’s Progress

Plot Summary

The famous tale by John Bunyan now comes to life in animated form for the first time. Join Christian as he embarks on a daring quest to the Celestial City that will ultimately test his faith and endurance as he fights through each new challenge the enemy brings him in attempt to dissuade him from the path of righteousness.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The overall production of this movie is unique and fairly well done – minus a few imperfections. One main imperfection is that most scenes are overall quite choppy and transitions are awkward. Not to mention that some scenes (especially close up staring scenes) go on for a little too long. For the most part though, as already mentioned, the animation quality is actually quite good, especially scenes involving nature. As for music quality, it’s not bad but it seems a little inconsistent. For example, it’s either too overpowering or too drowned out by extra background noises. However, these are all fairly minor issues because there is always room for improvement in nearly every film. This being said, Pilgrims Progress The Journey Begins certainly has a lot more to offer (production wise) than most Christian animated movies with just a few things that could be improved upon in a production sense.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The film started out with a creative outlook on the town where the main character resides, which made one think that they were going to modify the plot in a more creative/modern way. However, they sort of overlooked this idea and continued with an edited version of the original storyline. This being said, even though they did cut out a lot of the story (obviously for the sake of time) it still seems like they tried to cram too much in a film with a medium-length run-time. This goes back to the choppy production work – not to say that the plot and storyline quality is not good, it just would have been more interesting if they had restructured the plot a little bit more. The writers didn’t need too completely change the original plot, but create a few different outlooks on things like they did with some scenes already. For example, the beginning, as mentioned, and one other very interesting outlook on the story was the Legality hill scene. This scene in particular was probably the most creative scene in the movie. Another main imperfection in the storyline was that each scene seemed very different from each other, as if they were all written at different times or by different people. These factors cause the storyline to not flow very well. All of these issues and positive qualities are why it receives said points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting quality in this movie is somewhat mediocre at best. The beginning of the film is especially rough in this area. The mayor/superior’s assistant is quite cringe worthy, even during his very short appearance in the film. The acting seems to get slightly better as the movie progresses, and it is also quite apparent throughout the film that most of the characters are played by the same voice actors (meaning John Rhys-Davies in particular). This is not really a problem though because it does workout in the end considering John Rhys-Davies is good at what he does and this method will always save space on the budget. The one main drawback of the casting is that the main character (Christian) is a bit annoying at times – it is mostly tolerable but could be better. Overall, the acting quality is one of the the main drawbacks to the film. We should certainly like to see these filmmakers spend more time on this aspect in future films.

Conclusion

In conclusion, all said menial problems noted about this film don’t really matter that much in the end as long as the main point is established and that point is the gospel message. Although a higher production, acting and storyline quality would definitely help to get this point along more effectively, as long as it reaches individuals and families for Christ that is all that matters. This being said, Pilgrims Progress: The Journey Begins is a great movie for children and families to watch because it doesn’t treat children like they are dumb – like so many animated christian films do – and doesn’t completely lose the interest of adults.

final rating 5.5 points out of 10 points

40: The Temptation of Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Inheritance [2018] (Movie Review)

Image result for inheritance christian movie andrew cheney

Plot Summary

The Delvecchios have always been a tight-knit family centered around their restaurant business, but now things are changing as their patriarch is stepping away from the leadership role he’s held for so long due to his failing health. As he hands the reins over to his sons, old wounds are re-opened as past sins and grudges are exposed once again. When the unexpected happens, will they be able to put things back together the way they once were?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Inheritance is overall a surprising movie albeit a frustrating one due to its conflicting elements. One of these conflicts involves the production, which is seemingly unnecessarily low-quality. This is evidenced by some inconsistent lighting and some weird aspect ratios, which both seem unnecessary. While camera work is mostly fine, video is sometimes low quality. However, on the bright side, the audio quality is good, including an effective soundtrack. Moreover, the editing is slightly choppy at times due to a large amount of content being handled. Overall, this is a mostly average production that has elements holding it back that seem very avoidable. Had these issues been taken care of, we could be looking at a entirely different film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

One of the most intriguing aspects of Inheritance is that it presents a very good study on family systems and generational patterns, which causes the characters to be almost good enough to sustain an entire miniseries. This makes this film a rare case in which character and plot development actually outshine other elements of the movie. However, there are still some issues here, such as a choppy plot presentation that is evidenced by scenes that randomly cut off with no warning at times. There are also times when subplots end very abruptly without any real resolution or understanding of why it happened the way that it did. Even still, there are some great attempts at ambiguity and the portrayal of imperfect, face-value characters without any major agendas to push. The dialogue is somewhat inconsistent, however, as it is sometimes quite good while too expository and shortcut-creating at other times. It’s almost like too much content was written in the initial creation of the film, which required cutting, which happened in some inconvenient places. This possible cutting also caused some unnecessarily steep character arcs that lead up to an almost too-perfect ending. Even so, there’s a ton of potential here that could be used in future projects.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Inheritance contains a mostly professional cast of experienced cast members, such as Robert Miano and Andrew Cheney, even though Cheney’s fake accent can get a little annoying at times. This is easily one of Miano’s best performances, but there are also some other fake accent issues to contend with. Even still, line delivery is mostly on-point, even if emotional delivery is slightly inconsistent and overplayed at times. In the end, every cast member is cast appropriately, which rounds out an above-average film that could have been better.

Conclusion

Inheritance does what every low-budget independent Christian film should strive to do: craft a meaningful plot that outshines it budget, which will cause the film to stand out in the sea of mediocrity and possibly open new doors for the future. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does stand out, and it makes us want to see what else could be done with these characters if more money was put towards the effort. It’s highly possible that a series or miniseries format would have been better for this idea. Regardless, we can’t wait to see what this creative team produces next.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

Image result for maggie's christmas miracle

Plot Summary

Maggie has always hated Christmas ever since her father left the family during the holiday season.  Ever since then, she’s sought to control everything around her, especially her young son’s life.  However, when his grades begin dropping, she is forced to entrust him to the care of an after-school tutor, but Maggie soon finds that she isn’t like what she expected from a tutor.  Will she decide to open up her heart over the holiday season to love again?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As expected, Maggie’s Christmas Miracle is a typically fine Hallmark production with good video quality and camera, as well as good audio quality.  The soundtrack is predictably generic but not as bad as usual.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, but the Christmas decor is expectedly overwhelming and beyond belief.  Further, the editing is average, and thus, everything in this production is standard and expected from the Hallmark assembly line of Christmas films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Hallmark movies are always better when using source material, especially from authors like Karen Kingsbury, there are still plenty of typical elements in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle.  While Karen Kingsbury characters run circles around typical Hallmark fare, there are still a lot of cheesy feel-good elements throughout this plot.  However, the dialogue is mostly good enough to develop character motive and personality, even if the plot is extremely predictable with a cookie-cutter romance plot where two people who don’t like each other at first are thrown together at Christmastime.  The story includes all the expected turns and conventions, and all of the stereotypes are too easily fallen into.  Since this is a character-based plot, we needed to see deeper character growth than this, and we also would have liked to see relationship twists and turns that were more based on past and present personality and behavior issues rather than on unrealistically stupid miscommunication problems (see The Bridge).  Unfortunately, the story gets worse as it goes on as cheap Christian messages are awkwardly inserted and end up hurting any good portions of dialogue there may be.  Essentially, the source material is helping this plot to be more than it would otherwise be, but there’s still a lot more that could have been accomplished here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As expected, the casting and acting of this film is mostly professional with typical Hallmark elements, such as some overdone makeup.  For the most part, the line delivery and the emotions are natural, but there are some portions that are a bit too sappy.  However, as a whole, this cast is professional enough to know what they’re doing and to produce an above-average performance.

Conclusion

If Hallmark only used books and true stories as source material from here until eternity, the channel would be a much better place for it.  However, this is highly unlikely to happen.  Even still, there is enough good in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle to make it a passable holiday film to watch if you want a safe, benign movie that’s not too old and not too cheesy.  Also, if you like Karen Kingsbury novels, this film is definitely for you.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Identical (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ryan Wade has always known the church life because he was raised by a pastor and his wife, whom he believed to be his real parents.  However, as he grew older, he did not feel the call to ministry that his father was impressing upon him.  Instead, he wanted to pursue a musical future.  However, when he got caught by the authorities doing ‘wrong things,’ Ryan’s father sent him to the military to ‘get fixed,’ with the expectation that Ryan would enter seminary afterward.  However, the military did not dampen Ryan’s musical dreams, and once he was out, he encountered a life-changing revelation: he is the twin brother of musical sensation Drexel Hemsley, which raises many questions about Ryan’s true heritage.  Will the answers he wants give him peace or more turmoil?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that The Identical is a well-funded production with a well-allocated budget.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The original soundtrack is creative, even if there is some obvious lip-syncing.  The production’s biggest strengths relate to the great 
attention to historical detail, which is evident in the well-constructed and well-utilized sets, locations, and props that reflect correct time period and culture.  The only drawback to this production is the somewhat choppy editing that is a byproduct of the plot presentation, but on the whole, this is a very good and professional production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story concept is a bit off-the-wall as the twin brother characters bear a strangely similar resemblance to Elvis Presley (not really sure why this character concept was chosen), there are some interesting messages to explore in The Identical.  For example, the story provides a realistic portrayal of historical issues of the time period, such as churches suppressing certain types of ideas, hiding issues, and expecting men to be fixed by the military.  However, besides the somewhat out-of-left-field story concept, there is way too much narration and expository dialogue to fill time gaps, which obviously stunts character growth and short-circuits the dialogue potential.  It would have been better to just let the story unfold naturally and to let the characters reach their full potential through meaningful dialogue that builds their personalities and motives.  Besides this obvious misstep, the story is based on too many coincidences and things that happen because the plot demands it.  However, despite these issues and despite the odd premise, there is lots of potential in this story–enough to warrant a remake–and many audiences will still find it to be a fine movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The Identical has surprisingly professional casting and acting.  Several cast members, such as Ray Liota, do a great job playing multiple ages.  Some emotions tend to be overdone, however, especially from Erin Cottrell.  However, line delivery is almost always on point, and the costuming is historically accurate and realistic.  This rounds out a slightly above average movie effort.

 

Conclusion

It’s great for Christian films to come up with creative movie concepts that are outside of the norm and to make films that are good because they are good without being Christian-ized.  The idea behind The Identical is one of those you don’t think of every day, so the creatively must be commended.  However, while a lot of the attention this movie received centered around the central concept, there were other pitfalls that kept it from being all that it could be.  Even still, there is plenty of positive here to build on, and there are some great cues for other films to model after.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team does anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Forever My Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Liam and Josie were in love all throughout high school, and many felt like they were destined to be together forever.  However, when they were on the verge of pledging their lives together forever, Liam experienced several life-changing moments.  First, his mother died suddenly, and Liam was discovered as a country artist and became successful almost overnight.  Thus, Liam left Josie behind without saying goodbye.  Now, after several years of fame and success, Liam has gotten into trouble with his drinking habit and has been advised to lay low for a while.  Thus, he returns to his hometown to live with his father, who is a pastor, and Liam is shocked at who he finds waiting for him there.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a modern, standard inspirational film, Forever My Girl checks all of the right production boxes.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic and uncreative, but the sets, props, and locations are all realistic, appropriate, and professional.  The only other minor issue to point out here is the fact that the editing isn’t the best it could be, but as a whole, this is a very high quality production that we have come to see as commonplace in recent Christian films, and it’s a trend we definitely need to see continue.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though it is based on a novel, Forever My Girl unfortunately follows a predictable and stereotypical storyline that has been done many times before.  The return-to-hometown plot has many different iterations, and this one is just the star-returns-to-the-hometown version.  However, the presentation of this predictability is not entirely annoying and does make some good attempts at being realistic, such as a good attempt to explore family systems and some general efforts to create believable characters and situations.  Even so, the characters need to be a bit deeper through better dialogue, and the main character’s inevitable arc is a too steep.  Nevertheless, the message of the movie is fine, and many audiences will find it to be a good movie.  It’s definitely ten times better than your average Hallmark throwaway.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though the lead actor and the lead actress seem confused and uncoached a lot of the time, the rest of the cast members make up for their deficiencies.  It’s unclear whether or not their characters are meant to be written that way, but it seems like the lead cast members could have contributed a bit more than they did.  However, the other members of the cast demonstrate great line delivery and realistic emotions, which is enough to bring this section over the average mark.  As a whole, this movie is good enough to be watchable.

Conclusion

It is definitely good idea to model movies after novels; if a film like this had not had a story written for it in a book, it likely would have been much worse.  This is definitely a practice we need to see more of on the coming days.  Hollywood has already figured out that using source material is the key to successful entertainment, so it’s time for Christian film makers to follow suit because if they put their minds to it, they can definitely do it better.  There is plenty of Christian source material to use, so it’s a great chance to keep using it.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Undeserved (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dawn’s life is changed when her deadbeat mother is shot dead in a bar parking lot, which prompts the state to assign her custody to her aunt and uncle until she can finish high school.  Despite her loss, things are looking up for her as she is moved to a better area.  However, it doesn’t take long for Dawn to discover that there are just as many hidden problems in suburbia as there are obvious problems on the streets.  Fearing for her safety, Dawn leaves her new home to take up residence on the streets once again.  Moreover, she soon finds herself in trouble again, and only her aunt believes that she is worth the fight.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a very small budget, Undeserved sports a lot of good production qualities, including good camera work, video quality, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also creative, even though it tends to be a bit too loud at times.  Sometimes, camera work is randomly shaky, and sometimes scenes are too dark and poorly lit.  However, these issues are not completely noticeable, even if the flashback quality is bit odd.  The editing is average overall, and these factors are enough to make this an above-average production, which is a great start for a new film maker with such a limited budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Undeserved is definitely not afraid to take on difficult but unfortunately realistic issues within the white suburban church demographic.  Though there is some obvious and expository dialogue throughout, the storyline is intriguing due to its non-typical structure.  For the most part, the story unfolds in a realistic manner with a natural progression of time, even though there are some slight coincidences that help the plot along.  The character are fairly well-developed even though the dialogue could be constructed a bit better.  Sometimes it seems like the main characters are victimized too much, but there are plenty of good attempts to develop character motive and personality through conversations and flashbacks.  However, there are a few too many montages, and issues appear to be fixed too easily in the end.  There are quite a few things tacked onto the end of the film, as if time ran out, which suggests that this idea might have worked better as a series.  However, this plot is overall average.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly inexperienced and ‘amateur,’ they appear to be professional in their performances.  There is definitely evidence of coaching, and although there are some slightly forced emotions and some moments that are partially underwhelming and awkward.  However, there is far more good here than bad, and this is only amplified by the fact that the cast does not have ‘big names’ in it.  In summary, this rounds out a very good first film effort.

Conclusion

It’s hard to get the necessary funding for a first-time small church film, so the best thing a film maker can do is craft a good plot, coaching cast members well, and get the film out there.  This creative team made efforts on all three of these fronts, and for the most part, the efforts paid off.  One can hardly do better than this with a less than $50,000 budget except perhaps forge a more captivating storyline.  In the end, a film like Undeserved is all we really ask of freshman creators, so it will be interesting to see what this team produces next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

Image of Keturah (The Sugar Baron's Daughters)

 

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Keturah marks the beginning of Lisa T. Bergren’s new The Sugar Baron’s Daughters series, and while it has promise, it also has room for improvement. Firstly, Bergren is obviously quite capable of crafting a well-researched and historically accurate novel, and she has a noticeable talent for crafting characters with good backstories. However, I felt that at times the plot could have taken some different turns, and wonder if it was necessary for the two main characters to fall in love in this novel. Why not wait until later in the series? This would give them time to establish a real relationship.  The opening chapters of Keturah introduce us to both the Banning sisters, Keturah, Verity, and Selah, and to Gray Covington, a neighbor and friend who happens to be a eligible bachelor…with no money. Keturah was recently widowed…which was both a curse and blessing, for although she is free from her husband’s abuse, his words and actions live on in her mind. On top of this, her father has just died and left her in charge of both family estate and Tabletop, his failing sugar plantation in the West Indies. Keturah has no idea how to run such a business, but is determined to learn. No man will ever take advantage of her again, she decides, it is best to avoid their company as much as possible. Based on this reasoning, Keturah decides to journey to the Indies and stay there for a few years in an attempt to restore Tabletop to it’s former glory. Her sisters, completely ignorant of the inhumane conditions overseas, agree to join her. Gray Covington has assumed the role of managing his father’s plantation in the West Indies, and, reinforced by Keturah’s decision to travel to the same, decides to also make the journey. Gray, who has loved Keturah since childhood, felt helpless as he watched her suffer through an unhappy and abusive marriage, but now that her husband is dead, he feels that he has a second chance to win her heart. However, despite his best attempts, he is coldly denied even friendship…at first. When Keturah and her sisters arrive in the Indies, they are appalled at the brutality inflicted upon their fellow human beings, and Keturah quickly discovers that nothing is as she expected…and that she does, in fact, need help from others. As one tragedy leads to another, will the Banning sisters survive the island? Will Keturah learn to love again? To answer these questions, read the book! On the whole, this plot is engaging and well-crafted. However, some of the interactions between Gray and Keturah are on the brink of suggestive, and the villian character is a bit of a straw-man. For these two reasons, Bergren receives an average score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

On a positive note, Bergren’s strength is her characters. Keturah is very well-developed and relatable. Her experiences are an accurate depiction of the harsh reality that is abusive relationships, and her struggle to trust again and forgive God is realistic. This makes her the best character in the novel. Gray is also a good character, but sometimes his part in the story feels rushed. It is as if he is being held back from reaching his full potential. As previously mentioned, it is my opinion that this could have been remedied by not forcing Keturah and Gray to fall in love all in one book. A gradual romance would have been a great improvement, for even though Gray and Keturah grew up together, their adult selves are quite changed from who they were as children. Finally, the secondary characters are simply average. If Bergren changes a few things, her score in this section could be perfect.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

While there are some creative and original aspects in this plot, there are also many predictable moments and overused plot devices found throughout. Therefore, I am giving Bergren a half point in originality for creating a strong heroine and portraying the horrors of slavery accurately. On the whole, this is a good read, and there are many who will enjoy it. I feel that with a few changes, this book could be the start of a great historical Christian miniseries. The screenwriter would need to downplay the romance and bring the secondary characters closer to the story, but it can be done. To conclude, good job Ms. Bergren, I believe that you have the potential to do great things with this new series!

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble

 

Image result for the house at saltwater point colleen coble

Author’s Note: We were provided with an ARC of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

The House at Saltwater Point is the second book in Coble’s Lavender Tides series. While the first book, The View From Rainshadow Bay, was well-received by most critics, this newer novel has received mixed reviews. In short, opinions about this novel seem to be split right down the middle, some love it, some do not. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, this novel is neither really good nor really bad. It is simply your average romantic suspense story. Ellie Blackmore and her partner Jason are house flippers based in Lavender Tides, Washington, who enjoy both the work and the fruits of their labors. Ellie and Jason are in the middle of completing a project and purchasing a new house to flip when both their worlds turn upside down. One day while Ellie and Jason are getting ready to leave for a lunch break, Jason and Ellie’s sister Mackenzie (Mac), who happens to be his ex-wife, get into an argument that ends in a conflict between Mac and Ellie. Mac storms out and Ellie is left hurt and confused. Shortly after this conflict Ellie pursues her sister….only to find a large pool of blood on the deck of Mac’s new boat. Mac is nowhere to be found, and Ellie is left to assume the worst. Grayson Bradshaw is a Coast Guard investigator who is looking for notorious terrorist Terek Nasser, the man who killed his best friend. When Grayson discovers a cocaine theft linked to Terek and his men, he pursues it, takes out Terek’s right hand man, and eventually arrives in Lavender Tides to investigate further. His investigation leads him to a connection between Mac’s dissapearance and the cocaine theft. Ellie refuses to believe that her sister was involved in anything illegal, but the facts are looking more and more incriminating. Grayson is also fighting a growing attraction to Ellie, a fact which conflicts with his need to remain emotionally unattached from the case. Is Mac guilty? Can Ellie love a man who suspects her beloved sister? To answer these questions, read the book! The major strength of this plot line is the mostly unpredictable plot twists and turns. However, I observed that there are two major weaknesses. First, the book seems a bit hastily written. And second, the story is a bit rushed and is driven by facts, rather than characters.

Character Development (2 points)

Likewise, because the plot is not character-driven, Ellie and Grayson are difficult to relate to through the use of third person. However, there is a lot of potential here. Ellie and Grayson both have great backstories that Coble uses to influence their present state. Furthermore, Grayson is Coble’s strongest character in this novel because she uses key psychological trauma elements to unfold his part of the story. Jason is also a good character, but he seems incomplete. The only other weakness to point out here is the unnecessary explanations for each character’s existence as they appear in the story. Therefore, character development rounds out to be a slightly above average performance.

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

Lastly, Coble earns a point for creativity because of her well-crafted use of suppressed childhood trauma. This type of creativity is not often seen in the suspense genre, therefore, I commend Coble on her effort in this area. However, she could improve in the area of originality. In comparison, Coble’s strength is crafting a strong storyline with a good ending. Therefore, I think this novel could make an interesting Christian drama/suspense film. I feel that a screenwriter could take the strongest characters; Ellie, Grayson, Mac, and Jason, and create a character driven suspense plot that employs the good psychological elements that Coble has already created. To sum things up, good job Ms. Coble, you have the potential to be a light in the shadows of suspense novels. I am excited to read the next novel in the Lavender Tides series!

 

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Out of the Ashes by Kimberley Woodhouse & Tracie Peterson

Image result for out of ashes tracie peterson

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Kimberley Woodhouse and Tracie Peterson have banded together to write The Heart of Alaska series, and I must say, their partnership was a great idea. These two authors are better together than either one was alone. Woodhouse brings poignancy, sarcastic humor, and the influence of a strong faith. Peterson brings experience, romance, and a new spiritual depth that I have never seen before. So far they have written two books in the series, the second being fairly new on the market. This new novel, titled Out of the Ashes, is a self-proclaimed reflection of real life occurrences, but more on that later. The opening chapters introduce the readers to a few new characters, brother and sister Collette and Jean-Michel Langelier, and Katherine Demarchis. Jean-Michel is a man wounded both physically and mentally; following the horrific events of combat overseas, and a life-altering battle scar, he returns to his home and is faced with his father’s sudden death. Left alone in the world to care for his younger sister Collette, Jean-Michel feels depressed and abandoned by God. It is enough that God kept he and his true love from being together, he thinks, and now he takes my father away. Jean-Michel hardens his heart against God, even as PTSD causes him to toss and turn through nights haunted with dark dreams. The hand of Providence has just saved Katherine Demarchis from her abusive husband by allowing the drunken wretch to slip on ice to his death. She feels no sorrow at his death, only relief. However, his missing presence is only physical, for she can still hear his voice and feel his abuse. The physical and mental wounds she suffered will only be healed by the Hand of God, but she must choose Him over the dark voices in her head. Katherine’s grandmother, worried for her granddaughter’s sanity, arranges a summer trip to Alaska that she hopes will bring healing and a renewed mind. Furthermore, she secretly beseeches Jean-Michel to join them so that Katherine will be reminded that there are good men in the world. Will Jean-Michel and Katherine allow God to heal their broken lives? Will they choose life because He lives? To answer these questions, read the book! In the foreword both authors speak of how this novel was inspired from personal struggles that each has recently experienced. I believe that these struggles have greatly strengthened the faith of each author, and that they have become better writers and people because of them.

Character Development (3 points)

Tracie Peterson’s strength was always in character development, but when Woodhouse and Peterson work on characters together, the results are even better. This is why character development is this novel’s strength. Each character, whether they be primary or secondary, are well-crafted, believable, and contain a depth never before seen from these authors. Jean-Michel is not a straw-man atheist, and Katherine is not the typical damsel in distress character. Rather, each character, including Collette, is portrayed as a person with strengths, weaknesses, and a common need for a loving Savior. The only flaw to point out here is the use of third person. If the authors had used first person for each character, they would have earned a perfect score in this category. Finally, I enjoyed the characters in this novel more than I thought I would, and think that the authors have done an admirable job in this area.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Lastly, the weakest area of this novel is creativity and originality. While there were some creative and even a few original elements, there was also a healthy dose of predictability. However, as it is hard to write an unpredictable romance plot, I cannot judge them too harshly. There is really no difference in this novel and a Janette Oke work (she was my first favorite author), for she often uses third person as well. Therefore, I applaud Woodhouse and Peterson on their effort to stand out in an overcrowded genre, and think that this series would make an interesting Christian/inspirational TV show in the historical romance category. At the very least, it could be a better version of a When Calls the Heart style show, because the audience could actually get to know the characters. In short, well done ladies, your strengths shine in this book, and I am excited to read the next installment.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Wild Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Civil War, Emmett returned to his hometown to take care of the widow of one of his fellow troops in order to fulfill a promise he made.  Emmett and his son live with the African-American widow and her daughter, which causes them extra scrutiny in the corrupt small town they live near.  Emmett’s father-in-law, the local pastor, is against him, as are several other colorful characters.  Everything comes to a head one day when the circus train breaks down in the forest and unwittingly releases wild beasts into the woods.  The children are caught in the middle of the animal escape and a kidnapping plot aimed at hurting Emmett, and it will take wild faith to overcome to dark night before them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For years, DJ Perry, Shane Hagedorn, and their team have struggled with poor production quality and overly artistic attempts.  However, while the artistry is still present in Wild Faith, a higher production level has finally been achieved.  This is evidenced by great camera work and video quality even in the realistic and complex war scenes.  There are great action shots, as well as historically authentic sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is also great, and the soundtrack is creative.  The only nitpick to raise here relates to some slightly confusing editing, but this is a small issue compared to the great improvement that has been shown here.  Perry and Hagedorn have proven that never giving up and working to improve pays off in the end.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the beginning of this plot is a bit disorienting at first, if you stick with it, things begin to make more sense.  Where the characters are a bit raw at first, they become more realistic as time progresses with the exception of the cheesy villains.  Some of the dialogue is a bit vague at times, but there are also some good conversations throughout that reveal character motive, which is a rarity to find in Christian film.  The overall plot structure of this film is fairly unique and creative as it effectively uses flashbacks and other psychological elements to keep things interesting.  This story is a great attempt to be different rather than the typical inspirational fodder, but there are some opportunities for improvement especially in the areas of character refinement and storyline organization.  Some of the dialogue is a bit obvious at times, but Wild Faith takes an honest look at corrupt small town Christianity and the pain of racism after the Civil War.  Overall, this film shows a lot of potential in this team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of this movie is also fairly good.  This DJ Perry character is likely his best performance to date.  Shane Hagedorn starts out a bit rough at first, but his character is a slow burn and begins to refine as it goes on.  The villain cast members are fairly poor and drag down this score, and there are a few overdone emotional moments, but on the whole, this is a good acting performance that caps off a suprisingly enjoyable film.

Conclusion

We always look for improvement across films, and we are always glad when Christian film makers don’t give up and continue to try things.  Experience is hopefully going to lead to improvement, as is listening to constructive criticism.  The Perry and Hagedorn team has wandered in the film wilderness for a few years now, from Ashes of Eden to 40 Nights and Chasing the Star.  To be honest, I did not have high hopes for Wild Faith when it was first sent to me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Whether or not this film becomes a series, it is clear that this creative team has a lot of potential in front of them, so it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: Acts (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Jesus Resurrected from the dead, He charged His disciples to go out and complete the work He had begun by making new disciples and building His kingdom on earth.  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give His followers power, and they spread His Gospel to ends of their known world.  God also raised up an unlikely champion of the faith in Paul of Tarsus, who formerly persecuted the very people he joined forced with.  Through the power of God, the followers of Jesus turned the world upside down.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of The Visual Bible saga, Acts demonstrates superb production quality, including in the areas of video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but the sets, props, and locations are excellent in historical and cultural authenticity.  There are virtually no errors to point out here—except for the fact that there is no editing, which is by design.  In the end, however, this is a top-notch production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Acts demonstrates the same ambition as other Visual Bible films, which cover entire books of the Bible in one film.  Unfortunately, while there are many excellent stories in the book of Acts, this rendition is simply too long to have full impact.  Once again, designed narration hurts character development and thus makes this more of an informational resource than a drama film.  However, it still has its place, even though this film tends to have a strange portrayal of angels.  In the end, the historical accounts therein are very enjoyable and worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Unfortunately, Acts still contains the Visual Bible struggle for cultural authenticity as not many of the cast members are culturally appropriate.  While there are some moments that are too theatrical, this cast is mostly professional even still, with good emotions and line delivery.  Also, costuming is a major plus.  This rounds out another generally average effort.

Conclusion

At least this depiction of Acts is not cheesy, but one has to wonder what it would have been like if this was a series.  It seems like it would have had great impact.  Actually, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey already tried that.  However, I think we are still due a good series based on the book of Acts.  Any takers?

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Different Drummers [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When an unlikely friendship develops between David, a boy with muscular dystrophy, and Lyle, a boy diagnosed with ADHD, David sets out to show Lyle that God really does exist.  As they collaborate on a science project contest that Lyle is determined to win, they form a close bond, and David finds a new purpose in life.  Though they get into various escapades and scrapes that are not easy to get out of, their coming of age journey is one that they will never forget.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Different Drummers is a fine production that has a lot of high marks.  These include great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Though the soundtrack is a bit generic, it is not a detractor.  Sets, locations, and props are all what they should be and are utilized effectively.  Overall, this is a professional production that is only hurt by some awkward cuts and transitions.  However, this is not enough to keep this section from having a respectably high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Different Drummers, in many ways, is too much of a ‘silly’ kids story, as it is a coming of age plotline.  As such, there are a lot of seemingly unnecessary goofy sequences that tend to just fill time.  However, this storyline also presents a realistic and believable portrayal of special needs people, as well as an honest look at the dangers that come about when children are over-medicated.  However, the Christian message is a bit too vague, even though dialogue is fairly well-constructed.  Even so, there isn’t much substantial content to work with here as the story tends to hop from one thing to the next without much focus, but this could be an extrapolation of the main character’s ADHD, so it may be excusable in some ways.  In the end, this story has a realistic ending, and it will be mostly enjoyable for many audiences, so it may be worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The casting and acting of this film is mostly fine, considering the number of younger cast members.  Though there are some awkward performances (perhaps purposely) and some over the top emotions in some scenes, for the most part, this cast is professional.  Each cast member tends to be cast well, and line delivery is solid throughout.  This rounds out an above average film all around.

Conclusion

Films like Different Drummers should be more commonplace in Christian film than they are.  Funding is used well, the story is at least halfway interesting, and the acting is adequate.  Though there some clear steps that could have been taken to make this film a higher rating, as it is, many audiences will enjoy it.  Still, we can’t help but wonder the potential these sorts of films could have had.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Same Kind of Different As Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ron Hall is a successful art dealer who has it all—except for a successful marriage.  He and his wife Debbie have grown apart from each other, and he has been looking in the wrong directions for love.  His marital conflict has now come to a head, so Debbie decides to make Ron exit his safe, affluent world to come volunteer with her at the local homeless shelter.  While there, though his heart is not in the work at all, Ron forms an unlikely relationship with a violent homeless man whose story captivates Ron in a way he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a clearly well-funded and well-marketed production, Same Kind of Different As Me had a lot going for it from the get-go.  This production is obviously high quality in a lot of ways, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and utilized appropriately, especially the historical components in the flashbacks.  The only minor nitpick to note here pertains to some small editing issues, such as lagging scenes and awkward transitions.  Otherwise, this production is top-notch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As Same Kind of Different As Me is based on a book and a true story, sometimes it seems like it’s too much like a book turned into a movie.  This is evident in unnecessary narration and obvious dialogue that tends to spoon-feed the story to the viewer.  Some of the characters tend to be portrayed too perfectly, yet this is a great true story despite these flaws.  The flashbacks are used in highly effective ways and are actually the highlights of the film because of the story they tell.  There are a lot of great messages and lessons to learn from this story, but we would have liked it if this film indulged less in drama and more in the opportunity it had to portray an epic story full of realistic, flawed, and accessible characters.  As mentioned before, there are too many lagging and choppy scenes that hurt this goal from coming to fruition.  However, there is enough good to make this at least an interesting movie to watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this movie is mostly professionally cast, there are a few issues that keep this section from being all that it could be.  For one, the lead actor and actress sometimes seem to be phoning in their performances, and at times they are too dramatic.  However, Djimon Hounsou and Jon Voight are particularly well-cast and well-acted; these two almost save this cast on their own.  Moreover, other cast members outside of Greg Kinnear and Renée Zellweger are also fine and post good performances.  In the end, this punctuates an above average film that could have gone further.

Conclusion

Same Kind of Different As Me had everything going for it, but it stopped just short of greatness.  The excellent true story and high amount of funding almost forced this film to be above-average from the beginning, but the pedestrian nature of its presentation and its over-indulgence in drama apart from character development tripped it up.  In the end, we can’t help but wonder if this was another one of those movies designed to make a quick cash grab at the theaters rather than make a real difference, which seems like the original intent of the book’s authors.  We may never know, but this is at least a fine film that most audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Oranges (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose is an orphan girl who lives in Mrs. Hartley’s orphan home.  However, when Mrs. Hartley and some of the children die of illness one fateful month, all of the orphans are sent to other places.  Rose and some of her friends are sent to live in the orphanage of the angry Mr. Crampton, who has strict rules and doesn’t want children messing around with his stuff.  However, the more Rose learns about Mr. Crampton, the more she learns that he is hurting during the holiday season and needs someone to love him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for John Lyde and his creative teams, Christmas Oranges is a professional production.  This is evidenced by good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it is fine for the genre.  Locations are mostly fine, even though there are few of them, but the sets are limited in scope.  There are also some random scenes that are poorly lit for no clear reason.  However, on the flip side, the editing is surprisingly effective.  On the whole, this is a high quality effort that has become commonplace from this group.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In a different turn from other stories from John Lyde and company, Christmas Oranges has a uniquely substantial plot that contains the accessible struggles of relatively believable characters.  Though there is narration that hurts things, the child characters are actually pretty good, even if the orphan premise is slightly cheesy.  There are also some silly ‘kids’ sequences and montages, along with some strawman characters.  However, for the most part, the dialogue and the ideas therein are mostly meaningful and do their best to avoid cliched Christmas concepts involving orphans.  Probably the best element of this storyline is its use of realistic character backstories to humanize the ‘bad’ characters.  On the whole, while this movie did not go as far as it could have, it is still enjoyable and is worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While most of the cast members are definitely professional, this section still tends to be a mixed bag.  Some cast members seem to be overdoing their performances just a bit.  However, on the whole, emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  As a side note, costuming is historically authentic.  Overall, this rounds out a very professional effort.

Conclusion

The Covenant Communications\Paulist Productions\Mainstay Productions collaboration has been working for years to make respectable films, and for the most part, they have succeeded.  However, they have been plagued by an inability to get over the last proverbial hill that stands between them and film greatness.  Nonetheless, they have all the tools necessary to do so.  Thus, we believe that sometime in the near future, they will finally break through and make that dynamic film that has alluded them for years.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Faith-Filled Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Fairway family has three generations of people who want to serve people at Christmastime.  Simon and Emily, the grandparents, live in a retirement facility, and they want to minister to those around them in the time they have left.  However, their trouble-making friend Byron wants to put on a senior Olympics at the facility while the heavy-handed superior is away.  Simon’s and Emily’s adopted son Walter and his wife Ruth have opened their home to foster children, and they have unique struggles to handle during the holidays as they have to deal with biological parents.  Yet all of them find different ways to show the love of Christ to those around them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this is an ‘indie’ production, it is a clear that a lot of work went into it.  This shows up in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also engaging, although it tends to get in the way at times by covering up dialogue.  Sets, locations, and props are also well-constructed and well-used.  The only other issues to point are some minor editing issues, such as lagging scenes and dead sequences.  However, as a whole, this is a great effort that shows great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This good effort also spills over into the plot, as there are lots of good ideas in it.  For the most part, the characters are realistic and believable due to well-thought-out dialogue.  However, there are also too many characters and too many subplots going on here.  With so much content, more organization was in order, yet not enough was given.  Though there are some moments of good comedy, there are also some moments of flat humor.  Also, a lot of the time, this movie plays out more like the premiere of a series rather than a film.  It has a very episodic feel rather than the proper arc of a movie plot.  Nonetheless, it’s good to experiment with your first film, as long as it’s not horrible, to see what you’re good at.  Thus, it seems like this was accomplished in this plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast is only semi-professional and contains ‘amateurs,’ the cast members only commit minor errors.  Emotions are believable, and line delivery is usually on point.  The only slight drawbacks here pertain to some measured or awkward line delivery, but it’s not much to write home about.  In the end, this rounds out a very good indie effort that will be something to build off of in the next project.

Conclusion

These days, freshman films seem to be getting better, especially with regards to production quality.  Creative teams like this one have more resources at their fingertips than before, and this particular group did a great job with the inexperienced cast members.  Though some areas of the plot were suffering, with some future tweaks, they could be dynamic story writers.  In the end, it is encouraging to see indie films that give hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With his mother dying of cancer at Christmastime, Nathan Andrews just wants to buy his mother one last present before she goes to heaven.  However, his family doesn’t have enough money do to the healthcare treatments.  His path crosses with disgruntled lawyer Robert Layton, who wants nothing to do with Christmas since his marriage and family are seemingly falling apart.  Will Rob take the opportunity to spread holiday cheer before it’s too late for Nathan’s mom?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a Hallmark production in their movie ‘heyday,’ The Christmas Shoes is basically a textbook example of a professional one.  Though many elements of it are typical, including plenty of Christmas décor and props, there are no real errors to point out here, which is a rarity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all predictably good.  The soundtrack is a bit too Christmasy, but what it can be expected.  Sets and locations and realistic and professional.  Editing is also fine.  Overall, this is certainly a production to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As a Hallmark movie based on a popular Christian Christmas song, one can see the obvious pitfalls here.  For one, the story is told in narration before it even begins.  Even so, it is still a typical Christmas story about a busy and cold character who hates Christmas for some reason but learns to care again for some reason or another.  This is also mixed in with a diseased character at Christmastime, plus a literal save the farm plot to boot.  Also, don’t forget the Christmas pageant!  Overall, this is a touching idea, and the characters and their struggles can somewhat be related to.  However, they still tend to fit into their stereotypical and seemingly predetermined molds.  There are good issues raised about common family problems, but they are resolved way too easily.  This story fights being sappy and even plastic at times, which is unfortunate, because this could have been something.  In the end, many audiences will like this story, but it’s just one too many.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, this section is highly professional and well-cast.  The only issues to raise here pertain to some minor drama and moment of yelling.  But on the whole, emotions are realistic, and lines are delivered well.  This rounds out an above-average effort of a film that many will enjoy.

Conclusion

Movies like this one are problematic because they are popular and have plenty of good elements.  However, they are also fairly limited in scope and creativity.  If a predictable storyline is going to be used, the least that can be done is to make the characters very deep and rich due to superb dialogue and an effective use of flashbacks.  However, Hallmark likely isn’t in the business of creativity, so carry on, I guess.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Open My Eyes [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul Sanders was a successful and arrogant model photographer before a car accident took his sight away from him.  After this, he locks himself in his house and refuses to have anyone over except his personal assistant and whichever restaurant employee brings his daily meals.  But when a new employee comes, little does he know the secrets she holds and to what extent he actually knows her.  She treats him differently than anyone else, even though he is still rude to her, which begins an unexpected change in Paul’s life.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is a lesser-known production with somewhat limited funding, it still has a lot of professional elements in it.  The only real issue to point out is the unexplainable shaky camera work throughout, even there are really no other issues with it.  Video quality and audio quality are great, and the soundtrack is very creative and interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are relatively well-constructed and realistic.  Editing is also surprisingly good, which is a plus for this type of film.  Overall, this is a very impressive effort that shows great promise for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Sean Paul Murphy and Timothy Ratajczak were likely held back in their PureFlix days, so it’s probably better that they were able to write this film out from under the iron fist of Byron Jones and company.  Open My Eyes demonstrates an interesting non-typical storyline that’s not afraid to deal with ‘worldly’ characters, even if they still need a little more refinement.  Sometimes the ‘bad’ characters are too bad and the ‘good’ characters are too good.  When a character switches between these two options, their arc is often too steep.  However, the situations and circumstances they experience are realistic and can be related to.  Dialogue is pretty good most of the time, but there are some lapses here nonetheless.  The plot progression is somewhat typical and expected, and there are one too many quick fixes at the end, but it’s clear that this writing team meant well with this story.  It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have been better, because it certainly had a lot of potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is not as well-known as other casts, they are still mostly professional in their performances.  The biggest issue to point out here is some overdone emotions and forceful line delivery on the part of certain cast members some of the time.  Yet in the end, this is a commendable effort that demonstrates potential for the future.

Conclusion

Open My Eyes is another one of those films that just misses the mark of greatness due to a few key errors that hold it back.  However, it’s definitely worth a watch and would certainly be worth remaking one day.  Sean Paul Murphy and Timothy Ratajczak certainly have a lot of untapped talent and definitely have experience.  Hopefully they will continue to be able to progress in their work unhindered by the controlling hands of PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

We Are Stronger (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Victor Raphael returns home from his final deployment, he is not the same as he was.  Though he insists nothing is wrong, his wife knows that he has been profoundly affected by the traumatic experience he had while in the service, especially the recent vehicle explosion that has left him temporarily paralyzed.  Yet their relationship is strained as Victor refuses to get help and as his wife reaches out for comfort in the wrong places.  Will they be able to reconcile before God and let Him heal them and their relationship?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a first-time production, We Are Stronger has a handful of minor errors, yet it is overall a very impressive effort, considering the limited resources.  Video quality is great, as is camera work.  There are some minor audio errors pertaining to some background noises picked up, but the soundtrack is appropriate and interesting.  Sets, locations, and props, though slightly limited, are utilized quite well and are realistic.  Finally, there are a few small editing errors pertaining to some lagging scenes and dead sequences, but otherwise, this is a very good production to begin with.  This production team definitely put a lot of work into this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Since We Are Stronger is based on the true stories of real people, it gives a very realistic and honest look at life and the struggles people go through.  Though there is some expositional dialogue, it is mostly good and serves the build believable characters that the viewers can relate with.  This story has a very strong and meaningful message—yet sometimes it is a little flat and linear.  The plot presentation is at times a bit too straightforward and simplistic, yet nonetheless, refining screenwriting always comes with time.  In the end, this creative team shows a lot of potential and hope for the future.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast consists entirely of ‘amateurs’, they all post very good performances, especially since they are each playing a character that reflects their true-life story.  Though there are some minor emotional errors, these performances are nearly flawless as each cast member plays out their real-life story on the big screen.  Casting inexperienced people is often a challenge for new independent films, but this one is a slam dunk.

Conclusion

With the constant flow of Christian films being created, one has to stand out in the market by producing quality content.  This has been done with We Are Stronger has real-life stories have been brought to the movie, along with great production quality and a nearly perfect casting job.  This film is definitely worth a watch and is a great start to a movie career.  You can never go wrong by adapting true stories along with the quality presented here.  It will be interesting see what this creative team has planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Somebody’s Child (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though Constance is going through dialysis and is waiting for a kidney donor match, she knows that God has been good to her.  Her son Douglas always takes care of her and she loves her grandson.  However, she harbors a secret from her past that hardly anyone knows about.  Yet little does she know is that God is about to set into motion events that will reconcile the past and bring redemption to them all.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gary Wheeler is always reliable in crafting a professional production.  There are very few errors to speak of in the production of this film.  Video quality is excellent, as it camera work and audio quality.  The soundtrack is good, even if it’s a little pedestrian.  Sets, locations, and props are professional and appropriate for the film.  The only small error to point out here pertains to some minor editing issues that cause the plot to be confusing.  Yet in the end, as a made-for-television movie, this production is what it should be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as a made-for-TV movie, Somebody’s Child lacks creativity in an attempt to be safe and marketable.  Though the idea behind it is interesting and though the circumstances the characters experience are realistic, this story is still too underdeveloped.  Dialogue is very generic, thus making the characters one-dimensional.  This is a character-based plot, which means we need deep characters, yet this is not the case here.  There is too much wasted time in this plot and not enough scenes that develop the characters—it feels like they are just swept along in the plot without any feeling.  Finally, the ending is very rushed and seemingly unfeeling.  Unfortunately, though this movie had everything going for it, the story fails to come through.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a professional cast with obviously good coaching, there are very few errors to speak of here.  Sometimes emotions aren’t what they should be, but they mostly are.  Line delivery is always on point, even if the cast member doesn’t have a very good line to work with.  Overall, Somebody’s Child is a professional film that falls short of greatness.

Conclusion

Many audiences will enjoy this film, but we are always looking for films that take that next step out of mediocrity (even professional mediocrity) and become a great, difference-making film.  With this type of funding and platform, this was possible here, but the plot needs a lot of beefing up in order for this to be case with Somebody’s Child.  Hopefully in the future opportunities like this will no longer be wasted.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Investigator [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sergeant James Buanacore loved his job as a leader on the police force, but when he got caught up in a street fight that ended with a gang member shot to death, he is pressured to retire from his post to mitigate bad publicity.  At the same time, tragedy strikes his family and blindsides him, which causes him to lose his faith in God.  Thus, James’ brother gets him a job as a baseball coach and criminal justice teacher at a local private Christian school to help him find new meaning in life.  But what James finds there is students searching for hope and a corrupt leadership, so he sets out to use his investigative skills to determine whether or not Jesus was a historical figure.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a slightly unknown independent Christian film, The Investigator has a surprisingly good production.  Video quality is great, but the only issue in this production is the odd camera work that is sometimes employed.  Otherwise, audio quality is professional, as is the soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are well-funded and appropriate.  The editing is quite good and is successful in most ways.  If it weren’t for the unusual camera usage, this would have been a perfect production.  In the end, this is an excellent example of how an independent production can succeed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Investigator has a lot of interesting ideas and takes big risks in breaching less-discussed topics such as corruption in private Christian schools.  However, the story is all over the place and is somewhat disorganized as a lot of ground is attempted to be covered.  The circumstances portrayed are realistic and honest, and the characters are actually quite believable and realistic, but the organization of this story is greatly lacking.  The creativity here needs some serious honing and better development.  Too much time is wasted on sports montages and unrelated scenes.  In the end, this is a very unique plot, so it’s a shame it couldn’t have been better.  Yet it does show potential for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a semi-professional cast, and they post mostly good performances, but emotions tend to be too extreme at times.  Line delivery is nearly perfect and it’s evident that acting coaching is present.  Only a few minor problems hold this portion back.

Conclusion

There is a lot of good content packed into this film, but there is perhaps too much that is included here.  It’s great to deal with the issues of tragedy, corruption, and apologetics, but in this disorganized fashion, it’s difficult to follow.  Yet the production and the acting successes show that independent films can be professional if the proper resources and effort are put towards them.  Regardless, it should be interesting to see what this creative team comes up with next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Saul: The Journey to Damascus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders sought to stamp out all remaining traces of those who followed Him.  However, they were largely unsuccessful at stopping the spread of the Gospel right under their noses, so they employed a radical in their midst named Saul to lead the charge of ending the teachings of Jesus once and for all.  Though he had success at first, Saul slowly changed until he was shocked by his Damascus road experience and his life was completely turned upside down.  Then he proceeded to turn his world upside down, even as his former employers tried to kill him.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

John Patus, along with the Leif Films team, has had an up and down career mostly marked by apocalyptic failures (literally).  Yet he and the Leif Films team seem to work relatively well together in Biblical productions.  Although there is some randomly shaky camera work in this film, video quality is great and audio quality is professional, including an interesting soundtrack.  However, there are some odd and unnecessary special effects that put a damper on things.  The outdoor locations are quite good, even if the indoor sets and props need some work.  Finally, the editing of this film is inconsistent, although it’s not all bad.  In the end, this is an average production that definitely has room for improvement, yet it is a good effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Though there is unnecessary narration at first, it subsides and allows the story to unfold naturally.  Saul: The Journey to Damascus is actually an honest and accurate depiction of historical events that does not allow the extra-Biblical content to clutter things.  The Biblical characters are relatively well-developed and are real people that can be related to.  The main things that hold this plot back from being perfect are one too many slow and seemingly unnecessary scenes that put a drag on things.  Sometimes dialogue is good, but other time it just seems to fill time.  The ending is very effective and appropriate.  In the end, this is a very refreshing plot in a market that usually produces such poor storylines.  It gives great hope for the future of Biblical film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Acting is a mixed bag as the costuming is historically authentic, yet not many of the cast members are culturally accurate.  Some are British, while others are American or Canadian, but we know how difficult it is to cast Biblical films properly.  However, though this cast has plenty of talent and potential, some members need to coached a little better.  But overall, this is a mostly a job well done.

Conclusion

It’s refreshing to have a film that’s not across the board terrible, especially a Bible film.  It’s rare to have a film that has as many bright spots as this one, yet does not go all the way and reach Hall of Fame status.  Yet nonetheless, this is a film to be proud of and one to build off of.  It offers a Biblical film model that can be replicated and improved in the future.  Thus, it’s definitely worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

23 Blast (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Travis Freeman is a popular and upstanding high school football player who everyone in the small town of Corbin looks up to.  However, when tragedy strikes him and leaves him suddenly blind, he loses his purpose in life and retreats into seclusion.  He gives up on life and his parents are a loss as to what to do until his mobility coach breaks through his protective walls and lights a fire under him to get back up and find his new purpose in life.  With the high school football team struggling to find identity and success, the coach decides to put in Travis as center in the hopes that the whole team will rally around him and save their season.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

23 Blast has a respectable production with only small errors.  Video quality is professional and camera work is great, especially in the sports action scenes.  Audio quality is fine, even if the soundtrack is a bit pedestrian.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and authentic.  There is little negative to point out here except for some slightly poor editing that allows confusing leaps in time to hurt this film.  But otherwise, this is a professional effort that we don’t see enough of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though 23 Blast presents an interesting story that contains honest characters, it commits a huge error by crafting a very rapid progression of events that keeps this plot from being all that it could be.  Massive time jumps leave too many unanswered questions and stunt characters and plot development.  There are too many vague ideas that are not well explained and there are typical sports montages, along with other predictable sports elements.  There are some moments of dry comedy, but we would really have liked to get to know these characters better through deeper dialogue and more personality-forming circumstances.  It’s a shame this plot could have been better because it’s a good story.  Even so, it’s probably still worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is only semi-professional, they post some good performances.  Blind acting is difficult, yet one of the cast members pulls this off well.  Though sometimes lines are mumbled, emotions are mostly believable.  This is another respectable effort.

Conclusion

23 Blast is an enjoyable sports film that many audiences will find interesting and fun to watch.  Though there are some plot issues, the production and the acting are good enough to make this film fine on the surface.  It’s always frustrating to see a story that does not reach its full potential, but this movie shows that this creative team can do greater things in the future, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Chasing Grace [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The wounds between two brothers are only deepened on one tragic day when the daughter of one of them is tragically killed in an avoidable accident.  The brothers and their families are immediately divided by hate and grief, which sends all of the family members spiraling and searching for answers in all the wrong places.  Secrets are kept and vices are sought, and the only way out is through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  Will they return to the faith their profess with these actions?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It is clear that a lot of time went into making this production, as most elements are fairly professional.  Camera work is mostly good except for some inconsistently shaky moments.  Video quality is on standard, but sometimes there is some randomly poorly-lit scenes.  Audio quality is fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are all realistic and appropriate.  The editing is okay, but there are some confusing cuts and transitions and isolate the story.  But overall, these are all minor errors and the production as a whole meets industry standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Chasing Grace depicts a very interesting story, even if it is too slow to develop.  It contains many realistic circumstances and accessible struggles, but it also has a lot of dead sequences that don’t hold the attention.  There are a lot of long and drawn out conversations, but the characters are fairly well-developed.  Yet there are too many under-developed and vague subplots due to a confusing and disorienting presentation of events that includes unnecessarily missing gaps of time.  Family problems are given a fair look, but many of the problems presented are fixed far too easily and in ways that would never work in real life.  The Christian message is good, though there are some moments of melodrama.  Overall, this is a really good plot effort, especially in developing the characters, but as usual, we strongly feel like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This is a highly professional casting job and lends the best elements to this film, as each actor and actress is cast appropriately and coaching well.  Even Rusty Martin Jr. posts a good performance.  There are only some minor errors among this cast, mostly of slightly overdone emotions.  Otherwise, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

Chasing Grace joins the ranks of middle-ground Christian films that stand out in the market due to their successful attempts at creating quality films.  However, it has a handful of small issues that hold it back from being all that it could be.  A character-driven story needs deep characters and a seamless plot that flows without confusion.  This is certainly difficult to pull off, especially when you have a lot of other elements to think about, but it is definitely possible and worth it in the end.  Films like this one are something to build off of for the future, so it will be interesting to see what the Catalyst team has planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Reading Kate (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael O’Neil is down on his luck and all alone, except for this daughter.  But when he receives word that his estranged separated wife, Kate, is dying of a chronic disease, he jumps at the chance to discover how much money she has.  Yet in meeting her again and reconnecting with her, he begins fulfilling her final wishes and discovers that the two of them still have something in common.  As Michael reads Kate books to honor her, their conversations turn to eternal things and nature of the afterlife.  They must both make significant decisions that will impact their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

After several years of struggling productions, the Kelly’s Filmworks team has finally discovered a winning formula.  Though this film is entirely black and white, it definitely adds to the experience and makes it a unique standout.  Video quality and audio quality are majorly improved from past films.  Camera work is still artistic at times, but Jefferson and Kelly Moore have finally embraced their true artistry.  The original soundtrack is very interesting and creative.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited in this film, but that is justified given the story.  The biggest issue here is the editing, as there are one too many montages.  Yet in the end, the production of Reading Kate demonstrates real improvement and gives great hope for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

After several years of dead-end plots, Jefferson and Kelly Moore have finally discovered who they truly are as film makers, and this is reflected in the characters they play.  They have embraced their personalities and have let them flow into the dialogue of these characters.  This dialogue builds them into realistic people that we can connect with and relate to.  However, the overuse of montages keeps us from getting to know these characters at a deeper level, which is sometimes we would have liked to see happen in this film.  Yet nonetheless, Reading Kate is an honest, character-driven story that draws on the true talents of Jefferson and Kelly Moore.  There is some dry comedy throughout, yet some of it is funny.  It offers a unique Christian message and intriguing psychological elements that make the viewer think.  Though the ending is somewhat abrupt, yet also thought-provoking.  In the end, while there is still a little work to do, we are excited about the direction the Moores have chosen to go with their plots.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this film utilizes many of the typical Kelly’s Filmworks actors and actresses, there demonstrate significant improvement in their performances.  This is actually the most improved category, as Jefferson Moore sheds his old personas and trades them for an embracing of his true self.  Kelly Moore also finally demonstrates her acting talents that we never had a good chance to see before.  Two-character conversation films are hard to effectively act in, but the two of them work well together.  Though there are some minor line delivery issues that keep this section form being perfect, this is still something to be excited about.

Conclusion

Sometimes it takes film companies a little longer than others to find themselves and to find where they fit in the industry.  Though we have been critical of the work of the Moores in the past, the good thing is that they did not give up and kept trying.  The progression of 1 Message, Pieces of Easter, and now Reading Kate demonstrates concerted improvement, which is all we ask of film makers.  Now that the older days of low-quality films are behind them, we can’t wait to see what the Moores have in store next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

94 Feet (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The coal town of St. Michaels is falling apart.  The mill has already closed and now the coal mine is downsizing.  The town is shrinking and people are leaving to find better times elsewhere.  But one tragic day, the mine collapses and traps all of the miners beneath the surface of the earth.  The entire town comes together to pray and rescue the miners from certain death before time runs out.  Will they all lose the men they love and their faith at same time?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In the past, Chip Rossetti has had many rough moments when it comes to movie making, especially production elements (see Right to Believe and Fathers).  However, 94 Feet demonstrates a definite improvement in this department, including professional video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are very appropriate and realistic.  There are some minor issues in the special effects department, but this and some confusing editing are the only errors to highlight.  Overall, this film demonstrates that no matter how small you start, you can always improve in your movie career if you put your mind to it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though the plot of 94 Feet is a definite improvement over past efforts, it still leaves something to be desired.  It’s great to use a real life story to base your movie on, but the premise if this film is still somewhat shallow as the characters and their dialogue need better development.  There are too many very dry attempts at comedy and too much wasted time.  The beginning of the plot is too slow and not engaging enough and does not use time wisely to develop characters.  While we can appreciate their struggles, they still need more realism to deepen the experience.  As it is, this story is fine and will many audiences will enjoy it, we just can’t help but feel it could have gone a step further.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This section is also a major improvement over swing-and-miss casts of previous Rossetti films.  These cast members appear to actually know what they are doing and demonstrate honesty and realism.  Each cast member is cast appropriately.  Emotions and live delivery are on point; this cast only demonstrates minor errors, thus making it this film’s strongest portion.

Conclusion

Though improvement is sometimes slow and meager, any improvement is always good regardless.  Sometimes it takes time to hone film making skills, and it appears that Chip Rossetti and his team are on the right road.  Production and casting have greatly improved, so the final frontier for them will be plots.  With better characters and a more engaging storyline, the Rossetti team will be looking at a Hall of Fame film in no time, if they stay the course and don’t give up.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Something to Sing About [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tommy has a gift for singing, but his past criminal record is holding him back from getting a good job that he desperately needs.  When he is tempted to go back to his old life to make some extra cash, suddenly an elderly woman steps into his life and offers him a helping hand.  She helps him find a job and gives him a whole new outlook on life by taking him to church and introducing him to the choir.  But when faced with new opportunities and when his past comes calling again, Tommy will have to make a decision that will impact his life forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the usual practices of Worldwide Pictures, Something to Sing About is a quite respectable production, even though it is difficult to attempt a musical, regardless of the genre.  The opening sequence of this movie is interesting, as is the original soundtrack.  Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all on par with what they need to be.  Sets, locations, and props also meet industry standards.  Really the only downside to this production is its musical structure that sometimes hampers with the continuity of the editing.  As previously mentioned, it is difficult to craft this type of production properly, yet Something to Sing About is overall above average and puts many productions to shame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Besides being a creative urban musical, this story depicts the realistic struggles of believable characters that are built on good dialogue.  The Christian message is very accessible, even if the content tries a little too hard not to be edgy and the plot is a little simplistic.  There are some slight cultural stereotypes and cheesy villains, but for the most part, this is not noticeable.  The biggest things that hold his plot back from being all it could be are some silly coincidences, too many musical montages that cause some subplots to be underdeveloped, and large time jumps that hurt this story’s natural progression.  There is also an amateurish climax scene that would not have been missed.  Overall, this was a difficult effort to pull off, yet it has been done in a commendable way—we just feel that it could have been better.  But then again, no one has.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This cast is highly professional and each member fits their character perfectly.  There are little to no emotional or line delivery errors.  It is rare to find a cast for a musical that can actually sing.  There are a few cheesy performances, especially from the villain characters, but they are not enough to detract from this high score.

Conclusion

It is very difficult to pull off any musical, so this team must be commended for reaching a score this high, because it could have easily gone awry in the wrong hands.  But we can’t help but feel Something to Sing About leaves too much on the field, especially with regard character development and complex subplots.  This film could have been epic but instead is average, which is not all that bad when you look at the field.  We would like to see a remake of this film, or at least a similar one that builds on this idea and makes it better.  However, we caution the creation of musicals because they are very hard to create and can easily become an embarrassment.  Make sure you have your ducks in a row before doing this and use this film as a blueprint.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

A Vow to Cherish (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John and Ellen have been married for over two decades.  They have done everything together over the years and are still in love after all this time.  John and his brother built a successful business while Ellen was a recognized teacher.  They had two children whom they love.  However, one day, their seemingly perfect world comes crashing down when Ellen suddenly develops Alzheimer’s disease.  John is faced with hard choices as Ellen loses memory after memory and becomes increasingly confused.  Will he be able to stand up under the weight of it all and remain faithful?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though Worldwide Pictures did a majority of their movie making in the 1980s and 1990s, they perfected a production model that no other Christian film makers could successfully replicate at the time.  A Vow to Cherish is one of those productions—it has great camera work and good sets, locations, and props.  Audio quality is fine, although the soundtrack is a bit average.  Video quality is also acceptable considering the time frame, yet it could be a little better.  Some of the indoor scenes are poorly lit, but outside scenes are shot well.  Finally, the editing is quite good and makes for a good watch.  Overall, this is a great production for the time period and shows what a film maker can do if they truly care about quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a novel by Deborah Raney, A Vow to Cherish is a very engaging and intriguing story.  It highlights the little-focused-on issue of aging and dementia as it portrays the progression of this debilitating disease very well, including a commitment to medical realism.  The progression of time in this sort of story can be difficult to properly handle, but A Vow to Cherish does so very well.  However, it is not without its issues, as the dialogue is largely designed to move the plot along and to tell information without showing it to the audience.  While the characters are mostly believable, there is a slightly unnecessary and unrealistic dichotomy between Christian characters and non-Christian characters.  Yet the struggles of these characters are meaningful and believable—thus, the audience is able to connect with them on some level.  But at the same time, there are too many underdeveloped subplots and characters that we would like to get to know better.  Overall, with an honest Christian message, A Vow to Cherish is a mixed bag plot with the potential to go further.  Thus, it warrants an average rating.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Worldwide Pictures was always able to assemble professional casts, and this film is no exception.  Line delivery is great, but some emotions seem forced and wooden.  Yet this cast does an excellent job portraying those who struggle with mental illness and those who care for them.  Overall, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

Even during the 90s, when good Christian movies were nearly impossible to come by, Worldwide Pictures demonstrated a commitment to producing quality films that were unfortunately unrivaled for their time period.  Though they are not the best, movies like A Vow to Cherish are still enjoyable today and definitely worth your time.  Current Christian film makers can learn a lot from the models used to make WWP movies; there are many newer films that unfortunately never made it to this point.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Love Covers All (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Michael goes on a business trip and leaves his very pregnant wife at home, he never anticipated the series of events that would occur.  The business trip turns out to be something he never expected to happen and this is compounded when his wife goes into labor and begins having complications.  In route home, Michael becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere and feels like all hope is lost until he begins to remember the faith he has easily forgotten about.  Will he be able to reconcile his past hurts and help those around him before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though the budget and the team were limited in what they could do with this film, it’s obvious that they were trying to create a quality production with what they had available.  The highest marks go to the excellent video and audio quality.  Camera work is also highly professional and the soundtrack is adequate.  The sets and locations are limited, but they are utilized fairly well.  However, some scenes have poor lighting and there are generally not enough extras.  Yet the editing is fine and rounds out an overall above average production effort.  It’s clear that this team cares about what they are doing, so it will be interesting to see what they create in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The biggest downfall of Love Covers All is its simplistic storyline, though it does have a meaningful message.  The writers did the right thing with a limited and pedestrian storyline: craft authentic and believable characters built on great developing dialogue.  The dialogue is one of the main saving graces of this film—without it, the story would be nothing.  The life circumstances the characters experience are very realistic and accessible, and the Christian message hits home.  However, we would have liked the plot to be a little more complex and creative than this.  But still, this is a non-typical storyline that deserves recognition.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This is a very strong casting job that lifts the film away from total mediocrity.  With recognizable Christian actors and actresses, each character is cast very well.  There is clear acting coaching present here as they deliver their lines and emotions with only minor errors.  This is a job well done.

Conclusion

The Praise Pictures team, like many budding creative teams, it poised to take the next step.  They have the production and casting skills necessary to create a top film—now they just need a bigger budget and more complex plots.  As a side note, the Christian message of Love Covers All is quite profound and we hope it is transferred to another film.  In short, there is so much potential here that is just waiting to be brought out, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Polycarp: Destroyer of Gods (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

 

Wildflower [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chloe has a dark secret that haunts her, but she doesn’t quite know what it is.  She is plagued by nightmares and flashbacks of something that lurks below her consciousness, but she cannot quantify it.  She also does not want to talk to anyone about it except her trusted friend Rebecca.  Chloe has pushed everyone away, including her mother.  But when she is faced with something she cannot reconcile, she will have to reach out to someone before it’s too late.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Faith Street Films team has consistently shown a commitment to quality productions—this is evident again in Wildflower.  Camera work is professional, as is video quality.  Audio quality is error-free and the soundtrack is superb and enhances the experience.  Sets and locations are good as well.  The only problem to point out here is editing.  Some scenes are unnecessarily long while others are cut too short.  As will be discussed next, too much of the same thing happens.  But overall, this is a great production that shows great promise.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Wildflower is a much-needed Christian psychological thriller, but it’s extremely frustrating to watch, knowing all that could have been.  For starters, the heavy-handed narration throughout doesn’t allow the plot to develop naturally.  Great issues are raised here, but the characters are stunted by too much narration and not enough dialogue.  Though there are excellent psychological elements and flashbacks, the plot is based too much on coincidences.  Overall, we know that the creators mean well and is was great to try something different, but without deeper development, the storyline and its characters are left only halfway finished.  We would love to see this concept remade in some way.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is relatively small, they do a fairly good job pulling this off.  They are mostly believable, but there are some underwhelming performances that seem to hold this film back from being all that it could be.  Emotions are mostly realistic, but there are some overdone elements that distract from the story.  In short, this is an above-average effort that had the ability to be better.

Conclusion

It is always disappointing to see a downgrade from Hall of Fame, especially since King’s Faith was enjoyable.  We love psychological thrillers, but Wildflower left us wanting for more.  The issues portrayed in this film are important and need to be discussed, we fear the way they are packaged in this film will turn people off.  We sincerely wish this plot could be reworked so that it could reach its full greatness.  Nonetheless, Nicholas DiBella and his team are certainly talented and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

  

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

 

Love’s Complicated {My Life As a Doormat} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leah lives a very controlled and scheduled life.  She does the same things with her safe boyfriend, tries to write, and lets people tell her what to do all the time.  But something is missing.  When her publisher asks for deeper writing, Leah feels inadequate.  But her life changes forever when her boyfriend signs her up for a conflict management course under the guise that he will be attending with her.  Though she is angry at first, she slowly begins to see just how much her life can change.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As we have said before, Hallmark knows how to invest in a proper production.  In this film, camera work is flawless and video quality is crisp.  The audio quality is good but the soundtrack is standard for Hallmark.  Sets and locations are realistic.  The biggest issues to raise here are the editing problems.  The editing causes the film to be choppy and confusing.  Otherwise, this is a baseline production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Love’s Complicated, which is the Hallmarked title of My Life As a Doormat, is probably as good as a Hallmark plot is going to get, and they only have Rene Gutteridge to thank for her ideas, witty dialogue, and believable characters.  Though the plot still fits into the stereotypical and formulaic Hallmark romance storyline and progression, it is developed to its fullest extent.  The premise vacillates between cheesy and intriguing but is still enjoyable due to some genuine comedy.  However, there appears to be too much missing content as the plot tends to hop from highlight to highlight.  In the end, this is a good plot and makes the movie worth watching.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As usual for Hallmark, the casting totally derails this film from being all that it could have been.  Most of the cast members are over-costumed and generally average in their emotional delivery.  However, their line delivery is very robotic and measured.  The biggest drag is the lead actress, who was clearly not suited to play an introvert.  Though not all is bad here, the acting overall puts a strain on this otherwise fine movie.

Conclusion

Hallmark should really consider having Rene Gutteridge regularly write more of their plots.  She has a true gift of character development, enough for her storyline to survive Hallmarking to an extent.  Love’s Complicated also has good production support to a point, but the acting really holds this film back.  In a romantic comedy, the cast is everything, and this group just didn’t deliver.  Nonetheless, Gutteridge’s plots and characters are always enjoyable and many will find this movie to be so.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Providence [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

As Rachel Cartwright and Mitchell Little grew up in the small town of Providence, Tennessee, they each took different paths until finally meeting up.  Though they were together for a while, they lost touch as they grew older and went different paths again.  But even as life takes them in their different directions, they are destined to meet up again no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s very interesting to take a risk by creating a silent film, and as it turns out, it’s better to have no audio than bad audio.  Additionally, it was wise to fill the sound with an original soundtrack, even though it is sometimes incongruent with the time period the plot is trying to portray.  However, we would have liked to hear more instrumental tracks.  Silent films rely heavily on camera work and video quality, and both of these elements passed the test of professionalism.  There are also historically realistic sets, locations, and props throughout.  The main caveat to raise here is that some scenes tend to lag too long—we would have liked to see more content, but it’s a good start.  Regardless, Sharon Wilharm and Mainstreet Productions demonstrate the ability to engineer high quality productions, and we can’t wait to see them reach the next level.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Due to the silence, there is no audible dialogue, only implied dialogue.  This is both good and bad because it limits the mistakes and the rewards.  Nonetheless, the viewer can figure out fairly well what is going on in the story.  However, the storyline is somewhat simple and typical.  Some sequences are too long while others are too short, but there is far more plot content in Providence than in many non-silent films.  We would have liked to know these characters a little better than we do, but that’s just a limitation of silent plots.  In the end, the plot is okay, yet we feel that this plot could have been a little more complex than this.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It is definitely difficult to act and to acting coach in silent films, yet both are pulled off well in Providence.  These cast members show better emotions than some non-silent films—for the most part, we really know what is going on, and that’s a huge accomplishment.  While there is some historically inauthentic costuming, most of it is good.  In short, this is a professional performance.

Conclusion

We were wary of silent films before seeing Providence, but it seems like having no sound makes everyone, especially the cast, try harder to improve quality.  While silent movies may not be the future, this is definitely a good place to jump start from and to use to improve into greatness.  The good news for Christian film is that after an extended wilderness of the early 2000s, movie makers are finally moving to the point of higher production quality.  Providence is an example of this trend.  Mainstreet Productions shows great promise for the future and we look forward to what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

 

 

Christmas Child (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jack Davenport loved his adoptive parents, but he always wanted to know who his real parents were.  So when his adoptive father dies and Jack finds a clue in his belongings that could speak to Jack’s biological parents, he decides to go to a small town in Texas that could hold some answers for him.  He and his wife have grown distant from each other, so she lets him go without telling him that she is carrying their first child.  Jack hopes to find what he is looking for, but that he doesn’t know is that the answers he is looking for are not what he thinks.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Christmas Child is a fairly respectable production.  It sports good camera work and professional audio quality, though the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Sets and locations are engaging and realistic.  However, there is some low video quality throughout.  The editing is also an issue as some scenes lag longer than they should while others are understated.  Overall, this is an average production that seemingly could have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Max Lucado is well known for his poignant plots, but Christmas Child was probably not the best one to choose to make a movie out of.  It’s basically just a typical small town plot filled with stereotypical characters that fit into molds.  However, the characters are at least down-to-earth and believable and their struggles are accessible.  There are some interesting elements and portions of dialogue, but the plot is reliant on too many coincidences.  Overall, this is very safe and pedestrian plot with no real plot twists than many will find enjoyment in.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The casting and acting is this film’s strongest suit.  The cast clearly knows what they are doing and have been coached well.  However, there are some lackluster lines and emotions that keep this section from being all that it could be.  Yet this should be an example of the baseline for acting in Christian films.

Conclusion

Many people love Max Lucado and will enjoy this movie.  There is nothing glaringly wrong with the movie, but we feel that Lucado has more to offer than this.  It’s always nice when movies portray people as regular and realistic, but Christmas Child as a whole is perhaps too slow for some audiences.  In short, as we have said before, this sort of movie should be commonplace in Christian film, not the exception to the rule.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Heaven is for Real (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Colton Burpo is forced to undergo an emergency surgery at a young age, his parents’ worst nightmare comes true when he flat-lines on the operating table.  But Colton survives the procedure and lives to tell about his near-death experience with Jesus in Heaven.  The young boy claims to have met dead relatives he never knew and his miscarried sister, whom he never knew about.  As a pastor of a small Nebraska church, Colton’s father Todd is faced with the tough decision to make this news public and risk ridicule or to keep silent about it.  Do miracles really exist or are they just stories?  Ultimately, this is what they will have to decide.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With obvious backing from big Hollywood names and the right amount of funding, Heaven is for Real looks good on the surface.  The video quality is top notch, as is the camera work and audio quality.  The soundtrack could use a little work, but this is only a minor problem.  The sets and locations are professionally done and the surroundings are authentic.  Prop usage is appropriate and adds to the plot.  The use of special effects is intriguing, especially those that accompany the spiritual\psychological elements.  The only complaints here pertain to the editing, which of course goes hand in hand with the plot.  There is little continuity as the creators try to cover too much ground at once.  But otherwise, whatever you might think about those behind the movie or their motives, this is the almost ideal production quality for a Christian-themed film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Heaven is for Real is about far more than just an attempt to prove or discuss the existence of the afterlife.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but there is just too much content that is forced into this film.  One would expect the real people that are supposed to be portrayed in this film to have multiple facets to their lives, but there is no focus among the various ideas that are floated throughout the storyline.  In the nearly two-hour runtime, you can learn a lot about small town stuff, small church issues, financial struggles, the counseling process, philosophical discussions on miracles, the ins and outs of a volunteer fire department, the daily issues that face a rural working class family, a girl that claims to have painted Jesus, and oh yeah, a boy who had a near-death experience with heaven.  With the proper continuity, all of these issues would have been pertinent and interesting to watch, but this does not exist in Heaven is for Real.  Despite spending a lot of time with the characters, by the end of the film, we don’t really know them.  Dialogue is flat and only serves the purpose of driving the plot along.  While the spiritual\psychological elements regarding the afterlife and the spiritual realm are inspiring, they are passive and are not given enough attention.  The end is fairly interesting, but there is little buildup to it.  Basically, there was a lot of potential here, but it was poorly handled.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With ‘big name’ cast members and clear money spent here, there are few errors to point out.  Coaching is obvious present and a general air of professionalism is evident.  Even though the lines aren’t very good, they are delivered well.  Emotions are believable.  In short, this is the way the cast of a Christian-themed film should be.

Conclusion

This movie was marketed on an inspirational platform that promised to rally Christians and ‘prove’ that Heaven is for real (duh).  But in reality, Heaven is a very small player in this film as runtime is spent on other various topics.  Whatever you might believe about near-death experiences and their plausibility, it’s still something that needs to be discussed in the context of film—and we’re still waiting.  Heaven is for Real did not deliver on what it advertised, and while it was obviously well-funded and well-marketed, it did not leave a lasting effect on the field.  It takes meaning and heart to do this, and when it comes down to it, it feels like all the creators of this movie wanted to do was make easy money.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After a twist of fate throws a collection of strangers together, trapped in a Thailand resort during a storm, strange things begin to happen.  A wanted international criminal and his sidekick and wife, the two owners of the resort, and a ‘drug enforcement’ agent are all faced with the reality of their lives as they meet Jesus Christ face to face.  They are all forced to ruminate on the choices they have made in the past in order to determine how they are going to move forward.  Will they cling to their bitterness, rage, and vices, or will they turn to Jesus and accept the free gift He offers to each one of them, regardless of their pasts?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In a change from the norm, The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost boasts above-average production quality.  The camera work is professionally presented and the video quality is better than not.  The audio quality is consistent across the board.  The sets and locations are diverse and fairly realistic, with a few exceptions.  The surroundings have an interesting feel, but it seems like more could have been done here, especially since many scenes seem borrowed from Escape.  On the down side, David A. R. White brings with him to this film a cheesy action feel that includes waste-of-time sequences and unrealistic elements.  Furthermore, the editing of Encounter 2 is all off.  The film begins with a time lapse presentation and then randomly abandons it.  The passage of time in general is hard to follow and a lot of content is crammed into a small window of opportunity that is squeezed out by philosophical monologues and unrealistic fight scenes.  But in the end, this is definitely an improvement for PureFlix and shows what they can do, even though it also shows what they could be doing better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

As mentioned before, too much is shoved into the nearly 110-minute runtime, thus isolating the important aspects.  The few main characters that are presented are given a lot of screen time, yet by the end, we only see half of them.  By the end of the film that focuses on the struggles of five key characters through the use of flashbacks and philosophical dialogue, we should feel like they are real people, but this is not completely true of this film’s core characters.  There’s nothing wrong with having a small cast of characters, but they need to be deep, complex, and realistic.  The Encounter 2 doesn’t make it all the way on this front.  Yet there are many interesting and creative elements to this storyline.  The flashbacks, as mentioned, are a good touch.  The issues presented are believable, but some of the ‘solutions’ to the issues are not.  Some ambiguity exists in the plot, but not enough.  Bruce Marciano’s philosophical monologues are better this time around, but they still can become draining.  The spiritual elements that underlie the plot are very intriguing and commendable, but the totally-not-obvious Satan character is over the top.  In the end, the plot of The Encounter 2 is a mixed bag with a creative ending, but it doesn’t do quite enough to lift this film out of average-ness.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Robert Miano demonstrates in this film that he has the ability to be an excellent villain, which does not explain why he acted so mysterious and lofty in his Biblical roles, The Book of Esther and The Book of Daniel.  Yet Miano is the best actor in this cast.  Bruce Marciano is always fine, but at some point, his roles become extremely predictable.  Elsewhere, David A. R. White is his usual cheesy action hero self and other actors and actresses either overplay or underplay emotions.  Line delivery is overall inconsistent, but costuming is fine.  Overall, the acting work is just average.

Conclusion

The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost is a huge improvement on The Encounter.  The creative idea of having Jesus show up in the flesh in the middle of a hostage situation is very commendable.  The psychological\spiritual elements throughout are also noteworthy.  But this film is tripped up by its large amount of content and low amount of overall quality.  The plot is spread too thin and the characters are too shallow for the time spent on them.  In the end, this is an enjoyable film, but it’s also another one of those frustrating movies that we wish could be remade.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

God’s Compass (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Suzanne Waters is giving her official retirement address from her position as a school principal, something happens that night that alters the path of her life and the path of her family.  Her daughter-in-law does into labor while en route back home and is saved by a would-be car thief.  Suzanne’s busy son, an ER doctor, has allowed himself to become swamped with work so much that he barely has time to care for his wife.  Everything changes for them when their baby is born with a potentially life-threatening condition.  As Suzanne tries to support her son and daughter-in-law, she also seeks out the now-arrested criminal who saved the life of her grandson.  Through God’s leading, she does the unthinkable and takes a huge step of faith that changes her life forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Having good quality production elements was obviously a key focus of new filmmakers Stephan Schultze and Scott Curlee.  They used their somewhat limited resources wisely and focused on amplifying their strengths.  The video quality is fairly good throughout, as is the sound quality.  The camera angles are sometimes artistically enhancing and sometimes a bit odd and confusing.  There is some obvious CGI throughout, but it is not completely negative.  The soundtrack is very frustrating because it is sometimes very good and other times non-existent; it needed to be more consistent.  The sets and locations are simple yet realistic.  The editing is good considering the small scope of the plot.  Overall, this is an average production, but it’s really good for a freshman voyage.  Schultze and Curlee stuck to the basics and didn’t get too crazy, which is the most you can ask from new filmmakers.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, the plot is small in scope and little bit too simplistic.  But there is also a creative element that underlines the story and is revealed through creative flashbacks.  Without these flashbacks, the story would be very drab.  Psychological elements such as these should be used more in Christian film, since they make the movie more than what it would have been in their absence.  The characters are few in number, but they are mostly well developed.  We would have liked to see a little more development since there aren’t very many, but they are adequate as they are.  The dialogue is simple yet believable.  There is only one minor twist in the plot, but everything that happens to the characters is very down to earth and accessible by all audiences.  The purpose behind the plot is clearly communicated without being too obvious—the same goes for the Christian message.  In the end, going with a simple plot to begin with is a good idea so you don’t get too far ahead of yourself.  We realize that complexity comes with time and experience, and we also know that God’s Compass will still be popular as it is in many Christian circles.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Having a solid cast in a rookie film is key.  Schultze and Curlee accomplished this.  Though it is small in size, they carry the movie on their shoulders.  Karen Abercrombie and T. C. Stallings remain to be solid cast members.  Jazelle Foster and Joey Ibanez show a lot of potential for the future.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are professional throughout.  The major drawback to this cast is Erin Bethea, as she is awkwardly inserted into the cast for no particular reason or function.  Also, Robert Amaya seems downplayed; it seems like he could have had a larger role.  Otherwise, this is a great casting job.

Conclusion

God’s Compass is a solid beginning to a promising film career.  ‘Solid’ is a word that can easily define this film.  It takes time and experience to make a groundbreaking film, especially when the budget is limited.  Schultze and Curlee did the right thing with a direct to DVD release and they made the right waves in the right places with Compass.  With more creativity coming down the pipe from Liberty University’s film department, we heartily expect even greater things in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

A Cross to Bear (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

One day Erica is an extravagant girlfriend of a top music executive, and the next, she is a pregnant homeless woman struggling with addictions with no one to take her in.  After facing tragedy time and again in the hard life of the streets and not being able to break her addictions, Erica finally finds Joan, a strong woman who left her nursing career behind to open her home to women on the streets.  As Erica struggles to keep from going back to her old ways, she befriends one of the other residents, Tina, who has health problems due to her being a crack baby.  In the end, Erica will have to choose between her old destructive path and a new path that has been offered to her.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

A Cross to Bear is a very frustrating movie, mostly due to its obviously cheap production quality.  The video is grainy, the sound inconsistent, and the camera work amateur.  This film obviously suffered in the financial department, yet it does not fall in line with the usual cheap Christian films.  The editing is mostly good, but it needs to be refined.  The strongest point of this movie’s production is its authentic surroundings, settings, and locations.  This is a gritty subject accompanied by gritty elements that make it believable.  This is the key redeeming quality of this otherwise poorly produced movie.  It’s unfortunate that the budget was so low; other movies with higher budgets than this are far worse.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Based on true events, A Cross to Bear is a realistic and accessible story that could occur in any given inner city in America right now.  The movie wrestles with homelessness, infant mortality, drugs, alcohol, and advocacy all while presenting an engaging plot.  Despite the low production quality, the plot is enough to keep one’s attention.  The dialogue is realistic and the characters are believable.  The story does not turn out as expected and there is a major twist at the end that makes this movie all that it is.  The only caveat that can be raised here is the fact that the characters could have been a bit deeper, since the plot depended heavily on them.  Otherwise, A Cross to Bear proves that using real events as a plot basis almost always pays off and makes for a mostly watchable movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is not a star-studded cast, but they do the best they can with what they have.  There is a presence of acting coaching—the actors and actresses put most Christian casts to shame.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is good.  The only things keeping this section from being better is a generally and evidently under-experienced cast, but this is nothing to be ashamed of, because there is a lot of potential here.

Conclusion

A Cross to Bear joins the ranks of Christian films that desperately need remakes.  This plot is far better than many more popular films on the market and needs to be elevated to its proper status with a higher budget and a good production team.  Every now and then, a rare nugget with potential is found in a vast landscape of B-grade movies.  A Cross to Bear is one of these.  Even if a remake is never to be made, this movie can serve as an example of how basing movies on true events is better than spinning out another cheap inspirational flick.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dustin, Albert, and Mark are friends who stick together and solve the deeper problems of their 1970s small town.  But one particular summer, they find themselves with a deficit of activities save for fishing and mowing lawns.  That’s when they inadvertently cross paths with Jonathan Sperry, an elderly local man who takes it upon himself to teach them fundamental principles for living—including the truth about Christianity.  Unknown to any of the three friends, their lives will forever be changed by the secrets they learn from the enigmatic Mr. Sperry.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Jonathan Sperry had a higher-than-usual budget, and it mostly reflects in the production quality.  The camera work is pretty good, especially considering the high amount of outside scenes.  The video quality is solid, as is the sound quality.  Sets and locations were well chosen and props give the film an authentic historic feel.  The musical score could have been better.  The real thing lacking here is a game-changing factor.  The editing is considerably good, but each production element just doesn’t quite live up to top standards.  Something intangible is missing, yet it cannot be denied that Jonathan Sperry is still a step above most Christian films when it comes to production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from true events, the plot of Jonathan Sperry has a lot of great elements.  The characters are authentic and many will be able to relate to them.  The dialogue is simple yet profound.  The events and circumstances they experience are believable and accessible.  The storyline is non-linear and has some minor twists and turns.  There is a clear Christian message throughout.  Yet this being said, one could consider Jonathan Sperry to be overly realistic and too slow for viewing.  There is some truth to this.  The film lacks a dynamic punch that will really capture the widespread attention of audiences.  Great care was obviously taken to be realistic, and this care shows, but we have to wonder if it is too authentic for its own good, so to speak.  Nevertheless, the movie offers a poignant lesson for those who watch it and those who likely calm artistic plots will not find themselves disappointed.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Similar to production, an air of professionalism is very evident.  The actors and actresses are coached fairly well.  Since the cast is small, it carries a large weight, and it does not necessarily stumble under it.  However, there are some minor errors that could have been corrected and thus keep it from being all that it could be.  But nonetheless, the acting puts many Christian movies to shame.

Conclusion

There is a place for movies like Jonathan Sperry in the Christian film world, but unfortunately, films like this one will never be blockbuster.  The truly unfortunate thing is that movies like this one are not the baseline of Christian-themed movies.  This should be the starting point, not the improvement.  Regardless, Sperry is something to build off of if only to showcase that the Christiano brothers understand the common man and that the only place they can go from here is up.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Perfect Wave (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Ian McCormack has always been in search of adventure and has always wanted to escape from what he perceives to be confining, namely responsibility and the domestic life.  After selling his car, he finally convinces his parents that as an adult, he needs to go out into the world and ‘find himself’.  An avid surfer, Ian has always been searching for one elusive thing: what he considers to be ‘the perfect wave’.  So he journeys from one surfing landmark to the next, along with a group of buddies, in order to find what he is looking for.  But his journey changes one day when he finds Anabel, a mysterious girl living in Indonesia.  He has never truly loved before, so when Anabel disappears, he feels like he has to search for her.  But what he doesn’t know is that what he has been searching for all along is something to fill the void in his soul.  Little does he realize that he will have to come face to face with what he really believes about the God he has only heard about as a child.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a freshman movie, The Perfect Wave is a great start in the production department.  The sets and locations, perhaps the central factor of the movie, are excellently chosen and presented.  The camera work is great, including skillful action shots and clear video quality.  The musical score is decent.  The only two caveats that keep this film’s production from being all that it could are the choppy editing and the inconsistent sound quality.  Sometimes dialogue is hard to hear because of loud background noise.  The editing confuses the viewer—too many things happen off screen that should be on the screen, and vice versa.  Yet despite these problems, The Perfect Wave puts many Christian movies to shame when it comes to production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The true story of Ian McCormack was definitely one worth portraying on the big screen.  However, after watching the story play out, we were left with the feeling that something was missing.  The story is non-linear, which is not surprising for a film portraying true events, and the characters are obviously flawed, but this plot just didn’t quite make it all the way.  There are some surprising twists and turns, but the dialogue is inconsistent—sometimes profound and sometimes simplistic.  Some characters seem unnecessary.  There is bit too much edgy content.  But in the end, there is a great Christian message.  It seems like the movie was written for its psychologically thrilling end that clearly communicates the gospel.  The end is worth waiting for, but some people will be lost in the middle.  Overall, the plot is average and had a lot of room for improvement.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With a professional cast, The Perfect Wave scores plenty of points here.  Scott Eastwood and Rachel Hendrix are great in their roles, but some others leave something to be desired.  Granted, this is still an above-average cast, but it seems like more could have accomplished with greater acting.

Conclusion

More obscure true stories like this one need to be adapted to movies for multiple reasons.  For one, they are better than writing another small town made-for-Hallmark romance.  For another, they let both Christian and non-Christian audiences know that God is at work in the lives of many different types of people.  God can work however He wishes, and The Perfect Wave shows this.  The unfortunate thing is that this movie was not good enough to be considered Hall of Fame, yet it is still a movie worth watching.  We look forward to what is next on the agenda for Bruce MacDonald and company.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

When Calls the Heart [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Thatcher is restless in her American white upper class family structure and longs to make a true difference in life.  She is tired of being sheltered by an extravagant and risk-free lifestyle in the east and longs to teach struggling children in the west.  But her family is opposed to this prospect and seeks to thwart her goals.  Yet as Elizabeth seeks to understand their opposition, she stumbles upon a family secret involving an aunt who shares her name who also had a heart for struggling western schools.  In trying to discover how she can leave her mark on the world, Elizabeth finds that God has uniquely equipped her for adventures she never imagined.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. usually puts on a good production.  The camera work is professional, including in different lighting scenarios.  Good locations and sets are chosen that are neither cheap nor unrealistic.  The costuming and makeup are not overdone like Landon has done in the past.  The video and sound quality are solid.  The editing is pretty good, considering that two stories are being overlaid.  But the editing also leaves something to be desired as there are some plot holes.  But in the end, this film’s production is quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When a movie mixes two different plots together connected by the reading of a diary, it usually means that there is not enough content in either subplot.  This is slightly true in this Janette Oke novel adaptation, but it seems to work out well enough.  Yet it cannot be ignored that putting two plots together undermines character development in both.  Dialogue is limited because of the combination, but it is still not a completely bad plot.  There are some interesting points and slight twists throughout.  Events that occur are authentic and believable.  The premise of the movie is very interesting, but the end of the movie is confusing.  Was this meant to be the first in a series of movies?  At the time of this writing, there are no plans for a sequel.  The ending could have been written in such a way so that a sequel was not necessary—as it is, it seems incomplete and slightly unprofessional.  Whatever the intention was, this is an average plot that needed further developing, yet it is not horrible on its face.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a semi-professional cast, yet they are not terribly dynamic.  They do fairly well in delivery and expression, but they still leave something to be desired.  The actors and actresses do not change the movie for the better, but neither do they derail it.  Average is a word that sums up this film as a whole.

Conclusion

It is likely that Michael Landon Jr.’s development of the When Calls the Heart television series cut this potential movie saga short, but we cannot understand why he planned to make both, each with different actors and characters and with entirely different premises.  This movie, we believe, had more potential than the television series, although there is nothing wrong with creating more miniseries.  The bottom line is that the When Calls the Heart film seems like an afterthought and feels like more could have been done with it had more effort been applied.  As it is, it’s a fine movie, but it is not Hall of Fame worthy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Prince Caspian [2008] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rejected by his uncle due to the birth of a new son, Prince Caspian is forced to flee for his life from his Telmarine countrymen, who are ruling Narnia and who have forced the true Narnians into hiding.  But Caspian finds himself taking refuge with these renegade creatures now that he has a common enemy with them.  In trouble, Caspian blows the legendary Susan’s horn and inadvertently calls the Pevensie siblings back to Narnia, although it has been hundreds of years since they left.  They immediately find themselves thrust into a conflict between the restless Narnians and the disillusioned Telmarines.  Although they believe they have the power they need to win, the High Kings and Queens of Narnia must remember the former days and call on Aslan for help in order to survive.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with the production quality of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian is well-produced and well-funded.  The camera work is great.  The sets are well-constructed and the costuming remains professional, which is key in fantasy movies.  Action scenes are filmed with skill.  The only small caveats to raise here are that there is some slightly obvious CGI and the editing is confusing at times.  Otherwise, there is nothing negative here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the original plot of Caspian is not adapted as well as the first installment.  Though Douglas Gresham was still involved, Box Office Revolution feels that the core message of Narnia was lost in this movie.  Disney takes over Caspian and inserts empty action sequences, drab dialogue, and bland characters.  Granted, the original plot of the book was not much to work with, but Disney adds a darker tone to this film that was not intended.  All the characters seem perpetually angry about abstract things.  Some scenes leave the viewer hanging with no real explanation.  The end is pretty good, but it has a strange romantic subplot is suddenly forced upon the audience.  Needless to say, both avid Narnian fans and professional plot critics cannot find much to be pleased about here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The professional acting style is mostly maintained from the first movie, but in the sophomore installment, it seems like the cast isn’t really trying.  At times, actors seem bored and passive.  But it is not all bad and there is certainly worse acting to be seen.  In short, the acting keeps up with the rest of the film—good, but not good enough.

Conclusion

Prince Caspian is a natural sequel to the infamous The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but its plot could have been improved.  Where there was potential for improvement, nothing materialized.  It probably should not be surprising that Douglas Gresham pulled the franchise from Disney after this movie—it needed to be done.  The bottom line is that the Chronicles of Narnia remain to be great books to adapt into films, if done properly.  Larger production companies have a tendency to coast after success, and this is not something Box Office Revolution respects.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On a small youth group retreat, Pastor Stuart senses that something is amiss with the group of kids he is responsible for.  A new non-Christian girl is among them, and her presence is causing divisions among the Christian teens.  He decides to try to get through to them by telling them his creative and family-friendly rendering of the Biblical story of Hosea and his tenuous relationship with his wife Gomer.  Ultimately, each person must decide how they are going to respond and to show God’s unconditional love for all people.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Christiano Brothers and Kevin Downes usually know how to produce a movie so that it passes as above average.  Amazing Love is no exception.  There are few overt errors in this film’s production quality.  The camera work is simple but not detracting.  The video and sound quality are fine.  The editing is fine, considering there is just not much content here.  The biggest problems with production pertain to the limited and cheap looking sets.  Some of the Biblical props and costuming seem low quality.  Overall, Amazing Love is good enough to make viewers watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The premise of Amazing Love is intriguing.  Youth group issues need to be discussed in movies.  Biblical narratives need to be explored.  One has to wonder if Hosea was the best choice, but Box Office Revolution believes it was handled tastefully, even if it is slightly unrealistic.  Due to the dual narrative, dialogue is simplistic and characters are shallow.  The fact that there are two stories in this movie show that there is just not enough content to make this a dynamic film.  But the creators did the best they could with what they had, and sometimes that is all we can ask.  There are some interesting twists that keep the attention.  This plot will make people think and it is better than a lot of Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The actors seem either wooden or childish.  Some of the acting is good, but some is not.  The more experienced actors deliver their lines better than others.  Casting might have been an issue in this modestly budgeted production.  Overall, the acting is just average.

Conclusion

Everyone needs to know that God’s love is unconditional, especially teenagers from broken homes.  The story of Hosea reminds everyone that God loves even those we considered to be hopeless and unreachable.  For a simple family film, Amazing Love passes the test.  Audiences need to be informed of Bible stories that are not often focused on.  Unfortunately, there was a low ceiling for this movie and it hit it.  But in the end, this is definitely not a movie to be ashamed of.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Do You Believe (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points