To Save a Life (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jake Taylor is one of the most popular kids in school: he’s a basketball star on track for a big scholarship, and he has the girlfriend everyone wanted. He seems to have friends everywhere, but he’s chosen to ignore the only friend he had in middle school because it’s not cool to hang around him anymore. However, this appears to lead to his old friend becoming suicidal and bringing a gun to school one day in an apparent last-ditch attempt for help. In the fallout of the tragedy, Jake and his friends try to get back to normal, but they seem to sink deeper into their vices as a response to the trauma. What is the true purpose of life, and is it possible for high school to have meaning?

Production Quality (2 points)

As an early 2000s production, To Save a Life is good despite some minor missteps. For one, the flashback sequences, while great to include, sometimes come off as a bit disorienting and invasive as they tend to jump back and forth too much and use disruptive flashing effects. In a similar vein, some montages are a bit confusing and protracted in length, especially since they take up time that could have been used on other things. However, there are plenty of positives to note about this production, For one, the soundtrack is fairly good, and the camera work is professionally artistic even if there is some wild zooming and cutting during suspenseful scenes. Nonetheless, much of the production elements improve as time goes on, and video quality, sets, locations, and props are all great in each part of the film. As a whole, the editing is good enough considering how much content is in the story and how many characters there are, so overall, this is an above average production that’s mostly on the mark and improves with runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Even in the beginning, Brian Baugh was always a master of capturing the real human experience, especially of Millennial coming of age years, as he weaves complex storytelling via raw, realistic topics, effective flashbacks, and accessible characters. To Save a Life is a real and honest look at authentic problems facing teenagers both in high school and in the church. It’s a hard but necessary look at the factors leading to teen suicide and teen substance abuse, among other vices; in doing so, the plot unfolds fairly well without dumping too much information onto the audience in the beginning as plot points are developed gradually. The relationships among the characters are very easy to believe as they feel like real people who do real things with real motivations. The psychological material therein is used in very great ways, and the hard look at problems within the church is refreshing. To Save a Life has a very complex cast of characters that makes it feel more like a series than a movie; because of this, some of the characters arcs are a bit too steep due to lack of adequate development time. Even still, the dialogue is well-constructed as the subplots weave together, but the number of storylines is also the slight undoing of the film as we’d like to see some more backstories and more explorations of the issues rather than trying to cover too much in one film. Because of how many ideas are in one movie, the epilogue and the lead-up to it tend to fix things too quickly and easily without many tangible character consequences. The climax scene is also slightly contrived just to have one and only leads to expository dialogue designed to finish things off. In the end, To Save a Life is a massive mixed bag of content that is both rewarding and disappointing, yet Brian Baugh’s talents are still undeniable in his first movie attempt.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

At first, the acting can come off as a bit awkward, but this also tends to work in the film’s favor. This is really the only nitpick to point out since the cast is overall really good despite its large size. There are quite a few standout roles…even Randy Wayne posts a good one. Due to the sheer number and diversity of cast members, they would have done so well in a series, but alas, this film occurred before the era of Christian streaming. Nevertheless, perhaps something similar to To Save a Life will be crafted in the future.

Conclusion

We would definitely love to see Brian Baugh make a series either like this movie or about something else because some creators are just too big for the big screen. Some creators (see Dallas Jenkins) are better the small screen because series provide much better forums to explore complex characters and subplots. No matter what, Baugh is consistently showing today that he has a profound understanding of people, and with two Hall of Fame entries after To Save a Life (I’m Not Ashamed and The World We Make), the sky is the limit for his creative potential.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Shack (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mackenzie Phillips never really trusted God after the abuse he underwent at the hands of his father, but he really felt abandoned by Jesus when his youngest daughter was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead by a twisted man. Floundering in his faith, Mack receives a mysterious note signed by God telling him to return to the place where his daughter was found dead: a shack in the mountainous woods. Mack decides to return, thinking he can avenge his daughter’s death, but instead, he experiences an encounter with God beyond his wildest dreams.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a mainstream production, The Shack hits all the right notes en route to a nearly perfect score. This is due to great camera work, video quality, and audio quality. The sets, locations, and props are effectively utilized and authentic. Also, the soundtrack is very poignant and accessible. One minor nitpick to point out with this production pertains to the editing concerns, but this is mainly a plot issue that inadvertently affects this section. Overall, this is almost as good as it gets for a production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Based on William Paul Young’s slightly controversial novel, the film is actually a step above the book as it takes time to explain more about the characters and their motivations. Even still, there are still some issues that hold The Shack back from being all that it could be. For one, the narration right out of the gate from Tim McGraw’s mysteriously omniscient character is completely unnecessary and calls into question why his subplot even exists. This brief, irrelevant storyline, in conjunction with some rushed and confusing scenes revolving around law enforcement, waste precious time at the beginning of the film and make the movie feel like it’s two different ones put together. This squandered time at the beginning hurts this section and likely keeps it from the Hall of Fame, but once the middle of the film arrives, it’s definitely worth a watch. At this point in the movie, The Shack isn’t afraid to tackle very realistic and raw issues we rarely see discussed in Christian film, including child abuse in the name of Christianity and incorrect views of God as well as the connections between these two concepts. Sometimes, flashbacks are used in very effective ways to present the plot and the character motivations, but it would have been better if all narration and early plot points were replaced with flashbacks to make it more of a non-linear style. However, despite a slightly incomplete view of God, The Shack does an excellent job with showing how God will relate to people on a very personal level via good philosophical discussions about life and power emotional experiences. Although it could have gone just a bit further with theological grounding (but not too much), this is a good place for a lot of people to start if they have a warped view of God. Basically, from the halfway point until the part before the end, The Shack is a nearly perfect film. The beginning and the epilogue that fixes things too easily detract from this section and keep it from being all that it could be. Nonetheless, this movie is definitely worth your time and can be a great tool to use to introduce people to God if they are closed to Him for one reason or another.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another major detractor that keeps The Shack from being Hall of Fame is Sam Worthington’s accent-suppressing. If you’re going to cast a British-Australian actor for an American role, either train him with a better accent or just make the character British or Australian. As it is, the way he delivers his line is very distracting and comes off as breathy and insincere because of the accent clashing. This really puts a damper on things as it makes his emotions seem otherworldly and causes unsure line delivery, which is difficult to watch since he takes up so much screentime. However, other cast members, most notably Octavia Spencer, work overtime to make up for Worthington’s shortfalls and overall post very professional and noteworthy performances. In the end, this section is above average and rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Though many theologically astute individuals like to “debunk” The Shack for its inaccuracies (there are a few small ones), the film as a whole demonstrates just how out of touch many Christian thought leaders are with everyday people. The movie does a much better job of relating to everyone on a personal level than any theological debate ever will, and it shows that God really wants with people: a relationship. While it could have use just a hair more theological grounding, The Shack is a great place for many people to start who have been hurt by Christianity or who may have invalid views of God. It’s unfortunate that it just misses the mark of being Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more films that walk the delicate balance of being personal-emotional and grounded at the same time. Once Christian entertainment as a whole learns how to relate to everyone personally, the industry will be unstoppable.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

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

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Beyond the Farthest Star (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Anne Wells hates that her family has been forced to move to a podunk Texas town. Her father is a pastor who demands perfection from his family, and she hates him for it. Anne always does her best to get into trouble and to do whatever she wants because she wants to know if God really cares about her and what the actual purpose of life is. She escapes into her music, and her father escapes into his work as he runs from the ghosts of his past. When their family is faced with several life-changing decisions, which way will they go?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that this film has a professional production that was given a lot of care and effort, which is evidenced by good video and audio qualities, as well as skilled camera work. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized, even if there are a few unnecessarily dark scenes. Further, the soundtrack is highly effective and engaging. The only drawback to point out here is some choppy editing, but this is also due to the large amount of story content. As a whole, this is a very respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As Beyond the Farthest Star is based on good source material, it demonstrates a very profound understanding of the real problems facing real people, especially the struggles of people whose personalities are not appreciated by the church. This plot has an exquisite use of flashbacks to develop character motive and backstory, and the content of the flashbacks is extremely believable. Through the flashbacks and dialogue, there are excellent efforts to develop the characters and to develop the interactions between teenagers and adults. However, this plot is almost schizophrenic with its presentation because one minute, the dialogue is great, only to have it undermined with an out-of-left-field scene that makes no sense. There is a strange lack of understanding of certain aspects of reality, such as the acquiring of confidential documents. There is also a highly unnecessary religious freedom\persecution subplot to contend with that wastes tons of time and puts a damper on everything. Further, there is narration present throughout the story in the form of journaling, and sometimes it is tolerable because of its philosophical nature, but other times, it gets in the way and takes up valuable time. Thus, even though there is a large amount of content in this complex storyline, not every scene is used very well as some are unnecessary and contain some edgy content. Even still, there is tons of potential in this plot and in the people who wrote it because it’s not afraid to expose hidden ministry problems and to use unashamed small town satire. The message therein is excellent and very worthwhile, but there are too many dramatic scenes with no break, and the cheesy ending tends to fix everything, even if the climax scene is effective. Basically, Beyond the Farthest Star is a giant mixed bag of potential, some of which panned out, so it’s likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is sharp and adept as each cast member appears to comfortably assume their respective character roles. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. There are only a few minor issues throughout that pertain to some overdone drama and seriousness, but this section rounds out a very respectable film.

Conclusion

Movies like Beyond the Farthest Star are both engaging and difficult to watch because it’s clear that there is a massive amount of potential with this type of idea. A movie about rebels from Christian families combined with hidden ministry problems is exactly what we need now, but there is too much confusion in this film that holds it back from reaching its highest possibilities. Even so, this movie is worth a watch this holiday season, and it bodes well for any future projects from this creative team.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

When the Heart Sings by Liz Tolsma

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Liz Tolsma, known for writing historical fiction, crafts an engaging and raw tale in this new novel, When the Heart Sings. While the novel is not perfect, it has a lot of potential and I believe it would make a great Christian historical drama film. Tolsma tells the story of four people, Nadia, Teodor, Elfriede, and Erich. Nadia and Teodor are Polish Christians who face the daily horror of persecution at the hands of the Nazis, and daily heartbreak because of Nadia’s inability to carry a child to full term. Only days after their most recent loss, Nadia and Teodor are captured by German soldiers, placed in a cattle car with hundreds of other Poles, and shipped away from their home and everyone they know. When the train stops at a station, the wife of one of the Nazi officers, Elfriede, feels compassion for Nadia and tells her husband that she wants her for a servant. Nadia is torn from her beloved and taken to Elfriede’s and Erich’s home. Teodor is taken to a Nazi work camp and suffers unspeakable torture and inhumanity. Only Nadia’s songs and the hope of seeing her again keeps him going. Nadia soon learns that Elfriede’s home is anything but happy. Elfriede is a lonely woman with a rich family and the mindset of a spoiled child. Elfriede and Erich, much like Teodor and Nadia, are also unable to carry a child to term. This fact is the root of Erich’s anger – towards others and a God he claims is nonexistent. Despite her husband’s physical and emotional abuse towards her and others, Elfriede believes the best about him, even when her beliefs are clearly not true. As Nadia heals, she and Elfriede develop a relationship and Elfriede comes to see that Poles and Jews are just as human as anyone else…especially when a dying mother and her Jewish baby end up on the front lawn. As Erich becomes angrier and Elfriede comforts herself with oblivion, Nadia’s fear turns to survival – for herself, her husband, and her adopted son. Will Nadia and Teodor survive Erich and the Nazi regime? Will Elfriede see the truth and turn to the One who loves her completely? On the whole, this plot is well-crafted and holds the attention. There is great attention given to historical accuracy, and the Tolsma is obviously passionate about her topic. The flaws here do not outweigh the strengths, but they include the fact that the story is a bit slow at times, and there are some moments of wordiness. Otherwise, this is a good plot that shows potential for the future.

Character Development (2 points)

Nadia and Teodor are mostly well crafted characters. They are very relatable and both avoid the ‘perfect’ mold often found in persecution plots. Elfriede is mostly well-developed, but it is hard to get to know her through the use of third person. Furthermore, her story seems pushed to the side throughout the novel, and seems a bit thrown together towards the end. Erich is an average character, and the reader is given no real reason for his behavior. Erich should have been developed through the use of flashbacks, perhaps given some family background of violence for his current state of mind.  Thus, he is, unfortunately a straw-man and the weakest character. Overall, Tolsma should have mixed third and first person in this novel, rather than using only third person. Since Nadia and Elfriede drive the plot, more attention should have been given to their backstories and present lives. Therefore, Tolsma earns an average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Tolsma earns a full point for originality because this plot is different from typical WWII stories. There is plenty of material for a screenwriter to work with here, and I feel that this book would have been better as a film in the first place. The screenwriter could easily insert a plot twist or two, deepen the characters through the existing dialogue, and add flashbacks for, at the very least, Erich’s character. Tolsma should definitely be involved in the screenwriting to ensure that historical accuracy is upheld, and that the plot is not changed for the worse.

Wish List Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ben Carson grew up disadvantaged and underprivileged, but his mother was determined that he and his brother would not be stuck with the street life.  Thus, she guided them to read as many books as they get could their hands on, even she herself could not read and struggled with mental illness due to what was done to her in the past.  Ben was his share of struggles as well, but he never forgot the God his mother had taught him about, and he was given great opportunities to become one of the best neurosurgeons of all time.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a well-funded made-for-TV production, Gifted Hands is very professionally done.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on industry standard, and the soundtrack is historically relevant.  Sets, locations, and props are very authentic and well-constructed, especially the historical and medical elements.  There is very little negative to point out here, except for the fact that editing tends to be choppy due to the large amount of content in this film.  However, this is only a blip on the radar and is not enough to keep this production from being great.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of Ben Carson is an excellent true story to make a movie out of, but this rendition does not go as far as it could have.  Granted, they had a lot of content to deal with, so the use of flashbacks and modern timeline intertwining together is effective.  However, it’s likely that a longer runtime was needed to handle the full breadth of content better and to give this film the epic feel that it needed.  While there is an excellent use of subtlety throughout instead of using a narration crutch, there still could have been some better sequences of dialogue to build the characters rather than the many montages that were included.  There are also some abrupt cutoffs between Carson’s life segments without smooth enough transitions between then.  Nonetheless, there is plenty of positive to note here as this realistic true story is brought to life to highlight many pertinent issues, as well as an important message of never giving up on God’s plans for you, even when you grow up disadvantaged.  Thus, in the end, this will be an enjoyable film for many audiences.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Gifted Hands is very professionally cast with no obvious errors at all in this cast.  Emotions are handled realistically, and line delivery is almost always on point.  Each cast member is cast appropriately for their character.  This is the way a cast should be assembled and coached.

Conclusion

This story idea had a lot going for it already, so it was only helped by great production and acting quality.  However, a handful of minor lingering issues hold this movie back from being what it could have been.  Movie plots centered around biopic and epic qualities need to live up to their fullest potential.  Even though this film would have flourished in the right hands, it is still adequate and will find its place among most audiences.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brandon Burlsworth always wanted to play football at the top college level, but he was always told he was never cut out for the sport due to his size problems.  However, Brandon defied all odds by adapting a strong work ethic that helped him train to become fit to walk-on and play SEC football at the University of Arkansas.  His life affected all of those around him as he made the football team better with his faith and his work ethic.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Greater is clearly a well-funded production as it is very professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The action sports scenes are filmed very well, and the sports props are highly realistic.  The soundtrack is adequate, and sets and locations are great.  The only small nitpicks to raise here pertain to some small editing issues, such as some lagging scenes and seemingly unnecessary content.  Otherwise, however, this production is top-notch and checks all the right boxes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While this film is based on a great true story, there is a lot of content that is covered in this plot.  Thus, character development suffers as the characters tend to only be pawns in the storyline.  The dialogue primarily serves to move time forward rather than to develop the characters as people.  There are also a lot of typical sports clichés and training montages.  With so much content to handle in one film, there are too many wasted sequences like this that could have been used to build the characters.  However, not all is bad here as this is a great story to tell with a worthwhile message.  Moreover, it had a lot going for it and definitely could have been better.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is perhaps the strongest section of this film.  This is a very professional cast with no glaring errors committed.  Emotions are believable and realistic, and line delivery is on point.  In the end, this section brings this movie close to the fullest potential it could have had.

Conclusion

Greater had many key elements and advantages in its corner, but it didn’t quite get the job done.  I can help but think that in different hands, this film would have been a Hall of Fame epic.  With some slightly deeper characters and dialogue, along with a less choppy presentation, it would have breached the Hall of Fame threshold.  Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable film that many audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

The Ride: A Christmas Eve Parable (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a burned out and bored taxi driver picks up a troubled character late at night on Christmas Eve, he just wants the night to be over.  However, as the night goes on, the taxi driver becomes more intrigued and even concerned about the nature of his passenger’s journey.  He tries to engage the passenger in conversation, but this is mostly unsuccessful.  Will he be able to get through to him before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As an early film from Vertical Church, The Ride demonstrate production efficiency and quality, even in a shorter film.  Even before The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, this church has been committed to high quality films.  This is evident in this film’s great video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is also creative.  Sets, locations, and props are appropriate for the film.  The only nitpick to point out here pertains to the editing, as there are a few dead scenes that stand out in the short film.  But this isn’t much to notice, and this film is presented in a very professional fashion.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though sometimes it is better to make a short film for a small idea, it is possible that The Ride is one instance in which this was not the case.  It seems like there was more content that could have been included in this plot, especially since the two main characters that are focused on are fairly well developed.  This is done through efficient dialogue that builds their backstories realistically.  The circumstances therein are believable and realistic.  Both serious and comedic moments are presented effectively.  However, as previously mentioned, we really wanted to see more from these characters, and perhaps other ones as well.  Moreover, it seems like this plot was written to be a short film, which is perfectly fine.  On the whole, this story shows just what Dallas Jenkins is capable of.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Rather than settle for only using inexperienced cast members from the local church, Dallas Jenkins and his team cast more experienced actors for the main roles.  Kirk B.R. Woller and Brad Heller are excellent in their respective roles.  This is possibly Brad Heller’s best role outside of Mom’s Night Out.  Overall, though this is a tiny cast, there are no acting errors to point out here.

Conclusion

Sometimes starting out small is better.  Dallas Jenkins made feature length films before this one, like Midnight Clear and What If, yet the former of these was not very good.  It’s possible that with the creation of short films, Dallas and his team were able to hone their skills better and produce a much better film in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.  Moreover, as it is, The Ride demonstrates a lot of positive aspects that will make it an enjoyable film for many people this holiday season.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

The Tree [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dorothy Thorp is an 88-year-old widow who is tired of just existing in her home and waiting to die while the doctors slowly prescribe more pills for her.  Thus, she decides it’s time for her to take a road trip back to her hometown to make peace with her past.  Though her worried neighbors and daughter try to deter her, Doroth stubbornly decides to go ahead with the trip.  She knows God is with her no matter what and she is surprised about the people she is able to meet along the way.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear from beginning to end that the Pruitts and their team are committed to high quality production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is also appropriate and intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are also well-constructed and used.  The only issue to raise here, as is common in independent films, pertains to some small editing concerns due to some lagging scenes.  However, regardless of this, The Tree has a very respectable production that shows great promise for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Since this story is based on true events, it is obvious that care was taken to make these characters realistic and believable.  Though things start off a bit slow, time is taken to establish things without the use of narration, so this is a plus.  Similarly, there is not much dialogue throughout, but the small amount therein is quite good and shows that effort has been put into it.  However, there are a few too many asides that go under-developed, and the story overall needs more scope and deepening.  Yet this is a great start and demonstrates an ability to connect with the lives of real people and to depict this on screen.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though this is an ‘amateur’ cast, there are virtually no errors present here, which speaks to good acting coaching.  There are no flaws to point out as emotions are all believable and authentic.  Line delivery is on point as less is more.  Overall, this rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

The Pruitts and their team have already set themselves apart in the indie landscape by being committed to quality and by doing the best they can with what they have.  These are the types of film makers that should and can receive better funding when the time is right.  When that time comes, it will be exciting to see what they can do, because being able to depict real-life people properly in a film is very difficult yet worthwhile to do.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Journey to Grace: The Hansie Cronje Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Hansie Cronje was one of the world’s best and more famous cricket players, and he used his sports platform to glorify God.  He was passionate for the game and for his family, but the pursuit of a better retirement for him and his wife consumed him.  He always wanted to do better and wanted his game to be better, but this got the better of him as Indian bookmakers relentless pursued him to pay off his team in a match-fixing scheme.  Hansie continually refused them until he could do so no longer.  In the aftermath of things, will he accept God’s grace for what he did?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is an early 2000s production focused on international locations, it is very well done.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are what they should be.  The soundtrack is culturally appropriate.  Sets and locations, though difficult to construct and capture, are executed well.  Also, sports props are well presented and constructed.  The only issue to raise here, of course, is the editing, as too much content—almost an entire life story—is shoved into this seemingly brief runtime.  But in the end, this is a production to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This account is a great true story and one worth bringing to the big screen.  Though the characters are mostly realistic, due to the rapid passage of time and the large amount of content dealt with here, they are hard to get to know very well.  They are accessible as people, but there are a lot of side characters that get left by the wayside.  Also, lots of otherwise important sidebar topics are introduced briefly and then forgotten about.  Yet this story is historically authentic and accurate and certainly has a lot to offer as a lot of complex ideas are woven together.  Epics are very hard to make, so this effort is commendable, and most audiences will enjoy it.  In the end, the story is very realistic and leaves an important lesson to be learned.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This historically and culturally authentic cast can hardly be faulted.  There are no glaring errors here as great care was taken to make sure each character was cast appropriately and realistically.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are impeccable.  This is a casting job to be proud of.

Conclusion

It seems like this creative team did everything they could do to make this movie the best it could be, yet they fall just short of the Hall of Fame, only due to amount of content that is taken on here.  Yet we know that a longer runtime was probably out of the question due to budget constraints.  In the end, however, is this an enjoyable movie that will be well-liked because the creators definitely put their full effort into making it quality.  It is definitely worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

The Fight Within (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Logan Chandler has been too scared to fight in the boxing ring ever since his father died right in front of him while he was training Logan.  Logan and his brother and struggling to keep their dad’s boxing gym afloat, but Logan’s emotional turmoil and his constant conflict with one of the main customers is wreaking havoc.  Nothing in Logan changes until he meets Emma, a girl at college who changes his perspective on life and makes him want to change.  Though it’s not easy, Logan is still fighting the fight inside himself with the hopes to be one day free.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a first-time production, The Fight Within is highly professional in many ways.  Video quality is on standard and camera work is excellent, especially in the action scenes, which is very difficult to achieve.  Audio quality is flawless and the soundtrack is quite creative.  Sets, locations, and props are very realistic and appropriate.  The only nitpick to raise here are some small editing errors, such as one too many montages and blank scenes.  But in the end, this is a very encouraging and respectable effort that gives great hope for the future of New Life Cinema.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story is a somewhat stereotypical troubled character sports redemption plot and though it contains characters that fit into predictable molds, at least this plot and its characters are developed well.  They feel like honest and authentic people with real dialogue, which is all we can ask of a typical plot.  The flashbacks included are good and help the audience to understand the motivations of the characters.  The circumstances they experience are accessible and realistic.  However, there is still some heavy-handed sermon messaging and training and sports montages that fill time.  Overall, the story has a predictable progression, but at least the viewer can relate to what is happening and feel like it’s a real story.  This is the best someone can do with this sort of plot without any twists, so doing the best thing with what you have is all that matters for freshman film.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For an ‘amateur’ cast, the performances in this film are excellent.  Line delivery is on point, and the presence of coaching is evident.  Emotions are believable and realistic.  Each cast member fits their character well.  Thus, this is an awesome job for a creative team new on the scene.

Conclusion

All that matters when you make your first film is that you do the best with what God has given you, and New Life Cinema has done this in The Fight Within.  The production and the casting are nearly flawless.  Therefore, next time, if they employ a slightly more creative plot with the same realistic characters, they will strike gold.  It’s really encouraging to see new companies like this doing the right thing from the beginning and it will be great to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

25 Hill (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Trey Caldwell’s father is tragically killed overseas while serving in the military, Trey feels like he will never fulfill the dream his father gave him—the dream of racing their soapbox car in the derby.  But then, Trey’s kind school principal introduces him to Roy Gibbs, a troubled fireman who would like to forget the death of his son.  The two of them find that they have something in common: a passion for soapbox derby racing.  As Roy trains Trey, they develop a unique bond and inadvertently find healing from their wounds.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As Corbin Bernsen’s first foray into the inspirational market, 25 Hill demonstrates his typical high production quality that he likely learned in the mainstream sector and is unfortunately not commonplace in the Christian field.  Beginning with an effective opening sequence that tells the story without narration, this film checks all the necessary boxes for production quality.  Video quality, camera work, audio quality, and soundtrack are all professional and effective.  Sets, locations, and props are also above standard.  The only complaint to raise here is the high number of sports montages, which are too typical of this genre.  Otherwise, this is a very respectable production that many Christian film makers can model after.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Before Bersen decided to develop his own zany brand of satire, he decided to create a grief plot that has a commitment to taking jabs are stereotypical plot elements.  His take on this predictable plot structure is enjoyable, yet like Bernsen’s other films, 25 Hill still includes too many formulaic elements that are commonly found in sports\grief plots.  Yet his continual pointing out and exposing of typical movie clichés is a fun experience nonetheless, as is his satire on product placements.  With good dialogue and character development, this story demonstrates a better version of the Bernsen brand, which later devolved into silliness and insanity in Christian Mingle, 3 Day Test, and In-lawfully Yours.  The biggest thing that holds 25 Hill back is its predictability, as Bernsen does his typical flirting with creativity but doesn’t really follow through.  Yet in the end, this will be an enjoyable story for most and is certainly worth a watch.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Bernsen and his team completely nailed their casting work.  Each actor and actress fits their characters comfortably as they deliver their lines and inflections flawlessly.  Emotional performances are highly effective, thus making this a perfect score.

Conclusion

We definitely understand where Bernsen is coming from—sometimes.  He wants to make quality inspirational films while at the same time exposing where many films in the genre go wrong.  He always thinks about doing something different with his storylines, but in the end goes back to the typical, safe ending.  Nonetheless, 25 Hill will be liked by most audiences, and it is certainly worth a watch.  Perhaps eventually, Bernsen will finally hit the home run he has been searching for all these years.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Sweet Sweet Summertime (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After experiencing the tragic death of his beloved mother, Caleb Burns just wants everything to stay the same.  Everything does stay the same for a time, until Caleb’s father announces that they will be moving from Franklin, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia after the summer is over.  Thus, Caleb and his friend Blake launch a summer master plan to not only do the things they want to do before the move, but to also try to convince Caleb’s father to change his mind.  Caleb and Blake also start a club dedicated to Caleb’s mom that does good deeds all around town.  Over the course of the summer, they learn more about themselves than they anticipated and discover just how much of a difference one summer can make.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with their past reputation, Echolight Studios, along with its partners Triple Horse Studios and Abington Ridge Films, is certainly dedicated to building high-quality Christian productions.  Nearly every production element of Sweet Sweet Summertime is flawless.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all highly professional.  The original soundtrack suits this film.  Sets, locations, and props are also very appropriate for this film and demonstrate quality.  The only negative production element to raise is the editing, as there are one too many montages and the advancement of time is a bit too rapid.  Yet, as always, this is a top-notch production that should be commonplace in all Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Also in keeping with past trends, Echolight and their team tend to leave much to be desired when it comes to their plots.  Sweet Sweet Summertime is a fairly predictable and formulaic coming-of-age film that basically writes itself from beginning to end, yet the writers did the best they could with what they had, which is all we can ask.  There is too much unnecessary and heavy-handed narration that stunts character development, yet there is also dialogue that assists in making the characters realistic and accessible.  While this story has been done before, this rendition of it is certainly not as cheesy as it could have been and many audiences will find it enjoyable.  The ending is very rushed and tidy, yet there are plenty of viewers who will like it.  Overall, while we would have liked to see more creativity, at least this team put their best foot forward.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is the sort of cast that we should see in every Christian film.  They are highly professional and well-coached.  Line delivery is flawless and emotions are very believable.  It is rare that you see a film with no acting errors in it, but Sweet Sweet Summertime is one of those films.

Conclusion

Echolight has solidified themselves as a reliably professional studio when it comes to production quality.  They also know how to assemble a respectable, error-free cast.  Yet time and again, Echolight plots tend to leave something to be desired by choosing pre-written storylines that lack creativity.  While films like Sweet Sweet Summertime will have some impact on its target audiences, it will unfortunately be easily forgotten in time.  In order to have a lasting impact in film, the plot must be dynamic.  The day that Echolight uses a dynamic plot will be the day that the Christian film world is turned upside down.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

https://offers.pureflix.com/sweet-sweet-summertime-trailer

Skid [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Danny McSweeney never asked to co-pilot a plane full of eccentric characters so soon after his girlfriend broke up with him, especially when he has to co-pilot with a difficult female captain who seems to have no mercy for anyone, especially not for their high maintenance flight crew.  The stakes are raised when an airline investigator joins the flight to watch their performance.  Little do they know that besides carrying a Dutch prisoner, a man smuggling diamonds, a woman with her potbellied pig, a jilted ex-girlfriend, and a woman and her elderly mother, an airline spy has been assigned to audit the flight’s customer service.  But when push comes to shove and it comes to life or death situations, the real heroes will be seen.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Skid is truly an ambitious independent effort.  Though production elements are a little shaky at first, likely due to low budgeting in the early stages.  This includes some shaky camera work and odd camera angles, as well as a touch of low video quality and poor lighting.  However, all of this improves as the movie goes on.  Audio quality also improves throughout, and sports an interesting and creative soundtrack.  Though the sets are mostly limited to one airplane, they are used effectively and give off a realistic feel.  By the time the climax is reached, Skid feels like a full-fledged suspense film, despite its limited budget.  This production team should be proud of what they were able to accomplish.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Adapted from the genius of Rene Gutteridge, Skid brings a fresh genre perspective to Christian film.  Though it tends to jump all over the place at first due to the myriad of characters, things settle down as the movie goes on.  There are many characters, yet the plot is deeply dialogue-driven and creative.  This story is an example of why we desperately want to see more Christian novels brought to the big screen, especially novels from authors who put great effort into developing characters like Gutteridge does.  Plenty of genuine and somewhat eccentric comedy ensues in Skid and is captured effectively by the writers of this film.  The longer you stick with it, the better it gets, until it culminates in an extremely well-executed ending sequence.  Though the end is a little predictable, it’s still worth watching and brings fresh air to Christian film.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast is a little awkward at times, they really pull off a show-stopping performance to be so ‘little known’.  Each cast member assumes their character flawlessly, thus reflecting on excellent casting, especially with so many people to cast.  Like the rest of this film, the acting quality overall improves as the movie progresses, showing an ability to learn on the job.  Overall, this is the film’s strongest suit.

Conclusion

Skid is exactly the way a first-time project should be: making the best of a limited budget and demonstrating true creativity.  Using a book plot is always a great jump start to your career.  This film is your textbook raw beginning that lives up to its fullest potential and demonstrates greater abilities for the future.  We would love to see Tim and Vicki Brown and team do an action-adventure film in the future, although doing more Rene Gutteridge books is certainly a great idea too.  No matter where they go next, we have high hopes for them and wish them well.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Unlimited [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (3 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Luther [2003] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Martin Luther was a radical in his day who wanted to see sweeping changes in the Catholic Church.  He was tired of seeing the poor oppressed and abused while the Church made money off of their fear by selling indulgences.  When he tried to make a difference, he received major pushback and was forced to go into hiding after posting his 95 Theses.  While in hiding, he sought God and translated the Word of God for the common people to read.  Though he was not perfect and struggled with despair, Luther was a man of God who truly changed his world for Christ.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In this rendition of Luther, it’s clear that great care was given to historical authenticity, including excellent sets, locations, and props.  Other aspects of production are also professional presented, including camera work, video quality, audio quality, and an original soundtrack.  There is little to complain about here except for some slightly choppy editing as it seems like too much content is attempted to be covered in one film.  But nonetheless, this film is an example of what a historical biography should look like.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The portrayal of Martin Luther as a real man who struggled with different issues is refreshing and realistic.  Other historical events are also portrayed properly, especially the follies of the Catholic Church in the Dark Ages.  There are understandably quite a few characters in this story, so most of them are not developed as well as others.  However, dialogue is effective and historically authentic.  While the first half of this film handles the large amount of content well, things begin to go downhill in the second half.  There is too much information crammed into the second half, and a lot of it is not very engaging to the average audience.  The story tends to hop from one high point to the next, yet this is an overall good effort and one that is worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is overall fairly professional—each character is cast appropriately for historical authenticity.  They clearly know what they are doing, but sometimes they tend to be overly dramatic and theatrical.  Line delivery is on point and emotions are mostly good with some moments of being over the top.  But overall, this is a respectable effort.

Conclusion

This idea probably would have worked far better as a miniseries because it would have given the writers freedom to slow down and develop the characters better.  It would have also allowed them to more effectively convey key historical events instead of just jumping from one to the next.  Yet as it is, Luther is a good film many people will enjoy.  We need more films about historical Christianity, and they should be crafted in the mold of this one.  This sort of movie should be the norm, not the exception.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Saved By Grace [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Rick’s wife is tragically killed on Thanksgiving by a madman who hates Rick’s police work, Rick is sent into a tailspin for five years and is unable to cope.  So five years after the tragedy, he plans on committing suicide on Thanksgiving.  However, his act is interrupted by Grace, a mysterious woman who needs his help getting to her family on Thanksgiving.  Rick reluctantly agrees to help her and soon finds a whole new world of possibilities open up for him.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Johnny Remo and Skipstone Pictures have come a long way from poor productions to this quality one.  There are virtually no production errors in Saved by Grace.  The camera work is professional and effective, and the video quality is clear.  Audio quality is great and the soundtrack is good, which is a trademark with Remo.  Sets and locations are also good—there are basically no production errors in this film, which is a huge step in the right direction.  If Skipstone keeps this up, they will be going places.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though the movie begins with an attention-grabbing prologue, it quickly slows down and tends to be a bit too melancholy.  However, the struggles portrayed throughout are realistic.  The dialogue is a mixed bag—sometimes it’s too obvious while other times it builds the characters well.  Flashbacks are used effectively, as is the trademark Johnny Remo artistic flair.  However, this movie is derailed from greatness by its very simplistic storyline that is based too heavily on coincidences.  It is very simplistic and linear as the characters go from one thing to the next for the sake of the plot’s progression.  We would have liked to see more content, deeper subplots, and further development in order for this movie to be all that it could have been.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though this cast is small, it is very professional.  Each actor and actress is cast appropriately and delivers their roles effectively.  Emotions are believable and line delivery are flawless.  In short, there are virtually no acting errors, which is another major step for Skipstone.

Conclusion

Johnny Remo has always had an ability to create films that have unique feels to them, and this is true about Saved by Grace.  Where in the past his teams have struggled to post good productions and casting, both of these areas do not suffer in this film.  However, the lack of substantial plot content really keeps it from being all that it could be.  We know that this movie means well and was properly supported with the resources it needed, but in order to take the next step, the Skipstone team needs to invest more time in their plots.  Even slight improvement will land them on the Hall of Fame, so we look forward to their future projects.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 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

 

Heart of the Country [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Faith left her rural North Carolina home to pursue her musical dreams in New York City, she never expected to meet the man of her dreams—or so she thought.  After a whirlwind romance and marriage to Luke Carraday, they are horrified to discover that the investment firm he worked for came under audit by the federal government, landing all employees in jail, including Luke.  Dazed and confused and with no one to turn to, Faith returns home and finds her ailing father the same as he always was.  Though Faith’s sister is not excited about her coming back, Faith’s whole family supports her no matter what happens.  However, none of them foresee the events that about to unfold—events that have the potential to change the direction of their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a modest budget, Heart of the Country did pretty much all they could do with the money they had.  The video quality is excellent and the camera work is professional.  Sound quality is consistent throughout, and the soundtrack is fairly good, even though it’s dominated by Jana Kramer, the lead actress.  The sets and locations are relatively diverse—jumping back and forth from New York City to rural North Carolina works very well.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  The only caveats to raise with this film are some minor editing issues.  Though flashbacks are utilized wonderfully, there are some choppy elements of the production that derail its pursuit of perfection.  But these minor issues aside, this is a formidable production model to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

From the beginning, the plot of Heart of the Country is unique and outside of the norm.  Few movies ever attempt to depict a newlywed couple’s struggles—most movies retreat after the wedding vows are said and we never hear from them again.  The premise of this film is a brave idea that deserve resounding applause.  As previously mentioned, flashbacks enhance this film and make it what it is.  The characters are fairly believable, though they could use a little more development in this character-based plot.  For the most part, this plot avoids the usual return-to-your-hometown clichés.  Unfortunately, the Christian message is quite muted and needed to be a little more meaningful.  Another problem is a number of wasted scenes that could have been used to develop characters and deepen the storyline.  Some elements are understated while others are overstated.  The end is meaningful even though it is slightly expected.  Overall, this is an above average plot that had the potential to be even better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a formidable cast made up of B-grade cast members.  They seem to be coached fairly well.  Line delivery is above average, as are emotions.  One big drawback here is that most of the cast members make excessive use of makeup and costuming.  In the end, this is a respectable acting job.

Conclusion

We’ve said it before, but we really wish that films like Heart of the Country were the baseline of inspirational film.  It includes a unique idea, professional production, believable characters, and commendable acting.  We also wish films like this one would go all the way and achieve Hall of Fame status.  But nonetheless, films like this one are still enjoyable and definitely worth your while.  It’s unfortunately still a rare find in the industry.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind 3: World at War (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With Nicolae Carpathia increasing his grip on international politics, President Fitzgerald of the United States is highly skeptical of the United Nations leader.  The President’s suspicions are only raised when his vice president is killed in a sudden car bomb.  He also receives an anonymous tip about secret plans that threaten to overturn the delicate balance of the world.  Elsewhere, the Tribulation Force continues to seek converts and spread the gospel as the world becomes darker and darker.  When an unexpected evil strikes the planet, they must dig deep in their faith and band together under the banner of Christianity.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After two previous productions failed even though they had money behind them, this creative team finally put the money where their mouth was and spent it correctly on World at War.  The camera work and video quality are excellent.  Props have a major upgrade and appear very realistic.  This movie finally lives up to its international intrigue expectations by providing wide ranging sets and locations to the viewers.  It also delivers on this franchise’s previous claims of action entertainment by pulling off action scenes very well, including professional use of special effects.  Watching this movie actually makes you feel like you’re watching an apocalyptic film with international ramifications.  The only complaints to bring up here are some minor editing issues.  Otherwise, this is a production to be proud of for once.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

World at War is actually an engaging apocalyptic plot that holds the attention, which is an unfortunately rare find in Christian film.  Subplots built up from the two previous installments are used very well, and even though this storyline departs greatly from the novels, it is still enjoyable.  New subplots are complex and hold the viewer’s attention until the end.  The dialogue is finally well-constructed and the characters are finally believable.  The apocalyptic concepts and surroundings are finally realistic and highly possible in the real world.  Although there are some unnecessary elements, there are not a few suspenseful twists that make this an apocalyptic plot to be proud of.  Finally, World at War packs perhaps the most epic action ending in Christian film to date, putting many other action film attempts to shame.  Yet two things derail this movie from being Hall of Fame: the lack of buildup from previous films and the lack of continuation.  The writers set us up with an engaging franchise reboot, if you will, yet did not deliver with a follow-up.  What happens next?  We may never know.  But for now, this is one of the most applaudable Christian action films on the market.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Acting also greatly improves in this installment not only because of improved coaching but also because of better additional cast members.  Once again, Kirk Cameron posts one of his best (probably his last) acting performances.  Line delivery is effective, but sometimes emotions are over the top.  In the end, there are only minor errors here.

Conclusion

It’s so frustrating to watch films that barely miss the Hall of Fame because of the potential they did not live up to.  World at War had everything going for it—except for better predecessors and a real follow-up.  If the franchise was going to be dropped here, it would have been better for World at War to either stand alone as a separate apocalyptic film outside of the series or for the absurd Left Behind reboot of recent to become the fourth movie rather than just a rehashing of the first installment.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s unlikely World at War will be remade for a myriad of reasons.  But it can at least serve as a testament to what can be done in Christian film if proper money and effort are applied.  We need many more films like this one on the market.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

The Confession [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leaving her Amish family behind in order to discover who she truly is in the world, Katie Lapp soon discovers that the Englisher life is harder than she anticipated.  She tries to work a restaurant job while searching for the mother she never met, Laura Mayfield-Bennet.  As a wealthy woman with a terminal illness, Laura is wary of leaving too much for her husband, Dylan, to gamble away like he has before.  She longs to find the long lost daughter she gave up years before, but she gives up all hope until one day, a miracle seemingly occurs.  Has her daughter really returned to her or has her husband pulled another one of his tricks?  In the midst of the confusion, Katie Lapp must keep her head above water and trust that God is in control.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. and Brian Bird always seem like they are on the cusp of production greatness, and The Confession inches closer to production perfection, improving from the standard performance of The Shunning.  Camera work is highly professional, as is video quality.  Sound quality is good across the board.  The sets and locations are more realistic and diverse than the previous installment and give the film a tangible feel.  Yet two areas—the soundtrack and the editing—keep this production from being all it could be.  For one, The Confession utilizes a vanilla Hallmark-ish soundtrack that doesn’t inspire much.  For another, there are some lapses of editing, namely some odd assumptions, leaps in logic, and plot holes.  For the most part, the editing is fine, but there are just enough errors to create a small amount of confusion.  But in the end, this is actually a really good production and showcases what the Landon Jr. crew can do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Confession is more complex than The Shunning and it is really an interesting storyline.  The structure is unique and is mostly not one that is commonly used.  The conflict is slightly simple, but at least it’s not a copy of a copy of a copy.  Characters feel more real in the second movie than in the first one, and this is probably because of some more meaningful and deeper dialogue.  But there are a few silly moments that keep the character development from being all that it could be.  Elsewhere, as previously mentioned, there are some plot holes and leaps and logic that are inserted just to keep the plot moving to a desired conclusion.  For instance, how did replacement servant never arrive from ‘the agency’ and expose Katie for not being the replacement servant?  This allows the plot to progress forward to its desired conclusion with a dramatic will-signing scene.  For the most part, the error finding in this film is a little bit nitpicky, but we would have preferred to see the plot progress more naturally and not so carefully orchestrated.  Also, the ending of the film is quite confusing and isolating, obviously just setting up for the next film.  In the end, The Confession is an enjoyable plot with a touching message—it’s just too bad it wasn’t better because it definitely could have been.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Usually, changing a handful of the cast members in the middle of a trilogy isn’t a good idea, but it actually helps this franchise.  Katie Leclerc is a much better Katie Lapp and makes her character feel more authentic.  Elsewhere, emotional delivery and line delivery are much improved.  Everyone is cast very appropriately.  For the most part, Landon Jr. and company avoid their usual over-costuming mistakes.  Unfortunately, a handful of minor errors keep the acting quality from being perfect, but it is still a formidable effort.

Conclusion

Landon Jr., Bird, and their comrades have always demonstrated an ability to adapt Christian novels into films, and The Confession is probably their second best.  It’s oh-so-close to being Hall of Fame due to its professional feel and slightly creative plot, but several minor issues become a perfect storm to keep this from happening.  Unfortunately, only major plot reconstruction would have made it any better.  Yet it is good how it is and many people will enjoy this film.  Therefore, we can’t help but wonder that Hallmark’s production absence from this film somehow made it better.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Last Flight Out [2004] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dan, a repossession agent, has been billed by Tony Williams, the father of the man whose death Dan blames himself for, to find his daughter Anne, a missionary doctor who is now lost in the Columbian jungle.  What’s more is Dan used to be in love with Anne, and now she’s on the run, with a struggling Christian village, from ruthless drug lords.  Dan, an agnostic, must take on the impossible task of airlifting an entire village out of a remote jungle area in order to fulfill his mission.  In the end, Dan will have to decide what he really believes about God and life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Even in its last stages, Worldwide Pictures always set the tone for Christian movies in their era, the late 90s and early 2000s.  For an independent action film, the production of Last Flight Out is quite good.  The camera work is solid, including angles in action scenes, as well as video and sound quality.  The props are well utilized and realistic.  While the sets and locations are limited, they are used very well.  The only issues to bring up here are some poorly edited sequences that tend to isolate the audience and some slightly cheap special effects.  There are multiple very small issues here that keep this production from being all that it could be.  But overall, Last Flight Out continues its theme of top quality production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Action adventure plots are hard to create without falling into typical plot clichés.  For the most part, Last Flight Out avoids textbooks errors.  The dialogue is realistic and to the point, yet it does not develop the characters to their fullest potential.  This is a shame, since there are few characters that carry the whole plot.  Realistic events occur throughout the film.  The overall story is also very linear with too many filler scenes.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the plot—it’s just very simplistic and straightforward.  Action adventure plots need to be dynamic, with twists and turns.  While Last Flight Out has an acceptable plot, it doesn’t breach the above average threshold.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For such a small cast, it is highly professional.  The actors and actresses are obviously well coached and know what they’re doing.  Emotional delivery is believable and spoken lines are authentic.  There are no negative points to raise here.

Conclusion

Last Flight Movie was so close to the Hall of Fame.  Had it a more dynamic plot and\or slightly better production, it would have been placed on it.  The unfortunate thing is that this was Worldwide Pictures’ last film to date.  They stopped just when they were getting good.  The flagship nonprofit, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, however, is still in existence, and it seems like a good time in Christian films to start back up again.  They really had something going in this early era of Christian movies, so we challenge them to use their perhaps now better resources to put out another evangelistic screenplay for all to see.  The Christian movie scene needs more quality voices, which was something Worldwide was back in its time.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Long Journey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following their marriage, Willie and Missy LaHaye set off further west to begin a life of their own by building their own cattle ranch business.  They set out with no one but each other to lean on and begin forming relationships with people in the small settlement near their land.  Willie assembles a team of castoff ranch hands while Missy seeks to assist local Native Americans in their educational pursuits.  They are surrounded by hurting and hungry people who need what they have to offer, but little do they know that evil also lurks around the corner, wanting to steal what they have worked hard for.  The LaHayes will have to dig deep and cling to everything they learned back home in order to weather the storm.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Love’s Long Journey marks the high point of the Love Comes Softly series in multiple ways, and especially in production quality.  The camera work, video quality, and sound quality are all solid.  This is the most authentic-looking Love movie when it comes to props, costuming, sets, and locations.  Great care was obviously taken to make this film as realistic as possible, and it shows.  Constantly dealing with farm animals on set is neither easy nor something you see often in Christian films, but Long Journey pulls this off without errors.  In short, the production of this film is flawless.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While it is still not entirely accurate to the novel, Long Journey is the best flowing and dynamic plot of the film franchise.  The characters, although they still need some deepening.  It’s refreshing that there are some different characters in this plot that are not typical frontier romance characters.  In that vein, there is no new romance\courtship, but an actual portrayal of married life—what a concept!  While the dialogue as a whole is just average, there is some truly good humor throughout.  The end of this plot, though slightly predictable, is actually epic and has a unique twist to it.  However, the villains in this plot are extremely cheesy and unrealistic.  Also, we felt that the subplot between the two brothers needed to be explored further and to take on a larger role in the film.  But besides these small issues, this is a solid plot that deserves recognition.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is where this movie loses Hall of Fame momentum.  Changing actors and\or actresses in the middle of a franchise is rarely a good idea, especially when it’s a downgrade.  We realize that sometimes you can’t retain actresses, but January Jones was a much better missy than Erin Cottrell.  Unfortunately, a majority of Cottrell’s lines seem forced and strained—she is the main reason this movie is not as good as it could have been, especially since she plays the central character.  But even still, this is the best acted movie of the franchise, with just average acting.  On a brighter note, Long Journey has an actually fair portrayal of Native Americans by using real Native American actors—another novel concept.

Conclusion

Love’s Long Journey is another one of those movies that really could have been something great.  It had all the tools—originality, great production, honest portrayal.  But one poor starring actor or actress can really spoil a movie; this film is an unfortunate example of this.  Regardless, this is an enjoyable movie that many people will find acceptable.  It was a symbol in its era of better Christian movies and it can be used as a blueprint today on how to—and not to—revive a franchise to greatness.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Seasons of Gray: A Modern Day Joseph Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brady Gray was always the favorite son of his hardened father, much to the dislike of his jealous brothers.  Not only that, but Brady always had a special gift of knowing what is going to happen in certain people’s futures, based on dreams they have.  However, his brothers grow tired of his special treatment one day and finally decide to do something about—force him to leave the family ranch and tell their father that Brady died.  With nowhere else to go, Brady hitches a ride with an unlikely friend who takes him in and gets him a job at a prestigious business.  However, Brady’s life continues to take unexpected negative turns one after another.  Through the adversity, he is forced to truly look at what he believes about God and about life.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a first time independent film, Seasons of Gray is quite good.  The camera and sound quality are both clear.  The camera angles are above average.  The sets and costuming have a slight indie-ish feel to them, but they are actually quite good considering the circumstances.  A lot of time and effort were obviously put into this movie to make the production good.  There are some minor editing concerns, but otherwise, this film is proof that first-time independent Christian films do not have to be low quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Adapting a Biblical narrative to a modern setting is not a bad idea, but it is also not the most creative idea.  However, for a freshman movie, it may be one of the better options.  This particular adaption is done well, but Box Office Revolution would have preferred it if the Biblical adaptation had been kept secret until later in the film.  Nonetheless, the plot is still above average.  The characters needed more time spent on them, yet the dialogue is passable.  Enough thought was put into this plot for it to be professional.  One other caveat to raise is the movie’s rushed and anti-climactic end.  But in the end, Seasons of Gray has a well-crafted plot that makes for an enjoyable movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Andrew Cheney is solid in his leading role, as he usually is.  The supporting cast puts on above-average performances, but we cannot shake the feeling that there is more they could have done.  The core cast is coached well and deliver emotions well, but they are not quite to the dynamic level yet.  Some of the background actors seem inexperienced.  Granted, this is an excellent start and far more commendable than many performances.

Conclusion

In the end, we are more than happy to watch a movie like Seasons of Gray, since it stands out among a desert of mediocrity and poor quality.  Even though it was not all it could have been, it is still a film worth a round of applause.  The Stehlik team is definitely not a crew to ignore—we expect to see even greater things from them in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Meant to Be [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After a negative turn of events in his life, Nathan Burr begins to search for meaning in life.  Recalling his younger years of living with foster parents, he decides he needs to search out his birth mother, who he has never met.  His search takes him to a mysterious hotel where he finds surprising wisdom from the hotel’s aging maid.  But he also finds more questions than answers.  Linda Dickson is a social worker who has guarded a terrible secret all her life.  That’s why she jumps at the chance to help a girl escape from a domestic violence situation.  Little does she know that her world is about to be changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Starting off, the limited budget of Meant to Be must be accounted for.  The sets are pretty good; the video and sound quality are great.  The camera work tends to be a little too artistic at times, but it seems to work well more than not.  The biggest error here is the confusing editing.  Some scenes seem to cut too quickly and some seem to drag on too long.  This is likely due to the low amount of plot content, but it is overall produced fairly well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

As mentioned, the plot is very limited in scope when it could have been very broad.  There are really only two and half subplots, but it didn’t have to be that way.  Some movies have little room to work, but this one had a mansion.  Though there are few characters, they seem unfinished.  The dialogue is inconsistent.  At first, this plot doesn’t seem sustainable at all.  But more than halfway through the film—if you stick it out—Bradley Dorsey introduces a huge twist that completely changes the audience’s outlook.  This is perhaps the best twist ever in the PureFlix movie.  It makes up for a lot of the movie’s errors, but it also shows just how far the movie could have gone.  Nonetheless, the twist is genius and makes it worth watching.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the average to poor acting quality also detracts from Meant to Be’s creative premise.  Some of the actors show great potential with better coaching.  Dean Cain seemed like an unnecessary addition to the cast.  Overall, the acting has a lot of potential that was not tapped.

Conclusion

This movie had a mountain of potential—it could have been a nearly perfect film.  It does receive an x-factor point for presenting an important social issue in a very unique and creative way.  We desperately want this movie to be remade, or least the idea to be allowed to be used in a different movie, one with more and better characters, a more complex plot, and better actors.  Bradley Dorsey show great potential as a movie maker, and we anticipate his future films.  He needs a better crew to surround him and to support him in his excellent ideas.  He has a corner on the Christian psychological thriller market if he takes the chance.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Song [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jedidiah King has long lived in the shadow of his father David King, famous country music star.  His dad’s agents are pressuring him to make a name for himself by being his own artist instead of trying to replicate his father’s glory days.  Jed doesn’t know where he is going to receive his inspiration until one day, while scoping out a new gig in a small town, he meets a girl who changes his entire outlook on life.  She inspires him to sing for her and to write music for her, thus giving him a new direction in life.  After a whirlwind romance and marriage, Jed’s music for his new wife suddenly lands him with unexpected popularity with the public.  His new agent convinces him to use his new identity to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry, and all seems well at first.  But as Jed is asked to make compromise after compromise in exchange for more popularity, he finds his world crashing down around him.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a first time church production, The Song has high production quality.  The camera work is great and the sets are well-constructed.  The movie has an overall real-life feel.  There are a lot of artistic and musical overlays that give the movie a character of its own.  It seems directed and produced well, except where editing is concerned.  Some scenes seems unnecessary and the movie has several additional endings that make it drag on.  Otherwise, there is nothing wrong in this category.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Song deals with some very difficult yet realistic topics.  The plot is a mixed bag due to this and due to the fact that it is problematic to transpose a Biblical story on top of a modern day setting.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this concept, some elements of it come off as cheesy, such as the character names.  But still, it is a noble effort.  As previously mentioned, the issues portrayed in the plot are not completely family-friendly.  While the issues explored do not need to be ignored, as is a common Christian custom, Box Office Revolution feels that they should have been presented in a more palatable manner.  A lot of time is spent on depravity, which is to be expected when depicting an allegory on King Solomon.  Still, it is done in a pretty good manner.  Yet BOR feels that potential was left on the proverbial playing field.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting is pretty good, considering this is a basically ‘amateur’ cast.  Sometimes they did not have much to work with, but some of the lines and delivery seem forced.  Still, Alan Powell and Ali Faulkner are great in their roles.  In the end, The Song shows that ‘professional’ actors are not always needed.

Conclusion

The Song is a difficult movie to contend with for multiple reasons.  Fame and popularity are corrupting, and Christians do not need to be ignorant of these real issues.  However, dwelling on depravity too much reduces a potentially redemptive movie to average Hollywood garbage.  The Song walks the line between redemptive and hopeless, and BOR is uncertain which side it falls on in the end.  However, the message is important and may reach audiences outside of the church effectively.  In short, this is a great movie for a beginning crew, and we expect greater things from them in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points